Photo Cascadia Blog
July 17th, 2017
“There’s just no such thing as a ‘drive-by shooting’ in landscape photography. In other words, you need to put in the time on the ground.” – Jack Dykinga
A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld wrote a posthumous post about comedian George Carlin and his accomplishments with the line “Carlin already did it.” Seinfeld wrote: “And he didn’t just ‘do’ it. He worked over an idea like a diamond cutter with facets and angles and refractions of light. He made you sorry you ever thought you wanted to be a comedian.” You could take that line and replace comedian with photographer, and it would apply to Jack Dykinga. From his images “Saguaro in Bloom” in Saguaro National Park to “Stone Canyon” in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument– the very much alive Dykinga already did it.
In his new book, A Photographer’s Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer (2017 Rocky Nook, Inc.) Dykinga reflects on his life after a near-death experience and a lung transplant, and shares with us stories of his successes, failures, faults, and thanks. He thanks those photographers who offered help along the way, including Chuck Scott (photo editor at the Chicago Daily News) to landscape photographers Philip Hyde and John Shaw. He also offers thanks to his comrades-in-arms at the various daily papers in his early career, his photography friends and influences such as Patricio Robles Gil, and the writers who were his friends: Chuck Bowden and Edward Abbey.
His photography is certainly an influence on mine, especially the intimate portraits of plants in the desert southwest. So in this book I enjoyed the stories of how he got the shot. Bringing us behind the scenes for images such as “Sisterhood” and “Saguaro in Bloom” is fascinating, and these photos show his dedication to his craft. I own a few books of Dykinga’s photography, but in this one I found his images from Mexico particularly inspiring. I also appreciated viewing the images which earned him the Pulitzer–their impact has not diminished over time.
A Photographer’s Life covers a lifetime of brilliant photographic work, and the images excel. (One note: the book needed a proofreader to catch a few missing words and typos.) For anyone interested in photography I recommend this book, for this is a life of a great photographer with boots on the ground and a life well-lived. Dykinga’s presentation of his life of photography is ultimately a story of his legacy—a difficult achievement in this field. From his Pulitzer Prize in 1971 to NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 his body of work is of the highest caliber, and it is here through the lens that Jack Dykinga did it all.
July 10th, 2017
I can remember falling in love with photography like it was yesterday. There was no other feeling like it. It was like another world had opened up and I discovered a whole new perspective of looking at things. It changed the way I saw everything. As a photographer, you start to see things differently the minute you pick up the camera. Once you become a photographer everything has its own take and vision, for what could be. When I was not out in the field shooting, I was studying every photography book I could find. I was immersed in this world of photography. I would study maps, books, websites, and anything else I could find to help plan my next trip. Photography had become an obsession. Each time I went out, I could see the progress. I began to really start to learn what made an image successful. The obsession grew, along with the learning. As the months passed, I spent more and more time in the field shooting as much as possible. The desire to get the perfect shot became all I could think about. As the months went by, I started becoming so focused on getting the perfect shot I forgot to have fun. I can’t tell you exactly the moment this happened, as it is something that slowly occurred. I would see a particular shot in a magazine, book, or website and I needed to get something better than that. I studied everything there was to know about photography. Trying to improve upon that perfect picture. As the months turned into years and my obsession grew I began to have less and less fun and it became too serious. I can look back now at some family trips which turned into photography trips that should have opened my eyes to how obsessed I had become.
On one particular trip to Hawaii with my family where we were spending the day on a gorgeous Hawaiian beach, just enjoying time together swimming and relaxing. The perfect family day. Until, right before sunset. I shifted gears and became extremely tense with capturing the sunset that was about to occur. I couldn’t miss it!! I began frantically looking for the right filters, dropping everything, and getting flustered because I could not find that perfect foreground. About that time, my wife turned to me, and asked “are we ever going to enjoy a sunset without the camera?” I look back at that moment as being a huge turning point for me. I realized, I had become too serious about getting the shot and forgetting what was most important, enjoy the moment and the people I’m with. I share this story for those just starting out in photography or find themselves in the same situation.
With the realization I had lost my way, I needed to refocus and find out what it was in the beginning that attracted me to the love of photography. For many reasons I was losing the most important purpose of photography, to have fun. Today I can look back and say without a doubt some of my best work came from the times that I spent taking in the surroundings and just enjoying the moment. I realized, like a marriage everything comes with compromise. I needed to find ways to share my love for photography with other things that are just as important. I needed to focus on the experience and the enjoyment of photography. I needed to find a way to include my family in what I loved so much. I needed to take every opportunity to find ways to share my experience and include my wife. This meant sometimes I had to not bring the camera or stop shooting and sit the camera down and just take in the moment. I have to admit; I still find this challenging but I work at it every day.
