Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Does that Landscape Photograph Belong in a Museum?

Thursday, April 5th, 2018
Exhibition in England

A view of one of my prints alongside others in an exhibition in England.

While the end uses of documentary and commercial photographs are limitless, the photograph that exists for its own sake is traditionally destined for a wall. This tendency is especially true for fine art landscape photographs, which ordinarily end up within a private context, such as a home, a hotel, or an office building. Not all styles and subjects of landscape photography are very suitable for these contexts, however. Photographs that are not particularly relatable, calming, or uplifting are less likely to appeal for display in spaces that are dedicated to purposes other than the exhibition of art. Nonetheless, the genre of landscape photography would be impoverished without its more unorthodox photographs. If you feel as though the idea of interior decor is governing your creative decisions, then it may be rewarding to think outside those walls.

The Statement Piece

No matter where a photograph is displayed, its context will affect the experience of viewing it. The photograph in a private environment typically becomes a statement piece: through its selection and placement, it signals something about its owner’s interests, values, experiences, personality, or even social status, thereby adding a layer of meaning on top of whatever ideas may have gone into the process of creating it. The print that we see over a mantle may tell us that the owner enjoys oceans, or lives near a particular coastal area, or really likes the color blue. The print in an office lobby may symbolize the company’s industry or else suggest some abstract quality of the company culture, such as openness or sophistication. Because of the process of selection and display, a print hung in a private space will make a statement about that space and about the print’s reason for being there, even if it is hanging in the photographer’s own home.

With domestic and business contexts in mind, photographers are likely to favor certain creative decisions that cater to the traditions of private decor or even to customer preferences. Landscape photographs therefore tend to feature locations, subjects, moods, and colors that will have broad appeal, and it is no wonder that the genre is widely considered to be especially traditional, with its harshest critics thinking of it as hopelessly trite. Not all landscape photographs need to meet the demands of interior decor, however, and even those that do can still be powerful works of art that offer much more than their decorative qualities or their usefulness in communicating identities or a sense of place.

The Conversation Piece

It is often said that the defining purpose of modern art is to inspire discussion, to encourage people to ponder visual cues and to engage in conversations about them. Pre-modern art functioned through a similar principle, using visual cues, symbolism, and metaphors to facilitate discussion, but usually for some higher purpose, such as education. With the evolution of art for art’s sake in the modern era, the discussion of artworks became an end in itself.

No matter how intimate or grand, landscapes can be rich wells of ideas for the viewer willing to contemplate them, as I explained a few years ago in “How Landscape Photographs Tell Stories” (Photo Cascadia Blog, July 13th, 2015). Indeed, some images are well suited for this purpose alone. Even if a dark or sullen landscape is hauntingly beautiful, it may nonetheless have scarce appeal as anything other than a conversation piece; alas, few people really want Mordor in their living room. Similar biases run against photographs of obscure locations, indistinct subjects, hostile environments, frightening situations, or intense scenes that demand attention: beautiful or not, most photographs of these varieties are not generally desirable for the typical home or business context—but they can excel at suggesting ideas, and that singular purpose should be reason enough for these photographs to exist.

Where, then, are we to imagine such photographs, if they are not well suited to traditional private contexts? The obvious answer is the museum context, which is by no means a pretentious goal. The word museum has its origins in a concept more akin to a library than a storehouse for precious objects, initially describing a building filled with items that were singled out for study. In that regard, even a book or a website can serve as a sort of museum, and so can any exhibition space that serves no other function than to display prints for contemplation (which could include a dedicated space that a collector might set aside within their home). Such spaces for exhibiting prints may be limited, but they represent a distinct and important end use for a fine art photograph: the contemplation of the image itself, including its place within a photographer’s body of work and within the history of the medium of photography.

Landscape photographers typically consider books, websites, and museums as supplemental destinations for their works, but thinking of them as valid primary destinations can throw off the shackles of traditional limitations. Likewise, viewers are sure to gain a greater appreciation for any photograph if they are willing to imagine it in the ‘museum’ context, regardless of where it is actually displayed. Homes, hotels, and offices are venerable venues for display, but there is a lot of room for imagination beyond their walls.

Does the idea of interior decor factor into your photography? How do you feel about landscape photographs that depart from traditional aesthetics? Let us know in the comments below!

