Posts Tagged ‘landscape photography’

Does that Landscape Photograph Belong in a Museum?

Thursday, April 5th, 2018
Exhibition in England

A view of one of my prints alongside others in an exhibition in England.

While the end uses of documentary and commercial photographs are limitless, the photograph that exists for its own sake is traditionally destined for a wall. This tendency is especially true for fine art landscape photographs, which ordinarily end up within a private context, such as a home, a hotel, or an office building. Not all styles and subjects of landscape photography are very suitable for these contexts, however. Photographs that are not particularly relatable, calming, or uplifting are less likely to appeal for display in spaces that are dedicated to purposes other than the exhibition of art. Nonetheless, the genre of landscape photography would be impoverished without its more unorthodox photographs. If you feel as though the idea of interior decor is governing your creative decisions, then it may be rewarding to think outside those walls.

The Statement Piece

No matter where a photograph is displayed, its context will affect the experience of viewing it. The photograph in a private environment typically becomes a statement piece: through its selection and placement, it signals something about its owner’s interests, values, experiences, personality, or even social status, thereby adding a layer of meaning on top of whatever ideas may have gone into the process of creating it. The print that we see over a mantle may tell us that the owner enjoys oceans, or lives near a particular coastal area, or really likes the color blue. The print in an office lobby may symbolize the company’s industry or else suggest some abstract quality of the company culture, such as openness or sophistication. Because of the process of selection and display, a print hung in a private space will make a statement about that space and about the print’s reason for being there, even if it is hanging in the photographer’s own home.

With domestic and business contexts in mind, photographers are likely to favor certain creative decisions that cater to the traditions of private decor or even to customer preferences. Landscape photographs therefore tend to feature locations, subjects, moods, and colors that will have broad appeal, and it is no wonder that the genre is widely considered to be especially traditional, with its harshest critics thinking of it as hopelessly trite. Not all landscape photographs need to meet the demands of interior decor, however, and even those that do can still be powerful works of art that offer much more than their decorative qualities or their usefulness in communicating identities or a sense of place.

The Conversation Piece

It is often said that the defining purpose of modern art is to inspire discussion, to encourage people to ponder visual cues and to engage in conversations about them. Pre-modern art functioned through a similar principle, using visual cues, symbolism, and metaphors to facilitate discussion, but usually for some higher purpose, such as education. With the evolution of art for art’s sake in the modern era, the discussion of artworks became an end in itself.

No matter how intimate or grand, landscapes can be rich wells of ideas for the viewer willing to contemplate them, as I explained a few years ago in “How Landscape Photographs Tell Stories” (Photo Cascadia Blog, July 13th, 2015). Indeed, some images are well suited for this purpose alone. Even if a dark or sullen landscape is hauntingly beautiful, it may nonetheless have scarce appeal as anything other than a conversation piece; alas, few people really want Mordor in their living room. Similar biases run against photographs of obscure locations, indistinct subjects, hostile environments, frightening situations, or intense scenes that demand attention: beautiful or not, most photographs of these varieties are not generally desirable for the typical home or business context—but they can excel at suggesting ideas, and that singular purpose should be reason enough for these photographs to exist.

Where, then, are we to imagine such photographs, if they are not well suited to traditional private contexts? The obvious answer is the museum context, which is by no means a pretentious goal. The word museum has its origins in a concept more akin to a library than a storehouse for precious objects, initially describing a building filled with items that were singled out for study. In that regard, even a book or a website can serve as a sort of museum, and so can any exhibition space that serves no other function than to display prints for contemplation (which could include a dedicated space that a collector might set aside within their home). Such spaces for exhibiting prints may be limited, but they represent a distinct and important end use for a fine art photograph: the contemplation of the image itself, including its place within a photographer’s body of work and within the history of the medium of photography.

Landscape photographers typically consider books, websites, and museums as supplemental destinations for their works, but thinking of them as valid primary destinations can throw off the shackles of traditional limitations. Likewise, viewers are sure to gain a greater appreciation for any photograph if they are willing to imagine it in the ‘museum’ context, regardless of where it is actually displayed. Homes, hotels, and offices are venerable venues for display, but there is a lot of room for imagination beyond their walls.

