Over the next two weeks I’ll be giving away a couple of free spots to my two upcoming Photography As Art seminars in the Pacific Northwest! Use the link below to enter, or visit the give-away page. Random winners will be drawn on Monday, November 4th!
I’ve only just begun a couple months of heavy travel, but in between I’ll be back in Seattle just long enough to catch my breath. This happens to coincide with the annual Kenmore Camera Digital Photo Expo, which is always a fantastic event full of passionate presenters and the latest and greatest equipment from the digital photography world available for hands-on evaluation!
Please note – I’ll only be available at the expo myself on Saturday, November 2nd from 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM and I’ll have my new books Wild Elephants and Human Canvas on hand to sell and sign, along with a selection of my other popular books.
You should definitely check out both days of the expo if you can. There will be a number of speakers on hand from a variety of backgrounds and companies. There is sure to be something for everyone, and so much information to be absorbed.
If you’re in the market for new equipment, or simply a photography enthusiast looking to gather all the knowledge you possibly can from experts in the field and those with the technical know-how to answer your equipment related questions – take advantage of this opportunity!
Just two spaces remain in my Lake Quinault Photography Retreat coming up very soon! Fall in Washington state is gorgeous, and what better way to celebrate the season than to be part of an intimate group of photographers exploring the lush Olympic forest? This is a location that I can never seem to get enough of as far as photographic opportunities go. I always leave feeling like there is so much more to explore, and this exclusive small group setting is my opportunity to share what I see with you in hopes I can pass on four decades of knowledge to you.
1) Check the Olympic National Park off your bucket list. Do you have a National Parks passport? Maybe it’s time to get one and start visiting the sites of “America’s Best Idea”!
2) Check a workshop with Art Wolfe off your bucket list. A UNESCO world heritage site combined with a world renowned photographer, who also happens to be a great teacher and inspiration? Check!
3) The trees. The temperate rainforest has a living standing biomass which may be the highest anywhere in the world. And it is stunningly gorgeous.
4.) The Luxurious and historic Lake Quinault Lodge is a fantastic home base. We welcome your partners to join us for meals and critiques at the end of our workshop activities.
5) Assistants. I am accompanied by terrific assistants to assure that your photographic experience is as rich as your surroundings. The Quinault retreat is manned by my workshop coordinator Libby whom is also familiar with the area and will be on hand to help assist the participants.
6) Friendship! I don’t know how many friendships have formed as a result of these workshops in particular, but my workshops seem to bring like-minded people together many of whom end up traveling with one and other again and again.
7.) Beautiful images make beautiful prints! Make room on your walls for some new images from a lush and vibrant location.
8) Water. Water defines Olympic National Park. There’s a reason why the trees are massive and the moss lush; why the rivers are highways of life; why the glaciers are there to sculpt the massive peaks.
9) Wildlife. We may get lucky and see the huge Roosevelt elk that make the Olympics home.
10) Adventuresome learning. I work hard to make sure everyone comes away from these multiday workshops feeling better about and more enriched by their photography skills.
Again, only two spaces remain – Sign up now and I’ll see YOU in a few weeks!
Getting Close with a Wide-angle Lens
AW – Often students in my classes will bring work that shows an interesting subject, but without enough information to tell a complete story. I find that one effective tool for storytelling is using a wide-angle lens close to my subject, so that some of the background is included, creating a valuable sense of place.
I find elephant seal weaners, fattened up and then abandoned by their mothers, to be wonderfully cooperative photographic subjects. With this weaner, I laid flat on the ground in front of it to photograph it on its level.
The hot-spring-addicted macaques in the Japanese Alps are another fun subject. When their own hot springs were invaded by the furry monkeys, the human residents built a monkeys-only spring. This youngster hung around the side of the pool, making a perfect subject for a wide-angle shot, which allows me to add important background and context.
MH – Looking at us with its liquid black eyes, the seal pup seems to be hoping we are his mother coming to feed him. Weaned at three weeks, he seems a bit lost, even indignant, that the tap has suddenly been turned off. With the spectacular landscape of South Georgia in the background, this image creates a sense of loneliness, seeing this solitary pup by himself in this grand wilderness.
