Archive for the ‘composition’ Category

Tips and Tricks To Add Impact To Your Autumn Images – Kevin McNeal

Monday, October 30th, 2017

 

In this article, I’m sharing 20 of my favorite tips to enhance your autumn photography. I hope you can put some of these ideas to use as you explore with your camera in the fall.

1) Create a surreal mood by trying to include a sunstar that showcases your subject. The sun sets as an anchor point that guides your viewer to the subject.

Images from Yosemite National Park in the Lower Yosemite Valley

2) Create a warm overall balance with your images when including the colors red, yellow, and orange.

3) Early mornings in autumn are fantastic for finding mist and atmospheric conditions.

4) Look to include the color red when photographing autumn colors and blue skies.

5) Try to add variety to your autumn collection of images by including wide-angle images, telephoto images, abstracts, and macros.

6) Don’t forget to look on the ground and include fallen autumn foliage. Using a very wide angle approach and getting as close to the ground can offer a very different perspective.


7) Look to photograph solo trees of one color, set against the background of a complementary color.

8) Use a mix of different shutter speeds to get varying moods of autumn images. For example, I like to use fast shutter speeds to capture the leaves as they fall. I use long exposures to create a softer mood with the movement of water, clouds and foliage.

9) Include many element layers when photographing wide-angle scenes. I look for a foreground that will immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Use composition techniques to connect the foreground and background through the use of leading lines and depth. The more layers the more three-dimensional the image.

Image from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon

10) Reflections double the color and add that wow factor to autumn images. Look for ponds or small lakes that are more likely to be calm and still.

11) Don’t be afraid to include people in the image to give a perspective of scale and mood. To really add another dimension to the image look for people doing activities in the autumn surroundings.

12) Look for themes or commonalities when photographing autumn colors. One of my favorite themes is photographing barns and churches surrounded by color.

 


13) Photograph in forests in the early morning when the sun is just coming up. The early warm light sets against the dark setting of the forest create an ethereal feeling to the image.


14) Try to find higher vantage points that offer a unique perspective of the autumn colors that most people don’t see. Many hiking trails in parks have this option. It’s always a special treat when you reach the top and you look down into a valley of color, or endless mountain ranges, or the stillness of a lake below.

15) Take it a step farther and look into adding aerial photography or drone photography into the mix. This can lead to fantastic images of winding roads through fall colors.

Images from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon

16) Autumn season is a great time to look for weather changes and unique weather systems. These types of conditions adds a special element of drama to the images.


17) Get out into the backcountry and away from other people for to photograph lesser known landscapes. I love to get deep into the mountains and find idyllic mountain settings combined with fall color.

18) Shooting a variety of subjects and elements when it comes to autumn can enhance your fall color portfolio. I like to include lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, forests, and ponds just to name a few.

19) Get out in the rain. One of the best conditions for shooting fall colors is overcast weather. I especially like it when it’s slightly rainy which gives the fall colors an extra boost of vibrancy.

20) Have fun and try to be creative whenever possible. Get out of your comfort zone.

Thoughts From a Juror

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

This year I was asked to be the juror for a show at a gallery in the Columbia River Gorge and after doing it felt it would be worth sharing some thoughts about it, mostly what went on in my head process and thought wise. Most of my experience to date has been critiquing photos of workshop participants over the years with a little judging through photo organizations in the past. Not to mention the judging we all do of our own work as photographers, sometimes being harder on ourselves than anyone else might be. I know I can fall into this too.

Before jumping into this I do want to make a comment as someone that has entered photography shows or contests a number of times throughout my photography career. Regardless of how well I have done in any photography contest I never take it too seriously and neither should anyone else. I don’t mean it in a way that it’s no big deal at all. I mean in the sense that there are many factors that go into how you may or may not place in a photo contest that those who don’t place in the top shouldn’t get down on their work and those that place well shouldn’t get overconfident in their work either.

To add to this everything I am stating here is of course only my opinion. Someone else judging could have seen things differently and with different results. I chuckle a little at the many back-seat judging comments I see for any well-known competition posted online. It is art after all and is very subjective!

