Archive for the ‘photography’ Tag

Adventuring Baja: Mis-Adventures & Desert Mountains   4 comments

The sun rises over a forest of cirios trees, characteristic of the desert of the northern Baja Peninsula.

I’ve been sharing some of my adventures I’ve had during photography trips.  My goal is to show examples of how good image-making goes hand in hand with a spirit of adventure and spontaneity.  Last time I posted about my first trip down Mexico’s long Baja Peninsula.  This time we’ll continue with the fun down in old Mexico.  I wish I could have kept hold of all the film I shot on that trip (it was lost in a robbery).  The amount of digital image coverage that I have now is really pathetic, but I do like the quality.   One thing’s for sure:  I need travel Baja’s full length again soon in order to fill out my catalog.

Vibrant cactus of Baja California, Mexico.

Solo Soy un Turista Ignorante!

That first time down I was traveling with a friend.  He was planning a longer trip into Mexico proper, and we planned to split up and go our separate ways after finishing our tour of Baja.  Traveling with others is a lot of fun, but for me at least it’s only that way if I can at some point bid them goodbye to continue on my own.  So at the ferry terminal near La Paz we toasted those few fun weeks of road-tripping and he boarded the ferry to the mainland.

Not long after this, I was camped outside of La Paz in a lovely beach-side spot.  Facilities were rustic, so I’d found a nice spot a few miles away to park and use my solar shower.  It was surrounded by trees and felt private, so I showered au naturale.  It worked well for a few days.  Then one day, with shampoo in my hair, I became suddenly aware of the presence of three policia standing there.  One had binoculars around his neck and another was shouting in Spanish.  Hearing the word “imoral” used, emphasis on the last syllable, I hastily explained in my barely passable Spanish that I was only trying to keep the body that God gave me clean.

As the water continued to run over my bare body, I tried my best to reason with them.  I recall using the phrase “Solo soy un turista ignorante” at least twice.  Finally, with exasperated sidelong looks at one other, they apparently decided it wasn’t worth listening to me any further.  After all, they’d have to divide the bribe between them.  And they must have assumed (correctly) that I was hardly the richest gringo they’d ever come across.

Sailboat at harbor: Ensenada, Mexico.

That was not the only time I had run-ins with Mexico’s finest in Baja.  After being pulled over in Baja Norte, I talked a policia from a $100 bribe down to $20.  That young guy, who like so many you meet south of the border had lived in the U.S. for a time and spoke English, said on parting that I should be a lawyer I liked arguing so much.

In Ensenada I was actually cuffed and taken into the station, very close to being held.  A prostitute had been following me on my wandering walk back to my room one night.  On a whim I decided to cross the street and talk to her.  I offered to buy her a couple tacos and a pepsi but declined her desire for a more intimate interaction.  Turns out we were both being watched, and so with not much else going on, she and I presented an opportunity too good to pass up.  I ended up talking myself out of that one too.

By the way, I posted a travel-guide style series on Ensenada you may want to check out.  One of these posts garners a lot of hits.  In it I briefly mention the dance clubs and prostitutes of Ensenada.  I also posted a few shots of pretty senoritas I came across (but who are definitely not working girls).  They were quite young, and it’s a bit creepy that the post keeps getting hits.  I’m probably going to just delete it.

A cave sculpted from the granite of Baja Norte, Mex.

Granite Peaks and Clear Cold Nights

On the way back up the peninsula I decided to explore some of the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Martir.  A narrow road ascends into the mountains from the Pacific side.  Granted it was winter, but no other tourists were around.  It is a beautiful area of ponderosa pine forests, broken by large grassy clearings.  Most of Baja is true desert, but you might be surprised at the amount of green in high parts of the peninsula like this.

Granite mountains rise above the meadows in characteristic giant boulders and spires.  These peaks are a continuation of the intrusions that make up Joshua Tree to the north, and it was so much fun figuring out how to scramble up them.  There are a few trails, but the area just begs for off-trail exploration.

A towering ponderosa pine, with lightning scar, in the high country of Sierra San Pedro Martir, Baja, Mex.

The park happens to also be the site of Mexico’s national observatory, and after night fell I could definitely understand why.  I camped in a meadow at the base of the peak that holds the research telescopes.  It was bitter cold, which is a strange feeling in Mexico.  I actually couldn’t use my 8-inch Dobsonian reflector for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time before having to retreat to my van and warm up in front of my little propane heater.  I’ve never seen the swirls of the Whirlpool Galaxy so clear and distinct!

That’s it for now.  I hope your weekend is fun and relaxing.  Thanks for reading!

