The elements that go into making a good image are basically the same for photography as for art, with one significant difference. An artist is faced with a blank piece of paper or canvas and has to construct a whole image by putting together the design elements–line, color, form, space, perspective–all of which he must create for himself. A photographer is given all these same elements in his viewfinder and basically subtracts the material he finds distracting and unessential to his statement.
Good photography is decision-making. It is not a passive process. The eye must learn to detect the essential and make it into a meaningful arrangement. Initially, nature appears random and chaotic. Our mind needs to make order out of chaos, to create relationships between things in order to understand them. When we look at something, we subconsciously focus our attention on some aspects and ignore others; we filter everything through our experience and our emotions.
The camera makes no such distinctions or evaluations. It records everything it sees. It is, therefore, the photographer’s responsibility to edit the camera’s view and select those elements to be captured. Understanding what goes into making a strong composition can improve a photographer’s personal statement. Freeman Patterson stated it beautifully when he wrote: “The camera always points both ways. In expressing the subject, you also express yourself.”
In a good composition, one has the distinct impression that nothing could be added to or subtracted from the picture. This sense of completeness–of balance–is the key. Balance does not, however, imply symmetry. Asymmetrical compositions can be balanced. We will explore these concepts as we move from chapter to chapter, discussing where to place the subject, how to make it stand out, how it relates to the other elements within the frame, and what creative options you have to work with to make a stronger photographic statement. There are some guidelines that can be followed, but none of them are so absolute they should be adhered to constantly.
Art Wolfe: “In the first image, the tree is silhouetted against a much lighter pink sky. In the second, it is against a part of the cloud closer in value to that of the tree, but the composition is still not quite there. In the third, the cloud is now in complete balance with the value of the dead tree, and I have recomposed the tree to fill out all four corners of the composition. To my eye, it is a more harmonious image.”
Martha Hill: “We are talking about very subtle distinctions here. Many people will like the first image over the third because of the luminous quality of the pink background. And it is clearly a matter of personal taste.
What makes the third photograph so appealing to me is the ethereal quality of the light. The background colors gradate very subtly from pink to lavender to blue in an even tonality, giving a sense of serene harmony and balance. The linear design of the tree branches is weighted slightly off-center, thus creating a delicate imbalance.
The spatial depth in the picture is also ethereal. As in an Asian painting, the sense of three-dimensional space is ever so subtly there, as the lighter tone of the tree brings it forward from the background. The branches reach to the edges of the frame, also bringing the tree to the frontal plane of the picture space. To me, this third version is shibui, which in Japanese describes something of an understated, highly refined elegance.”
If you follow the blog and my Events page, you know being idle is not my strong suit. In looking at the upcoming schedule, it become apparent I had some time to work with – and to that end I’m offering two of my most popular workshops to late April and early May that many of you have been waiting for an opportunity to join. These are always sell-outs, so if you’re interested be sure to sign up ASAP to guarantee your spot!
As an added bonus, sign up before December 1st and receive an early bird discount of 200$ off each workshop!
Olympic Peninsula Workshop
April 25 – 28, 2019
From the dense evergreen forests to the expansive coastal landscapes bordering the Pacific Ocean, there is a lot to cover on the Olympic Peninsula. Wildlife, Waterfalls, the Ocean, the old growth forest – this location has everything, and we’ll do our best to cover as much ground as possible!
Abstract Astoria Workshop
May 1 – 5, 2019
This workshop has become a signature destination with so much to offer that repeat attendance is common. Not only is Astoria a historic location, holding the title of first permanent settlement on the Pacific coast, it’s also home to plenty of great places for us to dine and chat after our days shooting.
Click the links above for more information about these two JUST added workshops, but don’t hesitate to get signed up before they are full!
Today’s high ISO cameras are amazing at freezing motion, a technique I use and love on any wildlife shoot these days I have been capturing images that I couldn’t have imagined in the days of film – or even 8-10 years ago, for that matter. Flying bears, macaws tack sharp against a dark cave, every drop of water perfectly captured from the spray of an elephant – what’s possible now is incredible!
AI often try and remind myself to slow down every now and then; drop the ISO back down to 100 and stop down the aperture and let the motion move across the image. Ernst Haas was one of my early influences, a person who’s work I continue to admire. He was a pioneer of using this technique to show the motion in his subjects.
