Photo Cascadia Blog
February 20th, 2017
Photography Documentaries I’ve Liked
By David Cobb
It’s been a long time since the days of the boring and staid documentary. We’re now in the “Golden Age” of this genre, and there have been a number of good photography documentaries released over the past few years. I find that sometimes it’s difficult to make a decision on a film when I love the images, but the quality of the documentary is not great. (Maybe there are poor production values, or the film needed an editor, or it’s just not that interesting. When that happens, I prefer to look at a book of the photographer’s images.)
All the films on this list are easily accessible for viewing, and for the purposes of this list I haven’t included any television series. What follows are a few photography documentaries that I’ve liked from the many I’ve watched.
- The Salt of the Earth – (2014, Director Wim Wenders) This film relives the career of Sebastiao Salgado and covers his major body of work and exhibitions. From the opening scene of images at the gold mines of Serra Pelada to his work on his most recent project Genesis, the film leaves no doubt that Salgado is one of the greatest photographers ever.
- What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann – (2005, Director Steven Cantor) An exploration into the creative mind of an artist. Sally Mann discusses her work through her successes, failures, her influences, and disappointments. There is something for every photographer to relate to in this film.
- Finding Vivian Maier – (2013, Directors John Maloof, Charlie Siskel) Possibly the most famous of all films on this list, Finding Vivian Maier is a movie about a woman who blended in and surreptitiously photographed non-stop for years with no one really knowing she was amassing a large catalogue of images. After her death her work was recently discovered, and the documentary pieces together her life from clues, photographs, and conversations with (now adult) children she looked after while fulfilling her job as a nanny. Her life is a bit of a mystery, but her outstanding photographic work shines a light into her spirit.
- Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – (2012, Director Alison Klayman) Ai Weiwei is a multi-media artist and dissident with homes in the U.S. and China. He’s known in photography for his “giving the finger” images and also his selfies. He might be described as Warhol, Picasso, Calder, and Banksy, rolled into one. This isn’t truly a photography documentary, but it’s fascinating and thought-provoking.
- Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe – (2007, Director James Crump) A thoughtful film which brings to life the professional and personal relationship between Robert Mapplethorpe and his benefactor Sam Wagstaff.
- Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters – (2012, Director Ben Shapiro) The incredible production value, difficulty, and creativity of Gregory Crewdson’s photographs is on display in this mesmerizing documentary. The filming follows him during his work on his Beneath the Roses concept.
- Meru – (2015, Jimmy Chin, Chai Vasarhelyi) Ok, it’s not really a photography documentary, but photographer and videographer Jimmy Chin does a spectacular job of filming this first ascent. Teamed with Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk, the climb of the imposing shark fin of India’s Mount Meru gave me the willies just watching. There is a section of this film which showcases some of the climbing photography techniques that Jimmy Chin uses when on assignment.
- War Photographer – (2001, Director Christian Frei) A documentary of photojournalist James Nachtwey who lets his images do the talking. He’s won numerous awards and the highest honors in his profession, and this documentary captures him on assignment in Kosovo, Indonesia, Africa, and the West Bank. The film opens with an adage from Robert Capa, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and Nachtwey lives by these words. His photographic records of war, famine, and poverty are devastating, and his philosophy on why he’s a war photographer is fascinating.
- Bill Cunningham New York – (2010, Director Richard Press) A delightful film which follows photographer Bill Cunningham snapping fashion images on the streets of New York. Cunningham carries this documentary with his outlook on life, simple lifestyle, fashion eye, dedication, and his infectious exuberance. If you’re ever down in the dumps or want to get out of a photography rut, this film is a dandy pick-me-up.
- Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens – (2008, Director Barbara Leibovitz) This study in the life and career of Annie Leibovitz from her early days at the Rolling Stone to her work for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and her more personal work shows that even someone at the top of the photography world can still make mistakes and grow from them. Her work is astounding and her creative passion is an inspiration. The film is less in-depth than I would have liked, as some major portions of her life are discussed only on the surface.
