Monday, November 21, 2016

Getting in the Zone

Want to pass on an observation about myself as I'm getting ready to head to the Tetons next week for some early winter photography.

One of the buzzwords in photography is around this concept of "pre-visualization"   of an image.  Envisioning what type of image you want to capture when  you get on location.  Actually, you can't "pre" visualize, either  you visualize or you don't.  But I digress.  I personally don't practice visualization of compositions or "trophy" images that I want to come home with. I'm fine if you do, it's all good.   

What I try and practice is just getting in the creative zone before heading out to a location.  Yes there are images that I might like to come home with, however, there is so much beyond our control as landscape photographers.  Weather, environmental conditions, people and access, etc...all of these things can hamper a tightly envisioned thought of what image we'd like to get.  

Instead, my "zone" is more related to 
     a) flexing my creative muscles, getting them warmed up before I go.  If you are not out shooting every day, you're probably not in the creative zone all the time.  So, like any good athlete, you need to warm up and stretch the muscles.
     b) Sharpening my vision - being more attentive to my surroundings, noticing the little things, evaluating light.  I can do this at home, driving to work, walking to lunch, etc.  Any place I'm awake and observant, before I head out I am conscious of my vision and how I am processing the visual world around me.  I feel that this helps me better "see" potential images when I get in the field.

And lastly, the reason I don't visualize a specific image ahead of time.....

For me to practice my art of photography, I need to be in tune, or attuned, to my surroundings.  It is important for me to have a connection to what I'm shooting and it's through that connection that my best images will come about. I need to be still and quiet, listen to my mood, listen to the wind, listen to nature and hear what's it's telling me. I'm very much a "feeling" photographer in this regard.  Less analytical and more moving with the vibe of my surroundings to capture images and tells stories.   

If I visualize a specific image ahead of time, I feel that it would be disregarding any connection I may have to my surroundings once I get out there.  Things may not be "right" to capture the best image I could.   And, if you head to a location with a very specific image in mind, more often than not, you will not see many wonderful images since you are so focused on the "one" image that you specifically visualized.  

I think it's best to let go of specific ideas and be more reactive in the field, listen to what your surroundings are telling you and shoot what moves you! 

So, as I prepare to head to the Tetons, I am envisioning words and feelings, not images......cold, snow, wildlife, textures, starkness, mountains, moving water as well as ice, all the leaves fallen from the trees, windswept, rustic, etc.  It's with these thoughts that I'm setting my mental model to be the most creative I can be in the field.  



Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on 3 Legs

Tripods always seem to be a hot topic of conversation amongst photographers.  Sort of like camera bags, folks are always searching for the "right" tripod to fit their style of shooting, or the "right" combination of features for their preferences.  "What type of tripod should I get?" is to be one of the most popular questions I get from workshop attendees and other clients.  

Whenever I get that question, a great quote from Bill Fourtney comes to mind.....
"There are two types of tripods.....those that are easy to carry, and good ones"    That usually produces a few chuckles from everyone, but there is a lot of truth in that statement.

I often think back about my progression through tripods and to be honest, it is one of those things that "if I knew what I know now about tripods", I would have done things much differently when I first started out.   Years ago when I started to shoot seriously, I too was searching for the perfect tripod.  I burned through several different tripods and ballheads before I finally settled on a good tripod/head system that I have been using for many years.  I think we've probably all been there.....spending $150 on a tripod and using that for a bit. Getting frustrated with it.  Then spending $300 to buy a "better" one.  Then spending $500 to buy an even better one.  The cost of tripod/heads was one of those things that really was a bit shocking to me as travelled on my tripod journey and the mental block of spending big bucks for a tripod was one of the hardest things to overcome as I invested in my photographic kit.    I wish I would have just scraped the money together to buy the best I possibly could and skip all of the trial and error, and sunk cost, of the various tripods I burned through. 

