I had a blast at the recent PDN Outdoor Photo Expo here in Salt Lake City. It was fantastic to attend seminars by many other talented photographers, and I had a great turnout to my presentation as well. For all those who couldn’t make it, I’ve included my feature slideshow below. The focus of my seminar was on the fusion of scenic landscape and active lifestyle imagery. Hint: Get the HD uploading, take a lunch/snooze/whatever break, and enjoy the show when you get back!
Three minutes with yours truly. That may be three minutes too many for some of you. And if it is, escape is just a mouse click away. Otherwise, you’re mine! (or I’m yours…)
Many thanks to Garrett Smith, Dustin Butcher and Nate Balli for putting this video together. If you’re local here in Salt Lake City, I’d love to see you at the upcoming Hammers Inc Arts Festival. Great artists and fantastic work on display, all for a worthy cause. For more details on attending, and how you can help donate to the Access Fund (for which the Arts Fest will be raising money), click here.
Fall is quite possibly my favorite season. Perhaps it’s because the change in the air is so dramatic. Color, crispness, cooler temps–it’s allllll good. Fall pushes photographers everywhere to dig out both their camera and their personal commitment to creating meaningful imagery. It’s exciting to see the lanscape change so drastically, and quite honestly–there’s beauty in nearly every direction. Nothing fuels a photographer’s fire like gorgeous subject matter at a stone’s throw from nearly every canyon drive.
I’ve had opportunity to get out quite a bit with several workshop students and shoot some of fall’s finest here in northern Utah. The weather, however, has been challenging for the most part, with clear skies and warm temperatures. It has forced us to get creative and really search for meaningful shots without dramatic skies. We did luck out one morning with fantastic storm clouds, and we took full advantage, knowing it was a gift.
While gorgeous in their own right, colorful leaves don’t themselves a memorable image make. I imagine you, just as countless others, have come home from your fall photography forays only to find your images were flat and struggled to convey the sense of grandeur that you witnessed in person. The challenge, is depth. Conveying depth in our fall images is what really helps to take the viewer “there”. A flat mountainside with pretty leaves just won’t cut it. Sure, it’s pretty. But does it have impact? Probably not. Read below for a couple of tips on creating fall images with depth.
1. Establish compositional zones. Find foregrounds, middle grounds and backgrounds for your images. Longer lens shots fall images here in the Wasatch are particularly well suited to this, with intersecting ridge lines and areas of strong color.
2. Search out broken light. Spotty clouds cast spotty or broken light. This random placement of lit and shaded areas carries viewers through the frame and creates that near/far perspective that helps to convey three dimensionality.
3. Use a polarizing filter. Even better, know where and how to use it most effectively. A polarizer will help to reveal full color in the foliage, by removing the natural sheen or reflection. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly (especially on those boring, crystal clear days), a polarizer will deepen skies, helping to add depth and interest to your fall photos. A polarizer is most effective when shot at 90 degrees to the sun–find those compositions that help the polarizer help you!
4. Change your angle to the sun. Fall color takes on a completely different look, depending on your angle to the sun. Front lit aspens can appear dull and washed out, but as soon as place that light source behind them, they glow with life. This is a technique you can use to capture stunning imagery even into the mid-day hours.
5. Use Grad ND Filters. Not sure what they are? Search this blog or get on the Google. I use Singh Ray filters–the best! There’s absolutely no better tool out there for balancing difficult dynamic ranges and allowing you to capture dramatic skies.
6. Get out there. The golden rule of landscape photography. Simply being there will allow you to make magic. It’s too easy to stay home and wait for what you think might be the perfect conditions to capture that five-star fall keeper. How do you know that you haven’t already missed it? Nothing helps to get the creative juices flowing like being out in nature. You’re sure to find something that floats your boat, and then some. Forget the boring weather forecasts or lackluster color-get out there and find a way to excel behind the lens.
Interested in putting this into practice in the field with yours truly? Check out my workshop page for details.
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.
Part 1 of my presentation from B&H in April on Capturing the Complete Outdoor Image. Not quite the same as being there, but close!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.