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Light and texture are two of my favorite elements in landscape photography. Some of my personal favorite images are studies in light and texture. Many of the photos that I choose to print and hang in my own home are these types of images. They never get old to me and are always interesting to view and appreciate. In this article I’ll go over a few of my favorite images that showcase interesting light texture.
Mud tile textures are fascinating to me. Here on the playa in the Alvord Desert, I was fortunate to visit during a particularly wet spring. The desert had been flooded and was drying out creating a truly wonderful mud tile texture. The light of sunrise really helped the texture come alive. The combination of backlight and the interesting textures in the mud and grass are what make this photograph successful to me.
Slot canyons are a study in light and texture. They are also a lot of fun to photograph. Antelope canyon and other slot canyons are a wonderful place to focus on light and texture. The first slot canyon photo was captured back in 2008 before Antelope Canyon was quite so popular. I had the freedom to take my time and I only saw a few other people the entire time I was there. The second slot canyon image was captured in Zebra Slot Canyon. This was a tough canyon to access, there was about four feet of standing water in the canyon leading to this spot. It was challenging to make my way to this point, but what a spectacular canyon! The combination of the warm sunlight and cool light coming from the open sky creates a wonderful color contrast. The incredible texture and form of the canyon really come alive with the contrasting color of light.
The Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park is a fascinating place. On my recent trip with David Cobb, and Sean Bagshaw I was finally able to visit this incredible location. I’ve seen images from this location, but it’s one those places that was very different in person. It ended up being even more rewarding than I imagined as well. It’s hard to convey how incredible it is to watch the spines of the cactus light up as the back light of dawn illuminates them. It’s the texture of the spines and the way they glow in the backlight that makes this one of my all time favorite images already, even though it was only captured less than a month ago.
This photo of Mt Hood is an interesting one. I think it’s a really strong composition, but it’s the soft light and texture in the snow, foreground trees, middle ground trees and sky that really send it to the top of my favorites list.
This last photo is all about light and texture for me. The first light glancing across the sage, willows and other foliage is so pleasing. It is especially nice in print. This is one of my all time favorite images to print. When I look at it, I love to drink in all the detail in the various layers of texture.
These kinds of scenes, studies in light and texture are something I’m appreciating more and more. I always have my eye out for interesting textures that might come alive in interesting light.
You can learn more about me and find my video tutorials covering the post processing techniques used to create these images on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com
Lucky number seven in 2016 for Photo Cascadia. Seven for the first full year with seven team members and seven for the number of years Photo Cascadia has been around. Speaking of luck it was honestly mostly luck in the beginning that this specific team of photographers formed, have become good friends and enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge with all of you for as long as we have. During this time we have seen similar groups form and fold. We hope this seven year stretch is only the beginning of our journey as you join us along for the ride. In the end it’s you, the readers, that continue to provide energy for what we do at Photo Cascadia. For this we are extremely grateful and thankful… thank you!
Where did 2016 take you for adventure and photography? I am sure it was similar to many on the Photo Cascadia team where we spent time in our own backyards, crossing state lines as well as some continent hopping. If you have been watching our blog for more than a year now you will know that mid December is when Photo Cascadia takes a break from our weekly posting until mid January. It’s our time to step back and reflect on the year that has past while winding down with family and friends.
As we reflect on things it’s a good time to remember that all the places we get to visit should be available for those that come after us. It seems 2016 we unfortunately saw a rise, at least in the media if not reality, around people doing permanent damage to places we all want to enjoy and photograph as well as companies and political forces looking to seize locations set aside for long term preservation. Now days, perhaps more than ever, we all need breaks into nature whether some of us realize it or not as the number of us living in a concrete jungle grows. With that I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
We take this time to provide a year end visual show of where we have traveled with some behind the scenes clips. Take a four minute break and check it out.
May your year close out with many lasting memories and the new year start with a trail full of endless possibilities.
