Shoot Better Cityscapes

Cityscape of New York City Skyline at dusk

Cityscape of New York City Skyline at dusk

With the recent explosion of photo-sharing sites on the web, it seems that landscape photography is at an all-time high. I’m consistently blown away by the caliber of imagery I see being captured the world over on a daily basis. Along with this ever-present promotion of far-flung, corner-of-the-world places comes the desire to travel to the ends of the earth to capture the most dramatic image of places few knew existed.

Did you know that over half of the world population lives in urban areas, however? This means that over 3.5 billion of us live in or near cities. Which means it’s time to polish up on those cityscape skills of yours! I enjoy shooting these concrete jungles, and with a little practice, you might find they begin to occupy a gaping hole in your travel portfolio. Read on for a few tips on how to shoot better cityscape images!

1. Shoot at Dawn and/or Dusk
This is the no-brainer, super straight-forward, can’t go wrong tip. Dawn and dusk (just before sunrise and just after sunset) are the periods of day and night when the ambient (existing) light balances with the artificial light from buildings, street lamps, cars, etc. The sky turns a deep, rich blue or indigo, the city lights pop and…VOILA! Instant cityscape! Take note that you will need a sturdy tripod and be practiced up on your long exposure shooting. Many of these images are in the range of 5 – 20 seconds, so you must take special care not to bump the camera, thus rendering the image soft.

Cityscape image of Vancouver, BC

Cityscape image of Vancouver, BC

2. Provide Some Context 
Rather than just shoot frame-filling city, why not include a bit of context in the image. Take this example of Vancouver. With its beautiful walking trails winding through coastal bays, Vancouver is a thriving urban area intertwined with spectacular natural surroundings. Consider different ways to frame and present the city that you’re shooting—these types of images can be especially attractive to magazines and other editorial outlets.

Cityscape image of Seattle with storm clouds at sunset as shot from Alki Beach

Cityscape image of Seattle with storm clouds at sunset as shot from Alki Beach

3. Search Out Dramatic Weather 
While I could put this tip in nearly every one of my blog posts regarding so many different types of shooting, I feel it is especially true with cityscapes. Many times, we find ourselves shooting cityscapes from iconic locations. These locations are popular for a reason, as often times they offer the best views and vantage points. This means it is not entirely uncommon to come away with an image that is quite similar to so many others out there. The one separating factor when shooting from these iconic locations that we can utilize to our advantage is dramatic weather. This image, taken from Alki Beach near Seattle, WA is nothing revolutionary in and of itself. However, I was fortunate to be rewarded with a stormy sunset, which separates it from many of the other images shot from this location.

Cityscape image of San Francisco's Painted Ladies at dusk

Cityscape image of San Francisco’s Painted Ladies at dusk

4. Compress the Scene for Heightened Visual Interest 
Many city overlooks feature impressive foreground and background subject matter. This serves as the perfect opportunity to pull out a telephoto lens and compress the scene. By compressing the scene, we are effectively pulling the background in very tight to our foreground, thus adding depth and dimensionality to our images which gives the viewer a much more three dimensional experience when viewing the image.

Travel image of downtown Partenkirchen, Germany at dusk

Travel image of downtown Partenkirchen, Germany at dusk

5. Use a Tilt-shift Lens for Creative Control 
The tilt-shift look has become increasingly popular of late. Just bring up your Instagram feed and see how many images come up with that snow globe, dream-like feel. It’s likely that most of those images have been given the effect after capture, but if you happen to have a tilt-shift lens in your arsenal, you can capture this type of image upon clicking the shutter button. Without getting overly technical, tilt-shift lenses let you keep a “slice” of the image in focus, thus drawing the viewer’s attention to a particular part of the frame that is different, and (at times) far more effective than just shooting at shallow apertures. Given you use it modestly, this effect can be super fun, and serves as a great alternative to shooting a traditional cityscape image.

Fine art travel image of East Jerusalem, Israel in black and white

Fine art travel image of East Jerusalem, Israel in black and white

6. See in Black and White
As is apparent in this post, it seems most of the cityscape images we see are in color. However, many cities present themselves exceptionally well in monochrome. This hazy late evening image of East Jerusalem is one such example. Next time you come home from shooting cityscapes, try processing a select few in black & white. This might help you to “see” BW cityscapes in the future.