I think what is interesting about this experience that you don’t always get is the ability to do final judging based on actual printed pieces of art. With everything we do digitally today, often who wins is decided based on a digital file instead of a final printed photograph. In this case that certainly played into how I landed where I did for the winners. It’s a whole other element that can make, or break, the outcome in my opinion.

The first round of judging was online. This was to determine who would be in the show. This would not determine top finishers. This is a more straightforward process since a much larger selection of photos can be picked for the actual show itself compared to the small number I would need to select as winners.

Fast forward to the week of the show and I went out to view all of the photographic pieces as they were being set up for the show’s opening. Everyone had the freedom to print their work as they wanted which ranged in size from very small to large, and mediums ranging from metal to more traditional framing. I took my daughter with me and she learned a lot about the process which she appreciated as a budding photographer. She saw it wasn’t something I came in and could easily decide right away. There are a number of great entries.

What got me to even think about this as a blog post was the process of selecting the top entries. I had not expected the process to be as enlightening to me as it was, for a couple reasons.

One reason is how I went about deciding and the process of elimination that ensued. It would not be appropriate for me to take photos of the photographs to display here (which is why you don’t see any) yet there were a number of reasons I took even beautiful photos out of the running. Adding the print element really made a difference as some pieces looked great while others had some deficiencies or other personal conflicts that made it harder to justify bringing them into the winners circle.

From a physical print perspective here is what stood out to me on a number of pieces as to why they were not chosen. My intention of mentioning this is for general education to those that want or need to print for a show in the future.

Bright Spots – One piece had a few small lines that after further inspection appeared to be part of the image. Unfortunately, they were very bright compared to the dark part of the image they were in and looked more like scratches when viewing it. My eye kept coming back to them instead of the beauty the rest of the photo offered.

Photo Edges – There shouldn’t be a very small piece of an object barely showing itself along the corner side of a photo that. When I see this it looks like it’s unintentional having such a small piece. It’s more a distraction to the eye than anything.

Highlights – There are certain scenes where having highlights overexposed or blown out look fine or even can enhance the photo. Yet there was at least a couple where the blown highlights didn’t add to the image in my opinion.

Iconic Spots – I was intentionally looking for shots I felt were a little different from usual or if they were taken from a very popular spot were more unique in nature. Personally, if you are photographing a very popular location the bar goes up for how well composed, processed and printed it is.

Focus/Blur – I am not sure if it was the quality of the lens or focus stacking challenge yet a couple pieces did not look as clean as they should in a couple spots. By the overall composition, it did not seem like it was intentional for the areas to be as soft as they were.

Noise – If you have very dark areas of the image they should be very low to no noise. When a digital file clearly shows noise in the shadows you can be certain it will only be magnified when you print it. Only a textured medium like canvas can conceal some of it.

Chromatic Aberration – I consider myself very open to different and unique art and how others might see the world differently. That said I find when there are noticeable issues like “purple fringing” or other colors that it takes away from the overall scene.

Distractions – I always say as nature photographers we are trying to take a chaotic scene and figure out how to simplify with as little distracting elements in the final piece as possible. Between composing, cropping and editing we work to make it our interpretation of the scene.

 

Here are some reasons why the winners were picked to contrast with those that weren’t.

Simplicity/Clean – Photos were kept pretty clean composition wise as far as minimizing distracting elements.

Unique Point of View – The photos were taken from unique or different vantage points making them stand out from the others.

Different Take on Icon – Although one was a local iconic subject it was a different take on it that I had never seen before.

Print Presentation – Clean and little to no visible issues like noise, digital artifacts, etc.

I want to reiterate the intention of this post is to share my experience. There were plenty of photographs that had only minor “issues” and are great photographs in one way or another. At the end of the day, I needed to narrow it down and this how I went about it.

Lastly, shortly after leaving from judging the photos I thought about the final pieces I picked and to see if there was any theme. I didn’t expect there to be anything. Well, that didn’t prove out to be the case. For the final four photos, they all had elements of water, fog and or snow. I did this 100% in my subconscious not knowing it at the time. It’s very interesting how I gravitated towards these because I am someone that tends to like feeling colder instead of hot. All three elements tend to represent feeling cool or cold. I found this observation very interesting.

