Archive for the ‘Photography Tips’ Category

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.

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.

Best Wildflower Hikes And Tips For Photographing Mt St Helens

Monday, May 22nd, 2017
Upper Level Flowers On Mt St Helens

Johnston Ridge Observatory Region and meadows of wildflowers

Mt St Helens just had its 37th anniversary this week since its eruption on May 18, 1980. There are several different places to photograph wildflowers on Mount St Helens, which offer completely different views of the mountain, and wildflowers. Depending on time and area, wildflowers generally start to bloom in early July and make their way to different parts of the park throughout the month. Access to the different locations of Mount St Helens for wildflowers can be cumbersome and difficult at times. Make sure to bring a map and research routes to get to your destination. To find out more information about when the flowers are blooming I often call the visitor center at the Johnston Ridge Observatory to get up to date reports of the wildflower status. Depending on which direction you come from will determine which highway you take to get to the flower destination. What is unique about Mount St Helens is that each side offers a different perspective of the landscape. As mentioned, flowers bloom at different times depending on the elevation and which side of the mountain. In this article, I have listed some of my favorite areas and hiking trails to visit on Mt St Helens for wildflowers. I have also included at the end of the article some tips I have found helpful when photographing at Mt St Helens.

Johnston Ridge Observatory Viewpoint

Wildflowers in the valley below the Johnston Ridge Observatory area

 

Wildflowers and crepuscular rays around the pullout area around the Johnston Ridge Observatory

If you are looking to find the best flowers with the best view of the mountain, Johnston Ridge Observatory area will be your best bet. There are many trails and viewpoints from this area with the mountain and flowers together. In this particular area, the best flowers with the mountain are right in front of the visitor center. The collections of wildflowers that can be found are Indian paintbrush, penstemon, and lupine just to name a few. Make sure to explore around the area for at least a couple hours to find the best composition. I encourage people to hike the trails to find unique compositions. Because this spot is photographed often, I really try to get creative with my compositions.

Another great spot for finding huge layouts of flowers together is a pull out just before you reach the Johnson Ridge Observatory. What I like about this location is that you will find far fewer people, with a variety of different trails leading from the parking lot. With a multitude of different looks to the mountain with combinations of flowers.

Norway Pass

The Mysterious Sprit Lake at sunset from the top of Norway Pass Trail

 

Elements of fallen logs and wildflowers as part of the composition to lead the viewer into the mountain from Norway Pass Trail

The first trail I recommend for wildflowers and views of the mountain is the Norway Pass trail. It can be found on the eastern side of the mountain. Not only do you get wildflowers at the top of this hike but you can also look straight down at Spirit Lake. Throughout the hike, the scenery is stunning all around. What makes this trail unique is the juxtaposition between the old and new when you reach the top. You will see evidence of the devastation in terms of the landscape and the regrowth in the flowers together. Another unique fact about the Norway pass trail is the bear grass that grows up on the top, which complements the background view of Spirit Lake and Mount Saint Helens. My tip for this trail is to stay after the sunset and capture the reflection of the twilight colors in the lake, which provides a soothing mood and unforgettable experience.

Windy Ridge

The Windy Ridge trail will give you a completely different look of Mount St Helens. It is the closest you can get to the crater in terms of distance. The landscape is much different here than anywhere else on the mountain. I find it more barren. The combination of finding a set of wildflowers and the barren landscape together with the view of the mountain really tell a story. When I visit this area, my only goal is to find a solitary set of wildflowers surrounded by the stark landscape. From the Windy Ridge area, you have total access to the iconic surrounding mountains such as Mount Adams and Mount Rainier. Make sure to explore and take the different trails. To access the Windy Ridge you need to take the National Forest Road 99.

Lahar Valley Viewpoint

Lupine Explosion below Mt St Helens from the Lahar Valley Viewpoint

One of the most underrated viewpoints of Mount Saint Helens is the Lahar Viewpoint. The Lahar Viewpoint offers views from the Southside of the volcano. The area often has the most wildflowers of anywhere on the mountain as the valley is carpeted with penstemon, lupine, and other wildflowers. When photographing in this area, I will use elements of the landscape to use in my composition. I often look for logs that are placed on the ground that point towards the mountain. When this is immersed with flowers it makes for a very impactful photo. Hiking around the Lahar Valley, you will often find solitude. Of the many times I visited, I have been alone. I have walked several miles from the main trailhead, all with great views in the spring of the flowers and the mountain.

Coldwater Lake Loop

One of the areas I like to visit in the late afternoon if I have some time to relax is around the Coldwater Lake area. It’s not necessarily a great place for flowers but it’s a great place to walk around and get some exercise. If you get lucky you can capture the lake when it’s calm for the perfect reflection of the mountain.

