Instinct: Use It

Lupine Wildflowers and sunstar at sunset along the Duchesne Ridge, UT

Lupine Wildflowers and sunstar at sunset along the Duchesne Ridge, UT

Simply put, last night was a gift. It was amazing. It was perfect. It was everything you could ever want behind the lens bottled up into four minutes of ridiculous organized chaos and color and mosquitos and sore knees and…wonder.

I wondered if I captured “it”. I wondered how “it” could be so overwhelmingly gorgeous. I wondered if anyone else had seen “it”. I was certain no one else had seen it like I had. It was impossible. In fact, it was UNpossible. There was no way that anyone else in the world had witnessed nature in such harmony as I had.

At least, that’s what I was telling myself. And I believed it.

Instinct is what you rely on when logic leaves your brain. And believe me, when you get conditions like this in front of your lens, logic will depart. In a hurry. You’ll be left with the most beautiful scene anyone on this earth has ever laid eyes on, and you’ll be bumbling around like a teenager in a Victoria’s Secret store.

Take a deep breath. And rely on what you have done so many times before. Which brings me to my point–if you haven’t done it “so many times before”, you’ll not have much to fall back on when things hit the fan in a good way.

Practice really does make perfect. And in the end, it is a simple practice of sorts that will capture moments like this for all of time. The more you shoot, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more capable you are of handling whatever happens to present itself in front of your lens. Interestingly enough, we only think of practice coming in handy when things go bad. But what about when things go…good??? When conditions are best for capturing five-star imagery is when you will feel the most pressure to perform. Because there’s no reason you shouldn’t come home with something spectacular. And really, there’s no excuse if you’ve done your homework and have…practiced.

Shot with Canon 5D MkII, 16-35 2.8 II, Singh Ray 4-stop Reverse ND Grad, Gitzo tripod

Create More Dynamic Images

A hiker backpacks through the Mt. Timpanogos Wilderness Area, UT

A hiker backpacks through the Mt. Timpanogos Wilderness Area, UT

If you follow my blog posts, Facebook posts, or have ever been to one of my seminars or workshops, you know that I use the word “dynamic” like nobody’s business. I talk about creating DYNAMIC images to no end.

What does that mean in layman’s terms? Sure it’s a nice word that sounds legit, but what does it mean to create a dynamic image? Let’s examine this image a bit and see what it is about it that makes it dynamic (IMHO–of course).

1. Light. This image sings with life because of the broken light highlighting both the hiker in the FG and distant rolling hills in the BG.

2. Subject. The hiker is dressed in appropriate clothing for the activity, and most importantly, he’s wearing colors (including the backpack) that help him to stand out and draw the viewer’s attention. It was simply good fortune that the colors on him happen to match the colors in his surroundings to a T, but I’ll take it!

3. Composition. By getting low to the ground, I’m able to include another element of color and shadow adding depth and dimension to the overall scene. I always look for areas of contrast within the frame that will carry the viewer through the image. We see that here with a shadow/highlight/shadow/highlight pattern from FG to BG. Additionally, the subject has been placed in one of the thirds intersects of the frame, giving it aesthetic balance and plenty of context for where the hiker is headed.

4. Exposure. I intentionally underexposed this image by a 1/2 stop or so to give it a bit more drama and to make sure and not overexpose the greens in the flowers. Additionally, this underexposure deepens the shadows and emphasizes the contrast between bright and dark areas of the image.

The next time you’re out shooting, write the word “dynamic” on the back of your hand, and give yourself a little reminder!

Shot with Canon 5D, 70-200 2.8IS, Singh Ray LB Warming Polarizer

Composition Tip: Fill the Frame

Image of brown trout in Brodin Ghost Net caught and release on a fly in the Weber River, UT

Image of brown trout in Brodin Ghost Net caught and release on a fly in the Weber River, UT

Fill.
The.
Frame.

Too many times our images are left wanting. Sometimes this has to do with including too much, sometimes it has to do with including too little. Sometimes, it has nothing to do not with what we include, but HOW and WHERE we include it.

