Thursday, January 14, 2016


Typical of Icelandic weather, in between periods of thick overcast skies that are moving so fast they'd scare even the most experienced kite flyer, the sun momentarily bursts out to tease you.
(Click on image to enlarge)
  Photographers need to be prepared. When that sun comes out, Iceland changes. And, changes quickly. The difference in dark gray light and light that is alive can make or break most nature photographs.

I visit Iceland as often as I can. I adore this country. The nature is raw, assorted ecosystems abound, and until recently you could go for days and not see anyone. One of the more popular and accessible stops along the coast is Skogafoss. Skogafoss is a lovely waterfall pouring over a cliff with all the rage of Niagara.

I was traveling with a small group and we made our way down towards the falls. The sun broke out and I reached for my camera as a double rainbow began to emerge. Then, out of nowhere, we heard river rocks exploding as three young men from behind us raced past screaming their way to the rainbow.

Many photographers would've been pissed having people dart into the scene. Just moments earlier it was a picture defining pristine. Let's face it, photog's love rainbows and most prefer them without the visual pollution of people cluttering the scene.

Yet, in this situation I was thrilled to see these youngsters going for it. Their excitement towards the waterfalls, playing under the rainbow, was pure joy. And, that's part of nature photography too. People fly fishing, enjoying a favorite swimming hole, climbing the hard face of a speckled granite wall, or canoeing over a glassy lake. I had time for only three frames before they were too far away and the sun faded.

On this day, they weren't the only ones savoring the joy of nature photography.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


When it comes to nature photography, the impact Ansel Adams left on Americans is undeniable. I respect how the power of his images are directly linked to preservation of so much wilderness.

(Click to enlarge)

His exquisite B/W images, through that full range of tonal values, and the magic realism portrayed in a print from an 8x10 negative can easily sweep the visually minded person off their feet.

But, early influences for me came from photographers like Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro, and Minor White to name a few.

I was devoted to the Zone System, both seeing and reacting in B/W, steering my lens towards nature in a different light. Composition often revealed itself as much through tonal values as it did with subject matter. The two were a marriage. The process was spiritually leisurely and tightly controlled. Ten images a day was a successful outing.

I used a 4x5 view camera for everything, developing each sheet of film separately, exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights. A process where previsualization was realized by carefully completing each step all the way to the print. Or, more as stated so eloquently by Adams, "The negative is the score and the print the performance."

This photograph of an ice field in Alaska caught my eye. A fresh break in the wind blown ice field created a dynamic pull and stirred my imagination. I was lucky. I'm sure within hours the scene was totally different. And, that's the way of nature. Constantly changing, evolving and challenging the artist.

It's why we keep coming back.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

EXPOSURE-Come To The Dark Side

Making proper exposures when creating photographs has always been some what of a frightening concept for many shooters. Let's face it, bad exposures make pictures like look crap. Too light and your eye is directed towards the mistake, not the content. Too dark and the image can be muddy.

What I see most in beginner shooters is many fail to realize how important exposure is as a tool for perfecting their vision. For example, fashion shooters will slightly overexpose skin tones to eliminate imperfections. Landscape artists will often underexpose to gain more saturation and keep the highlights in check.

Keeping the highlights in check and allowing the image to move towards a darker spectrum adds intrigue to the photograph.
For me, the single greatest tool of the digital revolution was the creation of the "blinkies." You know, that "flashing black" on your LED screen on back of the camera. That flashing black is alerting you that your highlights have been blown out. No data exists in those flashing areas. What a great tool. For those highlight areas where you need to secure detail, the technology tells you if you got it. If it's too hot dialing back on the exposure can retrieve those highlights. Brilliant technology for photographers.

Shooting into the sun usually produces silhouettes, like this scene in the Slate Islands on Lake Superior. The dark kayaker is best seen as he paddles away from shore and the background structures. The image darkened allows all principle aspects of the photograph to be immediately felt without lighting as the camera metering might determine.
One of the things I tell folks in my photo tours is when acquiring the "Correct Exposure" in the camera, you are now at the "starting point" in creativity. In other words, using light (or shadows) through creative exposure, making things darker or lighter, can enhance the mood in your image.

When looking at photographs, your eye either goes to the brightest or the sharpest spot in an image first. This is a useful tool when creating photographs. You can direct your audience to the subject you want them to see by being aware of these factors. For example, you are out photographing a herd of wild horses in a lovely green meadow. However, the sky is quite overcast. The light on the horses is beautiful and rich. But, when you include the sky, the sky gets blown out. When people look at that photograph, their eye goes to the sky first. We don't want them looking there! We want them to see that gorgeous light on the horses. You need to aim your camera down and eliminate as much of the sky as possible.