It takes some experimentation and often you won’t really know if you have any successful images until you’ve edited and evaluated them. Some may still show the eyes of the animal in reasonably sharp contrast to the blurred legs in motion – I like this look – but I also like those images that make me think of ancient drawings on a cave wall, where nothing is particularly defined and the entire animal is abstracted in it’s motion and the background a blurred canvas.
I won’t always see the potential in these images immediately. Some I shot on film many years ago I nearly tossed out but decided to file away at the last second. I pulled them out years later and found a new appreciation for their abstract qualities and I’m glad I did!
You may have guessed that I LIKE BEARS! I have been photographing Alaska’s bears since the early 1980s and I feel this is the best photograph of a brown bear I have ever taken – and that’s just not the adrenaline talking!
When you visit a location as often I have, you begin to recognize the ‘locals’, and I have a history with this bear. She’s a young female I’ve photographed in years past, catching fish like none other. This year she had two cubs demanding her attention and was still the best. As the male bears splashed and thrashed at fish, she was like an efficient machine; feeding her cubs was her prime objective. I knew exactly what she would do and focused on her.
Limited to an edition of 100, #1 is a glorious 40 x 53″, very nearly life size! Be the first to own this archival print and 10% of the retail will be donated in your name to the University of Washington’s Center of Conservation Biology (they’re the scientists who do significant work in the DNA tracking of poached endangered species!).
Come for me but stay for all things photography! This is Kenmore Camera’s biggest event of the year and there is fantastic line-up of world-class photographers across many genres coming to share their knowledge and inspire you.
The industry’s leading manufacturers will show their latest gear and answer your questions. There will be plenty of deals on cameras, lenses, tripods, bags, lighting, memory and more.
Golden leaves, golden light, and golden waves–it’s fall in the Pacific Northwest. Just before the winter rains set in I led workshops in Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks. I exhorted my students to put on their Elliot Porter caps and head into the woods. The evergreens provided a lush backdrop for the colorful maples and alders and we were able to spend hours soaking in the sun (who would have thought at this time year!) and playing with light on the coast.
Time is running out to receive exclusive bonuses with your purchase of TREES: Between Earth and Heaven! Pre-order before the 29th for these additons to what is a gorgeous and comprehensive book of many of the world’s great trees. Each copy sold benefits Roots of Peace, so not only will you get a beautifully printed book singed by yours truly along with an 8 x 10″ print, personally packaged with care by my staff – you’ll also be supporting the great cause of creating sustainable, vibrant flora world-wide.
This excerpt is from “Photographs from the Edge”, which not only details the stories behind some of my most well-known captures from across the globe and throughout my career, but is also filled with tips and tricks and equipment information.
August 1988: “Rising Mist”, Alaska Range, Denali National Park, Alaska USA Nikon F3, Nikkor 200-400mm f/5.6 lens, f/8 for 1/250 sec., Kodachrome 64
The nature of the photo: Mountains are well known for their fast rising and falling air along their slopes. Glider pilots in mountainous areas will fly right at a mountain side when the thermals are right, then catch a fast moving ride going up with the air. They often describe this as running and jumping onto an elevator that is already moving upward.
Years ago I was working on a book entitled Alakshak, The Great Country, a Sierra Club book about Alaska. I spent a lot of time crisscrossing Alaska gathering photos for it. As part of this journey, I wanted to get some aerial shots of mountains in the Alaska Range. So I found myself in a small plane above the mountains working in the hours between 11 pm through 1 am.
In the summer, this is a key time because the light is most dramatic then. During summer solstice in Alaska, most of the day is bright sunshine and you only have a few hours of twilight with bold light and color. I was using the shortest hours of the day to capture the most radical light.
In this image, the light of the sun on the Arctic horizon illuminating a few misty cloud sweeping up a slope at around 18,000 feet. While I like this image and I have long loved photographing mountains, it is not the photo itself that brings back memories of this moment. This was shot over 25 years ago, and I remember it all these years later because of the absolute turbulence that our plane would encounter as the plane would fly long the lip of the ridge.