The photos in the post are photos I have entered and been a finalist or placed in various contests over the years. I am sure there were similar thought processes going on when my work was being viewed by someone else!



The Eagle Creek Fire Still Burns, Yet We Must Look To The Future

Monday, 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.

Photo and Text By: Zack Schnepf
 
I’ve been coming to Punch Bowl falls since I was a teenager.  I used to backflip off the 40 foot cliff next to falls in the summer and cool off in the pristine water of Eagle Creek.  As a photographer, I re-discovered Eagle Creek.  I always thought it was gorgeous up there, but with photography I came to appreciate it’s rare beauty.  I used to photograph it frequently when I lived in Portland.  This photo was taken in 2010 during the only year I can remember when there wasn’t a log in front of it.  The next winter another huge fir tree fell right in front of the falls.

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Update 9/17/17: I have had a number of comments come to me about where to donate in order to help Gorge in general, firefighters fighting the blaze or Eagle Creek fire victims. Here are some options in no particular order that you can look into that all appear to be good causes.

The Photographers High

Monday, July 24th, 2017

There are many reasons each of us choose to pick up a camera and take photos. Today everyone is a photographer with cameras practically attached to our body in one way or another. Give it a few more years and they will be physically attached to all of us. Yet why we do photography and what we feel while doing it ranges significantly. A person might take a small number of photos occasionally snapping on their phone to remember a moment as personal keepsake. Another one is taking tens of thousands of frames a year as professional photographer in some calculated fashion to deliver certain types of photos to clients. Yet another photographer might take a smaller number of high quality photos only when they feel inspired and connected to a scene or moment. The list could go on and of course many of us likely do it for a combination of reasons. You get the idea.


Over the years it’s dawned on me there are scenes and moments I experience that quiet literally put my body in a moment of experiencing a high. The endorphin rush can bring on a sudden state of euphoria. I am not a drug user and have only used prescription pain meds a few times when warranted yet I can imagine there has to be some similarity to the highs one might experience out in nature that are comparable to what we can do ingesting drugs or chemicals in our body. Come to think of it the infrequent high I get when running is similar to what I experience on occasion with photography. After all, there is a reason we have the term natural high. This is certainly one reason why I do photography. The experience in the field before you even get home to process the photo can be exhilarating.


This is certainly not the only reason that keeps me coming back to “shoot up” for another high yet it’s definitely a strong one. Why is it that many of us go through funks or down periods in our artistic pursuits? It’s because we are no longer experiencing that high and we have to find new ways to bring it back. Not much different than building up a tolerance to something and no longer getting the same response in our mind and body. Unlike those addicted to drugs or alcohol that need to be looking for ways to cope without, we as outdoor photographers should be doing the opposite and looking for ways to bring that high back.

Now don’t confuse this topic with needing to be obsessed or constantly engaged with photography to find pure enjoyment and highs. That is definitely not the case. Sometimes it might be fully immersing one’s self while other times it’s stepping back and finding balance. In this post are photos where I have experienced a high of sorts that I can still recall to this day.


If you are off your game and not feeling into it like you used to be, here are some ways to bring it back or keep it going. All of these I have used personally at one time or another.

1) The Gear – Force yourself to use different or less gear. I very recently took a short trip with the primary reason being photography and I left my most used lens at home, my wide angle. You are correct I didn’t even bring it with me just in case!

2) Get Social – If you tend to photograph by yourself most of the time, then try going out with others. Plenty of ways to make this happen in today’s connected world. On the flip side if you always go out with others spend some time going out on your own.

3) New Places – If you tend to go back to the same places all the time it may not be giving you the same level of satisfaction you once felt. Spread your wings and fly somewhere new, or fill the gas tank and head down the highway.

4) Switch Modes – Try different types of photography. If you always photograph nature landscapes then if for nothing else but to provide a different perspective try macro or abstract. Heck, maybe even get out for a stroll city streets for photos.