The Pacific lives up to its name: Bahia, Ensenada, Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

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Wordless Wednesday: Happy Winter Solstice!   8 comments

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Single-image Sunday: Surf Fishing   4 comments

I know it’s a bit lame, but I can’t help but apologize for my recently inconsistent Friday Foto Talk posts.  Blame it on that good old sense of guilt that everyone raised Catholic seems to suffer from.  Believe me I haven’t forgotten about it.  I’m also going to be collecting all of them into one or more e-books.  It surprises me to look back and see how many I’ve amassed over these past several years.  It’s a nice summary of my photography knowledge (which hopefully still has a long way to go)

In the meantime, enjoy this image from the other morning.  I’ve been rising in the pre-dawn every morning for work, but it mostly happens that the people I’m working with abhor starting before the sun is up.  The happy result is that I get to enjoy a peaceful sunrise somewhere.  On this morning I walked over the dunes just as the sun was breaking through and in time to see this fisherman casting into the breakers for snook.  In talking to him I detected an accent that made me think South African but with a small twist.  Turns out he was from east Africa.  Retired now, he walks up to the beach almost every morning for some surf fishing at sunrise.

Thanks for looking and have a great week.

Surf-fishing at sunrise, Atlantic Coast of Florida.  50 mm. Zeiss lens, 1/100 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Surf-fishing at sunrise, Atlantic Coast of Florida. 50 mm. Zeiss lens, 1/100 sec. @ f/13, ISO 200.

Flow & Photography – A Summary   3 comments

Lizard tracks on an early morning jaunt across the dunes in Death Valley.

Lizard tracks on an early morning jaunt across the dunes in Death Valley.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve posted here.  I went off social media during the run-up to and then just after that weird thing that happened in the U.S. last Tuesday.  Been working a lot too.  By the way, although I literally felt sick to my stomach on Wednesday morning when I woke up (at 5 a.m.) and turned on the radio, I got past it and am now in the “this too shall pass” state of mind.  For those of you in other countries, just remember that most people here voted against the orange lizard, and that most of his supporters are not racist bigots, or anti-immigrant.

On the day after the election, I was kayaking and saw this bald eagle.  I took it as a sign that everything would be okay.

On the day after the election, I was kayaking and saw this bald eagle. I took it as a sign that everything would be okay.

I have another photography topic to dive into, but I’ll save that for next week.  Instead I want to wrap up the series on flow that was interrupted.  In fact, right now slipping into a state of flow is the best thing to do for those of us who cannot fathom the next 4 years.  If you haven’t been following along, check out the previous posts in the series.

The beginnings of winter, late fall in southern Utah.

The beginnings of winter, late fall in southern Utah.

An intimate scene in a cypress swamp: Florida.

An intimate scene in a cypress swamp: Florida.

WHAT FLOW IS (AND IS NOT)

Flow, or “being in the zone”, is a state of relaxed hyper-concentration where we do our best.  But unlike the way you will hear it often described, I don’t believe flow is limited to experts in their fields.  Flow is not when we do the best.  It’s just when we do our best.  The good thing about flow is that the more you get into it, the better you are at the thing you’re engaged in.

Flow is also not related to how active we are physically.  You could be in flow while writing, for example.  Your body is not active, but your mind sure is.  You can also be in flow while engaged in intense physical activity.  Climbing, whether on rock or snow and ice, is an example.  While in flow it’s common to lose track of time.  If you’re writing or doing something else that is physically more passive, you can concentrate for long periods and forget or forego mental exhaustion.  Similarly, in a physically intense activity, you seem to be able to ignore exhaustion when in flow.  Photography, depending on the kind you’re doing, may involve both the mental and the physical.  This is part of why I like it so much.

On the beach looking south at the very edges of an approaching hurricane, still more than a day away.

I think the key to being able to work through tiredness and to lose track of time’s passage is the fact that flow is conducive to relaxation.  Now hyper-focused action may not seem to go together with relaxation.  But when you’re in flow you’re relaxed in a unique way.  It’s not like lying in the sun on a beach with the soothing surf in your ears.  But it’s still a relaxed state.  It’s the kind of relaxation that comes when the mind and body work together the way they’re supposed to.

FLOW & BETTER PHOTOGRAPHY

As far as photography goes, flow is simply a way of shooting pictures that is conducive to a relaxed focus, a way that leads to more creative image-making.  For me, it’s difficult to recommend specific tips that will help you experience flow while shooting.  But then again it’s hard for me to be very prescriptive about photography at all.  It’s such a subjective undertaking.  But I do know when I see photographers who are taking it all too seriously, who are too tight.  Flow, to my mind, is an under-appreciated and major factor behind good photography.

Hot spring in Nevada.

Hot spring in Nevada.

I recommend just two things to those who have recently gotten into photography and want to progress quickly.  First, get the most basic stuff down.  Get to know how your camera works so you aren’t fumbling around.  Practice taking pictures and don’t worry about their quality so much.  The goal is to make settings and exposure adjustments second nature to you.

