Photo Cascadia Blog
March 23rd, 2015
As our newsletter subscribers might know over the last last year we have taken turns pointing the lens on each of us to provide more insight to us personally. Since these were spread out among a half dozen newsletters we thought it would be good to post a recap that includes all of them. Besides we were not always good on following up to mention the myth found from a handful of truths of for the prior newsletter. Now we are rectifying that with all of them here.
If you did not receive the newsletter here is a speedy recap what we did. We published a listing of five things about one PC team member in a newsletter. One of the five is a myth, simply made up. four are true. The goal was to allow newsletter subscribers to guess which is the false one. If a person did respond correctly they would go in a drawing with others that guessed the same for a free 8×12 print of their choice. I don’t have a list of who all won yet I know some were guessed correctly by one or more viewers yet not that was not the case for all team members. Some are easier than others.
Without further rambling here they are for reading pleasure with a photo of each team member in their element… outdoors. Answers are separate at the bottom of the post for those that would like to take a stab at guessing.
- Failed the only photography course he ever took.
- Made ski movies when he was younger.
- Traveled around the world as a DJ.
- He likes to eat vegetables and seafood.
- Just out of high school bought a Porsche.
- Has performed onstage with Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Ben Folds, Brandi Carlile, and Peter Cetera.
- One of his cars is a red 1988 VW Cabriolet.
- Has never used a traditional film darkroom
- Was a child actor and in a commercial for Burger King.
- He is not afraid of bees, but is of spiders.
- He reads 25-50 books per year on average.
- He grew up in the redwoods of northern California, but has never been back to photograph.
- In addition to photography, he enjoys surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, and backcountry exploration.
- Has never used a traditional film darkroom.
- Owned cameras made by the following manufacturers: Sony, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Apple, and GoPro.
- Did wedding and portrait photography full time for over a year before deciding to move back to landscape photography.
- Almost got blown off a mountain summit with his wife. The tent was sideways and he could not see where he was when he woke up. He ripped open a mesh window to get out.
- Has traveled to all the National Parks in the states of Oregon and Washington.
- First backpack experience felt a big adventure he embarked on. He now takes his young kids to the same location. It’s only 2 miles and 500 ft of elevation gain.
- Grew up at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge playing in a creek on his property catching crawdads and hiking through the woods.
- He owned a music distribution company.
- He’s an avid guitar player.
- He’s held two state swimming records.
- He walked across the Yukon and NW Territories.
- He played in baseball’s Babe Ruth World Series.
- Pole vaulted in China.
- Reached the summit of Mt. McKinley on two separate expeditions.
- Lost a $5 bet with Galen Rowell when Galen successfully ran cross country at high altitude in time to capture his famous Rainbow Over the Potala Palace image in Tibet.
- Played in a 1990s bagpipe marching band, kilt and all.
- Partied with Woody Harrelson and his posse at a U2 concert.
Answers – the following are not true.
Kevin #4 – He likes to eat vegetables and seafood. Kevin does not like either of them. I know first hand from traveling with him.
Chip #5 – He is not afraid of bees, but is of spiders. Chip does not like bee’s at all but doesn’t mind spiders.
Zack #5 – Has never used a traditional film darkroom. Although he became an expert in Photoshop early in the DLSR age Zack has spent time in the darkroom.
Adrian #3 – Has traveled to all the National Parks in the states of Oregon and Washington. He has not been to the North Cascades NP yet.
David #2 – He’s an avid guitar player. David does not play the guitar.
Sean #3 – Lost a $5 bet with Galen Rowell when Galen successfully ran cross country at high altitude in time to capture his famous Rainbow Over the Potala Palace image in Tibet. He wishes he did but it’s not true.
March 16th, 2015
Thrills, chills, and a bit of spilled milk, but I attended the 19th Annual NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) summit in San Diego to be inspired, make connections, meet old friends, and greet new ones. I was not disappointed. This year’s keynote speakers listed a number of heavy hitters from Nevada Wier to Dewitt Jones to Frans Lanting. Fighting L.A. traffic, I arrived late to the summit but caught a keynote address by NANPA’s 2015 Outstanding Photographer of the Year–Steve Winter. The work and dedication he put in to photographing snow leopards and other big cats was mind-boggling and impressive; and his images were fabulous.
