Photo Cascadia Blog
September 19th, 2017
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” —Mark Twain
A little secret that is well known to educators is the concept of the “good lie”. It encapsulates the idea that any course of instruction is bound to be incomplete or imperfect, but learning has to start somewhere. When we first begin to study any complex subject, we need some structure, some kind of foundation on which to build our understanding of it. For example, when I was beginning my studies in art history, my professors introduced me to the subject of ancient Greek sculpture by emphasizing the evidence regarding known sculptors, what each had contributed to the art, and why any of it mattered. I later learned just how much of this introduction amounted to optimistic conclusions based on ambiguous evidence, but that education brought me to higher levels of understanding. By the time that I started working on my doctoral dissertation, my research was focused on some of those points of weakness as areas where I could make my own contributions, and my professors were encouraging such questioning because the “good lie” was only ever a starting point.
Learning photography involves a similar progression through structured principles into personal discoveries. As landscape photographers, we learn our craft as a combination of in-field methods, compositional rules, location research, weather chasing, and post-processing solutions—all of which amounts to the “good lie” in our field. Together, these ideas provide a useful framework through which we can develop our creative sensibilities, but the framework itself is merely a way in.
To be sure, craftsmanship is an essential part of the photographic process, and good technique is often crucial to the success of a creative motivation. The sheer spectacle of technical virtuosity alone can provide a special frisson: prickly sharpness, masterfully controlled tones, or precise calculations of celestial events—all count among the many technical accomplishments that tend to delight viewers of landscape photographs. Regardless, perfect technique hardly amounts to the holy grail of photography. Despite its many virtues, technique is fundamentally reproducible, is always subject to becoming obsolete, and can become a visual crutch and a developmental cul-de-sac. For anyone who wants to keep progressing in their photography, creativity is the higher good. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded about craftsmanship and to acknowledge that creativity is a messy place.
Keeping the following caveats in mind can help to ensure that perfection doesn’t become the enemy of the good.
A Perfect Lemon is Still a Lemon
There is an old joke about a person looking for his keys under a street lamp. When a passerby asks him if he’s sure that it’s the area where he lost his keys, the man replies, “No, I lost them a block away, but the light is better here.” The process of making a good photograph can go wrong in the same way, by letting some unimportant factor dictate a direction. I often find participants on my workshops abandoning a great composition that they saw because it would require some minor compromise, choosing instead to photograph something less interesting that they can make ‘perfect’. Sometimes you just have to seize a moment or follow through with an idea however you can because it will result in a powerful photo regardless. Even if it means that you have to use a high ISO or shoot handheld instead of using a tripod, it’s better than not getting the shot at all. When technique starts dictating which ideas to pursue, then it’s probably time to cut the chains and enjoy some creative freedom. No amount of masterful technique will improve the photos that we never make!
The Devil is in the Details
According to the law of diminishing returns, sometimes ‘good enough’ really is…good enough. The value of technical quality does have its limits. After all, the world’s most compelling photographs do not tend to be studies in technique, and most viewers do not even notice many of the technical shortcomings that typically make photographers cringe. Laboring in the service of perfect technique can easily become an unnecessary hinderance to progress, causing a photographer to leave projects unfinished or to become too frustrated to begin a new one. I remember once spending days on processing a photograph with a delicate color palette, shifting hues and tones by minute amounts ad nauseam in my efforts to achieve the perfect balance. I shared some of the variations with a friend who has an excellent eye for such details and who was very enamored with that photo. He carefully compared all of the versions and finally said, “I doubt that any of these differences even matter,” and he urged me to release the photo and move on. It was great advice.
Imperfections Can Create Character
As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportions.” He finds this strangeness in the abnormally large eyes of the woman he loves and delves into describing the depths of her character that he sees through them. Beauty in photographs can also come about through such strangeness, typically created by some imperfection in the pictured elements or by some irregularity in their presentation. A leaning tree or burned out snag can break up regularity and give character to a forest scene in the same way that film grain or soft focus can. Even ancient Greek architects seem to have understood the power of imperfection when they made temple columns bulge in the middle instead of being perfectly straight vertical elements; the more emphatic examples suggest an interest in giving the temple some life, some character, as if its columns were bulging like muscles while supporting the temple’s entablature. Similarly, a high level of refinement can sap the life out of a photograph, causing it to it look too mechanical. It is possible for a photograph to be lacking in vitality simply by appearing too perfect.
