Archive for the ‘Composition’ Category

Photographing Lighthouses

Monday, March 19th, 2018

“Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other.”  – Virginia Woolf

I love photographing lighthouses; they can be so majestic, mysterious, beautiful, and yes even foreboding. We have quite a few along the Pacific west coast where I live, but I’ve photographed them all over the world. As with any subject, it’s not the thing (the lighthouse) I photograph, but it’s the light around it which enhances the subject. I also prefer to photograph lighthouses either at the golden hour or in the soft light of pre-dawn or dusk, so for me a tripod is essential.

I don’t go too wide when photographing my lighthouses. I often use a 24-70mm lens to capture a foreground, but not wide enough to make the sides of the lighthouse go wonky. You can straighten things up a bit in post-processing, but it never seems to look right.

Also, I try to tell a story when photographing a lighthouse. I might include a passing ship, or I photograph on a stormy day to convey to the viewer why that lighthouse exists in the first place. Sometimes I might use a telephoto lens to capture my lighthouse in front of a setting moon to suggest the story of the tides. I might also use the lighthouse as a small counterpoint in the image, to give a sense of its remoteness. Use your imagination; there are plenty of lighthouse stories to tell with an image.

As with many landscape images, when photographing lighthouses use a foreground. Some interesting colored stones, fence lines, dune grass, pools reflecting the lighthouse, or jaggedly formed rocks all make great foreground subjects. Take your time and look for what works best with your subject.

Use a leading line. This not only enhances your foreground, but it gives the image more dimension. Coastal shorelines are the most obvious choice. Other suggestions for leading lines might be the reflected light of the setting sun or moon on the ocean, footprints in the sand, breaking waves, or the fence line around the lighthouse.

If the lantern is still functioning at the lighthouse, try to capture the catch-light. As with wildlife photography and capturing that glint in the animal’s eye to give it life, the same is true for a lighthouse. Wait for that light and make sure you capture the glint in the lighthouse’s “eye.”

Change your perspective. Get high above the lighthouse if you can, and shoot down or walk to the base of the lighthouse and shoot up for a different look. Sometimes a piece of the lighthouse can be more interesting than the whole. It might be some old paint, a rusty slab of metal, a cool window, a handrail, the spiral staircase to the lantern, or a detail image of the lantern itself; whatever it is take your time to explore and find that interesting piece.

I hope these handful of tips help you the next time you head out to your favorite lighthouse, whether it be a stormy weekend or during a sunny vacation.

Tips And Tricks For Photographing Northern Lights

Monday, March 12th, 2018

What Are The Northern Lights And Why Do They Happen

* The most important thing when trying to predict Aurora is looking at the KP index on a scale from 1 to 9 in terms of geomagnetic strength
* Aurora Service Or Aurora App that have Aurora alerts.. www.aurora-service.org, Also check sites for weather like yr.no to follow the weather.
* Northern Lights caused by plasma reaching the earth from the sun. So when we detect charged particle activity on the sun it reaches the earth three days later. This is how scientists predict Northern lights and why we get a three-day forecast.
* So when the charged particles bombard the atmosphere with magnetic activity we see the lights at latitude 69 or 70 degrees.
* The three important concepts when looking at northern lights are the solar activity, solar wind, and the Earth’s magnetic field.

When and Where To Go

* Best times to go are from November-March.
* We seem them in polar latitudes around 69 or 68 degrees north.
* Good locations are Lofoten Islands, Northern Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and of course Alaska.
* You have the best probability of seeing the lights in the months of January, February and March.
* It is important to be very patient as many of these places can have many days of storms and cloudy weather.

Settings On Camera, Composition And Planning

* When photographing Northern lights its important to know your camera and settings for the situation.
* Because it’s very exciting to see the Northern lights for the first time it’s very common and normal to get overexcited. So the goal is to be able to resort to some pre-planned settings.
* Look for the lights to appear to the north of you and above you.
* Sometimes they become so strong that they do appear in some southern latitudes.
* So when scouting, plan for compositions that face to the north
* Most people forget composition when they first see the lights. Don’t only photography the sky. Try to include foreground, midground, and background.
* Try to give it some context. Tell a story with your images.
* Be careful of what’s called false exposure as your eyes get used to the dark and you start to adjust your exposure based on your LCD. The images look perfectly exposed in the dark but later when we process they are too dark.
* Always check your histogram and make sure you have information to the right of the camera – this is very important
* Try light painting with a flashlight to expose the foreground if you are by yourself’
* Highlight with a flashlight from the side. This achieves some depth and shadows.
* When the moon is full the landscape is nice but much harder to get detail in the lights.
* The best situation is a 20-30% moon so you get a bit of light on the landscape but you can still get details in the lights and also get stars in the image.
* Try including a person in the image as it provides perspective and mood. Also, it helps if the viewer can imagine they are in the scene watching the lights. It helps if the subject is looking at the lights or has a headlamp on. This really helps people connect with he image.
* Add another dimension by looking for reflections or water such as a river and creeks. Make sure to get a low angle to include the lights and color in reflection.
* Panos can be achieved but there has to be very little movement in the lights.
* Pano Verticals work well so you can get all of the lights and a strong foreground. This is a great way to have one exposure for the foreground and another for the sky.
* Make sure to look for patterns and textures in the foreground. For example, I will look for ripples in the snow that lead towards the lights. If I am photographing a subject in the foreground I will use its shape to be pointing towards the lights.
* Look for shapes in the landscape that mimic the northern lights.

