A Sunset on Gary’s Crack – Photographing Smith Rock Oregon – My latest video at YouTube.
A Different Point of View – The more time that I spend as a photographer the more that I recognize how I handle life equates to how I should handle photography. How just being patient and using simple life lessons can affect my photos.
How many times have we been challenged by a situation where when we walk away for a period of time and then return everything falls into place? How many times have I came to a location and walked away without a pleasing photo, or with a photo that I’m proud of, only to return another day and effortlessly snap an impressive photo? What makes the difference? In my life it sometimes is only a matter of looking at the problem with a fresh set of eyes, being there under different conditions, using different tools or techniques for the job. Sometimes it takes all three.
When we are challenged by an obstacle that impedes our progress sometimes just a simple break can allow us to throw out or forget about a thought process that keeps us from looking at the situation in a different way, many times creating a “Now why didn’t I see that before” situation. Sometimes it requires a totally different approach with a different set of skills or tools, sometimes it’s just a matter of looking at it with fresh eyes. I’ve been out shooting with a friend and saw their photo and thought, holy guacamole! Why didn’t I think of that? Many times we insist on taking a path that is difficult when the easy way is not far and can be found if we just step aside for a moment and look around. My father would say to me that sometimes you have to stop or back up to make progress again. I apply this to photography when I visit a location where I know there’s a photo but have been challenged in the past.
Technique, or how one uses their camera to capture the scene, is very important. Understanding how your camera works allows you to become instinctual about how to be able to capture the moment according to your vision, adapt to changing conditions and overcome challenging conditions. The three basic settings, shutter speed, aperture and ISO (film speed) and how they’re combined will create certain effects that will capture the scene accurately or will allow the photographer to create an effect that can enhance the image. These techniques can sometimes help create a stronger or more unique image. Another part of technique involves composition, including different points of view. Standing in a different spot, raising or lowering your camera zooming in or out. These are all things that the photographer has control over that allows them to adapt the photo to their vision.
Next is opportunity. An opportunity can be an event, a fraction of a moment in time or a set of conditions that are unique. Simple analogies would be a sunset or a rainbow. A photo’s quality or beauty, in most cases, is enhanced under good light or is made more interesting due to a unique situation. A landscape photographer will typically prefer shooting a scene at sunrise, sunset or in “sweet light”, but the light doesn’t always show up, but when it does it usually creates an opportunity to produce a more beautiful photo than in stark light. Outdoor portrait photography or even real estate photography is no different than landscapes. Being there when these conditions, or opportunities are there brings us to the next variable.
The next variable is planning to take advantage of the previous variables. Planning is being prepared to use skill or technique to capture an opportunity. Relying on coincidence or luck is like a game of chance and it rarely happens and when it does happen, many times the photographer isn’t at the right place or doesn’t have their camera set properly to completely capitalize on the situation. When the opportunity is fleeting, the photographer needs to be prepared.
When I consider how I handle making a photograph I find that I get the best results when I stop, relax and look around, master the proper tools used for the situation and am prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they occur. I find handling life to be much the same.
A Winter Afternoon in The Mt Hood National Forest – Gary and Darlene spend some time photographing the forest.
I found some time to practice with my Mavic Pro… and I didn’t crash. 😀 Flying this drone and feeling comfortable doesn’t come hand and hand to me. I find flying this machine very stressful but I hope that that feeling goes away the more that I fly.
Now that I’ve broken the ice with this video look forward to more videos from me. Please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel in the meantime. I’d sure appreciate it.
Critique and Competition in Photography – The Painted Hills in Central Oregon.
My son Chris and I took my mom to the Painted Hills this past Sunday. Mom had never been there and was completely stoked by its beauty.
I enjoy taking photo at this location with a long lens. I usually take my 70-200 and shoot little micro scenes of the textures and folds in the hills. I also enjoy the textures of the soil, but I have found that it confuses some people, I’ll explain later. On this day I used my Tamron 150-600 G2 and had a great time.
