If you caught the recent episode of Tequila Time, I shared images from our recent Olympic Workshop and also discussed just a few of the many lessons we teach in this beautiful location. Sure, there are the typical scenic shots to capture- but anyone can set up a tripod and take the same old shot. This doesn’t help us grow our visual vocabulary, however. Fine if all you want are the token travel photos!
A keen eye that’s trained to find the beauty in the less-obvious is going to come away with the more interesting and unique shots. While each one may not be a masterpiece unto itself, every shot in which you are mindfully seeking compositions that hold the viewers eye in the frame represents a cognitive effort to improve your artistic eye.
Much like a truly invested fine artist will more often than not have dozens of sketch books of incomplete works, never intending to see the light of day, it’s through this practice of finding a shot where others don’t see one that will translate to taking ALL of your photos to the next level.
In the video above are just a few examples of learning to see beauty and something worth capturing in scenes that others might quite literally walk right by. While you may want the big picture of the old-growth forest, it’s really the misshapen lumps of knotted limbs saturated in moss that show the verdant and wild nature of this location. What appear to be simple shots of limbs and trees are intentionally composed to frame the leading lines to keep the viewer’s eye engaged.
Again, not every shot you take needs to be in consideration to sell as a fine art print. On the contrary, most of your shots, much like the sketches of master fine artists are simple tools to train your eye over time.
Hard to believe it’s been over a year now since we all buckled down to distance in an effort to curb the pandemic! When this whole thing began my staff and I put together this post of some tools that might be useful to help you continue to be productive and creative at home.
Since we aren’t quite out of the woods yet, I figured we could re-heat this post and also solicit YOUR comments below about the tools and processes you’ve been using to stay busy and continue to enhance your photography tool kit – and I can pass your tips along in a future blog post!
Ten Tech Tools of the Trade (In No Particular Order):
AW: Lets get the most obvious tool out of the way first as I’m sure most people are familiar with Adobe’s tools. I spend most of my time in Lightroom, where I use it as both an organizational tool, and to add some post processing to my photos. Most of the tools you’ll find here keep photography at the forefront, simulating many traditional practices in a much more simplified and speedy manner.
AW Staff Note: Art rarely uses Photoshop, however when I’m preparing his photos in final edit for a book project or print, it pays to have more control over the fine details. There are lots of tips out there for things like enhancing sharpness, reducing noise, and much more.
2021 Update: Check out Petapixel’s article on Adobe’s new “Super Resolution” tool for their Camera RAW app – create images 4x the resolution with virtually no loss in quality!
AW: This is a tool I’ve just recently started using. In the past, most de-noise tools operated roughly the same, or at least to my eye seemed to have similar results. This app from Topaz uses a new process to remove nose, and so far it works great.
AW Staff Note: It does take some time to process however, so make sure you have the time to spend getting everything just right, and pack your patience! Not that Art is ever impatient. . .
AW Staff Note: These are tools we use to edit audio and video. It’s not a huge part of what we do, but as they can come packaged with the other adobe tools we use it doesn’t hurt to have them. Premier is used primarily for cutting and editing video clips; AfterEffects is kinda like photoshop for video, and Audition is for editing sound clips to remove things like echo, mic popping, etc. . . they are complicated programs but just simple enough that most things you might need to do, you can find a tutorial online to get you through it.
AW Staff Note: Yep. Art doesn’t use this one himself either, but when we are working with video files, they are often for the web and therefore require slightly less fidelity than if we were say, creating an HD TV show with all the Audio/Video bells and whistles. But you also want to start with the best possible quality. That means huge video files. Handbrake is a great (and free) tool for taking huge video files and turning them into smaller video files that still look and sound great, with a lot of tuning available to get the result you want.
AW: Ah! Now we are speaking my language again. Currently I’m living in Keynote working on Pathways to Creativity, a new series of seminars that will be divided into chapters and made available for download, aiming for this fall! These programs are simple enough. I create all of my presentations in Keynote, whether it’s for an epic stage or a slide show at home. Lightroom does have a built-in slide-show feature as well, but Keynote gives me more control.
AW Staff Note: Powerpoint and Keynote are similar so if you’re on a windows-based computer, PP might be your option. They mostly play nice together, but aren’t without some small issues if you’re going back and forth.
AW: I don’t personally use Photoshelter often, but I have their plug-in installed in Lightroom. When I export my photos it can be pre-set to upload automatically to Photoshelter assuming I have an internet connection, so staff back home can see my latest photos.
AW Staff: Photoshelter is a great way to store, organize, and share your photos online. We use it to drive our stock site and host innumerable images. We’ve had very few if any service interruptions or down time in my experience with it. There are a lot of options for sharing your work, and also protecting it with watermarking and small file downloads.
