Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Zack Schnepf’ Category
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
Light and texture are two of my favorite elements in landscape photography. Some of my personal favorite images are studies in light and texture. Many of the photos that I choose to print and hang in my own home are these types of images. They never get old to me and are always interesting to view and appreciate. In this article I’ll go over a few of my favorite images that showcase interesting light texture.
Mud tile textures are fascinating to me. Here on the playa in the Alvord Desert, I was fortunate to visit during a particularly wet spring. The desert had been flooded and was drying out creating a truly wonderful mud tile texture. The light of sunrise really helped the texture come alive. The combination of backlight and the interesting textures in the mud and grass are what make this photograph successful to me.
Slot canyons are a study in light and texture. They are also a lot of fun to photograph. Antelope canyon and other slot canyons are a wonderful place to focus on light and texture. The first slot canyon photo was captured back in 2008 before Antelope Canyon was quite so popular. I had the freedom to take my time and I only saw a few other people the entire time I was there. The second slot canyon image was captured in Zebra Slot Canyon. This was a tough canyon to access, there was about four feet of standing water in the canyon leading to this spot. It was challenging to make my way to this point, but what a spectacular canyon! The combination of the warm sunlight and cool light coming from the open sky creates a wonderful color contrast. The incredible texture and form of the canyon really come alive with the contrasting color of light.
The Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree National Park is a fascinating place. On my recent trip with David Cobb, and Sean Bagshaw I was finally able to visit this incredible location. I’ve seen images from this location, but it’s one those places that was very different in person. It ended up being even more rewarding than I imagined as well. It’s hard to convey how incredible it is to watch the spines of the cactus light up as the back light of dawn illuminates them. It’s the texture of the spines and the way they glow in the backlight that makes this one of my all time favorite images already, even though it was only captured less than a month ago.
This photo of Mt Hood is an interesting one. I think it’s a really strong composition, but it’s the soft light and texture in the snow, foreground trees, middle ground trees and sky that really send it to the top of my favorites list.
This last photo is all about light and texture for me. The first light glancing across the sage, willows and other foliage is so pleasing. It is especially nice in print. This is one of my all time favorite images to print. When I look at it, I love to drink in all the detail in the various layers of texture.
These kinds of scenes, studies in light and texture are something I’m appreciating more and more. I always have my eye out for interesting textures that might come alive in interesting light.
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
My favorite way to experience photography is through print. It’s hard to describe the tremendous satisfaction I get when viewing my own prints, or prints from a photographer I admire. I’ve always enjoyed printing myself. I learned to print in the darkroom in my college photography classes and when I moved to digital I taught myself how to make my own prints at home. As my photography progressed people started to ask if they could buy prints of my images. Eventually, I started doing art festivals and gallery shows to share my work and make more print sales. Whether you plan to print yourself, or have prints made by a dedicated print shop it’s essential that you understand a few basic concepts about color management and preparing images for print.
We live in an increasingly screen based culture. The majority of photography I see is on some sort of screen. A lot of photographers I meet who are starting photography exist almost exclusively in the digital universe. Eventually though, you, or someone you know might want a print made of your photos. Photographic printing can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying to see your own images in print, and you will be a better photographer if you understand the fundamentals of color management and print preparation. In this article, I’ll share five essential tips for getting you and your images ready to print.
- CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR:
It’s hard to stress how important this is. There is no point spending hours processing your photos for print if you haven’t calibrated your monitor. It’s the foundation of color management, and brings everyone into a common color standard. I remember when I got started in photography many years ago, I read on some forums about the importance of calibrating my monitor. At the time I was more concerned with acquiring more lenses and gear and didn’t see why it was a big deal. When I started printing I learned a hard and expensive lesson. The first prints I made were a huge disappointment. They didn’t look like what I saw on my monitor at all, the colors were off and it came out really dark. With a little more friendly advise I finally invested in a decent calibrations package. Once I calibrated my monitor I realized two important things. One, it’s really helpful when everyone is using the same color standards and profiles, otherwise what may look red on my screen could look orange, or purple on another. Two, I had my monitor set way too bright. Reflected light from a print will never look as bright as transmitted light from a screen. Lowering screen brightness much better reflects how an image will print. Here is a link to the colormunki screen calibrator I use now. Very easy to use and profiles really accurately. All of their products work really well, but I like the customization options with the colormunki display model: http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-display
- UNDERSTAND BASIC COLOR MANAGEMENT:
Whether you are printing yourself, sending your files to a dedicated print shop, or preparing an image for a publisher, you will get much better results if you understand the basics of color management. There are two basic concepts to understand when managing color on your computer. The first is using the correct color space when exporting from Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw and the right color setting in Photoshop. I always use the Pro Photo RGB color space as it has the widest color gamut, I prefer to start my editing with as many colors as possible especially if I will be printing the image. The second concept is using the right printing profile. If you’re having someone else print for you, it’s still important to understand printer profiles. You can use a printer profile to soft proof your image and get a preview of how it will look when printed with the specific printer and paper they use. Printer profiles are scripts used by the printer to adhere to color standards, they help the printer produce an image that looks as close to what you see on your screen as possible. I’ll talk more about soft proofing in the next section.
