Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Photography Techniques’ Category
I remember reading one of Galen Rowell’s books on photography, one of the themes he consistently talked about was shooting during times of transition. Seasons, weather, light, and atmosphere are a few notable examples of elements I try to capture in transition. If you can combine more than one of those elements in transition together, the chance of capturing a spectacular moment increases. It really stuck with me, I think most of my best images are captured during rare transitional moments. A storm moving in, or out during sunset, or sunrise is hard to line up, but when you do the results can be spectacular. You can also get rained out and not see any good light, but the potential to see something spectacular is much higher while these things are in transition. The images below are good examples of capturing different elements in transition.
This image was captured in Joshua Tree National Park late February this year. I was on a photo trip with good friends Sean Bagshaw and David Cobb. We got caught in a wet storm the day before, but the forecast was calling for clearing skies followed by clear blue cloudless skies for several days. I had always wanted to photograph the Cholla Garden in the park. With transitioning weather, light and the seasons all coinciding I thought our odds were pretty good to capture something special. The next morning, I was a little dismayed at first. The clouds weren’t lining up to catch the under lighting of the pre-dawn sunrise. We waited patiently and as the sun was rising above the horizon, it shone though the breaking storm clouds creating the spectacular light rays in the background as well as backlighting the needles creating the wonderful glow.
When I was planning to photograph Keyhole Arch on the Oregon coast, I was trying to line up a transitioning tide, with transitioning weather as well as light. This session was challenging. The tide was coming in, a storm was clearing out, and the sun was setting. The next challenge was capturing a wave flowing over the rocks, another transitional element. Everything lined up and I was able to capture what I had envisioned in my head. This shot is all about transitions, it’s also a good example of how much planning goes into certain photographs.
Mt Hood Majesty
I attempted this photo several times, but was never able to capture the light and conditions I had in mind. This is a popular backcountry ski spot and Mt Hood generally isn’t the coldest mountain, I could never time a weather window with good light and pristine snow. Finally, I decided to do it right. I watched the forecast for a cold winter storm followed by a window of clear weather. I finally saw a weather window that looked promising and decided to go for it. I packed up my winter camping gear, and set off at 3am from my house in Portland. I started hiking in the dark in the middle of a winter storm. It took me 7 hours to snowshoe up to this ridge because of all the fresh cold powder snow that had fallen. Long story short, I spent 4 days in my tent on the ridge hoping to capture the pristine snow in good light. On the last night of my camping trip the storm started clearing up, but not in time for sunset. The next morning I was up really early and was treated to the most incredible morning of photography of my life. The landscape was completely covered in a pristine layer of deep, cold powder, the air was crystal clear, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind. The mountain that had been hidden behind the storm the whole trip was revealed in spectacular fashion as the sun rose. All my hard work and planning payed off and I was able to capture a very rare moment.
This image of Gothic Peak near Crested Butte Colorado is another great example of capturing multiple elements in transition. Sean Bagshaw and I found this location during our trip to Colorado a few years ago. The Fall color was exceptional, but we knew the scene would be even more incredible if we could line up the fall color with the first snow of the season. A few days later, while we were in another part of the state, we saw a snow storm would be moving in and quickly back out. We packed up and made the drive back to Crested Butte. We hiked up to this location in the pitch black, frozen snow. We arrived on the ridge well before sunrise. It was extremely cold on the exposed ridge, but the sun was rising and we could see our prediction was materializing. The fall color was at it’s peak and the storm had left a pristine layer of snow. It’s pretty rare to be able to line up conditions like this, Sean and I felt privileged that we were able to witness and capture this rare moment of elements in transition.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” —Mark Twain
A little secret that is well known to educators is the concept of the “good lie”. It encapsulates the idea that any course of instruction is bound to be incomplete or imperfect, but learning has to start somewhere. When we first begin to study any complex subject, we need some structure, some kind of foundation on which to build our understanding of it. For example, when I was beginning my studies in art history, my professors introduced me to the subject of ancient Greek sculpture by emphasizing the evidence regarding known sculptors, what each had contributed to the art, and why any of it mattered. I later learned just how much of this introduction amounted to optimistic conclusions based on ambiguous evidence, but that education brought me to higher levels of understanding. By the time that I started working on my doctoral dissertation, my research was focused on some of those points of weakness as areas where I could make my own contributions, and my professors were encouraging such questioning because the “good lie” was only ever a starting point.
