Photogenic Light: Alternatives to Photographing Landscapes at Sunrise or Sunset

by Erin Babnik
July 18th, 2016

 

The digital era has ushered in an abundance of stunning landscape photographs that represent clouds ablaze with color at sunrise or sunset. Thanks to increasingly capable cameras and software, photographing fiery skies and developing those images has never been easier. The wonderful visual impact of vibrant colors will surely guarantee the appeal of such scenes until the end of time, but there are many other options for creating compelling photographs of grand vistas. Here are some suggestions for types of light that can be very photogenic for large, scenic views.

1 ) Ambient Light

Even when the sun is well below the horizon, particles in the air can reflect its light, casting a soft ambient glow across the land. This type of light can be very subtle and warm, producing pleasing, feathered shadows and allowing colors and textures to appear very distinct. Once an area begins to receive direct light, shadows form hard edges and become strong elements on their own, often cutting across the lines of other forms. In areas where the lines of the land itself are what you want to feature, it is usually best to avoid hard shadows that complicate the scene. Locations that work particularly well with ambient light are those with interesting textures and with varying elevation of the terrain. Soft, warm light of any sort is great for bringing out colors, so colorful land can be particularly photogenic in ambient light as well.

Quiet Riot

2) Dappled Light

Dappled light occurs when the sun is still relatively high and cloud cover is about fifty percent or more. The effect of soft shadows alternating with bright, spotlit areas can be very dramatic. In these sorts of conditions, the light tends to change very quickly, so it’s often a good idea to find a composition and then wait and watch for a while. When your primary point of interest gets picked out by a spot of light, you’re likely to come away with an exciting photograph.

Getting Close

3) Diffused Light

Even overcast conditions can show off the special qualities of certain locations. A solid layer of clouds can act like a giant soft box when the sun is above them, diffusing its light enough to soften shadows. Like ambient light, diffused light works well for locations with a lot of textures.

Curve Appeal

4) Twilight/Night

Twilight is often called the “Blue Hour” by photographers because of the rich blue hues that the sky takes on while the sun is not very low beneath the horizon. This period is a great time to photograph the moon or to feature textures on the ground that appear clearly when reflecting soft light. After the sky goes black, it becomes a somewhat vacant space in an image until it is dark enough for the stars to shine brightly or for the colors of the Milky Way to be visible. I am placing twilight and night in the same category because landscape photographers often combine exposures of both for better handling of dynamic range in night scenes. A so-called “twilight blend” entails shooting the land portion of a scene at twilight and then leaving the camera in place on its tripod until the stars come out and can be captured in a second exposure (or the reverse order in the case of sunrise).

Nowhere

These four types of light are not the only alternatives to photographing scenic views at sunrise or sunset, but they can be especially fruitful. With the right combination of light and location, it is possible to produce compelling, expansive scenes at any time of the day. Creating photographs in different types of light can provide your portfolio with great variety and depth, and it will give you more options for the sheer enjoyment of photographing landscapes.

If you have any questions about these suggestions or would like to add to them, please feel free to leave a comment below!

 

ErinBabnikWebLogoWhiteText

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

Acadia National Park in Spring

by Adrian Klein
July 14th, 2016

 

 AcadiaNP-May2016-2347Photo: Colorful rocks that more resemble marbles more than rocks at Little Hunters Beach – Acadia National Park, Maine

In May of this year I had an opportunity to spend a few days in Acadia National Park. If you are not familiar with the area it’s in the state of Maine, one of the six states making up the New England region. When it comes to photography the area is certainly more known for visiting in fall season to capture vivid red, yellow and orange colors from the plethora of deciduous trees filling the landscape. Fall season aside there is still much to see and photograph during the other three seasons, including spring. In spring the trees and foliage are in full bloom with an array of green hues to fill up your camera lens.

While a few days allows for seeing the main sites I would overall recommend a couple more beyond that to check out more of the area and get on a couple more trails or kayaking. I will also say I am someone that typically researches quite a bit ahead of time for any trip of a few days or more. This one I pretty much winged it. I give that caveat ahead of my trip review for additional context.