- SOFT PROOFING AND HARD PROOFING:
Soft proofing is using software such as Lightroom, or Photoshop to preview a printer profile. Soft proofing attempts to simulate what the image will look like when printed on a specific print paper with a specific printer. I think soft proofing is useful to get you in the right ballpark, but I don’t trust soft proofing completely. It is still pretty unreliable when trying preview exactly what a print will look like. I use soft proofing to get me close and then I order a test print which is called a hard proof. Once the test print is made, or arrives from a print shop, I can evaluate it and make any adjustments that I think it needs. This method is what I rely on when making prints for customers, art shows and galleries. The videos below help explain soft proofing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Great video on soft proofing in Lightroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9B8ABOb9U
Another video about basic soft proofing in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y47uoKE_dAs
- SHARPEN APPROPRIATELY FOR EACH PRINT MEDIUM AND SIZE.
Each print medium I use requires different levels of sharpening to look it’s best. For instance, noise from over sharpening shows up easier on metal prints. Both acrylic and traditional inkjet prints are more forgiving and hide minor noise and digital artifacts better. Canvas is the most forgiving. Print size is also something to consider. What does this mean in practical terms for my workflow? I’ve adopted a simple and flexible approach to sharpening. I do normal output sharpening in Lightroom or ACR to correct for softness introduced by camera, lens, and the RAW format. The amount varies for each image. I continue with my workflow in photoshop to produce a master file with all layers and adjustments preserved if possible. If I’m going to make a print, I save a flattened copy of the master file and sharpen it specifically for that print size and medium. Sometimes it doesn’t need additional sharpening, but if it does it’s usually the last adjustment I make before sending it to print. As a general guideline, I sharpen more for smaller prints, and less for larger prints. The is counter intuitive for many people, but I’ve found that smaller prints need more because they lose sharpness when they are scaled down, and large prints tend to show any unwanted effects that might arise from over sharpening. This is my personal preference and there are other factors to consider including the view distance.
- ADJUST LUMINANCE FOR SPECIFIC PRINT MEDIUMS.
Each print medium has it’s own perceptual brightness and ambient reflectivity. Like I described in the sharpening section, I save a flattened copy of my master file for each specific size and print medium I print on. Aluminum prints and lumachrome acrylic prints have high ambient reflectivity and perceptual brightness, therefore they require very little, if any brightness adjustment. Traditional inkjet prints and canvas require a lot more brightness adjustments if you want to replicate the look you see on your screen.
I’ve been printing a long time, and I’ve learned several important lessons from printing over the years. I’ve noticed that my processing workflow has evolved to accommodate printing. I now tend to process with printing in mind first, and make specific changes to the file later when posting to the web. I also have evolved to process in the most editable and non destructive way to preserve the image quality. I think printing has made me a better photographer and has helped me improve my image quality.
Old video blog about basic printing from Photoshop: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/intro-to-photoshop-printing-video/#.WIT_MrGZMUE
Recommended printing companies: These are the two print companies that I use. I’ve tried a lot print shops, and these guys both produce incredible, quality prints. I get my Aluminum prints from: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com and acrylic prints from http://www.nevadaartprinters.com
by Zack Schnepf
I think the histogram is one of the most important and useful tools in all of photography. It’s a tool I rely on throughout my entire workflow, but I notice it’s a concept that many students have a hard time fully understanding. It can be confusing at first, but once you understand your histogram, you can master your exposures. In this article I’ll share how I use the histogram and why I find it so usefulI. I’ll discuss how I use it the field and in post production.
