Motivation, purpose, and reason. Why do we do what we do, especially when it’s doing something that we love? To me photography is more than taking photos. It took me a while to understand this as it applies to my own work and how it affects my life but the realization was life changing. I just returned from an event in Eastern Oregon where 25 photographers gathered at a ranch just east of Baker City to photograph the total solar eclipse. I organized and conducted a solar eclipse workshop and campout. During the organization phase of the event I had no idea how it would all turn out. There’s always so much to worry about it seems. Will the clouds show up and blot out the eclipse? Will there be enough water? Will there be enough porta-potties? Will there be something that I’ve forgotten? Will everyone be happy? When it comes to worry I seem to be a pro.
The day of the event comes and the photographers start arriving. There were young, old, men, women, children, varied races, nationalities and ethnicities. People who, if they were in their own element, may not even meet let alone sit and share a campfire, food, drink, dance and conversation. Our lives were diverse. Our common catalyst is photography. Our reason for gathering is the eclipse. A perfect formula.
The event could have formed into smaller social groups defined by our differences but instead everyone came together into a hive of gracious sharing. We created our own village there of people who concentrated on their one common goal, in this case something as simple and as innocuous as getting a photograph, albeit a very special photograph. Everyone helped those who were less skilled or prepared. We all shared our experience, expertise, equipment, food and drink, anything freely and selflessly. Even the children ran and played completely disconnected from their electronic devices as if it was 1965. I saw no conflict that the children weren’t able to resolve themselves. It was an amazing convergence of love, happiness and cooperation.
I describe this event only to make a simple point that has taken me some time to realize. The secret to happiness and mutual cooperation, I think, is not finding our differences but, rather, to find our common interests. It doesn’t have to be photography. It can be a myriad of other things but if we stop for a moment and realize how much we help ourselves when we help others the world would be a better place.
I don’t mean to preach, nor do I mean to act as if I’ve discovered the secret to world peace, but I would like to express how much I have realized that photography for me is the tool that opens doors to the things that make me happy. It’s the tool that allows me to affect others in a positive way and the more that I receive the recognition and gratitude of others the more that I realize it’s more than the photography or vanity that could come with notoriety. It’s about affecting people’s lives in a positive way with what I love to do.
I have a lot of people ask me what is the most important element or method of my photography that allows it to stand out so that they too can learn how to do it themselves. I’m convinced that what will make anyone’s photography stand out can’t be taught but must be discovered through a journey of practice, mistakes, realization and discovery. It’s a process that allows you to be able to see the world through your heart and soul and not your eyes and practical mind. A realization that will bring a feeling of relief and relaxation that will allow you to do what you do in a much more creative way.
My personal realization of these principles has completely changed my approach to everything that I do that involves how I approach my work. It has brought me happiness where there once was frustration. It has brought a new inner peace that translates through my photos. It has even brought a certain amount of success that i wouldn’t have had otherwise. I feel that it all comes from sharing what I love. I may not have discovered the secret to world peace, but what I’ve discovered is helping me with my own.
What Lens Should I Use? – The most asked question of me is typically advice in what camera that one should get. I have addressed this in a previous blog post. The second most asked question may be what lens to choose.
In SLR (single lens reflex) photography there are basically two types of lenses that one can choose. Fixed focal length (prime lenses) and zoom lenses. It was common back in the old days when I first started for photographers to have a whole set of fixed focal length lenses. A full set typically consisted is a 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro. Beyond those focal lengths one bought large telephoto lenses such as a 200mm or a 300mm. We had zooms back then but they were of poor quality. After the 1970’s zoom lenses became much better and eventually became the choice of most photographers, especially hobbyists. Today the quality of a zoom lens is fantastic.
A zoom lens allows you to magnify the scene that you’re photographing, enlarging an area to give a closer view. It will also help in aiding your composition. You can start wide and zoom in until you have removed all that you don’t want in the shot creating a much more solid and stronger composition. A zoom lens is very handy as it allows you to have one lens instead of a set. Zooms are available that will allow a range from 28mm-300mm in one lens.
The most valuable tool in my bag is the right lens for the right purpose. In landscape photography the most common lens used is a wide angle lens. A focal length range from 24-70mm on a 35mm camera or a full frame digital camera, or 18-55mm on a cropped sensor camera, is the most effective and most used range for landscape work. Although it’s the most commonly used range it’s certainly not the only one that a landscape photographer can use. I love to use my 70-200mm zoom to get some details of the scene of more abstract interpretations of the
scene as well as my 14mm and 20mm ultra wide angle lenses, both being “fast” prime lenses.