As many photographers can relate, I had to stop worrying about conditions, timing, and other factors that are out of my control. I realized what ever happened was meant to be. All I could do was just enjoy the moment and do the best with what I was given. Not having clouds didn’t mean the day was ruined. It just meant I needed to re-analyze things and look for something else to shoot. Tunnel vision in the early stages of my photography was a problem. Everything had to be on a grand scale with great clouds, colorful sunsets, and beautiful foregrounds. I had to hit a home run every time. Every experience was based on how successful the image ended up being. Fortunately, I can look back at this now as a chance to learn from my mistakes.
There are times I find myself in a rut when it comes to social media. The amount of incredible work that is on these platforms is overwhelming. I feel it is not good enough to have a great shot anymore. Everything has to have a rainbow, amazing clouds, and a unicorn riding across the sky. I often have to remind myself that it’s okay to have an image that I LIKE, that brings back fond memories or feelings of excitement when I look at it but not necessarily something that everybody else thinks is amazing.
One of the most important factors in capturing a moment is finding a story to tell about each image you have. I take time to ask myself “why am taking this picture? what is it I truly want to capture within this scene?” I believe each scene has a story and it is up to the individual photographer to define that story and convey that in their image. Part of the process, is enjoying the moment. For example, I find myself often alone at sunrise or sunset with nothing but the sounds of nature surrounding me. I try to take in all of the sounds and really take in the opportunity I have been given. I ask myself “how does this make me feel and how is this scene unique?” I then try to compose the image to tell the story of how I am feeling at that moment. It is critical to have a connection to the scene that you are photographing. It has to move you in some way or another. Thus, it might be a beautiful scene, but if you cannot find what it is that connects you to that particular moment it will be evident in the final image.
Today, I go out into the field with a new zest and enjoyment for what I love so much. The things I remember now about each place are the experiences, the people and the memories captured. It is not dependent upon the image and its success. I continue to grow as a photographer, as I learn from my mistakes. I approach each journey, with a fresh perspective to the experience rather than the results. Below are some of the images that are from my most memorable experiences out in the field. These are examples of when I was completely just enjoying the moment.
July 3rd, 2017
If you don’t know it yet, I really like visiting Grand Teton National Park. It is somewhat close to where I live, a 9 hr drive, and I have been lucky enough to be able to make it out there every year since I started out with my photography. We usually stay in the National Forest in our little [email protected] travel trailer. For the first couple of days we had some nice eventful spring like weather, but a few days into the trip snow was in the forecast. It ended up snowing about an inch where we were camping and I was able to shoot the image above just as the broke for a brief period that evening.
The above image is an iPhone shot of our campsite during the snow storm. If you look closely you can see little David with his hat on peaking out the window.
Even with my now 3 year old son, I have also made it out into the backcountry on almost every trip. This year we headed down there a little bit earlier than usual because of a busy late summer, so backpacking opportunities were somewhat limited. I packed my little 9 foot Zodiac inflatable boat with an 8HP outboard motor with the hopes of doing some boat camping, and that is just what we did. The boat is just barely big enough for the 3 of us with all of our camping and camera gear so we set out to Elk Island from Colter Bay for the night.
When we rounded the corner into the bay with our campsite, we were very happy to be greeted by a lush meadow of peak lupine. Our tent was nestled in the middle and we had an excellent view of the lake. I was able to do a little fishing and catch both a sunset and sunrise the next morning.
The very next day, we returned to Colter Bay, packed up the boat, and headed to the Leigh Lake trailhead for some backpacking. This is a very easy 5 mile round trip hike and one of our favorite hikes in the park. The campsites are beautiful and right on the lake. We huddled in the tent for a very powerful afternoon thunderstorm and then did a little swimming before dinner and bed. The next morning I looked out the tent before sunrise and saw fog and glassy reflections so needless to say, I was very inspired to get out of bed and shoot! The sunrise was beautiful and the nice conditions lasted for about an hour. The above image was shot just as the light started hitting the peaks and the heavy fog cleared.
I always need to fit a swim in pretty much wherever I am. This is me taking a quick dip just before hiking back.
Here is our little backpacker, who only hiked a total of .5 miles down the trail before begging to be carried back by mom (I had all of our gear in my pack so not an option for me :0
June 21st, 2017
In 2011 I saw a beautiful time lapse video by Terje Sørgjerd. The entire video is of sunset and twilight scenery in the Arctic islands of Norway. Some of the time lapse segments span five or six hours of time and the light continues throughout. It immediately captured my attention and inspired my imagination.
The Lofoten archipelago has become a popular photography destination since the system of tunnels and bridges traversing the 100 miles of islands was finished in 2009. In the winter it is one of the top destinations for photographing the aurora. In the summer, when the sun never sets, you can hike to mountain lakes and scale peaks too numerous to count. But it was the light that Terje found in the spring, a couple weeks before the midnight sun begins, that really intrigued me. In his video, gorgeous glowing twilight stretches on for five or six hours a time. Photographing for hours in my favorite light surrounded by dramatic and surreal sea-to-summit landscapes seemed like a dream. Six years after seeing Terje’s video I finally was able to make the trip myself.