Learning photography involves a similar progression through structured principles into personal discoveries. As landscape photographers, we learn our craft as a combination of in-field methods, compositional rules, location research, weather chasing, and post-processing solutions—all of which amounts to the “good lie” in our field. Together, these ideas provide a useful framework through which we can develop our creative sensibilities, but the framework itself is merely a way in.
To be sure, craftsmanship is an essential part of the photographic process, and good technique is often crucial to the success of a creative motivation. The sheer spectacle of technical virtuosity alone can provide a special frisson: prickly sharpness, masterfully controlled tones, or precise calculations of celestial events—all count among the many technical accomplishments that tend to delight viewers of landscape photographs. Regardless, perfect technique hardly amounts to the holy grail of photography. Despite its many virtues, technique is fundamentally reproducible, is always subject to becoming obsolete, and can become a visual crutch and a developmental cul-de-sac. For anyone who wants to keep progressing in their photography, creativity is the higher good. Therefore, it is important to be open-minded about craftsmanship and to acknowledge that creativity is a messy place.
Keeping the following caveats in mind can help to ensure that perfection doesn’t become the enemy of the good.
A Perfect Lemon is Still a Lemon
There is an old joke about a person looking for his keys under a street lamp. When a passerby asks him if he’s sure that it’s the area where he lost his keys, the man replies, “No, I lost them a block away, but the light is better here.” The process of making a good photograph can go wrong in the same way, by letting some unimportant factor dictate a direction. I often find participants on my workshops abandoning a great composition that they saw because it would require some minor compromise, choosing instead to photograph something less interesting that they can make ‘perfect’. Sometimes you just have to seize a moment or follow through with an idea however you can because it will result in a powerful photo regardless. Even if it means that you have to use a high ISO or shoot handheld instead of using a tripod, it’s better than not getting the shot at all. When technique starts dictating which ideas to pursue, then it’s probably time to cut the chains and enjoy some creative freedom. No amount of masterful technique will improve the photos that we never make!
The Devil is in the Details
According to the law of diminishing returns, sometimes ‘good enough’ really is…good enough. The value of technical quality does have its limits. After all, the world’s most compelling photographs do not tend to be studies in technique, and most viewers do not even notice many of the technical shortcomings that typically make photographers cringe. Laboring in the service of perfect technique can easily become an unnecessary hinderance to progress, causing a photographer to leave projects unfinished or to become too frustrated to begin a new one. I remember once spending days on processing a photograph with a delicate color palette, shifting hues and tones by minute amounts ad nauseam in my efforts to achieve the perfect balance. I shared some of the variations with a friend who has an excellent eye for such details and who was very enamored with that photo. He carefully compared all of the versions and finally said, “I doubt that any of these differences even matter,” and he urged me to release the photo and move on. It was great advice.
Imperfections Can Create Character
As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportions.” He finds this strangeness in the abnormally large eyes of the woman he loves and delves into describing the depths of her character that he sees through them. Beauty in photographs can also come about through such strangeness, typically created by some imperfection in the pictured elements or by some irregularity in their presentation. A leaning tree or burned out snag can break up regularity and give character to a forest scene in the same way that film grain or soft focus can. Even ancient Greek architects seem to have understood the power of imperfection when they made temple columns bulge in the middle instead of being perfectly straight vertical elements; the more emphatic examples suggest an interest in giving the temple some life, some character, as if its columns were bulging like muscles while supporting the temple’s entablature. Similarly, a high level of refinement can sap the life out of a photograph, causing it to it look too mechanical. It is possible for a photograph to be lacking in vitality simply by appearing too perfect.
