Technique Tuesday: Neutral Density Filters

As we are in the middle of a couple of West Coast workshops where coastlines, waterfalls, and woodland streams take center stage, now is a great time to discuss the use of neutral density filters. In the summer months where overcast days become rare even in a region fabled for it’s grey skies, ND filters are a necessary tool for outdoor photography.

Simply put, an ND filter will reduce the amount of light your sensor receives without affecting the color of your capture, therefore allowing you to use a wider aperture, capture a longer exposure – or both. This is especially useful when you’re shooting outdoors on a bright, sunny day, or trying to expose for soft waves and motion in water. If you’ve done this without an ND filter, then you know how hard it can be to get the exposure correct without having a blown-out sky and over-bright highlights.

ND filters come in several stops, with the cheaper 1, 2 or 3 stop filters being common – however I highly recommend spending the extra money on a 6-stop or even 10-stop ND filter. These will block out more light, and give you the greatest amount of leeway in using your camera settings to achieve your desired results.

A 6-stop filter will be good enough to expose for blurred waves and streams, and capturing the scene without an over-bright sky, while a 10-stop will create the foggy dream-like haze of water in motion. In either case, you will cut down on blown-out areas of your photo, balancing out the tones while keeping true-to-life colors and exposing for the proper amount of detail.

Though most of my use for ND filters involves apertures in the 11-13 range to capture all the details of a landscape, or as low as 5 for a scene that may not need all the details sprawling to the horizon, an ND filter will also allow you to open up your very wide. This way you can photograph a specific subejct outdoors on a brighter day while still keeping your aperture wide enough to achieve an out of focus  background.

For more ND tips and others check out my how-to books, “The Art of the Photograph” and “ The New Art of Photographing Nature“!

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Join Me in Katmai, Alaska in August – Limited Space Remains!

It’s almost time for the annual Katmai, Alaska workshops series! The trip at the end of July is sold out, however a few spaces are still available for the second workshop I’ll be leading from August 1st through the 7th.

This is a Katmai experience like no other due to the exclusivity of the location, my decades of experience visiting this region, and of course our close working relationship with local experts and accommodations. We know these bears well, and most importantly where to get the best access to capture unique shots safely. This time of year, the rivers and streams are full of salmon and the bears are so occupied with the fish that they hardly give our groups a second glance.

Along with the expertise of the location and the philosophy behind it’s significance, we will also discuss all aspects of photographing in the field including techniques for composition unique to Katmai. Sign up now online, or give my office a call at 1-206-332-0993 and secure your spot. This trip WILL sell out so don’t hesitate!

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New Photos from New York!


It’s an understatement to say that New York is a great city to walk and photograph. During my recent visit to the East Coast for dates to present Photography As Art and spend time with some good friends, I was able to amble about on my reconstructed foot, in particular, photographing around The World Trade Center. I also took to the skies in a helicopter at dusk to capture the city from above. It doesn’t get much better than that –  Enjoy the photos!

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Hey Philadelphia, “Photography As Art” is This Saturday!

I’m excited to be bringing Photography As Art to the City of Brotherly Love this weekend. Three more sleeps till I see all the smiling face of those whom are already signed up! If you’re in the area and haven’t registered, there are still some spaces remaining. This is the LAST seminar on the calendar for the year – as much as I love presenting them, I’ve got some catching up to do with other trips, workshops, and upcoming book projects – so you can bet I’m going to enjoy every minute of it!

If you aren’t familiar with Photography As Art, the focus is on using your camera – any camera, mobile phone included – to capture and create uncommon and visually imaginative images using design principles and art history as your guide. We will discuss the work that has inspired me while expressing just how accessible creating beautiful images can be without having to travel far afield, or re-hashing the same old “same old”.

This has become a finely tuned seminar, and one I feel can be enjoyed and appreciated by photographers of all ages and skill levels; a valuable mindset to have when starting out, as well as an important new perspective on your goals as an experienced shooter. The feedback I’ve received in my most recent dates in Montreal and New York are overwhelming – come and spend your Saturday with me!

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20% Off the Print of the Month – Parting of the Red Sea!

Save 20% on the Print of the Month – Parting of the Red Sea. Captured on my annual trip to Katmai National Park, Alaska, a brown bear hunts for a meal while Sockeye salmon circle just beyond reach! The green of the water in contrast to the bright reds of of the spawning salmon create a natural frame for the fishing bear. A few trips to this location are upcoming in August, but on the verge of selling out – check out the events page for more info!

Purchase Parting of the Red Sea in the online store for this special sale price!

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Photography As Art in Montreal, NY, Philly & Pittsburgh is Here!

The remaining dates for Photography As Art in 2018 are happening over the next couple of weeks! A seminar that keeps evolving, PAA is a finally tuned machine and I’m excited to bring it back east for four dates over the next two weekends!

