Dear Fly Fishing Photographer…

Believe it or not, you CAN make money at this game. Oh yes! It’s not just some pie in the sky myth that might come true on the 4th leap year of the new Etruscan moon cycle while the tide is full and Mother Earth’s Unicorn plays Greensleeves on a diamond encrusted ukelele. Believe it or not, there are clients out there that would pay money, and decent money at that for quality imagery. Yet, currently, these budgets are being allocated elsewhere as it’s just that easy to find the next travel-hungry lensman ready to jump on a plane and deliver “everything” for a week’s worth of pina coladas and a pre-planned sunburn.

Yes, it’s true–travel is exotic, fun and fantastic for the time being. But think about this–someday, you will truly end up realizing that dream of making a living as a full time professional photographer,  and there will be no side job or other income to pay those bills that are not being paid with a high five to your bro on the front of a panga. Keep in mind you actually just paid to get to that panga (I know, flights are cheap yo!). Sure, everything’s covered once you’re there, but that’s where you’re coming up short once again–you’re working hard, using your hard-earned (and paid for) equipment and spending time away from the computer or other jobs that would be putting legitimate income into your bank account. It all feels pretty good, until you get home and have to spend another 20 hours editing, processing and uploading the unlimited number of images you owe the lodge for the “free but paid and STILL paying for” shooting gig.

It’s all good, cause you can come home and then license the images to the next rod, reel or apparel company that has been trained to trade product for imagery. A new reel–suh-weet! Add that to your collection and then hustle back to the computer and list it on Ebay. Feels quite proper, until you actually think about the cycle here. Let’s see…reel company trades you a reel for imagery. You then go and hawk the reel for a fraction of the new price, justifying the deal done for trade and finally actually putting some cold hard cash in your pocket. Then you realize this means that one less person will be purchasing one less reel from your local fly fishing shop which will be ordering one less reel from the manufacturer which means the manufacturers expendable income for things like marketing (imagery) is hurting even more. It’s an ugly cycle. One that really only hurts everyone in the end…

In all fairness though, there is plenty of room to play devil’s advocate here. Many of these trips yield legitimate “portfolio-building” imagery, establish relationships with decision makers, and contribute to the overall sexiness of your brand (not talking about the sick silhouetted casting tattoo on your once-rippling lats there, chieftain.). I have certainly been there. And at times, I believed it to be the right decision.  The decision process is/was cloudy at best. To make it even cloudier, you get plenty of time with a rod in your hand and it feeds our incessant need to fish (it’s a sickness!). At different times in your career, it may feel more justified than not. But in the end, it leaves you feeling sheepishly satisfied at best.

One certainly can’t blame the clients. They’ve been trained to take full advantage of us photographers who are essentially peeing in our own kiddie pool time and time again. If I could get a t-bone for the price of a hamburger, you better believe I’d do it.But I can’t help but think it hasn’t bitten them as well.

So, what to do? Decide today that you will make informed decisions. Weigh the pros vs. the cons. Think beyond the next month. There are extenuating circumstances, yes. But take a moment to think about whether the next uber trip to pluto’s fifth moon to fish for the dragon-eyed bumblefish is really going to do anything for you (and those with whom you associate on a professional level) but pad your ego and crowd your Facebook page.

This post is neither a me vs. you post, nor an us vs. them post.  We can all work together to make this industry stronger and healthier than ever before. Mediocre photographers say yes to mediocre deals, which leaves the client with mediocre imagery, which shows the world that they cater to a mediocre crowd looking for a mediocre experience. That spells one giant FAIL for all parties involved. Exceptional photographers say yes to deals that benefit both parties equally. Is there a cash component involved? Ideally, yes. At times, perhaps not, but that lies upon our own shoulders to determine if what we do gain is of adequate value vs. what we deliver.  It’s up to us to educate, negotiate and deliver.

