Archive for the ‘obstacles’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Overcoming Obstacles – Light   5 comments

Sunrise over the Olympic Mtns., Washington state.

Good photography is all about overcoming obstacles.  And not just those easy ones like how to afford a good camera, or which tripod to buy.  It’s about tackling problems both internal and external, those you create yourself along with the ones that are present whether you decide to photograph or not.

Light is one of photography’s most important variables.  Light is so important I can only write about it with the expectation that I’ll be leaving a lot out and of necessity coming back to the topic in future posts.  I’ll also be discussing a thing of beauty (top image), which is never smart (and which I never claimed to be)

Obstacles related to light are many.  There is, for example, the struggle to get your butt out of bed at zero dark thirty to catch great morning light, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle at times.  This post will concentrate on finding the right sort of natural light for landscape and nature subjects.  It’s all about making compromises.

Night light:  It's rare for me to post a sky-only image, and if the setting moon hadn't been playing an intriguing game of peekaboo with low clouds over the mountains, I would not have shot it.

Night light: It’s rare for me to post a sky-only image, and if the setting moon hadn’t been playing an intriguing game of peekaboo with low clouds over the mountains, I would not have shot it.

Finding the Right Light

In natural light, this usually means shooting in the golden hours (or at least with a low sun).  However, it’s not a good idea to be rigid about light.  Sometimes you want bright overcast, other times rainy and overcast, and still others dark, stormy skies.  Sometimes (not often) you even want mid-afternoon light.  And don’t forget about the night (image above), where the light of stars, moon and various ambient sources both natural and human can give you the right look for certain subjects.

How does one know what light works best for a given subject?  My advice for this topic more than any other in photography, is to not look to be taught by others.  Instead, shoot relentlessly and experiment continually.  Become an observant “student of light” and you’ll eventually attain a genuine feel for what light to shoot a given subject in.  After all, you learn the most about light when you use only light as a teacher; you don’t need anyone else, no matter how much expertise they have.

It also takes perseverance to shoot in ideal light.  That’s because, even though you do everything else right, Mother Nature will simply chuckle and at the last minute throw you a curve.  Clouds move in, or clear out.  Light with deep contrast becomes flat for no discernible reason.  Don’t despair; return another day and try again.  The important thing is to take the time to shoot things in the right light, even if that means repeatedly missing dinner or dragging yourself out of bed before dawn.

Excellent light falls on mossy pilings along the lower Columbia River in Oregon.

Excellent light falls on mossy pilings at sunset along the lower Columbia River in Oregon.

LIGHT & COMPROMISE AT YELLOWSTONE

Shooting Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park represents a somewhat unconventional example.  The thermal pools generally don’t show their characteristically deep blues at sunrise or sunset.  They are at their most colorful with a higher sun angle.  But light on the landscape around the pool is better with a lower sun, so an obstacle related to light pops up if you’re trying to capture Grand Prismatic at its bluest.

During one visit, I wanted to capture the spring in just this way.  I wanted to feature the sapphire color of the mineral-rich water.  I wanted to include a bit of the surroundings to avoid a totally abstract look and lend a sense of place.  Also, as usual, I wanted a composition that differed from the others I had seen, my own unique take on it.

It was obvious that I needed to compromise on the time of day.  By shooting later in the afternoon, I’d risk losing the blue color.  But risks are necessary in photography, especially when dealing with natural light.  The hill sitting just west of Grand Prismatic provided an opportunity.  I thought if I got up higher and had the sun at my back, I might still, because of the angles involved, see that nice blue hue even with a sun that was starting to sink (and cast nice enough light on the pool’s surroundings).

I climbed the hill and, working around a lot of obstructing trees, finally got a clean composition just before the sun sank too low and the pool lost its color.  The hill in the past has been a popular place to shoot this spring from.  But the trees grow higher each year, blocking the view.  It’s an example of not only finding the right light but also handling physical obstacles (discussed in a post to come) to get a good point of view.  The lower sun provided a bonus in addition to good foreground light.  It caused a long shadow to be cast behind a lone snag.

Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring an hour or so before sunset.

That’s it for this Friday.  A long one, but there’s so much to say about light.  I’ll end with one more thought: may you have the best of light this weekend and for all your photo ventures.

The Source: Sunset over Roatan.

Friday Foto Talk: Overcoming Obstacles – Subject   6 comments

Late afternoon light on the Guadalupe Mountains, west Texas.

Late afternoon light on the Guadalupe Mountains, west Texas.

Obstacles crop up as often in photography as they do life in general.  It’s tempting to think only in terms of technical problems (exposure, focus, etc.), and it’s true that techniques of photography can take up a lot of your thought and effort.

But I’m not covering these sorts of obstacles for a simple reason.  Shooting a lot (see Part I) will allow you to handle those things easily enough.  This series of posts is about the bigger obstacles, those that stand in the way of becoming a very good (or even great) photographer.

Finding Good Subjects

As Joe McNally, the famed National Geographic photographer said, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff”.  With photography, putting yourself in front of interesting subjects is the pathway to success.

Of course what one person finds interesting others may not.  But it is true that some subjects photograph much better than others do.  For example, put a human in any picture and you automatically connect with people (funny how that works).  Do me a favor though, resist the urge to picture someone with tripod and camera in front of a sunset ;-).

Enjoying the last flat section of the Cooper Spur route, north side of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Enjoying the last flat section of the Cooper Spur route, north side of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Here’s one simple example of how to include interesting stuff in your photos.  If you’re going on safari (anywhere not just Africa), why not try to time it for just after most of the animals bear their young?  Nothing is cuter than a baby animal of course.  But more importantly, the presence of youngsters means a better chance to photograph interesting behavior.

