Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Featured Photographers’ Category
Over 20 years and 300 visits, photographer and author, QT Luong, explored each of America’s 59 national parks. His decades-long project culminated in his book, Treasured Lands, A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. Both an art book and a guidebook in one, it is a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to our most treasured landscapes. Released in the summer of 2016 in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial, it now is even more important and timely in light of the recent political environment which could put our national parks and other public lands at risk.
Reviewing books is not part of my typical skill set, but this book has made such an impression on me that I am honored to share it. Unfortunately, there may not be much value I can add considering the New York Times already declared it to be the “most glorious” book to come out of the centennial of the National Park Service and the accolades of Ken Burns already grace its cover.
I first became familiar with Luong’s photography while researching photo locations in the Western United States and Mexico more than a decade ago. Time and again, the most comprehensive photographic coverage and the most inspiring photos I found were in his collection. It seemed he had been everywhere and always under the most favorable conditions for photography. Later I had the pleasure of meeting Luong and attending one of his presentations at a North American Nature Photography Association summit. Over time we have corresponded on a variety of photography topics. His eye for light and composition is inspiring, his determination for finding exciting vantage points is remarkable and his appreciation and knowledge of our planet is heartening. However, nothing could be a more fitting testament to his artistry and tenacity as an explorer, scientist and photographer than this book. At over 450 pages, 500+ images, 130,000 words and 60 maps, it is definitive in its scope, content, and beauty.
The mind has a hard time grasping the enormity of such a project. To merely visit all 59 national parks in one’s lifetime would be an accomplishment to take note of. To spend the time, over multiple visits, to find and photograph so many locations in so many nuances of light, weather and season is remarkable. To do it with such quality, attention to detail and obvious admiration and love for the land is exceptional. The layout of this large format book is gorgeous. It is printed on heavy art paper with great attention to color and image quality. Each chapter begins with an overview of the particular park, followed by several stunning page-filling images, completely unfettered by text. At the end of each park’s chapter is additional information about the park as well as details for each image, a map, seasonal tips, locations, and suggestions for photography.
Tuan’s photography showcased in this format combined with the historical and ecological information, maps, visitor suggestions and photography tips truly make this an art book and a guidebook in one. But who is going to lug a seven-pound book along with them on their explorations of the parks? In order to make Treasured Lands “more useful than a coffee-table book, and more inspiring than a guidebook”, he has also created a companion e-book that is formatted specifically for mobile devices. This makes it possible to bring the guide aspect of the book along with you in your pocket. For a nominal price, book owners can access the e-book from a link found on page 13. If you only want the e-book version you can purchase it separately on the Treasured Lands website.
A sign of the times, purchasing large art books isn’t as common these days as it once was. But if there ever was an art book to have as your own or give to someone else, this would be the one. It is an important book on many levels; as a tribute to our national parks, as a tribute to a 20-year project of passion, as a monumental body of artwork, as inspiration to enjoy, admire and take care of our public lands, as a photography resource and a travel guide and perhaps most importantly as a reminder of what a treasure our National Parks are and how important it is that we fight to keep them safe.
You can find the book Treasured Lands at treasuredlandsbook.com.
QT Luong is a full-time photographer from California, known for being the first to photograph all 59 US National Parks – in large format. Ken Burns featured him in “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009). His photographs, published in dozens of countries around the world, have been the subject several magazine profiles, solo gallery and museum exhibits. You can see more of his work at www.terragalleria.com.
Sean Bagshaw 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.
PhotoCascadia is proud to announce the addition of Erin Babnik as a new full time member of the team! If you didn’t previously know Erin’s photography then hopefully you were introduced to her when she began contributing to the PhotoCascadia blog back in March of this year. Erin has the distinct honor of being the first and only person to be asked to join PhotoCascadia since the six original members formed the group several year ago.
Since the beginning, PhotoCascadia’s mission has been to explore areas of natural beauty, encourage appreciation and conservation of wild places and offer inspiration by sharing our images, our stories, and our knowledge with other photographers who share our passion. We were quite content with the group and were not looking for a new member.
However, over the past several months it became clear that Erin was too good a fit not to be a member. She is smart, humble, kind, energetic and generous. Her photos are of the highest quality and artistry and were already admired by the group before we knew who she was. In addition to being a talented photographer she is an educated art historian, an excellent writer and has great energy, passion and vision. Erin’s love of nature, adventure, exploration and sharing her knowledge aligns directly with the PhotoCascadia mission. During the time she has been contributing articles to the PhotoCascadia blog she has engaged, inspired and connected with our readers in a very positive way. Finally, hailing from northern California, she lives on the southern boundary of the Cascadia region so she knows, explores and photographs the area intimately.
Please join us in giving Erin a very warm welcome! You can look forward to seeing a lot more from her in the future!
One of the presents for my birthday this year my wife and girls got me was a great hardback book by Ed Cooper “Soul of the Heights – 50 years Going to the Mountains”. If you have a love for being in the great outdoors especially in the Pacific Northwest and don’t know who Ed Cooper is, it’s worth your time to check out his work and stories. This is only one of several books he has. I am sure the others are a feast to read and view as well.
Ed does a superb job taking the reader through a journey of what it was like being one of the early climbers in Pacific Northwest, pioneering many routes. What drew me to his work before I even got the book is a photo of his I happen to see online taken decades ago. Growing up in Oregon on large property with forest and creek I have almost always preferred to spend my time outside. Although I did not get to experience a wider variety of outdoor areas until I was older I enjoy the time travel of Ed’s photos taking me back to when I was a kid (or before in many cases) on what some areas looked like since places can and do change whether by human impact or natural occurrence. Getting back to the photo I first saw it was Mount Saint Helens… before the eruption. I was a very young kid when the mountain blew yet I still remember standing on a ridge near the Columbia River Gorge watching it erupt. His before and after series of the mountain is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature and the power of what photos convey.
After seeing the Mount St Helens photo I started looking through more of his work which has been equally enjoyable. Beyond the photos in the book are stories that start to paint a picture of how much easier we have it today in many cases. By this I mean the advancement of gear and technology to lighten our backs. I decided it was becoming too much to lug my “large” DSLR and accessories for long hikes and backpacking. With the recent quality improvements coming in smaller packages I bought a mirror-less camera setup to lighten my load. Yet here is Ed many years earlier exploring places high up, covering long distances and carrying his 4×5 or 5×7 camera and equipment that is most certainly more weight and bulk than my backpacking setup at the scale crushing weight of 8 lbs. or for that matter less than even my DSLR setup. What I am getting at is giving credit to early photographers like Ed that went the extra mile with all the right equipment to get great photos in the earlier days of photography.
Back to the book. It’s stated in the forward how Ed Cooper is a cross between Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. I would definitely agree and was thinking along these lines before I even read that part simply from going through his work online. I would say most people reading this post have either Ansel or Galen on their list of inspiring photographers, and if Ed isn’t already I would highly suggest adding him. The stories in the book cover peaks not only in the Pacific Northwest, others across North America include Yosemite Valley and Bugaboos in Canada to name just a couple of them.