Over the last couple years I have been taking notes on my phone of various thoughts on what I feel have learned from my time in photography. Hard to believe it’s been a decade now since I started to take it seriously. Along with these random thoughts I referenced some of my past presentation slides and some were created as I typed this post out. Those that know me should not be surprised. I like lists and that is really all this is! I am sure I will get the question… why 45? It’s simply because that is what I ended up with. It’s not some magic number that represents anything special.
1. New or expensive gear can be nice yet does not make you a better photographer. It’s good to follow what is coming out and changing without pulling out that credit card for every announcement.
2. The rat race of social media is not worth fretting over counting likes, comments and shares. Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind.
3. A sense of camaraderie and making friends in photography is very important. Don’t always fly solo.
4. A good outdoor trip with few to no keepers is still better than being indoors. It’s the experience that helps shape who we are.
5. In my early years I thought my work was awesome but it really stunk like a skunk and I am fine with that. Everyone starts somewhere. I can never stop growing and learning.
6. Don’t under value your own work. Always selling your work for peanuts does not help you or the industry. It’s okay to say no to some requests.
7. Be open to feedback, whether it’s praise or constructive critique. Simply being open to listening to others opinions does not mean you have to change your work. On the flip side be respectful when you provide feedback.
8. No matter the accomplishments (or failures) it’s still a photo and I am still the same person. Don’t pat yourself on the back too much nor give yourself too hard of a time.
9. Placing well or winning a well-known photography competition will not bring you fame or fortune.
10. If you send a photo out to a client with a known flaw they will find it. I learned to always spend the money to reprint when needed.
11. The one photo you post on your website that you can’t print large for whatever reason, is the one someone will request large.
12. My horizon will be off by 2 degrees no matter what tools I use in the field. Horizon correction software was made for people like me.
13. Abstract photos often get little love online (or in general) but I post them anyway because I love them. Even when photography is a business there needs to times when it’s be purely for you.
14. Everyone has at least one piece of equipment they will regret going the ultra-cheap route. Mine was remotes going through 6 in about a year before learning my lesson.
15. Although I love to travel I won’t be able to visit every place on the planet that I see in other photographers photos. I am fine with this. Be happy where you can get to and just enjoy getting out.
16. In nature photography there’s much more than photographing colorful sunrises and sunsets day in and day out. Don’t forget to look down and all around at all times of the day and in all weather.
17. Trying to ‘fix’ a photo in post processing that was shot poorly is usually like trying to salvage a half sunken ship. Get it right from the beginning.
18. The most amazing sky an hour or two before sunset will often end up being the biggest dud by the time the golden hour comes.
19. Sometimes you need to leave the camera behind (or stop chasing new scenes) and focus on family. Trying to do both all the time won’t make you or the family happy.
20. Taking an amazing photo, whatever that means at the time for me, does bring a sense of elation and high that likely only other photographers understand.
21. I went through a funk more than once where photography carried little interest or inspiration to me for months. We all go through phases. Let it ride knowing you will come out on the other side.
22. Collaborate where and when you can. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post for the Photo Cascadia site right now if I wasn’t open to collaborating with others (who in the end have become good friends).
23. Your equipment will fail you at the most inopportune time if you photograph enough. I have many stories with a full corrupt CF card from a wedding where I was the sole photographer near the top.
24. Try saying “Woah look at the body!” out loud at work while viewing the latest camera online. Guarantee you will get some interesting looks and responses.
25. No I won’t license my image for free to use in an article where you will place my website URL while I will wait for the inquiries to purchase my work come pouring in.
26. It’s okay to compare your work to others as a means of learning and growing with your photography. Doing it thinking others are good and you’re not is self-destructive.
27. I am merely a single pixel in a very large sensor we call earth and a tiny blimp on the radar of time. I don’t take myself too seriously and neither should you.
28. Nature photography and loving the outdoors is something my wife and I had in common when we met and still do today. I am always thankful for the support she shows to this endeavor called photography.