The next consideration in choosing a lens is how fast the lens is. Fast meaning how wide that you’re able to open your aperture. The most common maximum aperture setting is f/3.5, but better lenses typically will allow f/2.8 to f/1.8. This means that you can use a faster shutter with more light coming through the lens at the maximum aperture setting. The wider the opening the more light that’s able to make it inside the camera. Another consequence of the wider maximum aperture opening is a narrowing or decrease in the depth of field which will allow one to separate the subject from the background by keeping the subject sharp while blurring the background. The better lenses will usually have a wider maximum aperture but with the quality and extra feature comes an increase in cost.
I have been talking a lot about landscape photography but the same principles apply in all forms including portraiture, for instance. A typical prime focal length for portraiture is 85-105mm. When you own a zoom lens, you have that range. A note concerning portraiture use a wider aperture to narrow the DOF to separate your subject from the background by blurring the background as described above.
For those who don’t own a camera with removable lenses, all of this applies to your camera as well. A typical prosumer camera will have a built in zoom as well as the ability to switch to manual and set your aperture. Learn to manually adjust your camera and use the aperture to control the DOF to allow you to enhance the look and quality of your photos.
It’s easy to complicate photography in one’s mind with the perception of mathematical complication. I leave the math to the engineers and learn simple practical application. Experiment, practice, make mistakes, experiment more and in time it will all come together into an instinctual understanding. In this day and age of digital photography film is cheap. Take a lot of pictures.
Photographing Lightning – With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most.
A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.
Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand
Of course when we’re trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.
When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.
You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.
Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.
Daytime or Nighttime
When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.
It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.
Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.
High Tech Toys
Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.
A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.
Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.
Have Fun – Be Safe
The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.
I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.
Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.
It’s pushing midnight as I finish processing the last photo for a client photo shoot the previous day. I get up from my desk and walk over to the gear that I have set on my couch. My backpack is full of the required equipment for a day in the field. My camera is charged up with an extra battery. My memory cards are clear and installed into the camera. My clothing is ready to go for the next morning and my alarm is set for 4:00 am. These are the moments when one can easily justify turning the alarm off and just calling the next day off completely. The temptation of sleeping in is almost overwhelming.
The alarm rings and in a daze I hit the snooze alarm. Five minutes later the familiar but unwelcome sound of the alarm sounds off but with an increased intensity. It’s at the moment that I realize why it’s ringing. Spinning around while sitting upright my feet hit the floor. Heck, I need to visit the bathroom anyway. Maybe I’ll just get up, take care of some business and look outside to see how the weather looks.
As I go to the front door and let my dog Betty outside I stand on the porch and watch the drizzle as it saturates everything. A typical Oregon Spring day, I think to myself as Betty and walk back inside to decide that because I’m up anyway, I’ll just make some coffee and get into my rain resistant clothing and head out to see what the day will hold. It’s dark and with just enough time to get to the gorge for sunrise I put my gear into the Jeep, load up Betty and head out to drive over Mount Hood and over Highway 35 in the pouring rain. At that time of the day there are very few people on the road. It’s my favorite time to drive. I sip from my travel mug and watch for errant deer crossing the road in front of me.
As I drop down into the Hood River Valley I notice that the rain has stopped and the clouds are thinning. My heart starts to pump with a bit more vigor with the realization that the morning may turn out to provide the conditions for a photograph that I am seeking, and perhaps the effects of the coffee. I turn east and travel down Highway 84 and then take the exit at Mosier before heading up to Rowena Crest. As I drive up the old Columbia River Highway toward my destination there are still a few sprinkles as the twilight starts to illuminate the horizon to the east, but it’s looking very promising.
Driving into the parking area at Rowena I grab my gear and and run to the spot that I have in mind for the composition that I seek. I have been here several times in the past and have photographed the area with varied luck, typically with mediocre skies, and am hoping that this will be the best moment yet. Within moments the light from the sun over the horizon starts to shine light under the clouds in the sky. I immediately start photographing the scene while blocking out all other thoughts or worries from my mind. I am in the moment. I’m in the groove.