Reading stories in this book and within his social media pages is a stark reminder of what increase in population has done to restrict our freedoms in many locations we love to visit. Many of his photos captured decades ago when we had less people enjoying outdoor adventures allowed greater flexibility with less rules and regulations where and when you can go. Today many outdoor places from parks to wilderness we visit are not a free-for-all. I certainly understand why we need to have most of these limitations in place yet makes one think how enjoyable it must have been for adventurers like Ed.
If you want to buy one of his books I would suggest buying it directly from him like my wife did. Doing this you can get a personally signed copy should you want one. Here are links to his social media where you can view more of his work and follow him for future posts.
Mini Interview – Although the primary purpose of this post is mentioning my thoughts around Ed’s book and work he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me as well.
Adrian: I read that you have moved over to digital. Can you tell me when that was and what you feel the advantages or disadvantages it has compared to film?
Ed: I made the complete shift to digital (after experimenting with it for two years) in May of 2007. There are plus and minus features.
On the plus side It relieved me of the burden of carrying heavy packs and time consuming set-ups with a view camera, and it allowed me to shoot many more different images in a set period of time than was otherwise possible. It was also a lot less expensive. At $2.50 of more for each 4×5 film exposure, and my shooting at least 4 to 5 sheets of film at each subject, to make sure one of them was the perfect exposure, costs added up quickly (My record was about 130 sheets of 4×5 film in one day in the Tetons some years ago). Also, in order for art directors and others to view the images, we had to send them out by mail or courier, a time consuming process.
On the minus side, the digital image lacks the control features of a view camera. With swings and tilts you can correct for foreshortening without having to use features of advanced digital imaging and editing programs such as Photoshop. Further, using a view camera, the user has better control of depth of field, enabling one to bring both flowers close at hand and mountains in the distance in focus in the same image. And lastly, only the most expensive digital equipment available can match the resolution in a 4×5 film image. When I scan a 4×5 image at 2400 dpi I get an image size of about 280 MB. This is enough to make a print of 30×40 inches and still have it at about 300 dpi. A sharp image indeed!
Adrian: You have been photographing professionally for many decades, seeing it change and grow. Do you have any thoughts on what the future holds for photography?
Ed: Now, with digital cameras and smart phones, everybody is a photographer. This, of course, makes it much more difficult for someone to become a pro. The use of cams in vehicles, sports helmets, and even in drones has expanded the range of what is possible. I personally don’t like drones as it really invades one sense of privacy. Can you image being on a difficult climb in the backcountry and having one of these things coming with a few feet of you to check you out? They are also quite noisy. We had one buzz our house earlier this year, and if I had a shotgun handy I would have blown it out of the sky. Selfies have become the rage now. My wife and I were on a photo trip for almost 3 weeks this June, and a growing percentage of the photos we saw being taken were selfies, many with selfie sticks as long as 3 feet. One thing is for sure. More images are being taken, both in still and video fashion, and where it will end I do not know.
Adrian: I am sure it’s virtually impossible to pick one trip or photo as a favorite. That said what is one of your favorite photos and or adventures and why?
Ed: There are quite a few images I would pick as my best, but for purposes of this blog I will pick the cover photo of the book “Fifty Years Going to the Mountains”, the east face of Bugaboo Spire in the Bugaboos in Canada, taken August 16, 1964.. Much of my early work was in B&W, and I developed the ability to “see” in B&W. I could look at a scene and immediately vision it in B&W. This was taken from a nearby peak in the Bugaboos. Having climbed this peak several years earlier, I knew the best time of day to be there to get the result I had pictured in my mind at that time. I arrived at the summit of this nearby peak, carrying a 5×7 view camera, at the proper time, in early afternoon. I used infrared film with a red filter. The side lighting on the face from the opposite direction provided the “shine” or glowing effect. I, together with Art Gran, made the first ascent of this face in August on 1960.
For this installment of our Featured Photographer series I decided to turn the tables on my friend, Alister Benn, and interview him. Alister and I first met a few years ago when he interviewed me for a podcast. Since then I have been an avid fan and follower. His work spans the globe, from his native Scotland to the Himalayas, and features a consistent and deliberate mood of primordial rawness and mystery. Perhaps just as impressive as his body of photographic work is the long list of interests, projects and ventures he participates in, from environmental activism and teaching to writing and music. In 2011 Alister and his wife JuanLi Sun founded the regarded nature photo site, WhyTake.net, with Rafael Rojas and Anca Minican. In September he will be presenting at the Scottish Nature Photography Festival and in the fall he will be leading a photographic journey to the Mt. Everest region with Oregon photographer, Marc Adamus. His instructional books on photographing seascapes and the night sky are works of art in their own right. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation and getting to see some of Alister’s photographs.
Give us some background into your history with photography.
I had my first SLR when I was about 13 or so and was always attracted to more abstract subjects, and birds of course. I had no idea about exposures, but picked up a few tips from my older brothers.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I had the time to invest and I bought a Canon 10D for shooting birds in the rainforests of Malaysia, where we lived at the time. Landscapes began on a trip to Canada the following year and my love of night photography started then and more or less drove my development for the next decade. I stopped photographing birds in 2007 as it had ruined birding for me, and now I am very happy to watch them without the need to make an image.
I went full time pro in 2009 and am incredibly grateful to make a living doing what I love.
From one landscape photographer to another, what is it about photographing the landscape that calls to you?
I can’t paint! But have a desperate need to say things about what I see in the landscape. For me it is a fundamental need to be expressive. As I get older, my wife Juanli and I are more reclusive and photography allows me to articulate myself without the boundaries or constraints of language or location.
Nature has a very quiet voice and can struggle to be heard under the clamor of louder, more aggressive screaming. I like to add the weight of my passion to that voice and hopefully it allows people to hear those whispers clearer and adjust their lifestyles accordingly.
You are from Scotland, which I envy. In just a few sentences describe the Scottish landscape to us through the eyes of a landscape photographer and a native. What has it taught you as an artist?
Yes, everybody has a little Scottish in them! 🙂 I guess most people have a real love and connection with their home countries. My relationship with home is odd, as I left it when I was 23 after university and didn’t go back to live there until 2013, at the age of 47. I had never photographed it, and that sense of connection and discovery was really powerful for me.
Scotland is mostly a wild and sparsely populated place, with the majority of the 5 million residents living within a narrow lowland belt between the major cities. The rest of it is hills, forests, heather, lochs and bogs! The coastline is exquisite, and I am constantly finding new coves and hidden stretches as my explorations continues.
I cannot separate the landscape from my perceptions of what it means to be a Scot; the history, our culture and our passions. The landscape stretches before me both into the past and into the future.