Craftsmanship has always been one of the great joys of artistic creation for me, and I both exercise and teach it with great enthusiasm. “The good lie” is good for a reason, providing an important foundation and a perpetually useful touchstone. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that it has its limits, its exceptions, and its missing links—and sometimes making a substantial contribution to your portfolio means stepping outside that box. The pursuit of perfection has the potential to elevate a photograph significantly, but it can also smother its fire or prevent us from creating a photo at all. Ultimately, it’s the pursuit of our own goals that should tell us which direction to go. When creativity is hiding in the shadows, we’ll never find it by looking in the light.
Have you ever had issues of technique keep you from pursuing a moment or an idea? Do you have any photos in your portfolio that would not exist without some compromise? Please feel free to share in this discussion with a comment below!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
September 11th, 2017
It’s been hard for me to fully express exactly what impact I am feeling from the Eagle Creek Fire. Those that haven’t experienced the Columbia River Gorge or don’t know it as their backyard like I do may think it’s simply another forest falling victim to the flame. For those that know it like I do, it’s a crown jewel of Oregon. Considering I am not that religious in a traditional sense I say going to nature is my temple; with the gorge being the temple I have spent the most time in.
Certainly, there are much larger catastrophes in recent memory in the states let alone across the globe. Even a storm like Hurricane Harvey that resulted in thousands of homes and business being flooded and loss of life is severe and unfortunate. Now we have Irma. My heart goes to all those impacted. Even in the Gorge there have been changes impacting lives generations before us. Simply look at how the Columbia River changed by building the dams and the impact that had the Native American tribes. We are not the only ones that have ever been impacted by significant changes in the gorge both human and nature caused.
When I first heard of the fire I felt myself starting the rolling coaster of emotions like you would go through for any grieving process. In this case hearing how it started it was anger. Then I moved to shock, then to sadness knowing the fire was growing and going through all these places I planted my feet many times. Places I have enjoyed with good friends, with family or solo for alone time. I even lost sleep a couple nights thinking about it. Again you may not understand but let me tell you a little more.
2017 Eagle Creek Fire – Photo Credit: Chris Liedle
I grew up in the “Gateway to the Gorge” on multiple acres and a creek where I would play outside for hours at a time before the days of many parents worrying about too much screen time and the need to force kids outdoors. This area has been a part of my life for decades. I am convinced it’s what helped put the yearning for nature in my blood at an early age resulting in countless days taking hikes, capturing photos and simply exploring throughout my life.
I have stood in ice cold flowing water with the snow line above my head until my feet went numb and loved every minute of it. I have hiked in the pouring rain with no one around, wondering how much it needs to rain before a tree falls to then see a tree fall. I have hiked to highest point to see the view and almost got lost coming down. I have chased the light up many gorge trails and then back down. I have driven the old scenic highway with half a foot of fresh snow and not a single vehicle track except my own. I have endured the strong East winds that funnel down the gorge like a freight train getting pelleted by ice, snow and rain. I have visited busy scenic areas thick with crowds to off trail locations rarely seen where the only sound is nature itself.
Taken underneath Pony Tail falls looking out into the lush greenery. Many years back a small group of us were photographing along the stream that you see in this scene. One of them, Phill Monson, found a semi buried old wooden sign that said Pony Tail falls. It had fallen from unknown causes from the tree it was attached to and broke apart yet you could still see the name Pony Tail. I have it on my desk to this day.
We are all saddened because we know it’s special to live close to an area like this. An area filled with lush plant life, refreshingly crisp water and magnificently rugged terrain. It’s a place where all walks of life come to escape hectic schedules, connect with nature or simply to reflect. I have come to the Gorge many times where I was reminded that I had too much desk time since my last visit and I walk away rejuvenated to tackle what life brings at me next. The beauty can leave you awe struck on your first visit. I have seen it firsthand. It’s National Park worthy if I can be so bold. It’s a treasured place to be protected.
