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.

Long Lens Morning: Cascade Peak & Middle Provo River

Winter image of Cascade Peak and Middle Provo River by AdamBarkerPhotography

Banger morning. Middle Provo River. Cascade Peak.

The quick and dirty:
Perfect comp for a long lens shot with engaging elements from front to back of the frame. Think of your photographic frame in three-dimensional terms as a loaf of bread. Long lenses squish that loaf of bread, putting the back slice right up against the front slice. Additionally, this was shot at exactly 90 degrees to the sun, allowing me to utilize the Singh-Ray Filters LB warming polarizing filter to the fullest, deepening the sky, and giving the snowy peaks extra pop.

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

Video: How to Hand Hold Grad ND Filters

Here’s a quick video clip from my instructional DVD that showcases the effectiveness of several filters from Singh Ray. It also gives a good demonstration on how I hand hold my filters when shooting. (to order the DVD, click here)

Why do I hand hold my filters?

1. Speed—in rapidly changing conditions, I want to be able to adjust my shooting position, composition, lens selection or any number of other components quickly and without too much hassle. By hand holding my filters, I’m able to adapt quickly to whatever may present itself in those fleeting moments of magic.

2. Control—many times we find ourselves shooting scenes with parts of the image that may require less filtration than others. By hand-holding my filters, I am able to manually dodge and burn the parts of the image that may require more or less filtration. This is an advanced technique of sorts, but will become more intuitive with time and practice.

3. Versatility—many of the active lifestyle images I shoot are done on unsteady surfaces and without a tripod. There simply isn’t time to screw on a filter holder and even if I were able to, my gradient transitions (where I want that filter line to fall) are never stationary. Hand-holding allows me to micro-adjust that filter placement for each shot.

How do I hand hold my filters?

Let me first say that all of the Grad ND filters I use are the 4 x 6 size. This larger size is much easier to hand hold in general, and nearly essential if you’re shooting wide angle lenses on a full frame sensor.

I generally grasp the edge of the filter between my thumb and index finger or middle finger. Taking special care not to shake the camera, I place the filter flush against the front element of the lens. If I’m shooting at longer focal lengths or with longer shutter speeds, I may remove the filter just slightly from the lens to avoid any sharpness sapping vibration.

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.

Capture Complete Images with Singh Ray Filters

Below is a blog post that will go up on the Singh Ray Filters Blog shortly. Might as well give a sneak preview here.

As photographers, we are always looking for that image that will make people do a double take. Spectacular color, irresistible light and engaging compositions are useful components in capturing that “perfect” image. Unless, however, we are able to combine several or all of these components together, our images will still be left lacking that special spark.

Perhaps more than any other tool, Singh Ray filters have been instrumental in helping me to capture complete images. Yes, they are instrumental in extracting that extra dose of color and registering skies that will make jaws drop. They are also instrumental in simply achieving balance in an image. Sometimes Mother Nature doesn’t help us as much as she should, and we have to help ourselves.

This image of Delicate Arch is no revolution to photography. It’s been shot to death, and then some. That’s ok though, as I’d like to think that no one has captured it as I have. We all know that’s probably untrue, but it’s the mentality one must take when shooting an icon. By the time I set up this shot, the throngs of bustling photographers and tourists had all but gone home. The sun had set, after all—and what was there left to shoot with no light? In a word? Plenty.

Delicate Arch at Dusk, Arches National Park, UT

Delicate Arch at Dusk, Arches National Park, UT

Our camera sensor picks up light the human eye cannot, and with longer exposures at dusk, colors saturate and some things come to life that are otherwise dead when the sun is up. I shot other frames with electric light on Delicate Arch, but what completes this image for me is the stark contrast between the white snow of the La Sal Mountains in the background set against a royal sky and warm redrock. This scene was not present when the light appeared best to most of the other photographers. The sky was washed out, thus sapping the mountain peaks of the contrast achieved in this image.

I used a Singh Ray 2-stop soft step Grad ND to deepen the sky, and pull out every last bit of detail from the mountain peaks. The soft transition renders the filter line virtually unnoticeable except to the most trained eyes!

This next image was captured at Dead Horse Point State Park. Again, an oft-shot location with little lacking in the way of breathtaking beauty. Skies were uninteresting and clear on this particular morning, which forced me to search for compositions that would isolate the fiery glow on the buttes below.

Dead Horse Point State Park in early light.

Dead Horse Point State Park in early light.

The light hitting the butte in the upper third of this image was so intense in relation to the rest of the scene that it required a 4-stop soft step ND grad to balance the exposure. I held the filter at an angle as to not overly darken the mid-ground in this image. I am a stickler about hiding filter lines! Do your very best to make it appear as natural as possible.

What completes this image for me has partly to with the beautiful light and winding river with reflection. Mostly, however, it has to do with the balance created between the lit butte in the lower left hand corner and the (almost) overpowering butte in the upper third. This goes to show that even when shooting a long lens landscape, we can search for separating elements that contribute to the overall balance of an image.

A storm front moves in at sunset in Canyonlands National Park, UT

A storm front moves in at sunset in Canyonlands National Park, UT

This last image was captured at Canyonlands National Park. I was pleased to finally have dramatic skies to work with after a literal multi-day cloud draught. As this storm front raced into action, the sun descended at an equally rapid pace, lighting up the horizon with an intense glow. This combination of light on the horizon and dark clouds above created the perfect storm for my 3-stop Reverse ND Grad. Had I used a normal grad ND filter on this scene, the already dark clouds would have been rendered unnaturally dark. With the densest part of the Reverse ND Grad filter placed just over the horizon, I was able to maintain a dramatic, yet believable feel to this image.

Perhaps one of the more “complete” images I’ve captured this year, I was drawn to the contrast between the bright, wind-bent grass tufts and the ominous dark clouds overhead. There is a relationship here manifest in the subtle motion displayed in the tips of the grass—obviously affected by the approaching storm. Special care was taken to ensure the horizon line was not placed in the middle of the frame—an important aspect to remember when gunning for that complete image.

Look for that complete image each time you venture out—be sure to have your Singh Ray Filters on hand, as a sure knowledge of how to use them best will give you an upper hand on coming home with a (complete) keeper.