I have only felt comfortable with calling myself an artist since earlier this year, until then I called myself an expressive landscape photographer. There is a subtle shift, but profound for me. Scotland did that, a full on immersion into the landscape and only making images when I have something to say.
In addition to your homeland, you have spent time traveling, living and photographing many parts of the world: China, Spain, Canada, Iceland to name a few. Where do you feel you have done your best work? Do you get more inspiration from exploring new places or from returning to places familiar?
Interestingly I am writing this from Iceland, where I have just finished a private workshop for a lovely couple from Canada. I’d say my best work stretches across the globe, from all the places you mention above. There are images I am quite proud of, but I think, like many, I am usually most connected with my most recent images.
I used to adhere very much to the familiarity methodology, especially where planning certain images was concerned: You know, moon coming up there, Milky Way there etc. now, less so, I am less of a weather chaser and far happier making appropriate images dictated by the now and the moment. For people traveling great distances to shoot iconic landscapes, managing those weather expectations is the hardest thing. I smile often here on Iceland when other photographers say things like “I was hoping for some clouds!”
Your images are dramatic and moody and have a consistent voice and feel. How would you describe photographic vision that guides your body of work?
As I mature (still waiting for adulthood!) – I feel much more compelled to inject myself into my work. It began as a conscious thing, not to shoot like anybody else, to try, whenever possible, to be Alister. Now, it is subliminal and just happens, I think I have found my style and my voice.
Basically, what I am saying is this. The planet is in a dark and desperate state, extinctions, deforestations, an ever increasing desire for sustainable growth – but despite all that pessimism, I feel an innate sense of hope. So, my images tend to be dark and ominous, but with a glimmer of radiance that is my beacon of optimism.
You are notorious in photography circles for your energy, vision and ability to work on several projects simultaneously. You collaborate with other photographers, lead tours, teach, write books and are also a talented musician. What current and future projects do you have in the works?
Wow, I didn’t realize all that! After nearly 5 years of work we are closing the whytake.net website. It’s been a labor of love, but demands a lot of our time and creative energy. I know that my personal work and Available Light Images have suffered because of that demand.
Juanli and I are currently excited by our own personal development, our continued exploration of the Scottish landscape and our workshops/tours. I truly love teaching, watching the lights go on in people’s eyes as they make that realization that they can shoot like themselves.
I am excited that my best images are in the future and not in the past, I am excited by photographing anonymous stretches of the Scottish coastline that are not all over social media!
See more of Alister’s Fine Art Prints – alisterbenn.com
Tours, workshops & eBooks – availablelightimages.com
Follow Alister on Facebook
By David M. Cobb
Over the years I’ve spent a great deal of time visiting art museums, searching out the European masters, the cubists, the impressionists, the Hudson River School, and others. But it wasn’t until I saw Edward Weston’s Pepper #30 that photography entered into the equation. Western art influenced my sense of design and light, and my schooling reinforced those Western perspectives of art.
Later in life other influences came into play, specifically art from Asia. A number of years ago a photographer suggested I read Empty and Full: The Language of Chinese Painting by Francois Cheng. That was the beginning of change for me. I now find myself seeking out Chinese reliefs and Japanese block prints when I roam art museums; their influence helps me incorporate Eastern perspectives into my work. My photography changes but that change can seem frustratingly slow, and sometimes I end up with more failures than successes. With my changing perceptions, the scenes that are more difficult to come by are the asymmetrical compositions—that sense of unbalance that “feels” odd to me. But I’m learning to adapt and must let all that go. There’s now more of a visual emphasis on negative space in many of my compositions, and with that comes an economy of line.
However, it is a struggle. My old eye fights with the new, and the old ways usually win. Some scenes play to my new eye easier than others; for instance a landscape with fog or a mountain shrouded in mist is easier to compose and capture in a new way. With a complex scene in a forest or a desert landscape, I tend to fall back on my western influences. Thoreau stated “simplify, simplify, simplify” and that is what I strive to do more often than not. My compositions succeed when I’m more open to change in my photography and when I’m compositionally deliberate as I reflect on my Eastern influence. With time, my hope is to make this an intuitive thought process.
Examples of current photographers who excel at capturing this Eastern aesthetic in their landscape photography are John Einarsen, Leping Zha, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hiroshi Watanabe, and John Sexton. A photographer like John Paul Caponigro uses negative space extremely well, especially in his more surreal images. Symmetry and not asymmetry plays a larger part in his photography. His photos have a spiritual and even mystical sense to them (especially his celestial images), which connects well with the Eastern ideal and the land he photographs.
My struggle and creative journey will continue, but that’s part of the challenge and fun that comes from growth.
This week on the PhotoCascadia blog we are very excited to welcome a new blog contributor, the talented and esteemed Erin Babnik. We became acquainted with Erin’s photography a couple of years ago. At the time she was doing a lot of work in the Julianne Alps of Slovenia and the Dolomites of Italy. To say we were inspired and moved by her elegant compositions and captivating visual storytelling would be an understatement. We also enjoyed how closely she shares our own love of adventure and exploration of wilderness. In addition to being an accomplished outdoor photographer, Erin is a scholar and talented writer. She has a deep background in art history and is a master Photoshop user and educator. We are ecstatic to add Erin to the PhotoCascadia blog lineup. Her articles will add a valuable new dimension of ideas, knowledge and perspective that we can share with our audience. Erin will be a regular contributor so watch for her articles in the weeks and months to come. Our goal for this first Q&A article is to let her share some details about her background and photography interests, as well as showcase some of her wonderful imagery so you could become acquainted with her. In addition to her photographs, Erin offers instruction and leads workshops. We know you will want to check out more of her work and follow her on the web. Make sure to bookmark her site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and 500px.
1. You have a background in art history and archaeology. How did those two fields come together for you, and how did you evolve from there into a career as a full-time landscape photographer?
My degrees are in art history, but with a specialty in the art of ancient Greece. Working with ancient art necessitates a strong familiarity with the contexts in which ancient artworks were created, put to use, and later discovered, and it also requires a good understanding of archaeological field technique in order to make critical use of excavation reports about those discoveries. I therefore participated in archaeological expeditions in Israel for four years in order to gain experience with fieldwork. During that time, I began photographing artifacts and archaeological contexts in order to produce my own archive of photos for research and teaching. I started out by documenting the small finds and architectural remains where I was excavating and ultimately visited museums and sites throughout Europe and in the Middle East to round out my archives.
Those photographic pursuits quickly expanded into assignment work since I had a rare combination of subject knowledge and a passion for photography that produced unique results, and those projects in turn led to a lot of licensing of my photos. So before long, I was very much a ‘working’ photographer, and the idea of making photography a larger part of my professional life became increasingly appealing. My focus on landscapes grew directly out of the years that I spent photographing ancient ruins; trying to make compelling images of beautifully-sited temples and sprawling architectural foundations greatly developed my understanding of outdoor photography and piqued my interest in capturing natural ephemera. It also caused me to seek out locations where I could be free of the access limitations that are imposed at most archaeological sites. That desire to find both beauty and freedom soon had me exploring the Alps and venturing to increasingly remote and obscure locations. For a long while I clung on to my academic career because I so enjoyed teaching, but I finally decided that teaching landscape photography workshops would satisfy that passion nicely.