Does the idea of interior decor factor into your photography? How do you feel about landscape photographs that depart from traditional aesthetics? Let us know in the comments below!

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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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Variation Of Light In The Dolomites

Monday, February 12th, 2018

I am writing from a mountain lodge in the Italian Dolomites on a trip with Photo Cascadia teammate, Erin Babnik, so this article will be short and sweet. We spent a couple days before our winter workshop photographing at the end of a small valley with dramatic peaks all around. Our experience there reminded me of two things that are true about landscape photography that are well known but often difficult to remember and practice. First is that landscape photography is as much about the weather and the light as it is about the landscape. Second is that the weather and light is always changing. Every time weather and light change, they in turn change the landscape and our opportunities to see and tell visual stories about that landscape…as long as we are willing to be patient and keep coming back to the scene to see what it is offering us.

All the images below were taken with my phone except the last one, which is a raw file from my camera transferred to my phone.  Record shots taken with my phone help me document and track the changes and help me visualize the potential for the images I took with my SLR that I will develop when I get home.

We arrived at the tail end of a winter storm that had coated the trees and peaks in a glorious blanket of new snow. On our first sunrise foray the remnants of the storm were still clinging to the peaks and the scene was moody and dark. Even though we couldn’t see the tops of the peaks there was enough to indicate their looming presence in the clouds above. In the moment it was easy to become disheartened that we didn’t get the dramatic sunrise light we pre-visualized. But looking back at this image I realize that the scene has a lot of character and mystery.

Later that day I noticed the clouds were beginning to lift. I shouldered my pack and headed back up into the hills. On this visit the mountain was playing with me. Intermittently it would reveal itself to me before the clouds would swirl in and hide it again. And it always stayed in the shadows, while the foreground came to life, brilliant in the full light of the sun.

At sunset we ventured out once again, this time to a higher vantage point right at the base of the peaks. The peaks were in full view but still capped by atmospheric plumes streaming from their summits. Although the sun was setting behind the mountains, the clouds captured the golden light and reflected it down, illuminating the cliff faces and snowy landscape in front of me.

The next morning we came back at sunrise a final time. Now the clouds had moved above the peaks and were soft and broken in the calm after the storm. Sunrise light lit their undersides and danced across the faces of the peaks, casting a warm glow across the winter scene.

I loved witnessing the changes and moods of this beautiful landscape over a the 24 hour period that I spent photographing it. It was also a good reminder of what I learned as a photographer long ago, but often lose site of in the rush of life…that it is often the weather and light that make a place special and wonderful visual experiences can unfold if we are willing to be patient and spend some quality time just watching and noticing.

Sean Bagshaw’s Conversation With Matt Payne on F-Stop Collaborate and Listen

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

 

On November 20 I sat down (virtually) with Matt Payne to chat about landscape photography for his podcast, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen.

We had a great time talking about a variety of topics including

  • – Our respective journeys into landscape photography
  • – How to create visual impact in your photography
  • – Motivations to keep shooting
  • – The creation of Photo Cascadia
  • – Conservation and the sharing of locations

You can listen to our conversation here (email subscribers may need to click the link above to listen on the web):

Make sure to go to the podcast page to check out the other great conversations Matt has recorded with photographers like

Also, since we recorded our conversation, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen is being featured by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and will also be available on their website every month, so congratulations to Matt on that!

Feeling Blue: 10 Tips for Shooting on Blue-Sky Days

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

For a good part of my life I’ve had a comic posted on my wall of a guy sitting in a chair with the caption, “Dare to be boring.” Sometimes I embrace that in my photography when trying to get creative with abstracts in a mundane landscape, or when embracing the blue skies above. Maybe it’s all the smoke from fires lingering overhead, but these days I’m feeling blue and I would like to see a little of it in the sky too.

I like great light as much as the next person, but in these “Red or Dead” times of landscape photography, when some are shooting for another click on social media, then the redder the sky the better. But when I dare to be boring, it’s time to embrace the blue. Not only does blue sky photography sell pretty well to clients, it can also look good. What follows are the times I’m more apt to embrace the blue sky around me with a polarizer attached, and my white balance set to 5200 Kelvin.