29. I try not criticizing others work solely because it doesn’t align with what I think is great photography. Simply because I don’t think it is great doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy.
30. I have learned as much (or more) from bad photos as from good photos I have taken. It’s never a complete waste.
31. You can do pretty much anything in post processing except replicating what a good polarizer can do when it comes to removing glare. It’s not a tool to leave behind.
32. No matter how well you know your equipment there will be a time(s) you make a rookie mistake. When taking photos the day after night photography don’t forget to bring down that ISO or changing back to RAW after photographing your kids soccer game.
33. Take risks with your photography without risking your life. If you are not around to enjoy taking photos it obviously wasn’t worth it. Fortunately I am here to write this.
34. Study. Whether it’s studying how you take photos in the field or studying photography online or many other ways, it’s all important to avoid becoming stagnant. The only constant in life is change.
35. If you care about your photos read the fine print before submitting to photography contests. You may be giving the rights away without knowing it.
36. Don’t worry much about ‘comp stomping’ as being original with every photo today is hard even in best of intentions. Your style and creativity will come in time.
37. It’s not worth the effort and cost to print my own work. I will always use a lab.
38. Take time to get your work printed even if it’s small prints or books. It’s a shame to leave everything you photograph to online viewing only. Viewing your work printed is seeing it in a different light.
39. Be leery of projects that require investment of time and or money that give a guaranteed return for someone else but not you. I have been burned a couple times not seeing the warning signals soon enough.
40. Use your animal instincts and don’t forget to chimp before you leave the scene. Coming home and saying @%#&! because you missed something that would have been an easy correction is painful.
41. If you don’t own a good tripod and ball head, stop reading this article now and go buy one immediately. All the best equipment means little with nature photography if your tripod sucks.
42. Leading workshops is hard work to do it right. If you don’t care about being a true guide/teacher to others and it’s only for the all mighty dollar or to simply grow your personal photo collection, do everyone a favor and don’t hold workshops.
43. No matter how much technology advances understanding composition is paramount. The best camera technology isn’t going to set the camera up for you, tell where to place your tripod legs and what to focus on… at least not yet.
44. Watching your children taking their first photos that are more than snap-shots is a very cool and rewarding feeling. Especially when they are as excited about it as you are.
45. Less is more. Do what you can to simplify elements in your composition. One of the larger challenges as nature photographers is to take busy and chaotic scenes from Mother Nature to make a compelling photograph.
I am sure I could keep typing with endless thoughts on what I have learned from photography yet this is good stopping point and enough to ponder for those that took the time to get this far in my post. Whether you have been interested in photography for 45 days or 45 years, feel free to share what you have learned from your time behind the camera.
by Zack Schnepf
The most common request I get is to see my photos before and after post processing. This is part three of my before and after series. Good processing is more important than ever. The vast majority of professional photographers capture their images with a digital camera. This has allowed photographers to take control over the entire process, from capture, processing and sharing images. For the type photography I do, artistic landscape; processing plays a vital role. This is where I can create a mood to better convey my own experience. There is a lot I can do in the field to do this as well, but good processing technique allows me to steer the final image toward my own vision of the scene. In this article I’ll share 3 examples from my trip to the Canadian Rockies with my Photo Cascadia buddies.
Let me preface by saying I am not a documentary photographer, I’m an artistic photographer. This is an important distinction. I’m stating this in the interest of avoiding the pointless philosophical debate on how much post processing is acceptable. If you would like take part in that argument, I refer you to an excellent article written by David Kingham: http://www.exploringexposure.com/blog/2016/3/19/in-defense-of-post-processing
A few notes on the RAW files used. I use a very bland camera profile in Lightroom which gives me the widest dynamic range possible for blending multiple exposures. As a result, my RAW images look quite bland, low contrast and lack pop. This is intentional, it leaves me with the most information possible to work with in Photoshop.