After researching and talking with other photographers who had been there, I knew that the photography locations would be spread out across many islands and hundreds of miles windy roads, bridges and tunnels. Here in the western US my trusty Toyota truck and pop-up camper are essential pieces of photography equipment, enabling me to camp close to photography locations and be ready to shoot when the light is good and sleep when it isn’t. I became convinced that this type of “sleep where you shoot” approach would work well in Norway too, so I proceeded to look for rental RV’s above the Arctic Circle and plot my course on Google Maps.
My friend, Paul Imperia, is a guy who isn’t afraid of a little adventure. When I emailed him with some details about the trip his reply only had two words, “I’m in!” So, in late April we flew to the north of Norway and spent a couple weeks road-tripping in our rented Viking RV. We christened it the Gokstad after the famous historic Viking ship. The weather was suitably cold, windy and wet for the Arctic in May and the light did not disappoint. The lighting would begin getting good around 9:00 PM and the sun would set about 11:00 PM. Then gorgeous twilight would continue through the night until about 3:30 or 4:00 AM when the sun would rise. By 6:00 AM we would call it a day. We would usually take a “lunch” break about midnight when the light was lowest. Paul is an excellent cook so these breaks would really be gourmet food events prepared in the Gokstad with plenty of wine and perhaps a bit of Scotch. Living nocturnal lives meant that we rarely saw people in the villages or cars on the road. It was like being in one of those sci-fi movies where you are the last people on Earth. The upside is that we never got off of West Coast time, so no jet lag going or coming.
What follows are some images and stories from the trip. I hope you enjoy. I’ll include some info and links on the trip logistics at the end of the article. If you are interested in visiting this region of Norway and have questions for me, please leave them in the comments below.
I took this on our first day on the road. We flew into Tromso and picked up the RV, and then waited 24 hours for lost luggage to show up. Mine did, Paul’s didn’t. So we decided to drive all night to get to the Lofoten islands and hope that Paul’s duffle would show up at a local airport in the area eventually. We pulled over at 3:30 in the morning, just before sunrise, for our first photo session. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but it was cold. This ice was a cool phenomenon we saw along many of the fjords. I’m not sure exactly how it occurs, but I think a thin layer of ice forms on the brackish water at high tide. Then, as the tide goes out this thin layer covers the shore like a delicate ice blanket. It was so fragile but great for texture and reflections.
Canon 5D4, 17mm, polarizer. 0.6 seconds, f/14, ISO 100.
This was one of our favorite locations of the trip and we returned here two or three times. The images I took on each visit have completely different characteristics. I enjoy being able to return to a spot and experience it in different light and weather. For me, it is a good reminder that landscape photography isn’t just about the landscape itself, but also the atmosphere, light, mood and experience you encounter while in the landscape. This is one shot, but I did some perspective work on it. My camera was pointed slightly down so the mountains were leaning outward. I copied the upper 1/3 onto a new layer and transformed it so the mountains and reflections would be vertical as they should be…but without losing the wide angle perspective of the foreground.
Canon 5D4, 24mm, polarizer. 6 seconds, f/16, ISO 100.
“70 Degrees North”
This is a second photo from the same location. The Lofoten Islands is a chain of rock teeth that rise from the ocean and stretch more than a hundred miles out into the Norwegian Sea. It was a rare and strange experience to photograph tidepools and jagged granite peaks in such close proximity to each other. This is what the light looked like at 11:00 at night, right before the sun actually set.
Single exposure, Canon 5D4, 16-35mm, polarizer, 0.5 seconds, F/18, ISO 100.
“In The Night”
Three images stitched to create the panorama. Canon 5D4, 70mm, f/11, 10 seconds.
There are some recurring elements in most of the photos I made in Norway: ocean-scapes with mountainous backdrops, moody weather and twilight. But those are the precise elements I went there to see…so mission accomplished from that perspective, I guess. We would stay out until our fingers went numb, then we would duck into Gokstad the Viking RV to warm up. It’s hard to see at screen size, but there is a small village across the fjord dwarfed beneath the mountains.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm. Perspective and wave motion blend of three different frames. f/11 and 35mm background, f/22 and 20mm foreground.
A small tree reflecting in a small pond on a small island in a fjord next to the big island of Flakstadøya in Norway. Dreamy light courtesy of all-night arctic twilight. According to Ron Jansen, who lives in Norway, “‘Bu’, or ‘bo’, can mean a little hut or cabin. ‘Øya’ means ‘the island’. Stor means large. So most likely, Stor Buøya refers to a time before the road and bridges were there and this island (the larger of two very small ones) had one or a few little cabins on it.
Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 26mm, polarizer. 3.2 seconds, f/14, ISO 100. Side note: almost all of the images I took on this trip in the 24-35mm range were taken with my16-35mm instead of the 24-70mm I would normally use. On the second day of the trip, I slipped on some slimy rocks and my beloved 24-70 f/2.8 MKII took the full hit, sacrificing it but saving the camera. I spent the rest of the trip getting by with the 16-35 and the 70-200. I’m waiting to hear from Canon if the 24-70 can be resurrected from the dead.
Endless night is what it felt like we were living after two weeks of photographing through the nights and sleeping during the days in Norway. Paul and I happened on this beach on the Island of Vestvågøy. The maze of fjords, bays and headlands on the islands mean that scenes like this can be found around any corner or through any tunnel. We would look at Google maps to find a particularly jagged shoreline and then see if there was a road that would take us there. Often a long tunnel under a mountain would open onto a remote and windswept landscape like this one. This beach had some cool eroded cauldrons with iridescent algae growing in them. They were fun to work with as foreground elements. Meanwhile, thundershowers moved in from the Norwegian sea, alternately pounding us with wind and hail and exposing small openings in the clouds that would let the late-night light through.
Canon 5D4, 16mm. 8 Seconds, f/18, ISO 100. It has been awesome using the 5D4. The dynamic range capability allows me to capture many scenes like this in a single exposure instead of needing to bracket and blend exposures. I know…Nikon and Sony users have been doing this for years. It’s awesome to now have that as a Canon user.
“The Norwegian Sea”
More deep twilight from Norway, but some warmer tones this time. Throughout our all-night photo shoots small breaks in the clouds would let soft twilight filter across the landscape and keep us transfixed. Once the sun set there would be several hours of light like this before the sun would rise again, around 3 AM. So finding the light was just a matter of being patient for an opening in the clouds to come.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm at 24mm. Polarizer. 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 100. Developing included tonal balancing for sky and land, split toning and luminosity/color painting.
“North Of The Wall”
It was about 2:00 AM when I took this. I was alone on the island of Senja, north of the Lofoten chain. Paul had left for warmer conditions (in Cuba) a couple days earlier, but I stayed to continue getting schooled in what spring in the Arctic is about. I knew Norway would be colder and stormier than Oregon in May, but the marine air, wind and below-freezing temperatures made it feel like we were “north of the wall”. Paul and I made frequent GoT jokes throughout the trip. When it began snowing at sea level I didn’t worry too much and celebrated the opportunity to photograph snow on the ocean shore. But it kept snowing and began accumulating on the road. The only way through the mountains on Senja is to go under them…one tunnel after another. But when it snows too much the tunnels can be closed by avalanches. The fact that Gokstad the Viking RV didn’t come equipped with chains also gave me some anxiety. I hung out on this fjord for a full day in the snow, but with my flight less than 24 hours away I decided I had to make a run for it. A couple hours of white knuckle driving later I managed to navigate through all the tunnels and arrived at the ferry dock on the other side of the island.
Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 16mm, 30 seconds, f/20, ISO 100. Single exposure worked in Lightroom and then finished in Photoshop. I did quite a bit of contrast and localized luminosity work until I felt I had communicated the mood.
“Lunch Break In The Gokstad”
The mid-night sun begins around May 24. The period between the end of April and late May is when the long Arctic twilight happens. The light quality is similar again in late July and August, but then the weather isn’t so dramatic and the snow has melted off the peaks.
We flew to Tromso and picked up the RV there. We rented from Motorhome.no but there are other rental companies in Tromso. It was a 10 or 12-hour drive from Tromso to the very end of the Lofoten Islands. There are airports in the Lofoten chain, but I’m not sure of the availability of RV rentals.
Norway has a general public right, called Freedom To Roam, which means that you can hike and camp just about anywhere as long as you take care of the land. It also means that you can park an RV in just about any pullout along the road. This enabled us to find places to cook and sleep within a few yards of where we wanted to photograph.
Restaurants are expensive and almost non-existent way out in the islands. We stocked up on groceries in larger towns and cooked almost every meal in the RV.
The temperatures ranged from the low 20s to the low 40s, Fahrenheit, but the wind and damp ocean air made it feel much colder. I wore several insulating layers including down, a Gore-tex shell, hat and gloves. I decided to pack a pair of Boggs neoprene waterproof boots and they proved critical for keeping my feet warm and dry.
Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
June 5th, 2017
Whether it’s serious or downright hilarious we all can appreciate quotes that inspire us in some way or at the very least cause for pause and thought. Some of these have been accumulated over time in my note taking and others were discovered when thinking about this blog post. They were chosen because they reflect how I view photography or nature, inspire me personally, portray the past, present, future of photography or merely provide a good laugh. After all “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine” – Lord Byron.
