When to Tilt Shift???

Manhattan and 42nd St. at dusk

Tilt-shift lenses were initially created for architectural photographers looking to counter the distortion that occurs when pointing a camera up or down (keystoning/pincushion distortion). You’ll notice in your images where you are pointing your camera up or down that vertical lines/shapes tend to lean in or out. The solution??? Unless you’re shooting with a view camera, the solution is a tilt-shift lens.

TS lenses, however, have creative applications as well. By tilting the plane of focus, the photographer is able to achieve a miniaturized or snow globe effect, manifested in the majority of the image having a blurred, dream-like or soft focus feel while a certain slice of the image remains sharp. It’s cliche, it’s trendy and it’s fun. Most importantly, however, it’s useful and extremely effective if not over utilized and when done correctly.

So–back to the question at hand–when/why tilt-shift???

Old Town Park City, UT

1. Creative Freedom–it’s different than the typical approach to imagery. It’s fun and it can lend an interesting, artistic and quirky look to your images. It might be the tool that helps you see many of the same old shots in a new way.

Trail Runner at Alta, UT

2. Visual Impact/Subject Isolation–TS lenses are a fantastic manifestation of the power of selective focus. Many times, I will be shooting wide angle imagery where I’m unable to achieve the very shallow DOF (depth of field) that I’d like to separate the subject from its surroundings. Without the use of a TS lens in images like that of the trail runner above, the subject would be completely lost in the frame. By using the TS effect, I’m able to provide a huge amount of context in the image, and still draw the focus directly to the activity/subject.

Fisherman on the Weber River, UT

3. Editorial/Commercial Spreads–it takes a certain type of editor or art director to actually use TS images, but when it’s right, it’s right. As mentioned above, TS images can make negative space out of filler that would have otherwise been busy and unusable. Words and logos pop off the page when placed on soft backgrounds. (why do you think that “blur” tool exists in PS???) TS images can work well for full bleed editorial spreads where the copy is placed directly on the image.

Pret Helmets Commercial Shoot

4. Product Highlighting–and really, highlighting anything else for that matter. It’s a great way to draw attention to specific parts of a product like a logo or any other cool feature, while still including the whole product.

Wildflowers at Willow Lake, UT

5. Depth of Field without stopping down–this is yet one more fantastic advantage to a TS lens. By tilting you plane of focus correctly, you can achieve greater depth of field without stopping your lens down. Essentially, you’re able to render both FG and BG objects sharp, while some of the middle elements remain somewhat soft. This is especially useful when you need depth of field, but can’t accommodate the longer shutter speeds required when stopping your lens down to those smaller apertures. Example? The above image of wildflowers at Willow Lake. In short–windy evening. I wanted both the flowers in the FG, and aspens in the BG to be sharp. Stopping the lens down in the typical manner of achieving this DOF gave me long multi-second exposures. By tilting my plane of focus with my TS lens, I was able to get this DOF while shooting at f5.6 and keeping that shutter speed in check.

My two biggest rules with TS lenses? ALWAYS check your focus at 10x zoom (if possible) on your live view display. If you don’t have live view, check it on your LCD after clicking the shutter. The margin for error when shooting TS lenses (especially at larger apertures) is very slim. You may think you’ve gotten exactly what you want, only to find that the sharpest part of your image is slight off from what you had hoped for.

Secondly, don’t overdo it. TS should be the exception rather than the rule. It can quickly lose it’s effectiveness when over-utilized. Make it your icing on the cake, instead of the other way around. TS lenses don’t come cheap, but they are tons of fun and extremely effective when used correctly. If you don’t own one, try renting one for a day and see if it’s something that fits in with your creative and technical needs. Have fun!

All of these images were captured with Canon cameras and the 24mm TS-E lens.

Breakdown: The Complete Outdoor Image

Carston Oliver samples some deep powder in golden light at Alta Ski Area, UT

With fresh powder, golden light and skilled athletes, the ski shooting earlier this week was…all time. My fingers still hurt from the cold, but when it’s good, there’s no time for hand warmers…
I’ve adopted a credo in my shooting that there must be three elements in an image for it to be considered a “complete” image. …You must have:

1. Superb light
2. Engaging subject matter
3. Dynamic Composition

This image of Carston Oliver at Alta Ski Area is a testament to all three of these elements coming together, and the impact it can have from a visual standpoint.
We waited for nearly 40 minutes at this spot as the sun gave us the ultimate in and out tease. The waiting paid off as the clouds parted for ten minutes of delicious golden light. Like I’ve said before, if I could bottle this light up and sell it, I’d be a rich man!
I composed the image in such a way that placed the skier in the left hand side of the frame, and left the entire remaining 2/3 of the frame open. This gives the viewer context, and lends a satisfactory balance to the entire image. It also gives the image depth, including the setting sun and Little Cottonwood Canyon for the full three-dimensional effect.

Believe it or not, no filters were used on this image. Just careful exposure for the highlights, ensuring that there was still enough mid tone and shadow detail by checking the histogram. Use your histogram! It’s a ridiculously useful tool for digital photography.
Find a way to include the three elements listed above, and you will fin yourself with more complete outdoor images than ever before.

Best Photog Watch Ever???