- Inside Out: The People’s Art Project – (2013, Alastair Siddons) Street photographer JR takes his TED Talks Prize and gives it back to the people to create their own art. His world photography project helps humanize the disenfranchised from Pakistan to South Dakota as they produce giant portraits to post on the streets. They can no longer be ignored and must be seen, as they create their own power through imagery. The film is truly an inspiration to witness the influence of photography changing the common man on the street.
If there are other films you think I might be leaving off this list, let me know. Fellow Photo Cascadia members Adrian Klein and Erin Babnik shared films they liked such as Salt and The Quest for Inspiration. I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m on the lookout for these two. I hope you enjoy the films I’ve listed; many are available on Netflix so they’re easy to find and most have shorter run times. Now curl up with a bowl of popcorn and learn from the masters.
February 16th, 2017
Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.
Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.
Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.
- Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
- Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
- Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
- Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
- Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
- In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
- Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
- Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
- Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
- It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
- When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
- It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
- Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
- Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
- Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
- Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
- Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
- Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
- Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
- Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.
February 2nd, 2017
Over 20 years and 300 visits, photographer and author, QT Luong, explored each of America’s 59 national parks. His decades-long project culminated in his book, Treasured Lands, A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. Both an art book and a guidebook in one, it is a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to our most treasured landscapes. Released in the summer of 2016 in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial, it now is even more important and timely in light of the recent political environment which could put our national parks and other public lands at risk.
Reviewing books is not part of my typical skill set, but this book has made such an impression on me that I am honored to share it. Unfortunately, there may not be much value I can add considering the New York Times already declared it to be the “most glorious” book to come out of the centennial of the National Park Service and the accolades of Ken Burns already grace its cover.
I first became familiar with Luong’s photography while researching photo locations in the Western United States and Mexico more than a decade ago. Time and again, the most comprehensive photographic coverage and the most inspiring photos I found were in his collection. It seemed he had been everywhere and always under the most favorable conditions for photography. Later I had the pleasure of meeting Luong and attending one of his presentations at a North American Nature Photography Association summit. Over time we have corresponded on a variety of photography topics. His eye for light and composition is inspiring, his determination for finding exciting vantage points is remarkable and his appreciation and knowledge of our planet is heartening. However, nothing could be a more fitting testament to his artistry and tenacity as an explorer, scientist and photographer than this book. At over 450 pages, 500+ images, 130,000 words and 60 maps, it is definitive in its scope, content, and beauty.
The mind has a hard time grasping the enormity of such a project. To merely visit all 59 national parks in one’s lifetime would be an accomplishment to take note of. To spend the time, over multiple visits, to find and photograph so many locations in so many nuances of light, weather and season is remarkable. To do it with such quality, attention to detail and obvious admiration and love for the land is exceptional. The layout of this large format book is gorgeous. It is printed on heavy art paper with great attention to color and image quality. Each chapter begins with an overview of the particular park, followed by several stunning page-filling images, completely unfettered by text. At the end of each park’s chapter is additional information about the park as well as details for each image, a map, seasonal tips, locations, and suggestions for photography.
Tuan’s photography showcased in this format combined with the historical and ecological information, maps, visitor suggestions and photography tips truly make this an art book and a guidebook in one. But who is going to lug a seven-pound book along with them on their explorations of the parks? In order to make Treasured Lands “more useful than a coffee-table book, and more inspiring than a guidebook”, he has also created a companion e-book that is formatted specifically for mobile devices. This makes it possible to bring the guide aspect of the book along with you in your pocket. For a nominal price, book owners can access the e-book from a link found on page 13. If you only want the e-book version you can purchase it separately on the Treasured Lands website.
A sign of the times, purchasing large art books isn’t as common these days as it once was. But if there ever was an art book to have as your own or give to someone else, this would be the one. It is an important book on many levels; as a tribute to our national parks, as a tribute to a 20-year project of passion, as a monumental body of artwork, as inspiration to enjoy, admire and take care of our public lands, as a photography resource and a travel guide and perhaps most importantly as a reminder of what a treasure our National Parks are and how important it is that we fight to keep them safe.