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7. Try Something New
As I say with most every tutorial I write, try shedding the above “rules” of shooting better cityscapes and let your heart and creative vision guide you. Try a new angle, a new time of day or night or a different lens. Look for new and intriguing ways to capture your city. Save up some money and book a helicopter for a completely different view of what’s below. Find something that excites you, and then run with it. Good luck!

Don’t be scared of the big bad black…

An angler makes a spey cast on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile.

An angler makes a spey cast on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile.

I have always loved contrasty images. When done correctly, they engage the viewer and hold our attention within the frame.

Lately, there seems to be a trend with bringing detail into every part of the image with HDR or other adjustments in post. Honestly, I love the fact that we can express our vision in so many ways through photography. I’m not at all opposed to HDR, or this growing trend–even if I don’t subscribe to it myself.

I do feel strongly, however, that the inclusion of highlights and shadows as a compositional element is all but a lost art. It’s amazing how much Mother Nature does for us if we just let her. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this as well, as I am a huge fan of being able to bring out shadowed foregrounds with the use of Grad ND filters.

Images like this of an angler on the Rio Grande (Tierra del Fuego, Chile) take on an entirely different feel when we give in to the big bad black. It is less about an activity, or even a place, and more about a graphic. It’s an oversimplification, and I truly believe that in many images, less is absolutely more.

So resist that urge to recover the shadows. Study your frame and decide what’s of greatest importance. Try letting go of that perfectly balanced exposure. By giving that up, you just might create an image that’s markedly different and better than what you’ve trained yourself to capture.

The Tug is the Drug

Angler Oliver White flyfishing for sharks on South Andros Island, Bahamas.

Angler Oliver White flyfishing for sharks on South Andros Island, Bahamas.

“The tug is the drug”.

This is a common saying amongst flyfishers, and one that rings true if you’ve ever had a good bend in the rod. Here, pro angler Oliver White sets the hook like a champ against a 6-ft lemon shark in the waters of South Andros, Bahamas.

Sometimes, when capturing a sport or activity, we forget that it’s often the more intimate moments that really hit home with viewers. It may not be the prettiest or most impressive scene, but it is something that demonstrates your understanding of what really means something to the audience with which you are trying to connect.

Despite the exclusion of the bigger picture, sometimes these intimate pieces engage the viewer much more immediately and require them to explore what is actually occurring. Once discovered, there’s a sub-conscious recognition, and immediate connection.

Strive to diversify the way you capture whatever it is that you capture. Challenge yourself to tell the story in a different way. Step out of that comfortable box and try exploring a different part of the scene. It may feel a bit funny at first, but I promise you will grow as a photographer because of it!

Story Behind the Shot: Rio Serrano BW

Black and white landscape photo of Rio Serrano and Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia by Adam Barker Photography

Black and white landscape photo of Rio Serrano and Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia by Adam Barker Photography

I captured this image on the 10th day of a nearly 3-week run and gun mission through the wilds of Chilean Patagonia. The impetus for the trip was really fly fishing, but I knew I would be served numerous opportunities to shoot scenic imagery as well, especially in the famed Torres del Paine National Park.

By day number ten of waking up before the sun, motivation comes more in the form of a slow, sad drip than a flood of excitement and energy. I was tired (aren’t we all???), and as I set my alarm clock for yet another mind-numbing hour, I wondered if I was really going to rise and shine, or even rise at all. Throw in the fact that skies were socked in and the likelihood of morning light was minimal, and I was darn near comatose by the time my head hit the pillow.

4:30 am came way too early, and as I peered out my window, my fears (hopes???) were confirmed as the weather still looked to be less than ideal for a sunrise shoot. I was a mixed bag of fatigue-induced emotions, equal parts stoked to justify a few more hours of sleep as well as disappointed that my hopes for an epic sunrise were dashed. I lay back down–restless. Minutes ticked by…I couldn’t do it. I had to get up. No matter how I tried to justify, I could not…not shoot. Here I was in one of the most wildly beautiful places on earth, and damn it all if a few clouds and half-closed eyelids were going to hold me back…

I frantically threw on my clothes, grabbed my pack, turned on my headlamp and out the door I went.

As part of a larger group during the entirety of this trip, I did not have my own car, so I was relegated to shooting locations that were relatively easy to get to from where we were staying. As I walked hurriedly up the dirt road, the clouds began to clear a bit, and the ambient light began to grow brighter.