The next day Nevada Wier took the stage to show images and recollect stories from her many travels to remote and distant lands. Her love of varied cultures and its peoples shows through her work. Backpacking into isolated valleys rarely visited by anyone, she has photographed untouched clans for months on end. Her National Geographic assignment to raft the Blue Nile in Ethiopia and photograph the cultures along the river consisted of a remarkable set of images. She also presented a number of her new infra-red cultural photographs which showed cultures in a new light.
Before and after the keynote addresses there were breakout sessions that ran the gamut from processing to copyright protection. You could attend photo walks or field trips before the first keynote address, and get a portfolio review. And of course no summit is complete without its exhibitor trade show, which also had a demonstration area.
It’s always great to head south for warm weather in February, so next year plan on attending the 20th annual NANPA Summit in Jacksonville, Florida.
March 10th, 2015
While starting out in photography I owned nothing but Canon cameras. I owned the Canon 5d Mk1 and moved way through the series. It all started with the Canon 5D Mark 2, where I would religiously bracket at least three images for every scene. The results I got with my Canon when I just shot a single exposure for the scene was often not enough coverage in terms of tonal range. What was happening was that I would end up either blowing highlights or blocking the shadows.
It was the general consensus that several years ago to capture dynamic range in any photography scene you needed to take several photos. This would range from-3 under exposure to +3 overexposure. I would bracket at 1-stop exposures so that I included the wide spectrum of tonal values in the scene. At the time, several third-party applications were coming out as well as Photoshop that would be capable of merging several images into a single Image. When arrival of these applications, HDR (high dynamic range) became the big thing. It was really fascinating to capture so many images and merge all of them into a single file. The results for the time we’re Incredible and people started to compare it to medium format photography. But like a lot of things in photography, HDR went too far and quickly received a bad name.
So I chose to explore a few applications and found one called exposure fusion within a program called Photomatix Pro which merged all images together to include all the dynamic range and yet receive realistic result. I was very happy with the results once I learned to fine tune the application but nevertheless took a lot of time to post process images in HDR.
I realized that I was spending a good portion of time now post processing and lot less time in the field shooting so I was always looking for a better solution.
A few years had passed and lots of people still were involved heavily with HDR even though cameras were getting better and better. Digital cameras were now getting behind the movement of more megapixels. The change came for me when Nikon decided to put out a D800 at 36 megapixels. I waited and waited for Canon to follow suit but it never happened. At this time I chose to make the move over to Nikon from Canon because the Nikon D800 had been receiving rave reviews. For my business this was perfect. I could now make larger prints and have the option to crop within the image. This cropping would allow me to eliminate things from the image and still have enough resolution in the image to print large.
In the beginning, the transition was hard and slow moving from Canon to Nikon but eventually it was a saving grace. One of the most unexpected benefits was the dynamic range of the Nikon D800. I immediately noticed that I was capturing the whole scene in terms of tonal range in a single file. For a while I thought this might be a mistake. But exposure after exposure I was able to post process the images from the single file.
As time went on, I began to grow more confident in being able to take a single exposure. Eventually I was not even bracketing as a backup except for situations of extreme contrast. I even noticed I was able to under expose the image and then bring out the shadows in post-processing. With the Canon if I had tried to bring out the shadows I would always have noise that would show throughout the image. This was not the case with the Nikon, which was pretty amazing to see and still is nice to demonstrate to people who shoot Canon.
Shooting one single exposure allows you really to focus on the composition and light. It has also had the added benefit of really allowing me to get into the scene and not worry whether I have everything I need in terms of exposure.
I now own the Nikon D810, which is even better and such an amazing camera when it comes to controlling highlights and avoiding blocked shadows in a single exposure. I shoot freely in low light situations and don’t worry about covering the tonal range of a scene.
When it comes to the histogram on the Nikon D810 I am often asked one should look for when shooting one exposure. Through trial and error I have found excellent results with the histogram if I aim to most of the data and information just to the left of the middle, which would mean I slightly underexpose the image. I know this goes against everything we have been taught from before with exposing to the right, but the Nikon D810 is a revolution and is changing the game. Aiming to have my information on my histogram slightly to the left I do need to make sure I don’t have any clipped highlights as the Nikon is much better at shadows then it is with clipped highlights. So when focusing on a landscape scene I generally will set the exposure on my foreground and go about a half stop to one stop under while making sure I don’t blow the highlights in the sky. I always like to review my histogram after each image just to make sure all the information is present.
