Archive for the ‘Zack Schnepf’ Category

10 ESSENTIAL ITEMS I ALWAYS HAVE IN MY CAMERA BAG

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

 

I’m a huge fan of outdoor adventure! I love exploring wild places, being immersed in nature and photographing rare moments of natural beauty! I’ve had some amazing experiences and also had some close calls. I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. It pays to come prepared, you never know what’s going to happen on an adventure. Whether it’s a photo excursion, back country snowboarding, mountain biking, backpacking, or day hiking there are 10 essential items I always carry with me. These are all items I’ve used to get myself, or other people out of countless sticky situations.

1. First aid kit. I know this seems pretty obvious, but I’m always surprised how many people I meet without a basic first aid kit in their bag. I’ve used my first aid kit countless times, several times on myself, but also on friends and stranger in need of help. I’ve patched up fellow mountain bikers after a crash, photo workshop participants who have had various bumps and scrapes, strangers I’ve run into on the trails and my own kids on several occasions. A first aid kit is something you hope you won’t need, but when you do, boy are you glad it’s in your bag.

2. Warm hat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 90 degree day in the middle of summer, I will always carry a warm hat in my bag. This is one lesson I’ve learned the hard way too many times. I’m usually photographing before sunrise and after the sun sets. The temperature can drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down. In particular, when photographing in the mountains weather can turn on a dime. It’s really easy to get caught un-prepared.  A warm hat really helps keep me warm when the temperature drops unexpectedly.

3. Gloves. I always carry a thin pair of gloves with me. It’s amazing what a difference even a thin pair can make. I found my thin gloves at REI, they allow full control of my camera and do a great job keeping my hands warm .

4. Light weight jacket. I always have a light weight, water-resistant jacket in my bag regardless of the forecast. I’ve been caught in some pretty nasty summer storms. I remember getting caught in a heavy thunderstorm here in the high desert of Oregon. It was a gorgeous summer day, I headed to the Cascade Lakes hoping for some interesting cloud formations as the thunderstorms started firing up. One minute, the weather was beautiful, warm air, calm winds and puffy clouds. A few minutes later the wind picked up, the clouds thickened and it was hailing. The temperature dropped considerably. I took shelter under some trees and quickly pulled out my jacket, gloves and hat from my camera bag. I was still pretty cold, but much more comfortable and in no danger of becoming hypothermic. I waited out the storm and was rewarded with some beautiful storm light. There have been countless times I’ve been thankful I had an extra jacket in my bag. It’s an essential part of my kit and I never leave home without it.

Storm Light at Sparks Lake after a hail storm

5. Emergency energy bars. It’s always nice to have some extra calories in my bag. Great for emergencies, or if I change plans and want to stay out longer. I generally carry around 4 extra energy bars in my bag just in case…

6. Extra water. I usually carry more water than I think I’ll need. It’s come in handy on many occasions. Your body needs water before it needs food. I’ve run out of water on several occasions, it’s a terrible feeling knowing you’re out of water when you’re thirsty. In fact, if I know I’m about to run out of water, I’ll save the last sip for psychological reasons. I very rarely run out of water anymore, I usually bring more than I need. I’m a big fan of camera bags that have a sleeve for water bladders, these generally allow me to take as much water as I need for an outing. On longer adventures and backpacking trips, I generally have a water strategy and backup plan if that strategy fails. For instance, I usually bring a water purifying pump and a water sterilizing pen for backup. This strategy has served me well over many years and on many adventures.

7. Multi tool. A multi tool is one of the most versatile and useful non-photographic tools in my bag. I’ve used my multi tool to repair my tripod, pull cactus needles out of my boots, fix parts on my mountain bike, fix bindings on my snowboard, cut branches to setup a temporary shelter and countless other things. I particularly like tools with plyers built in. It’s definitely an essential tool that I always want in my bag on every adventure.

8. Duct tape is another incredibly useful and versatile tool. I love knowing it’s always in my bag. It’s helped me get out of many sticky situations. One memorable occasion was in 2006 while snow camping near Mount Hood. The snow was so light and fluffy, my tripod was sinking deep into the snow making impossible to get the angle I was hoping for. I had trekking poles with snow baskets with me, I quickly removed the baskets from the poles and duct taped them to my tripod legs. For the third leg, I used a filter case to create a platform to float on the snow. This temporary solution allowed me to get the perspective I was after.  Image shown below.

9. Extra cleaning cloth. I always carry an extra micro fiber cleaning cloth or two in my bag. I use these all the time. If conditions are wet, often times my main cloth becomes saturated and no longer functions. It’s nice to have a backup or two. I’ve also used these for countless other things as well. It’s great for drying and cleaning my camera, lenses, sun glasses, or anything else that might it.

10. Space blanket. This is part of my first aid emergency kit, but I thought it deserved its’ own spot. This little sheet of reflective plastic has helped me get out of several dangerous situations, helping me to stay dry and warm. While solo camping on the Oregon Coast I used a space blanket to make a little tent out of my tripod legs to keep my gear safe and dry in torrential rain. On another trip to Mt Rainier I got soaked while hiking in a rain storm. My clothes were so wet they were no longer insulating me and instead were leaching the heat from my body. When I got back to the car I took my wet clothes off and wrapped myself in a space blanket till my car warmed up.

Honorable mentions: An emergency satellite contact device like a SPOT locator can be a life saver in an emergency. I do have one, but I only take it when I’m in a very remote place on my own and will be out out of cellular service. I also carry physical maps with me quite a bit, but there are so many good GPS and map apps on my phone that don’t bring them most of the time. If I’m going somewhere unfamiliar and remote I do try to have a map for backup still.

All of this fits easily with the rest of my camera gear in my very compact F-stop Kenti bag.  Those are my 10+ essential items I like to have in my bag at all times.  Let me know what essential items are in your camera, or adventure bag.

Author:  Zack Schnepf

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.

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

LIGHT AND TEXTURE

Monday, March 20th, 2017

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

5 ESSENTIAL TIPS WHEN PREPARING IMAGES FOR PRINT

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

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.

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Surrounded by my prints at the Sunriver Art Festival 2016

    1. 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
    2. 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.

      Export settings in Lightroom Preferences

    3. 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
    4. 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.
    5. 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

The Histogram – One of the Most Useful Tools in Photography

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

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.

HIstogram-Gothic3 _DSC4752-12x18

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.

Example4

 

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.

Example3

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.

Example1

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.

Example2

You can learn more about Zack and his instructional videos on his website

Current Trends in Photo Print Mediums

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

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.

Art Festival Booth 2016

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

Acrylic Print

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!

Before and After Post Processing Part 3

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

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.

 

Tonality Control 2.0 Instructional Video

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

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.

3 original raw exposures

3 original raw exposures

Final Image

Finished 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

IN THE FIELD COMPOSITION WORKFLOW (PART 3 – COMPOSITION MODELS)

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

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.

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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

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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.

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Puzzle Piece 

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.

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Symmetry

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

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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.