5) Continuing Education – Take a class, workshop or read a book on photography. These can help provide different ways of thinking and new inspiring ideas. Inspiration often comes from what you are surrounding yourself with. Closing yourself off won’t help.

6) Take Five – Sometimes it’s simply stepping away from the camera for a short period of time to do something different altogether.  Doing this can restore that desire and love for all things photography.

Best of luck that you find the natural high you are looking for with all your photography experiences! If you have additional tips to keep the inspiration and excitement flowing, feel free to share it here.

46 Photography Quotes To Inspire, Provoke Thought or Simply Laugh

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Whether it’s serious or downright hilarious we all can appreciate quotes that inspire us in some way or at the very least cause for pause and thought.  Some of these have been accumulated over time in my note taking and others were discovered when thinking about this blog post. They were chosen because they reflect how I view photography or nature, inspire me personally, portray the past, present, future of photography or merely provide a good laugh. After all Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine” – Lord Byron.

I am sure a few you have heard before yet I am also sure there are some you haven’t. From some of the biggest names in photography to others not as well known or not professional photographers at all, to simply nature related inspiration for your next landscape adventure. Spend a few minutes below to get your thoughts flowing. These are intentionally in no particular order.  Feel free to comment below with your favorite photography or nature related quote.

 

“In a world and a life that moves so fast, photography just makes the sound go out and it makes you stop and take a pause. Photography calms me.” – Drew Barrymore

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas

“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman

“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

“The whole nature of photography has changed with the advent of a camera in everybody’s hand.” – Sally Mann

“I find it some of the hardest photography and the most challenging photography I’ve ever done. It’s a real challenge to work with the natural features and the natural light.” – Galen Rowell

“Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.” – Nancy Pelosi

“I don’t have a favorite photo. As a photographer, I have attachments to each image. Not the one photo: the experience of getting the photos is the challenge or the thing.” – Michael Muller

“It is a peculiar part of the good photographer’s adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it.” – James Agee

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – Aaron Siskind

“Photographers deal with a lot of crop.” – Unknown

“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.” – Ernst Haas

“Photographers are violent people. First they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall.” – Unknown

“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.” – Robert Mapplethorpe

“The grass is always greener when you crank up the saturation in Photoshop.” – Unknown

“If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only too make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better.” – Galen Rowell

“Cheap photography isn’t good, my dear, and good photography isn’t cheap.” – Unkown

“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping at what’s in front of you.” – Frans Lanting

“How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb and 49 to say, ‘I could have done that!” – Unknown

“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams

“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?” – Edward Weston

“People say photographs don’t lie, mind do.” – David LaChapelle

“You must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment a photographer is creative. The moment! Once you miss it. It is gone, forever.” – Henri- Cartier-Bresson

“Every photograph is the photographer’s opinion about something. It’s how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.” – Mary Ellen Mark

“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.” – Minor White

“You might be a photographer if you won’t even share a cell phone picture without editing it.” – Unkown

“Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget.” – Robin Williams

“It was only after a while, after photographing mines and clear-cutting of forests in Maine, that I realized I was looking at the components of photography itself. Photography uses paper made from trees, water, metals, and chemistry. In a way, I was looking at all these things that feed into photography.” – David Maisel

“Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.” – Piercy W Harris

“For me, pointing and clicking my phone is absolutely fine. People say that isn’t the art of photography but I don’t agree.” – Annie Lennox


“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” – Alfred Stiegltiz

“Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” – Unknown

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” – Edward Abbey

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau

“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” – Abraham Lincoln

“A camera didn’t make a great picture anymore than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” – Peter Adams

“Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” – Ken Rockwell

“Warning: I am about to snap!”- Unknown

“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.” – Edward Steichen

“When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera.” – Patrick Demarchelier

 

Desert Southwest Trip Report

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Last Fall myself and a handful of my Photo Cascadia peeps headed down to the desert southwest region. I had only been down that way a couple times before, the only longish trip before I had the knowledge and desire to create art like I do today. Needless to say I was very eager for the trip not only to travel with great friends but also in hopes coming home with a few images for the portfolio and experiences to last a lifetime.