Eventually i broke through my mental block and spent the money I needed to to buy my preferred tripod/ballhead set up.  For years now I've been using Gitzo tripod legs and RRS ballheads and I don't really want for anything more.  It does what I need it to do and works the way I want it to work.  I've got two different setups right now, a lighter weight set of Gitzo legs and an RRS BH40 head, then heavyweight legs and the RRS BH55 head.  99% of the time I use the heavier combination to do everything possible to extract the best image quality I can. 

These setups are not cheap, heck no, but look at the money we have invested in camera bodies and lenses!   I can't tell you how many times I've seen $8-10k worth of camera gear plunked on top of a flimsy $200 tripod!  Just like in high-end audio reproduction (home stereo) everything in the signal path needs to be optimized to extract the best end result.  In photography, the bodies, lenses, tripods, filters and technique are all in the "signal path" to create the best image, so it's important to address each component of the path to make sure it is the best it can be for what you want to do. 

By now you're probably saying, "OK, so what makes a good tripod?"   I'll just share a few of my thoughts based upon a lot of trial and error, advice from other professionals, observations of other photographers, etc.  Here are some things you need to think about when looking for a new tripod (or evaluating your existing one)


  • Rated to support your equipment - Most tripods and ballheads come with a manufacturer recommendation about what kind of load they can support.  make sure your set up can support your camera/lens weight.  I prefer to have "overkill" in this area, a more supportive tripod that what weight my camera/ lens is.  Why? because of the next point....

  • Reduced vibrations -  Some materials are better than others at reducing vibrations and as you know, vibration(shaking) can make your image blurry.  Having a super sturdy tripod minimizes the chance of vibrations. 

  • Height - Can go tall and short enough to cover the range of what and how you shoot. My tripod goes from 8' down to ground level as I like to shoot from many different height perspectives.

  • Ease of use - Now this one is personal preference and one that each of us needs to decide for ourselves.
    • How easy is it to extend / collapse the legs?  Think about things like when your in the darkness, or, when you have gloves on.
    • Flip lock or twist lock leg adjustment. 
    • Is it intuitive for me to use? 
    • Am I going to hike or travel on airplanes?
    • How serviceable is it? In the field or at  home?
    • How easy is it to make small adjustments to the height as I'm composing my image?
    • Does the ballhead transition from landscape to portrait orientation?
    • What kind of special plates do i need to use the ballhead?  Can I get easy replacements if I'm traveling and need a new one? 
Ease of use is probably the biggest factor in happiness with a tripod.  Unfortunately it's also one of those things that you won't know unless you use it in a real world situation.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen people struggle and struggle with their tripods, trying to get them adjusted to the right height, set up on un-even ground, or just collapse them to put back in the car.  So much frustration and anger can be directed at the lowly tripod. Why?  Because they are not easy to use and aren't the right tool for the job.  Too often I see people working to compose and shoot images hand-held with their tripod standing next to them and when I ask them why, it's because they got frustrated with it and gave up trying to use it!!!

Now, my last point is a bit of a "soap box" for me and I hope I don't offend too many of you.....

JUST SAY NO TO CENTER POSTS!!!!!!

The premise of a tripod is to have 3 legs to create a stable platform.  Roger that.  So why would you then put a monopod on top of a tripod? One point of contact, one support beam, between your camera and a stable platform.  If there is one little gust of wind, that center post starts rocking back and forth to blur your image.  If you press the shutter button, your hand movements will cause shake/blur as well.  There is just no logical reason why we should de-stablize our platform by using a center post.     Center posts seems like a good idea in the store and they are easier to use in the field to make height adjustments, but if we are serious about our image capture, they should not be used. The convenience is not worth the loss in image quality.   OK, rant over :-)

The best advice I can leave you with is to try as many different tripods and ballheads as you can.  If you're out with other photogs, ask them what they like or dislike about their tripods.  Honestly evaluate your needs.  Buy more than what you think you'll need, you'll be happier in the end.

Even polar bears value a good tripod



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Forethought

...Forethought: Careful consideration of what will be necessary or may happen in the future..

I'm pondering the importance of forethought in photography today and thought I would put down a few thoughts around this idea and how it applies to my work in a few easy to understand examples.