In the second image, the Japanese macaques are so human-like that it’s a little freaky. The monkey in the image seems curious, even mischievous, while his peers ignore his proximity to the camera and wallow in the thermal heat. I love seeing an animal in its environment, especially one as unique as this. It enlarges our understanding of how they live and sometimes gives us clues as to what motivates their behavior. Here, the slight distortion of the wide-angle lens enhances the drama of the scene.
Strong Leading Lines
Another important approach to using a wide-angle lens is to work with leading lines. Leading lines have long been important parts of painting and other two-dimensional forms of art. A leading line is simply something that creates a line from foreground to background and leads or directs the eye through the image. It can be anything that is visually distinct, that a viewer is going to notice, and helps define the composition.
You can find all sorts of leading lines in the environment: tracks in the sand, edges of roads, cracks in rocks, architectural structures, and so on. These can be used to direct the viewer’s eye through a composition and toward the main subject. They are an excellent way to help the viewer understand your picture as well as add a graphic element to the design of your image.
Wide-angle lenses help emphasize leading lines. This comes back to the concept of perspective. By getting in close to nearby parts of leading lines, you spread them apart, yet they still go to the same vanishing point in the distance. That creates a very strong change from foreground to background along those lines, something that will dramatically show off the elements of your photograph.
To understand this, think about a railroad track. If you stand on a hill and photograph railroad tracks in the distance so they start at the bottom of your picture and go to the horizon near the top, you will see them heading off to a vanishing point at the horizon. The railroad tracks will be a certain width at the bottom of your composition. If you then put on a wide-angle lens and get right down on the tracks, the width of the tracks will fill the width of your image. The tracks are still going to go off into the distance to a vanishing point, but now they go from the full width of your frame, creating an extreme change from foreground to background.
Don’t be afraid to get close to leading lines in order to emphasize how strong they are. So often photographers back off from subjects like this and lose some of the impact because they don’t have the same foreground-to-background perspective.
After spending two weeks in Alaska photographing beautiful images of brown bears, salmon, and wolves, I am now home in Seattle and looking at my schedule for the upcoming months. The Pacific Northwest figures prominently in these plans and Fall is a lovely time to visit.
Lake Quinault is one of my absolute favorite locations to visit in the fall, and only one space remains to join me there in September! You can hear the sound of the elk bugling, the golden colors of ancient big leaf maples surround you, and you may have a chance to spot eagles, otters, and bobcats feeding on spawning salmon in the local rivers!
I will be teaching two Photography As Art seminars in Portland (early bird special!) and Seattle this November. I constantly update my presentation, so if you have seen this seminar before, there is a good chance it has changed since the time you last attended.
As a wildcard, one space has opened up on the September Greenland expedition that I am leading with Kevin Raber and Steven Gosling. This is sure to be an unforgettable experience for everyone!
On the heels of my recent trip to Ecuador where freezing the action of the tiny and quick humming birds there was my primary goal, here is an excerpt on using fast shutter speeds from Chapter 7: Creative Options from The New Art of Photographing Nature. Enjoy!
AW: In this final set of images—of a Gentoo penguin porpoising in Antarctica, of leaping impalas in Kenya, and of whooper swans coming in for a landing on a frozen lake–I have chosen the fastest shutter possible to stop the action, capturing a frozen moment in time rather than a more impressionistic view. In the age of digital, the ability to select higher ISOs and faster shutter speeds allows me to capture a lot more moving subjects in sharp focus in this way, although my preference is still for blurred motion.
MH: The penguin shot is a wonderful example of allowing us to enjoy something unusual, in this case, a penguin “in flight.” This is a split-second event and takes remarkable timing to capture with a camera. The result allows us to appreciate the penguin’s torpedo-like shape, and understand a little better what makes them such speedy swimmers.
All of these images are examples of the camera being able to record something that is either too fast or too slow for the human eye to capture accurately. Fast shutter speeds enable us to savor moments of peak action at a later time and at our own pace. One of the greatest advantages of digital has been the ability to immediately see your results, allowing you to experiment and then make corrections on the spot. This can be especially valuable, for example, when testing different shutter speeds to gauge their effect.
