Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Ten Reasons to Take a Photography Workshop

April 19th, 2014

We all love photography.  Perhaps you are a casual photographer, using your smart phone or point-and-shoot camera to capture the precious moments in life you cherish and want to remember.  Perhaps you admire the work of others and would like to be able to capture scenes or moments like they do.  Or maybe you are skilled and have been passionate about your own photography for quite some time now.

For those that seek to develop themselves as photographers there are a couple of approaches you can take.  You can learn on your own by reading and photographing.  And if you are able to devote the time and energy to this process you will surely be successful.  However, it is more of a trial-and-error approach to learning photography and, let’s face it, we don’t all have the time or energy to adequately feed our passion.

Or, you can learn from someone who has already mastered the challenges you encounter along the way.  And one of the most effective and affordable ways of accomplishing this is through a photography workshop.

So I would like to share with you my top ten reasons for attending a photography workshop.

1.     Inspiration

Photography workshops give you the opportunity to focus just on photography and capturing the beauty that surrounds you.  The complications of your busy life are left at home or at work and for several stimulating days your existence is focused on one thing – capturing the beauty that surrounds you.

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Mastering Sharpness – Depth of Field

March 2nd, 2014

A topic that receives a lot of attention in our workshops is focus.  It’s incredibly important, so important that I consider Appropriate Sharpness to be one of the four pillars of a successful landscape photograph.  (For more, read Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars.)  Most of the questions center around depth of field and hyperfocal distance.  In fact, this is so important that I give a class on Appropriate Sharpness during just about every workshop.  Let’s start the discussion with Depth of Field

Depth of Field

This is the range, if you will, of objects in the view of your camera that are in focus.  Objects in front of this range are out of focus as well as objects behind the range.  A deep depth of field would have the flowers just a few feet from you camera and the distant mounts miles away all in focus.  The depth of field would then extend from a couple of feet to infinity and for all practical purposes would be infinitely deep.  This is often referred to as a ‘near-far composition.’

death_valley_sunrise_2012_rrpm_rc0A shallow depth of field may be just a couple of inches deep with nearer and more distant objects out of focus.  This is referred to as ‘Selective Focus.’

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Mastering Composition – Rule of Thirds

February 22nd, 2014

The Rule of Thirds is a compositional principle that is widely used. And for good reason because, well, it works.  At least, it works in a lot of situations.

What is the Rule of Thirds? You superimpose a tic-tac-toe grid on your image, two vertical lines equally spaced and two horizontal lines equally spaced. Then you place the key elements of your image on or near those lines, or at one of their intersections.  They don’t have to be exactly on the lines or intersections, just near them.  This is art, not engineering, so it’s important that it feels right.  But the Rule of Thirds gives us positions that are visually very strong and command the viewer’s attention.  That’s why you want to use this principle for the key elements of your composition, the elements you want to draw the viewer’s eye to.

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One should be cautious in overusing the Rule of Thirds. It should not be applied mechanically and certainly not universally.  It does not apply to all compositions.  After all, aren’t our ‘Rules’ of composition made to be broken?  But on the other hand, sometimes a composition gets just a little bit stronger when you move the key element just a tiny bit to place it closer to or right on a 1/3rd line.

The fact is it works so well in so many situations that the camera manufacturers give us the ability to display the grid on our camera’s LCD screens and viewfinders. Also, software publishers like Adobe display the grid when we use the crop tool. This is true of Elements, Lightroom and Photoshop. And these aids can be very helpful in achieving strong compositions.

Why does the Rule of Thirds work so well? To answer that let’s talk about Visual Tension.

