Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘forest photography techniques’
“Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other.” – Virginia Woolf
I love photographing lighthouses; they can be so majestic, mysterious, beautiful, and yes even foreboding. We have quite a few along the Pacific west coast where I live, but I’ve photographed them all over the world. As with any subject, it’s not the thing (the lighthouse) I photograph, but it’s the light around it which enhances the subject. I also prefer to photograph lighthouses either at the golden hour or in the soft light of pre-dawn or dusk, so for me a tripod is essential.
I don’t go too wide when photographing my lighthouses. I often use a 24-70mm lens to capture a foreground, but not wide enough to make the sides of the lighthouse go wonky. You can straighten things up a bit in post-processing, but it never seems to look right.
Also, I try to tell a story when photographing a lighthouse. I might include a passing ship, or I photograph on a stormy day to convey to the viewer why that lighthouse exists in the first place. Sometimes I might use a telephoto lens to capture my lighthouse in front of a setting moon to suggest the story of the tides. I might also use the lighthouse as a small counterpoint in the image, to give a sense of its remoteness. Use your imagination; there are plenty of lighthouse stories to tell with an image.
As with many landscape images, when photographing lighthouses use a foreground. Some interesting colored stones, fence lines, dune grass, pools reflecting the lighthouse, or jaggedly formed rocks all make great foreground subjects. Take your time and look for what works best with your subject.
Use a leading line. This not only enhances your foreground, but it gives the image more dimension. Coastal shorelines are the most obvious choice. Other suggestions for leading lines might be the reflected light of the setting sun or moon on the ocean, footprints in the sand, breaking waves, or the fence line around the lighthouse.
If the lantern is still functioning at the lighthouse, try to capture the catch-light. As with wildlife photography and capturing that glint in the animal’s eye to give it life, the same is true for a lighthouse. Wait for that light and make sure you capture the glint in the lighthouse’s “eye.”
Change your perspective. Get high above the lighthouse if you can, and shoot down or walk to the base of the lighthouse and shoot up for a different look. Sometimes a piece of the lighthouse can be more interesting than the whole. It might be some old paint, a rusty slab of metal, a cool window, a handrail, the spiral staircase to the lantern, or a detail image of the lantern itself; whatever it is take your time to explore and find that interesting piece.
I hope these handful of tips help you the next time you head out to your favorite lighthouse, whether it be a stormy weekend or during a sunny vacation.
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.
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.
I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.
If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.
As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.
When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.
Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.
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.
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.
By David Cobb
I like variety. When I shoot a variety of images it keeps me on my toes, keeps things fresh, and lets me be creative. If I only photographed landscapes I’d be bored. By changing things up and photographing not just landscapes, but also events, macro, details, people, wildlife, buildings, interiors, food, and in black-and-white I don’t get tired of photographing any one thing. Some might say by doing many things you never get good at one of them. I disagree. I think in photography improving one facet of your camerawork can only help another facet; it’s kind of like photographic cross-training. My detail images help my compositional skills as I photograph landscapes. By photographing small flowers with my macro lens, it’s not too much of a stretch to photograph food. Photographing people lets me be more creative and interact with my subject, (plus putting a person in a scene increases sales potential in an over-saturated landscape market). If I photograph an event, it makes me think quicker on my feet and that helps me set up and get the shot faster when working my landscapes and landscape photography—and lets me apply those skills to my macro and detail images.
Josef Koudelka is one of my photographic heroes, and he stated that he was first and foremost a photographer. Koudelka photographed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but he wasn’t a photo journalist; he photographed and travelled with gypsies for years, but he wasn’t a portrait or street photographer; he spent years photographing Roman ruins, but he wasn’t a historical photographer; the time spent photographing industrial waste and the workings of man didn’t make him an environmental photographer–he was simply just a photographer who resisted any codes or labels. And he succeeded in all areas.
I’m posting some photos I’ve shot over the past few months, as an example of the variety of images I’ve taken in my photographic cross-training.
Four Takes on the Same Scene: Getting Creative
By David Cobb
This fall I conducted a photography workshop in Glacier National Park through the Pacific Northwest Art School, and the fall color was some of the best I’ve seen there in years. One afternoon we headed out to an aspen grove to capture fall color and I used the opportunity to practice pans, zooms, and multiple exposure images, which I like to do in the fall when the light is still bright on the trees. I also figured it would be a good time to teach these techniques to those interested. I remembered reading a book by photographer Freeman Patterson, who would throw a hoop in his backyard and then try to come up with original images while staying within that hoop. To help expand our creative thinking, I thought I’d try a similar exercise while keeping my tripod in place.
