Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘digital photography’
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.
Using a Telephoto Lens to Compress Garden Scenes
Since gardens are beginning to blossom again after a long winter, I’m returning to the garden setting for this tip.
A telephoto lens is essential in garden photography for picking out pieces of a distant landscape or for macro work, and I often use one in conjunction with extension tubes or close-up filters. For landscape photography I use a zoom to pick out the garden details or to create a layering effect. On foggy days, I often look for how trees stack up with one another and how they lose detail as they recede into the mist; the layering on these days works exceptionally well.
When I spotted this field of poppies growing in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had of seeing such a multitude of flowers in one place. To do this, I chose a telephoto lens and crouched down a bit lower to overlap all the poppies. By using a zoom and compressing the scene, I was able to capture the feeling I had of seeing so many poppies in one place.
For this image of wallflowers in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I used a telephoto lens to compress the scene for the multitude of flowers and also to keep the size of the tree large on the distant ridge. If I had used a wider-angle lens, the distant tree would only be a small pimple on the ridge face. A telephoto lens creates more drama in the scene.
While I was visiting Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada I used my Canon 70-200mm telephoto lens to help frame the wonderfully lit tree with the yellow blossoms of the surrounding shrubs. The compression also created a layering effect for this image and compositionally a frame-within-a-frame which creates depth.
If you like this garden photography tip, I offer 99 more in my e-book “100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.”
Look for my next garden book Visionary Landscapes due out this September on Tuttle Publishing.
American Dreamscapes – Book Review
By David Cobb
I’ve been friends with Christian Heeb for a number of years. An immigrant from Switzerland, Heeb first got his photographic start in the U.S. photographing the Native American. His wonderment in the American myth of the Wild West led him to a variety of places including the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and Route 66 among others. During his career—which includes over 200 published books—his assignments have taken him to every corner of the states and also around the world. His newest venture isn’t for a U.S. or German publisher however, but a personal project titled American Dreamscapes.
American Dreamscapes is the American dream not as interpreted by Horatio Alger, but maybe one closer to the vision of film director Quentin Tarantino. Coming of age in Switzerland, Heeb’s photography has certainly been influenced by fellow countryman Robert Frank; but Heeb also has influences in the surreal imagery of Gregory Crewdson, and the more voyeuristic photos of David Drebin. His settings also remind me of the more banal locations of photographer Stephen Shore.
Many photographers of the lost America like Anthony Hernandez, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams show the blight of American expansion and decay, and those who have been left behind or forgotten. Heeb photographs the edge of American life in a Hopperesque way: from the wayward hotel to the diner, with guns, girls, cars, and sex being common themes. This is the dark side of “when America was great again,” and this is the America that would give Dorothea Lange nightmares.
These people are not only on the fringe of society, but also on the fringe of daybreak. These are the hours when the neon glows brightly, and the hours when folks are desperate enough to commit a crime as seen in his images “The Hold Up” or “Stolen Car.” His models pose with cold distant looks, disconnected from each other and reality. In the photo “The Fun Center,” they’re having anything but fun. These people inhabit a lurid world, and they’re all trying to hang on to make it through another day.
American Dreamscapes is a limited-edition book which may be purchased in both print and digital versions from the Christian Heeb website. The book is in the dual languages of English and German.
Here is a link to download your digital copy here at his web site.
There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.
The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.
I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.
Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.
Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.
Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.
Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.
In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.
Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.
A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:
• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.
When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.
I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.
I enjoy getting photography and developing questions from people. When certain questions come up often enough I realize the topic might warrant a video tutorial of its own. Such is the case with how to place watermarks on images in Photoshop. Many of us who share our images on the web or by email like to place an identifying watermark on them, like the one on my image above. While it doesn’t guarantee images won’t be used without our permission, at least it lets others know that they do belong to someone and who that person is. Some well known photographer’s watermarks even become as recognizable as their images and names.
Adding some text or a logo to an image in Photoshop is easy enough to learn, but it requires multiple steps. If done manually on a regular basis adding watermarks can become time consuming and tedious. It is also difficult to keep the watermark consistent each time. Adding watermarks to web images is a perfect repetitive job for a Photoshop action. However, creating a single action that can successfully and proportionally place a logo or text on an image of any size or orientation isn’t as obvious as it might seem. I know this from the frequent questions I get. In this video I demonstrate how to record a single action that accomplishes the task. It takes a few minutes to record the action, but you will get that time back after just a couple uses.
In this second video I show TKActions Panel users how to assign the watermark action to one of the customizable buttons in the panel. This makes it super efficient to size and sharpen an image for the web using the panel and then place your custom watermark on it with just one more button click.
It took me many years of inefficient watermarking before someone showed me how to create a single watermarking action that works on all images. I hope you find this information helpful and are able to put it to good use. Let me know in the comments if you have questions or any of your own tips or tricks to add.