It’s frustrating to us all how the Eagle Creek fire started and no doubt we would all feel a little bit differently had it started due to natural causes. Instead it was a group of teenagers lighting fireworks in a precipitation starved forest without a single care as to what might happen. We will need to let the law enforcement aspect take it’s course yet I do know it’s not much good spewing out hate towards those that did this as I have seen online. We are better off channeling that energy to do something positive. We all have been or will be a teenager. As a teenager we all had at least one experience (or a few) which, after the fact, we realize was stupid and could have been much worse, where we thankfully learned our lesson with little to no consequence. Unfortunately in this case the consequences were to a level most of us could not fathom. If those that are responsible for the fire are reading this I would tell them to continuously look for ways to spend time volunteering to give back to nature and serve local communities. This will help you move forward yet never forget it.
This was a very memorable day from quite a few years back. Myself, Zack Schnepf, Jeremy Cram and Marc Adamus spent pretty much all of daylight exploring off trail. It was slow going try to go the path of least resistance while minimize impact to our surroundings. Finally after hours we came across this scene. Well worth the adventure.
Like many, I am sadden about the changes that took place to our shrine, The Gorge. It doesn’t come without heartache yet it’s certainly not the end and I have to look at it as a new beginning. The photos seen to date show the gorge was not burnt completely to a crispy blackened wasteland like we might see on a sci-fi show after an apocalypse. Even the areas heavily damaged will come back to life in their own unique way with the eventual signature gorge green sprouting through the ashes. Yes, it will take time but nature always returns and sometimes in ways that amaze and surprise us. I am barely old enough to remember seeing Mount Saint Helens erupt. It’s been decades yet now it’s an impressive place to visit even though it’s different than it was before the eruption. The same will hold true for spots greatly impacted by this fire.
This should give you a general idea of what to expect in areas that are heavily damaged. This is in the vicinity of Angel’s Rest and was taken about 7 years ago which was about 20 years after this fire happen. I had visualized this photo on a prior hike without camera gear and bad light. I came back about a year later to make this along with a similar one in winter you can see here.
Those that know me know I tend to live my life with the glass half full as it’s too short to think otherwise. Even after my initial stages of disbelief and grief I am now moving on and look forward to the regeneration of our beloved gorge. I feel fortunate to be close enough to continue to have more experiences not only personally but for my wife and me to do the same with our young children who have only started to explore the many areas the Gorge has to offer, even if some of them will be different now.
As a side note, I have seen a number of comments online from individuals very eager to help the gorge come back to life again by taking on the task of figuring out what to do next. It’s great that many of us want to give back now more than ever. I would suggest that we leave the determination what needs to be done for damaged areas up to forest professionals and Mother Nature. We should look to donate our time, and or money if inclined, to organizations that support the gorge like Friends of The Columbia Gorge as one example.
Lastly, lest I forget to say thank you to the many firefighters, police and first responders that worked tirelessly, and continue to, on the Eagle Creek Fire to avoid losing lives, homes and historic structures as the fire is not yet contained as I write this. Your efforts are immensely appreciated.
This was one of those rainy days, that we frequently get between October and June. I stood here in the water with my feet and hands pretty close to numb while water was dripping off my head and camera. I probably should have protected my camera better yet it survived while I thrived.
I believe this was the first time I met Sean Bagshaw in person, before we started Photo Cascadia and became good friends. Myself, David and Sean were exploring Eagle Creek trail on this day. I remember thinking this scene was better with someone in it as it helped provide scale so I was glad he was “in the way” for this photo.
The gorge after fresh snowfall. Looks beautiful dressed in all white. This is not your iconic scene but hiking deeper into the gorge to find the more rugged and wild side. This is where peaceful scenes can be found in any season.
I found this wandering the forest near Larch Mountain on a day thick with fog and melting snow from the trees. Anytime a slight breeze would come I ended up doused with water from the branches as they ensured I didn’t leave the scene dry.
I was hiking I believe in the area of Triple Falls for the afternoon. I was taking my time coming down because the sky was pretty socked in and wasn’t planning to take a sunset photo. Somewhere I glanced a break up in the clouds that seemed to be increasing. I jogged the last 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile with heavy backpack to get to the car, drive here and take this photo before the light faded.
This was taken close to a decade ago. I crossed the bridge and almost thought about not taking a photo because I was nearing the end of my day of hiking and photography, telling myself “next time”. I am glad I took a few minutes to capture this. Since that year I have not seen this canyon devoid of large logs or trees. It’s above Oneonta Falls.