I entered a similar photo to this in a competition once. One of the things that I was gigged for was the texture. I remember that every time that I return to this location. The judge couldn’t figure out what the “grain in the foreground” was. I just slapped my forehead and fell back in my chair in dismay. I wanted to yell into the screen that it was coarse soil. I also entered a cool shot of the lava ocean entry and I was gigged due to some “diffusion and lens distortion” that one judge perceived to be an issue. The issue was the steam from the lava. I was taken aback by that one too. All in all I did fairly well in the competition, but after that day I became a bit disillusioned by professional competitions. Their critique gave me no encouragement or advice in how to improve my work, but I suppose that’s not the purpose of these competitions anyway.
Call me dumb or closed minded but I got nothing from the critique or comments. I think that competitions are fine, but really, I hate making photography a competition to begin with. I also question the qualifications beyond the certifications of some of those who are judges after the last one that I participated in. I compare them with “book learned” engineers. I’d love to have taken a couple of them out into the field with me and show them how I work.
All of the photographers whom I admire and am inspired by do not enter competitions. For them, I perceive, and I photography isn’t about winning. It’s not about professional credentials. It’s about the experience and inspiring others to follow their dreams and aspirations. I hope that I do this with my own work. In my opinion competitions only encourage the victors.
In the end a photographer’s audience will not judge them or their work by the competitions that they win, or the credentials that they earn but, rather, the images that they create that touch their audience in the most personal way, many of which aren’t technically perfect. And only you and those who admire what you do can actually honestly judge your work in a positive way.
Critique is fine, but ultimately it’s objective. And when the judge’s goal is to be critical of the photo, it won’t be viewed in the same way as the photographer’s fans. And it certainly won’t be seen in the same light as the one who created the image.
Create your work for yourself first. Break away from standards that are used to judge photos. That’s where creativity and originality starts. If you need advice seek it from someone whom you admire and trust. Take the critique of a stranger, no matter their professional credentials, with less weight than those who are trying to find positive in what you’ve done. And don’t get discouraged.
Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords – The gurgling sound of the twin 200 horsepower outboard motors mounted in tandem on the stern of our excursion boat mixed with the sound of camera shutters and the random “ooh and ahh” as we cruised back and forth through the still, ice laden water at the face of the massive wall of glacial ice before us. Once everyone was through photographing this incredible scene our boat captain eased forward on the throttle turning the gurgle to a roar as we left the sheltered cove to head back to where we started this incredible day. Our group of intrepid photographers sat at rest enjoying the views after a full day of cruising the Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska photographing wildlife and the immense, wild remote scenery that surrounded us.
Our day started at our log lodge located near Palmer in the beautiful Matanuska Valley located about an hour northeast of Anchorage. We had a drive to make and a schedule to adhere to as we had to be at the Whittier Tunnel on time to pass through with the regularly scheduled opening that allowed visitors and residents to get to the little town of Whittier located at the other end on the majestic and scenic Prince William Sound. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, commonly called The Whittier Tunnel, is a tunnel that was made through a mountain between the town of Whittier and the the Seward Highway, which is a major thoroughfare taking traffic to and from the Kenai Peninsula to Alaska’s mainland.
The Whittier Tunnel is a one way, single lane, tunnel 2 ½ miles long. It’s the longest highway tunnel in North America. The roadway includes a set of train tracks to accommodate the Alaska Railroad. The inside of the tunnel is rough rock, almost cave like, and is a bit claustrophobic the first time through, but is a bit exciting nonetheless. There’s a time schedule for opening the tunnel that accommodates the train as well as car and truck traffic in each direction at different times. If you miss your scheduled opening you must wait an hour before it’s open again in your direction.
On this morning our group awoke with adventure on our minds. We all climbed into the van and headed out. We were right on time, although the bathroom break along the way threatened to cause a little concern about catching the tunnel, we made it with time to spare. Our destination this morning was Epic Charters and the boat that we had reserved to take us out into the fjords of the Prince William Sound to photograph not just scenery, but also for the chance to photograph its wildlife.
The day was calm with some overcast skies. The ride out into the sound was calm and exhilarating. The Chugach Mountains surrounding us tower up from the water to reach an average height of 4000-5000 feet with peaks as high as 13,000 feet. Many have majestic glaciers covering their flanks and filling their valleys with some ultimately crumbling into the ocean waters. As we travel along we pass small islands covered with sea lions, rafts, as they’re called, of sea otters and eagles flying overhead while we hope to see orcas on our search for black bears.
