Photography: Vision & Problem Solving

The Osguthorpe Barn near Park City, UT. Captured by Adam Barker Photography.

For those of you who live in or near Park City, UT, you will quickly recognize this barn. It is certainly one of the more photographed structures in northern UT. And rightly so! The Osguthorpe Barn (or McPolin Barn depending on who you talk to) has greeted visitors and locals alike traveling in to Park City since 1921. Simply put, it is a classic.

I have photographed here many times before, I’ll

do so many times in the future. It is the utmost in Americana, and I enjoy the challenge in finding new ways to capture the barn and its surroundings.

I arrived at this location later in the morning, and low fog was just beginning to thin out. I was excited to be at this spot with conditions I’d never seen before! I worked through several compositions, but none of them really worked as a whole.

Finally, I settled on a wider angle image, utilizing cattails as my FG subject. I’ve shot from this exact location before in the winter, but this time the grouping of cattails seemed more elongated towards the barn, and a vertical composition seemed more appropriate.

I actually began composing this image with my 16-35mm lens. I wanted to incorporate a more complete wide angle foreground, but I still wanted to maintain emphasis and hold the viewer’s attention on the barn itself. With the 16-35mm stopped down for maximum DOF, the scene felt busy, and my eye simply wouldn’t settle on the barn as I’d like it to.

Finally, I chose to pull out my 24mm tilt shift lens. By both tilting my plane of focus and shooting at a wide open aperture of f4.5, I was able to have my cake and eat it too.

The cattails are selectively blurred, giving context and providing the FG filler that I was looking for. Yet the sharp contrast in sharp vs. blurred takes the eye directly to the barn. Why didn’t I just shoot my 16-35mm wide open? Being a super wide angle f2.8 lens, it wasn’t giving me quite the separation that I needed from a DOF standpoint. Why didn’t I throw on a longer lens and utilize a shallow aperture to achieve that separation? Throwing on a longer lens would have effectively flattened this scene. I would have gotten that separation, but I would not have achieved the depth I get from a wide angle composition–I would not have that immediate, engaging FG element grab the viewer in the same way it does from a wider angle approach.

Much of photography is about simple problem solving. It all begins, however, with a clear vision of what you hope to capture. Know what you want out of a location. Know what type of image you hope to come away with. This will serve as your mental blueprint as you work through the small problems to achieve your final photographic goal.

It’s About Light…

This photography thing–it’s about light!

I’ve had many people ask me throughout my career how I achieve “that look” in my imagery. My answer is always the same–it’s about being where you need to be when Mother Nature puts on the light show, and it’s about understanding how to capture it.

Skies were gray and stormy last night in the Salt Lake valley, yet there was a sliver of sky on the horizon that gave me enough hope to get out and shoot some trail running imagery. We …
shot some stuff with killer clouds, and then we watched (and proceeded to run around like chickens with our heads cut off!) as the sun slipped into that sliver of sky and proceeded to bathe everything around us in a hue of gold nearly impossible to describe.

The image comparison here is perfect for illustrating the immense power of golden light. You can’t replicate it. Two shots, nearly identical save for the ridiculous gap light in the image on the right.

This is our winning lottery ticket. This is our jackpot. This is our payday. This is our pie in the sky. Light like this is what we live for. Find it. Shoot it.

You’ll spend the rest of your lifetime chasing it.

What is AdamBarkerPhotography??? (video)

Who am I? What do I do? Where have I been? Have a look-see at the video. Thanks for stopping by…

Are you creating teasers or pleasers with your landscapes?

Sunset image with storm light in Lake Powell, UT

Are your landscape images teasers or pleasers? I ask this question of my workshop students all the time, as it really requires us to think about HOW we construct an image, and ultimately what kind of viewing experience results.

Think of each image as a visual journey. Just simply associating your image with a journey implies that there is a destination at which the viewer will arrive. Does this destination live up to the journey?