Let’s clarify something real quick here–dawn is a fantastic time to shoot landscape imagery. The light is soft and inviting. It is one of my favorite types of light to shoot. Dawn, however, is incredibly fleeting. It does not occur right before sunrise. Typically, dawn happens about 8-15 minutes before sunrise. These were the thoughts that were going through my head as I watched dawn grow closer…and closer. I quickly realized that I had myself in quite a conundrum…I was still a decent ways away from my pre-selected shooting spot.

So I did what any photographer would do when suffering from the immediate effects of FOMI (Fear Of Missing It–closely related to FOMIA [fear of missing it ALL]).I STARTED RUNNING. I’m not talking casual fast-paced walk here. I’m talking Usaine Bolt arm-pumping, foaming at the mouth, heart coming through my throat sprint with a fully loaded camera pack. My lungs felt like the inside of a crematorium–I promise you I was closer to respiratory failure than Joan Rivers is to her next facial procedure…

With no time to spare, I arrived at “the spot”. I threw my pack on the ground, wrestled my camera onto the tripod, inserted the cable release, grabbed a grad filter and clicked away like the crazed photographer that I was/am. Sunrise was a bit of a bust, but dawn was worth every minute on the pain train. Moral of the story? Don’t set your alarm if you don’t plan on getting up. And if you do plan on getting up, don’t go back to bed for 10 min before putting yourself through hell to capture the goods. Oh, and the real moral of the story??? Don’t give yourself a choice. ALWAYS get up and go. I’ve never regretted getting skunked behind the lens, but I certainly wouldn’t mind taking back all the times I buried my head in the pillow…

Behind the Shot: Mountain Khakis Early Spring Catalog Cover

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Can it really already be considered “early Spring”??? I guess the good folks at Mountain Khakis think so, as has been made known by the arrival of their early Spring catalog, featuring a cover and a load of other images from our catalog shoot last summer in Oregon and along the Salmon River.

I was fired up to see they chose an especially fun shot for the cover, one that took some quick thinking on both the technical and creative end of things. The short of it is that this image nearly never happened. We had about 30 min before we were supposed to head out and prep for a sunset shoot along Lake Wallowa and we decided to make use of an old Willy’s Jeep (in immaculate condition) that had been loaned to us by a kind local.

Much of the imagery we focus on with these catalog shoots is capturing the spontaneous and fun nature of the MK lifestyle. I’m always looking for an emotive image–one that makes people want to be a part of this brand/lifestyle. With that in mind, I wanted to get up close and personal as the talent was epitomizing random summer fun with an old jeep and a longboard.

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I quickly set up a Manfrotto Magic Arm on the front side panel of the jeep. Shooting a Canon 5D MKII with an 8-15mm fisheye lens meant I could capture all of the action from an angle very near the driver. I attached an intervalometer to the camera and set it to take a picture every second until I stopped the sequence. Everything was set…and then the Jeep got a little cranky. We couldn’t get it started and finally resorted to pushing the jeep and compression starting this hearty hunk of metal.

What ensued was several trips up and down the highway, experimenting with different shutter speeds and camera positions, running alongside hooting and hollering and generally having a blast in mid-day light. It also took an exceptionally gifted clutch/gas operator to keep the Jeep running. Nice work Nate Morgan! It seems like the best ideas always face the most hurdles! Don’t give up on that vision!

Check out the vid below for a little BTS vid action from the entire shoot, and a better view of our setup for this image.

 

 

Surround Yourself with Greatness…

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The advent of digital imaging has opened up the world of professional-grade imaging to an audience far greater than most photographers could have ever imagined. Yes–it’s true–it has never been easier to shoot a “pretty good” image, and people are catching on. It is super cool to see so many people fired up about photography, but with that new, sexy appeal comes its own challenges for those that make their living as full-time professional photographers. I’ll stop there…this is not another rant about my cousin’s uncle’s pony’s dog that just stole a great job from under my nose because he charges way less than me or (insert commonplace pro photog rant here). In fact, this post is quite the opposite.

It has always been apparent to me that we will never truly reach our greatest potential if not pushed by some outward influence. Whether that be encouragement from friends/family, discouragement from naysayers, or something somewhere in between, we will never really know what we’re capable of until pushed beyond that which we thought was our previous best.

My answer to this moderately crowded profession??? Embrace the competition. Surround yourself with greatness. Be confident in your own ability to produce something that has your own unique style/brand/stamp/calling card. Most importantly, BE BETTER. Don’t waste your time wondering why you weren’t published here or hired there–figure out who just got whatever you wanted, and what you can do to get it next time.