You can find the book Treasured Lands at treasuredlandsbook.com.
QT Luong is a full-time photographer from California, known for being the first to photograph all 59 US National Parks – in large format. Ken Burns featured him in “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009). His photographs, published in dozens of countries around the world, have been the subject several magazine profiles, solo gallery and museum exhibits. You can see more of his work at www.terragalleria.com.
Sean Bagshaw 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.
January 24th, 2017
My favorite way to experience photography is through print. It’s hard to describe the tremendous satisfaction I get when viewing my own prints, or prints from a photographer I admire. I’ve always enjoyed printing myself. I learned to print in the darkroom in my college photography classes and when I moved to digital I taught myself how to make my own prints at home. As my photography progressed people started to ask if they could buy prints of my images. Eventually, I started doing art festivals and gallery shows to share my work and make more print sales. Whether you plan to print yourself, or have prints made by a dedicated print shop it’s essential that you understand a few basic concepts about color management and preparing images for print.
We live in an increasingly screen based culture. The majority of photography I see is on some sort of screen. A lot of photographers I meet who are starting photography exist almost exclusively in the digital universe. Eventually though, you, or someone you know might want a print made of your photos. Photographic printing can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying to see your own images in print, and you will be a better photographer if you understand the fundamentals of color management and print preparation. In this article, I’ll share five essential tips for getting you and your images ready to print.
- CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR:
It’s hard to stress how important this is. There is no point spending hours processing your photos for print if you haven’t calibrated your monitor. It’s the foundation of color management, and brings everyone into a common color standard. I remember when I got started in photography many years ago, I read on some forums about the importance of calibrating my monitor. At the time I was more concerned with acquiring more lenses and gear and didn’t see why it was a big deal. When I started printing I learned a hard and expensive lesson. The first prints I made were a huge disappointment. They didn’t look like what I saw on my monitor at all, the colors were off and it came out really dark. With a little more friendly advise I finally invested in a decent calibrations package. Once I calibrated my monitor I realized two important things. One, it’s really helpful when everyone is using the same color standards and profiles, otherwise what may look red on my screen could look orange, or purple on another. Two, I had my monitor set way too bright. Reflected light from a print will never look as bright as transmitted light from a screen. Lowering screen brightness much better reflects how an image will print. Here is a link to the colormunki screen calibrator I use now. Very easy to use and profiles really accurately. All of their products work really well, but I like the customization options with the colormunki display model: http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-display
- UNDERSTAND BASIC COLOR MANAGEMENT:
Whether you are printing yourself, sending your files to a dedicated print shop, or preparing an image for a publisher, you will get much better results if you understand the basics of color management. There are two basic concepts to understand when managing color on your computer. The first is using the correct color space when exporting from Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw and the right color setting in Photoshop. I always use the Pro Photo RGB color space as it has the widest color gamut, I prefer to start my editing with as many colors as possible especially if I will be printing the image. The second concept is using the right printing profile. If you’re having someone else print for you, it’s still important to understand printer profiles. You can use a printer profile to soft proof your image and get a preview of how it will look when printed with the specific printer and paper they use. Printer profiles are scripts used by the printer to adhere to color standards, they help the printer produce an image that looks as close to what you see on your screen as possible. I’ll talk more about soft proofing in the next section.
- SOFT PROOFING AND HARD PROOFING:
Soft proofing is using software such as Lightroom, or Photoshop to preview a printer profile. Soft proofing attempts to simulate what the image will look like when printed on a specific print paper with a specific printer. I think soft proofing is useful to get you in the right ballpark, but I don’t trust soft proofing completely. It is still pretty unreliable when trying preview exactly what a print will look like. I use soft proofing to get me close and then I order a test print which is called a hard proof. Once the test print is made, or arrives from a print shop, I can evaluate it and make any adjustments that I think it needs. This method is what I rely on when making prints for customers, art shows and galleries. The videos below help explain soft proofing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Great video on soft proofing in Lightroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9B8ABOb9U
Another video about basic soft proofing in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y47uoKE_dAs
- SHARPEN APPROPRIATELY FOR EACH PRINT MEDIUM AND SIZE.