ErinBabnikWebLogoWhiteText

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

Pricing Your Photography Products… Refreshed

Monday, March 26th, 2018

I originally wrote a very similar blog post back in early 2011. It’s been a long time yet the subject is still quite applicable. I thought I would dust it off and make some updates for readers that might not have been following our blog that far back.

I can assure you this will not be the most visually stimulating blog post filled with amazing photos from across the globe. Yet I can also assure you it’s one that is worth the time to read for anyone that struggles with how to determine pricing of the work you sell. Pricing your photography products is an important decision that everyone from the hobbyists to the full time professionals need to analyze and determine what price points work best. Pricing is completely up to each person, we will not all have the same prices nor the exact same factors to consider. That is a good thing. What people should understand though is that you need to have some level of thought and analysis on how to come up with pricing. You don’t want to just pick a price because you think it sounds good or because it’s inline with what your best friend or family member (#1 fan of your work) is willing to pay. If you are selling your work for next to nothing you are doing the industry and yourself a disservice. You are honestly better off giving away your work than charging ultra cheap prices. I give a number of prints away each year and I am fine with this. If you donate or give away work occasionally it still holds value in accordance to the investment you ask of your paying customers.

There are really two models to go with; high volume and low price or low volume and high price. Most of us cannot have high prices and high volume. There are a very select few but I won’t name names here, that can sell high end work at high end prices and high volume but they are the exception. Pricing was something that I was mentored on more than once when starting out with portraits and weddings, and of course isn’t much different moving into the landscape nature side. What you see below are expenses to consider plus some examples how pricing at different price points can greatly impact the bottom line.

The following are expenses you might want to take into account. This is definitely not an exhaustive list, there are more but this gives you a good starting point. I venture to guess some of these people don’t often think about so they end up under pricing their work.

– Travel: Gas, food, wear & tear on vehicle, oil changes, lodging
– Camera Equipment: maintenance, replacements, everyday wear & tear
– Office Equipment: computer, software, Internet, phone, general office supplies
– Operations Expenses: bank account fees, credit card merchant expenses, website costs, marketing needs
– Time: Your time spent at the location scouting, taking the photo and processing the final image
– Misc: Equipment insurance, business license fees, postage & shipping, photo organization dues, taxes

When I first did this post many years ago I was following the model from Example 1. Since that time I have realized the cost and time involved to receive work from the lab and resend out is significant. As such I have moved to the model in Example 2. You will see with these examples I keep it simple and focus on the immediate costs for an order yet the above list factored in certainly impacts your overall profit even if it’s an indirect expense. Obviously different labs charge varying prices and printing it yourself has it’s own set of costs. I chose a smaller print size with output as a metal print for this example since that is a popular medium at this time.

Example 1 – The Photographer Keeping Expenses In Mind – Lab Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $195 including shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)

Example 2 – The Photographer Keeping Expenses In Mind – Photographer Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $195 including shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)
– $15 in package/presentation materials
– $10 shipping

 

Example 3 – The Photographer with little Concept of Expenses – Lab Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $90 including Shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)

Example 4 – The Photographer with little Concept of Expenses – Photographer Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $90 including Shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)
– $15 in package/presentation materials
– $10 shipping

 

What is above should give you a good visual of how much different the same type of image with very different pricing can end up after the sale. Pretty different, huh! The interesting or unfortunate part is we are not done yet, this was just the cost we took into account for this one sale. Thinking about all the other expenses I noted earlier on, this will cut into the final profit. Let’s also assume with a transaction like this that you have limited phone and or an email time corresponding with the customer to complete the order and answer questions. This does not always happen but it’s likely and I always want to help my customers out as much as I can. This will be more time spent on the order. And you will need to think about the time it takes you actually fulfill the order. Is all of this getting your mind going? Here is a list of items on how it typically looks for me and likely not too different from person to person.

1. Reviewing received order for any issues or open questions
2. Send thank you email or call to client for placing order
3. Additional editing before it gets printed or goes to the lab for printing
4. Placing the print order or printing it yourself
5. Input transaction into tracking software or spreadsheet for accounting
6. Any additional correspondence with the customer during and after the order

By the time you look at this all together, in Examples 3 or 4 you aren’t even working for minimum wage. You are working at a loss when you start taking into account the other business expenses I mention early on. I have seen photographers pricing work at fairs or online sites at very low prices that make me wonder how they can truly make a profit, even as a part-time photographer. You might also be saying to yourself that my expenses are more, or less, than what you have in your examples. That is high likely. You might have tiered pricing where you offer cheaper open edition prints and more expensive limited edition prints. You might have an additional service offering that takes more time or money to complete the order. There are a myriad of ways this might be different for you. This is meant to be an example of one size and medium for an online sale.