Although this time of year normally consists of chasing scenes with yellow, red and other similar hues that are planted in the ground, this was not that trip. In fact I came home after 9 days with over 2,300 files and no fall color in any of them. Beyond that it was likely one of my most productive trips of this length that I can recall. What I have in this post is a healthy dose from that trip yet it’s a series of folders I will dive into periodically to find more nuggets to process for years to come.

Day 1
David Cobb and I touch down in Las Vegas. Grabbed the rental car and headed to eat. I am always hungry for those that don’t know me well. David tells me if we were stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean he would throw me over before he started to look like my next meal. I can’t blame him. We scarfed down lunch sitting outside right next to the sports car race track. Damn those cars are loud in this setting. After raising our voices just to talk over lunch we get on the highway, we leave behind Vegas in search of tranquil nature scenes.

We meet up with Chip Phillips and Zack Schnepf as they were just wrapping up a couple days in Zion National Park. After a quick pit stop for supplies in St George we decided to make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We planned to camp on the back roads outside the park yet seeing many of the backroads with head lights for the likes of hunting season, we opted for the modern day comforts of a hotel. We will camp this trip, just not here.

Day 2
We head out before day break because well that is what we are here for. It’s a long haul from where we lodged to the rim but sunrise doesn’t disappoint. We stand along the edge at Cape Royal. I don’t really care how amazing the sky is or isn’t, it’s simply a great feeling to stand here. The warm light hitting the rocks and first time in over a decade to the area was a reminder why it was worth coming back to. After the sunrises we stop in a turn out along the road and eat a tailgating breakfast of champions.

After a few hours back at the hotel we cruise back to Cape Royal for sunset. This is a beautiful spot and conditions prime that evening with dappled light and showers rolling through. Complete with colorful rainbow and moody storm clouds, and of course among great friends. The light fades away into darkness; the photos will be here to keep the memories in the light.

Day 3
I am thankful for this time of year with less daylight and more opportunities for zzz’s between sunset and sunrise. This morning we head to Point Imperial. We pull in to a quiet parking lot. We are the only cars here. Any noise we hear is us and a gentle breeze.

As we setup the sky and steep jagged cliffs glow every shade of red I can remember seeing in nature over the years. We tell stories, we shoot, and we laugh. We shoot some more and more laughs. You don’t want it to end. Until for some reason while I am packing up I open my wallet and realize I am missing my credit card. Doh!

I didn’t mention it earlier but we are here for the last few days the North Rim is open for the season. The droves of tourists have long departed and the visitor center’s shelves look like a department store that had long been out of business, empty. It’s the right time to be here for photography, except the warm monsoon summer season which is too warm for me.

When we get back Zack walks out from the restaurant holding my credit card in the air. Whew! I had left it at the restaurant the night before. The cars are packed and it’s time to head to the next location.

After a decent drive we make it to a location of Grand Staircase Escalante that we had hoped to get to. There were a couple water crossings that fortunately were running low for David’s new favorite vehicle in the whole world could make it through, our rental Jeep Compass. And to think it didn’t even have a compass. Huh.

We do some scouting and find a good place to put our tents down to call home for the next couple nights. All we see is openness and desert cliffs from camp. It’s a great place to park it.
The next couple days here are an all you can eat buffet of scrumptious light, flavorful skies and delicious scenes. I told you my mind can revolve around food.

Day 4
This day brings more good times, good shots and good camp food. By the afternoon we see a trail of dust off in the distance slowly barreling our way. Erin has joined us for a few days of this desert adventure.


Day 5
We leave Grand Staircase Escalante behind for a bit to check out another spot. The Coal Mine. With no camping nearby we find a hotel to crash at after visting the location for sunset. We cross the street for dinner. Here we learn time is an hour forward from where we stood across the street. What?! It’s hard enough that Arizona doesn’t change their clocks for daylight savings yet some reservations do recognize it while others don’t. In this case the restaurant was on the reservation land and the hotel was not. We almost missed sunrise one day having our heads flopping back in this mini time warp.


Day 6
After peaceful and majestic sunrise at the Coal Mine, back at the hotel we say good-by to Chip and Zack who start their journey back to the Pacific Northwest. David and I had a few more days before heading back home via Sin City.