The spring wildflowers have started to pop in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, so I thought I’d take the time to explore a technique I often use for photographing spring wildflowers called “shoot-through” or “cramming.” I had used this technique for a number of years before I learned macro photographer Michael Brown coined the phrase “cram-it.” It’s fun, and it takes a bit of practice, so if you’re willing to give it a try here’s how to do it.
I often use a telephoto for this procedure, and employ this method when I want to eliminate distracting elements or when I want a wash of color throughout my image. I use a fairly wide-open aperture setting and find f2.8–f5.6 works best. I place my lens against a number of blossoms while selective focusing on a background flower. The front images are blurred and help obscure a number of distractions like twigs or branches. They also create a more ‘painterly’ feel to the photograph.
I loved the color of these tulips on top of a rock, but couldn’t photograph them without including distracting parts of a nearby house. My solution was to lay my lens right in front of a bundle of red and orange flowers and then “shoot through” them. This added a nice wash of color across the stems, and also eliminated the distracting staircase and window of the house.
In a recent photo of water lilies taken on the Big Island of Hawaii, I was going for more of a Monet feel for the image. For this shot I used my Canon 70-200 telephoto lens, my Kenko Pro 1.4x teleconverter, and my Canon 500D close-up filter. I placed my lens right in front of a clump of grass and “shot through” it. The shallow depth-of-field gave me the softness I liked, but “cramming” with the grass lends an even softer look and captured the Monet feel I was after.
I’ve posted a couple of other examples of this technique below. You can find this tip and 99 others contained in my e-book 100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.
Ode to the Silhouette
By David Cobb
Silhouette: The dark shape and outline of someone or something visible against a lighter background, especially in dim light.
There was a time in photography when the silhouette was used more because it had to be. There wasn’t much dynamic range for a camera to work with so your options were limited. When photographing a strongly backlit subject without lighting or flash, you either chose to show detail of the subject and over-exposed the sky or you chose to expose for the sky and lose the detail of the subject to create a silhouette. The latter option was often chosen.
Today the silhouette isn’t in vogue. It’s fallen out of favor to the technology of high dynamic range which allows us to display as much detail as possible, but the silhouette is still a viable option. The silhouette creates a layer and a useful pattern simplifying form against a beautiful sunrise or sunset to make a striking graphic image. It generates mystery, drama, mood, and can help make an image more emotive. As you look for your subject, search for an uncluttered image stripped of detail and depth. (It often works best if it fills the frame in an interesting way or balances against a dramatic sky.) Try to keep your elements separate or at least the outlines defined in some way; if there is too much overlap the composition becomes confusing. Also focus your lens on the subject that is silhouetted. This is the part of the image you want to be the sharpest.
Next time you’re in a situation of choosing between showing detail or going with a silhouette, expose for the sky and go for simplicity. Leave part of the image up to the viewer’s imagination and choose the silhouette.
By David Cobb
The first time I explored Croatia was when I crossed the eastern border through the countries of Montenegro and Albania. Six years later I explored the western portion of the country arriving through Slovenia. Both times I was greeted by friendly faces, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery to photograph. On my first visit I had time constraints so I only made it as far as Dubrovnik, but the second time I was able to explore more of the country along Plivitce National Park as well as some of the towns and villages along the Istrian coast and a bit further inland.
Dubrovnik is a photogenic city along the Adriatic Sea. The old town consists of many ancient churches, and its polished streets make for great reflections during night photography. Climbing the wall of the old fortress you can shoot down into the city and pick out patterns amongst the rooftops.
Along the western end of the country lies Plivitce National Park and its many lakes and waterfalls. Fall here can be spectacular, and there are so many grand waterfalls it’s hard to know where to begin photographing so just start and explore. I recommend you plan on spending more than a day here.
Inland near the Istrian coastline are a number of hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards. The small towns surrounding the ancient castles are more photogenic when you walk the stone streets—and offer views down to the surrounding agricultural fields that make for great pattern photography.
The Istrian Coast is beautiful too, with its beaches and cliff-side views. As always in Croatia, the towns along the coast are most photogenic and are photographed best during sunrise, sunset, and night.
There is still so much for me to explore in Croatia, especially in some of the backcountry river canyons and mountain ranges. I plan on seeing and exploring more when fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw and I join Luka Esenko for a fall color workshop here in 2017. There are still a few spaces available in the workshop for those interested in experiencing this great area.
For this installment of our Featured Photographer series I decided to turn the tables on my friend, Alister Benn, and interview him. Alister and I first met a few years ago when he interviewed me for a podcast. Since then I have been an avid fan and follower. His work spans the globe, from his native Scotland to the Himalayas, and features a consistent and deliberate mood of primordial rawness and mystery. Perhaps just as impressive as his body of photographic work is the long list of interests, projects and ventures he participates in, from environmental activism and teaching to writing and music. In 2011 Alister and his wife JuanLi Sun founded the regarded nature photo site, WhyTake.net, with Rafael Rojas and Anca Minican. In September he will be presenting at the Scottish Nature Photography Festival and in the fall he will be leading a photographic journey to the Mt. Everest region with Oregon photographer, Marc Adamus. His instructional books on photographing seascapes and the night sky are works of art in their own right. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation and getting to see some of Alister’s photographs.
