Advice for the Coffee Nerd Photographer

by Chip Phillips
June 20th, 2016

I have to admit, I am a bit of a coffee nerd.  I am pretty picky about my morning coffee.  Also, if you don’t know me, I get really into the things that I love :) I have tried pretty much all of the options for the outdoor coffee enthusiast so I thought I would share some of my findings.

The most simple and lightest weight option is instant coffee:

Starbucks via

Instant coffee has come a long way since Folgers Crystals, but it still just doesn’t do it for me.  I just can’t get over the slightly burt flavor and bitterness compared to coffee brewed with fresh beans.

 

I used to use a french press like this one:

 

java press

It is called the GSI Outdoors Java Press .  It only weighs 10oz and will make 30 oz of fresh pressed coffee.  All you need is access to hot water which is fairly easy to come by if you have a camp stove.  I have used this for many years and it has been my main source of morning coffee while camping or backpacking up until recently.  For some reason, I have never really enjoyed french pressed coffee as much as the drip coffee I make at home every morning, and my wife hates it.  It just seems too bitter and over extracted for my taste. I have tried everything too, including a more course grind, shorter brewing time, etc, and, I usually drink my espresso straight so I am used to a pretty strong product.

This year I set out to see what other options are out there.   My first thought was to try and seek out a drip coffee maker that would run on 12 volts for use while camping in our [email protected] travel trailer.  A quick search on Amazon revealed that this wasn’t the best option.  There were few available and they all had pretty bad reviews.  I also learned that, due to the large amount of current they draw, the only way to make coffee from a home drip coffee maker in the outdoors is to have a huge power inverter of a couple thousand watts, and a bunch of 12 volt battery’s.  Needless to say, not an option either.

All this digging around lead me to a method of brewing coffee that I had heard of in past but never really tried.  The “pour over” method.  I guess I always thought it would make bitter coffee just like my french press.  But, oh boy was I wrong.  I have recently come to the conclusion that in my opinion this the best tasting and most compact method for making coffee in the outdoors and at home.  This method of brewing coffee involves manually pouring water over the grinds though a filter and filter holder, allowing complete control over the brewing process and highlighting the unique character of the coffee.  After some extensive research, I learned quite a bit about this technique.  It is actually kind of an art form.  Check out this YouTube video and you will see what I mean.  Many of the products are Japanese and they even have brewing contests in Japan for this method of brewing coffee!  The best thing about it is, it is cheap, portable, and very tasty.  There are a couple of things that are very important keep in mind when brewing pour over coffee.  The first is kind of obvious.  Start with fresh quality coffee beans and clean tasting or filtered water.  The next thing is the grind.  It would be easiest just to forgo the grinder and buy pre ground beans, but freshness starts to suffer almost immediately.  It is important to use some type of burr grinder.  Hand burr grinders are fairly inexpensive and readily available on Amazon.  They take a bit of elbow grease, but I don’t mind that too much.  The first one I tried is the very popular Hario Skerton.  At about $25 this produced pretty good results but its main flaw was that the burrs didn’t line up very well so the grind was somewhat inconsistent.  Further research lead me to the Porlex JP-30:

jp 30

This one is a little bit pricier at about $50, but the results were far superior to the Skerton.  Its capacity is just enough for one generous 16 oz cup of pour over coffee.  At 11oz, this is even an option to take backpacking if you are a real coffee nerd.

If you have access to a power inverter that is at least 200 watts wired directly to a 12v battery, and have the room, an electric burr grinder is also an option.  I tried out two different burr grinders, first the $50 Cuisinart Supreme Grind Burr Mill, which was lacking in consistent grind and very noisy.  The next grinder I tried out and am very happy with is the highly recommended Baratza Encore.  At $129, this grinder is more expensive but well worth the extra money.  It produces a very consistent grind, and is quite a bit more quiet than the Cuisinart.  Build quality is also top notch.

Next, on to the coffee maker.  For lightweight travel I use the very compact GSI Outdoors JavaDrip:

JavaDripAt $12.95 you can’t beat the price, and at 4.8oz it is extremely portable.  For filters, I recommend #2 unbleached paper cones.  This device sits directly over your favorite lightweight coffee mug. My mug of choice is the GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug.

I like this method of brewing so much that I have invested in the iconic Chemex pour over coffee brewer for use at home:

chemex

At $40, this won’t break the bank and should last forever if the glass doesn’t break.

I you are a real nerd like me, you might want to invest in a gooseneck kettle like this one.  This allows for more precision during the pour.  It isn’t absolutely necessary, and is not really an option while backpacking, but can be used at home and for car camping.  The last piece of equipment that isn’t totally necessary but I have found very helpful for determining coffee amounts is a cheap gram scale like this.

 

That is basically all the equipment this really needed to start brewing pour over coffee in the outdoors.  The process is fairly simple and I have found it to be very satisfying.

-First, start with the proper amount of freshly ground coffee.  I use about 30 grams for a 16oz cup. This is about 1/4 cup of beans.  The grind should be medium to medium course, about the consistency of  sea salt.

-Next, warm up to a boil 16oz plus a little extra for wetting the filter and warming the brewer and cup.