The graphic design of the wood in this scene in Dogpatch, Arkansas was powerful all by itself. But, the white goat was the hook for me. Drawing attention to it by underexposing the scene balanced the whimsical mood.
As a stylized habit, I always tend to go darker in my images. I adore the saturation. I like the audience going in deeper, seeking information and to feel the mood of the photograph. I use the highlights as a draw and direct the viewer to a location. The areas around the highlights bathe in the shadows. It's a creative method using exposure to steer attention where you want it.

The highlights of the railroad rails gleaming allowed me to darken the entire image and not lose out on the design the rails created in this image. The oily soil and red engine just popped, even in the darkness.
Those same images would still be nice without going dark. It's a personal choice. It's a creative choice.

Shooting directly towards the sun with the intent of clarifying the tools used in cutting the ice. Here, a dark exposure defined the ice cutting operation. The viewer gets an immediate perspective of the size of the saws and work involved.
 Zeroing out your meter in the camera is just the starting point.
Feel the light. What do you want to say with your image?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Finding Photographic Inspiration

Inspiration can come from the most unpredictable sources. It's different than motivation, although they seem to run together like cream and coffee. Inspiration just yields a brighter glow and using inspired moments can be fuel for making powerful photographs.

Recently, while teaching a Mentor Series Ultimate Photo Adventure ( along with adventure photog Michael Clark and wildlife master photographer Bob Smith at Heart Six Ranch in Wyoming, I was moved by the confidence of one of the riders. Totally random and unexpected, I sensed we were in store for a photo op that might prove memorable.

Arriving at the ranch we discussed potential photos we'd like to try to create to offer a variety of lessons to the group. This included portraits, inside and outside, some action shots and so on. Across the dirt road from the ranch house was a large meadow. The ranch was slightly elevated from the meadow and a small crystal clear river meandered through the valley. Thinking big, as you should always do for making great photos, I asked if there was any possibility of having a few riders running through the river for us. Large horses splashing through the river on a sunny day, mountains in the background, this could be really visual. You have to ask these questions or you might miss out.

                                        Click on photo(s) to see full image

It was a blistering hot day in the mountains and the ranch manager agreed it might work. Four riders were asked if they'd like to ride for us. For them, this was a nice break from the routine days of taking tourists on slow trails and long rides. Here, the riders could use their skills and run their horses they way they were meant to be ridden. Excitement was brewing.....for everyone.

As is customary, and important protocol for assignments, workshop, or any other type of photographic opportunity, you get things figured out in advance. Talk it through, get the angles, where's the sun, talk about speed, water depth, what they can and can't do as riders in water. Without this sort of preliminary discussion you are just guessing and minimize your chances of getting the shot you want.

As the photo group gathered at the waters edge near the curve in the river we had collectively chosen as our staging point, I asked the four riders, "Who is the best rider?" One might think it was silly for asking this. And, it was. That was part of the intent. We all knew it would draw a response. But, I asked this for a reason too. One, to see if there is a top rider, so we know whom to place in the right spots, but also jokingly breaking the tension. Let's face it, everyone was about to shoot action like they've never shot before and were all excited and nervous.

Without hesitation, rider Samatha Cook raised her arms high into the sky. She was the smallest rider full of life and thirsty to help.

"WOW, that was fast," I yelled out. And she meant it. She was confident, skilled and eager to run. I knew I'd be aiming my autofocus on her and her horse, McCue. I found her attitude and pure delight in riding for our group inspiring. I knew she'd photograph well and thus my motivation increased. I wanted to get cool shots to share.

Ya never know where inspiration will come from. But when you do, just run with it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Photo Reality

Kids tuckered out from day long processions take a break. (Click image to enlarge)
Recent photographs I made in Sevilla, Spain over Easter week drew quite a reaction from folks back home. I'm not surprised. All these people wearing long robes and hoods. At first, the impact of what I was seeing targeted my core as well and revealed my lack of knowledge to Spain's religious celebrations or the origins of the garments. In the U.S., it means something very different.

Observing individual parish members of the processions parading through Sevilla dressed in penitential robes with pointed hoods with eye-holes, can smack American visitors hard. The resemblance of the trademark costumes worn by the U.S. terrorist group Ku Klux Klan is a tough nut to overcome. It raised a lot of questions for me on how to photograph these marvelous celebrations  without the inherited prejudice. After all, images of the KKK in their white robes and hoods are entrenched into generations of Americans as a symbol of hatred and racism. I felt I needed to be extra careful in how I photographed this so not to promote any negative observations.