This is my take on it to help provide all of you reading it some insight on this topic. There is much more that can be discussed and covered. I encourage you to research this topic as you are evaluating the pricing you want to offer. I would also say it’s important to revisit your pricing at least every other year to ensure you don’t need to make price adjustments.

I will also mention sometimes we make mistakes and need to eat the cost of that mistake. As an example; do not go back to the customer to change amounts after you have given a final price (unless it’s some bizarre or unique situation). I have had a few cases over the years where I had to eat the cost. So be it. One example from a number of years ago I had a client order a 30×45 canvas that I accidentally way under priced the shipping and packing fee. Even though I had sent products out many times I wound up paying much more for shipping and packing supplies than I charged this client. Do you think I went back to the client to ask for more money on this transaction? No way. I feel this would be a poor way to do business. Do the best you can and when you miss the mark try to learn from it for the next time.

Lastly, in the end you need to decide what is best for you and how you want to run your business. You might be selling a fairly high volume and low prices at places like farmers markets, coffee shops, etc.  On the flip side you might be selling at lower volume and higher prices at juried art fairs, galleries, etc. Nothing wrong with either one of these models. Just remember to not sell yourself short. As artists we tend be hard on ourselves and it’s easy to think our work is worth less than it really is when we are not paying attention or getting the right guidance. Myself included!

 

Variation Of Light In The Dolomites

Monday, February 12th, 2018

I am writing from a mountain lodge in the Italian Dolomites on a trip with Photo Cascadia teammate, Erin Babnik, so this article will be short and sweet. We spent a couple days before our winter workshop photographing at the end of a small valley with dramatic peaks all around. Our experience there reminded me of two things that are true about landscape photography that are well known but often difficult to remember and practice. First is that landscape photography is as much about the weather and the light as it is about the landscape. Second is that the weather and light is always changing. Every time weather and light change, they in turn change the landscape and our opportunities to see and tell visual stories about that landscape…as long as we are willing to be patient and keep coming back to the scene to see what it is offering us.

All the images below were taken with my phone except the last one, which is a raw file from my camera transferred to my phone.  Record shots taken with my phone help me document and track the changes and help me visualize the potential for the images I took with my SLR that I will develop when I get home.

We arrived at the tail end of a winter storm that had coated the trees and peaks in a glorious blanket of new snow. On our first sunrise foray the remnants of the storm were still clinging to the peaks and the scene was moody and dark. Even though we couldn’t see the tops of the peaks there was enough to indicate their looming presence in the clouds above. In the moment it was easy to become disheartened that we didn’t get the dramatic sunrise light we pre-visualized. But looking back at this image I realize that the scene has a lot of character and mystery.

Later that day I noticed the clouds were beginning to lift. I shouldered my pack and headed back up into the hills. On this visit the mountain was playing with me. Intermittently it would reveal itself to me before the clouds would swirl in and hide it again. And it always stayed in the shadows, while the foreground came to life, brilliant in the full light of the sun.

At sunset we ventured out once again, this time to a higher vantage point right at the base of the peaks. The peaks were in full view but still capped by atmospheric plumes streaming from their summits. Although the sun was setting behind the mountains, the clouds captured the golden light and reflected it down, illuminating the cliff faces and snowy landscape in front of me.

The next morning we came back at sunrise a final time. Now the clouds had moved above the peaks and were soft and broken in the calm after the storm. Sunrise light lit their undersides and danced across the faces of the peaks, casting a warm glow across the winter scene.

I loved witnessing the changes and moods of this beautiful landscape over a the 24 hour period that I spent photographing it. It was also a good reminder of what I learned as a photographer long ago, but often lose site of in the rush of life…that it is often the weather and light that make a place special and wonderful visual experiences can unfold if we are willing to be patient and spend some quality time just watching and noticing.

Winter Trees… Without Snow

Monday, February 5th, 2018

It feels like during any given season we as nature photographers spend time chasing after the elements that first and foremost speak to the season. I would say this certainly applies to trees as well. When someone says fall, we think of trees with colors of a vibrant the sunset. When someone says spring we think of lush glowing greens. When someone says summer we think of them being full to help balance out the scene whatever color that may be. Of course that is some of the list as there other elements that come to the front of our mind for specific seasons whether it’s related to trees or not.

