Now that Spring is officially a week away and the weather is warming up a bit here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s a great time to get out and shoot. Winter rains can be cold and nasty, but throughout the spring and early fall rainy overcast days that aren’t also affected by extreme temperatures and winds are the best days to get out and photograph! I woke up this morning to some cloud cover, light showers, and a relatively balmy 60 degrees, and was inspired to get the word out about how great such conditions can be for capturing fantastic images.
People are often surprised that I don’t run outside with my camera on a beautiful blue sky day. The clouds on an overcast day act like a huge softbox to soften the light, reduce contrast, and open up the shadows to details that would be completely lost on a bright sunny day. Falling rain diffuses and evens out the light even more. Some of my favorite images have been captured on gray rainy days.
You’ll need to check your lens frequently for spots but with a little care you can use the rain to your advantage. Use a tripod, polarizer, small aperture and long shutter speed to keep from recording individual falling drops of rain and maximize atmospheric softening. Additionally, the polarizer removes the shine from foliage for the richest colors possible. It’s rare that I don’t have a polarizer on the front of my lens. With standing water in your frame the falling rain will ripple the surface. The long shutter speed will blur movement the same way a waterfall can be rendered as a soft ethereal white drape over rocks.
The polar bears of Churchill are world famous, of course; like many photographers I have made pilgrimages there since the early 1980s. This has given me the opportunity to photograph the bears in various ways. From a tundra buggy, you can see the bears engaging in harmless battles as they wait to hunt seals once the ice that’s formed on Hudson Bay. From the air I recorded the beautiful patterns on the frozen lake’s surface as well as the bear’s shadow cast across the ice. To emphasize the barren tundra terrain and diminish the bear’s presence, I selected a 17-35mm wide-angle lens.
For The Living Wild I went to Churchill to photograph cubs newly emerged from their winter dens. Not only did I find several sows with their cubs, but I found them in near-perfect late afternoon light.
Because light meters are calibrated to read any scene as neutral gray, I set my aperture to overexpose by two stops from the reading to make sure the snow stays white. Without this compensation, the bears would be underexposed. This gives the most accurate exposures for white animals in the snow.
I was walking along the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, at dawn one morning when I saw the color. The sun rose through a layer of smoke and haze, and I thought, “Wow, that is a beautiful red orb.” I had to get that shot.
I was at this location during the Kumbh Mela, a massive gathering of Hindus along the Ganges that happens every 12 years. This is a time of great spiritual and cultural significance when holy men gather to bless the millions of people who have made the pilgrimage to the location. Many pilgrims had traveled to Varanasi and upriver to Allahabad. Many were crossing the river to the encampment on the far side. I contacted one of these people the night before, offering a dollar to act as my model the next morning, one hour before sunrise.
The next morning, I positioned the boat with my new model in the dark mud along the shore. I used a polarizer to take the shine off the water in the foreground, creating the illusion that the boat was floating.
To get the deep depth of field that I wanted, I shot with a wide-angle lens and a small f-stop of f/22, getting an exposure of one or two seconds, during which my model had to remain still. The foreground point of the boat is every bit as sharp as the distant horizon. I had to work quickly because the color of the sun was so important, and it lasted only a short time. once the sun rose above that layer of haze, it lost it’s color.
I loved creating the image, stylizing something these pilgrims did every day during Kumbh Mela, making the image more memorable. you don’t know whether the person is a woman or a man, which helps the viewer see him- or herself in that place.
Art Wolfe: Spotlighting is an often unpredictable event that can create and unexpected picture. With this image of a tiger in the dense forest, it was essential that I spot-meter the tiger’s illuminated face to ensure it was exposed correctly, since all of the deep shadows could have easily fooled the camera’s meter.
Martha Hill: I find this image intriguing. Tigers are among the most elusive of the big cats, and this image, by showing it lurking in the shadows, perfectly captures the animal’s mystery. To me it is a more evocative rendering of the subject than the more commonplace, out-in-the-open view we often see.
Art Wolfe: In the hours prior to this shot (of Bridalveil Fall), the valley had been covered in flat light under solid cloud cover. Late in the afternoon, however, the clouds began to break, sending shafts of light onto the faces of El Capitan and Half Dome, and, in this case, the waterfalls that rush over the cliffs in early spring.
Getting the proper exposure in a shot like this can be challenging. using my camera’s spot meter, I took a reading off the brightest area and opened up to keep the whole image from getting too dark.
Martha Hill: This image has drama and mood. Bridalveil Fall is one of Yosemite’s most photographed icons, but the unusual lighting conditions captured here set this image apart. The momentary beam of light illuminates the distant waterfall, directing the eye immediately to it. Under different conditions, such as an even lighting, we might overlook the waterfall altogether in this already dramatic landscape. The success of this image depends on timing – waiting for the exact moment when the light will highlight an interesting visual element.
For as much versatility as you get out of it, the Canon EF100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens is light weight, which means it’s great for traveling and backpacking. This is a particularly sharp lens with great glass and a smooth action collar. It also works well with extenders, which only adds to it’s versatility and value. The quick action zoom makes it a go-to lens for me for capturing wildlife.
What are some of your favorite lenses that never leave your pack? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to know what’s out there, and check out my gear page for more recommendations!
Capturing brown bears in Katmai, Alaska! Though specific to this location in the video, this is a lesson and focus I employ regardless of my subject – to capture that subject within the context of the environment rather than going for the same ol’ shots. Certainly as you travel and visit recognizable locations and subjects, you should capture the shots we are accustomed to seeing – but moving a step beyond and ensuring your photos are telling the story of that subject’s place in it’s environment makes for a much more informative and lasting image. Taking the time to explore a bit and focus on wide shots where the bears are present but not necessarily the focus, or finding details of the bear’s impact on the environment without showing them directly will not only immerse your audience in the location, it will inform and inspire other shots you choose to take.
