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!

Environmental Lifestyle Imagery: Don’t be Average

Angler Geoff Mueller casts to cruising bonefish at Bair's Lodge, South Andros, Bahamas.

What is an environmental lifestyle image? Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? It’s an image that gives as much (if not more) attention to the environment, as it does to the activity taking place. It’s the perfect marriage between location

and recreation. It’s the type of image so many of us fall in love with because it highlights both an action or activity as well as a beautiful place. It’s an image that is both beautiful from a straight photographic standpoint, and one that connects with many viewers on a more personal level depending on their experience with the activity actually taking place in the image.

For me, it’s like having my cake and eating it too. I discovered my passion for photography in scenic landscape work. I have also been an avid participant in many recreational pursuits since a young age. It’s a combo that takes me to many beautiful locations, while watching and/or participating in the things I love to do.

This image embodies everything I love about fly fishing on the ocean. Clean, open air. Limitless space. Uninhibited motion. Surreal landscape. Endless skies. Soft, barefoot sand. Whether approaching it with a camera, or a rod in hand, it is an absolute dream.

This image was captured about 15 min before sunset. Having that sun low on the horizon emphasized the repetitive texture in this spit of sand. The location was perfect here. The activity was spot on. But the light it what brought this image to life. Without light, this image is an average shot of a dude casting to bonefish on a pleasant spit of sand in the middle of the Bahamas. And we all know that average is just as close to the bottom as it is to the top.

Don’t be average.

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…

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 Perfect Father’s Day Gift?

_MG_1746 (1)

If he’s a flyfisher, I sure think so!

It’s not too late to order one and get it in your hands for Father’s Day. I have four left in my current inventory. Three 5 x 7 prints are double matted and framed in an elegant dark wood molding, making for an intimate gift for the fly fishing dad in your life. Pricing is $265.00. I’m willing to give the next two orders 10% off, saving an additional $20.00. Please send an email to adam(at)adambarkerphotography.com to order.