Second, before starting to photograph, get into a relaxed frame of mind.  Whatever you do to relax, whether it’s breathing or stretching exercises, or positive self talk, do it before you shoot.  Don’t make so much of taking pictures that you tense up.  Realize you’re there to make the most of your subjects, surroundings and light.  Some or all of those variables, such as natural light, will be at least partly out of your control.  What is in your control are the choices you make when you shoot.  Just do your best and don’t stress about the rest.

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend, and have fun shooting!

A recent sunset, Indian River, Florida.

A recent sunset, Indian River, Florida.

Foto Talk: Letting it Flow   4 comments

 

Beach grass on the dunes under a crescent moon along the Atlantic coastline.

The idea of flow has been around a long time, although doubtful that it’s had so many different names in the past as it does now.  Hyperfocus and ‘being in the zone’ are two other terms for it.  One of my pet peeves, by the way, is when people take an old concept or idea, slap a new, sexier name (or three) on it, and then pretend it’s brand new.  People have known about flow for a long time.  It is an experience common to all humans and undoubtedly as old as our species.

At some point in time everyone experiences flow.  It is that wonderful feeling of getting lost in an activity.  You lose sense of time passing.  You forget to eat.  And you don’t stop until you are finished or otherwise satisfied.  It’s what all artists strive for and what everybody wishes their jobs allowed them to do.

Flow is often described as a state of total concentration, but for me it is more than that.  It’s when awareness and action combine with total focus, but in sort of an unconscious way.  I find flow very hard to enter into without having a genuine interest in what I’m doing.  Anything worth doing is worth doing in a state of flow.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

Photography flow is just like flow while doing anything else.  It’s complete absorption.  Nothing is capable of distracting you or takes your mind off the act of finding the best compositions and the most authentic ways to portray your subjects.  There are a few things unique to photography flow that are worth keeping in mind:

  • First off, don’t expect to enter into photography flow without some shooting experience.  It’s like anything else.  The more you shoot, the easier it is to flow along without a lot of conscious thought of what you’re doing.  But as soon as you’re comfortable with your gear and the basics of photography, flow is achievable.

 

  • It’s critical to be acutely aware of your surroundings during photo flow.  I’ve stressed the value of observation many times in this blog, and I’ll repeat it here.  If you want to get better at “seeing the shot”, practice observational skills whether you have a camera with you or not.  The goal is to see everything without needing to remind yourself.

 

  •  Photo flow is also aided by awareness of position with respect to your subjects.  Purposely moving through space, walking closer to the subject, getting very close to the ground, all of this variation of point of view helps to put you in close touch with the scene and your subject.  It avoids the bystander role (which in my opinion gets in the way of good photography) thus allowing you to ‘let it flow’.
A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico.  What does it look like to you?

A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico. What does it look like to you?

 

 

  • Working the subject, good advice for several reasons, can also help you enter photo flow.  If you don’t think you’re in the right frame of mind or your mind is wandering, try working the subject intensively.  By its nature this tends to eliminate distractions, allowing the sort of focus and concentration that leads to flow.

 

  • Obviously, entering flow is difficult if you’re thinking of things other than photography.  Clear your mind before beginning a shooting session, and if thoughts enter unwanted, just let them go on.  Don’t follow them to more distracting thoughts.  In this way flow is like meditation, which is discussed in next week’s post.

 

  • Focus on the seeing and shooting and leave for later your judgments about how good the shots are.  The only thing that should distract you from the act of shooting is a quick review on the LCD to make sure a shot was properly focused and exposed.  Avoid lingering over reviews and move right on to the next composition or subject.

 

Next time I’ll use a few examples to illustrate photo flow and also show how it is like meditation in some ways.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting around Weather   4 comments

Dust and sand from the dunes at Mesquite Flat blows up-valley ahead of a storm.  Surprising for this hyper-arid place, I got soaked hiking back.

I took a break last week from Foto Talk.  Hope you all didn’t give up on me!  This week I passed by an area that was readying itself for a hurricane.  And there’s been plenty of rain besides.  So I’m taking the hint and posting on the subject of photography and weather, in particular photographing in the wet stuff.

Shooting in stormy conditions presents both challenges and opportunities.  You’ve probably heard the advice to keep shooting right through stormy weather.  While I won’t disagree with this in general, I prefer a less absolute, more realistic attitude.  It’s a matter of weighing the upsides against the downsides.

On the plus side, depending on the clouds and sky, you may get some of your most atmospheric or dramatic shots during bad weather.  On the downside your gear is at risk.  In wet weather you are taking the obvious risk of getting moisture inside camera or lens.  Since that’s where your sensitive electronics reside, this is of course not good.

A storm blows itself out over the Columbia River, Oregon.