Take this image for example. Photographed during a particularly dramatic evening in Lake Powell, I was ecstatic when the storm clouds parted on the horizon and allowed for several minutes of intense gap light.

This visual journey begins in the lower right hand corner of the frame, winding up and through the image, finally arriving at the climactic “destination” of intense light on the sandstone butte above.

Think about the visual journey in each of your landscape images, and you’ll be creating pleasers, and forgetting the teasers.

11 Best of 2011 from AdamBarkerPhotography

2011 was a spectacular year on all accounts. Foot upon foot of pow skied, fish from Wyoming to the Bahamas hooked, festivals in the far corners of the earth, ancient pathways crossed–all contributed to what could perhaps be one of my most productive years behind the lens. Cliche as it may be, I can’t help but look back in review and share some of my favorites from the past year.  As always, many thanks to my sponsors: Arc’teryx, Suunto, Mark Miller Subaru, Mountain Khakis, Manfrotto School of Xcellence, Clikelite Backpacks and Singh Ray Filters. Hope you all enjoy, and here’s to an even better 2012! (click on images to view larger versions)

1. Jesse Hall takes a moment to ponder human flight, as he stands inside the hot air balloon from which he’ll subsequently launch himself into gravity’s liberating grasp. Park City, UT.

2. Angler Al Chidester finds himself surrounded by all that is good in this world: fresh air, fall foliage…and fantastic fishing in some of western Wyoming’s most treasured water.

3. Fire and rain over Warm Creek Bay, Lake Powell, UT.

4. Hazy skies make for ethereal and ancient interpretations of East Jerusalem, Israel.

5. First light envelopes Agua Canyon in a glow only Mother Nature could furnish. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT.

6. Ralph Lauren’s Double RL Ranch shows its true colors in crisp early morning light. Dallas Divide, CO.

7. Angler Geoff Mueller admires a healthy bonefish (caught and released) in Abaco Island’s skinniest of water.

8. Calm in the chaos of Hanoi traffic, Vietnam.

9. Bavaria’s finest color smiles upon a lone farmer’s shed in the fields near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

10. Skier Drew Stoecklein can, in fact turn right. At just the right time. In just the right place. Alta Backcountry, UT.

11. Angler Geoff Mueller and Oliver White tense up as they ply the waters off Abaco Island for huge permit.

The Value of Vision

Image of William Atkin House at This is The Place Heritage State Park in Salt Lake City, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography

It’s so easy these days to reduce photography to nothing more than pressing a button on the latest camera, with the latest lens, packed in the latest backpack, etc. etc. etc. There’s no question that photography has much to do with equipment. It’s also true that generally speaking, better equipment will yield better results, assuming the photographer has the technical knowledge necessary to utilize the added features and from more advanced equipment. It is most true, however, that exceptional photographers rely on that which is in their head, and not in their hands to produce imagery that will rise above the clutter of mediocrity.

Which brings me to this image from this morning’s shoot in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t planned on shooting this house. I hadn’t really even planned on shooting at all to be honest. But I woke up and the skies looked promising and I needed to breathe some cold air. The skies certainly delivered, but I soon realized that my vision for the scene in front of me had nothing to do with vibrant, cheery color.

This home is a replica of one built in 1877 by a mormon settler named William Atkin. It was located eight miles south of St. George on a 160-acred farm that later became the one-family town of Atkinville.

A one-family town in the middle of nowhere–I’m sure they saw some beautiful sunrises, but I can also imagine the over-abundance of hardships encountered in such an endeavor as well. Lonely. Bleak. Cold. And thus was born this image, which has moderate resemblance to the original (below). I can tell you exactly how I did this, but I’d rather you simply study the image and answer that for yourself. It’s about externalizing the internal thought process at the time of capture, and relies more on cognitive decision-making when shooting the image than reactive experimentation on the computer after the fact.

What’s the point of all this babble? The point is this: if you have no personal investment or direction in the final result of what you hope to create when you click the shutter, there really is very little substantive story-telling to be showcased. Without a story, you have no audience.