That morning turned out to be one of my best days of photographing wildflowers in the gorge. I came home with a big bag of great images. This, the morning when I was riding a razor’s edge in deciding if I should even go or not, turned out to be amazing. It would have been so easy for me to just turn that alarm off and roll back over and sleep for another few hours. It would have been so easy for me to just come back inside after seeing the rain from my porch and hop back into bed. It would have been so easy to justify missing this amazing experience. I certainly had more reasons to not go than I had to go.
I think about this a lot and have this notion ingrained into my thinking now so that I am more apt to think about these experiences when that alarm rings on those early mornings. I don’t know much about gambling but I’m sure that certain principles that apply to it might apply to outdoor photography in Oregon and around Mount Hood. You don’t win the majority of the times that you play, but if you don’t play you will never win. Take that gamble. What do you have to lose but a little sleep? And the Photography Gamble just may pay off. You may end up photographing A Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Sunrise.
It’s time to go act like a bumble bee and flit from flower to flower, cameras in hand. Here in the Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge area especially as we have so many options as well as a very long season to photograph them. Oregon Wildflower Photography Season is here.
Early in the season the flowers such as the purple lupine and bright yellow balsamroot sunflowers start in the lower elevations, especially along the east end of the Columbia River Gorge. Places such as Rowena Crest or Dalles Mountain on the Washington side of the river are both very popular locations for those who seek these wildflowers in the Springtime. As the season progresses the flowers work their way up into the foothills of Mount Hood and in time onto the slopes of the mountain during during the summer months. Most of the best wildflowers on Mount Hood are accessible from the many hiking trails available to us but a drive on some of the forest roads will be lined with everything from lupine and paintbrush to a wide assortment of orchids and lilies.
When photographing the flowers I like to get up before sunrise to be able to be there during the best light available to me, especially for my landscape photos, but a sunset can be just as nice. I typically avoid the light of mid day but a nice blue sky with some fluffy clouds is also striking. As the light changes I like to take more close up photos of the flowers. Macro photography is fun, but bring some knee pads. I spend a lot of time on my knees during wildflower season.
When out in the wild and roaming among the fields of flowers be aware of your surroundings so as not trample or destroy any plants or areas surrounding them. Don’t break new trails as there will be many opportunities for photos along the pathways and trails. As outdoor enthusiasts we need to practice and preach proper stewardship of the lands, especially in these days of increased usage.
Some of my favorite secret locations:
Rowena Crest Viewpoint, Mosier Oregon early season.
Rowena Crest Viewpoint is located on and is a part of the old Historic Columbia River Highway. Located between Mosier and The Dalles it gives you a commanding view of the Columbia River Gorge, especially to the east which makes it a great place to photograph a sunrise. Lupine and balsamroot sunflowers dominate the scene but it is home to an amazing variety of native wildflowers. There are great trails through the area, including the Tom McCall Preserve.
Columbia Hills State Park – Dalles Mountain Washington early season.
Across the Columbia River from The Dalles Oregon lies a whole world of exploration. One of my favorite places to photograph is Dalles Mountain Ranch near Dallesport. It once was a ranch and several of the buildings, including barns and the original farm house are still there and a part of the historical history of the area. With views over fields of wildflowers in the Springtime that overlook the southern skyline including Mount Hood amazing photos are made here.
Mt Hood National Forest roads any time that they’re clear of snow.
I love to just go for drives on many of the roads that are open for travel that are on National Forest land, especially while the rhododendrons and bear grass are blooming. Many of these roads come to views of Mount Hood. As you drive you will also notice a wide variety of wildflowers that grow along the road. Just pack up your camera and go for a drive.
Mount Hood’s Wy’east Basin late season.
For those who enjoy a beautiful hike that will get you onto the upper slopes of Mount Hood I recommend a hike up Vista Ridge to Wy’east Basin. It can be strenuous to some but if you pack a lunch and water, take your time and stop and photograph the flowers along the way a wonderful day can be had. The trail weaves its way through the ghost forest created by the Dollar Lake fire, the floor of which can be covered in flowers including beautiful white fawn lilies. As you break out of the forest to views of Barret Spur and Mount Hood bear grass and rhododendrons line the trail. When you arrive above the timber line and into Wy’east basin you will be greeted with areas covered with beautiful mountain heather.
Mount Hood’s Elk Meadows late season.