Check out Photography As Art in the following locations beginning in just a couple of days! I’d like to ask give a special thanks to Canon and Epson for sponsoring these events.

Montreal – Saturday, June 2nd at the McCord Museum

New York – Sunday, June 3rd at Infinito

Philadelphia – Saturday, June 9th at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Pittsburgh – Sunday, June 10th at Carnegie Science Center

This seminar is designed to completely change the way you view photography, and my intent is to inspire you to bring unique artistic visions to life using your camera as both brush and canvas. With an emphasis on the abstract, imaginary landscapes, and capturing metaphors the lessons learned here can be applied anywhere and with whatever equipment you have available – no globe-trotting or a plethora of fancy gear required.

If you’re on the west coast, I’ll be back in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of workshops before the month is through. A few space remain for the Columbia River Gorge workshop, and there is room for just one more for the Oregon Coast!

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday Wisdom – What to Shoot in June and July?

Wildflowers in bloom, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington by Art Wolfe

Some people are amazed to learn that I still enjoy getting out to photograph wildflowers. The greater truth is that I just enjoy getting out to photograph – anything. It fuels my soul, and as long as I can walk and hold a camera that’s where you’ll find me, out in the field working the subject, whatever it may be.

As spring gives way to summer, the snows on the mountains around Seattle melt away to reveal wonderful meadows of wildflowers. Mt Rainier is perhaps one of my favorite destinations for wildflowers, and so many can be found just a short walk from the parking lot. For those familiar with the area I like to head to Paradise, drive past the main parking lots and down the hill maybe half a mile, parking where the road crosses Edith Creek. From there you hike up towards the mountain and the wildflowers will soon surround you with a rushing creek and smooth boulders to work with. Hiking maybe a mile will afford beautiful views of Mt. Rainier filling the foreground with flowers.

Wildflowers in bloom, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington by Art Wolfe

When you head out to photograph wildflowers, one’s first instinct is to often isolate a perfect blossom at a 45 degree angle and go home happy. I call this the trophy shot – It looks just like the image on the packet at the home and garden store. We all have them, myself included, so get that shot – and then open your mind to more creative possibilities.

When I have lead workshops to Mt. Rainier in the past, I’ll let the students know that we have “arrived” at our destination for the next hour and they will politely line up on the trail and begin to photograph the first flower they see, usually right from the very direction they had approached it. After all, that’s why we’re here, no? No! We’re here to stretch our creative imaginations, to see in new ways, and uncover new possibilities. Consider how you approach the flower as you would any subject. Over the years I have critiqued so many photos and the answer is all too often the same, get lower and get closer.

My approach is generally to first walk through the area and get familiar with the myriad of options, perspectives, background possibilities, subtle differences in lighting. I’ll look at the subject from all sides possible before choosing a location to begin. Remember, recolonizing, fragile, easily accessible meadows like those of Mt. Rainier don’t allow for venturing off established trails. So please be aware of your surroundings, trail markers and warning signs.

Initially, I will photograph the larger scene with a wide angle lens (16-35, always with a polarizer adding a 2 stop hard ND filter as needed) helping to establish a sense of location. This can be useful later when trying to remember where I was when the image was taken, perhaps a hold-over from shooting slides when it could be three months before I would see any results from the days’ efforts. The wide angle lens allows me to include the surrounding plants, trees, terrain and mountains leaving the to flowers become a pattern of color in the lower foreground. I’ll look for leading lines in the pattern, gentle curves, a way for the viewer to interact with the image as they move through the foreground, middle ground and background – an old, well established formula from view cameras that still works today.

Alpine flowers, North Carolina by Art Wolfe

As I move in closer, I continue shooting with the wide angle lens, allowing first, a group of flowers and then individual blossoms to dominate the frame. This gives me the ability to still tell the story of location and environment through the greater composition. When people first purchase a wide angle lens they see it as an opportunity to get a greater view of the distant vista, to include the mountain and the surrounding hills – and are all too disappointed with the results. It’s not until they begin to see the wide angle as a tool for getting in close to the subject, I’m talking within inches – not feet, do they begin to see the possibilities.

Once satisfied, I’ll switch to my 70-200 lens and look to limit the composition to just the flowers themselves. Here I begin looking for those ubiquitous motifs in nature, patterns of petals filling the frame, alternating colors, lines and form, positive and negative space. Ultimately zooming from the wide end up to 200 mm abstracting the subject as I bring the viewer to see the flower in a unique way. I’ll then put on extension tubes which allow me to focus even closer. As you abstract the elements of the flower, digital photography now allows you to “rack focus” with a middle ground f-stop, say f11, shooting several images as you move the shallow depth of field marching towards the back of the composition, knowing later you will combine them into one image with a sharp focus throughout.