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12 Tips on Nighttime Photography

January 22nd, 2014

Here are some tips on nighttime photography from an informative article by Dan Richards in a recent issue Popular Photography.  Credit for these tips goes to three great photographers – Matt Walker, Darren White and Mashahiro Miyasaka.  Here is the heart of what they shared…

  • Use a fast, wide lens.  Wide lenses slow the apparent motion of the stars.  Fast lenses gather more of the faint light.
  • Use a tripod.  The shortest practical exposure is 30 seconds.  Star trails require anything from tens of minutes to an hour or more.
  • Use an intervalometer.  This is essential for exposures greater than 30 seconds or if you plan to take a sequence of 30 second exposures.
  • Be aware of the weather.  An overcast sky will foil nighttime photography plans and a wind will wreak havoc with long exposures.
  • Be careful.  Scout the location ahead of time.  Use a headlamp, especially  one that has a red light so as not to destroy your night vision.
  • Include interesting foregrounds.  They can be silhouettes or you can light paint them.  You also have the option of creating a composite image by capturing a well exposed image of the foreground at low ISO and a high ISO image of the sky and then blending the two.
  • Focusing is really difficult.  Autofocus doesn’t work so you must use manual focus.  Pick the brightest star in the sky and use live view to focus on it (don’t change your focal length to focus; use the focal length you’ll be using for your image).  Another alternative is to focus on an object at infinity during the day and then marking the focus point with fluorescent tape so you can reset the same focus at night.  Again, use the focal length you will be shooting with as the infinity focus point changes as you zoom in and out.
  • Exposure is critical.  If you’re going to shoot starry  night photographs your exposure length will be 30 seconds (with a 24 mm lens or wider).  Shoot wide open and run tests with different ISO settings.  If  you’re going to use a long exposure to get star trails determine the ISO setting your 30 second exposure and then adjust ISO and f/stop to compensate for the length of exposure.  If your ISO is 6400 at f/2.8 and 30 seconds, if you want a 60 second exposure reduce your ISO to 3200.  A two-minute exposure requires an ISO of 1600.
  • Take a workshop.  That’s always good advice, no matter how experienced you are.  There’s always more to learn.
  • Don’t get disheartened.  This is not easy stuff but practice pays off.
  • Get in shape.  Good locations for night photography are going to be where there’s minimal light pollution and that’s a long ways away from city lights.
  • When the temperature is cold wrap a hand warmer around your lens to keep it from fogging over on those long half hour to hour exposures.

Well, that’s it.  Yea, and I confess; I threw in a couple of my tips too.

Hey, here are a couple of blog posts I’ve done on nighttime photography a while back there.

Exciting Nighttime Photography in 10 Easy steps

Nighttime Photography

So, go on out there and give it a try.  Have fun and be careful.


We always enjoy hearing from you so please feel free to leave a comment and share your experiences with us.

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Best of 2012

January 18th, 2014

In 2013 we started a fun project – picking the best of my photographs from 2012.  We approached it area by area, choosing the best from each.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.  And now it’s time to finish what was started and select the best photograph of 2012.

There are photographs from four areas – California Deserts, Eastern Sierra, Big Sur and Zion National Park in Utah.

death_valley_sunrise_2012California has two wonderful desert national parks.  Joshua Tree here in Southern California is a blend of both high and low desert, the fantastic trees that give the park its name, outcrops of granite that attract climbers from all over the world, not to mention the great photography.  Death Valley is the premier desert attraction in the country.

pfeiffer_beach_sunset_2012At the opposite end of California’s diverse spectrum is incomparable Big Sur, one hundred miles of the most incredible coastline in all of North America. Big Sur is famous for its precipitous cliffs that plunge into the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean but it also boasts redwood groves, waterfalls, classic bridges and more.  One small stretch of the coast captured your imagination and for good reason.  Pfeiffer Beach is blessed with some incredible rocks just off shore pounded by powerful surf.  And when the light is just right the photographs are unbeatable.

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The Eastern Sierra boasts the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and rivers and lakes along the Owens Valley.  One of the prime attractions is the Mammoth Lakes area with it’s superb skiing and a beautiful string of alpine lakes and laughing streams.