Craftsmanship has always been one of the great joys of artistic creation for me, and I both exercise and teach it with great enthusiasm. “The good lie” is good for a reason, providing an important foundation and a perpetually useful touchstone. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that it has its limits, its exceptions, and its missing links—and sometimes making a substantial contribution to your portfolio means stepping outside that box. The pursuit of perfection has the potential to elevate a photograph significantly, but it can also smother its fire or prevent us from creating a photo at all. Ultimately, it’s the pursuit of our own goals that should tell us which direction to go. When creativity is hiding in the shadows, we’ll never find it by looking in the light.
Have you ever had issues of technique keep you from pursuing a moment or an idea? Do you have any photos in your portfolio that would not exist without some compromise? Please feel free to share in this discussion with a comment below!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Note: Readers have asked some great printing questions in various locations, so I’m compiling them along with my answers at the end of the article so they are all in one place.
I often get questions about how I prepare an image for printing with an online print lab for best results, so I’ve collaborated with Artmill.com to create this tutorial which we hope will help you get great prints.
Printing online can be as simple as uploading phone pics to a lab directly from your smart phone or as advanced as working one on one with a professional print master to go through a multi-step hard-proofing process to fine tune every aspect of the final piece. Most of us who are photography enthusiasts will take an approach somewhere in the middle. Just a few simple pointers can really elevate the quality of your prints.
In the video below, I take you through my process of preparing an image for printing online. In both Lightroom and Photoshop, I cover how to address color accuracy, contrast, sizing, sharpening and the most common print challenge…prints that come out too dark. In the video, I unbox the print so you can see how it turned out.
Artmill was kind to provide the promo code OUTDOOREXPOSURE for my viewers/readers. You can use it at http://www.artmill.com to get 15% off your first order.
For more tips on printing make sure to read Zack Schnepf’s article on the Photo Cascadia blog: www.photocascadia.com/blog/5-essential-tips-when-preparing-images-for-print
You can also view my tutorial on soft proofing in Photoshop: https://youtu.be/ND_GzCueX4s
Just to be clear, I don’t work for Artmill and I was not paid to do this video. We felt some information on this topic would be welcomed and they were kind enough to provide the printing. The print itself will be auctioned as part of a fundraiser for the public library here in my home town.
Your Q’s generated by the video and my A’s:
Q: I’ve been wanting to try an online print, but worried I would mess it up.
A: If you haven’t printed online before I suggest ordering a small test print on photo paper first and if you like what you get, then order a larger, more expensive print. Some labs even offer a free small sample print on your first order for proofing purposes.
Q: I have had such awful experiences with online prints! Always dark, grainy, out of focus.
A: It’s important to remember that the print can only be as good as the original image file. Issues that may not be noticeable at a small size on screen, such as noise or soft focus, will become very obvious in a large print. It’s important to zoom in to 100% magnification to inspect and evaluate images. If you see noise, focus or other issues that bother you at this magnification then they will be visible in a large print…and the larger the print the more visible they become.
Q: When you were in Photoshop did you increase the size of the image? I always thought this would make it blurry and lose sharpness and detail.
A: Yes, I did enlarge the image in the video…both in the Lightroom example and the Photoshop example. If you want to print a photo bigger than the size it comes out of your camera it must be enlarged somehow. You can either do it or the print lab will do it…but somebody is doing it. There are two ways that Photoshop can enlarge images for printing. It can either increase the number of pixels in the image (interpolation) or it can increase the “size” of the pixels (decrease the pixels per inch). Taken far enough, both of these methods will eventually lead to decreased image sharpness and detail. But Lightroom/Photoshop now do an excellent job enlarging. I find that I can at least double the output size of my original image file and still get excellent results. For example, without any enlarging an image from my 30.4 megapixel Canon 5D4 will print at roughly 15 x 22.5 inches at 300 ppi. This means that I can enlarge up to 30×45 at 300 ppi with very good detail and even up to 40×60 or larger if the image is very clean or when printing on textured paper or canvas, which doesn’t show as much fine detail anyway. Depending on the viewing distance, you could potentially go even larger. I have printed wall murals 15 feet high that look great because you have to stand back several feet to view them. They are not as sharp up close, but that’s not how they are meant to be viewed. So, if you want to print images larger than they come out of your camera I say go for it!