SHOOTING IN THE STORM

I’ve lived in both Oregon and Alaska, two places where dramatically bad weather is very common.  Here is what I’ve learned over the years about photography in bad weather:

  • I just mentioned the risks of water inside the camera.  But that’s not nearly as bad as putting yourself at risk.  It doesn’t happen often but dangerous weather does occur.  Use common sense and know when to beat a hasty retreat, to high ground and/or shelter.
  • Find camera protection that works for you.  I’ve posted before with tips and recommendations in this regard, and this post isn’t about that.  Just realize that no matter how good your rain cover, lens changes and other occasions expose your camera to the weather.  So no matter what you do some moisture will likely fall on your camera.  If you have a well-sealed professional grade camera and lenses, you can get away with wetter conditions.  The key is to know how well sealed your gear is and act accordingly.
I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.

I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.

  • At least as important as having camera/lens protection is having good clothing that keeps you reasonably dry and comfortable.  But since no clothing is perfect, be ready to put up with a certain degree of discomfort.  I always remember what my grandmom used to say whenever I complained about getting wet.  “You’re awfully sweet but you’re not made of sugar.  You won’t melt!”
  • Unless I see something quite compelling, either while driving or hiking with camera in a pack with rain-cover on, I usually don’t bother getting my gear out when the rain (or wet snow) is coming down hard.  Shots I may try when it’s dry I won’t chance when it’s very wet; that is, unless it’s really calling out to me.  It’s a simple calculation of risk vs. reward.
  • When it’s raining or snowing, contrast tends to be subdued.  So I tend to be attracted to compositions where low-contrast helps instead of hurting.  Low contrast in the wrong shot can rob it of impact, but in the right situation it helps establish the mood of your image.
Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.

Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.

  • I shoot from within my vehicle a lot more when the weather is bad.  And I don’t think it makes me a wimp!  It does require sometimes pulling off in odd places.  If you do this, take it from me:  turn your attention away from the light and pay attention to your driving until you’re stopped, and even then continue to keep one eye out for traffic.  Unless the road is truly empty, I won’t block the travel lane.  I always make sure there is good sight distance behind and in front.  Having good sight distance is key, as is using emergency flashers and being quick about it.
The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

  • Being near big waterfalls can be just like being in a rainstorm.  So all the precautions you take in rainy weather you should also take when shooting a big waterfall in high flow.
  • Normally I don’t use UV filters, but when it’s wet I like to put them on. Lenses seal much better with a filter than without.  Any filter will help seal a lens.  If I’m shooting in a forest and especially along a stream, I use a circular polarizer instead of a UV filter.  CPLs cut down on reflections from wet leaves and rocks, bringing out their colors.
  • If you like shooting the stars at night, consider also shooting on moonlit nights when clouds or even storms are around.  Lightning is an obvious draw for many photographers, but if you let your imagination roam you can find unusual night compositions.
Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.

Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.

SHOOTING TRANSITIONS 

As I’ve gone along, shooting in weather of all kinds, I’ve learned that shooting on weathery days is all about transitions.  Periods when weather is moving in on you or just clearing away very often offer the most rewarding light and atmosphere.  That’s why I titled this post Shooting around Weather, not in it.

  • Given that weather transitions usually happen quickly, it’s important to be ready.  That means, for a start, getting out there.  Some people think it strange, but a landscape photographer looks at bad weather forecasts and plans to go out shooting.  And it’s not just landscape shooting that can benefit.  You’ll get some of your most interesting architecture, people or wildlife shots when weather adds some drama to spice things up.
The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.

The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.

  • So how to plan for something so capricious?  First, identify “transition days” ahead of time.  They are days when weather shifts from one regime to another, and the weather-person will sometimes call them out for you.  Otherwise you can see them coming yourself, once you’re familiar with the weather in your area.  Because they are full of change and thus unpredictable, you can easily get skunked with either socked-in conditions or clear blue skies.  But you can be rewarded with fantastic light as well.
  • Because they are literally defined by change, success on transition days is anything but guaranteed.  So instead of trying to outsmart the weather, go out on storm days too.  Transitions in the middle of stormy periods, often featuring brilliant sun-breaks and colorful rainbows, occur between fronts and generally don’t show up in weather forecasts (although you can sometimes see them on radar).

Within seconds, the rain stopped and light of the setting sun shot out from behind the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

 

  • Watch the sky carefully and try to anticipate transitions.  This can take practice, and expect Mother Nature to throw you many curves.  During dry times, get to where you want to shoot and wait (hope) for the shift to stormy weather at the right time, when the sun is low.  During the storm, get to your spot and shelter there with camera & tripod at the ready.  As the sun lowers, there is always the chance it will dip below the storm clouds, illuminating everything in beautiful light.

Thanks for reading.  Now I’m off to get some shots of the ocean and sky in tropical storm weather.  Wish me luck!  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.

Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.

Friday Foto Talk: Likes & Dislikes ~ Shooting in National Parks, Part I   17 comments

Sunrise over the Continental Divide, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado.