Give us some background into your history with photography.
I had my first SLR when I was about 13 or so and was always attracted to more abstract subjects, and birds of course. I had no idea about exposures, but picked up a few tips from my older brothers.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I had the time to invest and I bought a Canon 10D for shooting birds in the rainforests of Malaysia, where we lived at the time. Landscapes began on a trip to Canada the following year and my love of night photography started then and more or less drove my development for the next decade. I stopped photographing birds in 2007 as it had ruined birding for me, and now I am very happy to watch them without the need to make an image.
I went full time pro in 2009 and am incredibly grateful to make a living doing what I love.
From one landscape photographer to another, what is it about photographing the landscape that calls to you?
I can’t paint! But have a desperate need to say things about what I see in the landscape. For me it is a fundamental need to be expressive. As I get older, my wife Juanli and I are more reclusive and photography allows me to articulate myself without the boundaries or constraints of language or location.
Nature has a very quiet voice and can struggle to be heard under the clamor of louder, more aggressive screaming. I like to add the weight of my passion to that voice and hopefully it allows people to hear those whispers clearer and adjust their lifestyles accordingly.
You are from Scotland, which I envy. In just a few sentences describe the Scottish landscape to us through the eyes of a landscape photographer and a native. What has it taught you as an artist?
Yes, everybody has a little Scottish in them! 🙂 I guess most people have a real love and connection with their home countries. My relationship with home is odd, as I left it when I was 23 after university and didn’t go back to live there until 2013, at the age of 47. I had never photographed it, and that sense of connection and discovery was really powerful for me.
Scotland is mostly a wild and sparsely populated place, with the majority of the 5 million residents living within a narrow lowland belt between the major cities. The rest of it is hills, forests, heather, lochs and bogs! The coastline is exquisite, and I am constantly finding new coves and hidden stretches as my explorations continues.
I cannot separate the landscape from my perceptions of what it means to be a Scot; the history, our culture and our passions. The landscape stretches before me both into the past and into the future.
I have only felt comfortable with calling myself an artist since earlier this year, until then I called myself an expressive landscape photographer. There is a subtle shift, but profound for me. Scotland did that, a full on immersion into the landscape and only making images when I have something to say.
In addition to your homeland, you have spent time traveling, living and photographing many parts of the world: China, Spain, Canada, Iceland to name a few. Where do you feel you have done your best work? Do you get more inspiration from exploring new places or from returning to places familiar?
Interestingly I am writing this from Iceland, where I have just finished a private workshop for a lovely couple from Canada. I’d say my best work stretches across the globe, from all the places you mention above. There are images I am quite proud of, but I think, like many, I am usually most connected with my most recent images.
I used to adhere very much to the familiarity methodology, especially where planning certain images was concerned: You know, moon coming up there, Milky Way there etc. now, less so, I am less of a weather chaser and far happier making appropriate images dictated by the now and the moment. For people traveling great distances to shoot iconic landscapes, managing those weather expectations is the hardest thing. I smile often here on Iceland when other photographers say things like “I was hoping for some clouds!”
Your images are dramatic and moody and have a consistent voice and feel. How would you describe photographic vision that guides your body of work?
As I mature (still waiting for adulthood!) – I feel much more compelled to inject myself into my work. It began as a conscious thing, not to shoot like anybody else, to try, whenever possible, to be Alister. Now, it is subliminal and just happens, I think I have found my style and my voice.
Basically, what I am saying is this. The planet is in a dark and desperate state, extinctions, deforestations, an ever increasing desire for sustainable growth – but despite all that pessimism, I feel an innate sense of hope. So, my images tend to be dark and ominous, but with a glimmer of radiance that is my beacon of optimism.
You are notorious in photography circles for your energy, vision and ability to work on several projects simultaneously. You collaborate with other photographers, lead tours, teach, write books and are also a talented musician. What current and future projects do you have in the works?
Wow, I didn’t realize all that! After nearly 5 years of work we are closing the whytake.net website. It’s been a labor of love, but demands a lot of our time and creative energy. I know that my personal work and Available Light Images have suffered because of that demand.
Juanli and I are currently excited by our own personal development, our continued exploration of the Scottish landscape and our workshops/tours. I truly love teaching, watching the lights go on in people’s eyes as they make that realization that they can shoot like themselves.
I am excited that my best images are in the future and not in the past, I am excited by photographing anonymous stretches of the Scottish coastline that are not all over social media!