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.

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

Images with Impact

I’ve been thinking lately about all of the millions (billions?) of images out there lately and what separates the cream of the crop from the rest. More than anything else, I think it’s about creating an image with impact. Regardless of the type of imagery you shoot, if you can create an image that touches someone in any meaningful way, you can’t help but leave your mark. The best part is that with all the billions of people in this world having all of their billions of experiences each and every day, it is inevitable that you will connect with someone if you shoot with impact in mind. Impact, for me, occurs in the grandiose and the minute. The spectacular, and even the mundane. If you can evoke an emotion, you can have an impact on people. Nuff said.

Feeling small on the Navajo Loop trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Feeling small on the Navajo Loop trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Andrew Swindle waits for the sip on the Weber River, UT

Andrew Swindle waits for the sip on the Weber River, UT

Handcarts in late light at This is the Place Heritage Park, UT

Handcarts in late light at This is the Place Heritage Park, UT

Old Mill Golf Course at sunset, Salt Lake City, UT

Old Mill Golf Course at sunset, Salt Lake City, UT

Bryce Canyon: Experience the Beauty

Conditions last week looked primo for a visit to one of America’s most intriguing national parks. Declared a National Park in 1924, Bryce Canyon is best known for its unique, brightly colored hoodoo formations, created over thousands of years by frost-wedging and rain water. The weather forecast looked promising, calling for fresh snow, and then partly cloudy skies throughout the week. The stage was set for what I hoped to be “all time” conditions for a Bryce Canyon shoot. I had visions of intense pink sunrises, endless spotty clouds and fresh powder.

bryce-canyon-sunset-point-view-pink-cloud-dusk

We arrived instead to…howling winds, frigid temps and…not a flake of new snow. Were it any place but Bryce Canyon, I might have been a bit more disappointed, but the truth is, you’d have to be crazy not to be able to do something with this canvas that Mother Nature was certainly inspired to create–regardless of the weather.

Having only been to Bryce Canyon once previously, I had a number of traditional images in mind that I hope to come home with. As usual, however, I was equally interested in finding my own piece of Bryce that perhaps had not been captured by any other lens. Sure, it may have been glossed over by other eyes, but had it really been seen?

A different take on Thor's Hammer. Shot with a Canon 24mm TS/E lens.

A different take on Thor's Hammer. Shot with a Canon 24mm TS/E lens.

The first evening was cold and relativey clear. Having just arrived in the park, we hurriedly set up at and around Sunset Point. I was really focusing on the big picture here, and the dusk glow was terrific.

Bryce Canyon at dusk, as seen from Sunset Point.

Bryce Canyon at dusk, as seen from Sunset Point.

With the mercury reading a balmy 10 degrees F, we bundled up for sunrise the next morning, again heading to different spots around the canyon rim near Sunset Point. The skies were crystal clear, which meant I would just look for compositions that included less sky. One of the most spectacular things about Bryce Canyon is the way the landscape changes as the sun rises. Hoodoos glow as if lit on fire by the hand of a higher power. The bounce light is insanely beautiful and warm. Typically, I wrap up my morning shoots about an hour or at the very most, two hours after sunrise. We shot well into the morning, taking a hike on the Navajo Loop trail and exploring new photo opportunities around every bend. Winter is a wonderful time to visit Bryce as foot traffic is at a relative crawl compared to other times of the year. Much to our delight, spots that typically would have been a veritable tripod gathering were empty.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park

Late afternoon was spent exploring some of the lesser visited spots in the Park like Agua Canyon and Rainbow Point. The light in Agua Canyon was a tad harsh, but the colors were amazing. My Singh Ray LB Color Combo polarizer was absolutely key in cutting glare, saturating the colors and deepening the sky. Seriously–if you aren’t familiar with a polarizing filter, it is amazing to watch how it transforms the landscape when used correctly. Remember that the best angle for polarization is when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to what you are shooting.

Agua Canyon in afternoon light

Agua Canyon in afternoon light

Sunset that evening was windy and cold at Bryce Point. The view is simply mind blowing. Spotty clouds made for some classic 3D lighting, but we were just a bit late in arriving to capture the best light on the hoodoos. I don’t think I’ve ever shot in wind like that before–it was a huge challenge to handhold my grad NDs while keeping my tripod steady for the longer exposures.

A compressed evening view from Bryce Point. Shot with a Canon 70-200mm lensa and 1.4x teleconverter

A compressed evening view from Bryce Point. Shot with a Canon 70-200mm lensa and 1.4x teleconverter

Sunrise the next morning was spent at one of my new favorite places on earth. Agua Canyon is peppered with interesting, colorful rock creations–all surrounded by towering cliffs offering super cool and engaging angles from which to shoot. Perched on top of an 800 foot cliff, I couldn’t help but pinch myself as I took in the sights and sounds of a truly unique and inspiring place. Movements were slow and steady–one wrong move meant either myself, or my gear taking a life-ending tumble.

Agua Canyon...definitely one of the most exposed places I've ever shot

Agua Canyon...definitely one of the most exposed places I've ever shot (p: Drew Stoecklein)

First Light at Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

First Light at Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

All in all, I’d say the trip was a great success. I find the longer I shoot, the harder it is for me to come away from places with images that impress and inspire. I feel that, especially given the brief nature of the visit, I came away with some memorable imagery. I’ve listed just a few tips that may help you in your next visit to photograph Bryce Canyon National Park.

1. Arrive early. Stay late. This is generally true for any photo location, but even moreso for Bryce. Popular photo spots can get extremely crowded very quickly–you want to secure your dream spot without stepping on anyone else’s toes. Be sure to stay late for that dusk glow. The hoodoos reflect an inordinate amount of light not really seen by the human eye, but readily picked up by your camera’s sensor. Exposure times will certainly be on the longer end, but these images will be void of any harsh highlights or shadows, focusing mainly on the warm colors of the redrock and the indigo sky.

2. Take a polarizer. Be familiar with its performance and where/when/how you can use it best. You can really deepen the sky and allow the hoodoos and canyon walls to pop against an azure background with the help of a polarizer. It will also help to saturate the color just a tad bit more.

3. Search for bounce light. As the sun rises higher in the sky, get down in the canyon trails and explore Bryce Canyon in a more intimate manner. While the broader vistas may appear washed out and harsh, there are countless opportunities to shoot bounce (or reflected light) down in the canyon.

Bounce light at its finest

Bounce light at its finest

4. Take a wide assortment of lenses. I used everything from my widest to my longest lenses, and everything in between. One of my favorite practices is to throw on a long lens and “hunt” for that engaging piece of the broader landscape. This is especially applicable in Bryce Canyon as certain hoodoos or areas light up at different times. Make sure you have a sturdy tripod!

Bryce Canyon hoodoos aglow. Shot with a Canon 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter

Bryce Canyon hoodoos aglow. Shot with a Canon 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter

5. Don’t forget your graduated neutral density filters–a must for any serious landscape photographer!

6. Look for opportunities to include a human element in your images to help give scale to the landscape.

Photographer Drew Stoecklein atop the cliffs above Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

Photographer Drew Stoecklein atop the cliffs above Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

7. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Seems so many times we are so consumed with coming away with that wall hanger that we forget to simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings in which we find ourselves. Take a step back from the tripod, and enjoy a moment for yourself.