Photo and Text By: Sean Bagshaw
The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area has been the backdrop for many of my favorite outdoor photography experiences. I have found few other places on the planet as beautiful, mysterious, rugged and alive. Over the years I have hiked many of the canyons and creeks, alone, with my family and often with other photographers. I took this photo of Gorton Creek while exploring above Wyeth with several of my Photo Cascadia colleagues a few years ago. I remember it was a life affirming day. I think this small scene does a good job of sharing the essence and the magic of the entire area. I hope it recovers quickly.
Photo and Text By: Zack Schnepf
Here is one of my favorite locations in the Gorge. I think of Oneonta Gorge as Oregon’s green slot canyon. It’s another unique and special location to me. The lush green moss and ferns coat every surface and the steep walls rise up into a lush forest. I love how the trees grow right out of the steep walls. It truly is an incredible place to experience in person.
September 8th, 2017
Note: Readers have asked some great printing questions in various locations, so I’m compiling them along with my answers at the end of the article so they are all in one place.
I often get questions about how I prepare an image for printing with an online print lab for best results, so I’ve collaborated with Artmill.com to create this tutorial which we hope will help you get great prints.
Printing online can be as simple as uploading phone pics to a lab directly from your smart phone or as advanced as working one on one with a professional print master to go through a multi-step hard-proofing process to fine tune every aspect of the final piece. Most of us who are photography enthusiasts will take an approach somewhere in the middle. Just a few simple pointers can really elevate the quality of your prints.
In the video below, I take you through my process of preparing an image for printing online. In both Lightroom and Photoshop, I cover how to address color accuracy, contrast, sizing, sharpening and the most common print challenge…prints that come out too dark. In the video, I unbox the print so you can see how it turned out.
Artmill was kind to provide the promo code OUTDOOREXPOSURE for my viewers/readers. You can use it at http://www.artmill.com to get 15% off your first order.
For more tips on printing make sure to read Zack Schnepf’s article on the Photo Cascadia blog: www.photocascadia.com/blog/5-essential-tips-when-preparing-images-for-print
You can also view my tutorial on soft proofing in Photoshop: https://youtu.be/ND_GzCueX4s
Just to be clear, I don’t work for Artmill and I was not paid to do this video. We felt some information on this topic would be welcomed and they were kind enough to provide the printing. The print itself will be auctioned as part of a fundraiser for the public library here in my home town.
Your Q’s generated by the video and my A’s:
Q: I’ve been wanting to try an online print, but worried I would mess it up.
A: If you haven’t printed online before I suggest ordering a small test print on photo paper first and if you like what you get, then order a larger, more expensive print. Some labs even offer a free small sample print on your first order for proofing purposes.
Q: I have had such awful experiences with online prints! Always dark, grainy, out of focus.
A: It’s important to remember that the print can only be as good as the original image file. Issues that may not be noticeable at a small size on screen, such as noise or soft focus, will become very obvious in a large print. It’s important to zoom in to 100% magnification to inspect and evaluate images. If you see noise, focus or other issues that bother you at this magnification then they will be visible in a large print…and the larger the print the more visible they become.
Q: When you were in Photoshop did you increase the size of the image? I always thought this would make it blurry and lose sharpness and detail.
A: Yes, I did enlarge the image in the video…both in the Lightroom example and the Photoshop example. If you want to print a photo bigger than the size it comes out of your camera it must be enlarged somehow. You can either do it or the print lab will do it…but somebody is doing it. There are two ways that Photoshop can enlarge images for printing. It can either increase the number of pixels in the image (interpolation) or it can increase the “size” of the pixels (decrease the pixels per inch). Taken far enough, both of these methods will eventually lead to decreased image sharpness and detail. But Lightroom/Photoshop now do an excellent job enlarging. I find that I can at least double the output size of my original image file and still get excellent results. For example, without any enlarging an image from my 30.4 megapixel Canon 5D4 will print at roughly 15 x 22.5 inches at 300 ppi. This means that I can enlarge up to 30×45 at 300 ppi with very good detail and even up to 40×60 or larger if the image is very clean or when printing on textured paper or canvas, which doesn’t show as much fine detail anyway. Depending on the viewing distance, you could potentially go even larger. I have printed wall murals 15 feet high that look great because you have to stand back several feet to view them. They are not as sharp up close, but that’s not how they are meant to be viewed. So, if you want to print images larger than they come out of your camera I say go for it!
Q: Before you apply the sharpening for print, do you remove all other sharpening that might have been applied before in Lightroom?
