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?

 

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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? 

Telephoto Lenses and Landscape Photography by David Cobb

by photocascadia
March 28th, 2016

Blossom Quilt

Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.

Little Buffalo River

A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:

• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.

Buttermilk Creek Cascade 2

When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.

I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.

Lavender in Layers

Palouse Hill Country

What I Learned From My Time At Paws Up Resort

by photocascadia
March 21st, 2016

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This winter I got to visit one of the top premier resorts in Montana called Paws Up Luxury Ranch just outside Missoula Montana. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be asked my the media team at Paws Up to do a commercial shoot during spring photo shoot. I really enjoyed my time on the ranch and hoped I would get the chance again to photograph the location but in winter time. This winter I was fortunate enough to be asked again to photograph the property to highlight the stunning winter landscapes of the ranch. They were looking for images that showcased the facilities at its best including the stunning dining area, the warm lit cabins at night, and the many winter activities available. While on location they were generous enough to set myself up in one of their luxurious cabins as well as a SUV for transportation to get around in. From the client, I had a list of things they expected from me. It was laid out from most important to least and clearly what they expected from me. There main objective from me, was to photograph the ranch in the best available light. We had established a contract beforehand of things they expected and a fee that would be appropriate for the job. It is critical that when dealing with commissioned jobs that you have a well laid out contract that clearly establishes what each party is responsible for. Things always can go sideways when employed to do a job and thus, a contract is there to protect both parties involved.

Images from Paws Up Luxury Ranch in Greenough, Montana. It is 30 minutes east of Missoula.

My contract stated I would be photographing at the ranch from Thursday to Sunday with an extra day to increase my odds of getting at least one morning or evening of light. Upon arrival I wrote down a game plan of how I wanted to do things and make sure I was at the right place at the right time. Looking to photograph the locations at the top of the list and work my way down. The first night I choose to photograph the main buildings at night under the warmth of the lights at night with the fresh snow. My adjective when shooting areas with a lot of foot traffic in winter snow is to avoid signs of human presence. To be more specific I want to avoid footprints in the snow and signs of cars. So I had to carefully compose the images to avoid these elements and yet capture the essence of each place. The clients specific instructions was to do my best to avoid human footprints in the snow. I always try to tell a story with my images and this includes when shooting architecture. My job as a photographer is to create a mood and present a story to the viewer. So when shooting buildings or cabins in winter I want to express a feeling of cozy, warm, shelters to escape the cold winter nights. I try to include smoke coming from chimneys, lights turned on in all areas of the building, and visual opening to the door. This is essential to my objective and will ask management to make sure as many of these things settings are present when photographing. I also like to do most of shooting just after sunset during what I call the blue hour when the sky is going dark but has a cooler blue cast and really complements the warmer colors coming from the buildings and cabins. At the end of the night I managed to capture most of the ambiance I was trying to achieve.

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The next day my objective was to photograph clients enjoying the resorts activities. The first objective is to photograph the guests being escorted around by horses and sleds in the fresh snow. Here is it vital to capture the smiles on the guests’ faces as well as the horses. I take both intimate and wide-angle shots to make sure I capture the moment. I make sure when photographing activities to capture as much as I can. In the afternoon I setup a photo shoot where I shoot some of the employees on the horses making there way through the winter forests. Here I am looking to focus on the relationship between the cowboy and the horse. As many riders know a bond between a horse and a cowboy is special so I really want that to show in my images. Once I was satisfied with my cowboy images I turned my attention to the sunset and being at the best places I could. I also wanted to photograph it from as many places as I could in the small window I would be provided. With a list of places to shoot I shot as from as many places I could in the time given until dark settled in for the night.

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On my last day, I woke up early for a spectacular sunrise with the fresh snow that fall over night. I was able to get to all the places I needed and when the weekend was over I had achieved most of the goals I had set out to get.

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By the end of the trip I had jotted down a list of things I learned over the weekend that would make my next adventure better. Most importantly, I realized how vital it is do have a plan from most important to least; this also includes having a backup plan if the weather does not cooperate. Also whenever doing a job that has been commissioned make sure that you and your employer have a clear understanding of what their objective is. In my particular circumstance it was to capture the ranch in a way that was inviting to viewers especially in wintertime where it would colder conditions would make this a harder job. After I finished processing the images and the client was able to see the images they picked out a set amount of images that had been agreed upon beforehand. They used this images for there brochures, website, and everything that was used for their marketing. Lastly, I made sure that I honored everything that was set out in the agreement to achieve and on their part they did the same. In the end, the ranch and I were both happy with the results.

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