Fall foliage in Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Fall foliage in Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT

In general, study the edge of your frame when you shoot and make sure there is nothing distracting that’s impeding upon either the subject or message (or both) of your image.

I have a rule I try and hold myself to: Make an image as interesting or engaging as possible with as little as possible.

Schooner in Sausalito Bay with San Francisco Skyline in background.

Schooner in Sausalito Bay with San Francisco Skyline in background.

There are, however, two caveats to this.

1. Know how your image will be used. Do you need to leave more negative space than you typically would for logos, copy or other extraneous additions to the image? You may want to shoot several versions of the “same” image; one for you, and one for potential stock/editorial/commercial usage.

Image of Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Arenal, Costa Rica.

Image of Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. Arenal, Costa Rica.

2. Know when to break the rules. This is a grey caveat. It relies on your creative intuition. There are times when the scene in front of you will be chaotic. The truly skilled photographer will still be able to tame that chaos into an approachable, meaningful image.

Timing Makes All The Difference

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Comparison of two images of wildflowers and South Caineville Mesa by Utah landscape photographer Adam Barker.

Timing really can make all the difference. Shooting at different times means shooting different light. And different light can give nearly the same image an entirely different feel.

Case in point is this study from my recent trip down to Caineville, UT. These two (nearly identical) images were shot just 13 minutes apart. As you can see, the image on the left still has direct light on the FG flowers. Due to the bluffs to the west, it was impossible to catch the last rays of light on the flowers themselves. This direct light is a bit hot for my taste, but it does accentuate the rows of flowers, and give the FG more of an elongated feel.

The image on the right showcases the flowers in open shade, and succulent late light on South Caineville Mesa. The open shade on the FG gives the viewer access to every last detail, and renders the colors softer and more luminescent. It doesn’t, however, showcase the leading lines of the flower rows.

This truly is the beauty of still photography. And this, really, is how you can go about defining your personal style and your preference to the types of images you’d like to capture. Study the subtle (or not so subtle) difference between images. Are you willing to sacrifice some of the detail in the FG flowers for the compositional definition, or do you prefer the soft tones and colors instead of the open shade? If you had to choose between displaying one or the other of these images, which would it be–and why?

Shot with Canon 5D MkII, 24MM TS-E 3.5II, Singh Ray LB ColorCombo Polarizer, Singh Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Grad

Plan. Go. Do.

Sunset over wildflowers near Caineville, UT

Sunset over wildflowers near Caineville, UT

Several years ago I saw an image that struck me. It was a desert landscape, dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers. In a word, it was beautiful. In another word, it was mysterious. I wondered how such a barren landscape, void of color and feeling,  could suddenly spring to life as if fed by some unseen fountain of youth. I had to go there. I had to see it for myself. And really, I had to capture it for myself.

This just happened to be the year I was able to make it down to Caineville. I happened to have some spare time, and was committed to finally making this shoot happen. Caineville is, quite literally, a bend in the road. There’s no stop lights, no gas stations. There’s nothing except for mesas and buttes shaped by time and weather. Gravel ridgelines criss-cross into the distance, clawing their way further towards the base of north and south Caineville Mesas. At the right time of year, and given the proper winter/spring snow and rainfall, the valleys between these small buttes fill with yellow and purple. Seas of beeplant and purplemat flow between the mesas and fluted miniscapes. It is, quite simply, a photographer’s paradise.

Wildflower landscape image shot near Caineville, UT

Wildflower landscape image shot near Caineville, UT

It certainly is one of those places that feels nearly impossible to capture. It’s big and broad and colorful and supremely unique. My best suggestion to shooters hoping to stumble upon this symphony of nature??? Take all your gear, and take all your creative energy. You will need it. There are innumerable ways to shoot the flowers and desert landscape in and around Caineville. Some of it has been shot before, but I guarantee you will find your own nook and your own way of telling this beautiful story to those unable to attend in person.