Erin, David and I make our way to one of many slot canyon options in Grand Staircase Escalante. The day is late and we know better than to hike miles upstream and come out in the dark. We explore enough to know it’s worth a full day.

Day 7
We come back to the same canyon from the prior day. We arrive just after sunrise. Spending all day exploring, photographing and crisscrossing the water with my water logged boots. We hike out and make back to the car just after sunset. The dim light almost calling for a headlamp, I enjoy dusk and let my eyes adjust instead.

Day 8
Erin needs to start her long drive back this morning. We part ways and now it’s down to David and me for the final couple days. Being in Page this day we decided to visit this little known place called Horseshoe Bend. Besides visiting The Grand Canyon during the off season with few people around, we have tried to avoid iconic landmarks. I don’t mind photographing them, and I will, yet I don’t seek out trips that I am simply trophy hunting. To me there is no fun in that. A sense of exploring places with few others around is part of the thrill of nature photography.

As you can imagine Horseshoe Bend was not a quiet spot. Mind you I have never been here and I show up in the dark before sunrise. I find what looks like a decent spot (can’t really tell) and setup more to enjoy the scene but do plan to take a photo or two. As dawn breaks on a gray day as if I brought it with me from Oregon, I hear another couple photographers pass behind me on the trail. One of them says “That guy is in my spot” and I turn to realize the only person he can be talking about is me since no one is next to me. Really!? This solidified why I am not drawn to visit the icons on a regular basis.

As I pack up David and I connect again. I realize I lost one of the feet on my Gitzo tripod. I was sure I had it on when I was photographing that morning. I have no extras this trip and thankful we are near the end and I can make do. Hiking the ~1 mile trail out about half way up I just happen to look down and I see a dark object. I bend down and pick it up. It’s a foot that fits my tripod perfectly! Whether it truly fell off my tripod or I picked up someone else’s I can’t say for certain. Either ways it worked out.

David and I start our trek back in the morning. We settle on the last night camping at Valley of Fire. We make it there in time for some brief photography before the ranger comes barreling down the road at dusk ensuring everyone is out.

Day 9
Up at sunrise we head back into the prime area of the park that is closed at night. We photograph The Wave while exploring other areas until the light is harsh and photography at this point is small scenes requiring the use of my t-shirt as diffuser. It’s November and for my Pacific Northwest body is downright hot outside. How folks living down here deal with this in the summer I have no idea. I love it down here yet my body prefers cold over hot. It’s easier to layer up; you can only remove so many layers before it’s an issue in multiple ways.

We enjoy our nice little camping spot for the morning and head into the city that never sleeps. I know David as our main driver was sad to say goodbye to our gutless and compass-less Jeep Compass.

 

Leaving I already make plans in my head when I want to return, both for a family trip and photography. I can’t wait another decade without a decent trip down here. If you have not been and wonder why, just try reading the work of Edward Abbey or newer work from Guy Tal. There is much to ponder, dream and explore in this area to fill a lifetime.

“In my mind these experiences are a kind of retirement savings – the moments and memories I will someday recall with the same bittersweet joy and immense gratitude I felt experiencing them, and I will know that I truly lived”
– Guy Tal, More Than A Rock

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

LIGHT AND TEXTURE

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Light and texture are two of my favorite elements in landscape photography. Some of my personal favorite images are studies in light and texture.  Many of the photos that I choose to print and hang in my own home are these types of images.  They never get old to me and are always interesting to view and appreciate. In this article I’ll go over a few of my favorite images that showcase interesting light texture.

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Mud tile textures are fascinating to me. Here on the playa in the Alvord Desert, I was fortunate to visit during a particularly wet spring. The desert had been flooded and was drying out creating a truly wonderful mud tile texture. The light of sunrise really helped the texture come alive. The combination of backlight and the interesting textures in the mud and grass are what make this photograph successful to me.