What is a histogram, how do you read it, and what information does it gives you? Basically, a histogram is a graphical representation of the tonality of an image. It shows what tones and colors exist in an image and the concentration of these tones. Here is the basic anatomy of a histogram. This histogram is from the image below of First Snow on Gothic Peak. The left edge of the graph represents pure black, any tones beyond the left edge have no detail in them. Conversely, the right edge represents pure white, any tones beyond the right edge have no highlight detail, they are just pure white. The middle of the graph represents the mid tones of the image. So, left to right is the luminosity scale, or how bright or dark the tones are. In this histogram you can see overlapping graphs of the three color channels RGB(red, green, blue) The height of the graphs indicates the concentration of tones of color and luminosity tones. For instance, in the histogram you can see I have a spike in the blue channel toward the left side, that tells me I have a lot of dark blue tones in this image. There is also a spike in the red channel right in the middle which tells me I have a large concentration of red midtones which you can see in the red foliage of the image. The Height of the peaks is not important for judging exposure, so don’t worry how high the peaks are. One of the most important things I look for in the field and in post processing is information that might be getting lost in either the shadows, or highlights. In this histogram you can see that all of the information is being contained. I can tell, because none of the color channel graphs are bumping into either edge. I’ll elaborate on this further in the sections below.
In the field, I rely on my histogram as a guide to give me an accurate assessment of each exposure I capture. One of the biggest mistakes I see when teaching photo workshops is a student judging an exposure using the LCD on their camera. I’ve been burned by this too many times to count. I’ll be shooting in a low ambient light situation, take a quick look at the image on the LCD and think it looks great, but when I get home and view it on my computer I realize it’s way underexposed. The low ambient light makes the image on the LCD seem really bright. The only way to truly judge an exposure in the field is to check the histogram. Below are 2 bracketed exposures of the same scene. One exposed to capture the tones in the bright sky and the other exposed to capture the tones in the foreground area. In the field, the darker exposure looked good on the LCD, you could even see detail in the foreground grasses, but one look at the histogram told me those foreground tones were way too dark. You can see on the histogram for the darker exposure, the highlight detail is being captured well, there is no information being lost in the highlight, but there is a large spike next to the left edge of the histogram. This indicates a high concentration of dark tones that contain very little detail. I wanted to take another exposure to capture detail in the shadows.
This lighter exposure has plenty of detail in the shadows. You can see in the histogram, the detail that was being lost in the shadows is being captured well. There is now plenty of detail in the foreground grasses and stream. On the other hand, the highlight tones are blowing out. You can see there is a huge spike on the right edge of the histogram and it goes right up to the edge and beyond. Anything beyond the edge has no detail in it. This is what is known as a high dynamic range scene. You could try to compromise and get an exposure in between and use Lightroom and Photoshop to recover the tones that are being lost, or you can bracket exposures and try to combine multiple exposures that contain a lot more information. Either way, the histogram is the tool that will tell you if you have captured the information you need, or not.
In post production the histogram helps me determine which tonality adjustments to make. Below is an image captured while teaching a workshop in the Palouse this spring. You can see on the histogram, most of the color and luminance tones are concentrated in the middle and left side of the image. This indicates that it is a low contrast, dark exposure. This is important information to determine what post processing this image needs. I would like to add contrast, but also brighten the image.
This is after one contrast adjustment. I was able to increase contrast, brighten the image, and control some highlights that were getting too bright. You can see the tones in the histogram are more spread out, but the highlights and shadows have plenty of detail information in them. From here I can decide if want to add more contrast. I can also lighten, or darken the overall exposure. Either way, the histogram will help guide me to the finished image.
You can learn more about Zack and his instructional videos on his website
by Zack Schnepf
I’ve been doing art festivals and gallery shows for 8 years now. In that time I’ve noticed several changing trends in regards to what type of prints customers prefer. I’ve seen a huge shift away from traditional framed prints and canvas and toward newer technology like aluminum and acrylic prints. I think there are several reasons for this shift. In this article I’ll talk about my observations while selling prints and share my opinion on why people are buying more metal and acrylic and what advantages they offer over traditional print mediums.