Q: Before you apply the sharpening for print, do you remove all other sharpening that might have been applied before in Lightroom?
A: I learned from the photography gurus, Mac Holbert and Jeff Schewe, to think of image sharpening in three phases: input sharpening, creative sharpening and output sharpening. Input sharpening is the fine sharpening you can do in LR or Camera Raw to tighten up the fine edges and optimize clarity that is lost with digital cameras (caused by low pass filters and pixel bleed). Creative sharpening is the interpretive and often localized sharpening (or blurring) and clarity work we do during the developing process to help guide the eye, create depth and dimension and showcase elements. Output sharpening is the sharpening done to an output copy to optimize the image for the particular output at the particular size. For example, an image sized to 1000 pixels wide for viewing on the internet has different output sharpening needs than an image sized to 18,000 pixels wide for a 60 inch print on canvas. All three of the sharpening passes are independent of the other and need to be determined on a case by case basis based on the qualities of the image and the intent of the photographer. But, in short…all three types of sharpening work together so don’t remove one to add the other. You do want to carefully evaluate and adjust them as you go to make sure that they are working in concert with each other, however.
Q: Do you also increase the exposure, contrast and vibrance when printing on your home printer?
A: Yes I do, but at home I can also soft proof with the ICC profile for my printer and the paper I’m using and I can run test prints and make adjustments until I get it just right…so the process is a bit more scientific.
Q: You selected the printer resolution of 2880 x 1440 in Output Sharpener Pro. How did you know what to select there?
A: This is another question you could ask your lab to find out what settings they use and be the most accurate, but the differences will be slight. On my own printer that is the ink dot resolution I print with. I didn’t ask Artmill what printer resolution they use so I went with that to be safe. Choosing a lower resolution in Sharpener Pro adds more sharpening to compensate for fewer dots of ink. If I don’t know the ink dot resolution the printer will put down on paper I feel it is better to err on the side of under sharpening than over sharpening.
Q: Are the Nik/Google plug-ins still available? It was great when Google made them free…but then I heard they were going to stop offering them. If they are still available then people should grab them while they can.
A: Yes still available at the moment. There are other options as well, including PhotoKit Sharpener 2.0 by PixelGenius, Topaz and others.
Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
Whether it’s serious or downright hilarious we all can appreciate quotes that inspire us in some way or at the very least cause for pause and thought. Some of these have been accumulated over time in my note taking and others were discovered when thinking about this blog post. They were chosen because they reflect how I view photography or nature, inspire me personally, portray the past, present, future of photography or merely provide a good laugh. After all “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine” – Lord Byron.
I am sure a few you have heard before yet I am also sure there are some you haven’t. From some of the biggest names in photography to others not as well known or not professional photographers at all, to simply nature related inspiration for your next landscape adventure. Spend a few minutes below to get your thoughts flowing. These are intentionally in no particular order. Feel free to comment below with your favorite photography or nature related quote.