-Once your water has reached a boil, remove it from the stove and pour the extra into the empty filter to rinse and warm, leaving about 16oz behind.

-Pour the grinds into the filter and add enough water to soak the grinds and let them “bloom”.

-After about 30 seconds, start slowly pouring water in a circular motion over the grinds until all of the water is gone.

That is basically it!  The whole process should take about 3 minutes from start to finish.  If it takes longer, grind a bit courser, and if it is too quick try a finer grind.  If you are a real nerd, for a more detailed description of the process check this out.

Hopefully you have found this helpful, and I highly recommend that you give the pour over method of brewing a try sometime.

Easter Island: Photographing The Last Place On Earth

by Sean Bagshaw
June 17th, 2016

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua, might be considered the last place on Earth for a number of reasons. For example, it is one of the points of land on the planet furthest from any other point of land. Other than New Zealand and Antarctica, it was also one of the last places on Earth to be inhabited by humans. Once the Rapa Nui people had lived on Easter Island for several hundred years without any visitors and without ever making it back to other islands or continents themselves, they began to wonder if the rest of the world sank leaving them stranded on literally the last place on Earth. Finally, Easter Island is one of the last places on Earth I ever imagined having the opportunity to visit and photograph.

2985138-Edit-copy

In my last article I shared photos and a trip report from the photography tour I helped lead in Patagonia with Christian and Regula Heeb, owners of the Cascade Center of Photography. Christian is one of the world’s most published and prolific travel photographers and there are few places he has not visited, but Easter Island was one of them. At the end of the Patagonia tour the Heebs scheduled an extension trip to Rapa Nui. Six of our group, including myself, continued on from Santiago, Chile to spend several days exploring and photographing there. I recently was interviewed about the Patagonia and Easter Island trips on The Traveling Image Makers podcast. You can listen to that podcast HERE.

Tongariki, the largest group of standing moai on the island. They are also some of the largest.

Tongariki, the largest group of standing moai on the island. They are also some of the largest.

It is fair to say that Easter Island is probably not a location most landscape photographers would prioritize. It is expensive and difficult to get to and it is small and windswept. If tropical seascapes and landscapes are your photography goal, there are certainly more beautiful, larger, more diverse and easier to reach islands and tropical regions. For me, the culture, folklore, history and ecology of the island made it an intriguing place to visit and the imposing visual of the moai standing watch around the island were alluring to me photographically.

This is Rapa Nui: turquoise water, rocky shores, windswept rolling hills and wild horses.

This is Rapa Nui: turquoise water, rocky shores, windswept rolling hills and wild horses.

Easter Island, so named because the first European explorer arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722, is best known for the massive stone moai statues the Rapa Nui carved and placed in multiple locations all around the island, but the history, culture and eventual plight of the Rapa Nui people make the tiny island all the more fascinating. The island itself is very small, just 13 miles long and as little as two miles wide in some places. From the highest points you can see all the way across the island in any direction. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, 1300 miles away and the nearest continental land is central South America, 2200 miles away.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Polynesian people most likely arrived on the island between 900 and 1300 years ago and created a thriving society. Easter Island was forested and had a stable ecosystem at that time so natural resources, farming and fishing enabled a comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately it seems that overpopulation, over harvesting and the introduction of the Polynesian rat eventually led to deforestation, extinction of the native birds and damage to the ecosystem. The population of the island could have been as high as 15,000 in the 1600s, but by the time the first Europeans visited in 1722 it had declined to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people. By the late 1800s disease and Peruvian slave traders had reduced the population to just 111.

Tongariki

Tongariki

The statues were created as part of the clan based society with one clan wielding power over the other clans through a high chief, the eldest descendant of the island’s legendary founder, Hotu Matu’a. There are 887 moai on the island, some of them standing, but many were knocked over, toppled in transport or were never completed and are still in place in the main quarry.

Toppled moai with partially buried statues and the volcanic crater quarry, Rano Raraku, in the background.

A Toppled moai with the partially buried statues and the volcanic crater quarry, Rano Raraku, in the background.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

According to National Geographic, “Most scholars suspect that the moai were created to honor ancestors, chiefs, or other important personages.” For hundreds of years the creation of the statues was believed to be a way for the living to connect with dead ancestors and for the ancestors to provide for the needs of the living, including power and wealth. Rapa Nui villages were mostly located near the coastline with groups of statues standing nearby with their backs to the ocean, watching over the island.

Nearly all the moai were placed on stone platforms called Ahu located near the shore. The statues stand with their backs to the ocean watching over the island.

Nearly all the moai were placed on stone platforms called Ahu located near the shore. The statues stand with their backs to the ocean watching over the island.

The ancestor cult that worshiped the moai statues eventually faded, however. Warriors known as matatoa gained more power as the island became overpopulated and resources diminished. In the late 1700s the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for the Bird Man Cult. Beverly Haun wrote, “The concept of mana invested in hereditary leaders was recast into the person of the birdman, apparently beginning circa 1540, and coinciding with the final vestiges of the moai period.” This cult maintained that, although the ancestors still provided for their descendants, the medium through which the living could contact the dead was no longer statues, but human beings chosen through a competition. This competition was held each year and required the matatoa to climb down high cliffs to the ocean, swim through shark infested waters to a small off shore island and wait there for migrating sooty turns to arrive and begin nesting. The first matatoa to find a turn egg, swim back to the main island and scale the cliffs without falling or breaking the egg was the winner. The title and power of the birdman was then bestowed upon the warrior, or more commonly a wealthy older chief who had hired him to be his representative champion.