For a less strenuous hike go to the east side to Elk Meadows trail. A large variety of flowers can be found in these meadows, from phlox, shooting stars, elephant heads and lilies. This trail makes its way to several trails that network this area that allow loops hikes including a trip to Umbrella Falls which can be surrounded by fireweed.
These are only a small sample of the amazing scenery that can yield amazing wildflowers and, consequently, amazing photographs. Grab your gear and hit the road.
Get Into Photography Now – I’m asked frequently what camera that I would recommend if one wants to “get into photography”. To this I reply that they most likely carry a camera that will get them into photography every day. In this day and age you don’t have to wait to get into photography. There’s no excuse not to master your cell phone camera before you upgrade to one that’s more complicated. In photography the kind of camera has never dictated the artistic quality or impact of a skillfully done photograph.
Creating an interesting or artistic image in any medium relies more on an eye for an interesting subject, a basic understanding of light, an understanding of basic compositional standards and the ability to use the tools that they have at hand, the camera. A painter can use crude applications of heavy paint using a pallet knife and create an amazing image while another will use the finest brushes and the smoothest paints to create theirs. Both can be masterpieces. It’s about knowing how to use the tools instinctively through practice. Photography is no different.
I don’t discourage anyone from wanting to upgrade to a better camera, especially if they want to work on improving their skill. There’s not doubt that a better camera can yield a better image, especially in challenging conditions such as low light situations, but I do stress that photography is like fishing. Better gear doesn’t always yield more fish, especially in unskilled hands. One of my favorite photographs that I have made was made with a strip of film in a pinhole camera, which is nothing more than a wooden box with a hole in the front of it.
One shouldn’t need a more sophisticated camera until their skill level exceeds the camera’s abilities. In many ways a basic camera such as your cell phone will challenge you and will teach you lessons that you won’t need to learn once you get the better camera. Your learning curve will be smoother and your frustration level lower if you practice first with a more simple device.
Some advice that I do give to those who will be upgrading is to consider some of the intermediate, bridge cameras. Many have quality image sensors while supplying a single non-removable lens with a zoom factor that exceeds most zoom lenses that the average digital single lens reflex photographer uses.
For those that are upgrading to a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera I stress that unless they’re planning to use the gear professionally, there’s no need to purchase professional level equipment. Many intermediate photographers feel that they need a full frame camera to push their work further, when it’s not usually the camera that’s the barrier. The cost for pro gear is more than one needs to pay as the new sensors give outstanding performance. The cropped sensor DSLR’s perform amazingly well at low light conditions. The lenses filters etc also cost less. The only practical trade off is that you won’t be able to print the size of a billboard.
Do you still have a film camera? Guess what? Film is cool again. Dust off your old film camera and take some pictures. You can still buy film and you can have it sent off to be developed. You can do it all over the Internet with a little help from the US Postal Service. There are still drug stores that sell and develop film.
The point that I’m really try to make is that if one want’s to get into photography there’s no time like the present. There’s no need to wait. If not having the right kind of camera is your reason for not starting today, you need to get past that. Not having the right kind of camera should not be an excuse. Art doesn’t matter what kind of camera that you use, nor does documenting your children while they grow or any other special moment in your life. Get into photography. Pick up your camera and take some pictures today.
It’s been another great year here at Gary Randall Photography. I hope that it was for you all as well. After all setbacks are considered, we’re thankful for the growth and progress that has taken place in life and business, including being included as a writer for the Mountain Times.
As I look back on 2016 I thought that I should share a few of the photos that were made and share what it took to get the shot. The photos might not be my most beautiful or technically brilliant but combine my memory of the moment with the resulting image and they’re some of my personal favorites. Consider this a year in review. I hope that that non-photographers enjoy them and that fellow photographers and photographic artists can learn or be inspired to push their work to be the best that it can be.
I hope that 2017 brings good health, happiness and many photographic opportunities to you.
I started the year out near home with a monochromatic photo of Mount Hood from Timberline Lodge. Although this looks as if it was taken at night it was made on a bluebird day. The snow had been rained on causing these channels of water runoff creating the lineal patterns in the snow. After the patterns were made another snow storm came and covered them back up again but left them soft like folds in fine white fabric.