I was browsing the latest issue of Powder magazine and was blown away at both the number and quality of images put out by photographers that make their home right here in Salt Lake City. I’m proud to call many of them friends, and I’m even more proud to have my work included amidst theirs. If you want to be better than the best, you must surround yourself with the best. Then watch, listen and learn–don’t gripe, covet or make excuses.

These days, with the interwebz in every nook, cranny and nether region of planet Earth, we have the entire world at our finger tips. See your competition for the motivating force that it can be–and then be better.

 

Interview with Shoot to Earn

From tearful frustration to triumphant success, I get up close and personal in the video interview above…it offers unique insight into my career journey thus far…

Background: I had the great fortune of working with talented wedding and lifestyle photographer Aaron Dieppa during a week-long ad shoot for Manfrotto earlier this year. In addition to his great taste in hair-style ;), he has a very enterprising mind and has recently launched an awesome website that will serve as an inspirational resource to budding photographers and experienced pros for years to come.He discusses about his career and offers tips plus he is part of family photographers adelaide

Check out www.shoottoearn.com for interviews with established photographers from portrait to landscape to advertising to…you name it.

I’m honored to be one of Aaron’s first interviews. It’s definitely lengthy, but I’d like to think it’s worth a lunch break or long car ride. Enjoy!

 

Desert Southwest Workshop with Adam Barker & Mylo Fowler, Oct. 11-13 2013

Desert SW Teaser

Preliminary Itinerary. (Weather permitting.)
• Location: Page, Arizona and Navajoland of Northern Arizona. Home area of Mylo.
“Mylo will always have the supreme upper hand in photographing this area of Northern Arizona. It’s his home!!! He has access the outside world doesn’t. For that reason and his knowledge of land, light and landscape photography mechanics, one may jeopardize his photographic visit if not with Mylo.” Name Withheld for Intended Purposes
(Photographer and Owner of Multiple Galleries on the Las Vegas strip and other locations).
• Workshop Host Location: Courtyard by Marriott 600 Clubhouse Drive. Page, AZ 86040.
• When: October 11-13th 2013 Three (3) full days. One of the only places where a workshop can use all the available light provided in a day. This isn’t a sunrise/sunset only photographic location. Adequate classroom work and rest will be provided. You won’t burn out.
• Where: 10-12 locations. Colorado River, Slot Canyons, sand dunes, sage and Navajo sandstone formations. How to use clouds to your advantage and how to create stunning images with severe clear –no cloud filled skies. (Weather permitting ☺)
• What: The Field Work. We will cover using an assortment of filters, composition, and artistic emotion in the image, why your best friends name is Histogram, tripod usage and creating panoramic images. A lot of hands on, one on one field work from award winning photographers Adam Barker and Mylo Fowler. They will always be in reach of assistance for help, review and critiques.
• Taking your photography to the next level: 5 to 6 Classroom Sessions: Conference Room setting. We will dive into exposing great images and creating stunning fine art with post processing software. We will cover creating exceptional compositions, controlling all elements of light, sharp as tact depth of field images, color renditions and high quality creativity from your camera. How to create a few supreme images instead of hoarding 5,000 images from a location you will never use.

