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!

Photography: Vision & Problem Solving

The Osguthorpe Barn near Park City, UT. Captured by Adam Barker Photography.

For those of you who live in or near Park City, UT, you will quickly recognize this barn. It is certainly one of the more photographed structures in northern UT. And rightly so! The Osguthorpe Barn (or McPolin Barn depending on who you talk to) has greeted visitors and locals alike traveling in to Park City since 1921. Simply put, it is a classic.

I have photographed here many times before, I’ll

do so many times in the future. It is the utmost in Americana, and I enjoy the challenge in finding new ways to capture the barn and its surroundings.

I arrived at this location later in the morning, and low fog was just beginning to thin out. I was excited to be at this spot with conditions I’d never seen before! I worked through several compositions, but none of them really worked as a whole.

Finally, I settled on a wider angle image, utilizing cattails as my FG subject. I’ve shot from this exact location before in the winter, but this time the grouping of cattails seemed more elongated towards the barn, and a vertical composition seemed more appropriate.

I actually began composing this image with my 16-35mm lens. I wanted to incorporate a more complete wide angle foreground, but I still wanted to maintain emphasis and hold the viewer’s attention on the barn itself. With the 16-35mm stopped down for maximum DOF, the scene felt busy, and my eye simply wouldn’t settle on the barn as I’d like it to.

Finally, I chose to pull out my 24mm tilt shift lens. By both tilting my plane of focus and shooting at a wide open aperture of f4.5, I was able to have my cake and eat it too.

The cattails are selectively blurred, giving context and providing the FG filler that I was looking for. Yet the sharp contrast in sharp vs. blurred takes the eye directly to the barn. Why didn’t I just shoot my 16-35mm wide open? Being a super wide angle f2.8 lens, it wasn’t giving me quite the separation that I needed from a DOF standpoint. Why didn’t I throw on a longer lens and utilize a shallow aperture to achieve that separation? Throwing on a longer lens would have effectively flattened this scene. I would have gotten that separation, but I would not have achieved the depth I get from a wide angle composition–I would not have that immediate, engaging FG element grab the viewer in the same way it does from a wider angle approach.

Much of photography is about simple problem solving. It all begins, however, with a clear vision of what you hope to capture. Know what you want out of a location. Know what type of image you hope to come away with. This will serve as your mental blueprint as you work through the small problems to achieve your final photographic goal.

What is AdamBarkerPhotography??? (video)

Who am I? What do I do? Where have I been? Have a look-see at the video. Thanks for stopping by…

Pictureline Presentation Aug. 23

I’m very pleased to announce a special evening at my favorite camera store, Pictureline–coming up in late August. I’ll be discussing one of the biggest challenges we face as photographers–creative composition. Check the link below for details and to sign up for the seminar. My last two presentations at Pictureline have filled up quickly. Get your seat now!

http://www.pictureline.com/events/conquer-composition-adam-barker-seminar.html

Pre-visualization in Ski Photography

With snow totals thus far this winter far below normal, my portfolio of fresh work has been looking a bit meager. Nearly 50″ of fluff fell from the sky last week, which means it was a busy one for yours truly. It felt good to finally get out and get some work done. One of the challenges, however, remains in the high avalanche danger that exists in the backcountry. This means we’ve been doing a lot of shooting in resort. Couple this with the lack of light during the stormy days, and it makes for some challenging obstacles in capturing unique and fresh imagery. Essentially, as a photog in these conditions, you must address two things: unless you have pre-public access to freshies in resort, you must deal with all the tracked out snow in the foreground and background of your image. Secondly, in greybird conditions, you must add contrast to the scene, which means most often that you’re shooting in the trees.

Pre-visualization, or the ability to “see” the shot before it actually takes places, is crucial to finding success in these conditions. Not only will it help you do what you need to do from a technical standpoint, but it will also help you in communicating with the athlete to make sure that all the variables line up to get a keeper image. Read on for a behind the scenes look at a particular powder sequence shot through the trees of Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort.

The first step is finding an alley in the trees. Most often, you see something from above the shot and then ski down to the side (making sure not to track out your shooting frame) where you can then get underneath and find a legit angle on the action.

