The Better You Know, The More You’ll Go

Sunset over Salt Lake City, UT

How well do you know your surroundings? Your local stomping grounds, so to speak. Do you know what weather is most likely to produce good atmospheric conditions for scenic photography? Do you have locations picked out for just such a morning or evening? If the answer isn’t “yes” to all of the above, consider doing a little bit of homework as you drive to/from work, when you’re out on a hike, or even just walking the dog.

Just after helping my wife put the kids to bed last night, I looked outside to see…not much. However, there was a faint atmospheric glow, and I just had that feeling that something inspiring may come to pass. I had seen it before, and most importantly, I knew there was an approaching cold front. Pre-frontal days here in Salt Lake City seem to produce impressive sunsets more often than not.

So I grabbed my Clikelite Escape (already packed mind you!) and headed to a location on the foothills that I had scouted several weeks earlier. I was wearing flip flops. Worth pointing out, as the easier it is, the more likely we are to go get after it. This location was a mere 50 yards from a certain dead end road. Drive. Park. Hike for 30 seconds. Set up tripod. Click shutter. Enjoy nature’s light show. Pack up. Head home.

Pretty cut and dry. Lesson? The better acquainted you are with both your local shooting locations and the local weather nuances, the more likely you are to make a go of capturing some memorable imagery. Keep a mental list. Even better–write stuff down. Carry a little book and keep a list of places that would be good to shoot at sunset, sunrise, in storm light, in spring, in fall, in winter, etc. You’ll not regret it!

Sneak Peek: Through the Eyes

We’ve been busy creating the first of many episodes of AdamBarkerPhotography: Through the Eyes. Check out the teaser for the first below. Special thanks to Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort for the sick location! Huge shout out to Hammers Inc Photography and Nate Balli for the mad film/edit skills.

Through the Eyes Teaser EP1 from HIP VISUAL ARTS on Vimeo.

Still Photography: The Power to Stop Time

Skier Forrest Coots, getting a proper facial cleanse at Alta Ski Area, UT

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to stop time? You know–timeout, Zach Morris style (for all you closet Saved By The Bell Fans). Well then–pick up a camera and make it happen.

Each and every time we click the shutter, we are essentially stopping time. We are recording fractions of a second that, much of the time, simply occur too quickly for the human eye to fully perceive what just took place. While we can’t remain in that moment in a literal sense, we can relive that moment, and even rediscover it entirely, thanks to a little black box with a shutter button.

I shot this image of professional skier Forrest Coots earlier this week in downright frigid temperatures, as the sun was setting in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT. Many of us are skiers, hopelessly impassioned to the pursuit of fresh powder. We know what it feels like. If you’ve had it good, you know what it tastes like. If you’ve had it even better you know what it looks like from the inside out (white room!). But what does it look like from the outside in??? Of the countless powder ski shots I’ve both captured and viewed, this one struck a particular chord with me.

The detail and clarity is beyond anything I could’ve imagined–mostly due to the fact that my eyes can’t pick that sort of detail out in real time (as mentioned earlier). The almost violent blending of shadow and highlight, coupled with the full gamut of snow textures from minute speck to all-encompassing powder cloud, reveal the true power and impact of still photography.

Remember that the next time you’re walking around with your big bad DSLR or itty bitty point and shoot–you’ve got the power to stop time and reveal something no one has ever seen before.

That.

Is pretty.

Darn.

Cool.

The Cost of (not) Doing Business

"I know my COnDB! Do you?"

One thing that every photographer learns (or should learn) from the very beginning of doing business is to figure out your cost of doing business. This is a common practice among business owners in every field imaginable. Once you’re aware of what it costs you to operate your business as you’d like, you know what you need to charge in order to make an adequate profit. Before I continue with this post learn how to get Instant Profits with Instagram , if you are a photographer running a photography business and you haven’t yet figured out your cost of doing business (CODB), do yourself a favor and put pen to paper. Figure it out. You’ll have a much better idea of what you’re actually profiting from each job, which can be significantly different from what you are grossing.

CODB, however, is not really what I’d like to talk about here. I’d like to talk about COnDB, or, the Cost of (not) Doing Business. Sure, it sounds funny. But oddly enough, this is something that must be considered if you hope to operate a legitimate, respectable, sought after and self-sustaining photography business.

I was recently approached by a well known client in the ski industry. They inquired about hiring me for an upcoming shoot. They needed numerous images for a number of usages. In short, they needed a lot–a hefty number of images with hefty usage stipulations attached. This was all good and well and completely doable from my perspective…until I saw the budget allocated for the shoot. It was a sad, sad number. The number was so sad it looked like it wanted to cry. Really. We went back and forth (always amicably and professionally), and unfortunately in the end, we were not able to meet on neutral ground for both parties. In the end, the agreement still felt terribly lopsided and I had to politely decline the job.