One of the highlight classroom sessions will be the group critique sessions. Why? This will allow you to see your work from a different perspective. IF you want long lasting friends in the photography world, this is where a lot of the friendships start. Heck, even some marriages! For you single lads and ladies, this isn’t a place to find your future love. Actually, it is. Your love of photography will grow on this workshop! All in all you will get a chance to express your views, speak the same language with fellow photographers that your other friends and family just don’t understand….
• Who is this for? This workshop excursion with Adam and Mylo is for someone who:
➢ …Just bought or was given a digital camera last Christmas and wants to KNOW how to use it and what all the options mean in easy, understandable terms.
➢ …Has less than 5 years of photography experience.
➢ …Is a seasoned amateur or professional looking for the premium guide to the sweet places of Northern Arizona.
➢ …Wants to create 40” prints of stunning desert formations and slot canyon colors.
➢ …Wants to increase their photography IQ.
➢ …Likes hands on teaching. It is for someone who doesn’t want to read the 600 page Owners Manual and for someone who wants to get to the good and juicy elements of creating Award Winning Images.
➢ …Wants to return home knowing more about their camera, equipment and REALLY understanding the camera they bought and had all along.
➢ …Uses film or digital image capture systems. From Cropped sensor, full frame, 35mm, medium and large format film cameras.
➢ …Uses Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony and other systems.
➢ …Wants to expand their image design with various filters from Singh Ray and tripod systems.
➢ …Is getting ready to go on another world class trip and wants to know what to do on their trip. Trust me. You won’t believe how many people come on workshops so they know what to do in Italy, Alaska or in Antarctica. You will be better prepared for your next trip!
• Most importantly, you will have a safe and fun few days in the Desert Southwest! You will be able to create stunning images even in the wildest weather conditions.
The Area: The Colorado Plateau provides an array of image capture and composition. From Page, AZ to Mylo’s home which is about a 35 minute drive South of Page, you will climb over 2,000 feet in elevation. There truly is beauty all around. You will be able to photograph the butte’s that surround Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain that peaks at 10,387’ and other desert formations. October could provide some of the most interesting weather patterns. Snow, lightning, rain, puddles, fog, warm afternoons and incredible cloud formations are very likely. These are the ultimate natural elements in creating 5 star images. You will visually get a full access pass to the workflow, image capture and image creation of Adam Barker and Mylo Fowler. Ultimately, you will build upon your unique foundation and take your photography knowledge, presentation and portfolio to the next level.

It’s about having a memorable time and maybe you will have a life changing experience. Both Adam and Mylo have guided and provided similar workshop services for years. Mylo has guided slot canyon excursions and exotic landscape workshops that number into the thousands. He has worked with many camera makes and models, television companies from National Geographic to Weekend Explorer, publications from Outdoor Photographer Magazine to Arizona Highways. He was recently sought out to assist with Phase One (PODAS) and called on by some of the world’s finest Master Landscape photographers.

He is highly recommended by the Navajo Nation as a steward of the land and caters to personalize all experiences of high caliber companies, networks and the photographer’s experience.
• BONUS: 1.5 – 2 hour Session: Mylo will cover a “How To Create Fine Art and Do Well” class. He will dive into how to create Fine Art images. From creation to presentation. This is usually one of the highlights of the event. Mylo will share with you hot points, important aspects of fine art and how to create images you will be happy to display in your home or gallery. Especially if you are thinking about creating an extra income doing what you love! Taking photographs. He will share with you how to invest in your work. Roma Mouldings will be a sponsor of this classroom session.

We will have demo gear on hand for workshop attendees from the following sponsors: Singh Ray Filters, Manfrotto/Gitzo Tripods, Arc’teryx Outerwear, Clikelite Backpacks, Suunto Watches and Canon

Questions??? Contact Adam at 801-550-9141 or adam@adambarkerphotography.com.


Desert Southwest Workshop Fee



Rebate: From Capture to Cover/Manfrotto Webinar


Several months ago I did a webinar with the Manfrotto School of Xcellence on getting your work published. If you weren’t able to join me for the live presentation, kick back and check out this archived version. Enjoy!

Joshua Tree Sunrise (Study in Light and DOF)

Intimate sunrise in the Cholla Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Intimate sunrise in the Cholla Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Who’s ready for a quick study in light and DOF???

This intimate sunrise image from the Cholla Garden in Joshua Tree NP is the perfect candidate.

Firstly–light. We all know that superb light is the lifeblood of any meaningful landscape image. Know light. Study it. Understand what it can do for your images. This image illustrates the qualities of having the light source behind your subject. “Backlighting” is perfect for accentuating shape and adding drama to your images. It filters through translucent, or light colored objects, and infuses tehm with life. Notice how each little needle on these cholla cacti are lit up, showcasing both the sheer magnitude and quirky nature of this location.

Secondly–this image is a legit study in depth of field. To help people better understand depth of field, I often compare my photographic frame to a loaf of bread. Think of the image in a three-dimensional way–the foreground is your front slice of bread, the background is your back slice of bread. Depth of field pertains to how many “slices” of bread will appear sharp or in focus within our image.

This image illustrates shallow depth of field. You can see that I’ve utilized a technique called selective focus to steer the viewer to a certain part of my frame, focusing on a certain cholla cactus. So, in reference to the loaf of bread example, I have very few slices of bread in focus. Selective focus (utilizing shallow DOF), is a very useful technique when you have busy compositions that would otherwise leave viewers confused and searching frantically for something to settle on visually.

Try this technique the next time you find yourself amidst a challenging, busy composition–and pay attention to that light source, give a go with backlighting!