Video: B&H Photo Presentation–Capturing the Complete Outdoor Image

Part 1 of my presentation from B&H in April on Capturing the Complete Outdoor Image. Not quite the same as being there, but close!

Timing Makes All The Difference

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Timing really can make all the difference. Shooting at different times means shooting different light. And different light can give nearly the same image an entirely different feel.

Case in point is this study from my recent trip down to Caineville, UT. These two (nearly identical) images were shot just 13 minutes apart. As you can see, the image on the left still has direct light on the FG flowers. Due to the bluffs to the west, it was impossible to catch the last rays of light on the flowers themselves. This direct light is a bit hot for my taste, but it does accentuate the rows of flowers, and give the FG more of an elongated feel.

The image on the right showcases the flowers in open shade, and succulent late light on South Caineville Mesa. The open shade on the FG gives the viewer access to every last detail, and renders the colors softer and more luminescent. It doesn’t, however, showcase the leading lines of the flower rows.

This truly is the beauty of still photography. And this, really, is how you can go about defining your personal style and your preference to the types of images you’d like to capture. Study the subtle (or not so subtle) difference between images. Are you willing to sacrifice some of the detail in the FG flowers for the compositional definition, or do you prefer the soft tones and colors instead of the open shade? If you had to choose between displaying one or the other of these images, which would it be–and why?

Shot with Canon 5D MkII, 24MM TS-E 3.5II, Singh Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizer, Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad

Pro Photog 101: Don’t Give Your Work Away

As I have been many times before, I was recently approached by a publication interested in several of my National Parks images. From the get go, I gathered that this publication had no interest in paying for my images, as the first email stipulated “All of the photos we use in the magazine will be credited to you, resulting in free advertising for your company”

I responded politely, thanking them for their interest in my work and asking them to forward a rate sheet and I would consider putting together a submission for them. I received a reply with a media kit that outlined their publication along with their advertising rates. Nowhere did I see any compensation rates for imagery.

After another email asking about their rates for imagery, I received this note. “I talked with my editor and we do not pay for photography or do license fees. We will use your photos in the magazine and in the online version, providing you with free advertising for your company. We will provide all of your contact information etc. as well.”

Below is my response. Short and sweet: VALUE YOUR WORK. Do not give it away for free. “Exposure” and “free advertising” very rarely add up to money in your bank account, and they certainly won’t garner you anything but regret and disdain for those that were cunning enough to take advantage of your optimistic and hopeful approach.

“Hi X–
Thanks for the info.

I don’t want to shoot the messenger here, so please feel free to pass my thoughts along to your editor/publisher.

X magazine appears to be a professional publication. At least, the media kit, circulation, statistics and other credentials listed would have one believe so. I think it looks like a nice pub, and I’m sure it has significant reach within the X community. My question is this: how can this publication justify charging $1,500.00 per full page of advertising yet not be willing to pay one red cent for quality imagery? It is simply an unethical, and unjust way to do business.

I am a professional photographer. I’m not a hobbyist, and I do have a bottom line. This means I make 100% of my living off of what I bring in from licensing my imagery (stock) or from hired work for commercial and/or editorial outlets. While I appreciate the sentiment of offering “free” advertising, in the end, it simply doesn’t add up. Time (which is worth a substantial amount), money and personal and professional commitment were expended in capturing all of my imagery. Add in the expenses I accumulate from maintaining a professional standard with my equipment, and in the end–I am essentially paying X Magazine to have my images published. And that just doesn’t equate.

Without quality content, this publication would have no audience. Without an audience, this publication would have no advertisers. And without advertisers, you, and everyone else that works for this magazine would be out of a job. How would you feel if you approached an advertiser and they said to you, “we can’t pay for an advertisement, but we’d be happy to hand out copies of your publication to our clients once you let us advertise for free. You’ll get great exposure”. I imagine your publisher would decline in a heartbeat, and yet–this is essentially what you are asking of those that make it possible for this publication to even exist.

I hope that at one point, your publisher can commit to a business model that is respectful to, and respectable of, all those that contribute to the magazine. Were I to accept this offer, and operate my business accordingly, I would effectively be putting myself out of business in a matter of months. I can’t imagine this publication won’t discover the same fate if some commitment isn’t made to compensate fairly for quality content.