Which brings me to the actual COnDB. I certainly could have used the sum total from this job. It would have made my bank account feel better, yet it would have given my internal business compass fits. We must account for our COnDB as photographers. We must contribute to the overall health of the industry that feeds our kids, supports our kids and pays our mortgages (both physical and moral). How can we account for this? The answer is simple–maintain a position as a photographer that allows you to say no to bad business. This means having enough coin in the ol’ piggy bank that you don’t feel forced to take any sum of money, regardless of the implications it may have on your business, and the photo business as a whole. It also means having the confidence in your work and skill set as a photographer to know when the client simply can’t afford your work. There’s no pretense to thinking or saying that. I have a laundry list of things I want, but can’t afford. And someday, I’ll purchase those items/services when I can. When I can.

I don’t hold anything personally against clients like the one I’m speaking of in this post. I understand their position–they are trying to get as much as possible, for as little as possible. We all do it (think buying a used car–or new, for that matter!). I do know that I can simply choose not to oblige unrealistic proposals and expectations. The honest truth is that you don’t want the clients who want everything for nothing. You want the clients who want the very best imagery possible, and they understand that they will have to pay a respectable sum for it.

Account for your COnDB. Know when to say yes, and when to say no. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–VALUE YOUR WORK. If you don’t, who will???

As a side note, I followed up with the client several days after declining the job and plied the waters to make sure we were still on good terms. The response was gratifying, and I’m confident that if/when this client has another project with adequate budget, I’ll be tops on their list.

The Wasatch is Raging!

Forrest Coots sampling zee powdah at Deer Valley.

With 100+ inch bases before Christmas at many of the area resorts, winter is officially on like donkey kong here along the Wasatch Front. I get many questions from people wondering as to whether ski photography is simply a matter of lugging your camera up on the mountain and shooting random skiers as they shred by. This may come as a shock, but what many consider to be the best job in the world really is quite a good deal of work that comes with its own unique challenges and obstacles.

So the big question is, how does it all come together? In a nutshell, it goes something like this:

Check weather. Check snowfall. Text athletes. Check snowfall. Check weather. Charge batteries. Text athletes. Field bro-brah calls. Dismiss the guy down the street who says he loves to “get rad” and do “extreme skiing”. Check in with resort personnel for early chair or early tram. Finalize athletes. Have athlete bail. Text more athletes. Check snowfall. Check weather. Check avie report. Backcountry? Sidecountry? Resort? Hmm….

Hayden Price "getting rad" at Alta.

Get pack ready. Check batteries. Lay out gear so you don’t wake the kids when you wake up. Fill giant bag o’ stuff with apparel to throw on athletes. Check snowfall. Check weather. Set alarm clock. Hit the sack.

Wake up early. Throw gear on while still in a sleepy haze. Drive to resort. Pit stop at 7-11. Down breakfast of champions: Red Bull & Sausage McMuffin. Let recurring regret settle in after breakfast of champions. Arrive at resort. Bro-brah with bros. High five. Yell at token late athlete. Make him feel stupid for being late. Hug it out. Throw on more layers than you should. Check in with patrol. Get on lift. Freeze until sun hits you. Wish you had thrown on yet one more layer. Head to promised land of fresh snow, good light and milk and honey. Pull out camera. Watch athletes get rad like the guy down the street. Click away annnnnnd…voila! You’ve just captured one of your best images born to a life of sitting on a hard drive before being sent out to an editor who will call dibs, hold onto it for a couple of months, and release it back to you just in time to NOT submit it anywhere else for the season. Congratulations!

Drew Stoecklein at Alta, UT

Raise your hand if you want to be a ski photographer.

Oh. I forgot one more thing to add to the list. SKI POW. That seems to happen here and there as well…(but don’t tell my wife).

Photographer Adam Barker, product testing at Alta, UT.

Ski Utah Powder Lounge: Video Interview

Check out this vid for a look inside my ski photography pack. I also share a couple of solid ski shooting pointers at the end. Thanks to Ski Utah, and enjoy the vid!

Breakdown: The what, why and how of a successful ski image

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We all know that quality ski images don’t simply fall into one’s lap. They require vision (pun intended!) communication and cooperation. Read on to get an inside look at what went into creating this keeper of athlete Jamey Parks at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort.

1. Skier Position

I’m referring to two things here—where I’ve placed the skier in the frame, and the actual body position of the skier. The most important part of ski photography really is communicating with the athlete. They need to know what your vision for the image is. They need to know where they should be dialed in. I made it clear to Parks that “the shot” was going to be primarily from his transition between turns and into his right hand turn. This makes all the difference in skier position.

I wanted to capture lot of action/energy in this shot and thus directed him to really push his left hand turn, which would send up a big cloud of snow and make for an engaging background. I manually selected one of my AF points in the mid to lower RH third of my camera viewfinder, and kept it on him through the entire sequence. Why down there? Check #3.

2. Texture/Separating Elements

I purposely set up in a location that had me shooting “through” this chunky snow, lying on my stomach. I asked the skier to flirt with the edge of this chunky snow section, knowing it would add lots of texture to the image. It also serves as a good separator between a secondary FG focus and the main subject in our mid ground.