I produced a video detailing the techniques used in the following examples. In the video I guide you through my most current multiple exposure workflow, illustrating how I use the powerful tools in Lightroom, and Photoshop along with the TKAction Panel V4. The level of control you can have with these tools is pretty incredible. To learn more you can visit my site: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2
This first example has an extreme dynamic range to overcome and some serious distortion near the edges. The distortion could not be corrected with the automated functions in Lightroom, or Photoshop. I blended the exposures first and then tackled the distortion correction.
This next example also has a huge dynamic range to overcome. So much so, I chose it as my example image in my latest instructional tutorial video, Tonality Control 2.0.
Another interesting example from the Lake O’Hara Wilderness.
Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.
A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:
• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.
When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.
I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.
Yet again another year has flown by which brings time to look back on the past and what might lie ahead for the new year. Going strong for six years with no signs of letting up on the gas. We grew by a whopping 16.6% with Erin Babnik joining our crew. We continue united with our mission “learn, explore, create” as we intended from the beginning. Just like a rock concert I was at last week when the band said they would not be where they are without their fans, a similar statement could be said for all of you. A sincere Thank you to all of our subscribers and viewers to the newsletter, blog, social media and any other rock you lifted up to find us!
It’s always a good time looking back at the photos each of us from Photo Cascadia captured over the last year. Wherever the road took you in 2015 for your photography we hope you enjoy looking back at what it means to you while giving a chance to reflect on what life is all about and what matters most. Photographing what mother nature has to offer reminds us that we learn as much or more from simply being out and about than anything we could read or watch online. This quote says it best.
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
– John Lubbock
As we wrap up the year and take a few weeks off from the blog we invite you to take a few minutes to view a few of our favorites from the team this past year. Slideshow is best viewed in HD. Happy Holidays and New Year!
Late last year we were out as a Photo Cascadia group along the Oregon Coast when the idea was brought up to head to the Canadian Rockies for fall 2015. I was in! I had not been there while it sat on my list of must see places to visit for too long. Fast forward to the last week of September 2015 and we were off for a one week trip.
After the first 6 hour leg from my house in Portland, Oregon I met up with Chip in Spokane, Washington to finish out the next 6+ hours to our destination and meet up with Sean and Zack who had already been there a day. After a long day we arrived at Lake Louise Campground shortly after sunset. No sunset photos that night. We pulled in. Hung out with Zack and Sean for a bit while eating dinner then off to catch zzz’s for sunrise.
Getting up this time of year for sunrise feels like a treat after the droopy tired eyes of summer. We made our way to our first photo stop, sunrise at Moraine Lake. I expected busy. It was a little more than I expected. Far and away the most crowded location on this trip photographing with 100+ of my closest friends. Amazing to see yet it loses the appeal a little for me with that many photographers all jockeying for limited space. I kept setting up high in the trees, in the dark, only to find someone else eventually moving around already setup in my shot. One gal was getting aggressive when a photog got too close and he wasn’t moving. I was waiting for a fight but he eventually moved. I left the main viewing area on the top to join my peeps along the shore where I had a great rest of the morning with this splendid view!
This trip would not involve lollygagging around the same campsite for multiple nights. We had breakfast in town, back to camp to pick up Chip’s trailer and then off to the next location, Yoho National Park. A rather short drive away (~ 20 kilometers) we checked in at Kicking Horse Campground which was a good location in the middle of Yoho Park.
We spent the afternoon checking out Takakkaw Falls, walking part of Emerald Lake shoreline and then finishing with sunset at Emerald Lake. It’s only seconds after arriving here to know how it got it’s name. “Hiking” around the lake is more like an extended nature hike. At least the section we did was pretty flat yet very scenic. As we all know not all great scenic photos require long bouts of strenuous activity.
Up plenty before daylight and off to Bow Lake for sunrise. The drive was about 50 kilometers. The wind was whipping pretty good. I was not happy with any of my images from this morning yet we had a fun time regardless. The clouds rolled in and we could tell things would get wet later in the day. Back to Kicking Horse for breakfast at camp, fill up on water and off to the next campsite closer to the Bow Lake area.