A young zebra glances back at me as his mom  uses her tail to brush flies away, Hwange N.P., Zimbabwe

A young zebra glances back at me as his mom uses her tail to brush flies away, Hwange N.P., Zimbabwe

SUBJECTS AND YOU

While the above considerations factor into making good images, ultimately it’s really about your relationship with the subject.  In order to get great pictures, it’s best to be into your subjects, to like (or better, love) them.  If you like them enough you’ll spend more time with them and learn lots of interesting stuff about them.  As a result, your photos will come out better.

It’s true that what will make you an accomplished photographer is an ability to shoot anything well.  After all, why not be up for shooting any subject?  Approach it with respect and an open mind.  But don’t get in the habit of settling for easy-access subjects when you really want to shoot something else.  By the way, don’t think your desired subject has to be in a distant exotic locale.  It just has to be what you’re fascinated by.  And you’ll overcome any obstacle to access and photograph it.

As an example, a subject like the high forested Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, shown below, for a time became a personal quest to shoot in just the right light and weather conditions.  This particular image is of Mystery Ridge, one of the toughest off-trail scrambles in the Gorge.  After hiking it (can you call that hiking?), I wanted badly to photograph it in classic mist-shrouded conditions.

 

Mystery Ridge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Here’s another example: I had always wanted to visit and photograph Carlsbad Caverns.  But its out of the way location had been putting me off.  Recently, after coming across some smaller caves in Arkansas, my urge to go was stoked again.  So I made the drive to New Mexico and was so glad I did.

The great thing about going somewhere out of the way is that you so often discover other places you never realized existed.  It makes the trip that much more worthwhile.  Just south of Carlsbad lies the Guadalupe Mountains (image at top).  What a nice bonus they were!

Carlsbad Caverns N.P. above-ground.

Carlsbad Caverns N.P. above-ground.

 

Carlsbad_Caverns_Dec-2014_6D_040

It’s a fantasy-land below ground.

 

No sunset this time, don’t want to be too predictable!  Thanks so much for reading.  Stay tuned for more of this series next Friday.  Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday Foto Talk: Overcoming Obstacles Part I   10 comments

Good Morning!

Good Morning!

Making great images is harder than most people think.  It takes real effort to come up with shots that are relatively original, tell a story or elicit emotion, and are sensitive to subject.  And to do that with any degree of consistency is a tall task indeed.

Technical mastery, though at times frustrating to learn, is staightforward in comparison.  By and large, good photography is about not settling for the easy way.  You need to overcome a variety of obstacles on your way to great pictures, and that’s what this series of posts is all about.  As with life in general, obstacles in photography are both self-made (or internal) and imposed (external).  But both kinds are treated the same.  They’re all just things to handle and get past.

So to start out, here’s a few of the types of obstacles that typically stand in the way of good photography:

This statue outside the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming symbolizes this post's topic.

This statue outside the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming symbolizes this post’s topic.

Finding Time to Shoot

Shooting with enough frequency, especially when you’re on the steep part of the learning curve, is the key to reaching the point where you’re able to capture good images of a variety of subjects under different conditions.  When you overcome this time obstacle, you’re better able to find solutions to problems of technique (such as too many images out of focus).  That’s why I put it first.

Most of us have heard about 10,000 hours of practice being required for mastery of anything.  I never like putting numbers on this sort of thing.  It’s very simple: the more you practice, the better you’ll become.  Do you need to shoot every day?  No.  But you do need to shoot more than once or twice on the weekends.

Afternoon light over the Guadalupe Mountains, TX was not forgiving for most landscapes, but when I found this old viewpoint on an abandoned road, I thought B&W would bring to mind traveling through in the old days.

Afternoon light over the Guadalupe Mountains, TX was not forgiving for most landscapes, but when I found this old viewpoint on an abandoned road, I thought B&W would bring to mind traveling through here in the old days.

Being Ready

While the above obstacle is most important for learning and for technical issues, not being caught unprepared will probably have the biggest effect on the ultimate quality of your portfolio.  I know, you’d think it would be more complicated than this.  But being ready for the unexpected, combined with putting yourself in front of interesting things, is the most important thing to practice if you want to become a good photographer.

Being ready comes down to having a camera with you and ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.  That mean when you’re walking it’s in your hands not your backpack.  While driving it’s within easy reach not put away.  The old saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you”, is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

Capturing this little Indian girl's smile, near Agra, depended entirely on being ready to shoot quick.  She only paused for only a brief second or two before rushing away to find her mom.

Capturing this little Indian girl’s smile, near Agra, depended entirely on being ready to shoot quick. She only paused for a brief second or two before rushing away to find her mom.

It’s also important to have the camera all set up to go.  How you set up the camera often depends on what you’re expecting to shoot.  If you’re doing candids on the street, where a second’s hesitation means you miss the shot, you may choose program mode.

Don’t listen to those who say you need to be shooting in manual all the time.  In fact, I only shoot manual mode under certain (usually difficult) lighting conditions.  For landscapes I normally shoot in aperture priority mode.  But then again, I’m not concerned about how I’m perceived, whether it’s the camera and lenses I’m carrying or how I use them. 

Thanks for reading.  Have you faced and overcome any of these obstacles?  Are you struggling with a particular one?  Please don’t be shy.  Comment away!  Have a great weekend.

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Sunset the other night, and a tree that has seen its share of lightning strikes.

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