When I got into Acadia it was the Friday starting on Memorial Day weekend. I was certainly prepared for jammed roads, too many tourists and little space. Much to my surprise it was not bad at all with plenty of moments to take in the area without too much commotion.

Lodging
There are many options just outside of park as well as some inside the park, including camping. Since lodging when I travel by myself literally means a decent place to sleep, and nothing more, I chose an inexpensive motel on the main highway just outside the main entrance of the park. It worked out well for me.

Food
In the park options are limited. Just outside the park there places like Bar Harbor with plenty of options. As said before I was mainly there to see sites. I hit the local grocery store and used the fridge at the motel. Don’t forget to eat plenty of lobster, it’s pretty much everywhere.

Traveling
You can actually fly into Bangor International which is only about a 45 mile drive to Acadia. I happened to already be in Portland (Portland, Maine that is not to be confused with my hometown Portland, Oregon) where it made sense for me to drive the 160 miles vs getting on another plane.

Locations
There is a little bit of everything here from small ponds to ocean waves and lush forests to mountain views.  The Park Loop Rd is the main route in the east portion of the park. One thing I like about the setup of the main loop is the one-way two lane feature where the right lane doubles as a parking spot in most parts. For photography this is great. I see something I like and can literally stop the car in the middle of the road to get out and take photos. Yes this means that once you pass a spot the only way back to it is doing the full loop again but the pros outweigh the cons.

Whether you like rough rocky shores or small town boat harbors ANP has them as well. The iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located outside the busiest part of the park and worth checking out. Truth be told I was looking forward to photographing the Portland Head Lighthouse more, yet on my visit it was dressed in scaffolding for maintenance, maybe next time.

Foggy Forests
The first afternoon and morning of my second day brought spells of fog which made for some great atmosphere to photograph. We often talk about national parks being too crowded and for the most part I agree with that. Yet on my first evening I was photographing this fine grove of ferns and I had wondered if the park was closed and I got locked in! I spent 15 to 20 minutes standing on the road photographing this scene in the early evening with not a single car coming by and it was on the main park loop. All I could hear was the sound of occasional water dripping and leaves waving when breezes came through. It was fantastic.

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The next morning as the sun scorched it’s way through the fog there was fine scenes I encountered. On this foggy road I ‘parked’ my car just behind where I stood to take this photo. Only a couple cars and runners strolled through.

AcadiaNP-May2016-1995-Crop
A short ways down the road is Beaver Dam Pond aptly named with the number of beaver domes I saw.  The fog provided a still reflection that disappeared as I photographed and the fog was blown away.

AcadiaNP-May2016-2014

Rocks
My good friend and fellow Photo Cascadia team member did tell me there are good options for photographing rocks. There certainly are some cool finds. While my hair got soaked to the point water was running down my face from the dense fog I found this neat rock formation. I am thinking boot yet I also see a dolphin. What do you see?

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The lines and patterns drew me in here. I felt like I was coming across the bones from an archaeological dig looking at parts of how these rocks presented themselves.

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Perhaps the most fun to see and photograph rock wise was Little Hunters Beach. There is no big sign to show you the way; you can easily miss it if you aren’t looking for it. It’s like one gigantic bag of marbles were dumped on the shore. Can’t remember the last time I saw this many beautiful rocks in one spot.

AcadiaNP-May2016-2289

Views
Some of the best views are up on Cadillac Mountain; at just over 460 meters is the highest point which feels low until you remind yourself you are on the ocean. You can hike just a short ways and be away from the masses. If you are a curb side shooter this place works too. Don’t be fooled thinking that just because you are nearing summer and sunrise is before 5 am that it will be quiet. Boy was I in for a surprise. Hundreds were up there to watch the sunrise, most just to experience the scene not to photograph.