Our next stop was Mosquito Creek Campground on Ice Fields Parkway. We filled up on water before arriving as this time of year it’s a dry campground because overnight lows dip below freezing. By the time we arrived the rain had already started dropping. We spent the afternoon chilling in our campers reading, listening to podcasts and napping. Having warm dry shelter was very welcome at that moment.
After getting bored we decided to drive and see if could find a place to have a beer. First stop was Bow Lake restaurant. The lady at the desk was indirectly kind in trying to say the restaurant was for guests only yet suggested we head a ways down the road for a bar. Mind you this is National Park with few places to stop and all tree lined roads. After driving another 40 km in the pouring rain at dusk we arrive at the mildly depressing oasis called Saskatchewan River Crossing. We were happy to have this place pretty much to ourselves sitting on couches drinking a beer and snacking on mediocre wings. Out into the rain and 50 km later we are back at camp. Rain still pouring outside we eat dinner in the camper then hit the hay.
I wake up shortly before dawn. I step outside the camper and can see nothing but endless grey with rain still coming down. Feels like home. We decide to bag sunrise and go back to bed. What seemed like 5 min later, in reality over an hour, I wake up and look out the window to see a huge patch of blue sky. Shorter than the click of a shutter I yell for Chip to wake up and jump out the camper. No courteous knock, I whip open the door to Sean’s camper and say “get up now, we need to leave!” Minutes later we are on the road. It did not take long to see this was going to be a fantastic morning. The snowline went down low overnight but only brought a dusting. With the sun coming over the horizon and quickly clearing skies we had to act fast. After pulling into Peyto Lake we made a short hike to an area with a perfect view and away from the main viewpoint.
While still on a morning high from the scene at Peyto Lake we make our way down to wander around Waterfowl Lakes. After breakfast back at camp we decide very early tomorrow is the time to make it up into Lake O’Hara with the slowly clearing weather pattern.
Midday we head back into Lake Louise Village for supplies. Mainly the $6 dollar bear spray rental since I left mine back home. I know now I can take it across the border next trip. As the kid in the store weighs the bear spray he proceeds to tell me that if I end up using it and the weight is not the same upon return I will have to buy it. My response “if I have to use this I have much bigger concerns than the retail price of a can of bear spray!”
That night we photographed sunset along Waterfowl Lakes. The partly cloudy skies made for a really nice scene. We don’t stick around long as we need to hit the sack early since wake up will be 3:15! No time for s’mores or kumbaya this trip.
My soothing alarm ring goes off at 3:15 am. Surprisingly I slept better than expected and feel pretty good. We eat a quick breakfast, as much as my body wants to eat this early in the morning and out into the morning cold crisp air we head as we start our trek to Lake O’Hara.
Spots in and around Lake O’Hara are amazingly scenic like out of Lord of the Rings or where you truly might find that pot of gold with a leprechaun. This is the reason it’s not easy to get there. For most normal people there are two options; camping or the lodge. Both options book up months in advance. Our plan would be to hike the 11 km gravel road in the dark to make it by sunrise. You can see why I rented bear spray. Although we were a group of four it’s prime bear country. With our head lamps moving around like the light in a lighthouse and plenty of “hey bear” shout outs we arrive at Lake O’Hara shortly before sunrise. I would not necessarily recommend this approach yet it worked for us.
We quickly find out the hiking is not over. We have at least a few more kilometers of all steep terrain to make it where we want to go. I am on a high and power through the next part. The sky starts getting lighter to slowly reveal this magical landscape. We spend a couple hours hiking around and taking photos. Honestly it’s a place you could stay all day with the perfect conditions we had yet we needed to ensure we could get a bus out. We leave it behind taking our photos as constant reminders for years to come.
We decide our next stop is Kananaskis. Kananskis Country is known for large photogenic groves of aspens. After the 160 km drive (about 2 hrs) we were pretty wiped considering the early morning wakeup call and long hike. We pull into a campground in Kananaskis area and take a long nap.