Our skipper navigated our boat into a couple small bays, one of which was the location of a remote salmon hatchery where we found at least a dozen or more opportunistic black bears roaming the shore, dipping their paws into the water and dragging out a fish with little challenge. We left there and made our way to another bay where we found several more bears away from man made surroundings, a small group of which consisted of a mother and three cubs hiding in tall grasses on the shoreline. Their heads peeked up every so often just to keep an eye on the boat full of shutterbugs sitting in the water beyond the shoreline.
We left that bay and made our way further into the sound to a little island where we all stepped off of the boat to stretch our legs for a little while before making our way into the incredible Harriman Fjord, a finger off of the sound into the realm of huge hanging and tidewater glaciers. Our boat made it to the face of Surprise Glacier where we floated around taking in the massive mountains and huge flows of glacial ice. Massive waterfalls flowed down huge solid stone walls from the ice fields and hanging glaciers above. The boat slowly cruised through the iceberg filled water, several of which were the size of the boat itself as we observed walls of ice calving into the ocean creating waves that would gently rock the boat as we stood there in amazement of the scene surrounding us.
In time we turned to head back to Whittier. As we skimmed over the calm water we passed by the glaciers in the College Fjord before heading back into deeper water and passage back. The boat’s captain pushed the throttle further and brought the boat up onto a plane as our group sat at the stern watching the scene disappear behind us. As we sat there taking it all in for one last time, and recalling all that had happened on that day, a rainbow appeared behind us as one final parting gift from this spectacular land.
Our group left the pier and our captain as we gathered together to make sure to catch the tunnel scheduled opening for our trip back through and to the Seward Highway for our drive back to the lodge, with one more stop for a meal at the Turnagain Arm Pit, a favorite barbecue restaurant along the way. Once back at the lodge all everyone wanted to do was rest and look at all of their photos from this amazing time. This trip has become a favorite part of our yearly Alaska Adventure tours, but is only one day of the five that we spend photographing Alaska. Each and every day is filled with another incredible experience.
Turnagain Arm Sunbeams – The Turnagain Arm is a waterway in the Gulf of Alaska and is one of two branches of the Cook inlet, the other being the Knik Arm. It happens to be one of my favorite places for photography.
The Turnagain Arm was named by William Bligh of the HMS Bounty fame who served as the sailing master for Captain James Cook, British Explorer and cartographer, on his third and final voyage on his quest for the Northwest Passage. In the exploration of the Cook Inlet a party was first sent up the Knik Arm only to return reporting that it led to a river. A second party went up the next Arm only to turn back saying that it too was only a river. In their frustration of having to turn back again they named it the Turnagain River, later to be designated an arm of the Cook Inlet, thus the Turnagain Arm.
The Turnagain Arm’s geography affects the weather in dramatic ways. On the south side of the waterway lies the Kenai Peninsula with its mountain peaks averaging 3000′-5000′ while on the opposite side rise the Chugach Mountain Range with peaks comparable in size to the Kenai Mountains but, because of their position to the Cook Inlet set world records for snowfall with averages 1500 cm (800 in). With the waterway between the weather can be intense, and the sun being low on the horizon most all seasons, the light is incredible an inordinate amount of times throughout the year.
Another unique part of exploring the Turnagain Arm is it’s bore tide. A bore tide happens only in a small handful of places around the world. A bore tide is a tidal phenomenon where the incoming tidal flow meets an outgoing flow of the bay or a river. The leading edge forms a wave that travels up the arm on the incoming tides. It’s always fun to go to the Turnagain Arm and chase the bore tide.
We always make the Turnagain Arm a primary feature of our Alaska workshops. When the bore tide happens just before a sunset, magic can happen. We had the opportunity on this particular evening to chase and photograph the bore tide and the Alaskan surfers along the Seward Highway, a sunset and as a bonus we experienced Baluga whales breaching just below where were were standing taking in the last light of the sunset.