Each print medium I use requires different levels of sharpening to look it’s best. For instance, noise from over sharpening shows up easier on metal prints. Both acrylic and traditional inkjet prints are more forgiving and hide minor noise and digital artifacts better. Canvas is the most forgiving. Print size is also something to consider. What does this mean in practical terms for my workflow? I’ve adopted a simple and flexible approach to sharpening. I do normal output sharpening in Lightroom or ACR to correct for softness introduced by camera, lens, and the RAW format. The amount varies for each image. I continue with my workflow in photoshop to produce a master file with all layers and adjustments preserved if possible. If I’m going to make a print, I save a flattened copy of the master file and sharpen it specifically for that print size and medium. Sometimes it doesn’t need additional sharpening, but if it does it’s usually the last adjustment I make before sending it to print. As a general guideline, I sharpen more for smaller prints, and less for larger prints. The is counter intuitive for many people, but I’ve found that smaller prints need more because they lose sharpness when they are scaled down, and large prints tend to show any unwanted effects that might arise from over sharpening. This is my personal preference and there are other factors to consider including the view distance.
- ADJUST LUMINANCE FOR SPECIFIC PRINT MEDIUMS.
Each print medium has it’s own perceptual brightness and ambient reflectivity. Like I described in the sharpening section, I save a flattened copy of my master file for each specific size and print medium I print on. Aluminum prints and lumachrome acrylic prints have high ambient reflectivity and perceptual brightness, therefore they require very little, if any brightness adjustment. Traditional inkjet prints and canvas require a lot more brightness adjustments if you want to replicate the look you see on your screen.
I’ve been printing a long time, and I’ve learned several important lessons from printing over the years. I’ve noticed that my processing workflow has evolved to accommodate printing. I now tend to process with printing in mind first, and make specific changes to the file later when posting to the web. I also have evolved to process in the most editable and non destructive way to preserve the image quality. I think printing has made me a better photographer and has helped me improve my image quality.
Old video blog about basic printing from Photoshop: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/intro-to-photoshop-printing-video/#.WIT_MrGZMUE
Recommended printing companies: These are the two print companies that I use. I’ve tried a lot print shops, and these guys both produce incredible, quality prints. I get my Aluminum prints from: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com and acrylic prints from http://www.nevadaartprinters.com
December 14th, 2016
Lucky number seven in 2016 for Photo Cascadia. Seven for the first full year with seven team members and seven for the number of years Photo Cascadia has been around. Speaking of luck it was honestly mostly luck in the beginning that this specific team of photographers formed, have become good friends and enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge with all of you for as long as we have. During this time we have seen similar groups form and fold. We hope this seven year stretch is only the beginning of our journey as you join us along for the ride. In the end it’s you, the readers, that continue to provide energy for what we do at Photo Cascadia. For this we are extremely grateful and thankful… thank you!
Where did 2016 take you for adventure and photography? I am sure it was similar to many on the Photo Cascadia team where we spent time in our own backyards, crossing state lines as well as some continent hopping. If you have been watching our blog for more than a year now you will know that mid December is when Photo Cascadia takes a break from our weekly posting until mid January. It’s our time to step back and reflect on the year that has past while winding down with family and friends.
As we reflect on things it’s a good time to remember that all the places we get to visit should be available for those that come after us. It seems 2016 we unfortunately saw a rise, at least in the media if not reality, around people doing permanent damage to places we all want to enjoy and photograph as well as companies and political forces looking to seize locations set aside for long term preservation. Now days, perhaps more than ever, we all need breaks into nature whether some of us realize it or not as the number of us living in a concrete jungle grows. With that I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
We take this time to provide a year end visual show of where we have traveled with some behind the scenes clips. Take a four minute break and check it out.