Again, this isn’t meant as a personal attack on you. It needs to be heard by the decision makers, so I would appreciate you passing it along.

Thanks X, and please, if you do ever happen to establish a budget for imagery, please feel free to contact me in the future. Cheers.”

Video: How to Hand Hold Grad ND Filters

Here’s a quick video clip from my instructional DVD that showcases the effectiveness of several filters from Singh Ray. It also gives a good demonstration on how I hand hold my filters when shooting. (to order the DVD, click here)

Why do I hand hold my filters?

1. Speed—in rapidly changing conditions, I want to be able to adjust my shooting position, composition, lens selection or any number of other components quickly and without too much hassle. By hand holding my filters, I’m able to adapt quickly to whatever may present itself in those fleeting moments of magic.

2. Control—many times we find ourselves shooting scenes with parts of the image that may require less filtration than others. By hand-holding my filters, I am able to manually dodge and burn the parts of the image that may require more or less filtration. This is an advanced technique of sorts, but will become more intuitive with time and practice.

3. Versatility—many of the active lifestyle images I shoot are done on unsteady surfaces and without a tripod. There simply isn’t time to screw on a filter holder and even if I were able to, my gradient transitions (where I want that filter line to fall) are never stationary. Hand-holding allows me to micro-adjust that filter placement for each shot.

How do I hand hold my filters?

Let me first say that all of the Grad ND filters I use are the 4 x 6 size. This larger size is much easier to hand hold in general, and nearly essential if you’re shooting wide angle lenses on a full frame sensor.

I generally grasp the edge of the filter between my thumb and index finger or middle finger. Taking special care not to shake the camera, I place the filter flush against the front element of the lens. If I’m shooting at longer focal lengths or with longer shutter speeds, I may remove the filter just slightly from the lens to avoid any sharpness sapping vibration.

Plan. Go. Do.

Sunset over wildflowers near Caineville, UT

Sunset over wildflowers near Caineville, UT

Several years ago I saw an image that struck me. It was a desert landscape, dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers. In a word, it was beautiful. In another word, it was mysterious. I wondered how such a barren landscape, void of color and feeling,  could suddenly spring to life as if fed by some unseen fountain of youth. I had to go there. I had to see it for myself. And really, I had to capture it for myself.

This just happened to be the year I was able to make it down to Caineville. I happened to have some spare time, and was committed to finally making this shoot happen. Caineville is, quite literally, a bend in the road. There’s no stop lights, no gas stations. There’s nothing except for mesas and buttes shaped by time and weather. Gravel ridgelines criss-cross into the distance, clawing their way further towards the base of north and south Caineville Mesas. At the right time of year, and given the proper winter/spring snow and rainfall, the valleys between these small buttes fill with yellow and purple. Seas of beeplant and purplemat flow between the mesas and fluted miniscapes. It is, quite simply, a photographer’s paradise.

Wildflower landscape image shot near Caineville, UT

Wildflower landscape image shot near Caineville, UT

It certainly is one of those places that feels nearly impossible to capture. It’s big and broad and colorful and supremely unique. My best suggestion to shooters hoping to stumble upon this symphony of nature??? Take all your gear, and take all your creative energy. You will need it. There are innumerable ways to shoot the flowers and desert landscape in and around Caineville. Some of it has been shot before, but I guarantee you will find your own nook and your own way of telling this beautiful story to those unable to attend in person.

I was also fortunate to visit Factory Butte, surrounded on many sides by an endless carpet of yellow. From what I understand, it’s a somewhat rare occurrence to see such prolific displays of wildflowers here, and I felt fortunate to be there. Alone. On an absolutely stunning morning.

Factory Butte with Beeplant (amazing widlflowers!)

Factory Butte with Beeplant (amazing widlflowers!)

As this was a solo trip, I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience of shooting such grandiose scenes. I have posted just a couple of tips below that are particularly relevant to the Caineville/Factory Butte area. They are also applicable to any shooting situation in which you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of what lies before you.

1. Go with a plan. Whether you have a written list, or mental notes of the types of images you’d like to capture, have some sort of “plan of attack”. It will help you to keep a level head and stay focused, to a degree. It’s easy to arrive at these locations and start running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Don’t do it. Be methodical, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself!

Factory Butte and grazing cattle.

Factory Butte and grazing cattle.