I was also fortunate to visit Factory Butte, surrounded on many sides by an endless carpet of yellow. From what I understand, it’s a somewhat rare occurrence to see such prolific displays of wildflowers here, and I felt fortunate to be there. Alone. On an absolutely stunning morning.

Factory Butte with Beeplant (amazing widlflowers!)

Factory Butte with Beeplant (amazing widlflowers!)

As this was a solo trip, I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience of shooting such grandiose scenes. I have posted just a couple of tips below that are particularly relevant to the Caineville/Factory Butte area. They are also applicable to any shooting situation in which you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of what lies before you.

1. Go with a plan. Whether you have a written list, or mental notes of the types of images you’d like to capture, have some sort of “plan of attack”. It will help you to keep a level head and stay focused, to a degree. It’s easy to arrive at these locations and start running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Don’t do it. Be methodical, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself!

Factory Butte and grazing cattle.

Factory Butte and grazing cattle.

2. Be receptive to new images. Although you may have a plan in your head, conditions may cause your photographic plans to vary, and this is A-OK. I really believe that some of the most magical images are visualized on site, from the hip, so to speak. See with your photographic eyes, and don’t be stubbornly committed to an image that may just not be there. Vision can change rapidly, and more than anything, you must be willing to work to find the best image for that exact moment. It may be as simple as changing a lens, or as difficult as hiking a ridgeline. Regardless–make it happen. You’ll be justly rewarded.

3. Shoot different lenses. I guess this could be better suggested in shooting different focal lengths. It’s easy to get stuck in wide angle mode, or telephoto or macro mode. You haven’t properly worked a scene until you’ve at least TRIED numerous different focal lengths and angles. Sometimes the big picture will be incomplete, but there will be “pieces” of that picture that are five-star images in and of themselves. Mess around. Work on seeing through different lenses without having to bring the camera to your eye.

WIldflowers and North Caineville Mesa

WIldflowers and North Caineville Mesa

4. Visit the same locations at different times of day. Simply put–light changes, winds dies down, clouds pour in, more flowers bloom and your mind’s eye transforms. Do yourself a favor and don’t throw in the towel at any given location after one shoot. Many photographers chase that one idealistic image for days/weeks/months/years. Put in your time, and even if you don’t get that keeper this time, you’ll be better prepared the next time you visit the location.

Broken light on North Caineville Mesa

Broken light on North Caineville Mesa

5. Forget what you’ve seen. Let me clarify–forget what you’ve seen online, in others’ portfolios, on postcards, etc. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, as what we’ve seen largely dictates what we hope to capture. Find a way to wipe your mental, emotional and creative slate clean. This is when your own, special style will take over. This is when you will create your own magic. This is what will help you with tip #2 above. Challenge yourself to see what others have not.

Factory Butte with wildflowers

Factory Butte with wildflowers

So now–Plan. Go. Do.

A Monday Manifesto: Sharing Photography “Secrets”

The Iconic Osguthorpe Barn in Park City, UT

The Iconic Osguthorpe Barn in Park City, UT

Understanding the technicalities of photography is only half the battle. Actually, it’s much less than half as it’s probably one of the easier things to learn. You can teach shutter speed, aperture, HDR, filter usage and numerous other technical components of photography. You can even teach composition. However, you can only hope to be able to teach vision.

Many people ask my why I am so open about my photographic techniques. Firstly, I enjoy teaching photography. I enjoy seeing the light bulb come on in others’ brains. It makes me think of all the times that happened with me in my earlier years with a camera (and it still does!)

Secondly, you would be hard-pressed to find a photographer out there who hasn’t been the beneficiary of a counselor or mentor of sorts in the field of photography. Although there are many out there who are self taught like myself, none of us have really done it alone. I guess it’s a good way to give back to a small extend.

Thirdly, there really are very few, if any secrets. No matter what I, you or anyone else is doing out there with a camera, there’s a good chance that someone else either in your own backyard or at the far corners of planet earth is already doing it as well. I just have to do it better.