Execution
When I am out in the field shooting, before every click of the shutter button, I give some thought to what will come next with the image I'm about to take.  

     - Will I be able to process the image to my liking?  Perhaps the dynamic range is too high or the sun too bright or some other limitation that I might need to account for.

     - Will I have the tools to achieve what I want to do in the "digital darkroom"? 

     - If it is a challenging scene, is there anything I can do in taking the picture to help be confident in the above questions?  Using filters, change exposure settings, change composition, etc..

If I can't be confident that I will be able to develop the image successfully, I may not take the image.

     - Based on the scene and strength of the image, what do I think the end use of the image might be?    Will I print it or just display it online?  Will it perhaps make the cut and be posted on my commercial site?

I know it's impossible to know exactly how  you will use an image before taking it, but having an idea of what you "think" you might do with it may impact how you execute the image in the field.

File Management
Another use of forethought in my photography is in how manage the thousands of images and how I chose to store and back them up.   Asking the question, "how much impact would there be if my hard drive crashed right now?".  Or, "how many images would be lost if my external hard drive stopped working right now?"

These questions are about thinking ahead, future outcomes or consequences, and granted these are scary thoughts.  But by planning ahead to prevent any loss, I have build a redundant backup system for all of my raw and edited images.

Workflow and End of Year
Every year I collect and curate an assortment of images that I've created during the year and transform them into a printed book for myself.  Printing a book brings my work out of the digital realm and puts something solid and substantial in my hands that I can enjoy again and again.  Printing your images is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself.

To pull out an Ansel Adams quote, "The negative is the equivalent of the composers score, and the print is the performance"  

As I shoot and process images throughout the year, the most common output is that I would save the edited .psd file and then create a .jpg file that is reduced in size and quality to be posted to various websites. The trouble for me in the past was when the end of the year was upon me, I had to go back through all of my .psd files and create high quality .jpg files for inclusion in the book.  It was a very time consuming process.  

Nowadays, after giving it some thought, I have added a step to my normal workflow that relieves the pain and suffering at the end of year and produces a more consistent output. 

As I finish editing an image, I still save the edited .psd file for future needs.  Then I created a new step, with easy one-click action, to resize and save a high res .jpg off in a new folder for the yearly book.  Then finally, create the low res version for posting online.

There are many more examples of forethought and planning in the photography world, these are just a few that I'm musing on today.  Evaluate your own techniques and workflows, is there anything  you can do in your photography to think ahead achieve better results?     



Monday, October 17, 2016

Vision and visibility

For me, one of the most profound learnings through photography has been how it has changed the way I see the world around me.

Where once I just used to look at a pretty scene and think that's nice, now I am judging the quality of light.  Is it warm or cold light, which direction is it coming from, how could I use the light to craft an image (after all, photography is about capturing light)

Where I used to pay mild attention to things in my every day life, now I am constantly looking for interesting textures, interesting patterns, mixes of colors, etc.  And, it's not just when I have a camera in my hand, it's ALL THE TIME. My vision has shifted to be constantly looking at the world around me and assessing its photographic potential.  It's a great thing for my photography, it's even a greater thing for my life in general as I'm more observant and more connected to everything in my universe.  

As I've matured in my photography, I've moved from "only shooting in the best light at the best locations" to make an image, to growing my skills, my vision, my techniques and my appreciation of all types of art to be able to create some meaningful images wherever I am, in whatever conditions.    

Shooting when the conditions aren't perfect is a skill that needs to be developed.  Creativity is a "muscle" that needs to be exercised and when it's strong, you can shoot in almost any situation and come away with some pleasing photographs.  Knowing how to read the light and shooting those images that are conducive the conditions takes some practice, but it is a skill that will benefit you for years to come.  No matter where you are and what the conditions are, you may find rewarding photographic opportunities.  