A little history. When I started doing art festivals eight years ago there were only two mediums most photographers were printing on. Tradition printing papers like glossy and matte inkjet paper, and canvas prints. About five years ago, I started to see a few photographers printing on aluminum, acrylic and a few other non-traditional mediums. I really liked the look of these new mediums, but they were more expensive and in the case of the acrylic prints, really heavy. At that time I was in the middle of a failed experiment trying out canvas printing. Canvas prints failed for me because I specialize in highly detailed grand landscape scenes and the detail gets lost in the texture. Certain images still sold well on canvas, but they were primarily low detail abstracts and painterly looking scenes that lent themselves to the medium.
After my failed canvas experiment I wanted to try some prints on Aluminum. Aluminum prints have a lot of advantages over traditional print mediums. They are much more durable, water proof, scratch resistant, light weight, very archival, don’t need to be framed, very three dimensional, and very bright. They also have less reflection issues compared to framed prints with standard glass. They do have a few disadvantages as well. They are not as detailed as traditional inkjet prints and have a much more limited color gamut. The limited color gamut is my biggest issue with metal prints. It can be very challenging to get certain colors to render correctly. Because of this, I have test prints made before I order a full size aluminum print. Once I get a test print, I make adjustments to the print file and order a another test print until I get the results I’m looking for. In my experience, green is the hardest color to render correctly.
5 years ago, when I tried aluminum prints for the first time, they were a big hit. Very few other photographers were printing on metal so my images really stood out at shows. They also look very impressive in person due to their 3 dimensionality, brightness and punchy colors. Pretty soon, all of the images I displayed were printed on aluminum and I’ve enjoyed good success at shows ever since.
Photo: iPhone photo of my 2016 both setup displaying aluminum and acrylic prints.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with acrylic prints and they are my current favorite. They represent the best of both worlds and the best overall quality in my opinion. Like aluminum prints, they are bright and have a beautiful three dimensional glossy look, but they also retain the detail and color gamut of traditional inkjet prints. They do have a few draw backs compared to metal prints. They are heavier, and they scratch easier. Scratching is the only real issue i have with the acrylic prints. You need to be careful when moving, or cleaning acrylic prints.
Photo: iPhone photo, acrylic print made by Nevada Art Printers
Conclusion and recommendations. We have more options that ever for printing our photographs. Different types of images work well on different print mediums. For the grand landscapes I’m focusing on, metal and acrylic are my current favorite print mediums. If I were choosing a print to hang on my own wall I would probably choose an acrylic print, unless it was an area that wasn’t lit very well. In that case I would choose an aluminum print for it’s brightness and reflectivity. For most customers I recommend aluminum first. The durability, brightness, visual impact, and ease of maintenance are hard to beat. The exception is certain images don’t print well on aluminum. There are about 20% of my images that I can’t get to print very well on aluminum. In these cases I recommend acrylic instead.
Where do I have my prints made? I still produce my own traditional prints, but I use specialty printers for both acrylic and aluminum. For aluminum prints I use: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com. Randy at HD Aluminum Prints does a fantastic job and profiles better than any other aluminum printer I’ve used. I have my acrylic prints made at: http://www.nevadaartprinters.com. They produce incredible quality acrylic prints!
by Zack Schnepf
The most common request I get is to see my photos before and after post processing. This is part three of my before and after series. Good processing is more important than ever. The vast majority of professional photographers capture their images with a digital camera. This has allowed photographers to take control over the entire process, from capture, processing and sharing images. For the type photography I do, artistic landscape; processing plays a vital role. This is where I can create a mood to better convey my own experience. There is a lot I can do in the field to do this as well, but good processing technique allows me to steer the final image toward my own vision of the scene. In this article I’ll share 3 examples from my trip to the Canadian Rockies with my Photo Cascadia buddies.
Let me preface by saying I am not a documentary photographer, I’m an artistic photographer. This is an important distinction. I’m stating this in the interest of avoiding the pointless philosophical debate on how much post processing is acceptable. If you would like take part in that argument, I refer you to an excellent article written by David Kingham: http://www.exploringexposure.com/blog/2016/3/19/in-defense-of-post-processing
A few notes on the RAW files used. I use a very bland camera profile in Lightroom which gives me the widest dynamic range possible for blending multiple exposures. As a result, my RAW images look quite bland, low contrast and lack pop. This is intentional, it leaves me with the most information possible to work with in Photoshop.