I fly a lot, and I have been on planes around the world in some very remote locations. However, I’m not a happy camper when the plane drops 20 feet in an instant as it was doing here. I can often circle in ever tighter circles around the subject with my mind so focused on the shooting that being scared is not part of the equation. However, when a plane is dropping and rising with the thermals like this, it is uncomfortable at best and frightening usually.
I remember spot metering the brightest part of the frame which was simply the wispy cloud. I compensated for the brightness by exposing to make that cloud bright with detail. By contrast then the surrounding mountains and distant valley remain fairly dark by comparison. This shot shows off the ephemeral nature of clouds and light. Within seconds of shooting this, the sun dropped below the horizon, and the entire moment was gone in an instant.
Photo tip: Spot metering can be a helpful technique when the light is dramatic and you have to be sure you get the brightness values right. In this shot, spot metering determined the exposure for the bright cloud, but that would have meant the clouds were dark and the rest of the scene even darker. That exposure has to be adjusted to make the clouds bright, not dark, by adding exposure to what the meter shows.
For this and many, many more stories behind some of the most notable photographs from a lifetime of world travel, pick up “Photographs From the Edge“ today and make a note at checkout that you’d like me to sign it!
From Katmai National Park in Alaska to Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya; from the Canadian Arctic, with it’s icy waters, to the smoke and steam of Hawaii and it’s volcanic activity – I’ve quite literally crisscrossed the globe more than once in the third quarter of 2018. I truly feel much of this is some of my best work to date, and it’s going to make the selection process for upcoming book projects a difficult one! I hope you enjoy the photos – leave a comment below if you have any favorites! As always, just about any image you can find on the site can be purchased as a print – just let us know what you’re looking for!
Limited space is still available in my India Holi Festival & Tigers Photographic Journey happening this March! This is sure to be an amazing trip, encompassing a wide variety of subjects from the people and culture to the wildlife and landscapes. Here are 10 reasons why you should join us on this adventure:
Indians are a warm, kind, beautiful people! It is a large country with a lot of diversity in its population.
2. The Markets
We will be visiting a variety of markets in Delhi, each with their own specialty and traditions. All make for great photo opportunities.
3. Holi Festival
The Holi Festival, or “Festival of Colors” as some have come to call it, is a spring-time festival celebrated by Hindus annually – but has spread to other nations and cultures as well as a celebration of life, love, and the idea of good conquering evil. Not only does it mark the end of winter and the arrival of spring, but it signifies a time to reconnect with loved ones and appreciate the simple things in life. The kaleidoscope of colors and bustle of activity makes for excellent opportunities to capture the joy of this culture and it’s people.
4. The Ganges
The Ganges, or Ganga, is the holiest river in the world. It runs from the northern Himalaya all the way to the Bay of Bengal. But it is much more than just a river to the one billion Hindus. They believe it transports prayers to heaven and that a dip in the river purifies the soul.
5. Ranthambhore National Park
With an area of 400 sq. km encompassing rocky hill crests which descend to open valleys between the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges, dotted with water pools and fruit trees, this park gets its name from the thousand year old fortress, which looms above the forest. Ranthambore is a very special and unusual area where a natural present meets a historical past.
It is also well known for the diurnal activity of the sixth reason to travel with me to India:
Tiger safaris traditionally take place at dawn and dusk when the big cats are on the move, sometimes hunting. Naturalist guides use their hearing rather than their site to initially find tigers: when chital and monkeys sense a tiger approaching they give a distinctive warning call that alerts the wildlife (and our guides) to the tiger’s approximate location.
7. The Chaos
Learning to embrace the chaos is an important part of any trip to India. Learning to relax and be at peace with all your senses being overloaded will give you a much greater understanding of the culture.
India is home to all of the major religions of the world and is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Observing people engaging in their rituals is a profoundly intimate experience.
9. The History
Home to the world’s oldest civilization, the religion, culture and architecture of India have evolved under multiple influences creating a visual feast.
Early in my career people told me not to bother going to India – they said it had nothing to offer and I should focus elsewhere. So for over a decade that’s what I did. Worst advice ever! Once I finally saw India with my own eyes—I’ve been back just about every year since and I’ve still just scratched the surface of it’s beautiful, complex and wonderful variety of culture, nature, landscape and wildlife.
What are you waiting for? Sign up to guarantee your spot to travel with me to one of the great and historic regions of the world!