It was important to educate myself on what the costumes meant. Since the Middle Ages, around 1350, parish members have dressed wearing these capirotes (robes and hoods) so the faithful could repent in anonymity. After a few days of photographing the different parishes marching through the cobblestone streets of Sevilla, watching families walk together in the processions, mothers attending to their kids as they adjusted and tightened robes and hoods, full of hugs and smiles, the joys of celebration rang clear.

Personally, I found my greatest comfort in photographing the kids. The experience was new to them. They were caught up in the pageantry just as I was. It was real, imperfect and genuine. Soon, the intolerance and bias I had been carrying due to the clothing disappeared. Witnessing the passion a culture holds for their faith was a joy to photograph.

Still,  I am amazed how powerful the prejudice of the robe and hoods clings to the visual definitions I had growing up. Photography has more power of influence than most believe. And the comments I had gotten after sharing these back home verified this. I simply tried to find moments that promoted the positive aspects of Spaniards celebrating the Week of Saints.

Many parishes participate in processions for the Week Of The Saints during the Easter week of celebrations in Sevilla. Night and day tens of thousands of people line to streets to watch the events. Each parish has its own style of clothing and wear colors reflecting that of their parish. Its a family event full of festivities and community. Sevilla is the heart of Spain's  massive Easter procession activities. But, cities and villages across the country hold their own procession events.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Defining Your Photographic Style

VW Bus & Surf Board, California's Coastal Hwy
 In a recent email exchange with a friend, he mentioned flipping through a magazine and liked a photo inside. He said he knew instantly it was my photo before noticing the byline. I must say, that was one of the best compliments I've ever gotten.

How does one find their style?

Basketball hoop on rural barn, Minnesota
We've all done it. Seen something through the window while driving down the road, it calls out to you. It has a visual interest. You keep driving. A minute later you tell yourself, "turn around." But, you keep driving until you are too far down the road to go back. A missed opportunity perhaps? There's lots or reasons why you didn't turn around. But, that's not what is really important here.

Something back there grabbed your eye. Both your visual smarts and creative instincts were put on high alert. There had to be a photo there, right? No one else saw it. And, if they did, they didn't react to it the same way you did. Whatever it was, it defined your style. It's your style because you were attracted to it. It defined your vision.

 Don't miss those opportunities to define your style.

Giant Saguaro reaching for the sky, Arizona

While covering an assignment in the Arizona desert at Saguaro National Monument, on the way to the park, I had spotted this giant lone saguaro reaching for the sky amidst the power lines. The mere size of the cactus was stunning. But, the encroachment of modern life enveloping a living example of natural history was a compelling scene for me. I pulled over and made a picture. It made me chuckle knowing I was probably the only crazy photog to stop there and photograph a cactus next to power lines.  Most would have avoided the power lines to the best of their ability.

Brooms drying in Olive Trees, Orvieto, Italy

Spotting these home-made brooms drying in the olive trees was a fun find. The brooms were only hanging in a few of the trees within the orchard. It took some effort to find the right angle, composition, and lens choice. It would be been very easy to just walked past them, enjoy the mental note of the unusual sight and dismiss pulling out the camera. Yet, connecting with those internal instincts and listening drawing the eyes towards the trees and recognizing the value of making a photograph paid off in stylizing my Italian experience. 

The difficult part is recognizing those messages and acting on them.
After that, being a photographer is easy. Your style is defined.

Friday, January 2, 2015


(Click on image for full size view)

Every New Year's Eve millions of people
make resolutions for the future.
Not a bad idea really.
It's always a good idea to look forward and give yourself challenges. Personally, it's not something I consciously do. I have plans stacked up so high into the future I cannot attach a dateline to it. 

For most professional photographers the end of the year means making those end-of-the-year purchases for tax reasons. Naturally, that plays into our futuristic outlook. I never buy equipment to save on tax expenditures. I purchase gear to enhance my photographic capabilities. Plus, it's so fun having new glass!

That said, I admit each year I look to traveling someplace I haven't visited. Diving into a new culture, an unusual landscape, or vibrant city excites the visual taste buds. You see new things and find fresh  ways to document them. I learn something new in each and every geographical location I visit and usually learn something about myself as well.

For 2015 plans already include Iceland, Greenland (Mentor Series), Cuba, Ireland, Scotland (PhotoZoneTours), and Costa Rica, Belize, Italy and even our 23rd year of a photo dogsledding adventure next month right here in Minnesota.

If I can offer any advice towards your 2015 outlooks for creating photographs, it is take your camera someplace you have never gone. Find a new way to communicate through your lens. Make the images you capture your own. When you make it personal, you develop your style.

So, CHEERS to a booming and fruitful 2015!

layne & gang