It’s likely that I will embrace the in-camera version of this image at some point. After all, I am a sucker for colored up clouds, and it is a beautiful and serene scene. However, on this morning, this was my vision. Vision has value. It’s value is far greater than the latest and greatest doohickey that just hit the interwebz. Vision, or the lack thereof, is ultimately a very large factor in whether you will succeed or fail in your quest to produce exceptional imagery.

Published Gallery Feature: Mountain Magazine

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley (highlights added)

I am ecstatic and honored to be occupying a significant chunk of page space in the winter issue of Mountain Magazine alongside photographer extraordinaire Jordan Manley. Run by a stellar editorial and art team (including former Skiing magazine editor in chief Marc Peruzzi), Mountain Magazine is a sumptuous mix of mountain lifestyle, adventure and profile pieces. If you live and love life in the mountains, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy at your nearest bookseller. These images were shot at a number of local resorts including Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, and feature local pro like Julian Carr, Cody Barnhill and Parker Cook (with an angling cameo from one Jay Beyer!). See my images below, and pick up a copy in print to see the entire feature!

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley

Long Lens Morning: Cascade Peak & Middle Provo River

Winter image of Cascade Peak and Middle Provo River by AdamBarkerPhotography

Banger morning. Middle Provo River. Cascade Peak.

The quick and dirty:
Perfect comp for a long lens shot with engaging elements from front to back of the frame. Think of your photographic frame in three-dimensional terms as a loaf of bread. Long lenses squish that loaf of bread, putting the back slice right up against the front slice. Additionally, this was shot at exactly 90 degrees to the sun, allowing me to utilize the Singh-Ray Filters LB warming polarizing filter to the fullest, deepening the sky, and giving the snowy peaks extra pop.

The What/When/Why/How: Question 4

Osguthorpe Barn in Early Winter, Park City, UT

I recently answered several interview questions for a photography student and one of their projects. Thought it might interest some of you readers out there. I’ll post several of these questions/answers in coming weeks. See previous interview questions here and here.

How do you see the market changing, in the past 5 years, as well as the upcoming 10 years?

This is a tough question to answer. I began my career in the digital era. I learned how to shoot on film, but really, the entirety of my experience as a business person in the photo industry has been in this digital era. I wasn’t around for the “golden days” of the photography industry where $30K creative fees weren’t uncommon for deep pocketed commercial clients and five-star imagery wasn’t a green box auto-mode click away.

It’s tough to predict what will occur in the next 10 years, but as we’ve already seen, I think multi-media will continue to play a larger role in making a living as a professional photographer. Competition will likely continue to increase, but an understanding of how to consistently product exceptional, unique imagery and how to do this in a way that is both attractive and affordable to clients will remain key.

As much as things change (and they certainly will continue to evolve in this industry), many things do stay the same. The small things will continue to make a big difference. Things like timely email/phone/image request response, personal outreach to existing and potential clients, timely updates on one’s latest and greatest work and an upbeat and likeable disposition will still be the one last pebble that tips the scales in your direction when it comes down to you and the next guy with equally appealing imagery.

One thing is always for sure with this industry—if you’re not moving forward, you are moving backwards. There is no neutral. You must be aware of what’s going, and you must adapt. There are so many photographers that have said this industry is dead, and that it will become harder and harder to make a living as a photographer. I disagree with this entirely. It may or may not become more difficult, but more than anything else, it will become different. Like I said, adapt, or fail.

Snippet: AdamBarkerPhotography/Telluride Photo Festival 2011


Here’s a quick look inside (well, really, outside!) my workshop at the 2011 Telluride Photo Festival. As always, many thanks to my sponsors Mark Miller Subaru, Arc’teryx, Mountain Khakis, Singh Ray Filters, Manfrotto School of Xcellence and Clikelite Backpacks. Many thanks to my assistant Nate Sorensen for putting the video together!