Tips For Photographing The Wildflowers At Mt St Helens

There are many elements of the landscape that make Mt St Helens unique. Items such as fallen logs, crevices, and deep valleys are part of the landscape that really helps tell a story about the mountain and its history. Try to include these elements, to enhance the image and give a sense of place.

 

Using the elements of broken tree stumps to frame the valley of Mt St Helens and the mist in the valley

The variety of wildflowers and colors are amazing. A number of different colors is one of the first things that you will notice if you visit in July, besides the mountain. When photographing this amazing display of wildflowers it’s important to compose the image so the colors are balanced throughout. To be more specific, try to balance the warmer and cooler tones together so that not one side becomes heavier than the other in terms of color. I also try to get an even display of different flowers without one kind being too overwhelming. Because the colors have so much impact it’s important to be very mindful of how you compose these flowers in your image. It’s also important that the flowers lead into the mountain to create depth in your image as well as create a connection between the front of the image to the back of it. You will find at Mount St. Helens it will often be very windy, making it important to have a tripod. Make sure that you use a higher ISO and shutter speed to capture the detail in the flowers without movement. I will often photograph a series of different exposures at different ISO and shutter speeds. Making sure that I have an ample amount of images with wildflowers where there is detail and no movement.

ISO And Shutter Speed Fast Enough to Freeze the wildflowers and avoid the wind movement

One of my favorite things to do at Mount St. Helens’ is to photograph the wildflowers at night with the Milky Way. The combination of photographing the Milky Way and wildflowers together has become very popular in the last few years. It is certainly a challenge to photograph both the wildflowers at night and the Milky Way but the reward can be fantastic.

These are just a few of the areas and trails that make Mt St Helens a fantastic place to see and photograph wildflowers. Take the time this summer to really explore this mountain. You will not regret it!

Panorama view of Mt St Helens on the way up to Johnston Ridge Observatory

 

 

5 Tips For Photographing Twilight

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

by Zack Schnepf

Twilight has always been one of my favorite times to photograph.  The quality of light that exists after the sun goes down in the evening, or before the sun comes up in the morning is wonderful.    The light is soft, colors are saturated, and exposures are generally easier.  It can also give images a moody, or ethereal feel.  For many locations, the light of twilight can be the best light of the day.  In this article I’ll share some of my favorite twilight images as well as 5 tips for photographing twilight.

1.  Arrive extra early in the morning and hang around well after the sun sets.  Twilight can start earlier than you might think.  For this image of the fresh snow near Mount Hood, I was winter camping just a few hundred yards away from this spot.  I was awake and hiking to this spot 2 hours before sunrise and this light was happening almost as soon as I arrived.  The light illuminated the scene earlier than I was used to, because I was shooting directly into the rising sun and there was a blanket of snow covering everything.  The snow was so reflective the whole scene was glowing from the early light of dawn twilight.

2.  Make sure you have a headlamp, or flashlight with you.  I have been caught in situations where I thought I had a headlamp with me only to discover that I accidentally left it behind.  I was left to find my way back in the dark several times.  Luckily these days we all have smart phones that can be used as a flashlight in a pinch, but I still always carry at least one primary headlamp, flashlight and extra batteries.  It’s easy to get lost in fading twilight, a good flashlight and some pre-planning will help you keep your bearings and find your way home.

3.  Use a solid tripod setup.  Once the sun goes down, the light from the sun bounces off the the gasses and particles in the atmosphere.  This is part of the reason why the light is so interesting during twilight.  The sky acts like a giant soft box, the light is even, diffused and saturated, but it’s not very bright and requires long exposures.  You need a good tripod setup to help stabilize your camera to accommodate the longer exposure times. I use a heavy duty, carbon fiber Gitzo tripod and a Really Right Stuff bullhead.  This is a very solid and stable setup in low light.

4.  Bring warm clothes even it’s a warm day.  It’s so easy when you’re out on a warm summer evening to think you’ll be warm enough past sunset.  Especially in the mountains, and on the coast it can cool down very quickly after the sun goes down.  Even in the middle of summer I always carry a jacket, warm hat and gloves in my camera bag.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so relieved to have those warm clothes with me.  It’s better to have them and not need them, than the reverse.  When I was capturing the image below in White Sands park in New Mexico, I set out in beautiful weather 75 degrees and light winds.  Once the sun went down the wind picked up and the temperature dropped quickly.  I was so glad to have my warm clothes with me for my hike back to the car.

5.  Use the histogram to help determine exposure.  When the ambient light is low, the LCD on the back of your camera appears really bright.  An exposure that looks perfect on your LCD could be several stops underexposed.  The LCD is not a good way to evaluate your exposure, especially in low light.  Use the histogram to evaluate your exposure.  Here is a link to an article about the virtues of using the histogram to evaluate exposure:  http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/the-histogram-one-of-the-most-useful-tools-in-photography/#.WRI9u1KZMUE

You can learn more about me and find my video tutorials covering the post processing techniques used to create these images on my website: http://www.zschnepf.com