This sunrise was the best I had all trip and the sliver of sun poking through was all we saw before the clouds engulfed it. This foreground seemed fitting as the rocks look a little like lobster claws.

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Looking inland at sunset, near the top of Cadillac Mountain while the bugs were nipping strong from my head to my toes.

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Sunset on Cadillac Mountain looking towards Bar Harbor. I imagine kayaking to those small islands would be fun.

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Japanese Garden
If you prefer a little more man made than pure nature there is very nice little Japanese one right outside the park called Asticou Azalea Garden that is free to visit.

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Ocean
Definitely cannot forget about getting down close to the rugged rocky ocean shoreline. I get mesmerized watching the waves slosh around. Thunderhole is a great place to see if you can time it right for waves. During my time there the water was too calm for much action according to one of the rangers. No worry for me plenty else to see.

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I left the few folks in this photos sitting on a rock ledge to show scale better. See if you can spot them.

AcadiaNP-May2016-2114

Final Thoughts
All in all it was a pretty quick trip yet a fine place to spend a few days photographing and exploring. If you have never been it’s certainly one to add to your bucket list. I hope to make a trip back during fall in the future.

On the subject of national parks I will get on my soap box ever so briefly. With the staggering increase volume of visitors each year to some of the major parks in the United States it’s no wonder we are seeing the many headlines of a small number of people making poor decisions negatively impacting a park landscape or wildlife. I would say mostly I have seen stories from Yellowstone this year yet that park is not alone. Others may not agree with me yet I feel the most popular parks are approaching a crisis. If we don’t effectively manage through the high visitor rate that appears to be continuing upward I fear a system of national parks we know today may be a lot less enjoyable 30 to 50 years from now. Although I don’t love permitting systems or limiting access to what we deem ‘our national parks’ I am beginning to wonder if the peak seasons at large popular parks need to entertain new ideas to effectively limit traffic, both number of people and vehicles. I won’t dive into a deep debate here, simply something to ponder. On that note get out there and enjoy your parks as I will be doing the same this summer with my family.

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

by David Cobb
July 5th, 2016

Hold Still Sally Mann Cover

 

Book Review by David Cobb

“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” Sally Mann

Sally Mann photographed what she loved: her land, her husband, her children, herself; but where does her creativity come from?  In her new memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015 Little, Brown, and Company) Mann gives us insights into this world by exploring her life, family, friends, death, and sense of place. She never writes directly about her creativity in this memoir, but it exudes from the pages; like the oppressive humidity from one of her summer Virginia landscapes.

 

In the chapter ‘Hold Still,” Mann goes through the process by which she photographed her children, from the mundane to the disturbing. Her likes, dislikes, successes, and failures are all there to see. The images from this time period brought her celebrity status and with it controversy, and that fame and contention added a creative temperance to her psych. She sums up this thinking with a quote from writer Adam Gopnik, “When we hit pay dirt, we often find quicksand beneath it.”

 

Mann seems to credit her mother’s side of the family for not only her work ethic, but also her romanticism of the land, her love of place, and the land which she inhabits. If it’s her family and her own life on the land which built a foundation for her landscape images, perhaps it’s photographer Michael Miley and her artist friend Cy Twombly who helped shape and inspire her landscapes. She photographed Cy Twombly’s art studio in her early years and noticed by doing so her work “changed from documentary to evocative.” Mann’s landscapes aren’t the usual fare you might be used to seeing on the internet—they can be dark, moody, and claustrophobic, while also being timeless or by hearkening back to a bygone era.

 

Maybe her landscape images changed because of her father’s influence. His life-long fascination with death and his own stoic demise appears to influence her last chapter of creative energy. After a death on her land, she wondered how the land had changed for her with that incident and set about capturing it with images. She writes that “It’s not that we southerners are exactly in love with death, but there is no question that, given our history, we’re on a first-name basis with it.” For me, her photography at this time goes to another level. Before my workshop in Florida this year at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden, a professor sent me an email question about “how to capture kami (spirits) of the garden?” I could now point him to the ending chapters of this book as a guideline.