I produced a video detailing the techniques used in the following examples. In the video I guide you through my most current multiple exposure workflow, illustrating how I use the powerful tools in Lightroom, and Photoshop along with the TKAction Panel V4. The level of control you can have with these tools is pretty incredible. To learn more you can visit my site: http://www.zschnepf.com/Other/Videos2
This first example has an extreme dynamic range to overcome and some serious distortion near the edges. The distortion could not be corrected with the automated functions in Lightroom, or Photoshop. I blended the exposures first and then tackled the distortion correction.
This next example also has a huge dynamic range to overcome. So much so, I chose it as my example image in my latest instructional tutorial video, Tonality Control 2.0.
Another interesting example from the Lake O’Hara Wilderness.
by Zack Schnepf
In case you may have missed my other announcements. I recently completed my latest post processing instructional video Tonality Control 2.0. In the video I guide you through my most current multiple exposure workflow. I demonstrate how I use the powerful tools in Lightroom, and Photoshop along with the TKAction Panel V4. The level of control you can have with these tools is pretty incredible. These techniques are quite advanced, but yield incredible results that are not possible with HDR software. In the video I’ll show you how I take the 3 raw exposures below from pre-visualization to fully realized master file.
Here are the techniques covered in Tonality Control 2.0: Raw preparation in Lightroom, multiple exposure blending, advanced masking, luminosity selections, refined selections, advanced selection building, color range selections, tonality adjustment layers, color adjustment layers, color cloning, sharpening for print, web preparation and more.
Included material: 25 chapters, covering 4 hours of instruction. I’ve also included the raw files used for the project image you see above. This way you can follow along with the same files I’m using in the video. These files are for practice only, they may not be reproduced or sold in any form. You can download the table contents here: Table of Contents
The TKActions V4 Panel is a custom panel developed by Tony Kuyper that works in Photoshop CS6 and CC 2014/2015. This video relies on it heavily, it is not required, but highly recommended. The TKActions V4 Panel displays like other panels in Photoshop and makes it easy to play many different actions with the click of a button. While originally developed to simplify working with luminosity masks, it’s continued to expand with additional features and functions. This video does not come with the panel, but again, I highly recommend it. It is an integral part of my workflow now. You can learn more and purchase the panel on Tony’s site here: http://www.goodlight.us/writing/actionspanelv4/panelv4.html
Recommended: This video is not intended for Photoshop beginners. You will need to be familiar with the basic tools in Photoshop as well as masks, adjustment layers and basic selections. All of the processing is done within Photoshop and Lightroom as well as the TKActions V4 Panel within Photoshop. This video is not compatible with Photoshop Elements.
Viewing on tablets and iPads: Using a tablet to watch the videos while you follow along is a great way to use the videos. Unfortunately, Apple makes it difficult to transfer video files onto their mobile devices. I made a short tutorial video using the VLC app in iTunes to transfer and play my instructional videos on iPad. You can see the tutorial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moUHUeHqqS8
I have 2 videos on youtube to help you get a preview.
Tonality Control 2.0 Intro:
Excerpt from chapter 19:
If you would like to learn more, or purchase the video please visit my site: www.zschnepf.com
by Zack Schnepf
As I’ve mentioned before, composition is the most challenging part of photography for me. It’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of photography. Bringing together different elements into a compelling composition is a wonderful creative process. It can be a very “zen” experience as well. When I photograph on my own, it’s a kind of meditation for me. I’ve never been someone who get’s too preoccupied with following compositional rules, but there are a lot of very useful composition ideas that I try to keep in mind while composing in the field. In this article I’ll discuss some of the different composition models I look for when composing a landscape image. There are a lot of composition models that have been used throughout art history. I’ll be focusing on just a few, otherwise we might be here all day. The following are some examples of my favorite composition archetypes I look for in the field.
Rule of thirds
This is one of the oldest compositional rules and is one of the first compositional rules many of us learn about. The ancient greeks used the rule of thirds in their architecture and it was probably used even before that. The human brain seems to like compositions balanced by thirds. We also naturally look toward the power points where rule of thirds lines intersect. Compositions that utilize this theory tend to feel balanced and are more compelling.
Frame within a frame and natural framing
I love finding elements that naturally frame a scene. Using elements that also tell a story about that particular place are even more compelling. This first example is a composition I found my very first year photographing. I didn’t capture the light I was hoping for so I came back years later and captured the same scene with better light. I love the way the tree frames the scene and helps tell the story of Crater Lake. This next example is Teardrop Arch in Utah. A beautiful scene framed in this tear drop shaped arch in Monument Valley
S and C curves
S curves and C curves help viewers travel through an image and add an interesting visual flow. I love incorporating curves in my compositions. In this example the C curve of the petrified sand dunes in white pocket draw your eye in and through the scene creating visual flow. This image also uses a type of symmetry that I’ll talk about later.