As a landscape and active lifestyle photographer, I spend as much time looking at sunrise/sunset times as a wall street junkie spends checking the DOW. It dictates when, where and how I shoot. It is one of the single most useful and vital pieces of information to getting my job done, and getting it done well. If I could, I would hotwire my brain to the big eye in the sky and I would just know when that sun would rise and set each day. That would be too easy…

Nearly just as easy, however, would be having that information on your wrist each and every day. Enter the Suunto Core Extreme Edition Everest. With over 400 pre-programmed locations worldwide for determining sunrise/sunset times every day of the year, it is certainly one of the handiest tools I’ve discovered out there for making good on the cliche of being at the right place at the right time. Sure you can look up the same info on your phone, iPad or any number of other devices, but I am all about simplifying and minimizing. The easier it is, the more useful it will be. And how often do we find ourselves wondering this info where phone service and/or wi-fi is nowhere to be found?  If you’re serious about getting serious images, check out this watch. There’s a host of other features you’ll find useful as well (altimeter/barometer, compass, storm alarm, depth meter, etc.), and the extra super bonus feature? It looks rad. ‘Nuff said.

Capturing that five-star powder shot!

Skier Ben Wheeler skiing deep powder at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, UT.

Pow. Pow. Powder!!!

Still getting through my edit from the Warren Miller shoot last week at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. This shot of Ben Wheeler happens to be one of my faves from the day. It’s nothing revolutionary by any means, but there’s something about an action-infused, frame-filling powder shot that gets the blood going.

So what’s the key to getting that powder keeper? Luck? Super rad really huge professional looking camera? Cool guy goggle tan? Yes. Yes. Annnnnnd yes. Ok not really.

In all seriousness, there are a couple of key elements to successfully capture powder shots time after time.

1. Great snow. Yes. Thank you captain obvious. But it’s true folks. Without great snow, you can’t expect to create that mouth watering pow shot.

2. Skilled skier. This is perhaps the most important element. A very good skier can make even marginal snow look better than most can imagine. There’s a huge difference between a strong skier, and a skier that knows what to do and how to do it in front of the lens.

3. Fast camera/fast lens. While these are not absolutely required, it will make it much easier for you to capture that one perfect keeper. The Canon 1D MkIV shoots 10 fps (frames per second), which is ridiculously fast. Every frame matters, however, when both the skier and the snow are changing places at fractions of a second. A fast lens (preferably f2.8 or faster) is key to stopping the action in low light conditions and separating your skier from the background with shallow depth of field shooting.

4. AF Confidence. I trade off between focus tracking with auto focus and pre focusing with manual focus. It all depends on the type of shot. In this, as we were shooting with a cinematographer, the skier must ski a fluid line, which makes it much harder (if not impossible) for the photog to pre-focus. This is when you must understand your AF system and how it functions. Read your manual. Some AF systems are super customizable, and the better you understand it, the better it will perform for you.

5. AF-on button. This is Canon specific, but I imagine Nikon has something similar. By tweaking your custom settings, you can set your shutter button so that it affects only the actual shutter operation and metering. By utilizing your AF-on button (with your thumb) throughout the entire burst shooting sequence, you allow you camera to micro-adjust focus and track the skier between each frame.

6. Pre-visualize. Understand what you want to fill the frame. Understand how the snow will react to the skier. Understand where in his/her turn your money shot is. All of this translates into which lens you use, how you compose the image, where you place the skier in your frame and how you follow him/her throughout the sequence.

Now pray for snow, and go get em’!

Canon 1D MkIV, 70-200 2.8IS, Clik Elite Contrejour backpack

ABP Travel Photography Seminar at Pictureline (with M&M Photo Tours)

Photographer Adam Barker presenting at Pictureline Camera Store in Salt Lake City, Ut

What an awesome event last night at Pictureline (read: better than Disneyland for every photographer). I presented some of my favorite images from my 2010 SE Asia Photo Tour with M&M Photo Tours to a packed house. The audience participation was fantastic, M&M shared some useful travel tips and great travel imagery, and everyone left with their entry fee returned to them in the form of a Pictureline gift card. I’ve included several images from the event, as well as some of the imagery I wasn’t able to share. Click this link to check out more images from the event and some commentary from the attendees.

Photographer Adam Barker presenting to a packed house at Pictureline Camera Store in Salt Lake City, UT

Photographer Adam Barker presenting to a packed house at Pictureline Camera Store in Salt Lake City, UT

Water Buffalo on terraced rice fields in Can Cau Village, Vietnam

Banteay Srei in early light, Angkor Thom Complex, Cambodia

Two monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Serene evening at Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Fishing boat dwarfed by towring limestone cliffs in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The Bayon at Dusk, Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Woman bartering goods at night market in Luang Prabang, Laos

Apsara dancers, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Still Photography: The Power to Stop Time

Skier Forrest Coots, getting a proper facial cleanse at Alta Ski Area, UT

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to stop time? You know–timeout, Zach Morris style (for all you closet Saved By The Bell Fans). Well then–pick up a camera and make it happen.

Each and every time we click the shutter, we are essentially stopping time. We are recording fractions of a second that, much of the time, simply occur too quickly for the human eye to fully perceive what just took place. While we can’t remain in that moment in a literal sense, we can relive that moment, and even rediscover it entirely, thanks to a little black box with a shutter button.

I shot this image of professional skier Forrest Coots earlier this week in downright frigid temperatures, as the sun was setting in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT. Many of us are skiers, hopelessly impassioned to the pursuit of fresh powder. We know what it feels like. If you’ve had it good, you know what it tastes like. If you’ve had it even better you know what it looks like from the inside out (white room!). But what does it look like from the outside in??? Of the countless powder ski shots I’ve both captured and viewed, this one struck a particular chord with me.

The detail and clarity is beyond anything I could’ve imagined–mostly due to the fact that my eyes can’t pick that sort of detail out in real time (as mentioned earlier). The almost violent blending of shadow and highlight, coupled with the full gamut of snow textures from minute speck to all-encompassing powder cloud, reveal the true power and impact of still photography.

Remember that the next time you’re walking around with your big bad DSLR or itty bitty point and shoot–you’ve got the power to stop time and reveal something no one has ever seen before.


Is pretty.