After several weeks of relatively involved Foto Talks, I’m in the mood for short and sweet this week.  As my annual pass to National Parks (NPs) expires, I’m trying to decide when (or even if) I should buy another one.  I probably will.  But it’s made me consider all that I love (and all that I don’t) about America’s National Parks.  I’d love to hear what you think of my likes or dislikes.  Or if you have any of your own you’d like to add.  So fire away in the comments!

On the Ute Trail, Trail Ridge, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado, in the very early morning when all my fellow hikers are behind me, to be met on my return hike.

On the Ute Trail, Trail Ridge, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado, in the very early morning when all my fellow hikers are behind me, to be met on my return hike.

LIKE

National Parks are photo-worthy.  Of course it’s easy to like the scenery and wildlife of the parks.  It’s mostly why they were protected in the first place.  Nearly all of the parks are photogenic.

DISLIKE

NPs are crowded.  All that beauty and wildlife draws a lot of visitors.  Nearly all of the parks have seen steady increases over the past few decades.  And with recent drops in the price of gas, people are on the road, flocking to the parks.  Visitation is exploding.  Of course a few parks have always been busy: Yosemite, Great Smokies, Grand Canyon.

But two fairly recent trends are bothersome, at least for those of us with some history in the parks.  One is the increase in off-season visitation.  Another is exploding visitation in parks like Zion and Rocky Mountain (which has recently leapfrogged both Yosemite and Yellowstone).  Even small, out-of-the-way parks like Great Basin (which I recently visited) can get busy in summertime.

Colorful rocks and the lichen that like them:  Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado.

Colorful rocks and the lichen that like them high up in Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado.

LIKE

NPs are diverse.  Most parks are all about mountains, forests and streams.  Others are more famous for their wildlife.  But many others feature history or pre-history.  The newest unit, Stonewall National Monument in New York, even celebrates LGBT (gay) rights.

DISLIKE

NPs attract very non-diverse visitors.  I don’t know how much of a dislike this is because I think it’s slowly changing.  But parks are lily white.  Black Americans in particular are few and far between, especially in the big nature-dominated parks of the west.  Latinos are beginning to visit in greater numbers, probably because they have families to entertain.  But they’re also under-represented.

A mated pair of pronghorn (which are not true antelope) in Wyoming well outside of any NP.

A mated pair of pronghorn (which are not true antelope) in Wyoming well outside of any NP.

So-called cave shields in Lehman Caves, Great Basin NP, Nevada.

So-called cave shields in Lehman Caves, Great Basin NP, Nevada.

LIKE

NPs are managed for people.  Most parks go out of their way to make parks accessible to everyone.  And this includes the disabled.  It’s actually in their charter.  They were created with a dual purpose in mind, which if you think about it is a pretty difficult pair of opposing values to simultaneously succeed at.

But they do a good job.  There are accessible trails and fishing platforms at Yellowstone and other parks, for example.  Roads give access to the best attractions, and lodging plus camping allow staying inside the park (as long as you make reservations early enough).

DISLIKE

NPs attract all sorts of people.  Here’s a sad fact:  many people bring way too much with them when they go on vacation, yet they routinely leave common sense at home.  People arrive ready to have a good time, and that’s fine.  But for so many, a good time means getting loud and raucous.  You won’t see the same people in a NP that you see at a trailhead for a remote wilderness area, getting ready to hike in for a week of self-sufficient existence.  That doesn’t mean you won’t find these hikers in NPs (I for one, haha!).  It’s just a numbers thing.

In nature, around wildlife especially, being the typical noisy human being is simply not appropriate.  It ruins the atmosphere and impacts all sorts of creatures, including other humans.  But sadly it’s all too typical.  Many young people don’t learn how to have a different sort of good time until well into adulthood.  It’s one of the things I am thankful for.  I learned early on.

Next time we will continue with some general advice on shooting in national parks.  Happy weekend everybody!

Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake in the alpine terrain of a less-traveled area of Rocky Mtn. NP, Colo.

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View – Ethics & Legality   4 comments

For this swirling pool on Colorado's St. Vrain River, I went for a POV looking down on it.

For this recent shot of a granite-lined pool on Colorado’s St. Vrain River, I went for a downward-looking POV.

After the recent posts on point of view (POV), I realized I had been taking it for granted.  It’s the kind of thing that experienced photographers model naturally when shooting.  But they gloss over it and don’t talk about it enough when teaching.  Novices tend to be busy figuring out their cameras, exposure, where to focus, etc.  As a result they may not pick up on how important POV is until later on.

But here’s a simple fact: the sooner you learn to quickly and purposefully adjust your point of view, the faster your photography will improve.  Why is POV so important?  Because it’s all about finding the best compositions.  And in photography composition means everything.  So be sure to check out POV Part I and POV Part II.  This week let’s take a step back and look at some consequences of changing POV in the quest for the perfect shot.