The Original Camera Raw Image One Stop Underexposed
Histogram With Information Underexposed 1 Stop to the left
The Long Exposure On The Water
I will be very curious to see in the upcoming months if the new series of Canon 50 Megapixel cameras will focus on dynamic range or will it just be a megapixel monster?
Needless to say I am a very happy with the results of the dynamic range of the Nikon and look forward to get out and shooting lots more now that I don’t have to bracket!
March 6th, 2015
I just received my new Canon 11-24mm f4L ultra-wide angle lens. This is Canon’s widest lens to date, and Canon claims it has the widest view of any rectilinear lens currently on the market for full-frame cameras. The reviews I have read of this lens are very good so far. I thought I would share some of my own results, and some comparisons to my 16-35mm f4L, which is an excellent performer.
Here are some examples of the 11-24mm f4’s field of view. The difference between 16mm and 11mm was pretty surprising to me. Even the difference between 11mm and 14mm is quite noticeable.
Here is a corner comparison with the Canon 16-35mm f4L. Once again, this is very unscientific. I did use a steady tripod, a level camera, mirror lockup and ISO 100 for each shot. I noticed a tiny bit more chromatic aberration with the 11-24mm, which to me isn’t a big deal. I corrected for this, along with white balance. If you look closely, at least to me (especially in the horizontal lines) it looks like the CA corrected better with the 11-24mm f4L. No sharpening or noise reduction was added. All images were shot in Raw, corrected for white balance and chromatic aberration in Lightroom, and resized in Photoshop. These examples are all the extreme lower right corner, cropped in from the left and top. The first image is an example of the setup.
This test gives me a rough idea of corner performance, and it looks to me like the 11-24mm f4L results are pretty similar to the 16-35mm f4L, with a slight advantage to the 16-35mm f4L. Both lenses are very sharp in the center. I did some test shots with both lenses at 16mm and the 11mm-24mm f4L came out ahead (zooming in a little helped with resolution for this test). Also, I did tests at f16 and f22, and the results were similar just with diffraction added to the equation.
Here’s a quick comparison of the extreme upper right corner of each lens, with a bit more distance from the target. Both images were shot at f8, ISO 400, 11mm with the 11-24 and 16mm with the 16-35.
This lens is heavy, expensive, and awesome. I have a feeling many photographers are going to find a way to get a hold of one. I am not much of a gear guy, so take this review with a grain of salt. If you want to read some more technical reviews, they are starting to pour in. Here are a few good ones:
I like to mostly focus more on the picture taking aspect of photography, and am excited to take this lens out into the field and see how it performs in real world situations.
February 22nd, 2015
This week on the blog I am sharing a complete chapter from the new edition of my Developing for Extended Dynamic Range tutorial series. In this chapter I demonstrate how luminosity masks and a technique called masking-the-mask are useful in creating better tonal balance in high dynamic range exposures. Dynamic range is one of the many challenges we face as outdoor, natural light photographers. Dynamic range is the visual contrast (difference between the darkest and lightest values) in a scene or an image. A common way to handle extreme dynamic range light, in the 12 to 25 stop range, is by bracketing exposure values and blending the exposures in Photoshop to create a properly exposed final image. While I find multiple exposure blending to be an essential technique, with advancing camera technology it isn’t needed as often as it once was. Some current digital cameras have the ability to record a dynamic range of 11 to 14 stops, unimaginable just a few years ago. A dynamic range of 13 stops equates to a contrast ratio of over 8,000:1 and 14 stops, a contrast ratio of over 16,000:1. Such contrast range means it is possible to capture many high dynamic range scenes, which were previously out of reach, in a single exposure. Unfortunately, the dynamic range of the best monitors is only in the 1000:1 range. Prints can only achieve a dynamic range between about 50:1 up to perhaps 300:1, depending on paper, printing process and lighting. So even if our cameras can record a wide dynamic range in a single exposure, we still need to work with shifting the the bright and dark tones in the image to create tonal balance and retain tonal detail, while still giving the perception of the actual dynamic range that we saw.
There are many tools and techniques available for shifting tonal values in an image for better tonal balance, including raw highlight and shadow recovery, dodging and burning and the Shadows/Highlights adjustment in Photoshop. A common tool I use is Curves or Levels adjustments guided by the use of luminosity masks. In the video chapter below I demonstrate the great control, precision and flexibility that luminosity masks provide when working with targeted tonal balance in a single exposure image. It also provides some great extended instruction in the use of the TKActions Panel. I hope you find the information helpful in your image developing. Make sure to view the video in 720p HD!