Equipment

* A good camera with a sensor that is higher quality that offers a good dynamic range is always a great start when photographing lights.
* Some of the best cameras for photographing Northern lights are Nikon D850/800 Series and the Sony A7 Series. The Canon 5D Mark IV does a great job as well.
* Having a wide-angle lens with at least f/2.8 is helpful.
* F/4 makes shooting lights very difficult as the shutter speeds needed to achieve the same exposure as a 2.8 is too long
* The biggest challenge when shooting northern lights is the focus:
It’s important to always review your images by zooming in on the stars and landscape subjects and checking for sharpness.

How to Focus In The Dark

* Focus in Live View and enlarge an area that has stars. Move focus ring to make the star a perfect dot.
* Infinity is not really infinity, but optical infinity, so for most lenses the infinity is slightly off the camera’s infinity mark.
* Remember the exact position of focus on the focusing ring to reset your focus in the future.
* You can tape the lens at the point of focus so the focus doesn’t get bumped.

Settings on Camera

Settings for your camera will always be based on the intensity of the lights as well as movement. Generally if the lights are moving quick and strong I try to keep my exposures under 10 seconds. If they are very faint on a moonless night I’ll be closer to 30 seconds. I will describe if you a few different scenes and the settings I use

Moonless Night and Lights Are Low

ISO 2000 – ISO 3200
20-30 Seconds
2.8

Full Moon
If lights are intense good for landscape

ISO 800
10 Seconds
F/4

(If including a separate exposure for foreground)
ISO 1250
30 Seconds
F/9

Strong Northern Lights and Moving Fast

ISO 1600- ISO 2500
8-10 Seconds
F/2.8

Processing in Camera Raw/Lightroom and Photoshop

* Shift the color temperature and tint to the cooler temperatures so more blues and green. It reflects the mood and story you are trying to convey with your images.
* Increase the exposure.
* Use the orange HSL slider to reduce light pollution. You only want green blue and white tones.
* Decrease Saturation a tiny bit.
* Add clarity and contrast for sky and lights with a graduated filter in LR/ACR.
* Decrease highlights in areas that might get blown out’
* Hue/Saturation – decrease vibrancy and saturation In snow and trees.
* Color Balance – Shift towards the blues
* Add a curves adjustment to the northern lights to add more clarity and contrast only in the lights with radial filter
* Bring out the highlights using luminosity masks.
* Try applying some Orton glow and te3xture in the foreground by way of a high-pass filter.

Winter Trees… Without Snow

Monday, February 5th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tips and Tricks To Add Impact To Your Autumn Images – Kevin McNeal

Monday, October 30th, 2017

 

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.


7) Look to photograph solo trees of one color, set against the background of a complementary color.

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.

 


13) Photograph in forests in the early morning when the sun is just coming up. The early warm light sets against the dark setting of the forest create an ethereal feeling to the image.


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.

Thoughts From a Juror

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

This year I was asked to be the juror for a show at a gallery in the Columbia River Gorge and after doing it felt it would be worth sharing some thoughts about it, mostly what went on in my head process and thought wise. Most of my experience to date has been critiquing photos of workshop participants over the years with a little judging through photo organizations in the past. Not to mention the judging we all do of our own work as photographers, sometimes being harder on ourselves than anyone else might be. I know I can fall into this too.

Before jumping into this I do want to make a comment as someone that has entered photography shows or contests a number of times throughout my photography career. Regardless of how well I have done in any photography contest I never take it too seriously and neither should anyone else. I don’t mean it in a way that it’s no big deal at all. I mean in the sense that there are many factors that go into how you may or may not place in a photo contest that those who don’t place in the top shouldn’t get down on their work and those that place well shouldn’t get overconfident in their work either.