2. Do you feel as though your experience as an archaeologist has benefited you as a landscape photographer?
Yes, absolutely. There is a great amount of overlap between the two activities. An archaeologist must travel to remote locations, start work before sunrise, spend a large amount of time outdoors, work in challenging conditions, endure physical hardship, exercise great patience, and be willing to get very, very dirty. Anyone who has spent much time doing landscape photography will be quite familiar with those realities of the art! My time spent excavating in the Middle East toughened me up considerably and exposed me to a lot of travel situations that made me better able face the challenges of working in extreme conditions and in foreign countries. Archaeology also instilled in me an enthusiasm for discovery, which helps drive me to find new views and compositions when I’m out with my camera.
3. You obviously put a lot of care into the processing of your images. At what point did you begin to learn post-processing, and what philosophy, if any, guides you in your approach to it?
My first experiences with image editing actually preceded my interest in photography. I even taught Photoshop classes at a couple of art institutes for years before I ever even thought about using a camera for any serious purpose. It all started when my father began writing for a computer magazine and had to review new hardware and software as it came out. He also wrote books on various software programs and asked me to collaborate with him. It was my job to figure out how to use the software and to create example images that could serve as content for his tutorials. That experience landed me a job at a young age in the prepress department of a large newspaper, right when digital prepress solutions were just emerging. Adobe took an interest in the experiments of our department and sent representatives to teach us this new program called Photoshop, so we pioneered its use alongside the continuation of traditional prepress methods. Therefore, without ever having produced any serious photographs of my own, I became quite proficient at both traditional darkroom work and digital image editing. Learning Photoshop from the first version onward made it relatively easy to master the program and then stay on top of it as new features came out, so I subsequently had no problem acquiring work as a Photoshop instructor.
My philosophy about processing my own photographs did not quite grow out of those experiences, however. It was more so the years that I spent in art school to study studio art and then in graduate school to study art history that really influenced my particular approach to processing. Being exposed to so much art and to the history of it all has made me value personal expression and interpretation above most other goals. Although I do not indulge in the creation of pure fantasy scenes, I also do not think of my landscape photographs as reflections of some absolute reality. I aim to communicate my own experiences of a place, which may mean subtly altering spatial relationships, tones, or colors in order to impart a sense of perspective or a certain mood. It may mean combining different exposures to achieve a certain field of view, depth of field, or a combination of photographic effects that a camera cannot pack into a single frame on its own. These techniques come together in post–processing, but they usually require a deliberate approach at the moment of capture—so in a sense, my approach to processing a photo often begins well before I’ve taken any exposures for it.
4. What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about landscape photography?
The challenges of landscape photography are many, but chief among them is probably the necessity to think on your feet when unpredictable situations occur, which is often. I prefer to have the luxury of thinking through a composition at my leisure, refining it, and then waiting for a great display of ephemera to go with it. Those sorts of outings are wonderful, but all too often a mad dash and/or extemporaneous composition is necessary to come away with anything worthwhile when nature decides to be uncooperative. I always agonize over the decision to abandon a composition that excites me when it looks like opportunity will be knocking elsewhere, and I dislike feeling rushed when I’m composing a photograph. Then again, it can be a real thrill when an act of compositional triage forces me into a gamble that pays off in the end.
As far as rewards go, I suppose it is a toss-up between the experience of enjoying a magnificent view while photographing it and the experience of making a final photograph that communicates the essence of that experience. I enjoy both ends of the process immensely. Although I am probably happiest when I am out in nature, those moments can continue to pay dividends through photographs that successfully register something special about a particular place and time. I love that moment when I’m processing a photo and it starts to ‘speak’ to me, expressing whatever it is that I feel is worth sharing. Moreover, seeing other people deriving enjoyment from what I was able to express in a photograph is incredibly gratifying.
5. Your style of photography is quite adventurous, involving a significant amount of backpacking and wilderness camping. How do you typically go about choosing these types of destinations?
I usually choose my destinations after poring over topographical maps to identify potentially photogenic features and alignments. I find that I can get the basic sense for an area most quickly by looking at maps of it. Once I find an area that looks promising on paper, I then explore it ‘virtually’ using satellite imagery and Google Earth, and I look for snapshots that might provide more detailed information about a location or about terrain at an elevation that I’m targeting. Working in this manner usually means that I’m setting myself up for some surprises, and they don’t always work out in my favor. One time I planned a backpacking trip to photograph a glacial tarn that ceased to exist the year that I went to find it. It wasn’t until I had driven seven hours and hiked up nearly four thousand feet of steep terrain that I learned that there was no tarn because the glacier had finally become too small to produce enough runoff to fill the basin below it with water.
I also end up in a lot of interesting places simply because I enjoy the company of likeminded photographers who share my interests in exploring obscure locations. For years I resisted shooting with other people because I wanted to minimize distractions and complications, but lately I have swung the other direction. I have been lucky to make friends with some very intrepid photographers who have introduced me to locations that they have researched. Sharing the experience of exploration and discovery with inspiring photographers is possibly the greatest fun that I have ever known, and doing so has expanded my wanderings to areas that I may never have found by following my own nose.
6. How would you describe the qualities that are typical of your work?
The one thread that probably runs through most of what I produce is an interest in seldom seen locations and compositions. I think it’s my love of discovery and of solving puzzles that drives me to experiment with new locations and vantage points. While I marvel at familiar scenes as much as anyone else, I always have this urge to find out what lies beyond them. As far as basic aesthetics go, I tend to gravitate towards scenes that provide a strong sense of visual hierarchy and of timing. Although I enjoy images that do a compelling job of featuring all-over patterning or of eschewing temporal specificity, I don’t tend to produce them myself. Counterbalance, atmospheric effects, and dynamism all feature quite regularly in my images, and despite having a great amount of respect for black-and-white photography, I prefer to work in color.
7. When you are not photographing or processing images, what do you like to do?
I like to stay active as much as possible, so I do a lot of running and enthusiastically seize opportunities to go swimming when they arise. I really do enjoy the whole range of outdoor activities associated with photography, including hiking and camping, and I sometimes like to indulge in them without any photographic agenda governing my time. In addition to keeping my body active, I like to exercise my mind as well, so I regularly get out to museums and galleries, and I love to read philosophical musings about photography wherever I can find them. Judging photography competitions also provides me with an outlet for exercising my eyes and mind in ways that producing photographs cannot, so I accept a number of invitations to commentate and judge at competitions around the Bay Area each year.