Now.  About that tattoo…

Edit: I’ve had numerous responses to this blog post privately. Some will take this post to be preachy–I don’t mean it as such although it’s somewhat inevitable when addressing a topic such as this with a side of sarcasm. It has nothing to do with jobs I may or may not have been awarded and everything to do with a fluid thought process that influences the way I look at my profession. Let me clarify by noting that each photographer has every right to approach his or her business as he/she so chooses. There are many, many other factors I consider when approaching a shooting opportunity than the bottom line, cash in hand result. Whether this post has you nodding your head in agreement, or cursing the monitor through clenched teeth…it has served its purpose. We progress when we think and analyze. We digress when we refuse to give even a small place in our minds to an alien approach or thought process…

ABP Showcase Slideshow: Environmental Active Lifestyle Imagery

I had a blast at the recent PDN Outdoor Photo Expo here in Salt Lake City. It was fantastic to attend seminars by many other talented photographers, and I had a great turnout to my presentation as well. For all those who couldn’t make it, I’ve included my feature slideshow below. The focus of my seminar was on the fusion of scenic landscape and active lifestyle imagery. Hint: Get the HD uploading, take a lunch/snooze/whatever break, and enjoy the show when you get back!

Published Cover: The Flyfish Journal

AdamBarkerPhotography image on the cover of the current Flyfish Journal

I am so pleased to have the cover of the current issue of the Flyfish Journal. If you’re a fly fisher and you’ve never had the privilege of thumbing through this magazine, drop everything and head to your local newsstand or fishing outfitter. Gorgeous imagery and insightful and entertaining writing adorn its pages. It truly is a step above much of the competition. This ranks right up there as one of my most prized and cherished editorial accomplishments.

Flyfishing Imagery: Best of 2010

Just wrapped up a quick slideshow sharing some of my favorite fly fishing images from 2010. Hope you enjoy!

Belize Part 2 (plus helpful photo editing tips)

Well that was a doozy! Finally through the Belize edit after countless hours of editing/processing/tearing my hair out/more editing/you get the point…check out the gallery here if you like.

Digital photography can be a monster. There’s a false understanding out there of digital photography giving us the opportunity to shoot as many images as possible, with little to no cost at all to the photographer. And really, that’s technically true. Although what many don’t understand is that it costs lots of time and energy to properly manage and maintain a viable, working library or archive of photos. If you don’t maintain a vigorous editing schedule on everything you shoot, before you know it you have terabytes of unsearchable imagery that just sits on a hard drive and keeps you from sleeping at night cause you know you have to take care of it.

Angler Mikey Weir, about 25 minutes into a lengthy battle with an 80+ lb. tarpon on the Belize River.

Angler Mikey Weir, about 25 minutes into a lengthy battle with an 80+ lb. tarpon on the Belize River.

What’s the point of all this drivel??? In short, be committed to editing your images on a regular basis. Below are a couple of tips that will help you to be a better editor.

1. Edit immediately: If you can, it’s best to get on it right after the shoot. Why? Well, for the obvious reason, the sooner you get started, the sooner it will be completed. The more important reason, however, is to get on the edit while the imagery and experience are still fresh in your mind. It’s best if you still have a connection to the shoot, with the conditions, feelings and conscious thoughts of the imagery still right there on the surface. Many times, if you wait to edit, you’ll be editing on only what you see, and sometimes, there’s more that goes into whether or not an image is worth keeping around.

Looking for permit tails in the last light of day near Robinson Point, Belize.

Looking for permit tails in the last light of day near Robinson Point, Belize.

2. Edit voraciously:What does this mean? In simple layman’s terms, it means don’t be afraid to hit that delete button. Especially as a pro, you must be judicious with your HD space. Don’t keep anything that won’t serve a purpose in the end. If it won’t add to your portfolio, suit a client’s needs or make for a viable stock image, get rid of it. One way I do this is by rating my images from 1 to 5 stars. Anything that doesn’t get a rating gets axed.

Up close and personal with the Silver King.

Up close and personal with the Silver King.

3. Edit continuously: If at all possible, try and get through the edit for a shoot in one sitting. I do this because I believe there is a certain flow to an edit session that contributes to the overall quality of the final edit. I know what I’ve been keeping and what I’ve been throwing out. I know if I see repeat images or concepts and avoid keeping too many of the same types of images that will just clutter my hard drive and selection process in the end. This will be difficult on larger shoots, but do your very best–it will pay off in spades.

Angler Jamie Connolly, reviving a permit after a worthy fight.

Angler Jamie Connolly, reviving a permit after a worthy fight.

4. Edit at 100%: I don’t mean to edit every image at 100%, but when you are deciding whether the image is a keeper or not, do yourself a favor and check the image for sharpness at 100%. It doesn’t matter if the image looks good at thumbnail size–it has to look good at 100%, cause that’s what end licensees/users will be checking. Aperture (and many other editing programs) has a nice loupe feature which allows you to zoom in at 100% on your image, following your mouse cursor around instead of zooming the entire image to 100%.