To add to this everything I am stating here is of course only my opinion. Someone else judging could have seen things differently and with different results. I chuckle a little at the many back-seat judging comments I see for any well-known competition posted online. It is art after all and is very subjective!

I think what is interesting about this experience that you don’t always get is the ability to do final judging based on actual printed pieces of art. With everything we do digitally today, often who wins is decided based on a digital file instead of a final printed photograph. In this case that certainly played into how I landed where I did for the winners. It’s a whole other element that can make, or break, the outcome in my opinion.

The first round of judging was online. This was to determine who would be in the show. This would not determine top finishers. This is a more straightforward process since a much larger selection of photos can be picked for the actual show itself compared to the small number I would need to select as winners.

Fast forward to the week of the show and I went out to view all of the photographic pieces as they were being set up for the show’s opening. Everyone had the freedom to print their work as they wanted which ranged in size from very small to large, and mediums ranging from metal to more traditional framing. I took my daughter with me and she learned a lot about the process which she appreciated as a budding photographer. She saw it wasn’t something I came in and could easily decide right away. There are a number of great entries.

What got me to even think about this as a blog post was the process of selecting the top entries. I had not expected the process to be as enlightening to me as it was, for a couple reasons.

One reason is how I went about deciding and the process of elimination that ensued. It would not be appropriate for me to take photos of the photographs to display here (which is why you don’t see any) yet there were a number of reasons I took even beautiful photos out of the running. Adding the print element really made a difference as some pieces looked great while others had some deficiencies or other personal conflicts that made it harder to justify bringing them into the winners circle.

From a physical print perspective here is what stood out to me on a number of pieces as to why they were not chosen. My intention of mentioning this is for general education to those that want or need to print for a show in the future.

Bright Spots – One piece had a few small lines that after further inspection appeared to be part of the image. Unfortunately, they were very bright compared to the dark part of the image they were in and looked more like scratches when viewing it. My eye kept coming back to them instead of the beauty the rest of the photo offered.

Photo Edges – There shouldn’t be a very small piece of an object barely showing itself along the corner side of a photo that. When I see this it looks like it’s unintentional having such a small piece. It’s more a distraction to the eye than anything.

Highlights – There are certain scenes where having highlights overexposed or blown out look fine or even can enhance the photo. Yet there was at least a couple where the blown highlights didn’t add to the image in my opinion.

Iconic Spots – I was intentionally looking for shots I felt were a little different from usual or if they were taken from a very popular spot were more unique in nature. Personally, if you are photographing a very popular location the bar goes up for how well composed, processed and printed it is.

Focus/Blur – I am not sure if it was the quality of the lens or focus stacking challenge yet a couple pieces did not look as clean as they should in a couple spots. By the overall composition, it did not seem like it was intentional for the areas to be as soft as they were.

Noise – If you have very dark areas of the image they should be very low to no noise. When a digital file clearly shows noise in the shadows you can be certain it will only be magnified when you print it. Only a textured medium like canvas can conceal some of it.

Chromatic Aberration – I consider myself very open to different and unique art and how others might see the world differently. That said I find when there are noticeable issues like “purple fringing” or other colors that it takes away from the overall scene.

Distractions – I always say as nature photographers we are trying to take a chaotic scene and figure out how to simplify with as little distracting elements in the final piece as possible. Between composing, cropping and editing we work to make it our interpretation of the scene.

 

Here are some reasons why the winners were picked to contrast with those that weren’t.

Simplicity/Clean – Photos were kept pretty clean composition wise as far as minimizing distracting elements.

Unique Point of View – The photos were taken from unique or different vantage points making them stand out from the others.

Different Take on Icon – Although one was a local iconic subject it was a different take on it that I had never seen before.

Print Presentation – Clean and little to no visible issues like noise, digital artifacts, etc.

I want to reiterate the intention of this post is to share my experience. There were plenty of photographs that had only minor “issues” and are great photographs in one way or another. At the end of the day, I needed to narrow it down and this how I went about it.

Lastly, shortly after leaving from judging the photos I thought about the final pieces I picked and to see if there was any theme. I didn’t expect there to be anything. Well, that didn’t prove out to be the case. For the final four photos, they all had elements of water, fog and or snow. I did this 100% in my subconscious not knowing it at the time. It’s very interesting how I gravitated towards these because I am someone that tends to like feeling colder instead of hot. All three elements tend to represent feeling cool or cold. I found this observation very interesting.

The photos in the post are photos I have entered and been a finalist or placed in various contests over the years. I am sure there were similar thought processes going on when my work was being viewed by someone else!