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Slot canyons are a study in light and texture.  They are also a lot of fun to photograph.  Antelope canyon and other slot canyons are a wonderful place to focus on light and texture. The first slot canyon photo was captured back in 2008 before Antelope Canyon was quite so popular. I had the freedom to take my time and I only saw a few other people the entire time I was there. The second slot canyon image was captured in Zebra Slot Canyon. This was a tough canyon to access, there was about four feet of standing water in the canyon leading to this spot. It was challenging to make my way to this point, but what a spectacular canyon! The combination of the warm sunlight and cool light coming from the open sky creates a wonderful color contrast. The incredible texture and form of the canyon really come alive with the contrasting color of light.

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The Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park is a fascinating place. On my recent trip with David Cobb, and Sean Bagshaw I was finally able to visit this incredible location. I’ve seen images from this location, but it’s one those places that was very different in person. It ended up being even more rewarding than I imagined as well. It’s hard to convey how incredible it is to watch the spines of the cactus light up as the back light of dawn illuminates them. It’s the texture of the spines and the way they glow in the backlight that makes this one of my all time favorite images already, even though it was only captured less than a month ago.

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This photo of Mt Hood is an interesting one. I think it’s a really strong composition, but it’s the soft light and texture in the snow, foreground trees, middle ground trees and sky that really send it to the top of my favorites list.

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This last photo is all about light and texture for me. The first light glancing across the sage, willows and other foliage is so pleasing. It is especially nice in print. This is one of my all time favorite images to print. When I look at it, I love to drink in all the detail in the various layers of texture.

These kinds of scenes, studies in light and texture are something I’m appreciating more and more. I always have my eye out for interesting textures that might come alive in interesting light.

You can learn more about me and find my video tutorials covering the post processing techniques used to create these images on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com

20 Quick Tips For Photographing Abraham Lake In The Winter

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Images from Preachers Point on Abraham Lake near the town of Nordegg in the Kootney Plains

Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.

Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.

Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.

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  1. Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
  1. Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
  1. Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
  1. Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
  1. Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
  1. In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
  1. Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
  1. Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
  1. Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
  1. It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
  1. When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
  1. It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
  1. Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
  1. Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
  1. Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
  1. Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
  1. Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
  1. Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
  1. Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
  1. Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.

 

Tam McArthur Rim – Backpacking Trip

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).

View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)

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I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)

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All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.

As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)

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Getting There
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.

The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).

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The Hike
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.

Google Maps of Tam McArthur Rim
Staying Hydrated
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!

Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)

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More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)

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When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.

My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)

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What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.

The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)

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Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.

Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)

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Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)

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I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)

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The Two Essential Strategies of Effective Post-Processing

Monday, May 30th, 2016

 

Knowing how to use post-processing software is important for any creative photographer, but it is equally important to know what to do with that knowledge. No matter how proficient we are with our development tools, we still need to decide which direction to take an image for its final presentation. What follows is a guide for getting the most out of your image development by having clear strategies to guide the process. These strategies fall into two basic categories: directing attention and conveying character.

1) DIRECTING ATTENTION: Work with the composition, not against it.

Effective post-processing will emphasize the composition of a photograph by helping it to direct eye movement and to highlight points of visual interest. The first step to determining how to proceed with processing is to have a clear idea of how the eye should travel through the frame and which parts of the image are most important. Where is the main path that the eye should follow? Is there a primary point of interest? Are other points of interest playing a supporting role or are they competing for attention? Is anything drawing the eye out of the frame? With these questions answered, we can concentrate on a few approaches to addressing any concerns that they raise.

• Finesse the Light

The eye follows light, so it will be attracted to the most luminous parts of an image. Increasing or decreasing the luminance of an area selectively can help to bring it ‘forward’ or to push it ‘back’ in the hierarchy of visual interest. Likewise, a gradation of light can be very effective in transitioning the eye between zones.

Some caveats: While digital processing gives us remarkable and very selective control over luminance in an image, there are limits to what we can accomplish in affecting the quality of light in a scene. Very strong, directional light is the most difficult to finesse because its effects tend to be quite emphatic, while soft light is quite malleable, allowing for a high degree of discretion in post-processing. The suggestions above for adjusting luminance can only go so far—if the light in a photograph is working strongly against its composition, then that photo is probably a candidate for reshooting in different conditions.