Lone statue with top ornament replaced and eyes whitened in the way they would have been.

Lone statue with head ornament (probably representing a hair style) and eyes whitened as they would have been.

Another ramification of deforestation and dwindling resources was fighting among the clans and toppling of each others statues. The European explorers who came to Easter Island in the earlier 1700s reported seeing many statues standing all along the coastline. In 1774, British explorer, James Cook, reported noticing that some of the statues had been knocked over. In 1825 the British ship HMS Blossom arrived and reported seeing no standing statues. The only statues still standing were the ones located on the side of the crater below the rock the quarry where they were carved. This was due to the fact that soil erosion on the steep slope had caused the moai to be partially buried over time, making them topple proof. The toppled statues remained in this state until 1956, when the first statues were re-erected. To date about 50 statues have been put back in their upright positions.

Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, the location of the first settlement on the island.

Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, the location of the first settlement on the island.

During our five days on the island we photographed most of the main moai sites that have standing statues, some of them multiple times and at different times of day. Since I had previously seen many documentary and archaeological images of the moai, my goal was to create photographs that were unique, dramatic and gave a sense of the statues in their environment. All of the statues are protected and part of the national park system. It is prohibited to touch them or access certain areas, some of the sites are only open during the day and the most popular sites can be crowded during the day and at sunset, so there are some challenges to finding the right composition and not having people in the photos.

For me this was a wonderful life experience. I am happy with the photos I was able to capture, especially the long exposure image of the Tongariki moai group under a full moon. Mostly I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit such a remote spot on the planet and one with such an interesting and storied history and culture.

2864136-Edit-copy

Tongariki moai under a full moon…on my birthday no less!

 

Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

B&W web banner 2

The Two Essential Strategies of Effective Post-Processing

by Erin Babnik
May 30th, 2016

 

Knowing how to use post-processing software is important for any creative photographer, but it is equally important to know what to do with that knowledge. No matter how proficient we are with our development tools, we still need to decide which direction to take an image for its final presentation. What follows is a guide for getting the most out of your image development by having clear strategies to guide the process. These strategies fall into two basic categories: directing attention and conveying character.

1) DIRECTING ATTENTION: Work with the composition, not against it.

Effective post-processing will emphasize the composition of a photograph by helping it to direct eye movement and to highlight points of visual interest. The first step to determining how to proceed with processing is to have a clear idea of how the eye should travel through the frame and which parts of the image are most important. Where is the main path that the eye should follow? Is there a primary point of interest? Are other points of interest playing a supporting role or are they competing for attention? Is anything drawing the eye out of the frame? With these questions answered, we can concentrate on a few approaches to addressing any concerns that they raise.

• Finesse the Light

The eye follows light, so it will be attracted to the most luminous parts of an image. Increasing or decreasing the luminance of an area selectively can help to bring it ‘forward’ or to push it ‘back’ in the hierarchy of visual interest. Likewise, a gradation of light can be very effective in transitioning the eye between zones.

Some caveats: While digital processing gives us remarkable and very selective control over luminance in an image, there are limits to what we can accomplish in affecting the quality of light in a scene. Very strong, directional light is the most difficult to finesse because its effects tend to be quite emphatic, while soft light is quite malleable, allowing for a high degree of discretion in post-processing. The suggestions above for adjusting luminance can only go so far—if the light in a photograph is working strongly against its composition, then that photo is probably a candidate for reshooting in different conditions.

• Adjust Colors

Colors can attract attention much like luminance does. Warmer colors ‘advance’ and draw the eye more than cool ones, which tend to recede in an image. Nonetheless, cool colors can demand a lot of attention if they are anomalies in an otherwise warm color palette. Selectively adjusting the hue or saturation of a feature can have a great effect on its presence in the frame, allowing you to control how much attention it demands.

• Take Charge of Textures and Forms

Features with greater dimensionality attract more attention, while flatter ones are less noticeable. Sometimes increasing the contrast of a feature will help to make it stand out better. Conversely, making an area “flatter” (that is, less dimensional) can help to take attention away from it. If a scene has an area of busy detail that detracts from the more interesting parts of the photograph, then reducing the contrast there could be beneficial to the overall image.

Forms that are very different from everything around them are also likely to attract attention. For example, a footprint in an area of smooth sand or a jet contrail in the sky may amount to an unfortunate distraction, in which case it may be a good idea to remove those features by cloning them out.

Flowers for Miles by Erin Babnik

Selective adjustment of luminosity directs attention to the path that the eye should follow and away from busy textures that could be distracting.

 

2) CONVEYING CHARACTER: Bring out the essence of the image.