Recently I was out of town visiting my father and decided to bring my camera "just in case" I felt the creative urge, even though a massive winter storm was forecast.  In between rain showers, I had a small window of time, so I ran out to a local farm and poked around.  Being it was Fall, they had pumpkins!  Granted there wasn't a "grand landscape" or "stunning light", but that doesn't mean I still couldn't take creative, pleasing images.  In 20 minutes of poking around the farm yard, I came away with this image as one of my favorites.


An even more extreme example of being aware of your surroundings and honing your photographic vision........I was taking the trash can out for dad of all things and noticed that the strong winds had knocked down a bunch of leaves from the trees onto the sidewalk.  As I glanced down, I noticed that the underside of the leaves were very hydrophobic and the rain drops beaded up nicely on the leaves.  I stopped wheeling the can out and took a few moments to assess the photographic possibilities.  Just then the rains came back, raining buckets, so I retreated inside.  When the rain subsided, I grabbed my tripod and macro lens and spent 30 minutes out front of the house, along the sidewalk and lawn and shot some rewarding close-up images.


If I hadn't told you I was out front of my dads house when I shot these images, you never would have known that I wasn't out at some exotic forest location.

It's all in developing and honing your vision to see photographically.  There are images everywhere around us if we just open up and "see" them. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Simplicity


click to enlarge



Sometimes simple is more powerful than complex


I'm going to leave that sentence out there for a bit.  Go ahead, read it again.

In this fast paced world with ever increasing noise, the general trend is to ratchet up the wow factor in the pursuit of eyeballs.  Whether in advertising, news,  politics, and even photography, there is a general trend to create more WOW so that it will cut through the crowded landscape and loud noise.  

I have found that as the noise has increased and the over-the-top wow factor in images has gone through the roof, I am moving further and further away from that and seeking more serenity, more simplicity and an inner strength in my images through the use of stronger compositions and more insightful translation of my subject. 

In the above image, a seemingly very "simple" shot from the Oregon coast, I find that it can be incredibly strong and even more impactful than some crazy light from the latest hot destination.   Simple beauty, expertly composed and crafted brings a deeper sense of connection to the subject, can bring more peace and serenity to the viewer, and challenges the artist to "do more with less"

For those that can slow down and look at a simple image, you can see that things can be anything but simple.  And, many times, it's these seemingly simple images that can be the hardest to create.  The wind had been blowing all day and if there were any ripples in the water in the pool, the image would not work.  Betting on the wind dying down while there is still sunlight in the sky took timing.  Putting the subject smack dab in the middle of the frame, typically a photographic no-no, works exceptionally well in this shot because of the simplicity and weight of the rock.  The "right" positioning to frame up the shot was a very thoughtful process.  Trying to get the best angle for the curve of the pool, then couple that with the shape of the rock...those two elements needed to be in harmony for the shot to work.  All which then tie in to the river of water leading from the pond to the ocean, giving the viewers eye an easy path to the back of the image.  The height of the tripod played a role in this composition too.  If the tripod was too low, the river of water would have been cut off by the rock and the angle on the pool/rock combination wouldn't highlight them to their best.  If set any higher, the angle starts to feel unnatural to the viewer.  Shot just below eye height allows the viewer to feel as if they are part of the scene.      Then of course, there is the in-camera technical execution of the image which has to be spot on.  As you can see, these seemingly "simple" compositions are anything but simple to execute just right to convey the voice of the photographer.  

In this age of constant shouting, ever increasing assaults on our senses, sometimes the voice that speaks softest and most poignantly is the one that gets heard.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

2015 Image Collection

Each year I make a point to set aside some time to wrap up the previous year of photography.   This usually starts in the winter months and may stretch in to the spring depending on how much work there is to do.

The first thing that I do is review each folder and set of images that I shot for the year.  I often times do not process all of the "keepers" from a location during the year, so this is the time that I will go through and bring to light some of the gems that I've left hidden on my desktop.  