We decided on Wedge Pond for sunset, a short jaunt from camp. The golden aspens line the pond and do not disappoint. Not only did we have a beautiful view yet on the other side of the pond were what appeared to be two female yoga instructors doing poses in a wildly colorful yoga pants while a male photographer taking the shots was cheering them on. They were the only people there besides us.
Up the next morning and fortunately another not too far away drive which allowed for a more normal wake up time. It was a nice little marshy pond area not far from the road with a perfect view of Mount Kidd. A thin layer of ice continued growing on the small ponds as we photographed which was all we needed to tell us the temperature outside.
After that we spent the next few hours chasing around different aspen groves before the light got too harsh. Daytime photos are beautiful with golden aspens mixed with blue skies yet we had other plans in mind given it was our last day.
A late breakfast and on the road to the town Banff we go. There is a campground just outside of town where we setup camp. After “roughing” it for the week we decide an evening on the town is in order to finish this phenomenal trip. I highly recommend a soak in Banff Hot Springs and grabbing a beer with dinner at Banff Brewing Company. The next morning before dawn we head home.
If you have not been it’s a must add to your bucket list. In my home state of Oregon I feel lucky to live near mountains to play and photograph yet in all honesty they feel less dramatic in scale and size when comparing the endless large mountains around every turn in the Canadian Rockies.
Timing: The first part of any fall color foliage trip is timing. We all had it Sharpied in our calendars many months in advance and while peak fall colors certainly change every year none of us had much wiggle room. Fortunately our timing could not have been better. Normal peak for this area is middle to late September. As a side note you can easily spend a couple weeks in the Canadian Rockies and still feel like you are only scratching the surface.
Transportation: Living in the Pacific Northwest we are in reasonable driving distance. I only lug all my camping or backpacking equipment at 30,000 feet when necessary. The drive was about 12 hours, pushing the envelope to do it one day. Flying you will likely need to come through Calgary, the closest International airport at 120 kilometers from Banff.
Weather: This time of year you need everything from t-shirts to thick down jackets. We experienced snow, rain, wind and bright blue sky mild days. Be prepared for it all. Our coldest morning was about -3 degrees and our sunny warmest day about 15 degrees Celsius.
Lodging: There are plenty of options from budget camping to deluxe pampering hotels. We would be camping the whole time which made it very cost effective. Campgrounds we stayed at in Yoho and Banff ranged from $18 to $27 Canadian a night with additional $8 if you want to have a campfire. Beautiful Lake O’Hara I mentioned, lodging is a mere $600 to $900 CA a night for two.
Locations: Overall there many different parks and places that are part of Canadian Rockies yet we had no problem filling the days with our focus on three of them…Kananaskis, Banff and Yoho National Parks.
Physical Activity Level: You can make it as adventurous as you want from photographing out the window of your resort room to backpacking deep into the mountains. If money is no object then the best of both by staying at mountain lodges in the back country. Given we had only a week most of our locations were short hikes to nature walks with one long strenuous hike.
by Zack Schnepf
As I’ve mentioned before, composition is the most challenging part of photography for me. It’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of photography. Bringing together different elements into a compelling composition is a wonderful creative process. It can be a very “zen” experience as well. When I photograph on my own, it’s a kind of meditation for me. I’ve never been someone who get’s too preoccupied with following compositional rules, but there are a lot of very useful composition ideas that I try to keep in mind while composing in the field. In this article I’ll discuss some of the different composition models I look for when composing a landscape image. There are a lot of composition models that have been used throughout art history. I’ll be focusing on just a few, otherwise we might be here all day. The following are some examples of my favorite composition archetypes I look for in the field.
Rule of thirds
This is one of the oldest compositional rules and is one of the first compositional rules many of us learn about. The ancient greeks used the rule of thirds in their architecture and it was probably used even before that. The human brain seems to like compositions balanced by thirds. We also naturally look toward the power points where rule of thirds lines intersect. Compositions that utilize this theory tend to feel balanced and are more compelling.