This chapter is one of 36 in the updated edition of the Developing for Extended Dynamic Range tutorial series. The series takes a complete look at working with high dynamic range light from capture to single and multiple exposure developing methods. You can go here if you would like more information or to see more chapters. I’d be glad to field any comments or question you have in the comments section below.
February 17th, 2015
by Zack Schnepf
There is a feeling I get when I’m deep in a forest. An experience that quiets my mind and opens my senses. I have this experience in all wilderness, but there is something special about being surrounded by a well balanced ecosystem that is teeming with life. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer true wilderness areas left, but that is the subject of another article. The forest is my church and always has been. Ever since I was a little boy exploring the mountains of Northern California, or trying to discover where the waterfalls came from in the Columbia River Gorge. I’ve always had a special appreciation for the experience I have inside a forest. This experience is something I try convey when photographing in the forest. I think forests are one of the hardest types of scenes to capture well, but also one of the most rewarding. Below are some of the images I’ve captured of forests that convey some piece of my own experience.
One of my favorite experiences is sitting by a stream in a forest. I’ll sit quietly and let my mind wonder. The rhythm of the running water and the symphony of the sights and sounds in a forest are hypnotic. There is an awareness that comes over me, as if my senses come alive. All at once, I’m aware of the entire ecosystem around me and I can feel myself as a part of the ecosystem. It’s in this moment of profound awareness my mind can find peace and my body can fully relax. In this meditative state the trivial concerns of everyday life fall away and my mind is free to think clearly. This is my favorite state of mind to photograph in as well. I do some of my best work with a quiet mind and I also enjoy the experience very much. Often times if I’m struggling with a composition, or having a hard time making a decision about how to shoot a particular scene I will sit in one spot and quiet my mind. it’s not always easy to do, especially if the light is changing quickly and I don’t have much time, but it’s almost always worth the time spent to change my perspective.
As I mentioned before, forests can be extremely challenging to photograph. Forest scenes tend to be very chaotic and don’t always lend themselves to a two dimensional medium. I’m always trying to find a way to simplify the scene and add more dimension. Here are some of the techniques I use to capture a compelling forest image.
- Try to find areas with more space. Forests that are really dense usually don’t photograph well. Having space between trees and other objects helps add dimension as well as simplify the scene. Look for areas that are more open.
- Eliminate elements that don’t add to the overall structure of the scene and avoid distracting elements.
- Use foreground, middle ground and background elements to add depth and dimension.
- Use s curves and c curves to help the eye flow through the frame.
- Light. Overcast light can help flatten out the tonality range in a forest and allow you to capture the scene in one exposure. Harsh sunny afternoon light is probably the worst light to shoot a forest in. The best light for any scene depends a lot on the mood you are trying to capture. Some of my favorite forest light is partly sunny, or high overcast. This is dynamic light, but filtered enough to control the tonality. Sometimes my favorite light is clear twilight. This can produce moody, saturated, rich tones. Also, early sunrise light can be really excellent, especially before the direct sunlight is able to hit the scene.
The serenity of a well captured forest scene is something that resonates deep within me, it’s something that I admired in the photographs of some of my photographic heroes and something I strive to capture in my own images. For this reason, forest scenes are some of my favorite images to print and hang on my own walls. I love being able to look at an image of a forest in my own home and feel the serenity I felt in person. An image that can evoke that kind of feeling in me is a successful image.
For more information on the techniques I use to process these images click here: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2
February 9th, 2015
With the latest interview and featured photographer spot on Photo Cascadia blog we bring you Marsel Van Oosten. Although based in The Netherlands, and area with little in the way of grand landscapes, he truly paints a picture of what it’s like to be a photographer leading adventures around the globe. I was first exposed to Marsel’s inspiring work about seven years ago on Nature Photographers Network (NPN). It was his great photos of Namibia that lured me in. Although I heard of the location before and seen photos, I realized he had some unique takes on the area. Along with photographing remarkable and exotic locales he has an exceptional wildlife portfolio. For years I have listed him on my website as a photographer that inspires. You will see why in this interview and his photographs.