Gavriel Jecan has traveled to this location with me many times, and he’ll be leading a trip here in July – sign up today! I’m leading a couple trips here as well, but they are sold out. If you’re interested, feel free to join the wait list in case we have any cancellations.
Never discount the ability to create effective photographs during a rainy overcast day!
On my last day in Yang Shao, China we were hit with some pretty bad weather. Instead of staying in the hotel, I traveled to a view point along the Li River to shoot some limited edition, fine art black and white images. I knew from experience that images taken on a day like this could yield dreamy photos with just a basic amount of dodging and burning once converted from a color capture.
My workflow for these images was fairly simple. I created a virtual copy in Lightroom, desaturated the image by dragging the Saturation Slider to 0 and then using the Brush Tool to selectively dodge and burn areas of the sky to make the clouds pop. Then, Jay Goodrich, my co-leader on this trip, opened the images in Photoshop and added an Auto Curves adjustment layer that, to my surprise, made the images just jump off of the page. When I have more time than I do on location, I will further refine the black & white image by using NIK Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 software. This will allow me to really fine-tune the image.
I am always amazed at how many ways there are to process an image to get the results that I am looking for in my pursuit of creativity.
I am pleased to announce that beginning in January of 2018, I’ll be providing Portfolio Reviews to those interested in having me take a look at your photography work and provide constructive feedback! Among the many requests we’ve had, reviews come up most often – and given that the critique process has long been a part of our workshops that I look forward to, it only made sense to offer this service.
As you may know, I approach photography from the perspective of having had classic arts training, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and art education from the University of Washington in 1975. Receiving and participating in the critique process with peers and instructors was an invaluable asset for my development as an artist, and the art of photography is no different.
We hope to accommodate anyone interested in having their work reviewed by offering a trio of packages and perks:
5 images reviewed
MP3 Recording of my critique of your work
10% off any future Photography As Art seminar
12 images reviewed
MP3 Recording of my critique of your work
20% off any future Photography As Art seminar
Free Book – “The Art of the Photograph”
15 images reviewed
LIVE Skype conversation regarding your photographs
30% off any future Photography As Art seminar
Free Book – “Photographs From the Edge”
Check out the Portfolio Review page for more information. I look forward to seeing everyone’s work in 2018!
I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be teaming up with Creative Live once again to present another online seminar! This time around, I’ll be critiquing user-submitted nature photos and making post-processing adjustments to maximize the visual impact of each image. You’ll gain valuable insight into many of the techniques I put into practice utilizing the adjustments that shooting RAW provides.
The free live broadcast will be on Monday, November 27th from 9 AM to 12 PM, PST. If you can’t make that date and time, you can purchase the seminar for a limited time discounted price – so head on over to Creative Live and sign yourself up. You can also submit your own wildlife, landscape, abstract nature, or travel images that could possibly be selected to be part of the broadcast!
This presentation comes on the heels of announcing that beginning in 2018, I’ll be providing my own critiques through my website. We already have several people on the list to be notified when the purchase and submission process is live – get yourself signed up today! Details will be coming in the next couple of weeks.
Every successful image is comprised of several key elements that define its character: exposure, the balance and movement of the composition, the interplay of tone and color. Focal point and depth of field are critical components as well.
Picking a focal point and highlighting it with shallow depth of field makes the subject “pop“,but one risks over-revealing. Sometime the eye has nothing to do except dwell on the primary subject. Watch people in a gallery. They pass by an over-simple image in moments while an interesting composition engages them for a while.
I usually prefer to draw the eye across the frame, placing the focal point deeper in the composition. The focal point could be a strong design element, but nothing attracts the eye like brightness or a splash of vivid color.
When I construct a composition, something in the scene catches my attention. I immediately try to distill the image to its essentials, looking for anything that gets in the way of the design elements that attracted me in the first place. I feel my way toward the final composition. I don’t actually photograph each step of the journey, but I did here to illustrate the process.
I shot this series in the ruins of a temple near Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In the first image (above) we see some strong vertical lines, but nothing grabs the eye. The bits of white sky are distracting; it is almost monochromatic, which is not a virtue with this composition.
In the second image we see a Buddhist monk in orange robes in the distance. We now have our point of interest, but it’s overwhelmed by the temple, and the bright sky continues to move the eye away from the real subjects.
When in doubt, get closer. I moved in a little closer and zoomed to crop out sky above the doorway into the right. At the same time the sun on the floor is almost removed. Our monk is now a little larger, but there are still too many distractions from the main composition in the form of the remaining sky and foreground.
This time I got a lot tighter, driving extraneous elements out of the frame. (Cambodia4). The sky and bright triangle of light on the floor have been removed and there’s no question that the monk is the center of interest. However, the composition has become too symmetrical, too static for my taste. This is an acceptable image that I want to push a little farther.
This photograph is well-balanced, and all those bothersome highlights are gone. The eye jumps to the monk but then there is more to see in the forms of the pillars. The monk is looking out of the frame, which is a minor issue that I could tolerate.
These final two images last two images work the best for me. They have strong graphic elements and can be read a number of ways. Although the monk still draws the eye, the bias relief of the dancing apsara (supernatural women, the wives of Indra’s court servants) is the first thing to draw the eye. Then, the bright orange forces your attention across the frame. Ordinarily, the bright vertical strip of sun lit sandstone would bother me, but in this case it seems like a border between the past and present and accentuates the verticals of the temple’s pillars. The monk seems a little crowded in the first photograph so I gave him a little more room in the final image.