A: I learned from the photography gurus, Mac Holbert and Jeff Schewe, to think of image sharpening in three phases: input sharpening, creative sharpening and output sharpening. Input sharpening is the fine sharpening you can do in LR or Camera Raw to tighten up the fine edges and optimize clarity that is lost with digital cameras (caused by low pass filters and pixel bleed). Creative sharpening is the interpretive and often localized sharpening (or blurring) and clarity work we do during the developing process to help guide the eye, create depth and dimension and showcase elements. Output sharpening is the sharpening done to an output copy to optimize the image for the particular output at the particular size. For example, an image sized to 1000 pixels wide for viewing on the internet has different output sharpening needs than an image sized to 18,000 pixels wide for a 60 inch print on canvas. All three of the sharpening passes are independent of the other and need to be determined on a case by case basis based on the qualities of the image and the intent of the photographer. But, in short…all three types of sharpening work together so don’t remove one to add the other. You do want to carefully evaluate and adjust them as you go to make sure that they are working in concert with each other, however.
Q: Do you also increase the exposure, contrast and vibrance when printing on your home printer?
A: Yes I do, but at home I can also soft proof with the ICC profile for my printer and the paper I’m using and I can run test prints and make adjustments until I get it just right…so the process is a bit more scientific.
Q: You selected the printer resolution of 2880 x 1440 in Output Sharpener Pro. How did you know what to select there?
A: This is another question you could ask your lab to find out what settings they use and be the most accurate, but the differences will be slight. On my own printer that is the ink dot resolution I print with. I didn’t ask Artmill what printer resolution they use so I went with that to be safe. Choosing a lower resolution in Sharpener Pro adds more sharpening to compensate for fewer dots of ink. If I don’t know the ink dot resolution the printer will put down on paper I feel it is better to err on the side of under sharpening than over sharpening.
Q: Are the Nik/Google plug-ins still available? It was great when Google made them free…but then I heard they were going to stop offering them. If they are still available then people should grab them while they can.
A: Yes still available at the moment. There are other options as well, including PhotoKit Sharpener 2.0 by PixelGenius, Topaz and others.
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.
September 6th, 2017
For a good part of my life I’ve had a comic posted on my wall of a guy sitting in a chair with the caption, “Dare to be boring.” Sometimes I embrace that in my photography when trying to get creative with abstracts in a mundane landscape, or when embracing the blue skies above. Maybe it’s all the smoke from fires lingering overhead, but these days I’m feeling blue and I would like to see a little of it in the sky too.
I like great light as much as the next person, but in these “Red or Dead” times of landscape photography, when some are shooting for another click on social media, then the redder the sky the better. But when I dare to be boring, it’s time to embrace the blue. Not only does blue sky photography sell pretty well to clients, it can also look good. What follows are the times I’m more apt to embrace the blue sky around me with a polarizer attached, and my white balance set to 5200 Kelvin.
1) When there is water involved.
If there is water in the scene, then blue skies generally look appealing to the eye, since the water reflects blue like the sky and it might pick up the reflections of the land pretty well too. The images below show a photo I took in 2008 from the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and a garden I photographed for my upcoming book. I like them both, and the garden I photographed in southern California is on the cover of my new book.
2) When there are puffy clouds or dramatic skies.
Skies can make or break a landscape photo, and even during those blue sky hours they matter. I love those puffy convective clouds in the Palouse region of Washington, but any dramatic blue-sky clouds will do.
3) When there is a complementary color on land, such as yellow flowers, gold fields, or red rocks.
Need I say more?
4) When there are harmonious colors on land that blend well into the sky.
These colors work well together, so why not?
5) Sometimes the blue light is just better.
At Canada’s Peyto Lake the early light is often not good. When all that beautiful turquoise water is below it’s best to show up at 10am after a few clouds have formed, and take advantage of blue on blue.
6) At the “blue hour.”
Well, duh. The light evens everything out during the blue hour in the morning and at night.
7) When I’m in canyon country.
This is a great time to head for a slot canyon or stay in the shade to photograph bounce light.
8) When I’m in Yellowstone National Park.
This park—and other geologically active areas—have minerals and pools which show up better when there is blue sky and the sun is high.
9) When I’m shooting black and white.
I’m no Ansel Adams, but he did well on blue sky days and so can you. This is also a good time to pull out the infrared camera.