40 feet at 9 o'clock!! Mikey Weir spots a cruising permit near Robinson Point, Belize.

40 feet at 9 o'clock!! Mikey Weir spots a cruising permit near Robinson Point, Belize.

5. Edit to Edit: Not to process. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, and I struggle with it more than any other tip on here. It’s tough not to narrow in on the 5-star images right away and process those in your RAW software app or Photoshop. But be warned that if you get into this habit, you’ll end up with a couple of processed 5-star images and a whole bunch of other crap that never got properly edited. Get through the edit first, and then go back through and watch your images come to life as you work your processing mojo.

Trusty pangas soaking up golden late light just outside of Belize Harbor.

Trusty pangas soaking up golden late light just outside of Belize Harbor.

Hope these tips were helpful. If you found them helpful, please feel free to share with friends on Facebook or fellow tweeters on Twitter!

Belize!!! (part 1)

Ever since I can recall actually discovering (via magazine/movies) the world of saltwater fly fishing, I have harbored the dream of experiencing it for myself one day. In short, it lives up to the hype–and then some.

Patagonia fly fishing ambassador Mikey Weir tossed it into the blue on Rendezvous Reef, Belize

Patagonia fly fishing ambassador Mikey Wier tosses it into the blue on Rendezvous Reef, Belize

Just as Alaska is to freeskiing, Augusta is to golf or Monaco is to racing, so too, is Belize to saltwater fly fishing. Crystal clear water, mile-long flats and significant numbers of varying species of big game fish nearly guarantee an epic experience when plying this country’s Caribbean waters. Belize is a mecca for anglers seeking tarpon, permit, bonefish, snook and a host of other species of fish.

Angler Jamie Connolly takes a break from the action at Robinson Point, Belize.

Angler Jamie Connolly takes a break from the action at Robinson Point, Belize.

I was fortunate to be spending my first Belize experience aboard a 58′ boat called the Rising Tide. Being on a boat gave me prime, immediate access to the water at the best times of day to be shooting, which are always very early and much later than most plan for. Were we staying on land, it would have required much earlier/later departures and just wouldn’t have been possible. Many thanks to Don Muelrath and Mike Copithorne of Off the Hook Fly Fishing for their assistance in setting up the trip.

MIkey Weir cradles a Robinson Point Permit after a worthy battle.

MIkey Wier cradles a Robinson Point Permit after a worthy battle.

When all was said and done, I shot well over 5,000 images and even managed to catch my first ever permit. Awesome! Also key to this trip was my underwater housing from Aquatech. It’s a whole new world below the surface, and I was so pleased to be able to capture these fish in their native element. Also, many thanks to Patagonia, Simms, Winston Rods and Lamson Reels for helping out on the product side of things.

Lunch. Robinson Point, Belize

Lunch. Robinson Point, Belize

Belize Bonefish and Lamson Vanquish Reel

Belize Bonefish and Lamson Vanquish Reel

Angler Ryan Hawkes and Capt. Dean Meyers flee an oncoming cold front near Long Caye, Belize.

Angler Ryan Hawkes and Capt. Dean Meyers flee an oncoming cold front near Long Caye, Belize.

Belizian Bonefish, resting up after a worthy fight.

Belizian Bonefish, resting up after a worthy fight.

Guide Nato and Mikey Weir make good use of waning daylight. Robinson Point, Belize

Guide Nato and Mikey Weir make good use of waning daylight. Robinson Point, Belize

Set a New Standard with Singh Ray Filters

My photographic career is still in its relative infancy, yet I’ve already been fortunate to shoot a wide range of imagery for an even more expansive array of industries. Whether I’m out on a scenic landscape shoot for my own collection, or racing first light for the next commercial client, I always, always have my Singh Ray filters with me.Through my experience, I’ve found that regardless of the type of imagery you’re shooting, the challenges remain largely the same. Something in your frame is often times too bright or too dark leaving the image incomplete without some aid in helping the camera’s sensor to see what your eye is seeing.