Puzzle piece compositions have elements that visually fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. These can make for very interesting compositions if constructed well. In this example, David Cobb deliberately composed this image with the shape off the ice berg mirrored in the reflection above it.
When most people think of symmetry, they think of mirror symmetry, but there are several more types of symmetry I look for when composing as well. This image of death valley is a good example of rotation semmetry, or inversion symmetry. The curve of the dune is mirrored and opposite that of the blue in the sky. This is one of my favorite kinds of symmetry to find while composing. It’s not always possible, but when things line up, this is something I have my eye out for. To learn more about basic types of symmetry you can follow this link: http://mathforum.org/sum95/suzanne/symsusan.html
These are just some of the composition models I look for when composing. There are a lot more and I encourage everyone to try find different composition types when you’re in the field. You can learn about many different styles of composition by simply viewing art. Whether it’s looking through a book of artwork, viewing an exhibit at an art museum, or just looking through images on 500px. Studying the work of artists you admire is a great way to learn about composition and influences how you look at a scene. This is one of the best ways to improve your photography and progress as an artist. I studied art and art history in college and it has had an enormous influence on how I perceive the world and try to capture it. There is so much to learn from the masters of different eras, artistic movements, and styles? It’s a humbling and incredibly enriching experience.
In part four of this series I’ll talk about the elements that I try use to build compositions.
by Zack Schnepf
Having a workflow, both in the field and for post processing is extremely helpful just as having a road map if you get lost is extremely helpful. That’s what a good workflow is for me, a road map. If I’m struggling to find a good composition, I fall back on my workflow to help get back on track and give me ideas. In this article I’ll walk you through the different phases of my personal workflow in the field.
Evaluation and scouting phase: My first tip for composing in the field is to walk the scene first and fully evaluate the options. I like to do this well before the light is at it’s peak so I have enough time to properly take stock of my options. This may sound obvious, but this is something I see workshops participants often overlook. Anytime I visit a new location I leave my camera in my pack and I walk the scene extensively. I do this for several reasons. I want to evaluate the scene and see what elements are attracting me and get a good idea of my compositional options. Once I take stock of the scene I can move on to the next steps in my composition workflow.
Arrangement phase: The second step in my field workflow is to put the elements together. Once you have taken stock of the scene you can start to think about arranging the elements in a visually compelling way. This is easier said than done, but when I follow these steps in the field it’s much easier to come up with composition ideas. Sometimes I’ll focus on the element in the scene that attracted me the most and try to come up with a composition using the other elements as a supporting cast. For example, in this image from Crater Lake there are a lot of compelling elements to choose from: Wizard Island, the lake, the light itself, and the tree are all strong compositional elements. I chose to make the tree the star of the show and let the other elements be supporting elements. I could have gone a different direction and focused more on the lake and the sky and the resulting image would have been very different. I had several composition ideas in mind and I tried more than one, this happened to be the one I liked best. That leads me to my next tip.
Experiment phase: Try more than one composition idea and compare them. During the arrangement phase I try to come up with more than one composition idea. I also like to try them out before the light is at it’s peak. This allows me to evaluate the results on my camera LCD, or my laptop and decide which I want to focus on during peak light. If the locations are close enough together, sometimes I can get a shot from more than one. Once I’ve experimented with my options it’s time to prioritize composition ideas and come up with a plan for peak light.
Planning Phase: Before the light is at it’s peak I like to have a tentative plan in place to mentally prepare for capture phase. I try to pre visualize my capture phase before it happens. This helps me anticipate any issues that might come up during capture phase. This includes anticipating what the weather might do. I also like to have a back plan, or two to help maximize my chance of success. This probably sounds like a lot of work and it is, but sometimes you only get one chance at really good conditions at a location. I like to increase my odds of capturing a good image.
Capture phase: This is it, the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is when we execute our plan and try to realize the pre-visualized ideas. Sometimes, everything goes to plan and I’m able to get exactly what I had pre-visualized in my head. Other times, things don’t line up quite right, or one of my predictions is wrong and I have to change my plans. Even the best laid plans fail, so be prepared to wing it if you have to. Most of the time, one of my plans does work out and I’m able to capture a good image. Having several options has saved me so many times. I can’t count how many times I’ve changed to a backup plan at the last minute based on how everything lined up.