To get the photo I had to blaze a path through the deep snow to the point of view that I wanted. Of course I didn’t have my snowshoes, but luckily this was only about 20 yards from the Timberline Lodge parking lot.
Processing involved was simple using Adobe Lightroom. For the dark sky I polarized it to a darker blue with my circular polarizing filter. I then localized the exposure and contrast to the blue and darkened the zone to pure black. I then brought the whites and the zones between 0% and 100% to a point where the brightest was at 100% with each level between that would allow for the texture of the scene to be represented. You can see all of the detail including a sandy texture in the foreground of the freshly fallen snow.
This photo is one of my favorites from this past year. After getting the previous Black and White photo of Mount Hood I decided to return again after dark to see what I could do with the scene at night, especially under the moonlight. This photo might be considered an unexpected benefit of looking all around me while I was photographing the mountain. This scene was behind me.
To get this photo I used my tripod to be able to extend my exposure to 20 seconds. I stopped down to f/22 to allow the light to play off of the aperture blades which created the light star from the moon’s light. A snowboarder had cut a line through the scene that aligned with the shadows of the moonlight. I felt that the simple composition created a much stronger image than a wider view of this scene.
Early Spring is a good time to explore those places that heat up during the summer. The Alvord Desert is a great example. The mud tiles of the playa start to form as the mud starts to dry and the skies give you a good chance for a sunset at that time of the year as well.
To get this photo I had set up for a sunset and then waited. The sunset was nice that night, but the color didn’t come on in a dense colorful way until after I watched the “first sunset” fade and I had started to pack my gear into my Jeep. This second sunset is the result of the last beams of light shining from below the horizon and up under the clouds that were in front and above us. Always stay until the end of the show.
As the year progressed the anticipation of flowers increased. Not every year is a good year for flowers in the Mount Hood area, including the Columbia River Gorge. Weather can take its toll on their fragile petals. It can also affect the timing of which bloom when. When it all comes together like it did this last Spring it creates perfect conditions for beautiful wildflower photos. The lupine and the balsamroot bloomed in unison.
To get this photo I got up before dark and drove from my home here on The Mountain over Highway 35 through the Hood River Valley in the rain. I didn’t hurry because of the weather. I did not anticipate a sunrise, but the closer that I got to The Gorge the more that it looked like the clouds might part so I decided to head to Rowena Crest. I arrived just in time for this sunrise. I was also fortunate that there was hardly a breeze in the air which helped me to get this photo without the struggle of needing a super fast shutter speed or an open aperture. This allowed me to get a clear and sharp image through the scene.
I like sunrises. I just wish that they weren’t in the morning, but that they are limits the amount of people there to photograph them. I love Smith Rock any time of the day. I wanted to get the morning light as it shown onto the rocks I also wanted to take advantage of the foreground in this spot at this beautiful location.
To get this photo I drove out in the dark to the Smith Rock State Park and found these cracks that I found from a previous trip. This photo was all about composition and, of course, the warm light as it painted the side of the cliffs beyond. I set my tripod up to bridge the crack allowing it to move through the center of the photo, and took care not to fall down into the approximately 15 foot drop below. Because the foreground is so prominent I maximized my focus by stopping (smaller aperture opening) down and then made sure that it was in sharp focus.
The Columbia Hills of Washington, with views of Mount Hood and the Columbia River beyond, is one of my favorite places to go run through fields of flowers in the Springtime. Columbia Hills State Park is located in Dallesport Washington. It includes the historic Dalles Mountain Ranch and fields and fields of flowers. This old car makes a great subject of interest in photos made of it, especially on a beautiful sunny day with cotton ball clouds floating by.
To get this photo I was able to hand hold my camera due to the bright light of the sunshine. With such bright light my shutter speed was fast enough that it was just a matter of walking around and looking for thoughtful compositions.
I’m a guide and photography instructor. I love taking people from all over the world to places in and around the Mount Hood area. Less than an hour away we have a whole different world to explore by heading east toward open skies and Central Oregon. This photo is one that I used to demonstrate my focusing techniques. My goal was to get the wheat in front of the camera as well as the house behind in perfect focus.
To get this photo I set my camera on my tripod to give me a stable platform to allow me to take my time with my composition and adjustments. There was also a bit of a breeze so it allowed me to repeat the shot if it didn’t turn out the first, second or third try. I stopped down my aperture to maximize the focal distance, moved my focus out to infinity and then focused back until the wheat became tack sharp. Set my exposure and took the shot.