Architectural image by AdamBarkerPhotography. Shot at Deer Valley Resort with a Singh Ray 2-stop Hard Step Grad ND Filter

Architectural image by AdamBarkerPhotography. Shot at Deer Valley Resort with a Singh Ray 2-stop Hard Step Grad ND Filter

To use an overly used term, we, as photographers are taught to “think outside the box”. We are taught to find something different to separate ourselves from those less qualified. I have found that by employing my Singh Ray filters in less conventional situations, I am able to deliver a superior image. Sure, you could use artificial lighting in many of these situations, but filters are far less cumbersome. This post is littered with examples of both the more and less conventional uses of Singh Ray filters. Hopefully, you come away inspired to use your filters in ways you never previously imagined.

This first image (top of the post) was made at Deer Valley Resort, UT. When shooting images for a client, it’s important to understand what message they are trying to send through their imagery. I enjoy shooting architectural work, particularly architectural work in the mountain lifestyle genre. I connect well with this type of imagery because I love and live the mountain lifestyle. I understand what it is people hope for when visiting a world class resort. They hope for cold outside and warm inside. They hope for a larger than life winter wonderland. They hope for cozy, comfortable and TBD (to be discovered).

I am able to convey this feeling by enhancing the warm appearance of the lodge on a cold winter’s eve. A 2-stop hard step Grad ND was used to balance and even slightly darken the sky, giving a natural vignette that draws the eye directly to the lodge. Dusk is a fantastic time to use Grad ND filters, as the rich blue sky is deeply saturated and void of harsh contrast.

Sunrise skiing image of Todd Ligare at Alta Ski Area by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured with a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Sunrise skiing image of Todd Ligare at Alta Ski Area by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured with a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

This second image embodies two of my life’s greatest pleasures: skiing pow, and the warm, soft glow of first light. Images like this require foresight, preparation and a desire to capture something not many others can. I am a big believer in capturing nothing less than a complete image. There are countless photographers out there who could shoot a similar image, but the sky would simply be void of detail, tone and color.

With my background in scenic photography, I’m always particular about making sure the sky is given its just attention, regardless of whether it is a secondary part of the image or not. I hand held a 3-stop reverse ND Grad on this image to ensure no detail was lost. The result is a pleasing, complete image, with pink light so sweet you could drink it up, and a sky with detail to boot.

There are two key things to remember when shooting an image like this (with a hand held filter): 1) make sure to communicate with your skier as to exactly where you’d like the turn/action to take place. 2) Find the proper position for your filter, and don’t move with the skier—keep your camera steady and resist the urge to pan with the skier. This will ensure your initial filter placement doesn’t get skewed and lend an unnatural look to parts of the image.

Sunset image of Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon TDI at Saguara National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Sunset image of Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon TDI at Saguara National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

This next image shows a classic commercial scenic image. It’s not too far off from what many of us do when heading out for a standard scenic sunset shoot: find an engaging composition, hope for great sunset light and shoot away.

This image was made during an editorial shoot for Volkswagen’s Das Auto magazine in Saguaro National Park. The art director for the shoot stood there mesmerized as he watched the 4-stop Reverse ND Grad work its magic, effectively bringing the image to life on the liveview display. One thing worth mentioning is the incredible ease that liveview shooting offers us. If your camera has liveview, make a habit of using it! It’s so much easier to pinpoint filter lines, and to see in real time how the filter is balancing out your exposure/histogram.

Architectural image shot at Deer Valley Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 2-stop soft step Grad ND Filter.

Architectural image shot at Deer Valley Resort by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 2-stop soft step Grad ND Filter.

This winter I have been shooting a great deal of architectural imagery. I am a student of existing light (read: I’m terrible with flash photography). Interior lighting can certainly pose some unique challenges when shooting architectural imagery. My preferred time to shoot is at dusk or dawn, when the ambient light balances with the interior light, and you get that soft purple glow in the windows. (Please note that there are countless other ways to shoot architectural imagery, this is simply my preferred method and style).

Even if the exterior/interior light are balanced, however, there still may be hot spots in your image. On a whim, I began using my soft step Grad ND filters to balance out these lighting obstacles. The results were more than pleasing, and before long, I found myself shooting with Grad ND filters inside as much as I do outside. Soft step grads are the perfect filter for this type of imagery as there is little in the way of a defined filter line. Experiment with grad ND filters the next time you shoot interior architectural imagery—it’s much less expensive than an extensive lighting setup, and there’s no setup at all!