Re-evaluating the scene is extremely important during capture phase. If you see things aren’t lining up well for plan “A”, but plan “B” is looking more promising then you can quickly transition to plan “B”. A perfect example of this happened last fall on my trip to Colorado with Sean Bagshaw. We had scouted the area extensively earlier that day and came up with several contingency plans for capture phase. Plan “A” was to shoot away from the setting sun toward the mountains using some nice looking aspen trees as foreground. The problem was, there was a storm moving in that was blocking the light from getting to our scene. We quickly evaluated the scene and saw that another area we had scouted was shaping up really nicely, so we instantly abandoned plan “A”, jumped in the car and headed to the other location. We arrived just in time to capture one of my favorite images of the whole trip. If we hadn’t scouted so well, or had several back up plans we would have gotten skunked, but because we were so well prepared we were able to capture something really special.
In the next part of this series I’ll discuss different types of compositions I like and look for in the field.
by Zack Schnepf
Recently, on the Photo Cascadia blog; Erin Babnik posted a really excellent article about compositional patterns to look for in nature, I thought it was one of the best articles on the PC blog in a while. Here is a link to her article: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/five-compositional-patterns-worth-finding-in-nature/#.VWzBB2CRl0c
I wanted to continue with the theme of composition. In part one I’ll talk about how I simplify my field technique to allow me to focus on composition in the field. In part two I’ll talk about what I look for in the field to build strong compositions, and the tips and tricks I use to help me build compelling compositions in nature. Composition is the most challenging part of photography for me, it’s also one of the most important aspects of a compelling image. It’s so easy to get distracted in the field and get bogged down in settings. Organizing a nature scene into a compelling composition is always a struggle and takes a tremendous amount of focus and it’s made much harder if you are trying to juggle ten things at once. To help me focus on composition, I try to remove distractions and simplify other aspects of working in the field. There are several tips and tricks I use to help simplify my workflow and allow me to focus more on composition.
Master the technical functions of your camera. This is the first step to being able to truly focus on composition in the field. This goes for your lenses, tripod and other equipment as well. When you can operate your equipment without having to think much, you can start to focus on composition. This takes some commitment and you have to be really consistent, otherwise you forget how some functions work and have to spend time in the field trying to figure it out all over again. This is obviously more for someone who really wants to take their photography to the next level and is willing to put in the time and effort, but once you have mastered the technical side of photography you are free to focus on the artistic side.
Shoot using the manual settings on your camera. This seems counter intuitive for many people and it is until you’ve gotten comfortable shooting manually. For me, when I shoot manual it simplifies my field workflow and gives me much greater control. It also allows me to use the following tricks to keep things simple in the field.
Shoot manual focus and use the focus markings on your lenses. This takes some practice, but once you master this technique it takes aperture out of the equation in a lot situations. On the top of most high end lenses is a set of focus markings that gives you approximate distances for focus. For landscape photography I typically like to have everything in focus, unless I have a specific reason to use selective focus. This actually makes it really easy to generalize focus and take it out of the equation. For instance, my general rule of thumb for a typical scenic landscape shot using a wide angle lens without a close foreground is f/13-f/18. In this situation I can keep things very simple, set my aperture to f/16 and set my focus meter to the inside of the infinity line. If I have a subject that is closer to the camera and I want everything in focus I generally set my aperture to f/22 and set the focus to the general distance of the foreground element using the focus meter on the lens. This is very effective until you have a subject that is 3 feet or closer to you. At this point you will have to abandon this technique and start problem solving, either using multiple focal point blending, or another technique. On my current camera system the Sony A7r, the Sony lenses don’t have this on the top of the lens. Instead there is a digital read out on the LCD that shows up when I try to manually focus a lens. I still use the digital version to help approximate focus distance.
Shoot raw and don’t worry about white balance. This is a really easy one. If you’re shooting in the RAW format you don’t have worry about white balance, save that decision for when you are working in post production. This is just one less thing to have to have to think about in the field.
All of these techniques help remove small distractions in the field, leaving you with less things to mentally juggle. This allows my mind to focus on the artistic side of photography. In part two of this series, I’ll talk about my own artistic techniques I use in the field and how I use them to build compelling images.