I am sure a few you have heard before yet I am also sure there are some you haven’t. From some of the biggest names in photography to others not as well known or not professional photographers at all, to simply nature related inspiration for your next landscape adventure. Spend a few minutes below to get your thoughts flowing. These are intentionally in no particular order. Feel free to comment below with your favorite photography or nature related quote.
“In a world and a life that moves so fast, photography just makes the sound go out and it makes you stop and take a pause. Photography calms me.” – Drew Barrymore
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” – Ernst Haas
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” – George Eastman
“With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The whole nature of photography has changed with the advent of a camera in everybody’s hand.” – Sally Mann
“I find it some of the hardest photography and the most challenging photography I’ve ever done. It’s a real challenge to work with the natural features and the natural light.” – Galen Rowell
“Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.” – Nancy Pelosi
“I don’t have a favorite photo. As a photographer, I have attachments to each image. Not the one photo: the experience of getting the photos is the challenge or the thing.” – Michael Muller
“It is a peculiar part of the good photographer’s adventure to know where luck is most likely to lie in the stream, to hook it, and to bring it in without unfair play and without too much subduing it.” – James Agee
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” – Aaron Siskind
“Photographers deal with a lot of crop.” – Unknown
“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.” – Ernst Haas
“Photographers are violent people. First they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall.” – Unknown
“The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.” – Robert Mapplethorpe
“The grass is always greener when you crank up the saturation in Photoshop.” – Unknown
“If we limit our vision to the real world, we will forever be fighting on the minus side of things, working only too make our photographs equal to what we see out there, but no better.” – Galen Rowell
“Cheap photography isn’t good, my dear, and good photography isn’t cheap.” – Unkown
“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping at what’s in front of you.” – Frans Lanting
“How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? 50. One to change the bulb and 49 to say, ‘I could have done that!” – Unknown
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – Ansel Adams
“The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it?” – Edward Weston
“People say photographs don’t lie, mind do.” – David LaChapelle
“You must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment a photographer is creative. The moment! Once you miss it. It is gone, forever.” – Henri- Cartier-Bresson
“Every photograph is the photographer’s opinion about something. It’s how they feel about something: what they think is horrible, tragic, funny.” – Mary Ellen Mark
“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice.” – Minor White
“You might be a photographer if you won’t even share a cell phone picture without editing it.” – Unkown
“Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget.” – Robin Williams
“It was only after a while, after photographing mines and clear-cutting of forests in Maine, that I realized I was looking at the components of photography itself. Photography uses paper made from trees, water, metals, and chemistry. In a way, I was looking at all these things that feed into photography.” – David Maisel
“Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.” – Piercy W Harris
“For me, pointing and clicking my phone is absolutely fine. People say that isn’t the art of photography but I don’t agree.” – Annie Lennox
“Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. And if things don’t work out, just take another shot.” – Unknown
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” – Edward Abbey
“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau
“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.” – Abraham Lincoln
“A camera didn’t make a great picture anymore than a typewriter wrote a great novel.” – Peter Adams
“Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” – Ken Rockwell
“Warning: I am about to snap!”- Unknown
“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.” – Edward Steichen
“When you are a photographer, you work all the time, because your eye is the first camera.” – Patrick Demarchelier
May 29th, 2017
When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.
In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.
I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.
A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.
I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.
Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.
May 22nd, 2017
Mt St Helens just had its 37th anniversary this week since its eruption on May 18, 1980. There are several different places to photograph wildflowers on Mount St Helens, which offer completely different views of the mountain, and wildflowers. Depending on time and area, wildflowers generally start to bloom in early July and make their way to different parts of the park throughout the month. Access to the different locations of Mount St Helens for wildflowers can be cumbersome and difficult at times. Make sure to bring a map and research routes to get to your destination. To find out more information about when the flowers are blooming I often call the visitor center at the Johnston Ridge Observatory to get up to date reports of the wildflower status. Depending on which direction you come from will determine which highway you take to get to the flower destination. What is unique about Mount St Helens is that each side offers a different perspective of the landscape. As mentioned, flowers bloom at different times depending on the elevation and which side of the mountain. In this article, I have listed some of my favorite areas and hiking trails to visit on Mt St Helens for wildflowers. I have also included at the end of the article some tips I have found helpful when photographing at Mt St Helens.
Johnston Ridge Observatory Viewpoint
If you are looking to find the best flowers with the best view of the mountain, Johnston Ridge Observatory area will be your best bet. There are many trails and viewpoints from this area with the mountain and flowers together. In this particular area, the best flowers with the mountain are right in front of the visitor center. The collections of wildflowers that can be found are Indian paintbrush, penstemon, and lupine just to name a few. Make sure to explore around the area for at least a couple hours to find the best composition. I encourage people to hike the trails to find unique compositions. Because this spot is photographed often, I really try to get creative with my compositions.