I spent some time down in South America recently, a trip that was initially conceived to photograph the solar eclipse in Chile but also turned into a fantastic opportunity to photograph birds and other wildlife in Ecuador with a focus on capturing tiny, agile hummingbirds.
There are numerous sources online you can go to to find technical information on shooting slight and/or speedy subjects such as these, so I won’t bore you with technical specs except to say that my photos were captured with a Canon 5D Mark IV, a 100-400 lens, and a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. Instead, I’d like to focus on my approach to capturing these and other animals that can be hard to get a handle on.
There were two things I didn’t want to end up doing in this situation – chasing elusive birds around with my lens all day long, or firing off a bunch of shots in hopes of coming away with something good after spending hours and hours editing and cropping photos.
Instead, I took the approach of spending plenty of time observing these creatures long before I attempted to take any shots. I recognized patterns in their behavior and how they interacted with their surroundings and each other. This allowed me to anticipate their movements and come away with more focused and intentional shots rather than just releasing the shutter and hoping for the best. Instead of chasing, I let them enter the frame and do the work for me. In the end, I came away with shots I’m happy with, and didn’t have to sort through too many duds to get there.
Currently, I’m in Chile viewing the total solar eclipse visible from South America, and it makes me hark back to when I traveled to South Australia back in December 2002 to photograph a total eclipse there. At the time, I was photographing landscapes for my book Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky and I thought this would be an amazing opportunity. I’d seen many technically excellent photographs of total eclipses over the years, but quite honestly they all looked pretty much alike. My objective became capturing the eclipse in relation to the Earth.
The solar eclipse that occurred on December 4, 2002, was noteworthy when viewed in South Australia for a couple of reasons. First, the eclipse was unusually brief at 25 seconds. Also, it occurred less than 40 minutes before sunset, so the likelihood of an obscured view was greatly increased because clouds generally stack up along the horizon at that time of day. To maximize my chance of success, I decided to find the precise position from which to film the eclipse by experimenting exactly 24 hours before the eclipse. I also decided to try two cameras for two very different perspectives, so I used both a wide-angle and a 70–200mm lens, enabling me to take full advantage of the eclipse’s late hour by incorporating the landscape.
Most eclipses occur earlier in the day when the sun is much higher in the sky. For this book, I wanted to establish the connection of the eclipse with the Earth. I wanted the viewer to witness the eclipse as if they were standing there next to me under the gum trees. Since I could not determine exposure until totality began, I decided to use matrix metering on an automatic aperture priority setting. When totality began, I would simply engage the shutter using locking cable releases, hoping that the entire roll of film would run continuously through the camera. This would have happened had I not made one final decision: to auto-bracket my exposures. I discovered, too late, that the camera would not continuously advance while on the auto-bracket setting. After just three exposures, both cameras stopped advancing. By the time I figured out what was happening, totality ended. Fortunately, I did get proper exposures for both compositions. After the critical moment of the full eclipse, I continued to photograph as the eclipse continued, switching to other lenses and film.
To create these images I used two Canon cameras, an EOS-1N and an EOS-1N/RS, EF70-200mm and EF 16-35mm lenses, Fujichrome Provia 400 film, and a Gitzo tripods. For the images of the setting eclipse on the horizon, I used an EF500mm IS lens and Fujichrome Velvia film.
Time for a little wilderness and wildlife advocacy. Alaska’s Bristol Bay needs our help. It is home to the world’s largest, most productive salmon run and it is threatened by the advancement of the Pebble Mine. The Pebble Mine would be a massive open pit mine that would leach into the ecosystem of one the most productive wildlife regions on the planet. I have been photographing in the region, which includes Katmai National Park and the famous McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, since the early 1980s, and understand first hand what this massive extraction project would do to the wildlife, the fishery, as well as the thriving, sustainable wildlife viewing industry.
Click here for a brief interview I did on the subject.
Brown bears associated with the Project area are a resource that has high ecological, economic, and social value. Southwest Alaska residents and visitors were estimated to spend nearly $145,000,000 (2019 dollars) annually to view wildlife and generated more than an additional $133,000,000 in associated annual economic activity. Much of the wildlife viewing activity in southwest Alaska is centered on observing brown bears. For more information, this study drills down on the economics involved in brown bear viewing ins South-central Alaska.