Any compelling photograph has the potential to suggest certain qualities of character or mood over others. A scene may be cheerful, ominous, dreamy, surreal, whimsical, or any number of other possibilities. Identifying the essence of an image in these terms will provide a framework for processing decisions of a more creative nature. Once you have a good idea of the character or mood that you would like to express, there are a few categories of adjustments to consider that can be very useful in creating the final look of an image accordingly.

• Tailor the Overall Tonality

Most photographers agree that camera settings should target an exposure that will provide the most flexibility when it comes time to process the image. Working this way in the field may result in an initial tonality that differs from what will best express the mood that you have envisioned for the final photo, however. A cheerful feeling may require a brighter treatment, while darker tones tend to suggest a more “moody” character. Even the range of tones may need to be narrowed or expanded to hit the right note, as it were. For example, when giving an image an airy, high-key treatment, you may want to restrict the range of tones so that there are no absolute blacks in it.

Swept Away by Erin Babnik

I wanted a light, warm, airy, impressionistic feel for this image because those qualities are what the scene suggested to me when I experienced it. I removed some distracting blue hues from the top of the photo and avoided making the shadows very dark. There is no absolute black in the final image.

• Constrain the Color Palette

Colors can do a lot to express a certain character. A palette of earthy tones tends to provide a more mature, relaxing appearance, while more vibrant palettes can suggest high levels of energy or exuberance. Shifting certain hues within an image can get them to adhere better to the dominant color scheme, making the character of a final photograph more pronounced. Harmonious color palettes are not only more expressive but are more settling to the eye, so it is worthwhile to explore the possibilities for getting colors to harmonize and to set the right mood for the scene.

• Emphasize Ambience

Some processing treatments do more to establish a sense of ambience than anything else. Deliberately softening an image or making it more hazy can cause it to appear more dreamy, whereas increasing sharpness and clarity can lend a more gritty tone to the whole. Making light sources appear to glow by diffusing them versus hardening their edges can have a great effect on the tenor of a scene. Such treatments can be very subtle and yet still go a long way towards emphasizing the qualities of an image that make it particularly expressive.

Rhapsody in Blue by Erin Babnik

Constraining the color palette to an analogous scheme helped to emphasize the brooding mood set by the storm clouds. There was enough yellow in the raw file that I could have brought it out and produced a complementary scheme, which would have a more peppy mood than what I wanted to convey. I therefore cooled off the traces of warm hues in both the sand and the sky opening in order to ensure that they wouldn’t disrupt the overall feel of the image.

Considering how we might direct attention and what character we want to convey will give clear direction to our development process. Although there are endless options for editing images these days, they are all best employed in the service of a goal. Sometimes a round of experimentation is necessary to help define those goals, but once the direction is clear, all else will follow with more effective results. Do you ever struggle with the direction to take a photograph during its development? What strategies do you find most helpful in pointing the way forward?

 

ErinBabnikWebLogoWhiteText

Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter and 500px.

Needle In The Haystack – Finding Imperfections On Large Prints

by Adrian Klein
May 23rd, 2016

 

Note: Don’t scroll down right away if you want to “test” yourself on this post with the first set of images before looking over the second set.

Recently I had over a dozen different photos printed for a project I am working on, many of them what I would classify as large (>=24×36) and some of them it was the first time I printed them large. Looking over the final prints as I signed them, I couldn’t find any imperfections that jumped out at me which I can’t say is always the case.

I always try what I can to see blemishes or imperfections that will only make themselves known when showing up to your doorstep or the client when printed large, but are tricky to spot before you ship the files to the lab. What looks fine as web size or even filling up the full screen on a decent size monitor may look like an issue on a large print.

Here are four examples that went to print that either myself or the client caught a potential issue after it was printed. The first set of images is for you to look over and see if you notice something that might be an issue when blown up. Realize that this is also somewhat subjective, you could notice something that I think is fine and vice versa. Plus you may not agree with what I am choosing to clean up which is another topic all together. I also realize that having a large web sized file makes it tough but know for all these cases the image you first see has an ‘issue’ that required me to reprint it. Take a look at them and see if you notice what it is, note you will need to click on them to view the larger size. I will say two of them are very hard to pick out which is my intention here. Then scroll down to the images further in the post to see if it’s the same as you found.

Paint Splatter

Painted200-30x45

TumaloMountain-022413_0084

Rocky Reflections

 

The question of course is what to do to try and spot issues when printing larger prints as early in the printing process as possible. Here are ones I have used either on their own or various combinations. I find #2 being the best choice given I have enough time for the order in question.

1.    View at Print Size – Review the photo at 100% or size you will print within Photoshop and pan around from corner to corner. Anything that looks funky or out of place will likely look the same or worse when you get the large print. For reference my processing setup includes two monitors with my main one a 24”.

2.    Test Print – Before you spend $300 or $400 for that large metal or canvas print order a less expensive paper print. Many labs have different paper options and you can choose a lower/regular quality option for this purpose.

3.    Big Screen – If you don’t have a huge 30″ monitor display on your TV or project if you have a projector. Yes the resolution won’t be the same as your computer monitor yet you can still see it large for possible issues to clean up. If you notice them here you certainly will on a finer resolution print.

4.    Stop Staring – Don’t stare at the digital file roaming around endlessly without stepping away and come back later in the day or next day. You look too long and start to see what you want, a file that’s ready to go to the lab whether it is or isn’t!