10) When I’m in a desert or in tropical climates.
If I’m on a tropical island or down in the Baja desert, then blue looks cool. Plus, I wanted to throw in this picture of Sean Bagshaw with his dorky straw hat.
August 29th, 2017
The photography social media sites are flooded every day with images from iconic spots. They make for fabulous scenery and are well known for a reason. Scrolling through images from social media sites many photographers will recognize most of the places they were taken from. In today’s photography world, there are many locations that become the hotspot to photograph. For example, Iceland and Norway in wintertime, is one of the most photographed locations in the last couple of years. It’s not uncommon to see several photos in your social media newsfeed. It seems like in the evolution of photography, we flock to the same locations to photograph in the footprints of others. With careful critique from previous photos of the same location, we then set out to outdo that image.
As we continue to follow the suit of other photographers and locations, the bar is raised and we continue to push the boundaries of realism. It’s no good anymore to have an image that has just great light; the image now needs lightning or a rainbow. With the advancement of post-processing and the ability to create just about anything in Photoshop we find photographer in a state of major change. As a photographer, I struggle with the concepts that we continue to photograph the same places year after year.
The photography world is more competitive than ever. The emergence of young photographers who were raised learning the computer has shifted the way images are processed and seen these days. Whenever I find myself teaching photography to other students and clients I always stress to find your own composition. I relate how important it is through framing and composition to tell your own story. It’s more important than ever to develop your own style. This includes both the photography and the art of post processing. With social media being more powerful than ever, we find many photographers guilty of copying other photographers composition. Without a thought to looking for new composition, many photographers are just replicating styles and compositions already achieved in the past.
A funny story happened to me a few years ago when I was photographing at the iconic Palouse Falls in Eastern Washington. As I was getting my camera stuff out of the car a group of photographers approached me and showed me a print of Palouse Falls from some other photographer and they wanted to know where the exact spot of where the photo was taken. I asked the group if they would rather shoot in a different place or they wanted just that one spot. After further discussion they relayed to me they’d come all the way from California to photograph that one spot that’s all they were interested in. Their notion and belief in getting that one iconic shot seems to be the way photographers feel today.
On a certain level, most photographers at one time or another have been victim to this. I am definitely guilty of this when I see a photo I really enjoy. I try to remind myself the importance of creating my own style and vision. But I consciously have to make an effort to find my own composition.
I don’t think it’s wrong to capture that one iconic image but I always stress the importance of also finding other viewpoints and perspectives at these iconic spots. I think photography would be much more interesting if people tried to find their own photography locations and photograph it in the style that is true to them.
August 21st, 2017
You’ve heard the term “grit.” It seems like it’s everywhere these days; from podcasts and radio to magazines, to pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth’s bestselling book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” What is it? How do we get it? And how do we use it to achieve our goals in landscape photography?
Wikipedia defines “grit” as “a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.” To me, it means resilience; the ability to focus on the long-term goal and not get discouraged by temporary setbacks. Not giving up when the going gets tough. Learning from mistakes rather than letting frustration and disappointment make you quit.
The older I get, the more I think that grit, rather than innate talent, is truly the secret to success. Long before I began my career as a landscape photographer, I was (and still am!) a professional symphony musician. Talk to any professional symphony musician and you’ll hear a common refrain: sure, I have some talent, but that’s a small part of what leads to success. What leads to success? Hard work. Not only hard work, but smart hard work. I consider myself fortunate to have started music lessons at a young age, and to experience successes and failures. Messing up a performance, losing an audition or a competition—these are opportunities to learn from mistakes, and strengthen one’s grit. It’s so easy to give up when things go wrong. Especially if the thing comes easy for you. You get used to success. So failure stings even more. This is when people often give up. And that’s such a shame!
I’ve read that the best way to praise a child is not to say “you’re so talented!” “you’re so smart!” or variations thereof, but rather “you’re such a hard worker!” or find a way to praise their tenacity and determination. Let your child learn that failure isn’t something to be afraid of, and that it’s okay to get frustrated. It’s what we do after these setbacks that determine success. My wife, a professional violinist and violin teacher, tells her student that a “successful mistake” in a performance is when a student makes a mistake but maintains their composure and keeps going. It’s so easy to get flustered and panicked when a note comes out wrong or a shift is missed, but to keep breathing, keep counting the rhythm, and pick oneself up and continue is the true success.