8. What photographic projects do you have planned for the future?
At the moment I have a workshop in the Dolomites with co-leader Enrico Fossati scheduled for July 5–11 and several private workshops planned in the summer and Fall. I also have been invited to write a feature article for a magazine to recount my adventures on a month-long trip through the southwest that I recently completed. Those projects and my usual photography travels will keep me quite busy, but I hope to make plenty of time this year to finish an e-Book on photographic expression that I have been plugging away at for years now.
As our newsletter subscribers might know over the last last year we have taken turns pointing the lens on each of us to provide more insight to us personally. Since these were spread out among a half dozen newsletters we thought it would be good to post a recap that includes all of them. Besides we were not always good on following up to mention the myth found from a handful of truths of for the prior newsletter. Now we are rectifying that with all of them here.
If you did not receive the newsletter here is a speedy recap what we did. We published a listing of five things about one PC team member in a newsletter. One of the five is a myth, simply made up. four are true. The goal was to allow newsletter subscribers to guess which is the false one. If a person did respond correctly they would go in a drawing with others that guessed the same for a free 8×12 print of their choice. I don’t have a list of who all won yet I know some were guessed correctly by one or more viewers yet not that was not the case for all team members. Some are easier than others.
Without further rambling here they are for reading pleasure with a photo of each team member in their element… outdoors. Answers are separate at the bottom of the post for those that would like to take a stab at guessing.
- Failed the only photography course he ever took.
- Made ski movies when he was younger.
- Traveled around the world as a DJ.
- He likes to eat vegetables and seafood.
- Just out of high school bought a Porsche.
- Has performed onstage with Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Ben Folds, Brandi Carlile, and Peter Cetera.
- One of his cars is a red 1988 VW Cabriolet.
- Has never used a traditional film darkroom
- Was a child actor and in a commercial for Burger King.
- He is not afraid of bees, but is of spiders.
- He reads 25-50 books per year on average.
- He grew up in the redwoods of northern California, but has never been back to photograph.
- In addition to photography, he enjoys surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, and backcountry exploration.
- Has never used a traditional film darkroom.
- Owned cameras made by the following manufacturers: Sony, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Apple, and GoPro.
- Did wedding and portrait photography full time for over a year before deciding to move back to landscape photography.
- Almost got blown off a mountain summit with his wife. The tent was sideways and he could not see where he was when he woke up. He ripped open a mesh window to get out.
- Has traveled to all the National Parks in the states of Oregon and Washington.
- First backpack experience felt a big adventure he embarked on. He now takes his young kids to the same location. It’s only 2 miles and 500 ft of elevation gain.
- Grew up at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge playing in a creek on his property catching crawdads and hiking through the woods.
- He owned a music distribution company.
- He’s an avid guitar player.
- He’s held two state swimming records.
- He walked across the Yukon and NW Territories.
- He played in baseball’s Babe Ruth World Series.
- Pole vaulted in China.
- Reached the summit of Mt. McKinley on two separate expeditions.
- Lost a $5 bet with Galen Rowell when Galen successfully ran cross country at high altitude in time to capture his famous Rainbow Over the Potala Palace image in Tibet.
- Played in a 1990s bagpipe marching band, kilt and all.
- Partied with Woody Harrelson and his posse at a U2 concert.
Answers – the following are not true.
Kevin #4 – He likes to eat vegetables and seafood. Kevin does not like either of them. I know first hand from traveling with him.
Chip #5 – He is not afraid of bees, but is of spiders. Chip does not like bee’s at all but doesn’t mind spiders.
Zack #5 – Has never used a traditional film darkroom. Although he became an expert in Photoshop early in the DLSR age Zack has spent time in the darkroom.
Adrian #3 – Has traveled to all the National Parks in the states of Oregon and Washington. He has not been to the North Cascades NP yet.
David #2 – He’s an avid guitar player. David does not play the guitar.
Sean #3 – Lost a $5 bet with Galen Rowell when Galen successfully ran cross country at high altitude in time to capture his famous Rainbow Over the Potala Palace image in Tibet. He wishes he did but it’s not true.
With the latest interview and featured photographer spot on Photo Cascadia blog we bring you Marsel Van Oosten. Although based in The Netherlands, and area with little in the way of grand landscapes, he truly paints a picture of what it’s like to be a photographer leading adventures around the globe. I was first exposed to Marsel’s inspiring work about seven years ago on Nature Photographers Network (NPN). It was his great photos of Namibia that lured me in. Although I heard of the location before and seen photos, I realized he had some unique takes on the area. Along with photographing remarkable and exotic locales he has an exceptional wildlife portfolio. For years I have listed him on my website as a photographer that inspires. You will see why in this interview and his photographs.
1. Tell us about your life before photography or have you always been behind the camera?
I finished art school with a BA in art direction and graphic design, and then worked as an art director in advertising for 15 years. When I was in art school, I didn’t care much about photography. I could choose it as a major, but I couldn’t see myself messing around with chemicals in my bathroom all day to develop arty farty black and white prints. During my career as an art director, I worked with a great many professional photographers, and that’s when I really learned about the power of photography, how to look, how to select, how to work with light, and about post processing. Over the years it developed from a harmless hobby to a full blown obsession. My photographic style is greatly influenced by my graphic design education and my career as an art director.
2. You have some amazing nature and wildlife photos, which is your focus. What draws you to those subjects over everything else?
Thank you. I love nature, I love animals, I love being outdoors – always have. In advertising, everything was fake. At first, nature photography was a way for me to escape from the pressure and hectic life at an ad agency. The peace and quiet was therapeutic and it was nice to work with real stuff – trees, rivers, skies, animals. The creative challenge was interesting as well. Nature is chaos, and I liked trying to create some order. In many ways nature photography is like graphic design – you have a whole bunch of elements that need to be organized so that it makes sense and looks attractive. For me this is still one the most interesting creative aspects of what I do.
Working with animals is both amazing and frustrating. If you’re a landscape photographer, you have all the time in the world – you walk around, pick a good spot, wait for the magic light, and click. And if the weather does not cooperate, you return the next day – the landscape will still be there. With wildlife it’s completely different. I have no influence over my subject, all I can do is wait and hope for the best. When the light is perfect, the animal doesn’t show up, or when the animal is doing something amazing, it’s usually too dark, facing away from the camera, or hiding behind a tree. It’s very rare to get everything just perfect. And that’s exactly what makes it so addictive – there is always room for improvement and you never know what you’re going to get. It’s the anticipation. You’re looking at a scene, you see the light is perfect, you’ve already figured out the composition, the animal is walking into the right direction, and you’re hoping for those few extra steps to get the perfect shot. It can be really exciting. And when something interesting does happen, it’s usually over before you know it. You have to work fast, make the right decisions in a split second. It’s a lot of fun.
3. Speaking of subjects you have one of the best collections of Namibia photos I have seen. How do you continue find ways to push yourself creatively and come back with different and unique images after visiting the same place many times?