****************

Below are what I deemed potential imperfections or issues on each image (shown with black square zooming 100% to specific spot) with my comments on each.

Photo – lichen on rock near Lake Abert, Oregon. In this case when I got the 24×36 metal print from the lab, I was sure it was a scratch from shipping or something from the lab. Then I looked at my file. This white hair, likely from an animal was nothing that jumped out to me on my 24” monitor but once I got the metal print I realized I could not let it go to my client. I had to reorder after cleaning it up.

5-21-2016 2-54-35 PM

Photo – White River Falls, Oregon. Here I shipped off a 30×45 paper print to a gallery/frame shop that they ordered. I got a call that there was something that looked like a black hair in the image. I said what?! I looked over the actual print before it went out. I pulled up the file and low and behold there is this hair-like line that I am guessing is from zooming is a piece of rebar that got stuck with the rocks.

5-21-2016 3-11-54 PM

Photo – Tumalo Mountain, Oregon summit in winter. This one is more obvious and I should have noticed it but goes to show you even the objects that I feel should be cleaned up sometimes are missed. You could waiver either way about it leaving the avalanche warning sign but in the end it was a distraction and I felt should not be left in the image looking at it large.

5-21-2016 3-32-14 PM

Photo – Mount Jefferson, Oregon reflected in seasonal tarn. This is one that is probably the most subjective. These white’ish rocks in this tarn looked fine small yet when I received the 24×36 canvas they looked like a printing issue, not rocks. They really did not look right to me. That said in this case I rationalized that it was part of the image and I was letting the small details take me over beyond a reasonable manner. It went to the client and they were thrilled with the canvas piece.

5-22-2016 7-21-44 AM

These are just a few examples that quickly came to mind when writing this blog post that I thought were worth sharing. Even though I am not printing or selling at a high volume I value the quality of my work which is why I pay attention to these details while trying to not let it consume me. It’s always a tricky balance. Feel free to share other tips you have on this as I would welcome hearing them.

Wildlife as Part of the Landscape

by David Cobb
May 16th, 2016

Above it All

I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.

Prairie Dog Kiss

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.

Sow E

As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.

Virginia Rail

When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.

Big Horn Sheep

Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.

Black-browed Albatross Chicks

Spotlit Deer

 

 

 

Renewing Your Passion In Photography by Kevin McNeal

by Kevin McNeal
May 12th, 2016

Images from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon

Ever since I began my photography interest in 2006, I fell in love with the notion of capturing incredible scenes with all the right conditions. As photographers have come to know, this is not easy. It means that you have to return to the same location several times until all the elements combine for the perfect scene. I began this labor of love ever since i picked up a camera and I was obsessed with capturing the best image I could. In the process of doing this, I learned a lot of things about myself, good and bad.
Images are from Spray Park on Mount Rainier National Park in Washington
The most important thing I learned about myself is that if I was determined to capture something I would never give up no matter how many times it took. I was persistent to a fault. But I also changed within myself in ways that I wish I could have seen better. In the pursuit of getting the best images I could get I lost my enthusiasm and passion for getting outdoors. I could not enjoy just being out in nature and love combining it with my photography passion.
Bluebell Heaven_720
I wish I could look back at tell you there was a moment when I realized this but the process was slow and I had lost myself in it. Its hard to say each time you go out and shoot that you are just going to have fun. Somewhere along the line in the act of shooting I seem to switch modes into this person who bases his happiness on how good the photo outing went. I knew if I was going to choose this for a career long term something had to change.
Images from around Texas during wildflower spring season
Like other photographers I would spend countless hours on photo forums continuously analyzing each image to see how I could be better.  Every waking moment was used to dream of ways to capture certain scenes better. What could I do to raise the bar on a scene that had not been done before? What could I do that no one had done before? How could I make this an image worthy of remembering?
I never stopped to think if I was happy with the image. Was it something that I was personally satisfied with. The thought process was always how would social media and the viewers like the image? Had I done enough to make viewers remember the image? I know when I look back it should have been the experiences of that particular outing and not the results of that outing. Over the next few years I continued this philosophy and would press harder and harder to get better images. The result was one of never being satisfied and looking outwards for approval rather than within myself.
I knew I had to change things up in my outlook towards photography and find the source of what makes my happy. I had do some soul searching to really get back to basics and forget about what everyone else thinks and really look to myself for happiness. This was going to be hard because it meant stepping back and reanalyzing what it is that makes photography so enjoyable for me.
Today, I work hard on myself and try to focus more internally. Occasionally, I still find myself being pulled into the direction of social media and what constitutes success. Its hard to determine worth in photography based on your own values, but necessary if one is to find long term success and enjoyment and not just short term.
If you have a similar experience with your time in photography would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
1093_CA_Redwoods_2016_720

Patagonia: A Photography Adventure of a Lifetime

by Sean Bagshaw
April 27th, 2016

In March of this year I had the unforgettable opportunity to participate in a photography tour of Patagonia with my friend and fellow photographer, Christian Heeb. This article is a brief account of that trip in words and images. I recently was interviewed about the Patagonia trip on The Traveling Image Makers podcast. You can listen to that podcast HERE.