Every year I do my best to get a photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower. I enjoy photographing it because it happens in a arm time of the year and I stay up all night doing it. Sitting out on a dirt road in a lawn chair, under a blanket watching falling stars is a great way to spend time.
To get this photo I literally stayed up all night. This is a composite of about four hours of meteors that fell in front of my camera. Each photo is a 30 second exposure which allowed me to give the camera time to catch the falling stars. To get a constant sequence of images to cover the whole time I set the interval timer to take one shot after the other. Once I got back home I selected each of the photos that had a meteor in it and then layered each one on top of another as layers in Photoshop. I then masked out everything but the meteor. I then rotated each one according to the amount of time that had lapsed to compensate for the rotation of the Earth. The last step was to combine them all into one base image of Mount Hood taken that night. There’s a lot of work to get a photo like this but in the end I find it worth the effort.
Standing under the Aurora Borealis is an incredible experience. All of my life it has fascinated me. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Alaska to see them this year as a part of a Photography Workshop that I hosted there.
To get this photo I used my tripod and remote shutter release. Because this was a night with no moon the only light was from the northern lights above me. I put my camera on the tripod, set it to a fairly high ISO, opened up my aperture to about f/3.5 and my exposure to about 10 seconds and then attempted to stand still while the camera exposed the image. I wouldn’t recommend standing in the middle of a road to get a photo, but this was Alaska. We saw no other cars at all that night.
And speaking of Alaska, here’s a photo of my workshop members. I took this photo as we were making our way across the ice of the Matanuska Glacier. In all we spent three days exploring this amazing place. As tour leader I was able to lead everyone out to a spot inside the heart of the ice to get amazing photos of a real Alaskan glacier up close and personal.
To get this photo I turned behind me to see them all coming over this crest of ice. I asked them to stop as I set my camera to Aperture Priority, opening my aperture and setting my ISO at about 800 to insure a fast enough shutter and then snapped a series of photos, taking this one as the best of the group. Although Landscape photographers typically prefer to set their cameras manually, there are times when you have to work quick so it’s perfectly acceptable to switch to a more automatic mode such as Aperture or Shutter Priority to insure that you get the photo.
Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship of our public lands.
If you haven’t noticed lately, our public lands have become quite popular in the last decade. Many of the folks that are visiting them are inspired by the photos posted on social platforms such as Instagram or Facebook.
We have all seen that epic photo of someone standing on a hill in the foreground with their hands up in the air as if victorious after an epic journey. Behind them you see a sweeping view, idyllic light and a towering snow capped peak in the distance. These photos inspire those who yearn to express the human spirit of adventure and exploration. It also causes an increased number of people trekking to these locations. When I post a photo online the most asked question is usually, “Where is that?”
No longer is there an attitude that you should go out and explore the world and find these places. In this day and age it’s about the image and not the adventure. The location that’s easy to get to and to take a striking photo of especially. The result of this is that these iconic, beautiful and many times environmentally sensitive locations are being overrun by folks that may be inexperienced in the outdoors. Many that I have met seem to have the attitude that they are in a landscaped and maintained city park or, with some, an amusement park for extreme outdoor sports. At the end of the day it really is but a way to make an awesome photo to post online in attempt to feed their own vanity.
This may sound harsh, but as a professional outfitter and guide as well as a photographer and social media practitioner I experience this frequently. You may think that this is about me railing against the virtues of humility but it is not. The purpose of this is to point out that this activity on public land is causing it harm. With the increase in use of the trails and facilities it is more important than ever before to realize our effect on the land. Therefore I feel compelled to make a list of suggestions that will help to minimize the effects of this increased usage. This applies to us all, not just photographers.
Don’t create new trails in established trail areas. Stay on the existing trails. If you can see that someone has already been to an area, look for a trail to it before you cross virgin territory. I was at Elowah Falls one day and observed two photographers looking down and over the embankment to a spot in the creek below. As I approached I could tell that they were considering trailblazing their way to it. I walked up and started a friendly conversation about how beautiful it was there. I told them that there’s a great little trail just behind us that will take them there. They thanked me and took the trail. They were unfamiliar with the location, but if they would have taken just a few more minutes looking they would have found the trail.