May your year close out with many lasting memories and the new year start with a trail full of endless possibilities.
December 5th, 2016
by Zack Schnepf
Back when I was taking my first photography classes in college, instructors would ask me what I was trying to say with my images. At the time, I thought this was just something art instructors said. I came to understand that effective art is often able to communicate something to the viewer. Sometimes it’s an emotion, a mood, a sense of wonder, or an overall feeling you get when you sit and appreciate a work of art. I’ve felt disturbed by documentary photos in war torn countries, pure joy viewing a photo of lion cubs wrestling his brother, I’ve felt the cold in images of mountain climbers summiting massive snowy peaks and I’ve felt awe and wonder viewing photos of majestic moments captured in nature. I’ve had many profound moments out in the field photographing. I became a photographer so I could share these profound moments with other people as well as remind myself of some of my favorite moments. If i’m able to communicate some of what I’m experiencing through my image I consider it a successful image. In this article I’ll talk about trying to communicate through my images and how it effects how I capture an image in the field and how I process and image in post production.
In the field: There are already so many things to think about in the field; changing light, composing multiple elements together, difficult environmental conditions, not to mention all of the technical settings you have to balance as well. It can be chaotic. It can be difficult to also think about trying to communicate through your image. It doesn’t have to always be something profound you are communicating, sometimes it’s simple things. In this example, I loved the lines of erosion here in White Pocket in Arizona. I noticed if I composed with my camera about 8 inches off the ground It really accentuated the pattern of erosion and helped tell the story of these petrified sand dunes eroding away over time in the wind and rain. I also tried to compose to accentuate the natural curve and texture in the rock. To me, this helped communicate the incredible history of erosion that has taken place to create this natural work of art.
In this example, I was scouting for a workshop when I saw this lone tree out in the middle of these overlapping green hills in the Palouse. I put on my telephoto lens and shot at about 300mm to focus in on the this one solitary tree surrounded by these hills. To me, framing this way helped convey a feeling I was having looking at the scene. This shot was actually captured during the workshop in much more interesting conditions. A rain storm was clearing as the sun was rising creating this atmosphere that helped convey the emotions I was feeling even more. Even in the field I was struck with emotion as I looked at this scene. It seemed to communicate an independent strength and integrity. The backlight through the falling rain just reinforced this feeling. I knew when I worked on this in photoshop, I wanted to process this in a way that helped communicate those same feelings.
In post production: There is a lot you can do in post production to enhance your images, you can also accentuate elements that help the image communicate. With the lone tree image, I accentuated the backlight on the tree and hills to help the tree feel luminous and help it stand out even more in the scene. To me this is a very successful image, every time I look at it I still feel some of what I felt in the field.
This was my first time visiting Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park. I was with my good friend David Cobb at the time. I was so enamored with this scene, I really wanted to capture it in a way that helped convey what a unique and special place it is. This is a very common theme in my photography, I love to share my own awe and wonder when visiting these special places and I try to capture them in a way that expresses that. It was also very peaceful and I felt a great wave of tranquility as I sat and took in this scene. I set up in a pretty unusual spot, I had to be very careful not to slip and fall in, but I loved the compositional flow that was created here. Again, this is a successful image to me, because every time I look at it I feel some of the tranquility, awe and wonder I felt when I was there. This is also a popular image at art shows, and people tell me they feel peaceful when they look at it.