1. Tell us about your life before photography or have you always been behind the camera?
I finished art school with a BA in art direction and graphic design, and then worked as an art director in advertising for 15 years. When I was in art school, I didn’t care much about photography. I could choose it as a major, but I couldn’t see myself messing around with chemicals in my bathroom all day to develop arty farty black and white prints. During my career as an art director, I worked with a great many professional photographers, and that’s when I really learned about the power of photography, how to look, how to select, how to work with light, and about post processing. Over the years it developed from a harmless hobby to a full blown obsession. My photographic style is greatly influenced by my graphic design education and my career as an art director.
2. You have some amazing nature and wildlife photos, which is your focus. What draws you to those subjects over everything else?
Thank you. I love nature, I love animals, I love being outdoors – always have. In advertising, everything was fake. At first, nature photography was a way for me to escape from the pressure and hectic life at an ad agency. The peace and quiet was therapeutic and it was nice to work with real stuff – trees, rivers, skies, animals. The creative challenge was interesting as well. Nature is chaos, and I liked trying to create some order. In many ways nature photography is like graphic design – you have a whole bunch of elements that need to be organized so that it makes sense and looks attractive. For me this is still one the most interesting creative aspects of what I do.
Working with animals is both amazing and frustrating. If you’re a landscape photographer, you have all the time in the world – you walk around, pick a good spot, wait for the magic light, and click. And if the weather does not cooperate, you return the next day – the landscape will still be there. With wildlife it’s completely different. I have no influence over my subject, all I can do is wait and hope for the best. When the light is perfect, the animal doesn’t show up, or when the animal is doing something amazing, it’s usually too dark, facing away from the camera, or hiding behind a tree. It’s very rare to get everything just perfect. And that’s exactly what makes it so addictive – there is always room for improvement and you never know what you’re going to get. It’s the anticipation. You’re looking at a scene, you see the light is perfect, you’ve already figured out the composition, the animal is walking into the right direction, and you’re hoping for those few extra steps to get the perfect shot. It can be really exciting. And when something interesting does happen, it’s usually over before you know it. You have to work fast, make the right decisions in a split second. It’s a lot of fun.
3. Speaking of subjects you have one of the best collections of Namibia photos I have seen. How do you continue find ways to push yourself creatively and come back with different and unique images after visiting the same place many times?
As a nature photographer you have basically two options: you photograph an unfamiliar subject, or you photograph a familiar subject. The first option is by far the easiest – if you subject is unfamiliar, you’re bound to end up with an original photograph. The second option can be very difficult from a creative point of view, especially when you’re photographing iconic places or subjects. I really like the creative challenge that places that have been shot to death give me. You really have to push yourself to your artistic limits to come up with something that feels original, even though the subject matter really isn’t.
When I first visited Deadvlei many years ago, there were hardly any photographs of it anywhere. People could not believe these places were real – they thought it was all photoshopped. After we set up the world’s first photo tour to Namibia, things started to change. More and more photographers visited the country and photographed the same subjects that I had. Every year it became more difficult to return with something original, but every year it became more interesting for me as an artist.
Nobody knows these places better than I do. When I see a photograph taken in Deadvlei for instance, I can show you on Google Earth which trees they are exactly, and at what time of the day the shot was taken – it’s pretty scary. I like visiting a place multiple times, you have to get to know a location to be able to fully understand the creative potential. But the most important thing you have to do is: think. Most of the photographs that I shoot in Namibia I have already pre-visualized at home. I don’t want to waste time walking around, thinking about what I’m going to do if I already know the location. Before each visit, I analyze the shots that I’ve taken there on previous visits, and decide what can be improved upon, or I try to come up with something that’s never been done there before. That’s how I decided to create the first time-lapse from Namibia that was shot entirely at night. Later this year we will visit Namibia probably for the 20th time or so, and I’m still looking forward to it again.
4. If you had to pick your three favorite images, what are they and why? (they are the three in this post)
Resurrection: I’m very proud of this image, because it was the result of creative vision. I had pre-visualized this image years before I was finally able to shoot it, and at a time when all landscape photographers told me that it would be impossible to shoot anything new there anymore – it had been shot to death. It is so difficult to shoot original images at iconic places, but it is extremely rewarding when you pull it off. So many photographers are obsessed about their gear and processing technique, but in the end the only thing that really matters is creative vision. As a matter of fact, this image won an award in the Creative Visions category of the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Awards. That was a real bonus.