1) When there is water involved.
If there is water in the scene, then blue skies generally look appealing to the eye, since the water reflects blue like the sky and it might pick up the reflections of the land pretty well too. The images below show a photo I took in 2008 from the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and a garden I photographed for my upcoming book. I like them both, and the garden I photographed in southern California is on the cover of my new book.

Glacier Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon. summer. USA

Garden view of a household in Malibu, California. USA

2) When there are puffy clouds or dramatic skies.
Skies can make or break a landscape photo, and even during those blue sky hours they matter. I love those puffy convective clouds in the Palouse region of Washington, but any dramatic blue-sky clouds will do.

Two barns in the Palouse of Washington with a big sky above in the spring. Tekoa, Washington. USA

3) When there is a complementary color on land, such as yellow flowers, gold fields, or red rocks.
Need I say more?

Fall larch reflecting in a pond in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Enchantments section. Washington. USA

Golden wheat fields of summer in the Palouse agricultural region of Washington. USA

Canola grows in a field fronting the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana, USA.

4) When there are harmonious colors on land that blend well into the sky.
These colors work well together, so why not?

Lavenderfields below the town of Siamiane la Rotonde, France.

5) Sometimes the blue light is just better.
At Canada’s Peyto Lake the early light is often not good. When all that beautiful turquoise water is below it’s best to show up at 10am after a few clouds have formed, and take advantage of blue on blue.

Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

6) At the “blue hour.”
Well, duh. The light evens everything out during the blue hour in the morning and at night.

The Church of Assumption on Lake Bled in Slovenia during the blue hour. Fall.

7) When I’m in canyon country.
This is a great time to head for a slot canyon or stay in the shade to photograph bounce light.

Cracked mud, desert varnish, and canyon windows make for an interesting portion of a canyon in Utah. USA

8) When I’m in Yellowstone National Park.
This park—and other geologically active areas—have minerals and pools which show up better when there is blue sky and the sun is high.

The Terraces of Devils Thumb in the Mammoth Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. USA

9) When I’m shooting black and white.
I’m no Ansel Adams, but he did well on blue sky days and so can you. This is also a good time to pull out the infrared camera.

An old homestead in the Palouse wheat growing area of Washington. spring. USA

10) When I’m in a desert or in tropical climates.
If I’m on a tropical island or down in the Baja desert, then blue looks cool. Plus, I wanted to throw in this picture of Sean Bagshaw with his dorky straw hat.

Sean Bagshaw kayaking the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico.

Northland: Photo Adventures In Arctic Norway Part II

Friday, August 4th, 2017

In May I went on an incredible journey with my Camera and my friend Paul to the north of Norway. We explored the Lofoten Island Chain and Senja Island. In June I shared a trip report and images here on the Photo Cascadia blog. Since then I have completed some more images and a short behind the scenes movie of our adventure.

All the video for the movie was captured with my iPhone or with the DJI Mavic Pro drone that I brought with me. I was just mentioning the other day that the Mavic Pro is currently the only drone that has the control and camera quality that I’m looking for, combined with being small enough to fit in my camera bag with the rest of my gear. I’m learning that video, particularly drone footage, provides a welcome added layer to my photographic story telling. Still images have to convey a feeling or concept in a single frame, so light, composition, timing and developing really come into play. Video, on the other hand, does a great job of bringing you along for the ride, sharing the story of the lifestyle and experience behind the photos. The drone takes it up a level (litterally) by providing perspective, motion and views that can’t be captured any other way. The downside of the drone is that it is, at the least, distracting and more commonly simply annoying and unsettling to others. It is important to me to not impose that on others, so I try to fly only when there are no people around. Fortunately, in Norway, we were photographing during the night and we rarely saw other people.

So, please enjoy Northland: Photographing Arctic Norway.

Thanks for watching! If you would like to learn more about the trip, make sure to check out my initial trip report as well.

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.

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Book Review: A Photographer’s Life, Review by David Cobb

Monday, 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.

Photo Adventures In Arctic Norway

Wednesday, 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.

 

“Tidal Ice”


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.

 

“Arctic Dreams”


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”


Midnight Twilight overlooking the village of Reine, Olstind Mountain and the Kirkefjord in the Lofoten Islands of Norway.

Three images stitched to create the panorama. Canon 5D4, 70mm, f/11, 10 seconds.