This last example was just taken a few weeks ago while I was vacationing and photographing on the Big Island of Hawaii. My family moved to Hawaii for a few years when I was a kid and I was lucky enough to witness Kilauea erupt in spectacular fashion when I was five years old. It is an experience that is burned into my memory. This recent trip was my first opportunity to capture some of that experience in my own photography. Cj Kale guided me out to the flow on this particular morning and it was quite a show. It’s so dynamic watching a lava flow, it’s constantly changing, moving and doing unpredictable things. There was so much going on, the flow was changing, the waves were crashing and wind was blowing the steam all around. It was such a privilege to watch the creation of a new part of the island right before my eyes. I really wanted to capture a moment like this with the lava visibly flowing, the waves crashing and the steam catching the light of the lava. Its was extremely challenging, but rewarding. Again, to me the is a successful image. It captures just how dynamic and dramatic it was to watch the lava flowing into the ocean creating new land. It was a transcendent moment for me, one where I was reminded how small and insignificant we are, it was powerful to witness something that has been shaping our planet for much of it’s four billion year history.
I love being able to share moments like this through my photography. It’s why I became a photographer. Images like these are some of my favorites, because I feel something when I look at them and other people do as well. Trying to communicate through my own images has helped me become a better photographer and continues to make photography more rewarding. You can learn more about me, my images and the workshops and tutorials I offer on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com
November 28th, 2016
American Dreamscapes – Book Review
By David Cobb
I’ve been friends with Christian Heeb for a number of years. An immigrant from Switzerland, Heeb first got his photographic start in the U.S. photographing the Native American. His wonderment in the American myth of the Wild West led him to a variety of places including the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and Route 66 among others. During his career—which includes over 200 published books—his assignments have taken him to every corner of the states and also around the world. His newest venture isn’t for a U.S. or German publisher however, but a personal project titled American Dreamscapes.
American Dreamscapes is the American dream not as interpreted by Horatio Alger, but maybe one closer to the vision of film director Quentin Tarantino. Coming of age in Switzerland, Heeb’s photography has certainly been influenced by fellow countryman Robert Frank; but Heeb also has influences in the surreal imagery of Gregory Crewdson, and the more voyeuristic photos of David Drebin. His settings also remind me of the more banal locations of photographer Stephen Shore.
Many photographers of the lost America like Anthony Hernandez, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams show the blight of American expansion and decay, and those who have been left behind or forgotten. Heeb photographs the edge of American life in a Hopperesque way: from the wayward hotel to the diner, with guns, girls, cars, and sex being common themes. This is the dark side of “when America was great again,” and this is the America that would give Dorothea Lange nightmares.
These people are not only on the fringe of society, but also on the fringe of daybreak. These are the hours when the neon glows brightly, and the hours when folks are desperate enough to commit a crime as seen in his images “The Hold Up” or “Stolen Car.” His models pose with cold distant looks, disconnected from each other and reality. In the photo “The Fun Center,” they’re having anything but fun. These people inhabit a lurid world, and they’re all trying to hang on to make it through another day.
American Dreamscapes is a limited-edition book which may be purchased in both print and digital versions from the Christian Heeb website. The book is in the dual languages of English and German.
Here is a link to download your digital copy here at his web site.
November 21st, 2016
Every autumn there is a great chance to see some of our national parks dressed in fall colors. This year I was excited to lead the group to Yosemite National Park. It is
known to have some of the grandest landscapes in North America. People from all over the world visit Yosemite at all times of the year, but no season is prettier than autumn. The park’s open meadows turn golden with the changing seasons, frost covers the layers of grasses, and the leaves on the trees turn vivid colors of yellow, orange and red. The scenic elements of Yosemite all come together during the autumn. Waterfalls gracefully stream down the larger than life walls of granite, framed by the golden leaves, making their way to the Merced River. The Merced winds its way from start to finish through the middle of the Lower Yosemite Valley. It is in this central heart of the park where everything combines that is the perfect place to photograph in autumn.
The tour began when the group left the Fresno Airport and headed north for Yosemite. On the drive into the park we were met with autumn hues everywhere, especially as we got nearer to our destination. The fall foliage was at its peak and the group was soon motivated to get out and shoot. This fall season was a little different from other years—in a good way—as Yosemite had significant rainstorms, which caused a massive amount of water to flow into the valley. The iconic waterfalls, such as Upper Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls, were pouring out large volumes of water, making for a great combination of autumn color and cascading falls.