Last post I showed the male mountain bluebird. Here is his mate near the nest at 11,800 feet elevation in Colorado.

Last Wednesday featured a male mountain bluebird. Here is his mate near their nest at 11,800 feet (3600 m.) up in the Colorado Rockies.

An image whose point of view is of another creature's point of view (note what the elk is looking at).

An image whose point of view is of another creature’s point of view (note what the elk is looking at).

Okay.  You got the message of the last two Foto Talks.  You’re moving around with purpose, shifting POV in all directions, shooting away.  You’re well on your way to better photos.  And maybe on your way to trouble as well.  Here are some quandaries common to photography, along with ideas on how to handle them.

POV & Ethics

  • Be Kind to the Environment.  Moving closer to your foreground subject could mean trampling delicate vegetation or disturbing other living things (stirring up sediment in a sensitive aquatic environment, for example).  Just last night I saw a portrait photographer trampling flowers while shooting a family, and this was inside a national park.
  • Be Kind to Fellow Photographers.  In places with other photographers around, working a subject with many different POVs (normally laudable) could result in you selfishly “hogging” the subject (next post will have the counterpoint to this).

SOLUTIONS 

  • Strike a Balance.  While a strong commitment to getting the shot is necessary to get good images, it’s also important to avoid being insensitive or rude.
  • Be Aware of where you are and of those around you at all times.  I’m not saying to take your mind off the photography or to worry about what others think of you lying there on your belly.  But at the same time, be conscious about damaging sensitive habitats.  Think about the critters, including your fellow photographers.
The subalpine flower meadows of Mt. Rainier, Washington are a place where you should be careful where you step.

The subalpine flower meadows of Mt. Rainier, Washington are a place where you should be careful where you step.

POV, Legality & Permission

Are you going to hop that fence to get closer to your subject, grab a quick shot and get back before the property owner comes along?  What about entering a questionable area in some foreign country?  Laws are different there and enforced in different ways.  Do you really want the shot that badly?

  • Example 1:  Unexpected problem in a Foreign Land.  In a busy public area in Malawi I was shooting a cute little baby with big brown eyes, after asking her mom.  The unexpected result: a policeman became suspicious, approached me and wanted to take my camera away.  I had to do some quick talking, show them my pictures, and get the mom to back me up.
  • Example 2:  Dangerous & Illegal POV turns out OK.  Another example is the image below, which is a few years old.  I had driven past this spot with a fantastic view of Portland, Oregon many times.  But I could never see a safe way to shoot there.   For the same reason that makes the spot such a great POV:  it’s on a busy, curving freeway ramp that swings out over the Willamette River.

But one day I noticed a spot where the ramp widened, with just enough room to park.  It even had a curb for a bit of protection from traffic.  It required a quick maneuver in the heavy traffic.  The first time I did it was on my motorcycle, which made it quite easy.  But I knew it was illegal to be there so didn’t stay long.  I quickly set up my tripod and captured the shot I had been after.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk with a crescent moon.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk with a crescent moon.

SOLUTIONS:  Asking vs. Apologizing

You’ve probably heard the old expression “better to ask forgiveness than beg permission”.  Sounds good, right?  But in the real world you have to weigh risks and be able to handle things diplomatically if you get caught or challenged.    Here are a few examples:

  • In villages and on treks I’ve seen photographers surround some poor kid doing something cute, with no thought of whether it was okay with the parents.  That is horrible ugly tourist behavior.  With kids you should almost always ask the parents first.  Or be ready to be apologetic and honest about your motivations.
  • For sensitive areas (political or military), I would avoid them outright.  If you insist, always ask first.
  • Photographing someone’s property (including their bodies) also begs you to ask first.  But we’re entering a gray area.  If you make it a rule to always ask, you may not get many good shots.  You could miss the light, for example.  Then in reality you’re asking to return another time.
  • One more example: on a city street photographing people.  Unless you shoot first, you’ll probably miss that great candid shot.  For some subjects, however, it doesn’t matter, street performers for example.  So you may as well ask first.
One of my favorite child images, I didn't ask permission first in order to get this candid. But in an out of the way place, people are more chill, and I smiled a lot. Mom invited me in for tea.

One of my favorite child images, a Sherpa boy waiting for his dad to come home.  I didn’t ask permission first, but in a part of Nepal away from tourists, I was willing to risk it.  I smiled a lot and his mom invited me in for tea.

SOLUTIONS:  The Quandary

The last two points above illustrate a quandary unique to photography.  Do you forego the quick shot and engage first, or do you strike while the iron is hot and talk later?  Each of us have to handle it in our own way, realizing that each situation is different.  Ultimately we need to accept responsibility for our actions.  It’s safest to ask permission first, especially if there is the slightest doubt.  But whatever happens, it’s important to be honest and pleasant.