 

“Nordland”


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.

 

“Stor Buøya”


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”


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”

Trip info:

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.

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Photograph Light, not “Things”

Monday, 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.

A spot-lit deer in Joseph, Oregon. spring. USA. Wild

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 barn in the Palouse region of Washington after harvest time. USA.

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.

Light and shadow on tables and chairs at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. USA

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.

The last of the rim light on a glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Chile.

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.

Social Photography: Road Tripping With Friends

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

(If you are reading this article via email subscription, make sure to click the title link to view the video on the blog)


In my opinion, photography is one of the most fun, healthy, enriching, energizing and positive pastimes a person can be involved in. It is a creative outlet and it also provides an ongoing source of learning and intellectual stimulation. It gets you outside and provides a pathway for greater appreciation of nature. It is accessible to people of all ages, interests, experience and ability. It teaches you to slow down and really notice the world around you. One of the greatest joys photography has brought me is the social aspect of it. While photography can certainly be private, introspective and deeply personal, it also offers wonderful opportunities to connect with other human beings. Many of my best friends and colleagues are people I met through photography and some of my most gratifying conversations, collaborations, adventures, and experiences are the result of hanging out with people who share my passion for photography. I have had the pleasure of meeting and communicating with photographers from all over the world, I have been a student and a teacher and I have been fortunate to travel with friends and lead workshops to all corners of the globe.

Frosty Yosemite Falls towers above the dark valley below.

Frosty Yosemite Falls towers above the dark valley below.

Back lit mist below Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Backlit mist below Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite.

Perhaps my favorite social photography experiences is the “road trip”. I love the adventure and freedom of being out on the road; sleeping in a different place every night, seeing new sights and being able to simplify, focus and relax. Sharing the road trip experience with others only enhances it. I’ve enjoyed road tripping since college, although back then my road trips were rock climbing trips and the real adventure was finding out if my $600 car would break down in the middle of nowhere. My first photography dedicated road trip was in 2004. It was a solo trip and it left me with some great memories. But what was missing was the laughter, the collaboration, the camaraderie and the synergy.  The conversation certainly left something to be desired as well. And now I find I miss being able to reminisce with someone about that trip.

Abstract dune shapes at sunrise, Death Valley.

Abstract dune shapes at sunrise, Death Valley.

Alpen glow on the hills of Death Valley.

Alpenglow on the hills of Death Valley.

Since then I have been on at least a couple photo road trips each year, some of them solo, but most of them with friends, colleagues, and clients. Most recently I went tripping with two of my best friends and Photo Cascadia teammates, Zack Schnepf and David Cobb. All of these photos are from that trip. I have traveled with each of these swarthy gents many times and we have THE best time together. For this trip we had planned to search out winter conditions in the Tetons or the Canadian Rockies, but the day before we left the weather forecast indicated low cloud cover for days to come in those locales, so we redirected our plan to California just hours before departure. With the Millenium Falcon filled to the gills with camera gear, tripods, duffel bags, sleeping bags, snowshoes and plenty of tortillas and refried beans, we hit Interstate 5 south with the Louis CK Pandora station playing and scarcely a clue where we were going. The next seven days on the road took us to Yosemite National Park, where thousands were photographing the famous Horsetail Falls “firefall” but we opted to shoot in solitude along the Merced River instead, then to Joshua Tree in the rain, a couple of days in Death Valley and finally up the east side of the Sierra Nevada along the Owens River Valley.

"Tangerine Dream" - Twilight at Badwater, Death Valley.

“Tangerine Dream” – Twilight at Badwater, Death Valley.

"Red Racer" -Light painting Sailing Stones on the Racetrack under the stars. Death Valley.

“Red Racer” -Light painting Sailing Stones on the Racetrack under the stars. Death Valley.

Along the way and per usual we told bad jokes, ate junk food at truck stops, listened to audio books, solved the world’s problems and held snoring competitions sleeping in the Falcon’s tight quarters. The photography conditions were good but not great, but what we lacked in light we compensated for by regaling each other with tall tales of epic photo sessions of the past. We did manage to bring home a few passable images as well. At the end of the trip, I scraped together the images and video we had taken with our phones, added in some aerial footage I took while learning to fly my new drone, and put it together into the short behind the scenes video you’ll find at the beginning of this article. I think the video will give you a fun view into the spirit of this trip.  I hope you enjoy it.