Ravensthroat River, Northwest Territories, Canada by Art Wolfe

What about wind and movement? Use it! Sure you can purchase a “Plant Clamp” to hold the flower steady in a light breeze but why not use the movement to your advantage just as you would with flowing water in a stream. Try longer shutter speeds to abstract the flowers to a wash of color. Even introduce your own movement by intentionally panning with the camera up, down or sideways during the exposure. You may be surprised by the results, perhaps pleased even.

Working the subject I will be changing my location, moving in closer, shooting from the side as well as directly overhead – ultimately I may even spread the legs of my tripod to where it is less than 12 inches off the ground and be lying on my side in the dirt – why? Because it’s about unique perspectives. Flowers aren’t usually photographed from directly overhead nor do most people bother to look at them from the ‘flowers’ perspective. Great images are generally not made at a comfortable standing height having just walked up to your subject!

Wildflowers Paradise Valley by Art Wolfe

Don’t wait for the sunny day to go out and look for wildflowers – your best bet is an overcast day with even lighting. A sunny day is great for a picnic, and the flowers are beautiful to look at – yet the shadows caused by the direct sun put too much contrast in the image. The strong highlights and shadows will take away from the varied hues of the flowers, as well as giving you much less information to work with when editing your videos in a tool such as Adobe Lightroom. Overcast and even rainy days are some of my favorite for flower photography. Good thing I live in Seattle!

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Workshop Wednesday – Hawaii Photography Retreat with Art Wolfe!


Last year’s Hawaii Photography Retreat was a huge success, with amazing participants and great photos – so I am doing it again! Join me this fall on the Big Island for a Hawaii experience like no other. As a small group we will explore the island and focus on rare opportunities that will ensure you come away with photos to share that represent a perspective on a Hawaii trip you won’t find anywhere else!

Hawaii is in the news quite a bit lately with eruptions and lava flows leaving their mark on the landscape, and we will have local expert and volcano photographer Bruce Omori on our team to ensure we have the best possible information available to us regarding volcanic activity at the time. Check out Bruce’s website to see his photos and see for yourself why he is an invaluable addition to our group!  With a guide on our side who knows the location inside and out, it’ll save us the time an unguided visitor might spend driving from location to location without any knowledge as to what they may find. Our local team will keep an eye on current events, ensuring we maximize our time and travel.

As before, this trip will be loaded with extras. On top of a guide and driver and the convenience of air-conditioned transportation between locations, we will have discounted bay-view rooms exclusively for attendees and all permit fees for Hawaii Volcanoes National Parks included. I will also kick things off with a photographic composition seminar in addition to in-the-field photography instruction.

For more information, check out the events page – sign up sooner than later, as this unique in-depth exploration of the Big Island is bound to be a sell out!

 

 

 

 

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New Photos from Monterey Bay, California


My most recent trip was with some friends to the Monterey Coast of California, a region known for it’s beautiful coastline and a vast variety of marine life in one scenic location. Though this is a vacation destination rife with sights and creatures, it’s also an amazing place to explore imaginary landscapes in patterns of rocks that line the shores.

If you’re looking for a place to go where you’ll never want for subjects, this is it – wildlife, landscapes, and artistic abstracts all in one beautiful location with food and lodging on par with the rest of the experience. It’s my hope we will add another retreat to this location in the future, so keep your eye on the events page!

What’s next?! This is a beautiful time of year to explore the west coast – the Columbia River Gorge and Oregon Coast workshops are coming up very quickly, with few spots remaining – how is the time to pull the trigger and join me in areas I’ve been exploring my whole life!

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Technique Tuesday – Complimentary Colors: Blue & Orange


Color plays an important role in any visual art form. Along with composition, it’s one of the key elements of any great painting. Watch any film and the costumes, sets, and lighting are all designed with color in mind, meticulously planned by experts in various design specialties. Color photography is no different in situations where you can control your subject and environment, but there are complimentary colors to be found in nature as well.

Today we are looking at the color wheel with a focus on blue and orange. it’s one of the more prevalent colors found in nature, given the interaction of the sky and water in contrast to sunsets and the earthy oranges and browns of the natural world.

If you’re on a photo hunt and struggling to find a subject, consider the colors around you and how they might tell the story of a given location. Sunsets, rust, dirt, wood, leaves in the fall or the orange glow of firelight can all provide a starting point to shoot against a blue sky either directly or reflected in a local body of water. Finding splashes of color and ways to match them up against their compliment can be a fun challenge. If you’re shooting a subject such as  a model in a particular location, it can definitely pay off to scout ahead for backdrops and background elements of a certain consistent color and have them dress accordingly!

 

 

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