1510122-Pano-Edit-copy

Christian and his wife, Regula, planned and organized the trip through their company, The Cascade Center of Photography, which offers photography tours, workshops and classes, both in the western US and to exotic locations around the world. The Heebs have been traveling and photographing all corners of the planet for nearly three decades and Christian has published over 150 books of his travel photography. I was along on the trip as a co-leader to provide photography instruction and to help drive endless miles of gravel roads. The southern Andes mountains of Patagonia have been a mythical place to me since I was 19, when I first read about the terrifying mid-20th century climbs of Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the Towers of Paine. Later, in the early 1990s, Galen Rowell’s photos of the Cuernos del Paine and Fitz Roy rooted the mystique of Patagonia firmly in my imagination. After almost 30 years of dreaming I finally made it there. Traveling with us were nine clients from the United States and Switzerland, all talented and adventurous photographers as well as wonderful travel companions.

Land of the gaucho. Gauchos, the Argentine version of  the cowboy, are legendary in Patagonia. There is a long tradition of ranching on the Patagonian steppe.

Land of the gaucho. Gauchos, the Argentine version of the cowboy, are legendary in Patagonia. There is a long tradition of ranching on the Patagonian steppe.

Wild horses are a common site on the Patagonian plains.

Wild horses are a common site on the Patagonian plains.

If you aren’t familiar with Patagonia, it is a region that covers the southern portion of South America and includes parts of both Chile and Argentina. The name Patagonia comes from the word patagón used by the explorer Magellan in 1520 to describe the native people who his expedition claimed to be giants. It is now believed that the people he called the Patagons were the Tehuelches, who tended to be taller than Europeans of the time, but certainly not giants.

The 9,000 year old hand paintings in the Cueva de las Manos were possibly made by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.

The 9,000 year old hand paintings in the Cueva de las Manos were possibly made by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.

The Andes mountains reach south through Patagonia, with Chile to the west and Argentina to the east. West of the Andes is wetter with many lakes and fjords. East of the Andes is dryer and consists of desert, plains and grasslands.

Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park.

Mount Fitz Roy.

Mount Fitz Roy.

Much of the higher Andes range in Patagonia is covered by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s second largest contiguous extrapolar icefield after the Greenland icefield. The icefield feeds dozens of glaciers that flow down out of the mountains, including the Grey and Perito Moreno Glaciers which we photographed.

The ice at the tongue of the Gray Glacier glows a spectacular blue color when back lit by the sun.

The ice at the tongue of the Grey Glacier glows a spectacular blue color when back lit by the sun.

Portrait of a mountain. Cerro Paine Grande towers over Lago Grey.

Portrait of a mountain. Cerro Paine Grande towers over Lago Grey.

Our trip began in the Chilean port town of Punta Arenas in the Strait of Magellan. We spent two weeks driving north, up to Torres del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay) National Park and then along Ruta 40 in Argentina, eventually crossing back into Chile and ending at Puerto Montt.

The idyllic lakes district near the town of Bariloche, Argentina.

The idyllic lakes district near the town of Bariloche, Argentina.

The direct driving distance from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt is about 1,200 miles, but our circuitous route totalled more than 3,000 miles. Ruta 40 parallels the Andes mountains and spans Argentina from north to south. It is one of the longest roads in the world. The southern part of the route that we traveled is largely unpaved through sparsely populated territory. It has become a well-known adventure tourism journey, although there are now plans to pave it.

Lenticular cloud over Mt. Fitz Roy. The native name, El Chalten, translates to "smoking mountain". Fitting.

Lenticular cloud over Mt. Fitz Roy. The native name, El Chalten, translates to “smoking mountain”. Fitting.

Hats off to Christian and Regula for overcoming the substantial logistical challenges of organizing a trip of this magnitude. Every detail of the trip was meticulously planned, from the rental SUVs and border crossings to plotting our route and fueling points to finding great locations, lodging and food even in remote villages, like the one we stayed in near Lago Posadas in the Santa Cruz Province.

Insane Patagonian wave cloud at sunset over Lago Posadas.

Insane Patagonian wave cloud at sunset over Lago Posadas.

As I mentioned, Patagonia first entered my imagination as a land of unlikely rock spires and ferocious weather which vanquished even the strongest and most cunning alpinists. Later, the photographs of Galen Rowell made me yearn to explore the region with a camera. In recent years Patagonia has become a sought after destination for landscape photographers around the world.

The Cuernos del Paine or Horns of Paine. Paine is an indigenous word that means the color blue.

Los Cuernos del Paine or the Horns of Paine. Paine is an indigenous word that means the color blue, which probably refers to the glacial lakes and not the towers themselves.

But what makes the region so enticing to photographers? Certainly Torres del Paine National Park and the Mount Fitz Roy range are among the most striking mountain landscapes in the world.

First light on the Smoking Mountain, Fitz Roy.

First light on the Smoking Mountain, Fitz Roy.

Beyond that is the remote and rugged nature of the land, the endless expanse of plains, fjords, glaciers, lakes and rivers, the abundance of wildlife and the dramatic weather and light. The proximity to the ocean, the strength of the winds and the abruptness of the mountain range cause the weather to be unsettled and rapidly changing, creating a continuous show of visually captivating cloud formations and atmospheric conditions. In this way it is not unlike the weather and light common to the Eastern Sierra Nevada in California.