I first started with multiple exposure images and set my camera to three images on one frame, then took three shots while moving my camera slightly (between each shot) in the shape of a V. Depth-of-field is of little importance here, since you’re going for the “impressionistic look.” Three images weren’t enough to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after though, so I increased it to five images on one frame, taking each shot in the shape of an X and moving my camera each time no further than one-quarter of the distance of my baby fingernail. That did the trick, and I was able to capture the impressionist “feel” I was after.
Next I started to pan my camera up and down while taking a shot. Each person moves differently, so a time that might work for me might not work for you. Instead, concentrate on your follow-through with the camera. If you anticipate stopping when you hear the shutter click, the image will look a lot less fluid and probably won’t be very good. Once everyone got the hang of that trick, we moved onto another–this time zooming while shooting. You can get some interesting results with fall color when you zoom and shoot, but I have learned that when you zoom in on a solid object (like tree bark) your image will be more successful.
Once the sun set over the distant ridge, it was time to take a “normal” shot. I framed the image in my usual way by using my live-view in conjunction with the zoom to make sure of my focus. This automatically turns on camera lock-up, so the image should be tack-sharp. With aspen leaves I often turn up the ISO, since the leaves are quaking, and I pull the trigger. This image can be used as a reference shot to compare against those more “creative” images taken earlier.
People in the group were learning and having fun and I walked away with an idea for a blog. I think that’s a good day of photography.
Photographing in Fog
By David M. Cobb
Fog is the great equalizer in landscape photography; it can simplify the composition by eliminating all the background “noise” which can clutter an image. It also adds an air of mystery and intrigue to heighten the drama of a photo. When shooting fog you need to check your histogram and move your exposure time accordingly. Cameras tend to underexpose an image in mist, so I’m often shooting at +1 on my metering. Your white balance can come into play too, so experiment with the mood of an image. At 4000 Kelvin the fog will have that cool blue hue which can give a feel for the chill in the air, or at 6000 Kelvin you can punch up the warmth of an image if you choose. When processing your photo, you can play with the white balance for the look you like best. I also don’t add much contrast to foggy images when processing, because the more contrast you add the less fog you’ll have in the photo.
While photographing in the fog I pay attention to my exposure time. If it’s a thick “pea soup” fog, I may adjust my aperture to f8 or f11 for a shorter exposure time. The longer the aperture stays open the thicker the fog will be in your photo. In fog, I really don’t worry about depth-of-field too much since the mist will shroud the image in the distance. If the fog is light, but I’d like to give the illusion that it’s thicker, I might shoot at f16 or f22 for a longer exposure time. For the interval the aperture is open fog keeps rolling by, and the fog in the photo will appear thicker than it actually was at the time.
There are different types of fog and they act differently. Along the coast the fog will come and go with beautiful breaks of light from time to time. This type of advection fog is harder to predict as warm air moves over cool water, but it appears like clockwork at certain times of the day in the Redwoods. Another type of fog (called mixing fog) originates from natural geological phenomenon like geysers, hot springs, or even warm lakes. On cool mornings or evenings this fog will be thick, but recedes quickly as the day warms. I enjoy photographing radiation fog a lot too, and I find this kind often on fall mornings as temperatures near the surface of the land are below dew point. You can predict this variety of condensation more accurately by checking temperatures and dew points online for the area you’re photographing. If you have clear skies and a calm morning, chances are you’ll get some good morning conditions for photography. I’ve also captured upslope fog as warm air is pushed up a mountain valley until it condenses. I’ve been in this type of fog many times, but I’d rather photograph it filling the valley from the mountains above.
A couple more pointers on fog: if it’s thick fog concentrate on form and shape since that’s what will carry the image, and if the fog is breaking then concentrate on light because it can be spectacular. And if you are in fog, don’t forget to check your lens now and again since you may need to wipe off a few water droplets from collecting condensation.
In my experience, one of the types of light that cameras have a difficult time capturing correctly is the subtle, glowing, ambient light you see early and late in the day in deep forest settings. It is a very soft light but it has a certain richness and luminosity to it, as if the foliage is almost lit from within.
An unadjusted raw file never quite captures it, and simply increasing saturation or contrast doesn’t render it accurately. The Orton technique and many other soft glow methods generally do a better job of increasing saturation and low frequency contrast in a way that is more satisfying, but I find that these techniques often create too much blur or glow, or they block up the shadows too much.
In this short video tutorial I share a couple of techniques for enhancing this type of deep forest light that I have found particularly effective. They work best with soft, subtle, low contrast light but you could experiment with higher contrast light as well and see what you get. (Make sure to click on the gear icon to view in 720p. For best viewing click on the YouTube icon and watch at 720p using the Large Viewer.)
If you have questions or comments leave me a message below or on YouTube. You can also check out my YouTube Channel for more image developing tutorials. You can also visit www.outdoorexposurephoto.com for complete sets of video tutorials and get more information on Tony Kuyper’s TKActions Panel.