Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Photography Techniques’ Category
It feels like during any given season we as nature photographers spend time chasing after the elements that first and foremost speak to the season. I would say this certainly applies to trees as well. When someone says fall, we think of trees with colors of a vibrant the sunset. When someone says spring we think of lush glowing greens. When someone says summer we think of them being full to help balance out the scene whatever color that may be. Of course that is some of the list as there other elements that come to the front of our mind for specific seasons whether it’s related to trees or not.
Fog Shrouded Forest – This scene if was all or mostly evergreen trees would be nice yet to me not nearly the same. The many details on the branches in the dense fog is what makes this scene for me.
I can say when it comes to deciduous trees in my early days of photography I always wanted trees to be filled with something, Whether it was green in spring, yellow in fall, or anything else in between because it made sense that would be more photogenic than a bunch of naked trunks and branches. Come on trees, get some clothes on for this photo shoot!
After a number of years photographing I realize now that I am drawn to trees with their stark beauty as much, and sometimes more, than than when they have their coats on from spring to fall. I am specifically talking about scenes without snow because in locations with multiple seasons we naturally think of winter and snow. The intent here is to illustrate there is much more in winter than a cold snowy scene of trees, even though I will admit I sucker for a great photo of snow covered trees.
Here are some reasons why you might think about photographing these more in the “off season” if you don’t already.
- Different Focus – When the trees are bare of leaves you can no longer rely on the colors of the leaves that may add to the overall compelling scene. Instead I feel like you have increased focus on composition and other elements that might normally be side dishes to the overall show.
- Hidden Details – With the leaves gone for the season you can see the details underneath that are normally hidden from view. I have some photos where the detail from many thin stark branches is what makes the photo.
- Contrasting Elements – When you have evergreen and deciduous trees together they can sometimes lack contrast depending on the season. When it’s winter time there is no question. It can provide much needed contrast to specific photos.
Here are some more of my favorites over the years falling under this theme.
Wetland Layers – In The Grand Tetons before leaves started budding I caught this scene of yellow and orange branches from the ground bushes against the empty trees in the back.
Stark and Slender – Trees from a fire decades ago still stand mostly barren while the undergrowth is growing. In spring this glows green (see the contrast here). Yet this stark muted scene stood out to me. As an aside this is likely the type of scenes will start to photograph in the Columbia River Gorge or other locations that have been damaged by wildfires.
Final Flames of Fall – To me this single tree with fall foliage stands out because of all the other stark and colorless trees around it.
Organizing Chaos – The sunset and ground bare ground foliage glows in the sunset light.
Around The Corner – Many smaller trees and bushes bare during winter are reaching up like arms to the light above.
Exposed – With this winter scene there is more more emphasis on the beautiful water and colorful mossy greens along with what is behind this small forest of trees. Something hidden most months of the year.
Outcast – This lone aspen in Grant Teton National park stands out in stark contrast from the giant evergreens surrounding it.
Pure Elowah – If you photograph this scene outside of late fall to very early spring you will have leaves on the trees blocking the view of the waterfall. Another case where a leaf-less tree is in your favor.
In this article, I’m sharing 20 of my favorite tips to enhance your autumn photography. I hope you can put some of these ideas to use as you explore with your camera in the fall.
1) Create a surreal mood by trying to include a sunstar that showcases your subject. The sun sets as an anchor point that guides your viewer to the subject.
Images from Yosemite National Park in the Lower Yosemite Valley
2) Create a warm overall balance with your images when including the colors red, yellow, and orange.
3) Early mornings in autumn are fantastic for finding mist and atmospheric conditions.
4) Look to include the color red when photographing autumn colors and blue skies.
5) Try to add variety to your autumn collection of images by including wide-angle images, telephoto images, abstracts, and macros.
6) Don’t forget to look on the ground and include fallen autumn foliage. Using a very wide angle approach and getting as close to the ground can offer a very different perspective.
8) Use a mix of different shutter speeds to get varying moods of autumn images. For example, I like to use fast shutter speeds to capture the leaves as they fall. I use long exposures to create a softer mood with the movement of water, clouds and foliage.
9) Include many element layers when photographing wide-angle scenes. I look for a foreground that will immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Use composition techniques to connect the foreground and background through the use of leading lines and depth. The more layers the more three-dimensional the image.
Image from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon
10) Reflections double the color and add that wow factor to autumn images. Look for ponds or small lakes that are more likely to be calm and still.
11) Don’t be afraid to include people in the image to give a perspective of scale and mood. To really add another dimension to the image look for people doing activities in the autumn surroundings.
12) Look for themes or commonalities when photographing autumn colors. One of my favorite themes is photographing barns and churches surrounded by color.
14) Try to find higher vantage points that offer a unique perspective of the autumn colors that most people don’t see. Many hiking trails in parks have this option. It’s always a special treat when you reach the top and you look down into a valley of color, or endless mountain ranges, or the stillness of a lake below.
15) Take it a step farther and look into adding aerial photography or drone photography into the mix. This can lead to fantastic images of winding roads through fall colors.
Images from the Dempster Highway in the Yukon
16) Autumn season is a great time to look for weather changes and unique weather systems. These types of conditions adds a special element of drama to the images.
17) Get out into the backcountry and away from other people for to photograph lesser known landscapes. I love to get deep into the mountains and find idyllic mountain settings combined with fall color.
18) Shooting a variety of subjects and elements when it comes to autumn can enhance your fall color portfolio. I like to include lakes, rivers, creeks, waterfalls, forests, and ponds just to name a few.
19) Get out in the rain. One of the best conditions for shooting fall colors is overcast weather. I especially like it when it’s slightly rainy which gives the fall colors an extra boost of vibrancy.
20) Have fun and try to be creative whenever possible. Get out of your comfort zone.
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.