I strongly urge you to take 20 minutes and watch Koktuli Wild, a video by Brendan Wells which perfectly illustrates the fragile beauty of the wilderness that feeds the potent Bristol Bay watershed. It is uplifting, beautiful, informative, and most importantly galvanizing. Even if you never see it with your own eyes, just knowing this this wilderness exists is affecting.
UPDATE: 6/29/2019 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed amendment 90, being called the “Huffman Amendment,” to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act. However, this is only the begging and Alaskans have called upon Senator Murkowski to to stand with Alaskans in opposing the Pebble mine.
It’s Technique Tuesday, and since the last little tip I shared was a very technical tutorial on creating panoramas in Photoshop and Lightroom, I figured we would go back to the basics with a more universal message that I think will help new photographers and those who may be struggling themselves with tunnel vision alike. With a recently added Abstract Astoria workshop happening soon, and my Photography As Art seminar happening in Seattle this fall, these are some basics I will find myself repeating!
The excerpt below kicks off an early chapter of The Art of the Photograph.
Photograph Without Prejudice
What are you seeing as you photograph? How do you perceive the world and what’s important to you? This is something that goes much deeper than thinking about getting the latest camera with the most megapixels. Good shots come from cultivating the eye. Scrutinize every subject without prejudice. A good photo can be found in rusting debris lying in an alley of a big city or out in a pristine environment. Finding images everywhere is how you practice, how you improve your work. It’s about the subject only in how you frame it, and in the message you send with the photo.
Do you shoot any possible subject, whether a rusting can in a gutter, a grand ceremony in a foreign land, or birds on a beach? Or do you define yourself as a “bird photographer” or a “landscape photographer”? Try not to limit your subjects or how you define yourself as a photographer. Photographing without prejudice opens up the world! You can’t even walk into a grocery store without finding a viable subject. And along the way, you gain practice that cultivates your eye.
You might think that composition comes naturally for professionals like us. Naturally, perhaps, after many years of doing it! There is no question that if you are to succeed as a photographer, you have to take a lot of pictures. This is sometimes frustrating for people who have invested a lot of money in the latest gear and want instant results since you have to take a lot of both good and bad photographs to get better.
There is an old joke about a visitor to New York City trying to get to a concert at Carnegie Hall. After getting a little lost, he saw a man walking down the street with a large cello case. He stopped the musician and asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
The musician looked sternly at the visitor and said, “Practice, practice, practice.”
A concert pianist rarely gets up on stage and gives a bad performance, but only because he or she has had years of practice. That isn’t to say that you can’t get good pictures at whatever stage you are in, but it does point out how important it is to get out and take lots of pictures. Practice does matter.
The Subject, or the Photograph?
One thing that can hold photographers back from finding great images is that they focus too hard on finding the “perfect” subject. Whenever possible, try to avoid “trophy hunting” for subjects. That means going out and trying to find the same subjects that photographers like Art Wolfe shot, or going to major locations and photographing only the big, iconic subjects. Think about that. You can buy postcards of those big, iconic subjects that were shot under ideal conditions. When you start looking for subjects simply as trophies to be captured, you stop looking for the photograph.
If you simply look for subject matter, you’ll often be disappointed because the camera is not looking for subject matter. The camera doesn’t care what your subject is! The camera is simply looking at light and shadow and how to translate that into pixels. It is your job as a photographer to work with your camera to find interesting photographs, not simply capture a subject.
Looking at the art world outside of photography can be instructive. Painters have to figure out what the whole image is going to be, not simply the subject. They have to interpret a scene in a certain way on their canvas, rather than simply pointing a camera at a subject and pressing a button. Seeing through that “lens” can help you navigate the challenge of finding original compositions in the world you walk through every day.
In this book there are very few photographs of the big, iconic subjects that so many others shoot. Art looks for and finds subject matter that is going to translate into interesting photographs that appeal to him. He responds to the world around him as a place filled with photographic possibilities because he is not simply looking for an interesting subject. He is always looking for interesting photographs.