“In a world and a life that moves so fast, photography just makes the sound go out and it makes you stop and take a pause. Photography calms me.” – Drew Barrymore
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman
“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The whole nature of photography has changed with the advent of a camera in everybody’s hand.” – Sally Mann
“I find it some of the hardest photography and the most challenging photography I’ve ever done. It’s a real challenge to work with the natural features and the natural light.” – Galen Rowell
“Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.” – Nancy Pelosi
“I don’t have a favorite photo. As a photographer, I have attachments to each image. Not the one photo: the experience of getting the photos is the challenge or the thing.” – Michael Muller
“It is a peculiar part of the good photographer’s adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it.” – James Agee
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – Aaron Siskind
“Photographers deal with a lot of crop.” – Unknown
“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.” – Ernst Haas
“Photographers are violent people. First they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall.” – Unknown
“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The grass is always greener when you crank up the saturation in Photoshop.” – Unknown
“If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only too make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better.” – Galen Rowell
“Cheap photography isn’t good, my dear, and good photography isn’t cheap.” – Unkown
“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping at what’s in front of you.” – Frans Lanting
“How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb and 49 to say, ‘I could have done that!” – Unknown
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?” – Edward Weston
“People say photographs don’t lie, mind do.” – David LaChapelle
“You must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment a photographer is creative. The moment! Once you miss it. It is gone, forever.” – Henri- Cartier-Bresson
“Every photograph is the photographer’s opinion about something. It’s how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.” – Mary Ellen Mark
“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.” – Minor White
“You might be a photographer if you won’t even share a cell phone picture without editing it.” – Unkown
“Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget.” – Robin Williams
“It was only after a while, after photographing mines and clear-cutting of forests in Maine, that I realized I was looking at the components of photography itself. Photography uses paper made from trees, water, metals, and chemistry. In a way, I was looking at all these things that feed into photography.” – David Maisel
“Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.” – Piercy W Harris
“For me, pointing and clicking my phone is absolutely fine. People say that isn’t the art of photography but I don’t agree.” – Annie Lennox
“Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” – Unknown
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” – Edward Abbey
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau
“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” – Abraham Lincoln
“A camera didn’t make a great picture anymore than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” – Peter Adams
“Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” – Ken Rockwell
“Warning: I am about to snap!”- Unknown
“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.” – Edward Steichen
“When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera.” – Patrick Demarchelier
When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.
In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.
I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.
A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.
I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.
Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.
Using a Telephoto Lens to Compress Garden Scenes
Since gardens are beginning to blossom again after a long winter, I’m returning to the garden setting for this tip.
A telephoto lens is essential in garden photography for picking out pieces of a distant landscape or for macro work, and I often use one in conjunction with extension tubes or close-up filters. For landscape photography I use a zoom to pick out the garden details or to create a layering effect. On foggy days, I often look for how trees stack up with one another and how they lose detail as they recede into the mist; the layering on these days works exceptionally well.
When I spotted this field of poppies growing in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had of seeing such a multitude of flowers in one place. To do this, I chose a telephoto lens and crouched down a bit lower to overlap all the poppies. By using a zoom and compressing the scene, I was able to capture the feeling I had of seeing so many poppies in one place.
For this image of wallflowers in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I used a telephoto lens to compress the scene for the multitude of flowers and also to keep the size of the tree large on the distant ridge. If I had used a wider-angle lens, the distant tree would only be a small pimple on the ridge face. A telephoto lens creates more drama in the scene.
While I was visiting Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada I used my Canon 70-200mm telephoto lens to help frame the wonderfully lit tree with the yellow blossoms of the surrounding shrubs. The compression also created a layering effect for this image and compositionally a frame-within-a-frame which creates depth.
If you like this garden photography tip, I offer 99 more in my e-book “100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.”
Look for my next garden book Visionary Landscapes due out this September on Tuttle Publishing.
Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.
Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.
Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.
- Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
- Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
- Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
- Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
- Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
- In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
- Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
- Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
- Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
- It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
- When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
- It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
- Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
- Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
- Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
- Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
- Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
- Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
- Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
- Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.
by Zack Schnepf
Back when I was taking my first photography classes in college, instructors would ask me what I was trying to say with my images. At the time, I thought this was just something art instructors said. I came to understand that effective art is often able to communicate something to the viewer. Sometimes it’s an emotion, a mood, a sense of wonder, or an overall feeling you get when you sit and appreciate a work of art. I’ve felt disturbed by documentary photos in war torn countries, pure joy viewing a photo of lion cubs wrestling his brother, I’ve felt the cold in images of mountain climbers summiting massive snowy peaks and I’ve felt awe and wonder viewing photos of majestic moments captured in nature. I’ve had many profound moments out in the field photographing. I became a photographer so I could share these profound moments with other people as well as remind myself of some of my favorite moments. If i’m able to communicate some of what I’m experiencing through my image I consider it a successful image. In this article I’ll talk about trying to communicate through my images and how it effects how I capture an image in the field and how I process and image in post production.