So how can we translate this grit into the world of landscape photography? I have some ideas.
The more advanced we get at our skill, the more difficult the skills can be to master. This is one instance where frustration can set in. Do we give up? Or do we ask for help, or try it a different way? Admitting that we need help is difficult and humbling, but is a gritty thing to do.
Inevitably, careers will plateau at certain points in time. How do we approach that? Do we let it slide, or do we try new things? Do we approach others for advice or insights?
Or what do we do if we find ourselves losing passion or inspiration? “Photographer’s block?” How do we deal with that?
I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject of grit.
Meanwhile, you can take a test to figure out how “gritty” you are at University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth’s website here.
August 4th, 2017
In May I went on an incredible journey with my Camera and my friend Paul to the north of Norway. We explored the Lofoten Island Chain and Senja Island. In June I shared a trip report and images here on the Photo Cascadia blog. Since then I have completed some more images and a short behind the scenes movie of our adventure.
All the video for the movie was captured with my iPhone or with the DJI Mavic Pro drone that I brought with me. I was just mentioning the other day that the Mavic Pro is currently the only drone that has the control and camera quality that I’m looking for, combined with being small enough to fit in my camera bag with the rest of my gear. I’m learning that video, particularly drone footage, provides a welcome added layer to my photographic story telling. Still images have to convey a feeling or concept in a single frame, so light, composition, timing and developing really come into play. Video, on the other hand, does a great job of bringing you along for the ride, sharing the story of the lifestyle and experience behind the photos. The drone takes it up a level (litterally) by providing perspective, motion and views that can’t be captured any other way. The downside of the drone is that it is, at the least, distracting and more commonly simply annoying and unsettling to others. It is important to me to not impose that on others, so I try to fly only when there are no people around. Fortunately, in Norway, we were photographing during the night and we rarely saw other people.
So, please enjoy Northland: Photographing Arctic Norway.
Thanks for watching! If you would like to learn more about the trip, make sure to check out my initial trip report as well.
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.
July 17th, 2017
“There’s just no such thing as a ‘drive-by shooting’ in landscape photography. In other words, you need to put in the time on the ground.” – Jack Dykinga
A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld wrote a posthumous post about comedian George Carlin and his accomplishments with the line “Carlin already did it.” Seinfeld wrote: “And he didn’t just ‘do’ it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian.” You could take that line and replace comedian with photographer, and it would apply to Jack Dykinga. From his images “Saguaro in Bloom” in Saguaro National Park to “Stone Canyon” in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument– the very much alive Dykinga already did it.
In his new book, A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer (2017 Rocky Nook, Inc.) Dykinga reflects on his life after a near-death experience and a lung transplant, and shares with us stories of his successes, failures, faults, and thanks. He thanks those photographers who offered help along the way, including Chuck Scott (photo editor at the Chicago Daily News) to landscape photographers Philip Hyde and John Shaw. He also offers thanks to his comrades-in-arms at the various daily papers in his early career, his photography friends and influences such as Patricio Robles Gil, and the writers who were his friends: Chuck Bowden and Edward Abbey.
His photography is certainly an influence on mine, especially the intimate portraits of plants in the desert southwest. So in this book I enjoyed the stories of how he got the shot. Bringing us behind the scenes for images such as “Sisterhood” and “Saguaro in Bloom” is fascinating, and these photos show his dedication to his craft. I own a few books of Dykinga’s photography, but in this one I found his images from Mexico particularly inspiring. I also appreciated viewing the images which earned him the Pulitzer–their impact has not diminished over time.
A Photographer’s Life covers a lifetime of brilliant photographic work, and the images excel. (One note: the book needed a proofreader to catch a few missing words and typos.) For anyone interested in photography I recommend this book, for this is a life of a great photographer with boots on the ground and a life well-lived. Dykinga’s presentation of his life of photography is ultimately a story of his legacy—a difficult achievement in this field. From his Pulitzer Prize in 1971 to NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 his body of work is of the highest caliber, and it is here through the lens that Jack Dykinga did it all.