Brave Elephant: Victoria Falls is yet another icon that has been photographed by millions. On my first visit there, I almost decided to leave my camera at the hotel, thinking about the kazillion images that had already been shot there. When I heard from the locals that an bull elephant had been spotted the day before in the vicinity of the falls, I decided to stay a few extra days and try my luck.
Photography is all about making decisions. Anyone could have made this shot, but very few people would have made that same decision. This is the only photograph in the world, apart from the horizontal version that was featured in National Geographic, that features an elephant this close to the edge of Vic Falls. It is also the perfect example of my ideal photograph: a spectacular landscape image with an animal in it.
Invasion Of The Dunes: Another one from Namibia. My first publication in National Geographic – a double page spread, 10 million copies worldwide. I was ecstatic. This was shot at a time when few people knew this place existed. Daniella and I were the only people here for days. The sand was pristine everywhere, which is no longer the case unfortunately. You can only get this light at a very specific time of the year, as the sun needs to rise at a certain spot to shine directly into the middle room. This room is difficult to find, but it’s the first one that people start looking for when they go here. It is by far my most copied shot ever.
5. You lead workshops around the globe from Namibia to Antarctica. What can one expect on a workshop with you?
We know the locations that we visit very well, so you can expect to be at the right place at the right time, fully briefed on all the creative challenges and possibilities. People that travel with us, usually do so because they like my work and they want to learn from me, see me at work. I like to help people to improve their photography, and teach them to analyze a scene. I have a very specific way of looking at spaces and dealing with shapes, so I try to bring that across. Composition is very important for me, more so than light, so I always give a presentation on that.
Also, part of every Squiver tour is image reviews – each participant selects up to three images from the previous day(s), and I analyze them in front of the group. These sessions are incredibly interesting and educational, also for me. We get people of all experience levels, which is great. We all learn from each other, also from the beginners.
But the main reason that people keep traveling with us, is the fact that we are a husband and wife company – we always lead our tours together. It’s a completely different group dynamic. Photography is a very male dominated thing, but we tend to get relatively more women than other companies because of that. The result is that there is less tech talk, which is good – I don’t like to talk about buttons and sensors all the time.
6. Is there any artist, photographer or otherwise, that has been a big influence on how you photograph or your creative process?
The one artist that has inspired me most, is German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). His paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that directs the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension. When I first saw his work back in art school, it made a big impression on me, and it’s been a source of inspiration ever since.
But there are so many other great artists around – the internet is filled with talent. I don’t look at much of it, only when I’m going to photograph something specific – I like to know what’s already been done so I can at least try to do it differently.
7. I notice you have entered (and won) a number of photo contests over the years. What are your thoughts on them; are they still a good avenue to stand out? And what contest gave you the biggest exposure?
Most photography competitions are only in it for the money, or to get their hands on your photographs for free. There are many contests out there, and most of them are completely useless. However, I do believe that contests can be helpful.
Photography is an art form, and art is subjective. If you’re a marathon runner, you can tell how good you are by looking at your best time. If you’re a photographer, you can’t. Family and friends always think your photographs are amazing, but they can not be trusted. When I was still working in advertising, I struggled with this phenomenon. I wanted to know whether my images were any good, so I decided to enter a couple of competitions to see what would happen. After I won prizes in several major contests, I knew that my images were good enough to stand out from the millions of others – in the end this was what gave me the confidence to switch careers.
I still participate, primarily because it’s nice to know whether other people certain images are as good as I think they are, and because it looks good on my cv. I know that I’m a good photographer, so I don’t need the ego boost – I hardly ever visit the award ceremonies. If you want to become a professional photographer, participating in any of the major contests is a good way to find out if your images stand out from the rest. There are already so many photographers out there, so if you want to make it, you need to be better than most of the others.
As a nature photographer, there are only five contests in the world that I think matter; Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, Travel Photographer Of The Year, International Photography Awards, and Nature’s Best Awards. Those are the competitions that publishers, galleries and stock agents look at. My recent win in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year gave me the most exposure, mostly because the picture (of a snow monkey holding an iPhone) appealed to many people and because the contest has a big reach.
8. When you are not photographing or leading a tour what do you like to do?
I like to watch tv series like Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Homeland, and House Of Cards, and I like to listen to Death Metal. Septicflesh rules.