Let me give you a glimpse into one day in Yosemite National Park during autumn. On our first morning we headed to an area known to locals as Tahiti Beach on the mighty Merced River at the base of El Capitan and the Three Brothers for the sunrise. The group lined up against the shore of the river and photographed with their widest lenses looking for reflections in the quiet pools. This unique location provides several vantage points of the iconic peaks reflected in the river. Again, because of this year’s excess water from the rains, the group found all kinds of rain pools to photograph reflections of fall foliage and the granite peaks of Yosemite.
During the morning the waterfalls and mountains were photographed framed by the colors dressing the trees. Throughout the day we continued photographing along the Merced River, focusing on as much fall color as we could find. As the day warmed, and recent rainwater began to evaporate, the mist rose from the Lower Yosemite Valley. This made for fantastic atmospheric conditions, especially when combined with the colors from the trees.
The highlight of the day was when we came upon a single elm tree in the middle of a meadow with a “spotlight” shining down upon it. At the time most of the valley was in clouds, but an opening in the sky allowed light to shine on this one solitary tree. The combination of the mist, the fall colors, and the light created the perfect conditions. We shot the tree from all kinds of angles as the light lasted for several minutes before moving on. Then, a few minutes later, we found another meadow with atmospheric mist combined with frost. This time the sun peeked through the mist and the crepuscular rays illuminated through the wall of trees and showcased the frost and golden color of autumn.
After having a quick bite to eat the group jumped back into the van ready to locate more fall color in the park. Walking along the Merced River we made our way to El Capitan Meadow and El Capitan Bridge. Standing on the bridge you can photograph in any direction and get perfect fall reflections with the backdrop of El Capitan or the Cathedral Spires mirrored in the river. With the challenges of shooting due to the different kinds of light, the group took a shot at exposure bracketing and HDR. For some of the group this was the first time ever trying this technique. Exposure bracketing is the process of taking several different exposures of the same scene without moving the camera on a tripod. At the end you have several different exposures of a scene to combat the variety of different types of light in one scene. Later, during processing, all of these different exposures are combined into one for one evenly exposed image.
One of the many outstanding features in Yosemite is the number of stunning peaks that rise from the valley floor and are lined up next to one another. This makes for great landscape panoramas. Throughout the day the group put together several panoramas from several locations in the park.
For our sunset shoot we headed to the unbelievable scenic viewpoint at Tunnel View. As the sun began to set and the pink pastel hues began to appear the group waited in anticipation. With the combination of Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls all in one scene it was a memorable sunset shoot that no one would soon forget.
After a full day of shooting autumn color in Yosemite we headed back to our lodging for a group dinner and some well earned rest. And that was just our first day!
November 7th, 2016
In the video tutorial below (email subscribers can click the title link to view the video on the web) I take you through a feature of Photoshop that is super helpful and pretty simple, but also something that can be a little confusing for a lot of people…customizing your Photoshop workspace.
Photoshop is a massive application with powerful tools aimed at different types of uses…photography, digital painting, graphic design, 3D modeling and website development just to name a few. It arranges similar tools, functions and features into panels. You can also add custom panels to Photoshop, such as Tony Kuyper’s TKActions and Infinity Mask panels. Very few of us ever make regular use of every single Photoshop panel. In addition, we all have different workflow preferences and screen space limitations. The ability to create one or more custom workspaces in Photoshop enables you to personalize and evolve your space to best fit how you work and establish optimal efficiency and creative flow.
I hope you find this tutorial helpful. Please post in questions in the comments section and please share any of your own Photoshop workspace tricks and tips.
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.
October 27th, 2016
Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.
These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.
Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.
Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.
Focal Length Blend:
This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.
One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.
A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.
This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.
These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.
When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.
Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)
This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.
The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.
Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require the combination of many focus points.
The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).
A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.
Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.
Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.
WHEN, WHY, AND HOW MUCH?
My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.
**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!
Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.
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 Facebook, Twitter and 500px.