July 10th, 2017
I can remember falling in love with photography like it was yesterday. There was no other feeling like it. It was like another world had opened up and I discovered a whole new perspective of looking at things. It changed the way I saw everything. As a photographer, you start to see things differently the minute you pick up the camera. Once you become a photographer everything has its own take and vision, for what could be. When I was not out in the field shooting, I was studying every photography book I could find. I was immersed in this world of photography. I would study maps, books, websites, and anything else I could find to help plan my next trip. Photography had become an obsession. Each time I went out, I could see the progress. I began to really start to learn what made an image successful. The obsession grew, along with the learning. As the months passed, I spent more and more time in the field shooting as much as possible. The desire to get the perfect shot became all I could think about. As the months went by, I started becoming so focused on getting the perfect shot I forgot to have fun. I can’t tell you exactly the moment this happened, as it is something that slowly occurred. I would see a particular shot in a magazine, book, or website and I needed to get something better than that. I studied everything there was to know about photography. Trying to improve upon that perfect picture. As the months turned into years and my obsession grew I began to have less and less fun and it became too serious. I can look back now at some family trips which turned into photography trips that should have opened my eyes to how obsessed I had become.
On one particular trip to Hawaii with my family where we were spending the day on a gorgeous Hawaiian beach, just enjoying time together swimming and relaxing. The perfect family day. Until, right before sunset. I shifted gears and became extremely tense with capturing the sunset that was about to occur. I couldn’t miss it!! I began frantically looking for the right filters, dropping everything, and getting flustered because I could not find that perfect foreground. About that time, my wife turned to me, and asked “are we ever going to enjoy a sunset without the camera?” I look back at that moment as being a huge turning point for me. I realized, I had become too serious about getting the shot and forgetting what was most important, enjoy the moment and the people I’m with. I share this story for those just starting out in photography or find themselves in the same situation.
With the realization I had lost my way, I needed to refocus and find out what it was in the beginning that attracted me to the love of photography. For many reasons I was losing the most important purpose of photography, to have fun. Today I can look back and say without a doubt some of my best work came from the times that I spent taking in the surroundings and just enjoying the moment. I realized, like a marriage everything comes with compromise. I needed to find ways to share my love for photography with other things that are just as important. I needed to focus on the experience and the enjoyment of photography. I needed to find a way to include my family in what I loved so much. I needed to take every opportunity to find ways to share my experience and include my wife. This meant sometimes I had to not bring the camera or stop shooting and sit the camera down and just take in the moment. I have to admit; I still find this challenging but I work at it every day.
As many photographers can relate, I had to stop worrying about conditions, timing, and other factors that are out of my control. I realized what ever happened was meant to be. All I could do was just enjoy the moment and do the best with what I was given. Not having clouds didn’t mean the day was ruined. It just meant I needed to re-analyze things and look for something else to shoot. Tunnel vision in the early stages of my photography was a problem. Everything had to be on a grand scale with great clouds, colorful sunsets, and beautiful foregrounds. I had to hit a home run every time. Every experience was based on how successful the image ended up being. Fortunately, I can look back at this now as a chance to learn from my mistakes.
There are times I find myself in a rut when it comes to social media. The amount of incredible work that is on these platforms is overwhelming. I feel it is not good enough to have a great shot anymore. Everything has to have a rainbow, amazing clouds, and a unicorn riding across the sky. I often have to remind myself that it’s okay to have an image that I LIKE, that brings back fond memories or feelings of excitement when I look at it but not necessarily something that everybody else thinks is amazing.
One of the most important factors in capturing a moment is finding a story to tell about each image you have. I take time to ask myself “why am taking this picture? what is it I truly want to capture within this scene?” I believe each scene has a story and it is up to the individual photographer to define that story and convey that in their image. Part of the process, is enjoying the moment. For example, I find myself often alone at sunrise or sunset with nothing but the sounds of nature surrounding me. I try to take in all of the sounds and really take in the opportunity I have been given. I ask myself “how does this make me feel and how is this scene unique?” I then try to compose the image to tell the story of how I am feeling at that moment. It is critical to have a connection to the scene that you are photographing. It has to move you in some way or another. Thus, it might be a beautiful scene, but if you cannot find what it is that connects you to that particular moment it will be evident in the final image.
Today, I go out into the field with a new zest and enjoyment for what I love so much. The things I remember now about each place are the experiences, the people and the memories captured. It is not dependent upon the image and its success. I continue to grow as a photographer, as I learn from my mistakes. I approach each journey, with a fresh perspective to the experience rather than the results. Below are some of the images that are from my most memorable experiences out in the field. These are examples of when I was completely just enjoying the moment.