These experiences are hard to describe, even with a photograph to accompany the narrative. They are things that one must experience in person to appreciate. Darlene and I have a combined total of over 25 years of experience exploring Alaska. If you have ever considered an Alaska adventure please consider signing up to one of our Alaska workshops.
Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance. It’s a beautiful morning as you gather your camera and gear to head out to take some beautiful landscape photos. You understand the settings that you’ll need to get the proper exposure, in this case with a fast enough shutter to overcome the blur caused by the breeze that’s tosses the flowers around in front of you. In the background is a view of Mount Hood on the horizon. You allow the camera to set the focus by using one of the automatic settings. Perhaps you focus on either the foreground or the background. Or, if you are using manual focus, you use the age old method learned from another photographer who learned it from his uncle who was a photographer who learned it from some guy named Ansel, you focus a third of the way into the scene and hope for the best.
Once you get home and download your photos you notice that in some of the photos the foreground is out of focus and the background is in perfect focus, while in others the foreground is sharp but the background is out of focus. Some may be fine from front to back but you don’t know why or how it happened.
In time, as you hone your photography skills, you will want to understand how to focus properly and consistently. It’s something that is hard to guess your way through or to accidentally discover. And once you figure out that there’s a method, understanding it seems daunting but it’s rather simple to understand if explained properly, so I’ll give it a try.
What you need to understand is something called hyperfocal distance. By focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance your photo will be in acceptable focus from half that distance all the way to infinity. In other words if your hyperfocal distance is 20 feet everything will be in focus from 10 feet to infinity. In landscape photography especially it allows you to maximize your depth of field. Knowing this, in this example, we can then push our depth of field out by focusing to 30 feet, ten feet past your subject, maximizing the depth of field.
Determining the hyperfocal distance for a particular focal length and aperture combination can be tricky, but there are charts that you can put in your billfold or camera case. There are also apps for your smartphone that will help you calculate what it is for your particular camera, focal length and aperture setting. Because of this I won’t go into the complications of the mathematics involved in determining your hyperfocal distance. With one of the variables being “The Circle of Confusion”, it would be easier to explain a method that I use that you can start using right away to maximize your depth of field resulting in a more accurate and consistent focus in your photos.
Start by switching your lens to Manual. Turn off any kind of vibration reduction if you’re using a tripod, leave it active if you’re hand holding. Make sure to stop down, aiming for the lens “sweet spot”, an aperture setting of roughly f/8 – f/11. The sweet spot is the range of sharpest aperture settings of your lens. It’s typically two full stops from your widest aperture depending on the lens. Just make sure to stop down to increase your depth of field.
Turn on your Live View screen and increase its magnification and scroll the view to the closest spot that you want to be in focus in the scene. Observe that area as you turn your lens focus ring to infinity, which will slightly blur your foreground, and then focus back from infinity slowly until your foreground object just comes into sharp focus then stop. Once you do this you’ve moved your depth of field out as far as it can go while maintaining focus at your foreground object. Using this method you don’t need to know distances to set your focus.
I should mention that there are times when hyperfocal distance is not desired or necessary. Many forms of photography rely on a shallow depth of field such as portraiture or macro photography. In that case, none of this is necessary as having areas that lack focus is desired to direct the viewer’s attention to the subject which is in focus.
Also modern digital photography and computerized post processing allows a photographer to take multiple shots of a scene, focusing from front to back, and then combine them to create a focus that is sharp throughout the image. This method is called Focus Stacking, but in most cases it’s unnecessary if you use the methods described in this article.
As in most cases when an instructor explains something, they will always seem to take the long way. I know that I gave you the shortcut at the end of a lengthy description, but in any skill it’s more than doing, it’s also about understanding. The more that we understand what we are doing, the more we’re able to perfect how we do it. I hope that this rudimentary explanation of hyperfocal distance helps you to take your photos one step closer to perfection.
Central Oregon Cascade Peak Identification – I had an opportunity to drive to the top of Powell Butte in Central Oregon just to see the view. From this point of view you can see south of Bend all the way to Mount Hood. You’re also able to see Smith Rock. While I was up there I decided to do this short video identifying the various peaks from south to north.