Okay that’s it for now.  Next week we’ll look at other issues to be aware of when actively changing your point of view.  Happy shooting and have a wonderful weekend!

Sunset over the high tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View, Part I   2 comments

An image from Guatemala, where just the right point of view on the street created interesting angles.

Having tackled fairly heavy topics recently, it’s back to basics this week.  Basic but definitely not trivial.  Although point of view could describe your own subjective take on the subjects you shoot (part of your style), the term is used most often in photography to describe the physical location of your camera.  It’s abbreviated to POV.

It boils down to a very simple idea:  constantly vary your points of view.  Don’t stand in one place, and don’t shoot from the same height above ground.  Move around; get low, lower, and even all the way to the ground; shoot from under your subject; get high and shoot directly down on the scene.

Snow Canyon State Park, Utah offers some amazing points of view. It felt like I was perched atop a huge animal’s foot here.

Point of View:  Angle & Position

When we start out in photography we tend to shoot with the sun behind us so that our subjects are illuminated.  This is natural and not a bad way to go (exposure is a breeze, for one).  Then we see something interesting and naturally turn our cameras that way.  We just changed our angle of view.

But then, as novices, we stop there.  We don’t vary that angle.  We don’t look behind us very much.  We also don’t consider the direction that the light is coming from.  Better photography comes from shooting in more than one direction (look behind you!) and from remembering the light.

For this one of a termite tower in the Okavango Delta, I moved close to it and shot upward to emphasize its height.

For this one of a termite tower in the Okavango Delta, I moved close to it and shot upward to emphasize its height.

To start varying POV, simply turn a bit and take a shot.  Go ahead and continue to rotate through the entire 360 degrees of the compass, shooting as you go.  But this is just panning.  It’s important to change position too, particularly for close-up subjects.  That will bring you closer or further away from your foreground subject relative to various backgrounds.

The idea is to vary POV by combining changes in position with changes in angle of view.  But not in a half-hazard or willy-nilly manner.  Don’t be that indecisive photographer you sometimes see, constantly putting the camera up to his eyes, swinging it around and zooming in and out, hoping to land on a good shot.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing using your camera to test compositions, but I recommend the following.

Avoid pointing your camera hither and thither before you decide on a shot.  Use your feet to change POV instead.  Use your unaided eyes and keep the wider view; you’ll see more.  I almost never put the camera up to my eye until I’m ready to shoot, then I shift or zoom only slightly to dial in the exact composition I want, paying special attention to the edges and corners where unwanted distractions may lurk.

So, in order to move with thought and purpose, read on…

  • POV and Subject:  Generally speaking getting closer to a subject makes for better pictures of it.  But let’s go beyond this simple yet important bit of advice.  When you have multiple elements in an image (a landscape with close-in foreground for example), changing position and angle of view changes perspective in significant ways.  Even for things that are further away it’s surprising how a small change in position can change the look of a picture.  Many shooters don’t appreciate this enough.  They don’t think it will matter to walk 10 or 20 yards (meters).  But it does (see images below).
Saratoga Springs, Death Valley, CA., from on top of a small hill.

Saratoga Springs, Death Valley, CA., from on top of a small hill.

A closer & lower POV than the image above, only taking a few minutes to walk down off the hill.

A closer & lower POV than the image above, only taking a few minutes to walk down off the hill.

  • POV, Background and Light:  Most of us go for the more spectacular, dramatic background.  But think about it first.  Where is the light coming from?  How will changing your position affect how the light falls on your subject or supporting foreground elements?  In a past Foto Talk I detailed how to use differing angles of sunlight in your photography.  That’s a good post to check out.

 

  • POV, Background and Composition:  If you change your POV to change background, how will that change how your overall composition works?  For example, will the color palette or texture of the background be consistent or clash in some way with your foreground or other elements?  I’m not saying don’t take the picture, but when you take a look on the computer later think about this stuff when you choose selects.
I had to get fairly close (but not too close!) to this buffalo for just the right balance with the background at Yellowstone National Park.

I had to get fairly close (but not too close!) to this buffalo for just the right balance with the background at Yellowstone National Park.

  • POV and Subject Weighting:  For relatively close subjects, where you stand and which direction you shoot may not only change the background; it may also change your subject’s relationship to it.  Will that more dramatic background overwhelm your subject, making it “disappear”?  How close do you want to be to your foreground?  Remember it’s your choice how much to emphasize a foreground subject.
Wanting both the covered bridge and Bollinger Mill, Missouri in the same shot, some careful positioning (and a wide angle) was necessary.

Wanting the covered bridge to be the main subject, I also wanted Bollinger Mill, Missouri in the same shot.  So careful positioning (and a wide angle) was necessary.