• Adjust Colors

Colors can attract attention much like luminance does. Warmer colors ‘advance’ and draw the eye more than cool ones, which tend to recede in an image. Nonetheless, cool colors can demand a lot of attention if they are anomalies in an otherwise warm color palette. Selectively adjusting the hue or saturation of a feature can have a great effect on its presence in the frame, allowing you to control how much attention it demands.

• Take Charge of Textures and Forms

Features with greater dimensionality attract more attention, while flatter ones are less noticeable. Sometimes increasing the contrast of a feature will help to make it stand out better. Conversely, making an area “flatter” (that is, less dimensional) can help to take attention away from it. If a scene has an area of busy detail that detracts from the more interesting parts of the photograph, then reducing the contrast there could be beneficial to the overall image.

Forms that are very different from everything around them are also likely to attract attention. For example, a footprint in an area of smooth sand or a jet contrail in the sky may amount to an unfortunate distraction, in which case it may be a good idea to remove those features by cloning them out.

Flowers for Miles by Erin Babnik

Selective adjustment of luminosity directs attention to the path that the eye should follow and away from busy textures that could be distracting.

 

2) CONVEYING CHARACTER: Bring out the essence of the image.

Any compelling photograph has the potential to suggest certain qualities of character or mood over others. A scene may be cheerful, ominous, dreamy, surreal, whimsical, or any number of other possibilities. Identifying the essence of an image in these terms will provide a framework for processing decisions of a more creative nature. Once you have a good idea of the character or mood that you would like to express, there are a few categories of adjustments to consider that can be very useful in creating the final look of an image accordingly.

• Tailor the Overall Tonality

Most photographers agree that camera settings should target an exposure that will provide the most flexibility when it comes time to process the image. Working this way in the field may result in an initial tonality that differs from what will best express the mood that you have envisioned for the final photo, however. A cheerful feeling may require a brighter treatment, while darker tones tend to suggest a more “moody” character. Even the range of tones may need to be narrowed or expanded to hit the right note, as it were. For example, when giving an image an airy, high-key treatment, you may want to restrict the range of tones so that there are no absolute blacks in it.

Swept Away by Erin Babnik

I wanted a light, warm, airy, impressionistic feel for this image because those qualities are what the scene suggested to me when I experienced it. I removed some distracting blue hues from the top of the photo and avoided making the shadows very dark. There is no absolute black in the final image.

• Constrain the Color Palette

Colors can do a lot to express a certain character. A palette of earthy tones tends to provide a more mature, relaxing appearance, while more vibrant palettes can suggest high levels of energy or exuberance. Shifting certain hues within an image can get them to adhere better to the dominant color scheme, making the character of a final photograph more pronounced. Harmonious color palettes are not only more expressive but are more settling to the eye, so it is worthwhile to explore the possibilities for getting colors to harmonize and to set the right mood for the scene.

• Emphasize Ambience

Some processing treatments do more to establish a sense of ambience than anything else. Deliberately softening an image or making it more hazy can cause it to appear more dreamy, whereas increasing sharpness and clarity can lend a more gritty tone to the whole. Making light sources appear to glow by diffusing them versus hardening their edges can have a great effect on the tenor of a scene. Such treatments can be very subtle and yet still go a long way towards emphasizing the qualities of an image that make it particularly expressive.

Rhapsody in Blue by Erin Babnik

Constraining the color palette to an analogous scheme helped to emphasize the brooding mood set by the storm clouds. There was enough yellow in the raw file that I could have brought it out and produced a complementary scheme, which would have a more peppy mood than what I wanted to convey. I therefore cooled off the traces of warm hues in both the sand and the sky opening in order to ensure that they wouldn’t disrupt the overall feel of the image.

Considering how we might direct attention and what character we want to convey will give clear direction to our development process. Although there are endless options for editing images these days, they are all best employed in the service of a goal. Sometimes a round of experimentation is necessary to help define those goals, but once the direction is clear, all else will follow with more effective results. Do you ever struggle with the direction to take a photograph during its development? What strategies do you find most helpful in pointing the way forward?

 

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