As a nature photographer you have basically two options: you photograph an unfamiliar subject, or you photograph a familiar subject. The first option is by far the easiest – if you subject is unfamiliar, you’re bound to end up with an original photograph. The second option can be very difficult from a creative point of view, especially when you’re photographing iconic places or subjects. I really like the creative challenge that places that have been shot to death give me. You really have to push yourself to your artistic limits to come up with something that feels original, even though the subject matter really isn’t.
When I first visited Deadvlei many years ago, there were hardly any photographs of it anywhere. People could not believe these places were real – they thought it was all photoshopped. After we set up the world’s first photo tour to Namibia, things started to change. More and more photographers visited the country and photographed the same subjects that I had. Every year it became more difficult to return with something original, but every year it became more interesting for me as an artist.
Nobody knows these places better than I do. When I see a photograph taken in Deadvlei for instance, I can show you on Google Earth which trees they are exactly, and at what time of the day the shot was taken – it’s pretty scary. I like visiting a place multiple times, you have to get to know a location to be able to fully understand the creative potential. But the most important thing you have to do is: think. Most of the photographs that I shoot in Namibia I have already pre-visualized at home. I don’t want to waste time walking around, thinking about what I’m going to do if I already know the location. Before each visit, I analyze the shots that I’ve taken there on previous visits, and decide what can be improved upon, or I try to come up with something that’s never been done there before. That’s how I decided to create the first time-lapse from Namibia that was shot entirely at night. Later this year we will visit Namibia probably for the 20th time or so, and I’m still looking forward to it again.
4. If you had to pick your three favorite images, what are they and why? (they are the three in this post)
Resurrection: I’m very proud of this image, because it was the result of creative vision. I had pre-visualized this image years before I was finally able to shoot it, and at a time when all landscape photographers told me that it would be impossible to shoot anything new there anymore – it had been shot to death. It is so difficult to shoot original images at iconic places, but it is extremely rewarding when you pull it off. So many photographers are obsessed about their gear and processing technique, but in the end the only thing that really matters is creative vision. As a matter of fact, this image won an award in the Creative Visions category of the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Awards. That was a real bonus.
Brave Elephant: Victoria Falls is yet another icon that has been photographed by millions. On my first visit there, I almost decided to leave my camera at the hotel, thinking about the kazillion images that had already been shot there. When I heard from the locals that an bull elephant had been spotted the day before in the vicinity of the falls, I decided to stay a few extra days and try my luck.
Photography is all about making decisions. Anyone could have made this shot, but very few people would have made that same decision. This is the only photograph in the world, apart from the horizontal version that was featured in National Geographic, that features an elephant this close to the edge of Vic Falls. It is also the perfect example of my ideal photograph: a spectacular landscape image with an animal in it.
Invasion Of The Dunes: Another one from Namibia. My first publication in National Geographic – a double page spread, 10 million copies worldwide. I was ecstatic. This was shot at a time when few people knew this place existed. Daniella and I were the only people here for days. The sand was pristine everywhere, which is no longer the case unfortunately. You can only get this light at a very specific time of the year, as the sun needs to rise at a certain spot to shine directly into the middle room. This room is difficult to find, but it’s the first one that people start looking for when they go here. It is by far my most copied shot ever.
5. You lead workshops around the globe from Namibia to Antarctica. What can one expect on a workshop with you?
We know the locations that we visit very well, so you can expect to be at the right place at the right time, fully briefed on all the creative challenges and possibilities. People that travel with us, usually do so because they like my work and they want to learn from me, see me at work. I like to help people to improve their photography, and teach them to analyze a scene. I have a very specific way of looking at spaces and dealing with shapes, so I try to bring that across. Composition is very important for me, more so than light, so I always give a presentation on that.
Also, part of every Squiver tour is image reviews – each participant selects up to three images from the previous day(s), and I analyze them in front of the group. These sessions are incredibly interesting and educational, also for me. We get people of all experience levels, which is great. We all learn from each other, also from the beginners.
But the main reason that people keep traveling with us, is the fact that we are a husband and wife company – we always lead our tours together. It’s a completely different group dynamic. Photography is a very male dominated thing, but we tend to get relatively more women than other companies because of that. The result is that there is less tech talk, which is good – I don’t like to talk about buttons and sensors all the time.
6. Is there any artist, photographer or otherwise, that has been a big influence on how you photograph or your creative process?
The one artist that has inspired me most, is German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). His paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that directs the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension. When I first saw his work back in art school, it made a big impression on me, and it’s been a source of inspiration ever since.
But there are so many other great artists around – the internet is filled with talent. I don’t look at much of it, only when I’m going to photograph something specific – I like to know what’s already been done so I can at least try to do it differently.
7. I notice you have entered (and won) a number of photo contests over the years. What are your thoughts on them; are they still a good avenue to stand out? And what contest gave you the biggest exposure?
Most photography competitions are only in it for the money, or to get their hands on your photographs for free. There are many contests out there, and most of them are completely useless. However, I do believe that contests can be helpful.
Photography is an art form, and art is subjective. If you’re a marathon runner, you can tell how good you are by looking at your best time. If you’re a photographer, you can’t. Family and friends always think your photographs are amazing, but they can not be trusted. When I was still working in advertising, I struggled with this phenomenon. I wanted to know whether my images were any good, so I decided to enter a couple of competitions to see what would happen. After I won prizes in several major contests, I knew that my images were good enough to stand out from the millions of others – in the end this was what gave me the confidence to switch careers.
I still participate, primarily because it’s nice to know whether other people certain images are as good as I think they are, and because it looks good on my cv. I know that I’m a good photographer, so I don’t need the ego boost – I hardly ever visit the award ceremonies. If you want to become a professional photographer, participating in any of the major contests is a good way to find out if your images stand out from the rest. There are already so many photographers out there, so if you want to make it, you need to be better than most of the others.
As a nature photographer, there are only five contests in the world that I think matter; Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, Travel Photographer Of The Year, International Photography Awards, and Nature’s Best Awards. Those are the competitions that publishers, galleries and stock agents look at. My recent win in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year gave me the most exposure, mostly because the picture (of a snow monkey holding an iPhone) appealed to many people and because the contest has a big reach.
8. When you are not photographing or leading a tour what do you like to do?
I like to watch tv series like Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Homeland, and House Of Cards, and I like to listen to Death Metal. Septicflesh rules.
9. Quick questions:
- Nikon or Canon? Nikon
- Apple or PC? Apple, never worked with a PC
- Photoshop or Lightroom? Photoshop
- Favorite book photography related? Before They Pass Away, by Jimmy Nelson
- Where do you want to photograph that you haven’t? Niger
10. Lastly what is one mistake you made early on whether it was with the photos itself or the business side that you really learned from, and others can learn from as well?
The biggest mistake I have made, is that I haven’t made the switch to photography earlier. I had been thinking about it for years before I finally took the plunge. Making a living with nature photography used to be a lot easier, and it’s virtually impossible now. If you really want something, follow your heart and don’t wait too long. Life is short, and you should do the things that you’re passionate about. Nothing else matters.