Frame within a frame and natural framing
I love finding elements that naturally frame a scene. Using elements that also tell a story about that particular place are even more compelling. This first example is a composition I found my very first year photographing. I didn’t capture the light I was hoping for so I came back years later and captured the same scene with better light. I love the way the tree frames the scene and helps tell the story of Crater Lake. This next example is Teardrop Arch in Utah. A beautiful scene framed in this tear drop shaped arch in Monument Valley
S and C curves
S curves and C curves help viewers travel through an image and add an interesting visual flow. I love incorporating curves in my compositions. In this example the C curve of the petrified sand dunes in white pocket draw your eye in and through the scene creating visual flow. This image also uses a type of symmetry that I’ll talk about later.
Puzzle piece compositions have elements that visually fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. These can make for very interesting compositions if constructed well. In this example, David Cobb deliberately composed this image with the shape off the ice berg mirrored in the reflection above it.
When most people think of symmetry, they think of mirror symmetry, but there are several more types of symmetry I look for when composing as well. This image of death valley is a good example of rotation semmetry, or inversion symmetry. The curve of the dune is mirrored and opposite that of the blue in the sky. This is one of my favorite kinds of symmetry to find while composing. It’s not always possible, but when things line up, this is something I have my eye out for. To learn more about basic types of symmetry you can follow this link: http://mathforum.org/sum95/suzanne/symsusan.html
These are just some of the composition models I look for when composing. There are a lot more and I encourage everyone to try find different composition types when you’re in the field. You can learn about many different styles of composition by simply viewing art. Whether it’s looking through a book of artwork, viewing an exhibit at an art museum, or just looking through images on 500px. Studying the work of artists you admire is a great way to learn about composition and influences how you look at a scene. This is one of the best ways to improve your photography and progress as an artist. I studied art and art history in college and it has had an enormous influence on how I perceive the world and try to capture it. There is so much to learn from the masters of different eras, artistic movements, and styles? It’s a humbling and incredibly enriching experience.
In part four of this series I’ll talk about the elements that I try use to build compositions.
Ode to the Silhouette
By David Cobb
Silhouette: The dark shape and outline of someone or something visible against a lighter background, especially in dim light.
There was a time in photography when the silhouette was used more because it had to be. There wasn’t much dynamic range for a camera to work with so your options were limited. When photographing a strongly backlit subject without lighting or flash, you either chose to show detail of the subject and over-exposed the sky or you chose to expose for the sky and lose the detail of the subject to create a silhouette. The latter option was often chosen.
Today the silhouette isn’t in vogue. It’s fallen out of favor to the technology of high dynamic range which allows us to display as much detail as possible, but the silhouette is still a viable option. The silhouette creates a layer and a useful pattern simplifying form against a beautiful sunrise or sunset to make a striking graphic image. It generates mystery, drama, mood, and can help make an image more emotive. As you look for your subject, search for an uncluttered image stripped of detail and depth. (It often works best if it fills the frame in an interesting way or balances against a dramatic sky.) Try to keep your elements separate or at least the outlines defined in some way; if there is too much overlap the composition becomes confusing. Also focus your lens on the subject that is silhouetted. This is the part of the image you want to be the sharpest.
Next time you’re in a situation of choosing between showing detail or going with a silhouette, expose for the sky and go for simplicity. Leave part of the image up to the viewer’s imagination and choose the silhouette.
by Zack Schnepf
When it comes to photography, I get excited when I see a storm in the forecast. Many of my favorite images are taken before, after, or during a storm. It doesn’t always work out, and there are risks to shooting in stormy conditions, but there is potential for dramatic light and atmospheric conditions that can turn a normal scene into something extraordinary. Galen Rowell wrote a lot about transitional light and atmosphere and it is in those transitional moments when you can often capture things you normally don’t get to see. Rainbows, lightning, a fresh coat of snow, or massive cumulus clouds catching the setting sun. In this article I’ll talk about many of my own experiences photographing before, after, or during storms and illustrate some of the incredible and dramatic things you can see.