Fog Shrouded Forest – This scene if was all or mostly evergreen trees would be nice yet to me not nearly the same. The many details on the branches in the dense fog is what makes this scene for me.

I can say when it comes to deciduous trees in my early days of photography I always wanted trees to be filled with something, Whether it was green in spring, yellow in fall, or anything else in between because it made sense that would be more photogenic than a bunch of naked trunks and branches. Come on trees, get some clothes on for this photo shoot!

After a number of years photographing I realize now that I am drawn to trees with their stark beauty as much, and sometimes more, than than when they have their coats on from spring to fall. I am specifically talking about scenes without snow because in locations with multiple seasons we naturally think of winter and snow. The intent here is to illustrate there is much more in winter than a cold snowy scene of trees, even though I will admit I sucker for a great photo of snow covered trees.

Here are some reasons why you might think about photographing these more in the “off season” if you don’t already.

  • Different Focus – When the trees are bare of leaves you can no longer rely on the colors of the leaves that may add to the overall compelling scene. Instead I feel like you have increased focus on composition and other elements that might normally be side dishes to the overall show.
  • Hidden Details – With the leaves gone for the season you can see the details underneath that are normally hidden from view. I have some photos where the detail from many thin stark branches is what makes the photo.
  • Contrasting Elements – When you have evergreen and deciduous trees together they can sometimes lack contrast depending on the season. When it’s winter time there is no question. It can provide much needed contrast to specific photos.

Here are some more of my favorites over the years falling under this theme.

Wetland Layers – In The Grand Tetons before leaves started budding I caught this scene of yellow and orange branches from the ground bushes against the empty trees in the back.

Stark and Slender – Trees from a fire decades ago still stand mostly barren while the undergrowth is growing. In spring this glows green (see the contrast here). Yet this stark muted scene stood out to me. As an aside this is likely the type of scenes will start to photograph in the Columbia River Gorge or other locations that have been damaged by wildfires.

Final Flames of Fall – To me this single tree with fall foliage stands out because of all the other stark and colorless trees around it.

Organizing Chaos – The sunset and ground bare ground foliage glows in the sunset light.

Around The Corner – Many smaller trees and bushes bare during winter are reaching up like arms to the light above.

Exposed – With this winter scene there is more more emphasis on the beautiful water and colorful mossy greens along with what is behind this small forest of trees. Something hidden most months of the year.

Outcast – This lone aspen in Grant Teton National park stands out in stark contrast from the giant evergreens surrounding it.

Pure Elowah – If you photograph this scene outside of late fall to very early spring you will have leaves on the trees blocking the view of the waterfall. Another case where a leaf-less tree is in your favor.

 

PHOTO CASCADIA – YEAR IN IMAGES 2017

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

As we do most years the Photo Cascadia Team will take a few week break from the blog for the holidays and downtime. We will be posting again in mid-January. In the meantime we put together a short slideshow with some of our personal favorites from the year along with behind the scenes shots of our adventures.

Our most sincere thank you to all of our viewers, clients, friends and family. We are only able to continue to do what we do as a team because of all of you. If we didn’t have viewers we would be creating site content only for ourselves which isn’t even close to as exciting as creating it for all of you. If we didn’t have clients none of us would have a business. If we didn’t have friends we would be missing the elements of fun, collaboration and sense of community. If we didn’t have family and the support from them it would make what we do less rewarding and no one to share our sucessess with. There is much to be thankful as another year draws to a close.

There is the quote “once a year go someplace you’ve never been before”- Dalai Lama. In an age where nature photography has changed significantly the last 5 years we can all benefit from trying to get off the beaten path now and then. By this I mean it both figuratively and literally. Figuratively to look for new and different images in well known areas and literally looking to visit the roads and trails less traveled. With this in mind may the new year bring all that you look forward to and more with and without a camera in hand.

Happy Holidays!


 

Sean Bagshaw’s Conversation With Matt Payne on F-Stop Collaborate and Listen

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

 

On November 20 I sat down (virtually) with Matt Payne to chat about landscape photography for his podcast, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen.