Pick up other’s trash. We’ve all heard the saying, “Pack it in. Pack it out”. In this day and age it should be, “Pack it in, pack it… and other less considerate people’s trash, out. I always carry a kitchen trash back and some ziplocks in my backpack. They can come in very handing for this and other purposes. If you’re hiking with a dog pick up the poo with a plastic baggie and do not leave it along the trail with the intent of picking it up on the hike out. Put it in it’s plastic bag and then put that into the trash bag. If you’re still worried about getting poo in your pack, double bag it.
Don’t pose in sensitive areas. I have seen people standing in or erecting their tents in places off trail just for a photo. This sends a message that this location is fine to walk to which will cause damage in time. Choose a location that a trail already accesses.
Be original. With the sheer amount of people accessing these areas think about why you would want to go to the same location to get the same photograph. This mindset creates a herd. And with any herd it causes a swath of wear to these places. I’m not saying not to go but think about all of the other less photographed areas left to explore. If we as photographers seek out new locations it will scatter the herd and at the same time you will create more unique photographs.
Buy trailhead or commercial use permits. There’s a purpose to purchase forest passes or commercial use permits beyond paying another tax. It’s also a way to help regulate the use of these areas. If you’re hiking frequently consider a season pass. It’s convenient because you don’t have to buy one every time that you go hiking, and it saves you a lot of money. I’m one of a mind that this land is ours to use freely, but in the 21st century we have a few harsh realities that a permit system addresses.
Volunteer. The Forest Service or many social or civic clubs have ways for one to volunteer to clean trails and trailheads. This gives you a chance to give back all that our public lands provide. Contact the US Forest Service office to inquire about how you can help. Join a meetup group and go out for a walk with new friends and teach by example how easy it is to clean a trail as you hike.
None of these points are abstract or obscure concepts. This was how my parents raised me as we hiked on Oregon trails as a boy. I’m not one to claim that we’re doomed in this day and age because of the deterioration of society. Even when you toss that out of that argument there’s one glaring fact that can’t be ignored. There are more and more people coming to these places and just that fact alone dictates that we treat our trails and public land with even more respect.
Landscape Photography Ethics and Stewardship should be all of our responsibility.
“Is that photoshopped?” I hear that question every now and then, mostly on Social Media, although not as much as I used to ten years ago. I suspect that it could be that digital photography has become accepted more, and with websites such as Instagram that allow the user to alter their photos with a touch of a thumb, most of the time in an attempt to emulate a bad film photo, people are more accepting of photos with an artistic twist.
Photoshop is a photo editing program but the word is now used as a transitive verb usually in past tense to describe an altered photo. An altered photo is a very broad description for a process that can easily go from simply resizing a photo to altering a photo into representing something that wasn’t there. There are those who find no fault at all in the photographer editing their own photos, and there are those who say that one dare not touch their photo lest it become fake.
In reality even back when we sent our photos to the drug store they were altered in some way through the process, usually in an attempt to auto correct by the technician or because of the quality of the maintenance or calibration of the machine used to develop the film and even the type of film that we used.
As a photographer who learned how to shoot using a 35mm camera, a Yashica Electro 35 to be precise, and learned how to develop my own black and white photos I have my own take on the whole, sometimes controversial, subject.
Back when I started out as a hobbyist in 1977 I wanted to learn how to develop my own film in a darkroom. I joined a camera club and learned from the “old guys” there. One thing that I did learn is that it’s not just a simple process of developing, rinsing, fixing and drying. There’s also more to enlarging and making a print than what I suspected. What I learned the most is how much one can alter the look of the photo either by accident or on purpose in the darkroom. This is not to mention how one can alter a photo while they are making the image in the camera using the basic adjustments.
While in the darkroom one is able to push or pull the process which involves leaving it in the developing solution for a longer or shorter period of time, as well as dodging and burning areas independently of other areas. This was a favorite process of Ansel Adams and how he was able to put into practice his Zone System. Masking can be done with cut outs made of cardboard during the printing/enlarging process. Pieces of other photos can be combined, other details removed. One can be creative in the darkroom and most don’t realize that this was done regularly.
