Archive for the ‘Photography Tips’ Category

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!



Transitions

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

 

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.

Breaking Dawn

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.

Keyhole Arch

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.

Gothic Peak

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.

How To Get Great Online Prints

Friday, September 8th, 2017

The master digital image file and the final print.

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.

B&W web banner 2

Feeling Blue: 10 Tips for Shooting on Blue-Sky Days

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

For a good part of my life I’ve had a comic posted on my wall of a guy sitting in a chair with the caption, “Dare to be boring.” Sometimes I embrace that in my photography when trying to get creative with abstracts in a mundane landscape, or when embracing the blue skies above. Maybe it’s all the smoke from fires lingering overhead, but these days I’m feeling blue and I would like to see a little of it in the sky too.

I like great light as much as the next person, but in these “Red or Dead” times of landscape photography, when some are shooting for another click on social media, then the redder the sky the better. But when I dare to be boring, it’s time to embrace the blue. Not only does blue sky photography sell pretty well to clients, it can also look good. What follows are the times I’m more apt to embrace the blue sky around me with a polarizer attached, and my white balance set to 5200 Kelvin.

1) When there is water involved.
If there is water in the scene, then blue skies generally look appealing to the eye, since the water reflects blue like the sky and it might pick up the reflections of the land pretty well too. The images below show a photo I took in 2008 from the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and a garden I photographed for my upcoming book. I like them both, and the garden I photographed in southern California is on the cover of my new book.

Glacier Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon. summer. USA

Garden view of a household in Malibu, California. USA

2) When there are puffy clouds or dramatic skies.
Skies can make or break a landscape photo, and even during those blue sky hours they matter. I love those puffy convective clouds in the Palouse region of Washington, but any dramatic blue-sky clouds will do.

Two barns in the Palouse of Washington with a big sky above in the spring. Tekoa, Washington. USA

3) When there is a complementary color on land, such as yellow flowers, gold fields, or red rocks.
Need I say more?

Fall larch reflecting in a pond in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Enchantments section. Washington. USA

Golden wheat fields of summer in the Palouse agricultural region of Washington. USA

Canola grows in a field fronting the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana, USA.

4) When there are harmonious colors on land that blend well into the sky.
These colors work well together, so why not?

Lavenderfields below the town of Siamiane la Rotonde, France.

5) Sometimes the blue light is just better.
At Canada’s Peyto Lake the early light is often not good. When all that beautiful turquoise water is below it’s best to show up at 10am after a few clouds have formed, and take advantage of blue on blue.

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

6) At the “blue hour.”
Well, duh. The light evens everything out during the blue hour in the morning and at night.

The Church of Assumption on Lake Bled in Slovenia during the blue hour. Fall.

7) When I’m in canyon country.
This is a great time to head for a slot canyon or stay in the shade to photograph bounce light.

Cracked mud, desert varnish, and canyon windows make for an interesting portion of a canyon in Utah. USA

8) When I’m in Yellowstone National Park.
This park—and other geologically active areas—have minerals and pools which show up better when there is blue sky and the sun is high.

The Terraces of Devils Thumb in the Mammoth Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. USA

9) When I’m shooting black and white.
I’m no Ansel Adams, but he did well on blue sky days and so can you. This is also a good time to pull out the infrared camera.

An old homestead in the Palouse wheat growing area of Washington. spring. USA

10) When I’m in a desert or in tropical climates.
If I’m on a tropical island or down in the Baja desert, then blue looks cool. Plus, I wanted to throw in this picture of Sean Bagshaw with his dorky straw hat.

Sean Bagshaw kayaking the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico.

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