I would like to thank Marsel for his time to do this interview with me. To see more of his work and workshop listing visit http://www.squiver.com
An Interview with David Thompson by David Cobb
1. Tell us a little about yourself David.
I was born in Las Vegas, and I consider myself an
ordinary guy. Both my parents were in the military and I’m the only child. From Vegas we
then moved to New Mexico. While living in New Mexico I spent quite a bit of time in the
outdoors. I use to hike and ride my bike in the deserts, and also did some camping and
fishing in the nearby mountains. From New Mexico, we moved back to Las Vegas in
1993. I’ve lived in Vegas ever since.
2. When and how did you get your start in photography?
I got my start in photography in 2004. My father gave me a Pentax ZX 35mm
film camera. I didn’t know anything about compositions, exposure, or how to use the
basic functions of the camera. After many months of failed attempts to take a decent
picture, and the high costs of film development, I gave up. In 2008, when my son was
born, I got my first digital camera which was a Canon Rebel XTI. I started with just family
pictures at first, and honestly I wasn’t good at that either. During my travels, I
would constantly see these amazing sunsets/sunrises and I wished I could capture what I
was seeing. One day I decided to go online to do some research on landscape
photography. Once I saw all the fantastic images online……..I was hooked! I had to
learn more! From there, that’s where my photography journey began.
3. Much of your landscape photography is centered in the America Southwest. What do you love about this area, and what keeps you coming back?
What I love about the Southwest, is all the amazing landscapes here. What
keeps me coming back is the landscapes are constantly changing. The light is never the
same, the atmosphere is always different, there are so many different variables that make
photographing these landscapes interesting.
4. You recently travelled to Iceland, tell us how it is similar and different from the
stark landscapes of the desert southwest?
Iceland……the landscape of Iceland is beautiful and unique in its own way.
Iceland is very similar to the deserts of the southwest, particularly the areas around Death
Valley National Park. The landscapes are very similar in terms of their otherworldly/lunar
features. They are also similar with their rugged appearance and treeless vistas. Where
they differ, obviously the climate is different, but in Iceland there is water everywhere.
Waterfalls flowing from every cliff in sight. You will see random tarns amongst
the volcanic landscape. Another feature that was very different from the deserts of the
Southwest, was the contrast in colors. There were so many color variations throughout
the landscapes in Iceland.
5. When you’re not photographing the desert southwest, where do you like to travel and photograph and why?
When I’m not photographing the deserts, I like to photograph anything that is the
complete opposite of the desert. Whether it be the lush canyons of the Columbia River
Gorge, or the shores of the Pacific Ocean along the southern California or Oregon coast,
anything that is different than the desert works for me. I love shooting all landscapes. I’m
not too picky.
6. What are your top three personal favorite images and why?
“Hoodoo Magic” With this image, I have seen virga numerous times here in the
desert. But this display of virga was something like I had never seen. On this particular
evening in the Bisti Wilderness area of New Mexico, my buddy Paul and I were just
watching this storm develop for about 45 minutes. The sun eventually broke through the
clouds giving us an amazing display of light. The sun really brought the landscape to life.
“Nuclear Dunes” (see top image) The light I witnessed on this evening was in my top three
sunsets I’ve seen in my photography journey. I had gotten off work late that afternoon.
My plan was to drive to Lone Pine, California for sunset on my way to the Eastern Sierras but
there was no way I was gonna make for sunset, so I went with my alternative plan, and hit
the Mesquite Sand Dunes for sunset instead. I remember complaining to myself because
the sky didn’t look like it would have any potential, but I hiked out onto the dunes
anyway. I sat there for a little while contemplating if I should leave or not. As I started
packing up my gear I saw a little glimmer of light creeping through the clouds on the
horizon. I didn’t think much of it, until I saw a little glimpse of pink in the clouds. I turned
back around, and within seconds that sky was ablaze with color. That light lasted a good
hour after sunset. I only saw one other person shooting that evening. Talking
about that image gives me the chills.
“Peeled “ This small scene is one of my personal favorites. A couple friends and I
stumbled upon this area while exploring a section of the Painted Desert in Arizona. This
section of cracked mud was very interesting to me because of the peeling features of the
mud and the natural gradient in colors. I waited about 25 minutes before sunset for the
sun to get lower to the horizon. The timing couldn’t have been any better. For me, the
mix of golden light and shadows looked incredible on these cracks.
7. Explain your nickname D Breezy, and what it means to be D Breezied?
The name D Breezy is a name I came up with some time ago when I initially set
up my account on Flickr. It’s basically D, for David, and Breezy for my easy going
attitude. I’m the type of person that just goes with the flow. For some reason the name
has kinda stuck with me over the years. It’s funny because I never thought that the name
would stick like that. What it means to be D Breezied is when you miss great light due to
daily life, family, or sitting at home instead of being out shooting. I seriously can’t believe that the
term D Breezied is being used on a regular basis now. It started off as a joke years ago.
8. What is the most important piece of photo equipment you can’t live without?
The one piece of photograph equipment that I can’t live with out with would have
to be my Really Right Stuff TVC33 tripod. It took me some years to understand how
important a sturdy tripod is. Once I got the RRS legs, I was thrilled to have legs that I
could use in any type of shooting situation. Probably the best piece of photography
equipment that i’ve purchased.
You can see more of David’s outstanding images at: davidthompsonphotography.com/
This month we welcome Tony Kuyper as our guest photographer. Tony’s body of work centers around the desert sandstone of the Colorado Plateau and is as beautiful as it is definitive. In addition to his photography, Tony is well known to outdoor photographers for his skills in the realm of digital image developing, specifically in the use of luminosity mask techniques. His popular tutorials and Photoshop actions are well regarded by many of the best contemporary nature and landscape photographers. Tony is also one of the most kind, generous and humble people I know. I first became acquainted with Tony almost ten years ago and have since had the pleasure of getting to know him personally, spending time with him in the field and collaborating with him on Luminosity Mask instruction. Tony generally avoids the spotlight so I thank him for agreeing to this interview and giving us a view into his world.
Sean: Give us some biographic back story on Tony Kuyper.
Tony: My background is in the sciences. I got an “A” in Physical Chemistry in college! After getting my degree I moved to Arizona in the 1980s and have mostly been here since. I worked as a pharmacist for the Indian Health Service for 30 years.
Sean: When and how did you get your start in photography?
Tony: There really wasn’t a definitive start to it. It’s always been evolving. Arizona was a whole new world for me compared to the Midwest. I did a lot of hiking and camping trying to see it all. It’s natural, I think, to want to take pictures to hold onto some memories. But in the early days I was just using an instamatic camera. I eventually moved on to a 35 mm and even did a decade of large-format. So it’s really just a long continuum.
Sean: Your photography is centered in the American Southwest, primarily southern Utah and Northern Arizona. What about this landscape attracted you photographically and what keeps you coming back?