9. Quick questions:
- Nikon or Canon? Nikon
- Apple or PC? Apple, never worked with a PC
- Photoshop or Lightroom? Photoshop
- Favorite book photography related? Before They Pass Away, by Jimmy Nelson
- Where do you want to photograph that you haven’t? Niger
10. Lastly what is one mistake you made early on whether it was with the photos itself or the business side that you really learned from, and others can learn from as well?
The biggest mistake I have made, is that I haven’t made the switch to photography earlier. I had been thinking about it for years before I finally took the plunge. Making a living with nature photography used to be a lot easier, and it’s virtually impossible now. If you really want something, follow your heart and don’t wait too long. Life is short, and you should do the things that you’re passionate about. Nothing else matters.
I would like to thank Marsel for his time to do this interview with me. To see more of his work and workshop listing visit http://www.squiver.com
January 26th, 2015
This year I made an early New Year resolution back in November to make sure that I maintained a healthy lifestyle through the winter period. A lot of people like myself commit to goals like this but fall short of achieving this. So how was I going to follow through with this promise to myself. Well I have come up short most winters so I how could make this one different. I needed to take my health serious. So this article is about getting a game plan for fitness during winter.
First, I had to be honest with myself about why I wanted to be healthy. That was simple, I wanted to be able to do lots of hiking when spring and summer came around. If I waited till spring to get into shape then it would be too late. So I really thought hard and long about my reasons for it; I then I had to come up with a game plan to get into action and stay consistent. When it comes to fitness plans and goals almost all fail. So how was I going to find a fitness plan that I could stick with. Like many I seem to fall into a winter slump and hibernate into a lazy lifestyle. In the Pacific Northwest it rains a lot and thus it takes some motivation and determination to stick with fitness goals when it is so much easier to stay warm indoors and be lazy.
My first plan of action was to find a gym that I liked and was close enough in proximity. In the past I have chosen gyms based on lower costs but travel times of more than half a hour. I found out that this never works as you rationalize that travel time is too long and you end up doing something else. So I had to find a gym close enough to take away that excuse of travel time regardless of how much it cost. Once I started going to the gym, I had to find the motivation in me to keep going on a daily basis. I had to find exercises that not only interested me but also challenged me. The main reason most people don’t stick with a gym is the lack of a clear goal and doing the same exercises day in and out. So I set forth a plan that would get me through the winter and allow me to continually push myself.
To achieve this you have to have a starting point that you can look back at to see a progression in your health. As hard as it may be you need to do a couple of things, which are very hard to do. You need a baseline weight of course but you also need to take pictures of yourself and get yourself some measurements of your starting point. I hated to do this and was avoiding it but once it was done I could move forward by charting how much progress I was making each week. I found some good fitness goals that would take me through the winter and spring and get me in prime shape for hiking in summer.
I choose a fitness plan that would be focused on strengthening my cardio to go longer distances when hiking. So exercise goals included a lot of treadmill, and interval training. After a few months of this, I really stepped up the intensity and duration as well. I now center my strength training by doing a lot of leg exercises that include squats, and core abdominal exercises.
The next step in my goal was to be able to hike not only longer distances but carry more weight; to achieve this I have started adding a 30-50 pound backpack while doing all steady state cardio. This really has gotten my body used to carrying heavier weights for longer distances.
The immediate benefit of this goal has been the ability to do steeper hikes as well. To prepare for this I make sure to include the stair climber in my workout a couple of times a month. At first it really is painful and not much fun but the body really gets used to it fairly quick. Whether on the treadmill or any other cardio machine I make sure to include both long periods of steady-state cardio as well as interval training which primes the body for long distances when hiking. Interval training includes exercises where you do short bursts or sprints followed up by short period of rest. Keep interval training short for periods of 10-15 minutes followed by steady state cardio like a easy walk of 30 minutes. Remember to try adding the backpack when walking or doing the treadmill. Goals in terms of the heart rate should be around 90% when doing interval burst training and then around 65-70% when doing steady state cardio training.
Remember to keep it simple and choose you can see progress as well as challenge myself on a daily basis. Try to do something everyday so that it becomes a habit and not something you have to think about. Reward myself when you reach certain goals and thus allows you to maintain interest in keeping a goal through the winter. The most important element is consistency so that when Spring comes you are ready to hit the trails. Remember if you like what you are doing you are much more likely to stick with it. See you on the trails !!!