We all photograph for different goals, reasons and rewards. We aren’t all cut out to be social photographers, at least not all the time. But if you do enjoy photo tripping with others consider contributing a thought, an experience, a road trip tip or a favorite route in the comments below. If you haven’t road tripped but want to and are just lacking companions, I would suggest joining your local photography club, becoming active in online photography communities such as Flickr or Facebook groups or signing up for photography workshops or photography tours.

"Sierra Sunset" - Last light on the Owens River.

“Sierra Sunset” – Last light on the Owens River.

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.

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Book Review: Treasured Lands by QT Luong

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

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Over 20 years and 300 visits, photographer and author, QT Luong, explored each of America’s 59 national parks. His decades-long project culminated in his book, Treasured Lands, A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. Both an art book and a guidebook in one, it is a masterpiece and a fitting tribute to our most treasured landscapes. Released in the summer of 2016 in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial, it now is even more important and timely in light of the recent political environment which could put our national parks and other public lands at risk.

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Reviewing books is not part of my typical skill set, but this book has made such an impression on me that I am honored to share it. Unfortunately, there may not be much value I can add considering the New York Times already declared it to be the “most glorious” book to come out of the centennial of the National Park Service and the accolades of Ken Burns already grace its cover.

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I first became familiar with Luong’s photography while researching photo locations in the Western United States and Mexico more than a decade ago. Time and again, the most comprehensive photographic coverage and the most inspiring photos I found were in his collection. It seemed he had been everywhere and always under the most favorable conditions for photography. Later I had the pleasure of meeting Luong and attending one of his presentations at a North American Nature Photography Association summit. Over time we have corresponded on a variety of photography topics. His eye for light and composition is inspiring, his determination for finding exciting vantage points is remarkable and his appreciation and knowledge of our planet is heartening. However, nothing could be a more fitting testament to his artistry and tenacity as an explorer, scientist and photographer than this book. At over 450 pages, 500+ images, 130,000 words and 60 maps, it is definitive in its scope, content, and beauty.

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The mind has a hard time grasping the enormity of such a project. To merely visit all 59 national parks in one’s lifetime would be an accomplishment to take note of. To spend the time, over multiple visits, to find and photograph so many locations in so many nuances of light, weather and season is remarkable. To do it with such quality, attention to detail and obvious admiration and love for the land is exceptional. The layout of this large format book is gorgeous. It is printed on heavy art paper with great attention to color and image quality. Each chapter begins with an overview of the particular park, followed by several stunning page-filling images, completely unfettered by text. At the end of each park’s chapter is additional information about the park as well as details for each image, a map, seasonal tips, locations, and suggestions for photography.

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Tuan’s photography showcased in this format combined with the historical and ecological information, maps, visitor suggestions and photography tips truly make this an art book and a guidebook in one. But who is going to lug a seven-pound book along with them on their explorations of the parks? In order to make Treasured Lands “more useful than a coffee-table book, and more inspiring than a guidebook”, he has also created a companion e-book that is formatted specifically for mobile devices. This makes it possible to bring the guide aspect of the book along with you in your pocket. For a nominal price, book owners can access the e-book from a link found on page 13. If you only want the e-book version you can purchase it separately on the Treasured Lands website.

A sign of the times, purchasing large art books isn’t as common these days as it once was. But if there ever was an art book to have as your own or give to someone else, this would be the one. It is an important book on many levels; as a tribute to our national parks, as a tribute to a 20-year project of passion, as a monumental body of artwork, as inspiration to enjoy, admire and take care of our public lands, as a photography resource and a travel guide and perhaps most importantly as a reminder of what a treasure our National Parks are and how important it is that we fight to keep them safe.

You can find the book Treasured Lands at treasuredlandsbook.com.

QT Luong is a full-time photographer from California, known for being the first to photograph all 59 US National Parks – in large format. Ken Burns featured him in “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” (2009). His photographs, published in dozens of countries around the world, have been the subject several magazine profiles, solo gallery and museum exhibits. You can see more of his work at www.terragalleria.com.

Sean Bagshaw 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.

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