I've found too that letting some images sit and "age" a bit gives me perspective when I go to process them.   Coming back from a particularly productive shoot, of course there is excitement and I want to share what I've done.  I may do that right after I return, share an image or two, but I usually don't work the images too much nor do I want to share the full breadth of the shoot.  I do like to let the excitement subside a bit so that I can review and judge the images with as clear perspective as I can.  I may like an image when I first get back home, remembering what it felt like to be there or the sights/sounds, but upon some aging and perspective, that image may not stand up in the final cut. That's why I like to let them ferment a bit.

Once I've processed my images, then comes the harder task.  Curating my processed images for the year and condensing them in to a concise portfolio of work.  Without a doubt I am my own worst critic!  I am constantly striving to improve my photography, my vision, my "voice".....so that makes me a harsh critic when it comes to reviewing my images.  Usually during this process I also take some time to lift out of the actual images and look across the body of work and try to identify trends in my photography or look for areas that I've grown in, and, look for areas that I'd like to improve upon in the coming year.  It's all very introspective and can be insightful for me in my constant quest to improve.

Once I've culled the images down to what I think is a worthy set of images, I then create a book of my images.  I started doing this 5-6 years ago as a way to chronicle my growth, realize my photography in a hard copy format (instead of having tons of prints lying around) and be able to share with friends and family. And with an eye towards the future, I can look back at my work and see what I did and follow my photographic journey through time.

I settled on using the Blurb company to produce my books.  There are tons of print on demand companies out there, this is the one that i chose.  I chose it based upon overall print quality, the ability to print larger sized books, the variety of templates, the control and customizations available for what I want to do.  They are not the cheapest, nor are they the most expensive.  Very good quality at what I feel is a fair price.

I've finished my book for 2015 and here is a short excerpt from it....


Monday, April 11, 2016

The Final Piece

Fujifilm has released the final piece of their wonderful mirrorless puzzle.....a super telephoto lens.


The  FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is out on the market now and it is, arguably of course, one of the finest super telephoto lenses available from any manufacturer.   Visit the Fujifilm site HERE    I've only had the chance to shoot with this lens a couple of times and so far, I'll say that Fuji has a real winner on it's hands!   

The build quality of this lens is amazing and on par with any Canon L lens that I've owned.  Metal body construction means that this lens is not light, but by no means is it abnormally heavy.  The weight helps to bring a solidness to the lens that just exudes quality.  

The large grippy zoom and focus rings fall easily to hand and you can make fast adjustments on the fly, or, micro adjustments of focus to nail the shot you are going for.  

The lens has a telescoping barrel which helps keep the overall length down to a size that can fit in a backpack with the full Fuji_X system.  I no longer have to carry a separate backpack when I want to take out the "big gun".  

For me, the two biggest factors that I obsess over is image quality and then the built in stabilization.  Fuji has hit it out of the park on both of these.  The IQ is simply amazing for a lens with this focal range!!!!  It beats my Canon 100-400mm hand down.  Everything is tack sharp from corner to corner; no distortion or random artifacts at all.   Below is an image from the Olympic National Park, shooting across the river.  Only a slight crop for compositional needs.   Click on the pic to see it larger!   


f/13 220mm ISO 320 

The above was shot on a tripod, however, the fantastic image stabilization on this lens is so good, I am able to handhold 1-2 stops slower than I am with my Canon system.  Well done Fuji!  







The beauty now too is that Fuji has released their 1.4x teleconverter which works with the 100-400mm.  Putting this in the signal path has not resulted in any loss of image quality at all.  Fuji did a tremendous job providing magnification and no noticeable IQ loss, distortion or any other of the nasties you typically experience putting another piece of glass in the system.    And the best part, it turns your 100-400mm into a 140mm - 560mm super combo.  And, putting that on the X-T1 with it's sensor size, all told, you get an incredible reach of almost 800mm with incredible image quality!!!   

f/8 1/320 ISO 1250  560mm


f/8 1/320 ISO 640  560mm


f/11  1/320 ISO 200  350mm

If you're a Funi_X shooter, this is a must have lens.  The IQ is incredible, the build quality fantastic and the performance is on par with the best super-telex out there.  Kudos to Fujifilm for this fantastic piece of kit!