2. Be receptive to new images. Although you may have a plan in your head, conditions may cause your photographic plans to vary, and this is A-OK. I really believe that some of the most magical images are visualized on site, from the hip, so to speak. See with your photographic eyes, and don’t be stubbornly committed to an image that may just not be there. Vision can change rapidly, and more than anything, you must be willing to work to find the best image for that exact moment. It may be as simple as changing a lens, or as difficult as hiking a ridgeline. Regardless–make it happen. You’ll be justly rewarded.

3. Shoot different lenses. I guess this could be better suggested in shooting different focal lengths. It’s easy to get stuck in wide angle mode, or telephoto or macro mode. You haven’t properly worked a scene until you’ve at least TRIED numerous different focal lengths and angles. Sometimes the big picture will be incomplete, but there will be “pieces” of that picture that are five-star images in and of themselves. Mess around. Work on seeing through different lenses without having to bring the camera to your eye.

WIldflowers and North Caineville Mesa

WIldflowers and North Caineville Mesa

4. Visit the same locations at different times of day. Simply put–light changes, winds dies down, clouds pour in, more flowers bloom and your mind’s eye transforms. Do yourself a favor and don’t throw in the towel at any given location after one shoot. Many photographers chase that one idealistic image for days/weeks/months/years. Put in your time, and even if you don’t get that keeper this time, you’ll be better prepared the next time you visit the location.

Broken light on North Caineville Mesa

Broken light on North Caineville Mesa

5. Forget what you’ve seen. Let me clarify–forget what you’ve seen online, in others’ portfolios, on postcards, etc. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, as what we’ve seen largely dictates what we hope to capture. Find a way to wipe your mental, emotional and creative slate clean. This is when your own, special style will take over. This is when you will create your own magic. This is what will help you with tip #2 above. Challenge yourself to see what others have not.

Factory Butte with wildflowers

Factory Butte with wildflowers

So now–Plan. Go. Do.

A Monday Manifesto: Sharing Photography “Secrets”

The Iconic Osguthorpe Barn in Park City, UT

The Iconic Osguthorpe Barn in Park City, UT

Understanding the technicalities of photography is only half the battle. Actually, it’s much less than half as it’s probably one of the easier things to learn. You can teach shutter speed, aperture, HDR, filter usage and numerous other technical components of photography. You can even teach composition. However, you can only hope to be able to teach vision.

Many people ask my why I am so open about my photographic techniques. Firstly, I enjoy teaching photography. I enjoy seeing the light bulb come on in others’ brains. It makes me think of all the times that happened with me in my earlier years with a camera (and it still does!)

Secondly, you would be hard-pressed to find a photographer out there who hasn’t been the beneficiary of a counselor or mentor of sorts in the field of photography. Although there are many out there who are self taught like myself, none of us have really done it alone. I guess it’s a good way to give back to a small extend.

Thirdly, there really are very few, if any secrets. No matter what I, you or anyone else is doing out there with a camera, there’s a good chance that someone else either in your own backyard or at the far corners of planet earth is already doing it as well. I just have to do it better.

Fourthly (and most importantly), you aren’t me and I’m not you. No matter what I share with anyone out there, they’ll never be me and they’ll never have my own, specially packaged, delivered-on-demand vision for whatever lies in front of my lens. This isn’t some arrogant stance on career and life, it’s simply my own little safety net–one that allows me to create, share and witness things come full circle as those who learn produce something exceptional and push me to do better.

So many are afraid of being one-upped, and therefore hold tight to whatever technique or “secrets” they may have pertaining to their imagery. If you one-up me, then good on ya.

So if you’ve made it through this journal entry…WHAT IS UP with this image??? It’s a 54-second exposure of the iconic Osguthorpe Barn in Park City, UT. It’s been shot ten ways to Tuesday and I wanted to find something truly different. The light on this particular morning was lackluster, but the clouds were something else.

I had just received my Singh Ray Vari ND Filter and wanted to put it to work. I dialed it down to lengthen my exposure, effectively smoothing out the quickly moving clouds against the stark roofline/shape of the barn. I danced around the barn with a hand held 4-stop soft step Grad ND for the entire exposure. It was not easy. It’s hard to replicate. Take it from someone who has tried. This is one of those images that I go back to time and time again and wonder when something else like this will find itself in front of my lens. This is one of those images that keeps me going.