We had a great time talking about a variety of topics including

  • – Our respective journeys into landscape photography
  • – How to create visual impact in your photography
  • – Motivations to keep shooting
  • – The creation of Photo Cascadia
  • – Conservation and the sharing of locations

You can listen to our conversation here (email subscribers may need to click the link above to listen on the web):

Make sure to go to the podcast page to check out the other great conversations Matt has recorded with photographers like

Also, since we recorded our conversation, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen is being featured by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and will also be available on their website every month, so congratulations to Matt on that!

10 ESSENTIAL ITEMS I ALWAYS HAVE IN MY CAMERA BAG

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

 

I’m a huge fan of outdoor adventure! I love exploring wild places, being immersed in nature and photographing rare moments of natural beauty! I’ve had some amazing experiences and also had some close calls. I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. It pays to come prepared, you never know what’s going to happen on an adventure. Whether it’s a photo excursion, back country snowboarding, mountain biking, backpacking, or day hiking there are 10 essential items I always carry with me. These are all items I’ve used to get myself, or other people out of countless sticky situations.

1. First aid kit. I know this seems pretty obvious, but I’m always surprised how many people I meet without a basic first aid kit in their bag. I’ve used my first aid kit countless times, several times on myself, but also on friends and stranger in need of help. I’ve patched up fellow mountain bikers after a crash, photo workshop participants who have had various bumps and scrapes, strangers I’ve run into on the trails and my own kids on several occasions. A first aid kit is something you hope you won’t need, but when you do, boy are you glad it’s in your bag.

2. Warm hat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 90 degree day in the middle of summer, I will always carry a warm hat in my bag. This is one lesson I’ve learned the hard way too many times. I’m usually photographing before sunrise and after the sun sets. The temperature can drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down. In particular, when photographing in the mountains weather can turn on a dime. It’s really easy to get caught un-prepared.  A warm hat really helps keep me warm when the temperature drops unexpectedly.

3. Gloves. I always carry a thin pair of gloves with me. It’s amazing what a difference even a thin pair can make. I found my thin gloves at REI, they allow full control of my camera and do a great job keeping my hands warm .

4. Light weight jacket. I always have a light weight, water-resistant jacket in my bag regardless of the forecast. I’ve been caught in some pretty nasty summer storms. I remember getting caught in a heavy thunderstorm here in the high desert of Oregon. It was a gorgeous summer day, I headed to the Cascade Lakes hoping for some interesting cloud formations as the thunderstorms started firing up. One minute, the weather was beautiful, warm air, calm winds and puffy clouds. A few minutes later the wind picked up, the clouds thickened and it was hailing. The temperature dropped considerably. I took shelter under some trees and quickly pulled out my jacket, gloves and hat from my camera bag. I was still pretty cold, but much more comfortable and in no danger of becoming hypothermic. I waited out the storm and was rewarded with some beautiful storm light. There have been countless times I’ve been thankful I had an extra jacket in my bag. It’s an essential part of my kit and I never leave home without it.

Storm Light at Sparks Lake after a hail storm

5. Emergency energy bars. It’s always nice to have some extra calories in my bag. Great for emergencies, or if I change plans and want to stay out longer. I generally carry around 4 extra energy bars in my bag just in case…

6. Extra water. I usually carry more water than I think I’ll need. It’s come in handy on many occasions. Your body needs water before it needs food. I’ve run out of water on several occasions, it’s a terrible feeling knowing you’re out of water when you’re thirsty. In fact, if I know I’m about to run out of water, I’ll save the last sip for psychological reasons. I very rarely run out of water anymore, I usually bring more than I need. I’m a big fan of camera bags that have a sleeve for water bladders, these generally allow me to take as much water as I need for an outing. On longer adventures and backpacking trips, I generally have a water strategy and backup plan if that strategy fails. For instance, I usually bring a water purifying pump and a water sterilizing pen for backup. This strategy has served me well over many years and on many adventures.

7. Multi tool. A multi tool is one of the most versatile and useful non-photographic tools in my bag. I’ve used my multi tool to repair my tripod, pull cactus needles out of my boots, fix parts on my mountain bike, fix bindings on my snowboard, cut branches to setup a temporary shelter and countless other things. I particularly like tools with plyers built in. It’s definitely an essential tool that I always want in my bag on every adventure.

8. Duct tape is another incredibly useful and versatile tool. I love knowing it’s always in my bag. It’s helped me get out of many sticky situations. One memorable occasion was in 2006 while snow camping near Mount Hood. The snow was so light and fluffy, my tripod was sinking deep into the snow making impossible to get the angle I was hoping for. I had trekking poles with snow baskets with me, I quickly removed the baskets from the poles and duct taped them to my tripod legs. For the third leg, I used a filter case to create a platform to float on the snow. This temporary solution allowed me to get the perspective I was after.  Image shown below.