Another great spot for finding huge layouts of flowers together is a pull out just before you reach the Johnson Ridge Observatory. What I like about this location is that you will find far fewer people, with a variety of different trails leading from the parking lot. With a multitude of different looks to the mountain with combinations of flowers.
The first trail I recommend for wildflowers and views of the mountain is the Norway Pass trail. It can be found on the eastern side of the mountain. Not only do you get wildflowers at the top of this hike but you can also look straight down at Spirit Lake. Throughout the hike, the scenery is stunning all around. What makes this trail unique is the juxtaposition between the old and new when you reach the top. You will see evidence of the devastation in terms of the landscape and the regrowth in the flowers together. Another unique fact about the Norway pass trail is the bear grass that grows up on the top, which complements the background view of Spirit Lake and Mount Saint Helens. My tip for this trail is to stay after the sunset and capture the reflection of the twilight colors in the lake, which provides a soothing mood and unforgettable experience.
The Windy Ridge trail will give you a completely different look of Mount St Helens. It is the closest you can get to the crater in terms of distance. The landscape is much different here than anywhere else on the mountain. I find it more barren. The combination of finding a set of wildflowers and the barren landscape together with the view of the mountain really tell a story. When I visit this area, my only goal is to find a solitary set of wildflowers surrounded by the stark landscape. From the Windy Ridge area, you have total access to the iconic surrounding mountains such as Mount Adams and Mount Rainier. Make sure to explore and take the different trails. To access the Windy Ridge you need to take the National Forest Road 99.
Lahar Valley Viewpoint
One of the most underrated viewpoints of Mount Saint Helens is the Lahar Viewpoint. The Lahar Viewpoint offers views from the Southside of the volcano. The area often has the most wildflowers of anywhere on the mountain as the valley is carpeted with penstemon, lupine, and other wildflowers. When photographing in this area, I will use elements of the landscape to use in my composition. I often look for logs that are placed on the ground that point towards the mountain. When this is immersed with flowers it makes for a very impactful photo. Hiking around the Lahar Valley, you will often find solitude. Of the many times I visited, I have been alone. I have walked several miles from the main trailhead, all with great views in the spring of the flowers and the mountain.
Coldwater Lake Loop
One of the areas I like to visit in the late afternoon if I have some time to relax is around the Coldwater Lake area. It’s not necessarily a great place for flowers but it’s a great place to walk around and get some exercise. If you get lucky you can capture the lake when it’s calm for the perfect reflection of the mountain.
Tips For Photographing The Wildflowers At Mt St Helens
There are many elements of the landscape that make Mt St Helens unique. Items such as fallen logs, crevices, and deep valleys are part of the landscape that really helps tell a story about the mountain and its history. Try to include these elements, to enhance the image and give a sense of place.
The variety of wildflowers and colors are amazing. A number of different colors is one of the first things that you will notice if you visit in July, besides the mountain. When photographing this amazing display of wildflowers it’s important to compose the image so the colors are balanced throughout. To be more specific, try to balance the warmer and cooler tones together so that not one side becomes heavier than the other in terms of color. I also try to get an even display of different flowers without one kind being too overwhelming. Because the colors have so much impact it’s important to be very mindful of how you compose these flowers in your image. It’s also important that the flowers lead into the mountain to create depth in your image as well as create a connection between the front of the image to the back of it. You will find at Mount St. Helens it will often be very windy, making it important to have a tripod. Make sure that you use a higher ISO and shutter speed to capture the detail in the flowers without movement. I will often photograph a series of different exposures at different ISO and shutter speeds. Making sure that I have an ample amount of images with wildflowers where there is detail and no movement.
One of my favorite things to do at Mount St. Helens’ is to photograph the wildflowers at night with the Milky Way. The combination of photographing the Milky Way and wildflowers together has become very popular in the last few years. It is certainly a challenge to photograph both the wildflowers at night and the Milky Way but the reward can be fantastic.
These are just a few of the areas and trails that make Mt St Helens a fantastic place to see and photograph wildflowers. Take the time this summer to really explore this mountain. You will not regret it!
May 15th, 2017
As you probably know, I’ve been shooting the Palouse region of Washington and Idaho for many years. I’m so fortunate to live in nearby Spokane; I spend countless days of the year driving the winding backroads and exploring the hidden sides of the Palouse, shooting and teaching workshops. Over the years one thing I’ve loved to photograph is the old, weathered barns throughout the region. These classic structures seem to capture a collective memory of the American countryside; to tap into a romantic nostalgia. However, once every few years or so, a barn disappears. Of course, some of these century-old structures are simply going to collapse on their own. Others, however, look to me to be quite structurally sound. Although I can’t say for certain what would make a farmer or land owner tear down a barn, one thing may be partially responsible: salvaged barn wood is trendy.