The Photographers High

Monday, July 24th, 2017

There are many reasons each of us choose to pick up a camera and take photos. Today everyone is a photographer with cameras practically attached to our body in one way or another. Give it a few more years and they will be physically attached to all of us. Yet why we do photography and what we feel while doing it ranges significantly. A person might take a small number of photos occasionally snapping on their phone to remember a moment as personal keepsake. Another one is taking tens of thousands of frames a year as professional photographer in some calculated fashion to deliver certain types of photos to clients. Yet another photographer might take a smaller number of high quality photos only when they feel inspired and connected to a scene or moment. The list could go on and of course many of us likely do it for a combination of reasons. You get the idea.


Over the years it’s dawned on me there are scenes and moments I experience that quiet literally put my body in a moment of experiencing a high. The endorphin rush can bring on a sudden state of euphoria. I am not a drug user and have only used prescription pain meds a few times when warranted yet I can imagine there has to be some similarity to the highs one might experience out in nature that are comparable to what we can do ingesting drugs or chemicals in our body. Come to think of it the infrequent high I get when running is similar to what I experience on occasion with photography. After all, there is a reason we have the term natural high. This is certainly one reason why I do photography. The experience in the field before you even get home to process the photo can be exhilarating.


This is certainly not the only reason that keeps me coming back to “shoot up” for another high yet it’s definitely a strong one. Why is it that many of us go through funks or down periods in our artistic pursuits? It’s because we are no longer experiencing that high and we have to find new ways to bring it back. Not much different than building up a tolerance to something and no longer getting the same response in our mind and body. Unlike those addicted to drugs or alcohol that need to be looking for ways to cope without, we as outdoor photographers should be doing the opposite and looking for ways to bring that high back.

Now don’t confuse this topic with needing to be obsessed or constantly engaged with photography to find pure enjoyment and highs. That is definitely not the case. Sometimes it might be fully immersing one’s self while other times it’s stepping back and finding balance. In this post are photos where I have experienced a high of sorts that I can still recall to this day.


If you are off your game and not feeling into it like you used to be, here are some ways to bring it back or keep it going. All of these I have used personally at one time or another.

1) The Gear – Force yourself to use different or less gear. I very recently took a short trip with the primary reason being photography and I left my most used lens at home, my wide angle. You are correct I didn’t even bring it with me just in case!

2) Get Social – If you tend to photograph by yourself most of the time, then try going out with others. Plenty of ways to make this happen in today’s connected world. On the flip side if you always go out with others spend some time going out on your own.

3) New Places – If you tend to go back to the same places all the time it may not be giving you the same level of satisfaction you once felt. Spread your wings and fly somewhere new, or fill the gas tank and head down the highway.

4) Switch Modes – Try different types of photography. If you always photograph nature landscapes then if for nothing else but to provide a different perspective try macro or abstract. Heck, maybe even get out for a stroll city streets for photos.

5) Continuing Education – Take a class, workshop or read a book on photography. These can help provide different ways of thinking and new inspiring ideas. Inspiration often comes from what you are surrounding yourself with. Closing yourself off won’t help.

6) Take Five – Sometimes it’s simply stepping away from the camera for a short period of time to do something different altogether.  Doing this can restore that desire and love for all things photography.

Best of luck that you find the natural high you are looking for with all your photography experiences! If you have additional tips to keep the inspiration and excitement flowing, feel free to share it here.

46 Photography Quotes To Inspire, Provoke Thought or Simply Laugh

Monday, June 5th, 2017

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


“In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.” – Alfred Stiegltiz

“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

 

Photograph Light, not “Things”

Monday, May 29th, 2017

 

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.

A spot-lit deer in Joseph, Oregon. spring. USA. Wild

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 barn in the Palouse region of Washington after harvest time. USA.

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.

Light and shadow on tables and chairs at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. USA

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.

The last of the rim light on a glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Chile.

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.

20 Quick Tips For Photographing Abraham Lake In The Winter

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Images from Preachers Point on Abraham Lake near the town of Nordegg in the Kootney Plains

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-white-bubbles_720

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.

 

Tam McArthur Rim – Backpacking Trip

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).

View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)

IMG_8317-Web
I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)

IMG_8322-Web
All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.

As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)

IMG_8325-Web
Getting There
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.

The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).

IMG_8326-Web
The Hike
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.

Google Maps of Tam McArthur Rim
Staying Hydrated
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!

Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)

TamMcArtherRim-062616_2581

More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)

IMG_8347-Web
When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.

My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)

IMG_8341-4-Web
What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.

The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)

TamMcArtherRim-062616_2575
Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.

Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)

TamMcArtherRim-062616_2636

Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)

TamMcArtherRim-062616_2557

I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)

TamMcArtherRim-062616_2597-copy