9. Extra cleaning cloth. I always carry an extra micro fiber cleaning cloth or two in my bag. I use these all the time. If conditions are wet, often times my main cloth becomes saturated and no longer functions. It’s nice to have a backup or two. I’ve also used these for countless other things as well. It’s great for drying and cleaning my camera, lenses, sun glasses, or anything else that might it.

10. Space blanket. This is part of my first aid emergency kit, but I thought it deserved its’ own spot. This little sheet of reflective plastic has helped me get out of several dangerous situations, helping me to stay dry and warm. While solo camping on the Oregon Coast I used a space blanket to make a little tent out of my tripod legs to keep my gear safe and dry in torrential rain. On another trip to Mt Rainier I got soaked while hiking in a rain storm. My clothes were so wet they were no longer insulating me and instead were leaching the heat from my body. When I got back to the car I took my wet clothes off and wrapped myself in a space blanket till my car warmed up.

Honorable mentions: An emergency satellite contact device like a SPOT locator can be a life saver in an emergency. I do have one, but I only take it when I’m in a very remote place on my own and will be out out of cellular service. I also carry physical maps with me quite a bit, but there are so many good GPS and map apps on my phone that don’t bring them most of the time. If I’m going somewhere unfamiliar and remote I do try to have a map for backup still.

All of this fits easily with the rest of my camera gear in my very compact F-stop Kenti bag.  Those are my 10+ essential items I like to have in my bag at all times.  Let me know what essential items are in your camera, or adventure bag.

Author:  Zack Schnepf

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 Big Picture: Why Perfect Technique Does Not Always Improve a Photograph

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

 

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” —Mark Twain

A little secret that is well known to educators is the concept of the “good lie”. It encapsulates the idea that any course of instruction is bound to be incomplete or imperfect, but learning has to start somewhere. When we first begin to study any complex subject, we need some structure, some kind of foundation on which to build our understanding of it. For example, when I was beginning my studies in art history, my professors introduced me to the subject of ancient Greek sculpture by emphasizing the evidence regarding known sculptors, what each had contributed to the art, and why any of it mattered. I later learned just how much of this introduction amounted to optimistic conclusions based on ambiguous evidence, but that education brought me to higher levels of understanding. By the time that I started working on my doctoral dissertation, my research was focused on some of those points of weakness as areas where I could make my own contributions, and my professors were encouraging such questioning because the “good lie” was only ever a starting point.

Learning photography involves a similar progression through structured principles into personal discoveries. As landscape photographers, we learn our craft as a combination of in-field methods, compositional rules, location research, weather chasing, and post-processing solutions—all of which amounts to the “good lie” in our field. Together, these ideas provide a useful framework through which we can develop our creative sensibilities, but the framework itself is merely a way in.

To be sure, craftsmanship is an essential part of the photographic process, and good technique is often crucial to the success of a creative motivation. The sheer spectacle of technical virtuosity alone can provide a special frisson: prickly sharpness, masterfully controlled tones, or precise calculations of celestial events—all count among the many technical accomplishments that tend to delight viewers of landscape photographs. Regardless, perfect technique hardly amounts to the holy grail of photography. Despite its many virtues, technique is fundamentally reproducible, is always subject to becoming obsolete, and can become a visual crutch and a developmental cul-de-sac. For anyone who wants to keep progressing in their photography, creativity is the higher good. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded about craftsmanship and to acknowledge that creativity is a messy place.

Keeping the following caveats in mind can help to ensure that perfection doesn’t become the enemy of the good.

Spring Back by Erin Babnik

This photo departs from my usual standards in many ways: through its range of tonality, through its irregularity of detail, through its impressionistic approach in general. What I might consider unacceptable imperfections in other cases are precisely what give this photo the character that I find appealing.