Fly fishing image of Andrew Swindle on the Middle Provo River, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Fly fishing image of Andrew Swindle on the Middle Provo River, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

These last two images demonstrate classic uses of a Reverse ND Grad filter. I am a sunstar fanatic, and have found that with the combination of my 3-stop reverse ND grad and my Canon 16-35mm MkII  (and a bit of help from Mother Nature), I’m able to create dynamic images rich in color and detail, with the added bonus of a sharp, succinct sunstar. The ideal time to capture images like this is right as the sun is either cresting above or dipping below the horizon line.

Scenic image of barrel cactus and sunset at Tucson Mountain Park near Saguaro National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

Scenic image of barrel cactus and sunset at Tucson Mountain Park near Saguaro National Park by AdamBarkerPhotography. Captured using a Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad Filter.

The fly fishing image on the Middle Provo River, UT was shot at sunrise. The cactus image, shot in the Tucson Mountain Park was created at sunset. The “perfect opportunity” will last literally just seconds for this type of image, so take special care to find your composition and adjust your camera settings early, allowing yourself to take advantage of the short period of time in which the sun is just hitting that horizon line.  Take special care to stop your lens down to (at least) f16 or so to ensure a tight, defined sunstar.

Regardless of the imagery or circumstance, don’t leave your Singh Ray filters home. As was mentioned earlier in this post, the images may change, but the challenges remain the same. Take your scenic expertise to other genres of imagery and you will find yourself capable of creating magic wherever the camera takes you.

Upgrade your Creativity

With the announcement of the new Canon EOS 7D, I’ve been thinking a bunch about how quickly technology is advancing these days. If you look at what we were shooting digital images with just 5 years ago, the advancements are mind blowing. It would appear, that it’s becoming easier to shoot “good” images and becoming increasingly harder to stand out as a photographer and create imagery that one remembers. In this world of visual distractions (and attractions), only the technically sound and (perhaps more importantly) the creatively innovative will be able to produce imagery that will stand the test of time.

Fall color, perfect for photography in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Fall color, perfect for photography in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Here’s a frightening statistc: Online photo sharing site Flickr hosts more than 3.5 billion images. An average of 3 million images are uploaded daily. You read that right. 3 million images are uploaded EVERY DAY. How, in the name of Ansel, are you going to produce something that stands out?

A hiker gazes in wonder at a tree growing through red rock canyons on Wallstreet, Bryce Canyon National Park

A hiker gazes in wonder at a tree growing through red rock canyons on Wallstreet, Bryce Canyon National Park

Here is some food for thought. Instead of upgrading your camera, lens, computer, memory card, huge 30″ monitor, new zoom lens, tripod, filters, cable release, operating system, editing software, backpack, lens cap, camera belt, lens cleaning solution, dust remover or any other piece of the endless list of equipment we all use, try this: UPGRADE YOUR CREATIVITY. Manufacturers produce new cameras nearly every quarter these days, but how often do we upgrade our ability not just to create, but to see better imagery.

Morning storm clouds and mist over the Wasatch Mountains, east of Salt Lake City, UT

Morning storm clouds over the Wasatch Mountains, east of Salt Lake City, UT

Read a good book. Follow an inspiring blog. Give yourself a challenging assignment. Fail. Succeed. And then do it all over again. And here’s the important part–do it with your own style and panache.

Trail running in late evening light through the foothills above Salt Lake City, UT

Trail running in late evening light through the foothills above Salt Lake City, UT

Here’s another idea: Build your own better version of you. How long have you been running on Joe v1.1 or Sarah v1.2. It’s time to upgrade to version 1.5, or better yet, give yourself an entire system upgrade and find Bill v2.0. Sleeker, faster, smoother, more efficient, and a creative animal beyond compare. Hey! I’d buy it!

A few stout sprigs of Indian Paintbrush stand resolutely beneath towering aspen trees in Big Cotonwood Canyon, UT

A few stout sprigs of Indian Paintbrush stand resolutely beneath towering aspen trees in Big Cotonwood Canyon, UT

The longer I am in the business of photography, the harder it gets to challenge myself to be a better version of me. Resist the temptation to become a better Chase Jarvis or Art Wolfe or even (gasp) Adam Barker. Much like looking at a road map, the work of established photographers doesn’t speak so much to the destination as it does to the journey. There are a million ways to arrive at the pinnacle, why follow a path already trodden?

A bent rod and tight line on the Weber River, UT

A bent rod and tight line on the Weber River, UT