The composites that I mentioned that were made in the darkroom are still done today, and are the likely source of the use of the word photoshopped as a verb. These include images that include components that were not a part of the scene at the time such as huge moons, false skies or a person in a scene that they weren’t a part of. Some do it not to deceive but to create art. It’s done as an artistic method and the image or the artist usually make it known. But as with all good things in all good things there will always be those who abuse it. If it’s not real say so. I say that in a judgmental way and I’m not afraid to say that. Any kind of deception isn’t good. In the world of photography it makes those who would otherwise enjoy genuine hard earned and skillfully made photos question the photo’s authenticity. It also makes beginners hesitate to enjoy the freedom that they have today in digital photography to be able to develop their own photos without chemicals or a dark room.
In digital there’s no such thing as not adjusted, or as some call it, “SOOC”, straight out of camera. It’s a myth that the image is a pure image. You have presets that are programmed onto the camera when it’s manufactured, usually Landscape, Portrait or Vivid, Neutral or even Black and White. All of these are processes that develop your photo in the camera. An engineer is, essentially, processing your photos for you, so why not do it yourself?
All of this considered, today we have the ability to do the same processes with our computers with the lights on. In my work my processing workflow follows closely the processes that are used in a darkroom. Exposure, contrast, color correct, dodge, burn etc. Even the one “special effect” that I use was made for film photography, the Orton effect.
I urge anyone who has ever wanted to learn to become a photographer and develop their own photos to not let digital stop them. I also tell them to not let the judgement of others affect what they do in either life or photography. Don’t let the question, “Is that photoshopped?” stop you from being creative with your photography. And the best part is that, due to the introduction of Lightroom you can say no it’s not, that is until lightroomed becomes a verb.
What did we ever do without our cell phones? In this era of miraculous technology it’s hard to remember how it was to wait until we got home to make a call or to search for a phone booth along the way. They have revolutionized communication. These little devices have also revolutionized photography as well.
Gone are the days of limiting the amount of photographs that you take or the need for delayed gratification due to having to send the film out for developing. We just snap, smile, share with our friends on social media or email then forget about them as we continue to record in more pictorial detail our day to day lives.
As cell phone camera technology is improved the pictures become better and better. They have become so good that they have essentially replaced the point and shoot camera. They are all the average person will ever require for their personal photography needs, and even though they have become incredibly capable, they still take a little experience to master, especially in challenging light. A few tricks can make your photos even better.
Don’t shoot with a dirty lens. As we carry our phone here and there we can put them through a lot. Dust and dirt can collect on the lens of the camera. A little lens cleaner on a soft cloth will help to keep your photos clear and crisp.
Don’t miss the shot. Cell phone cameras won’t give you an instant shutter actuation. They take a second or two to find and focus your subject. This is referred to as shutter lag. Anticipate this shutter lag and be prepared to get the shot a few moments prior to the moment. This is especially true with moving objects.
Don’t use direct sunlight when photographing people. Find bright shade to eliminate sharp contrast of glare and shadows. Your subjects eye won’t be as apt to be squinting.
Don’t use your flash. The stark light of your flash will wash out your photos. There’s an HDR (high dynamic range) setting, use it. And of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I like to use a flash when my subjects are back lit, such as at sunset.
Dont zoom. Zooming with your cell phone camera is not an optical zoom but it an electronic enlargement of the image. The image quality suffers when you zoom in. Choose to move forward or back to fill the frame. If you have a cluttered background move in to fill the frame to make your subject dominate the scene.
Don’t use harsh light.. If you are going to do portraits choose to do them in either mid morning or late afternoon. The light during these times has a less harsh feel and is more warm and welcoming. The camera will struggle less with the light and the photos will turn out nicer.
Don’t settle for straight out of the camera. Post process them. Your camera does, why not you? Download applications such as Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile to adjust the photo to make it look its best. Most camera phones come with their own image editing application.
Don’t be selective in what you shoot. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital. You increase your odds of getting a great photo if you take more of them.
Don’t forget about them. In the past we would take our photos, print them and put them into a photo album. We can still do that today even though we’re no longer using film. You can either print them yourself if you have a printer, go to the drugstore and use their kiosk or you can send your digital file to a company online who can print them and send them back. Even better is that you can now self publish your own book in any quantity, including a single issue of your vacation photos.
Do have fun with it. It’s always with us when in the past we would leave our cameras at home today it’s usually within arms reach at any time of the day. You have a much better chance these days to get a unique photo of life as it happens around us. With these few little tricks you can make your photos better, but it takes practice and the willingness to tell your camera what to do.