The first photo you see here is essentially the first thing I see when settling on a spot from which to shoot. It’s a decent alley with adequate contrast and spacing for the skier. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do–especially if photog and athlete can combine to make the magic happen. At this point, I’m trying to envision a shot that will a) work within the space I’ve settled upon b) convey enough action to feel as though it’s part of a continuous line and c) work naturally and smoothly for the athlete.

Once I’ve settled upon a frame, I’ll envision a line and then pick out the points within that line that will shoot best. Choosing these select points of the line is crucial to both establishing your focusing zone (if utilizing AF) as well as communicating to the athlete where you hope to capture the climactic action. It’s important for them to know where “the shot” is as this will dictate how they ski the line and how they look (form-wise) throughout the line.

This second image displays the line envisioned, with several select points highlighted. As can be seen from the graphic, the skier was to enter skier’s left of the tree in the middle of the frame in a right -hand turn, transition to a left-hand turn and then skiing out of frame to skier’s left of the blurred tree in the LRH corner.

In my mind, the select points of the line most likely to render legit images were weighting in to the right-hand turn (#1), transitioning out of the right-hand turn (#2), weighting in to the left-hand turn (#3) and finally, skiing out of frame with contrail behind (#4).

Complicating things a bit further, I chose to prioritize the select points that would allow me to utilize the same focus zone(s) in my camera throughout the sequence while still allowing me to keep the general framework of the image intact (blurred trees in FG, etc.). These prioritized points were #1 and #4.

This was all communicated to athlete Parker Cook before shooting the a single frame. The line, as well as the select points were well understood. I chose my focus zones in my camera that would allow me to follow focus on the action, and still maintain the framework of the image (this is where previsualization is crucial).

The images below show the focus zones selected as they apply to the frames as they were being photographed (utilizing AI Servo on my Canon 1D MkIV).

Finally, the finished product below without the focus zones.

Were there other possibilities with this particular shot? Absolutely. I could have approached it in a way that filled the bottom part of the frame. But as a horizontal image, placing the action smack dab in the center of the frame nearly kills its chances of running as a double spread.

I could have chosen to pre-focus on just one spot, but I wanted to maximize my potential for keepers. There are plenty of times when I choose to go with one shot, rather than the potential for several, but this was not one of those times.

So what does this all illustrate?

1. Pre-visualization is key in both envisioning and capturing five-star imagery.

2. Pre-visualization is key in communicating your vision to the athlete, who plays an integral role in this whole process.

3. The more focus zones your camera has, the more latitude you have in framing up follow-focus shots like this. This image would have been much more difficult, if not impossible with a camera that only has 7 or 9 AF zones.

4. The more confident you are in your AF system, the more likely you are to utilize it, which opens up many more possibilities than simply pre-focusing.

Remember that this is all happening in a matter of seconds! Think it all through before-hand. The more you do this, the more intuitive it will all become. Good luck!

Snippet: AdamBarkerPhotography/Telluride Photo Festival 2011


Here’s a quick look inside (well, really, outside!) my workshop at the 2011 Telluride Photo Festival. As always, many thanks to my sponsors Mark Miller Subaru, Arc’teryx, Mountain Khakis, Singh Ray Filters, Manfrotto School of Xcellence and Clikelite Backpacks. Many thanks to my assistant Nate Sorensen for putting the video together!

Change–More than Just a Campaign Slogan

A man and woman on mountain bikes enjoy early morning light and fresh mountain air at Deer Valley Resort

This is an excerpt from the  February 2009 ABP In Focus Newsletter

It seems “change” is the word of the day. Every day. Whether it’s the historical inauguration of an African American president, or an anticipated drop in the mercury, change seems to be on people’s minds.
My mind, although quite stubborn and cluttered, has not been spared by this wave of change either. I have noticed a great change in the way fellow photographers speak of this industry that many of us fight for from the inside, or appreciate from the outside.
Put bluntly, photography is changing. Whereas skilled photographers used to be veritable needles in a creative haystack, they are now found at every family reunion, weekend wedding, and sporting event. The advent of digital imaging has made it easier than ever before to achieve levels of photography previously reserved for the studied and scholarly.
I welcome this change, and this influx of imagery with open arms. There are certainly pros and cons to the current state of the photography industry, but as a glass-half-full type of guy, I feel that creative boundaries, work ethic and marketing prowess are being pushed as never before. Competition breeds excellence, and true excellence is all that will stand out and survive.
I tip my hat to the photographers that have inspired me with their words and imagery. May the strong survive, and the weak get day jobs.