A recent NPR report discusses the trend of using reclaimed or salvaged barn wood in construction–ceiling beams, walls, dining room tables, or brewpub bars–and how it’s helping barn owners make money and how it’s changing the rural landscape. An old, rickety barn may be nothing to a farmer, but by selling it to a barn-wood reclaiming company, could clear the land and make a good amount of money. The reclaiming company then cleans the wood, removes the nails, and sells it for a pretty penny to home builders and designers.
I love the idea of “upcycling” and reusing old, unwanted materials in cool new ways. I totally support ideas that keep materials out of landfills and save natural resources. And of course I support farmers being able to make money from something they don’t need or use anymore. But as a photographer, I mourn the loss of these beautiful old barns. Some of these structures are truly historic, dating back a hundred years or more. Photographs of old barns inspire the viewer to daydream about history: of the barn, of the farmers, our own family histories. The architecture of the structures often have regional uniqueness: old barns in Wyoming look different from old barns in Oregon, for example. I worry that this reclaimed barn-wood trend may take away from us something that can’t be replaced.
None of the barns in the previous images exist anymore. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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
April 27th, 2017
Anyone who develops an intense passion for landscape photography is likely to ponder its potential as a career choice. These thoughts may pass quickly for people who have ample time and money to satisfy their photography cravings. Others will feel a nagging desire to make an expensive, time-consuming hobby pay for itself and will at least dabble in options for producing some side income from it. For a smaller percentage of enthusiasts, however, photographing nature develops into something much deeper than a part-time interest; it becomes a calling, a lifestyle, and a basis for self-identity. A person in the latter situation is likely to give some serious consideration to the idea of making landscape photography their full-time profession. If the siren song of life as a landscape photographer is luring you into deeper waters, then the following realities of the profession may help you to decide whether or not to heed the call.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock-n-Roll
As often as people jokingly refer to prominent landscape photographers as “rock stars”, the reality is rather sobering. Most professional landscape photographers are self-employed, and like proprietors of any other small businesses, we tend to devote most of our time to our work. Having a strong work ethic and a high tolerance for austerity are crucial to building and sustaining a business, especially in the early years.
Of course it helps that some of this work is a labor of love, but much of it is quite mundane. Depending on the business model that you follow, tedious paperwork may be necessary for insurance purposes, for permits, for exhibition space, for all sorts of contracts, or for certifications, just to name a few of the more common necessities. In the United States, having to establish your business as an LLC or S-Corp means an extra level of complication at tax time each year, and the annual bookkeeping is no party either. Besides the demands of business compliance, a whole plethora of routine tasks requires attention on a regular basis. Email correspondence is particularly never-ending. I have heard more than a few professional landscape photographers refer to themselves as “professional emailers” because keeping up with email and various types of electronic messages is such an ongoing commitment. Similarly, the maintenance of social media accounts can be a career in itself, and website development and maintenance is another area of activity that can easily consume many precious hours.
And what happens after you do get to enjoy some quality time in the field? The actual photography also creates more work down the line. Developing, cataloguing, backing up files, and keywording all have the potential to draw you into a black hole of busy work. Being out in the field regularly also means using your camera gear more often, and heavy professional use tends to necessitate frequent maintenance of that gear and of the peripheral equipment and vehicles associated with outdoor activities.
Indeed, the life of a professional landscape photographer is not nearly as glamorous as the most obvious features of the occupation might suggest. A large array of responsibilities are involved that can cause the profession to feel a lot like a traditional desk job at times. Nonetheless, the actual photography is enjoyable enough to make it all worthwhile for the right kind of person. It is an incredible feeling to stand behind a tripod in a majestic location and to have the thought occur that “This is my job!”
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Travel is another facet of the career that many aspiring professionals may underestimate and misunderstand. A rare subset of full-time landscape photographers are able to restrict their activities to local areas, but most spend a significant amount of time traveling far and wide. My own travels take me away from home for about 300 days each year, an amount that is probably well above average but that is not highly unusual. Contrary to common assumptions, this travel is not entirely dedicated to creating new photographs for my portfolio. I travel to teach, to give talks, to meet with partners, sponsors, or other business owners, and to attend conferences and expos, among other purposes. Purely personal travel aimed at pursuing my art is something that I crave as much now as I did before I went full-time with my photography. If you think that a career in landscape photography will give you more opportunities to travel freely, then you could be right, but those opportunities may still be fewer than what you would like. I know many amateurs and part-time professionals who are able to devote more time to personal travel than is the case for most full-time landscape photographers.
Regardless of why a photographer might end up traveling, a lot of time away from home complicates many aspects of daily life, especially those involving communication. These complications include being without phone or data signals, dealing with time zone differences, and not receiving mail or packages easily. It can be very difficult to reply to messages, to return calls, or to keep in touch with friends and family. If you are not able to travel with the people who are closest to you, then you may have to accept that communication with them is likely to be very limited.