 

 A Perfect Lemon is Still a Lemon

There is an old joke about a person looking for his keys under a street lamp. When a passerby asks him if he’s sure that it’s the area where he lost his keys, the man replies, “No, I lost them a block away, but the light is better here.” The process of making a good photograph can go wrong in the same way, by letting some unimportant factor dictate a direction. I often find participants on my workshops abandoning a great composition that they saw because it would require some minor compromise, choosing instead to photograph something less interesting that they can make ‘perfect’. Sometimes you just have to seize a moment or follow through with an idea however you can because it will result in a powerful photo regardless. Even if it means that you have to use a high ISO or shoot handheld instead of using a tripod, it’s better than not getting the shot at all. When technique starts dictating which ideas to pursue, then it’s probably time to cut the chains and enjoy some creative freedom. No amount of masterful technique will improve the photos that we never make!

The Devil is in the Details

According to the law of diminishing returns, sometimes ‘good enough’ really is…good enough. The value of technical quality does have its limits. After all, the world’s most compelling photographs do not tend to be studies in technique, and most viewers do not even notice many of the technical shortcomings that typically make photographers cringe. Laboring in the service of perfect technique can easily become an unnecessary hinderance to progress, causing a photographer to leave projects unfinished or to become too frustrated to begin a new one. I remember once spending days on processing a photograph with a delicate color palette, shifting hues and tones by minute amounts ad nauseam in my efforts to achieve the perfect balance. I shared some of the variations with a friend who has an excellent eye for such details and who was very enamored with that photo. He carefully compared all of the versions and finally said, “I doubt that any of these differences even matter,” and he urged me to release the photo and move on. It was great advice.

Imperfections Can Create Character

As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportions.” He finds this strangeness in the abnormally large eyes of the woman he loves and delves into describing the depths of her character that he sees through them. Beauty in photographs can also come about through such strangeness, typically created by some imperfection in the pictured elements or by some irregularity in their presentation. A leaning tree or burned out snag can break up regularity and give character to a forest scene in the same way that film grain or soft focus can. Even ancient Greek architects seem to have understood the power of imperfection when they made temple columns bulge in the middle instead of being perfectly straight vertical elements; the more emphatic examples suggest an interest in giving the temple some life, some character, as if its columns were bulging like muscles while supporting the temple’s entablature. Similarly, a high level of refinement can sap the life out of a photograph, causing it to it look too mechanical. It is possible for a photograph to be lacking in vitality simply by appearing too perfect.

Craftsmanship has always been one of the great joys of artistic creation for me, and I both exercise and teach it with great enthusiasm. “The good lie” is good for a reason, providing an important foundation and a perpetually useful touchstone. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that it has its limits, its exceptions, and its missing links—and sometimes making a substantial contribution to your portfolio means stepping outside that box. The pursuit of perfection has the potential to elevate a photograph significantly, but it can also smother its fire or prevent us from creating a photo at all. Ultimately, it’s the pursuit of our own goals that should tell us which direction to go. When creativity is hiding in the shadows, we’ll never find it by looking in the light.

The Lost Ark by Erin Babnik

The clouds were moving quickly this day, changing the quality of the light in addition to the character of the sky from one minute to the next. Upon seeing an opportunity taking shape, I had to pluck my camera off of my tripod and quickly reposition myself on my elbows to catch this moment before it was gone forever. A small aperture gave me the depth of field that I needed to get it all in one quick exposure at the cost of some diffraction, and there was no way for me to set up my tripod perfectly in the time that I had. The resulting image is plenty sharp to print large, although focus stacking and the use of a tripod could have made it that much sharper—but prioritizing those techniques would have meant missing the moment.

 

Inner Glow by Erin Babnik

When I found that condensation had filled my lens with moisture behind its front element, I almost packed it up to use my telephoto lens instead, a choice that would have limited my options a lot at this location. I decided to keep shooting with the water in the lens regardless and discovered that the condensation gave a wonderful glowing quality to my backlit composition.

 

All or Nothing by Erin Babnik

I spotted this moment unfolding much further away from me than some closer options that I liked less. I knew that the composition I wanted would require a significant amount of cropping with the lens that I had, but I was very excited by the rare and wonderful play of atmosphere and backlighting. I decided that a smaller photo of something that I really liked was preferable to a full-sized one of something less interesting to me.

 

Octopus's Garden by Erin Babnik

Getting the tones and colors of a photo dialed in so that they harmonize and balance perfectly can consume an enormous amount of time and mental energy, and eventually you reach the point of diminishing returns and need to move on.

Have you ever had issues of technique keep you from pursuing a moment or an idea? Do you have any photos in your portfolio that would not exist without some compromise? Please feel free to share in this discussion with a comment below!

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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 Instagram.

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.