January 20th, 2015
Carleton Watkins, 1829-1916, is possibly the most famous early Western photographer. Nearly a hundred years before Ansel Adams was taking his iconic photographs, Carleton Watkins was sharing the awe-inspiring beauty of the Western United States with the world, aiding in the birth of American environmentalism, and revolutionizing landscape photography. But his life was a series of tragedies, and he died anonymous and destitute in a mental hospital.
Born in New York, he moved to California and became a photographer, soon specializing in landscape photography. He photographed much of California and Oregon, but it is his photographs of the Yosemite valley that made him famous. In 1861, Watkins set off with his mules to Yosemite. The pictures he took during this trip were some of the first views of Yosemite people in the Eastern portion of the United States had ever seen. These photographs were in part responsible for Abraham Lincoln signing an 1864 bill that declared the valley inviolable. This paved the way for the existence of the National Park system in its entirety. The bill signed by Lincoln is often seen as the beginning of environmentalism in American politics.
It’s hard to imagine what Watkins endured to make photographs: loading up a team of mules with nearly a ton of photographic equipment, including a mobile darkroom tent, a dangerous assortment of flammable chemicals, and an enormous custom-built camera that produced “mammoth” 18×22 inch glass plate negatives. The reason for such a gigantic negative was that negatives could not be enlarged back in those days, so the negative had to be the size of the print. Imagine the amount of detail in those prints!
Watkins owned a gallery where he displayed his work, but he proved to be a poor businessman, and he lost the gallery to his creditor. The new owner also took ownership of all the gallery’s contents, due to the fact that the 19th century had no copyright laws covering photographs. They sold reproductions of his pictures and there was nothing he could do. In the 1890s his health was declining and he began losing his sight. Unable to work, he and his family lived in an abandoned railroad car for a year and a half. The great earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906 destroyed his studio, and countless photographs and negatives were lost. He was declared incompetent and his daughter had him committed to a mental hospital in 1910, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the hospital grounds.
As photographers, we owe Carleton Watkins a debt of gratitude. Not only for his contributions to the world of landscape photography, but for helping preserve the beauty of the American West for future generations. One of Yosemite’s mountains is named Mount Watkins in honor of his part in preserving Yosemite Valley.
January 12th, 2015
High dynamic range light continues to be a challenge for outdoor photographers. Another term for dynamic range is contrast. As long as the contrast of a scene, from darkest shadow to brightest highlight, does not exceed the camera’s ability to record dynamic range it is possible to record detail throughout a scene in a single exposure. In nature, especially around sunset and sunrise when the sky is bright and the landscape is much darker, the contrast often exceeds the camera’s dynamic range ability. Going all the way back to it’s beginning, more than 150 years ago, photographers have looked for ways to deal with high dynamic range light. There are many in-camera techniques for this, such as using a graduated neutral density filter to hold back light in bright areas or using some sort of artificial lighting to illuminate dark areas. In the current era, digital images and imaging software have made it possible to combine multiple exposures that contain image detail for all light values in a high dynamic range situation. This can be done with automated HDR software or by using masking techniques in Photoshop to “hand blend” multiple exposure values into a single extended dynamic range scene.
Whatever technique is being used to blend the exposures, it is necessary to first capture or “bracket” a series of exposures that encompasses the entire dynamic range. Knowing when and how to bracket exposures so that you have collected enough detail across the entire light range can be confusing. My goal is to take only the exposures I need, no more and no less. Most non point and shoot cameras feature an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature but I find that it often doesn’t succeed in capturing what I need. Sometimes the number of exposures I have set is too many and some times it is too few. Even if I guess right and choose the correct number of exposures, the camera often misreads the scene and doesn’t center the exposure series properly, missing important details either at the shadow or highlight end of the range.
I have the most success when I manually bracket exposures but this requires establishing a well practiced approach to be able to do it quickly and consistently. Help with manually bracketing exposures is a common request during workshops. In the video above I explain how I evaluate a histogram to determine when bracketing is necessary and I also outline two different manual bracketing methods I use to make sure that I have successfully recorded the entire dynamic range.
I’m currently working on a complete update to my video tutorial series called Developing for Extended Dynamic Range and this is one of the chapters. Production on the updated series will be completed and the new videos should be available by the end of January, 2015. I will be sending out an email notice to people who own the original series when it is available. I will also be teaching a weekend class on exposure blending and developing for extended dynamic range in Bend, Oregon in May.