Of course frequent travel does have its benefits. Life on the move tends to be exciting, especially for anyone who enjoys a frequent change of scenery and is invigorated by cultural variety and by meeting interesting people. If you ‘travel well’ and can tolerate a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience, then life on the move can be a wonderful existence. Even if it is often exhausting, a life full of travel is a life full of living.
Anyone who takes a keen interest in nature photography probably enjoys being outdoors, but working professionally can require an especially intense level of outdoor activity. For example, on a recent run of five workshops in the desert, I spent 28 nights sleeping in a tent over a six-week period, and the quality of sleep was often quite poor due to extreme temperatures and high winds. While teaching workshops in the mountains I do a lot of hiking and backpacking, so much that I have permanent marks on my hips from the waist belts on my backpacks. My knees have seen happier days, and one of my ankles frequently reminds me of the time that I broke it when I fell into a snowy terrain trap. Frequent exposure to the sun and to the elements means dealing with a whole variety of skin issues, from dry skin to sunspots and the related risk of skin cancer. Alas, spending a large amount of time outdoors does come with some consequences, any one of which could be particularly serious for a person with relevant health issues.
On the other hand, a life lived outdoors also brings some substantial health benefits. It is a great feeling to be very physically fit due to continual outdoor activity, and breathing fresh air on a regular basis is an additional boon to overall good health. Even frequent exposure to sunlight has its advantages, causing positive psychological effects that can improve a person’s mental health quite noticeably.
Shooting Wide Open
If you are the type of person who prefers to maintain a low profile, then a career as a landscape photographer will present some special challenges. As an artist in any medium, your name is inextricably linked to your business, meaning that anonymity will tend to hinder your success. The more willing you are to ‘put yourself out there’, the easier it will be for you to sustain yourself with your art. This openness may mean agreeing to do interviews, to do some public speaking, to network with industry professionals, to cooperate with brands, to make appearances at gallery openings and art shows, to write a blog, to correspond with fans, or to be engaged on social media. If you can embrace the idea of being open to the photography world and its appreciators, then life as a professional will be easier for you.
Balancing creative interests with the need to survive is the classic dilemma of the professional artist. No matter how you bring in your photography income, you will always reach a point where you know that some amount of creative compromise could have the potential to improve your financial results. Even if you maintain the highest level of integrity in privileging your own creative interests, you may still feel uneasy about it, especially if other people depend upon your income to some extent. Moreover, you will sometimes encounter the not uncommon notion that professional artists are ‘in it for the money’ or are otherwise ignoble, an idea rooted in antiquity, when the art forms with the highest status were those that required the least amount of labor. Having the ability to tune out such distractions is essential to staying focused on your art and to enjoying a career as a landscape photographer.
While there will always be exceptions that prove the rule, in general, a hardworking landscape photographer can expect to make a middle-class income. Many aspiring professionals wonder how to achieve even that level of sustenance, and the best advice that I can offer is to evaluate the full range of options for putting a strong photography portfolio to work for you. The classic idea of photos as commodities that can sell as prints or as licensed images is only one possibility. A compelling body of work can also attract other photographers who would like to learn from you, so photography education can be a good option for anyone who has the inclination and aptitude for teaching the techniques, craft, history, and ideas that can help other photographers to advance their art. Other options include writing books, writing for magazines, creating videos, monetizing social media accounts, or accepting support from sponsors. If you can create a special body of work, then you can probably find a way to make it bring in a reasonable annual income, provided that you are willing to put in the effort and to make the necessary sacrifices that might affect your lifestyle.
Despite the many drawbacks that I’ve mentioned above, I awake each morning excited to get out of bed (or out of my sleeping bag) and get to work. A lot of what is required can be onerous at times, but it nonetheless results in a special feeling of satisfaction that my efforts are all supporting my art and my greatest ambitions. Just as rewarding is the great pleasure that comes from teaching and sharing my passion with people who are so happy to indulge in it themselves. It is truly wonderful to see the light that seems to switch on inside of a person when they learn something new, when inspiration sets a fire within them, and when saying goodbye, they offer a hand or a hug and their eyes sparkle with sincere gratitude or camaraderie. It is a great privilege to meet so many interesting and inspiring people each year and to feel as though we are jointly contributing in some way to one of humankind’s greatest collaborative projects, the ongoing exchange of ideas that is art.
Of course most of these rewards can come without any amount of professional activity, but a life dedicated to their realization is likely to bring them more often and at higher levels. If you feel fueled by such motivations and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices, then life as a professional landscape photographer may be the right path for you.
Which features of the profession do you see as the most challenging or rewarding? Do you have any questions about professional landscape photography that I haven’t addressed in this article? Please feel free to comment below!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.