Recap: Bavaria Photo Workshop

Curious cows. Captured during an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I’ve been back from Germany now for a week or so, but it feels like just yesterday that I was dining on schnitzel and watching the sun rise and set over some of the more fantastic shooting locations I’ve experienced behind the lens. This workshop was conducted in cooperation with the Edelweiss Lodge & Resort, located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The facilities were great, and as a vacation resort catering solely to our United States Military service men and women (and spouses), it was a pleasure to be amongst so many that contribute on a daily basis to the freedom that we enjoy in this great country.

Photographer Adam Barker with student during Germany Photo Workshop p: Brad Hayes

Garmisch is quintessential storybook Germany. When you think of spending time in a classic German setting, you’re thinking of Garmisch-Partenkirchen–you just don’t realize it. Aesthetic church steeples, colorful window flowerboxes, quaint chalets with painted murals on the walls, cobblestone streets, beer steins served full to the brim with the best Bavarian brews, towering limestone peaks, lush green farm fields and rolling valleys, misty mornings, and yes–guys sporting their lederhosen loud and proud–it’s all there, and it’s all a part of every day life in this unique part of the world.

Endless shooting opportunities on an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Needless to say, there was no lack of photographic subject matter. If anything, there were times when it was all a bit overwhelming–difficult, even, to capture in multiple clicks of the shutter. I taught two 3-day workshops back to back (14 and 17 students respectively). Mother nature was here and there and…everywhere. The weather in Garmisch moves in and out quicker that you can imagine, and thus–we needed to be flexible with our schedule. The students were fantastic, all very open to changes in schedule and shooting location. I was fortunate to be paired up with Edelweiss Dir. of Marketing Brad Hays, a legit photographer in his own right. Brad has lived in the area for ten years, and was indispensable in helping me to become familiar with the locations and shooting options.

Workshop students at an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I quickly found that sunrise and sunset were a crapshoot on any given morning or evening. The weather was always in and out, which really, was much more desirable than clear blue skies each morning/evening. Many times we would arrive at a location, shrouded in dawn mist, only to be spat out of the clouds minutes later witnessing rose-colored peaks in the distance with rolling farm fields in the foreground. I discovered that the minutes and hours just after sunrise, and leading up to sunset were the most reliable for direct light. We did have one or two morning and evening shoots where the clouds just exploded with color, and it was a riot to see eager photographers scrambling every which way trying to capitalize on the gift from above.

Farmer's shed and Bavarian Alps at an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The landscape was ideal for mid to long focal length shots. Wide angle images were just a bit tougher to come by as there wasn’t an overabundance of foreground objects to plant in the immediate in-your-face foreground. Curious cows, of course, were the rare exception, if you could persuade them to stand still! We worked extensively on finding dynamic compositions, and balancing the light that made for challenging exposures at times. It was the ideal setting to instruct everyone on how to use Singh Ray Filters to capture the scene as our eyes saw it. It’s always amazing to see the light bulb go on when students finally overcome the hurdles that have challenged them in their photography.

Students at an AdamBarkerPhotography photo workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

All in all, and despite some particularly inclement weather for the second workshop, it was a fantastic experience (see attendee comments on the workshop below). I hope to return to Garmisch-Partenkirchen again some time–it looks to be a stunning photography location during the fall season! Are you interested in having a spectacular time learning how to take you photographic skills and creative vision to the next level? I’ve got domestic and international workshops/photo tours coming up this fall that are calling your name! Check out my workshop at the upcoming Telluride Photo Festival, or travel across the pond to the Far East with myself and M&M Photo Tours during our Southeast Asia photo tour.