In the field: There are already so many things to think about in the field; changing light, composing multiple elements together, difficult environmental conditions, not to mention all of the technical settings you have to balance as well. It can be chaotic. It can be difficult to also think about trying to communicate through your image. It doesn’t have to always be something profound you are communicating, sometimes it’s simple things. In this example, I loved the lines of erosion here in White Pocket in Arizona. I noticed if I composed with my camera about 8 inches off the ground It really accentuated the pattern of erosion and helped tell the story of these petrified sand dunes eroding away over time in the wind and rain. I also tried to compose to accentuate the natural curve and texture in the rock. To me, this helped communicate the incredible history of erosion that has taken place to create this natural work of art.
In this example, I was scouting for a workshop when I saw this lone tree out in the middle of these overlapping green hills in the Palouse. I put on my telephoto lens and shot at about 300mm to focus in on the this one solitary tree surrounded by these hills. To me, framing this way helped convey a feeling I was having looking at the scene. This shot was actually captured during the workshop in much more interesting conditions. A rain storm was clearing as the sun was rising creating this atmosphere that helped convey the emotions I was feeling even more. Even in the field I was struck with emotion as I looked at this scene. It seemed to communicate an independent strength and integrity. The backlight through the falling rain just reinforced this feeling. I knew when I worked on this in photoshop, I wanted to process this in a way that helped communicate those same feelings.
In post production: There is a lot you can do in post production to enhance your images, you can also accentuate elements that help the image communicate. With the lone tree image, I accentuated the backlight on the tree and hills to help the tree feel luminous and help it stand out even more in the scene. To me this is a very successful image, every time I look at it I still feel some of what I felt in the field.
This was my first time visiting Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park. I was with my good friend David Cobb at the time. I was so enamored with this scene, I really wanted to capture it in a way that helped convey what a unique and special place it is. This is a very common theme in my photography, I love to share my own awe and wonder when visiting these special places and I try to capture them in a way that expresses that. It was also very peaceful and I felt a great wave of tranquility as I sat and took in this scene. I set up in a pretty unusual spot, I had to be very careful not to slip and fall in, but I loved the compositional flow that was created here. Again, this is a successful image to me, because every time I look at it I feel some of the tranquility, awe and wonder I felt when I was there. This is also a popular image at art shows, and people tell me they feel peaceful when they look at it.
This last example was just taken a few weeks ago while I was vacationing and photographing on the Big Island of Hawaii. My family moved to Hawaii for a few years when I was a kid and I was lucky enough to witness Kilauea erupt in spectacular fashion when I was five years old. It is an experience that is burned into my memory. This recent trip was my first opportunity to capture some of that experience in my own photography. Cj Kale guided me out to the flow on this particular morning and it was quite a show. It’s so dynamic watching a lava flow, it’s constantly changing, moving and doing unpredictable things. There was so much going on, the flow was changing, the waves were crashing and wind was blowing the steam all around. It was such a privilege to watch the creation of a new part of the island right before my eyes. I really wanted to capture a moment like this with the lava visibly flowing, the waves crashing and the steam catching the light of the lava. Its was extremely challenging, but rewarding. Again, to me the is a successful image. It captures just how dynamic and dramatic it was to watch the lava flowing into the ocean creating new land. It was a transcendent moment for me, one where I was reminded how small and insignificant we are, it was powerful to witness something that has been shaping our planet for much of it’s four billion year history.
I love being able to share moments like this through my photography. It’s why I became a photographer. Images like these are some of my favorites, because I feel something when I look at them and other people do as well. Trying to communicate through my own images has helped me become a better photographer and continues to make photography more rewarding. You can learn more about me, my images and the workshops and tutorials I offer on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com
Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.
These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.
Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.
Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.
Focal Length Blend:
This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.
One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.
A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.
This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.
These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.
When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.
Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)
This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.
The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.
Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require the combination of many focus points.
The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).
A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.
Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.
Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.
WHEN, WHY, AND HOW MUCH?
My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.
**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!
Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.