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?