3. Open Space/Contextual Background

For me, this is the element that makes the image. The image I had in my head before actually clicking the shutter was one of a skier ripping a turn back through a cloud of snow from a previous turn. This does two things: it infuses the images with energy and gives the viewer a great sense of the speed the skier is carrying (context). It also provides me with a clean background. The sharp skier really pops against this soft cloud of snow. As a heavy AF user for shots like this, it was imperative to pre-visualize where the skier needed to be in the frame to make this image work, and select the AF zone accordingly.

Lastly, this cloud of snow really fills the open space in this image with “value added content”. Not only is it giving us space to see where the skier is going (also contributing to the overall balance of the image), it tells us much more about where he’s been and what he is doing (as mentioned above).

4. Tack Sharp Clarity

I wanted definition in every last little chunk, ripple or speck of snow with this image. It’s amazing what the camera can pick up in a fraction of a second that the human eye doesn’t have time to process. To do this, you must shoot at high enough shutter speeds to freeze the action. This image was shot at 1/3200 sec. at f 4.5.

AdamBarkerPhotography Video Bio

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.

Artist Profile: Adam Barker from Hammers Inc. Photography on Vimeo.

Better Fall Photography

Storm clouds and fall color in northern Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Storm clouds and fall color in northern Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

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.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student shoots first light at Silver Lake, Brighton, UT.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student shoots first light at Silver Lake, Brighton, UT.

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.

Fall color in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Fall color in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

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.

Late light long lens landscape at Snowbird, UT

Late light long lens landscape at Snowbird, UT

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.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student waits for evening light amidst swirling storm clouds.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student waits for evening light amidst swirling storm clouds.

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!

Dawn light and fall color at Park City's iconic Osguthorpe Barn

Dawn light and fall color at Park City's iconic Osguthorpe Barn

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.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student, enveloped by backlit aspens.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student, enveloped by backlit aspens.

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.

Storm clouds and lightning bolt at first light over Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Storm clouds and lightning bolt at first light over Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

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.

Photography: Subjective by Nature

Sunset light in the high country at Devil's Castle, Alta Ski Area, UT

Sunset light in the high country at Devil's Castle, Alta Ski Area, UT

It’s late, and I’ve got photography on the brain (what’s new). So hold on for what’s sure to be a semi-coherent rambling on a topic that has been covered by countless photographers the world over.

I posted this image on a well known photography forum the other day. I regularly try to post on several forums to both participate in photo-centric communities (online) and drive a bit of traffic to my website as well. It’s a great opportunity to see good, and sometimes great work, as well as get a feel from the photo public out there as to what they think of my work. In the end, there’s a lot of back patting, ego padding, armchair quarterbacking, pixel peeping and the occasional solid critique with well thought out criticisms and compliments. It must all be taken with a grain of salt, and, depending on who you are, it may have more effect on some than others, as to what they think of their work, and how they approach new imagery in the future.

Which brings me to a question that every photographer asks themselves over and over throughout the course of their career. Do I care what others think of my work??? To say no would be a bold faced lie. To give an outright “yes” would be misleading. My answer? Yes. Sometimes. Kind of. It depends. Perfectly clear, right???

Let me preface the rest of these thoughts by saying this–no matter where you are in your career and how accomplished you are with your imagery, I think you can ALWAYS benefit from critique. Whether it be positive or negative, it is always well worth it to hear what others think of your work. What you do with that critique really depends on who is giving it. Do I care what the amateur photographer thinks of the work I just submitted to “X” magazine? Probably not. Do I care what the editor of that magazine thinks? You’d better believe it.

Do I care what the editor of “X” magazine thinks of the fine art/scenic work I just did? Maybe. Do I care what the amateur photographer enthusiast with a penchant for photo workshops thinks? Yes I do. Do I care what the editor of “X” magazine and the amateur photographer enthusiast think about the edgy personal work I just did? Actually, yes. Because in the end, everything I put out there reflects my ability to perform behind the lens. It is a reflection of me. My brand. We all have a brand, whether you understand it or not.

The key is this: while I care what others think, I will never, NEVER be able to please everyone. And neither will you. And that’s just how it works. Once you have found your personal style and have become comfortable with that, the criticism will sting less and the truly worthy critiques will shine through. It’s important to give ample attention to what others think of your work. It’s even more important to understand when your personal and creative vision trumps the mainstream minds of…the mainstream.

Care what others think. You have to care to some degree to see success in this business. But we all know that the path most traveled is worn for a reason. There are times when you must leave the comfort of the well trodden path, buck the unfounded criticisms and venture off into your own photo-topia of sorts. I can remember the first portfolio review I ever received. I took my work to one of my professors (I didn’t study photography in college) who was a former photojournalist. I got ripped apart. Torn to shreds. Can’t recall one positive thing said about my work at that time. And I am now so grateful for an honest eye. I cared then, and I care now. But the extent to which I let the critique of others direct my work has changed to some degree. I know what I want, and I know where it will take me. I know my style, and I know what I want to convey when I shoot an image. This will always serve as my internal creative compass. Let’s hope it points me in the right direction!