 

From the death on her own land, she travels to Civil War battlefields such as Antietam to represent the landscape and death that took place there over 150 years earlier. These chapters are well-covered in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. The film also mentions the irony of her collodion process in the creation of these prints, and that collodion was also used to hold wounds together for the injured on the Civil War battlefield.

 

Her work changes from the metaphorical to the literal, as she photographs at the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility known as the Body Farm. The program records decomposition and decay of the human corpse. Her work here for the New York Times Magazine added to her closing chapters and furthered her creative exploration of death.

 

Overall, Sally Mann’s Hold Still is an outstanding book on many levels. Intellectually interesting, whimsical, and humorous; and at times it carries the shock value of a who-done-it novel. Ultimately for me this memoir is about creativity, and it’s a look into the soul of an artist. By taking a page from Sally Mann, I wondered how those around me and the land I hold dear influences me and contribute to my artistic process–and that’s the kind of thinking that can help artistic creativity and growth.

 

 

How To Use The Radial Tool In Post Processing To Maximize Impact

by Kevin McNeal
June 27th, 2016

One of the my favorite tools to use when post processing is the Radial Tool which can be found in either Adobe Camera Raw 7.0 and higher or Adobe Lightroom 6. The purpose of the Radial tool is direct attention to a certain focal point or subject by using a vignette effect. To be more specific I use it to really add drama and impact to my images by way of mood. The Radial filter allows you to make changes to a part of the image called a localized adjustment. This localized adjustment can be used to really draw your audience into a part of the image you want them to focus on. For most of my images this is where the main subject can be found. I can use the radial filter to do almost anything to this area of the image.

Where to Find The Radial Filter In Camera RAW

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The Radial Filter Dialog Box In Camera RAW and Its Tools

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In this article I will describe a few of my favorite techniques when using the radial filter.

How you chose to apply the filter depends on you and your vision for the image. Once the filter is open you are given several options when applying the filter.

Here are some of my favorite options when using the radial filter to create impact in images.

The first option is to either choose to have the effect on the inside or the outside of the radial filter. I like to apply the effect to the inside of the radial filter.

Inside Or Out

Once that is chosen you are then presented several different options to apply to that area of the image. When I am looking to add drama and mood to my image the first thing I do is decide on a mood for the image by choosing a warm or cool temperature for the area I am looking to have the viewer focus on. I am very fond of using a warm color temperature inside the radius of the radial took to create a strong tension. This is especially important when the rest of the image has a cooler overall tone. In general, studies have shown that people are more attracted to warmer colors. Applying a warm color temperature inside the radial filter is great way to draw the viewer into the part of the image you want them to look at.

Temperature

Secondly, the next option is exposure and whether to increase or decrease it. As a general rule for maximum impact I like to do the opposite in the radial filter of what the rest of the image looks like. Thus, I have found that I like to increase the exposure inside the radial filter while overall globally decreasing the overall exposure outside the filter. This gives the image the added drama through light and tones. This all gives a certain mood to the image that I would describe as ethereal. I use the contrast, highlight, shadow, white, and blacks in conjunction with the exposure to achieve the desired effect. While exposure is the main tool, I use the other tools just mentioned help to accentuate the exposure to get it looking just right.

Exposure

Thirdly, I like to use the combination of the clarity, dehaze, and saturation tools together to achieve a soft, surreal, and painterly look just inside the radial filter area. You can also combine these three tools with the sharpness and noise reduction options to really fine-tune your results. The subject inside the radial filter will determine whether you increase or decrease it. For example, if I am working with the sun or another source of light coming into the image; I will decrease the clarity and dehaze tools. I generally always increase the saturation a small amount within the radial filter to really maximize the impact.

Clarity

The last important tool when applying the radial filter is the feather effect. By my experience I have always had good results with the feather at a high amount. Thus, the gradient is smooth and not as noticeable. It’s important for your changes in the radial filter to look natural even though the results are adding more drama.