Next week’s Foto Talk will go into the ways that changing POV in terms of height affects your photography, with tips for varying things to get the best possible images.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

It required careful positioning to get this image from Oklahoma. I didn't want the usual composition where the bales are front & center. The cottonwood was my focus.

It required careful positioning to get this image from Oklahoma. I didn’t want the usual composition where the bales dominate. Instead my focus was the cottonwood in warm light from the setting sun.

Friday Foto Talk: Visualization, Part II   6 comments

Lupines greet sunrise over the Palouse of eastern Washington.  I visualized putting the purple wildflowers together with the area's characteristic verdant green.

Lupines greet sunrise over the Palouse of eastern Washington. I visualized putting the purple wildflowers together with the area’s characteristic verdant green.

This is the third and final part on visualization in photography.  If this is interesting to you, definitely check out Pre-Visualization and Visualization, Part I.  This post will make much more sense if you read those first.  Except for the image at top, all of these shots are very recent, from southern Utah.

Visualization and the Black & White Photo

Let’s start with an example: shooting for black and white.  It’s a bit of a special case but illustrates visualization in action.  As I mentioned in my recent series on B&W, you can go out specifically to shoot black and white or you can decide later to convert one or more color images after your shoot.  If you decide before going out to do B&W, you are forced  to visualize the black and white image while you’re looking at the scene in living color.  It’s perhaps the simplest example of conscious visualization in photography.

A few of Zion's temples in monochrome.

A few of Zion’s temples in monochrome.

But you need to go further if you want to ‘visualize’ your way to being a better photographer.  Visualization only begins to make a real difference when you’re thinking about the subject and composition, along with the lighting conditions, and imagining the way you want the final image to appear.  In the case of B&W, the final images obviously do not match reality, which is in color.

And that isn’t the only way that photographers twist reality.  In fact, next Friday’s Foto Talk will wade into the polarizing subject of reality, art and “Photoshopped” images.  For now, realize that visualization is an important part of your decision whether to match reality or go beyond it.  Visualization during shooting can make that decision feel much more natural, less contrived, even more honest, from an artistic point of view.

I'd been wanting to capture the Temple Cap Formation of Zion National Park so I went around visualizing it.  This vantage point shows it perched atop the East Temple.

I’d been wanting to capture the Temple Cap Formation of Zion National Park so I went around visualizing it. This vantage point shows it perched atop the East Temple.

Can Visualization take your Photography to the Next Level?

Consider how visualization (especially the subconscious variety) influences the way you photograph your subjects.   Even so-called documentary images, those that attempt to match the reality of the scene, not only carry the subject’s story.  They carry your own personal take on that story.  Images captured with visualization can easily reflect your overall style.

I don’t believe great photography of any kind is possible without some level of visualization.  Even those excellent spur-of-the-moment street photos result from the photographer’s mental pictures of what’s happening.  Where anticipation of the critical moment is so important, these mental images are formed instantaneously and mostly outside the photographer’s direct awareness.

Thunderstorms in Utah’s canyon country mean full waterpockets. Here I wanted an extra-low point of view, so set my camera right on the rock at the edge of a pool.

Getting Started with Visualization

Don’t feel overwhelmed, thinking I just threw another obstacle in your path to becoming accomplished at doing photography as art.  Visualization is more natural than you might believe at first.  In fact, you’re probably already doing it to a small degree without realizing it, even if you’re a novice.  At least you are if you avoid thinking of things non-photographic while you’re out shooting.  But your goal should be to go further.

On your next photography excursion, start visualizing your images as you shoot.  Begin, as always, with conscious observation and awareness of your subject.  Then just let things happen in your mind.  Don’t expect instant results.  It takes practice and isn’t easy to do consistently even after you get the hang of it.  I’ll admit right here that I don’t always have the right frame of mind to visualize properly when I’m shooting.

The Navajo Formation dominates Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, and a high viewpoint helped me to visualize an overview shot of it.

The Navajo Formation dominates Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, and a high viewpoint helped me to visualize an overview shot of it.

After all, you’re not following a recipe or step-by-step instructions in order to get a specific type of photograph.  It’s much more organic and open-ended than that.  I know it seems like using crystals and the energy fields of pyramids.  There’s a reason visualization is not much discussed.  But I think it’s important to go beyond the cookie-cutter world of popular photography, where using a camera to make images is too-often taught as if you’re simply mastering a device plus a series of apps.

So give it a try.  Think about your subject and its surroundings, the overall feeling or mood of the place.  And visualize the kind of image(s) you think would portray both the scene and your unique take on it.  Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t dialed in right away.  Your mantra: keep trying!  Have a great weekend and happy shooting.

When stormy weather moved in at Snow Canyon, Utah, my images and then, later, the processing reflected that.

When stormy weather moved in at Snow Canyon, Utah, my images and then, later, the processing reflected that.

 

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