Tony: The initial attraction wasn’t photographic. The Colorado Plateau was just an incredible place. It was easy to fall in love with this landscape after living my first 24 years in Iowa. Photography was a way to interact with this place on a more personal level, and that eventually became more central to my travels around the area. Being in the desert feels right for me now, and that helps create a good mindset for taking pictures.
Sean: Your photography includes some wonderful large landscapes, but you are most known for your sandstone abstracts. Other than light, what are the most essential elements you look for when capturing this type of scene and what are you hoping viewers will take note of when viewing this body of work?
Tony: I tend to compose less complex scenes, so these images are in line with my general approach to nature photography. Many of these sandstone details are taken in the shadows, not direct light. In the shadows, the color of sandstone shifts considerably, depending on the source of reflected light. Only by getting in close and excluding direct sunlight can you really see what’s happening. The camera, especially in the film days, was critical to this. Our eyes naturally shift the colors to what we expect, but the camera is objective and helped me see sandstone’s alternate hues. The unexpected colors coupled with the amazing shapes and textures make for an interesting subject. So these abstracts are really just my way of exploring sandstone. Hopefully viewers will be able to see the beauty in this rock from a less traditional point of view.
Sean: To quote from your website you say, “Over the years, capturing light has become less and less my goal. Instead, I increasingly prefer to give in to the unpredictability of the situation and simply allow the light to capture me.” Tell us a little more about that statement.
Tony: I’ll say up front that Guy Tal had a big influence in developing this perspective. I photographed with him several times and was always impressed that any light was good light for him. He always came back with some amazing images. I came to understand it was not about approaching the landscape with preconceived notions of what would make a good picture, but rather to find a way to understand the area and eventually allow it to show me what it might have to offer in terms of light. Images created in this manner end up having deeper meaning. There’s something almost magical when I turn it all over to fate and find that it makes better choices than I do. It’s a new connection to something to I didn’t even know existed.
Sean: What does your standard camera rig consist of for most of your photographs?
Tony: Pretty minimal. Canon 5D2 camera, carbon fiber tripod, Tamron 28-300 lens, polarizer, and spare battery and compact flash cards.
Sean: Attention to image developing has long been an important component of your photography. What is your basic philosophy and approach to image developing?
Tony: Two things come to mind. First, connect with your image and let it tell you what to do. Each image is different and requires a unique approach. I find making actual prints to be extremely helpful in listening to the light. It’s much easier to interpret what the image needs when looking at a print than at the monitor for me. The second is to learn to use your tools and develop a skill set that is comfortable. Today’s cameras and Photoshop let us do some amazing things, but it takes some experimentation and practice with both to understand how to best use them. Other than that, I think photographers should be free to do what they want with their images. As David Kachel observed, a sense of realism is important to photography, but strict adherence to reality is not. So the whole process becomes one of interpreting light rather than simply reproducing it, and that opens up a lot of possibilities.
Sean: You are arguably the original and best known luminosity mask user and educator in the world of outdoor photography. Briefly, what are luminosity masks, how did you begin working with them and how is it that you discovered them for the rest of us?
Tony: Luminosity masks are selections based on tonal values in the image. They are created from the image’s pixel values, not from a selection tool. They can be manipulated to target specific tones and blend most adjustments perfectly into the rest the image. I Googled the term “luminosity mask” in April 2006, found out how to make the initial “Lights” selection, and was instantly fascinated with the possibilities. I knew about adding, subtracting, and intersecting selections and played with combining various masks somewhat randomly for several months to get at specific tones in my images. Based on these experiments, the Lights-, Darks-, and Midtones-series were developed for the “Luminosity Masks” tutorial published in November the same year.
Sean: Speaking to anyone not familiar with luminosity masks, what advantages do they have over other Photoshop adjustment methods?
Tony: The perfect blending that luminosity masks provide is probably the biggest benefit. While regular selections and brushes can be feathered spatially into the surrounding pixels to facilitate blending, luminosity selections are feathered tonally. This means that pixel content, specifically the brightness values, determines what gets blended, not just proximity to the selection edge. So as brightness varies across the image, the luminosity mask or selection will automatically adjust. The image is essentially its own mask. Photoshop makes it easy to manipulate the initial “Lights” mask to target different tones, so it’s possible to get this seamless blending in any tones you adjust. Sorry if that sounds a bit geeky, but that’s how it works. This perfect blending can be used to create very balanced lighting in the image. For nature photographers, it’s like to having studio lighting in the great outdoors.
Sean: Many of the talented outdoor photographers I’m familiar with today include luminosity mask techniques in their image developing skill set. When you first began experimenting with luminosity masks did you have any idea how important they would become to modern outdoor photography?
Tony: Not really. The scientist in me thought it was pretty neat what the different luminosity masks could do, so that’s why I wrote the tutorial, sort of like writing a research paper. However, it was my quirky way of using Photoshop and a bit complex at the time, so I didn’t think it would be widely adopted. The actions to make the masks were available right from the start and that probably helped others get on to using these techniques more quickly. But overall the interest in these techniques was definitely more than I expected.
Sean: In 2006 you published your first luminosity mask tutorials and Photoshop actions on NaturePhotographers.net. How have the actions, and the way that they are used, evolved since you first put them out there?
Tony: While the initial series of masks (Lights, Darks, Midtones) are useful, I quickly found that the narrower tonal range selections made from the primary Lights- and Darks-series to be more useful. These secondary masks became more important to me and I’ve developed tools to make them accessible. Something else quite unexpected is that I also use the Darks series of masks frequently in sharpening my images. They’re an effective way to reduce or remove light halos and over-sharpening while maintaining proper image sharpness.
Sean: The techniques and actions you introduced almost a decade ago have become a standard tool for outdoor photographers all over the world. Do you see them continuing to evolve and improve, and if so, how?
Tony: I think the basic knowledge about luminosity masks is becoming more widespread, but there is still some confusion about how to use them effectively. Deciding when use them, which mask to choose, and how to efficiently incorporate them into the workflow are some of the issues. Developing tools and educational materials to streamline luminosity mask integration will help more people adapt to them. It’s something I’m continuing to work on.
Sean: What piece of advice do you have for photographers interested in improving their image developing skills and realizing their creative potential?
Tony: I think the best way to improve at anything is to make it personal. For photography, that means having a genuine interest in the subjects you photograph. It’s easy to tune into the light and find images when you care about your subject. This also makes image development a creative exercise instead of a chore. If you’re personally committed to what you photograph, you’ll naturally work to improve your technique both in the field and at the computer. You’ll practice and study and find ways to get better.
Sean: Where do you see your interests in photography going in the future?
Tony: I recently moved to Tucson. It’s a whole new world to explore. Very different than the Colorado Plateau, but lots of variety. I’m going to have to branch out from sandstone, but am definitely looking forward experiencing light in a new place.