Rio Paine waterfall, Torres Del Paine National Park.

Rio Paine waterfall, Torres Del Paine National Park.

We were fortunate to have great conditions for photography almost every day. However, I am aware that the weather can also be extremely harsh. Like Alaska, the mountains can be hidden in clouds for weeks at a time and the winds can be powerful enough to blow the water right out of the lakes.

Wood and Stone, Torres del Paine National Park.

Wood and Stone, Torres del Paine National Park.

For me this was a journey of a lifetime, both as a travel adventure and as a photography experience. It was made even better by all the wonderful people who joined us. I only wish that I could go back to Patagonia with Christian again next year. He and David Cobb will be leading a similar trip to the region, but it will be timed for fall color and will also explore more of the Chilean side of the Andes. Don’t pass it up if you have the chance. If you are interested you can find out more here.

After two weeks in Patagonia half of our group continued on to Easter Island. I’ll follow up with images and stories from that adventure soon.

If you have any questions about traveling and photographing in Patagonia, or a Patagonian experience of your own you would like to share, you can leave me a note in the comment section below.

At least half the journey is about the people and the experiences. The following gallery shares some behind the scenes images from the trip (taken by Christian or Regula Heeb). Enjoy!

Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.

B&W web banner 2

Before and After Post Processing Part 3

by photocascadia
April 20th, 2016

by Zack Schnepf

The most common request I get is to see my photos before and after post processing.  This is part three of my before and after series.  Good processing is more important than ever.  The vast majority of professional photographers capture their images with a digital camera.  This has allowed photographers to take control over the entire process, from capture, processing and sharing images.  For the type photography I do, artistic landscape; processing plays a vital role.  This is where I can create a mood to better convey my own experience.  There is a lot I can do in the field to do this as well, but good processing technique allows me to steer the final image toward my own vision of the scene.  In this article I’ll share 3 examples from my trip to the Canadian Rockies with my Photo Cascadia buddies.

Let me preface by saying I am not a documentary photographer, I’m an artistic photographer.  This is an important distinction. I’m stating this in the interest of avoiding the pointless philosophical debate on how much post processing is acceptable.  If you would like take part in that argument, I refer you to an excellent article written by David Kingham:  http://www.exploringexposure.com/blog/2016/3/19/in-defense-of-post-processing

A few notes on the RAW files used.  I use a very bland camera profile in Lightroom which gives me the widest dynamic range possible for blending multiple exposures.  As a result, my RAW images look quite bland, low contrast and lack pop.  This is intentional, it leaves me with the most information possible to work with in Photoshop.

I produced a video detailing the techniques used in the following examples.  In the video I guide you through my most current multiple exposure workflow, illustrating how I use the powerful tools in Lightroom, and Photoshop along with the TKAction Panel V4.  The level of control you can have with these tools is pretty incredible.  To learn more you can visit my site:  http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2

This first example has an extreme dynamic range to overcome and some serious distortion near the edges.  The distortion could not be corrected with the automated functions in Lightroom, or Photoshop.  I blended the exposures first and then tackled the distortion correction.

 

This next example also has a huge dynamic range to overcome.  So much so, I chose it as my example image in my latest instructional tutorial video, Tonality Control 2.0.

 

Another interesting example from the Lake O’Hara Wilderness.

 

To Look or Not to Look: Can You Find Yourself Through the Work of Other Photographers?

by Erin Babnik
April 14th, 2016

Jigsaw Earth by Erin Babnik

 

There are many photographers who worry that exposure to photographs by others will contaminate the purity of their own creative vision, that they will never find their own voice if they are working under the influence, so to speak. Creativity involves choice, however. The late, great art historian Michael Baxandall famously demolished the idea that artists can ‘influence’ other artists in the true sense of that word. He rightly pointed out that the notion of influence describes the effect of an active power exerting itself on a passive subject, and that the nature of artistic intention actually runs the other way around. He offered up some alternative vocabulary that better explains the process of working in any medium, actual possibilities for what an artist can do in light of another’s work:

“Draw on, resort to, avail oneself of, appropriate from, engage with, react to, quote, differentiate oneself from, assimilate oneself to, assimilate, align oneself with, copy, address, paraphrase, absorb, make a variation on, revive, continue, remodel, resist, simplify, reconstitute, elaborate on, develop, face up to, master, subvert, perpetuate, reduce, promote, respond to, transform, tackle…—everyone will be able to think of others.” (Patterns of Intention, pg. 58)

It is important for photographers to keep in mind that they have all of these options and more for creating their own photographs after viewing other images. It is also important to acknowledge that no photographer exists in a vacuum. One of the great plagues of history is the idea of pure creative genius, that an artwork can spring fully formed out of the head of an artist without any external input. On the contrary, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and even so-called “naive” artists absorb the visual solutions of whatever imagery they do encounter. Promoting the idea of purity in creativity is not only absurd but is also detrimental to the creative spirit in that it sets up a false premise. That premise posits that what ultimately matters is difference, the extent to which a photograph or a body of work can stand apart from everything that came before it. What really matters, however, is not difference but substance—not standing apart, but making a contribution. As I have written before, the pursuit of difference puts the emphasis on what to avoid rather than what to create, an emphasis that is ultimately counterproductive.