Misty morning shoot near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany during an AdamBarkerPhotography Workshop

Bavaria Workshop Attendee Comments:

“Adam Barker is a fantastic instructor. So much energy and passion for photography. He was very patient with everyone
and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. I truly enjoyed this workshop and would attend another Adam Barker workshop if
you bring him back.”

“All I can say, it was an awesome workshop and will do it again if Adam comes back!”

“Let’s just say there was no bad memories. Garmisch, Adam Barker and Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. It was a win-win-win
situation…”

“The additional evening shoot that we did on Friday night was incredible. It really left me excited and inspired to get out
and really focus more on my photography. It was truly a fantastic workshop. Adam Barker was INCREDIBLE!”

Composition and the Visual Journey

The Visual Journey by AdamBarkerPhotography

I talk often about creating a visual journey in each image for the viewer. This image of a group of friends out for a stroll underneath the Brooklyn Bridge serves as a good illustrative example. Have a read below as I break down exactly how I’ve constructed a visual journey through the inclusion and arrangement of particular compositional elements within the scene.

1. It’s natural to begin the visual journey at the bottom of our frame. This applies to both landscape and portrait orientation. Most often, I will place an element at or near the corner of the frame, taking the viewer from the very edge, into the meat of the frame. This is obviously accomplished with the fence, starting in the bottom RH corner of the frame.

2. The fence takes us directly to the anchor or main subject of the image, placed strategically in our LH thirds intersect. What makes this subject so much more appealing is the area of high contrast in which the people are found. Backlit mist creates a bright area, against which their shapes are starkly defined. Our eyes will ALWAYS travel to the areas of highest contrast in an image.

3. From the subject, the eye travels up to the Brooklyn Bridge. This was placed strategically in the upper LH part of the image–again helping the viewer to explore and digest every inch of our photographic frame. The bridge also serves as a perfect top counterbalance to the fence in the bottom part of the frame.

4. The bridge leads us directly to our secondary subject, or counter subject–the shapely pylons and archways over the bridge itself. Naturally, from there, the eye heads back to the bottom RH corner, and the visual journey starts once again.

Ideally, this visual journey will connect itself from beginning to end (as we see here), requiring little effort from the viewer to dive back in for a second, third and fourth time. Sometimes this is done through proximity of compositional elements (as seen here). Other times, it can be an out and back sort of thing. However you do it, give the viewer an obvious start and finish.

Exceptional images are like Thanksgiving Dinner–you just can’t help but go back for more. Make it easy on the viewer by creating a visual journey through the thoughtful and strategic placement of subjects and secondary or counter subjects in the frame.

Are You ______ Enough?

For every professional photographer out there and every amateur that has ever aspired to going pro, there’s one question that has likely been intrinsically asked once or…several hundred times. “Am I good enough???”

Am I good enough to succeed? Am I good enough to turn heads? Am I good enough to stop page turners? Am I good enough to get published? Am I good enough to grab fans? Am I good enough to sell prints? Am I good enough to land this job? Am I good enough to make a full time living doing this crazy thing? Am I good enough to win awards? Am I good enough to be good enough???

It’s natural to ask, and if you’re truly committed to being at the top of your game, it’s probably a question that you will never quit asking yourself entirely, regardless of the accolades, big jobs, published work and all the other goodness that comes your way with all that fame and fortune. I think there is an evolution to this question, however–and it’s one that comes with experience, ups and downs, success and failure, shout outs and snubs…

Nowadays, if you’re serious about being a professional photographer, you must simply be asking yourself this: Am I…enough?

Am I smart enough? Am I diligent enough? Am I committed enough? Am I fearless enough? Am I responsible enough? Am I punctual enough? Am I creative enough? Am I humble enough? Am I confident enough? Am I tough enough? Am I fit enough? Am I passionate enough? Am I accountable enough? Am I diverse enough? Am I focused enough? Am I personable enough? Am I cutthroat enough? Am I hard-nosed enough? Am I pliable enough? AM I…ENOUGH?!?

I. Am.

I bet you are too.