This first image is a perfect example of how a storm can turn an ordinary scene into an extraordinary one. While photographing the Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley, I found this spot and knew I wanted to come back if conditions became interesting. Sure enough, a thunderstorm rolled through that afternoon. It was moving fast and I was on the other side of the dunes, so I ran as fast I could to get back to this spot. I arrived just in time to capture this scene. A few moments later the dappled light on the dunes was gone and storm was dissipating. For me, the dramatic clouds and dappled light make this image, something I would only see during a storm.
During my trip to colorado last fall with Sean Bagshaw we encountered several storms. It would have been so easy to take the day off and catch up on sleep, but both Sean and I know the potential of shooting around storms, each time we would get really excited for the potential to see some dramatic storm conditions. The two images I’ve included here are both good examples of beautiful scenes that were transformed into something incredible with the dramatic light and atmosphere afforded by the storms.
This next image is one of the more unique scenes I’ve witnessed in person. I had been watching the forecast and saw a chance for a break in the storm track. I arrived at 2am to start hiking through the deep powder. It was still snowing hard and there was no sign of it letting up, but I persisted in knowing that if it did clear there would be the potential for something special. Sure enough, as I reached the top of Tumalo mountain I looked back toward Mt. Bachelor and saw one of the more awe inspiring sights of my life. The clouds were parting around the mountain and the landscape was bathed in a dreamy purple/pink predawn light. I’ve never seen anything like it. A great example of the type of light and atmosphere you only see around storms.
Sometimes the storm itself is the subject. This thunderstorm rolled over Kevin McNeal and myself several years ago while photographing on Steptoe Butte. We watched the storms build and move toward us, we both were pretty excited as we don’t get the opportunity to photograph lightning very often in the Northwest. This image was captured as the sun was setting into the storm and the lightning was firing away.
This image is one you might not expect to be a storm image, but in fact it was taken during a clearing rainstorm. I was teaching a workshop with Adrian Klein and Kevin McNeal in the Palouse. We headed out for sunrise even though it was not looking very promising. It was cold and rainy, but we persevered. We didn’t see a sunrise on this morning, but about 30 minutes after sunrise the clouds started to break up and the sun shone through the falling rain creating the atmosphere in this scene. If you look you can see the sun filtering though the rain in the background.
Sometimes it’s the aftermath of the storm that makes an image spectacular. This image was captured at the end of a 2 week cold wet snow storm near Mt. Hood. I saw a clearing coming up on the forecast and decided to really commit to capturing this image which I’d been trying to capture for some time. I backpacked in and camped for four days on this ridge above mirror lake. It snowed non stop for the first three days, but on the final day the storm cleared revealing the most pristine snow scene I’ve ever witnessed. Everything was coated with a thick icing like layer of snow creating one of my all time favorite images.
This last example is my favorite image. It was taken in the Enchantment Lakes wilderness in the Stuart Mountain range of Washington. After a brutal backpack trip into the area, I quickly dropped all my gear and scouted the area for sunrise the next morning. I only had a few minutes before the light was gone. I set up camp and went right to bed. I woke an hour before sunrise, but when I peeked my head out of my tent I saw the early dawn light was already illuminating the clouds of an approaching snow storm. I literally jumped out of my tent, grabbed my gear and sprinted to the spot I scouted the night before. I arrived just in time to capture this scene before the storm clouds obscured the rising sun. The snow storm blocked the sun for the rest of the trip, but it was all worth it for this one incredible image of a snow storm lit up by the sunrise.
As you can see, there can be incredible opportunities for photographing around storms. You do need to be careful, as I’ve had a few close calls photographing during storms as well, but the potential for dramatic light and atmosphere keeps me coming back to photograph storms more and more.