One of the most helpful ideas about viewing photographs that I have encountered is to consider how they might be “extending the conversation” established by photographs that came before them. How is a given photograph in dialogue with what preceded it, and what has it contributed to that conversation? As Brooks Jensen explains, the more that we view other photographs and get to know the history of photography, the better able we will be to appreciate “the subtleties of the currents that drift through the medium” (Looking at Images, pg. 102). That level of appreciation will serve any photographer far better than the impossible pursuit of visual ignorance—burying your head in the sand only cuts off an important avenue for personal development. If we think about existing photographs positively, as foundational elements for all that follows, then we will be more likely to process this visual input in creative ways. We don’t have to try to ‘un-see’ other photographs or fear how they might affect our own work if we embrace the idea that we can ‘own’ our responses to them.

So my answer to the question in the title of this article is a resounding “yes”. Explore and enjoy the images of other photographers! Even photographs that cause us to be overwhelmed with admiration can advance our progress as individuals by helping us to identify what moves and motivates us, which is ultimately a point of personal discovery. If we keep in mind that visual literacy will inform the work of a photographer, not ‘influence’ it, then we can remain focused on productive goals rather than getting hung up on being different. Viewing the works of others is one avenue that can lead in a positive direction as we respond to what we see. Ultimately, anything that can put you in touch with your own interests, reservations, emotions, and experiences is going to help to place your focus where it belongs: on you.

Do you find yourself conflicted by the idea of viewing the images of other photographers? Do you have any favorite strategies for responding to visual input? Please feel free to chime in on this important topic by leaving a comment below. Thanks for reading!

 

ErinBabnikWebLogoWhiteText

Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter and 500px.

Limiting Vantage Points – For Your Safety

by Adrian Klein
April 4th, 2016

It was a few summers ago I was photographing sunrise at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast. A place where you can easily sit mesmerized by the flow of the waves crashing into the earth toned cliffs. On the short “hike” to the end of cape I pass the usual gigantic sign warning of dangerous cliffs ahead that can result in possible injury or death. I have passed the sign and gone through the fence that is nothing more than a visual obstacle, many times before. I take the warning seriously each time while ensuring I am constantly aware of my surroundings. 

Thor's Fist“Thor’s Fist” as seen from the outer point of Cape Kiwanda on a hazy summer sunrise.

It’s on this trip I start to think that I am fortunate to be able to go here and I hope this always remains the case. I am glad to be able to make this decision rather than be limited because I am told what is too dangerous for me with complete restriction from the area.

Fast forward to present day and things look a little different. In less than a year there have been over a half dozen deaths as you can see in this article from people falling off the cliffs. Likely everyday people just out to have fun and not necessarily there specifically for photography. My heart goes out those that lost loved ones from these tragedies. Sudden loss sucks, nothing more to say. 

Washing Machine“Washing Machine” sitting lower down the near the water with a few visitors looking from the more secure viewpoint above.

Due to recent tragedies the local city is looking to install more fencing that is likely meant to to keep people out along with additional enforcement in the area. I get the concern, it’s real. Yet most of me feels like we should be careful limiting places like this solely because of danger.  If the city does restrict the location I will be thankful I had my time there to enjoy it’s beauty along with a few photos in my portfolio. That said I don’t like my public locations  being limited solely because of potential danger.  I get doing it for it ecological, wildlife or similar concerns but not danger. Give me fair warning of the risks along stating potential lack of rescue should things go awry and I will make my own decision. I will say the decision for me usually results in the low to medium risk route anyway.

Dory Boat Sunrise“Dory Boat Sunrise” a view of a lone dory boat heading out to sea with Cape Kiwanda sea stack towering above.

I am not out to live life dangling on the edge, literally and figuratively, yet life is not meant to be safe guarded and bubble wrapped around every corner either. There are people that climb mountains, scale cliffs, skydive or myriad of other outdoor activities with some level of risk that will live a long life while others won’t. That’s reality whether we like it not. 

Besides Cape Kiwanda this came to mind when I was last in Kauai, Hawaii a couple months ago. Spouting Horn is a popular spot and it used to be open to wander down along the shore with  adequate warning signs for those that proceed beyond the view point. I had not been in a few years  and I went last trip. Now it clearly states a fine will be issued if you go beyond this point with a longer fence and railing in place. Another location with access reduced for my safety and thus limiting my photography as long as I want to follow the rules. I realize they are doing it for the average person that is not exercising any caution whatsoever or those aspiring to be a candidate for the Darwin Awards. I still don’t necessarily agree with it.

Far Out!“Far Out!” interesting colors and lines on wet sandstone out near the furthest point before there is nowhere left to go.

I am sure you can think of some places that you like to go that have had similar restrictions put in place. What do you think, should we have safety restrictions or closures in place at these beautiful locations or be able to decide for ourselves? Do you not care and simply go past them to the photo you are after no matter how big the deterrent?