Fourthly (and most importantly), you aren’t me and I’m not you. No matter what I share with anyone out there, they’ll never be me and they’ll never have my own, specially packaged, delivered-on-demand vision for whatever lies in front of my lens. This isn’t some arrogant stance on career and life, it’s simply my own little safety net–one that allows me to create, share and witness things come full circle as those who learn produce something exceptional and push me to do better.

So many are afraid of being one-upped, and therefore hold tight to whatever technique or “secrets” they may have pertaining to their imagery. If you one-up me, then good on ya.

So if you’ve made it through this journal entry…WHAT IS UP with this image??? It’s a 54-second exposure of the iconic Osguthorpe Barn in Park City, UT. It’s been shot ten ways to Tuesday and I wanted to find something truly different. The light on this particular morning was lackluster, but the clouds were something else.

I had just received my Singh Ray Vari ND Filter and wanted to put it to work. I dialed it down to lengthen my exposure, effectively smoothing out the quickly moving clouds against the stark roofline/shape of the barn. I danced around the barn with a hand held 4-stop soft step Grad ND for the entire exposure. It was not easy. It’s hard to replicate. Take it from someone who has tried. This is one of those images that I go back to time and time again and wonder when something else like this will find itself in front of my lens. This is one of those images that keeps me going.

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.

90 Percent…

Ninety percent of the time, ninety percent of your competition is only giving ninety percent.

What does that mean? That means that the other ten percent giving 110 percent are likely getting ninety percent of the clients. Which group would you rather be in???

I couldn’t get this out of my head this morning as I nearly slept through my alarm at 4:45 am to get up and shoot sunrise. The morning had promise, as broken clouds dotted the skies from storms the night before. I was hoping for a real banger as a reward for pulling my tired bones out of bed. As the sun neared the horizon, more clouds rolled in, and promise slipped to hope. I was hoping for something special…and it never quite showed up.

Regardless, this morning was productive if for no other reason than to get me out with the camera. Thinking. Creating. The image below of East Canyon is really all I came home with. It certainly won’t make me famous, and I may not even remember this image in a month or so. What I do know is that I’m doing my part to be included in the ten percent giving 110 percent. Sooner or later, it’s bound to pay off.

Summer storm clouds skirt East Canyon and the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, UT

Summer storm clouds skirt East Canyon and the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City Capitol Building Continued: How to Differentiate Iconic Images

I’ve had a bit of time recently to review some more images of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building. It really is a cool work of architecture, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains. This is such an iconic building to shoot in Salt Lake that it takes (in my opinion) quite a bit to make the image stand out. As with any iconic location, I think there are several things that can separate an image from the pack:

1. Great light. There’s no sustitute for jaw-dropping light. Some have asked how I create a certain glow in many of my images. The answer? I don’t create it. I capture it. It is entirely impossible to duplicate the magic of Mother Nature. Yes, you can get close with a good image and a host of photoshop knowledge, but you will never match the real deal. That is why exceptional light will always separate the good, from the unforgettable.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

2. Unusual Weather Conditions. This kind of falls into (nearly) the same boat as great light. Strive to capture that icon (whichever it may be) in conditions never before seen by anyone else. Keep an eye on the weather, and do your best to understand how it will compliment the image you have in mind.

slc-capitol-dramatic-sunset-w-fog-vert

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building sits below an unusually thick winter fogbank and spectacular sunset.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building sits below an unusually thick winter fogbank.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building sits below an unusually thick winter fogbank.

3. Unique Angle. Look for an angle that hasn’t been shot before. Whether that’s above, below, behind, in front…whatever. Take advantage of the uninteresting shooting times to scout potential locations for that five-star morning or evening. The image below was shot from a roof-top of a large building along the foothills of SLC. I was fortunate to be up there shooting another project, and took advantage of this new angle on the Capitol Building.

slc-capitol-bldg-pano-brown-tone

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building with Antelope Island in the background.

4. Attention to Detail. Perhaps there’s a part of an icon that speaks to you moreso than anyone else. And perhaps, that particular part of the icon will become iconic in and of itself.

A close look at the dome of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building

A close look at the dome of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building