Feather

Applying the radial filter is a great way to add a substantial impact and mood to your image overall. My choosing where to use it you can accentuate light and mood together to achieve excellent

The following is how to get to the radial filter within Photoshop:

***Important You Can Get To The Radial Filter In Camera RAW with the Shortcut Letter”J”

Or In Lightroom Shift + M

(The following instructions are direct from the Adobe Help Page on the Radial Filter)

you can also visit: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/help/lightroom-radial-filter.html

The Radial Tool In Camera RAW

Before The Radial Tool In Camera RAW 

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While Applying The Radial Tool In Camera RAW

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After Using The Radial Tool In Camera RAW

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How To Get To The Radial Tool In Photoshop

  • ) Open one of the following:
    • Open a camera raw file.
    • With an image open in Photoshop, choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter.
  • ) Select the Radial Filter tool from the toolbar.


Press J to toggle the Radial Filter tool.


  • ) Use the New and Edit radio button options to choose whether you want to create a filter or edit an existing filter.
  • ) Do one of the following:
    • To create a Radial filter, click and drag across the region, and draw a circular or elliptical shape. This shape determines the area affected or excluded from the alterations you are about to perform.
    • To edit a Radial filter, click any of the gray handles on the photo. When selected, the handle turns red.
  • 
)


To determine what area of the photo is modified, choose an Effect option (located below the sliders).
    • OutsideAll modifications are applied outside the selected area.
    • InsideAll modifications are applied to the selected area.
  • ) Adjust the size (width and height) and orientation of the Radial filter added. Select a filter and:
    • Click and drag the center of the filter to move and reposition it.
    • Hover the pointer over any of the four filter handles, and when the pointer icon changes, click and drag to change the size of the filter.

Hover the pointer close to the edge of the filter, and when the pointer icon changes, click and drag the edge of the filter to change the orientation.

Where To Find The Radial Tool In Lightroom

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 9.43.10 PM

In the Develop module, select the Radial Filter tool from the too


lstrip

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 9.54.31 PM

  • The Radial Filter tool (Shift + M) is available in the Develop module.

 







2) Do one of the following:

  • To create a Radial Filter, click and drag the mouse across the region of interest. This will draw an elliptical shape, which determines the area that is either affected or excluded from the adjustments you perform.
  • To edit an existing Radial Filter, click any of the gray handles on the photo

While drawing, press Shift to constrain the Radial Filter to a circle.



 

3) To determine what area of the photo is modified, select or clear the Invert Mask checkbox. The checkbox, by default, is not selected.

  • Invert Mask not selected (default): Changing any setting affects the image region outside the marquee area.
  • Invert Mask selected: Changing any setting affects the image region inside the marquee area.

 

4) Adjust the size (width and height) and orientation of the Radial Filter added. Select a filter, and:

  • Click and drag the center of the filter to move and reposition it.
  • Hover the pointer over any of the four filter handles, and when the pointer icon changes, click and drag to change the size of the filter.
  • Hover the pointer close to the edge of the filter, and when the pointer icon changes, click and drag the edge of the filter to change the orientation.

The filter area is represented by an elliptical marquee area.

 

5) Use the adjustment sliders (shown in step 1) to create the desired visual changes. Use the Feather slider to adjust the visual falloff of the applied adjustment.

6) Repeat steps 2 through 5 to continue adding or editing filters.

7) Click Reset, to remove all the Radial Filters applied to your image.

Advice for the Coffee Nerd Photographer

by Chip Phillips
June 20th, 2016

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

The most simple and lightest weight option is instant coffee:

Starbucks via

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

 

I used to use a french press like this one:

 

java press

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

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

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

jp 30

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

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

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

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

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

chemex

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Island: Photographing The Last Place On Earth

by Sean Bagshaw
June 17th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

Dawn moon set at the Ahu Tahai moai group.

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

Tongariki

Tongariki

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

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

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

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

Partially buried statues at the Rano Raraku quarry site.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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

Painted200-30x45

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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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