AW: This one goes without saying – if you’re taking photos, share them! And follow me – maybe you’ll get a follow back – in fact, if you leave your handle in the comments below, I’ll be sure to do so.
AW Staff: One thing you’ll notice about Art’s Instagram page is that we try to avoid the square crop when possible and aim to preserve Art’s preferred aspect ratio for his images. We accomplish this in a simple manner – a square background slightly off white (RGB all set to 251), and then size the image to fit within the square.
AW Staff: YouTube gets more traction, but I find Vimeo to be more user friendly. The best solution is to use both if you’re using these tools for promotion. Don’t forget about the Handbrake tip – you don’t want to spend hours uploading a huge video that is going to soak up your storage space!
AW: Having a place to dump or receive files on the road or while travelling is incredibly useful. Both DropBox and Google Drive are good options and easy to use. Photoshelter is limited to just photographs, so having another way to store and transfer other file types online is necessary.
AW Staff: Another shout out to wetransfer.com as well, a free service (with some paid options) where you can send files to people to download via emailed link.
AW Staff: Last but not least with everyone working from home these days, we use GoToMyPC.com to connect to the office. We’ve never had any issues using it, and after the initial setup it’s very easy to use. There’s also a file-sharing option to make transferring files between computers easy and painless.
AW: Well, that rounds out today’s list, though there are plenty of other tech tools out there. Comment below if you have any additions or suggestions for things we should be taking a look at while we have the time to do so.
Happy Technique Tuesday – I shot this one down on South Georgie Island a while back, but good design is good design! Technology and style may change – what captures the eye does not! Staying on the topic of learning and teaching, stay tuned over the course of the next week or so to my social media and the blog, some exciting announcements about my new streaming lecture series, Pathways to Creativity are coming soon!
If you’ve been paying attention to the blog or caught last week’s livestream, you already know I’m keeping myself occupied lately working on a new series of educational videos releasing very soon. If you follow me you know that I’m an artist first and a technician second – I learn to use technology as I need it, but unlike many photographers my background lies in fine art.
That being said, my upcoming lecture series will touch on many of the technical aspects of photography as well, for example using a high shutter speed to capture water droplets around the high-speed movements of this small painted bunting.
Freezing the action here requires a fast shutter speed – in this case I’ve chosen 1/6400th of a second. I’ve achieved my goal – the droplets and the bunting are sharp! However one problem you may run into depending on the available lighting is the high ISO required to get enough light from such a brief exposure. In this case my ISO was bumped all the way up to 5000 – well beyond what most photographers are comfortable with.
Personally I have always pushed my use of ISO; if the photo truly requires a high number to get the effect and freeze the action like I want it to, I am okay introducing a bit of noise. Much of that can be removed later in post. As an example, here is a close-up of this image with one side using Topaz Denoise AI, and the other the original image:
As you can see, Topaz does a great job of removing much of the noise in the image while retaining details. I highly recommend that regardless of the software you use to remove noise, that this is your first step in your edit. As you tweak levels, colors, and other attributes of your image, they may overly enhance the noise making it harder to retroactively remove. After you remove the noise, you can then go back and re-introduce some sharpening where needed, selectively avoiding areas with large swaths of color that will just end up looking noisy.
That will have to be a lesson for another day – enjoy your week, stay safe and healthy!
Happy World Wildlife Day! It’s also technique Tuesday, and today’s tip was inspired by a question from Lowell E., Who inquired via my contact page – how exactly DO photographers make things, like the sun for example, seem so much larger in a photograph than it does in real life?
Great Question Lowell!
The simple answer – use a telephoto lens! Now, it should be noted the sun itself is not getting larger, rather it’s an optical trick where your subject is appearing larger as your lens dials in on it. Photographing a subject a quarter of a mile away, for example, is relatively a short distance compared to the sun at 93 million miles away.
For more information, here’s an excerpt from The New Art of Photographing Nature:
AW: As I was driving down the Flathead Valley in the Montana Rockies, I noticed this homestead set against the distant mountains. The first shot was taken with a 50mm and most closely resembles what I saw from the car as I drove by. I recognized the possibilities, but this clearly was not it. It incorporated too much sky, too much foreground, and the dark furrow of earth leads your eye away from what was most important to me in the composition.
In the second shot, I zoomed in with a 300mm lens, creating a telescopic effect, and brought the mountains closer in relation to the farm. I knew this was what I wanted–the farm with the looming backdrop of mountains. I placed the farm in the bottom and cropped so only mountains were above it, creating a sense of dramatic vertical rise. For the last shot I used a 400mm with a 1.4 teleconverter resulting in 560mm focal length, bringing me even closer. By making the image a vertical I was able to emphasize the rise of the mountains, and using a polarizer allowed me to create a little more drama. For my money, this is the strongest image in the series.
MH: Here again is a good example of what the camera can do that the eye cannot. The only way we could approximate this image would be to hike a long way to get very close to the farm. But even then you would not have the same perspective, with the farm and the mountains so strongly juxtaposed. This sense of drama is created by the compression of distance only achieved by using a powerful telephoto lens.
Think you have a great question that might prompt it’s own Technique Tuesday post? Submit a question via the contact page!
Here are some other great resources relating to the subject:
I spent some time in Utah this past November, and was struck by the colors of the directional light and shadow on the rugged buttes looming over the landscape.
Artists of the Renaissance period would work on a medium-toned colored paper and used light and dark paints, inks, and other materials to build depth within the image, adding form and dimension along the way. The term “chiaroscuro” has come to define images in which there is a strong contrast between light and dark areas that help inform the shape and form of a subject.
Renaissance artists often painted by candlelight, which provided it’s own harsh directional lighting. With photography we are painting in our own way with natural light we’ve been gifted, or our own artificial setups.Obviously it helps to have strong directional light when the sun is low on the horizon, but still high enough to illuminate your subject.
One of the draws to visiting a country like Romania is the old-world rural setting, and I came upon a couple fantastic and eventually willing subjects to illustrate just that.
When I first found the cat and the Muskovy duck in a barnyard in Romania, I decided to play up their relationship by basically herding them closer together. Initially they were about 5 feet apart which meant their association was less memorable. By slowly circling I was able to get them to be less than a foot apart which becomes visually more significant.
The cat understandably was unfazed by my presence. The duck was less confident with my intentions. Finally, with perseverance and patience, I got what I wanted – and brought two friends closer together!
Happy Technique Tuesday! A little less of a technical lesson today as I’d like to talk about the many ways simple shapes and forms can become the basis for decades of design inspiration. This photo is from the book Indian Baskets of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska and captures a Cowlitz-style basket made from bear grass and dyed cedar bark. Coiled baskets were generally used in cooking are adorned in diagonal zig-zags and checkers.
The detail and quality of these baskets was cherished and ownership of them was prestigious enough that many baskets of this caliber were kept unused as pieces handed down generationally or traded. This particular pattern was used as inspiration when Westlake Center in downtown Seattle underwent a re-design in 1989. The pattern covers Westlake park and expands a block in any direction and was intended to bind the central down-town park into a ‘living room’ for the city.
From beautifully hand-crafted basket to (exquisitely captured, if I do say so myself!) photograph to major metropolitan design element, the original artist had no idea their work would become so very timeless. Next time you’re down town, give it a look – and the next time you’re looking to do your own decorating, it’s worth considering that inspiration may come from unlikely places!
Currently I’m on the road traveling, but have some photos to share from our visit to Romania. While there, I was able to photograph the Bear Dancers whom parade through the streets of villages every year between Christmas and New Years in their bear-skin costumes. It was a privilege to photograph them in this way long before they will officially don the outfits.
This ceremony is a joyfulcelebration belying the fearsome appearance of the traditional costumes and demeanor of the dancers within. It is a tradition intended to scare away evil spirits – including an accompaniment of drums, flutes, and singing – with beginnings that have been difficult to pin-point due to sparse documentation of the region’s history.
To begin with, we assemble the performers! Dressed in a red military uniform, the “Bear Tamer” leads his group of dancers while a wool-clad shepherd stands with the musicians in blue and white garb. A more overcast day may have been ideal, but you must work with the circumstances you are given. By closing in close on the group of dancers themselves, we can put the focus directly on the savage costumes.
Here, a young girl peaks out from below her mask, giving us a great opportunity to capture a similar shot of the group, but with this reveal adding an extra sense of context to the photograph. The contrast of her face among the fierce, snarling bears only adds to the story.
Again, I want to isolate and emphasize the costumes and the dancers themselves without any other outside information informing the story – the subjects here are the elaborate costumes, their muzzles silhouetted against the blue sky, and the shadowed faces of the dancers themselves.
Of course, these ARE dancers after all – so action shots are necessary. Capturing the dancers in their furs against the rich evergreen background of Romanian landscape ties them together nicely. As complimentary colors, the rich reds of their costumes stand out against the forest green.
Here we focus on the procession of bears as they might appear in their journey through the village, usually ending up in a town square for further celebration. Whenever you are given an opportunity like this, take full advantage of it and get all the shots you possibly can – I’ll have more up soon along with the rest of our haul from Romania!
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.