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Zion National Park in Southwest Utah attracts visitors and photographers from all over the globe.  Its spectacular red sandstone cliffs create a canyon that of unparalleled beauty.  And when autumn storms roll through, the drama of the already impressive cliffs and towers is intensified.

This is a sampling of the photographs that are being considered for the Best of 2012.  The top two images from each of these areas are presented for your evaluation.  Take our survey to view them all and pick the ones you like the best.

Thanks for participating.  Have fun and enjoy.


Please feel free to share this with your friends.  The more input we have the better.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.

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Mastering Composition – Balance

December 22nd, 2013

There are many rules of composition.  I know people don’t like to use the term rules and for good reason.  If you treat these rules as if they are hard and fast you can end up with compositions that are mechanical.  So I prefer to call them ‘principles of composition.’  Now I’ve said before that composition is a problem solving endeavor.  That is, you have been inspired by what lies before you, you have connected with it and you have an idea of what you want to say.  And one of the key elements in communicating your message is the composition you choose.  There is generally a point where this becomes very much of a problem solving effort, meaning it can get very analytical.  And while the analysis may be important if not essential, it can cloud aesthetic considerations.  Take for example this photograph of dawn in the Little Lakes Basin up Rock Creek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

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I was drawn to this Lodgepole Pine growing from a cleft in the granite above the lake.  I gave a lot of thought to this composition and compositional principles came very much into play.  The way I saw it, the two key elements were the tree and the lake.  I didn’t think of the peaks in the distance as being a key element although I knew they were important.  And I was aware of the lake as a leading line the drew the eye to them. I placed the tree on the right 1/3 line so that it wouldn’t block the lake.  And I enjoyed the wonderful alpenglow as I captured a few images through the final minutes of civil twilight.  Then I wandered off looking for other photographs.  But later, after the sun came up I was drawn back to this tree and saw it completely differently.

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Mastering Composition – What?

December 7th, 2013

Composition is one of the four pillars of a strong landscape photograph (See Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars).  There are many approaches to mastering composition and certainly countless excellent books on the topic.  Many books discuss the elements of design and how they relate to composition – line, shape, form, texture, pattern and color.  Others go into the various rules of composition – rule of thirds, golden rule, leading lines, near / far, layers, frames, etc.

All of these rules or principles are very analytical and, I think, are necessary and useful building blocks.  Often creating a strong composition is very much of a problem-solving endeavor.  But in the end I believe the goal of the composition is to support what the artist wants to communicate through the image.  And this comes more from compositions that just feel right, not ones that are mechanically created from the rules.  That’s not to say that one is not aware of these principles as the composition is being worked out.  Rather these principles are like words in a sentence.  They are carefully chosen so that the sentence as a whole communicates the author’s message.  There are several techniques that lead us to this goal.  And one of them is to ask yourself, ‘’”What am I photographing?”

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Mastering Exposure – Expose to the Right

November 16th, 2013

Over the years there has been a lot of interest in the concept of ‘Expose to the right.’  This is something that is commonly done in digital photography where you intentionally overexpose an image.  The idea is that in digital images there is more information to work with in the brighter tonalities than there is in the darker.  And this will give you more to work with in the darkroom (Lightroom and Photoshop) which will result in a better image.

I’ve written several posts on this topic and if the concept is new to you please read these.  I’m not going to go into the theory here; that is spelled out in these posts.

Lightroom Tutorial – Expose to the Right

Expose to the right – Revisited

Now, I understand the theory.  I’m a computer guy; I had better understand it.  But I’ve always wondered if the promise of a better image actually worked out in real life.  So I did a test during our recent photography workshop to Big Sur.

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Big Sur Photography Workshop – Highlights

November 8th, 2013

We wrapped up the 2014 winter Big Sur photography workshop last night with a spectacular sunset at Point Lobos in Carmel, California.  But hold on.  Before we get to that I want to share with you some of the highlights from this week.

Let’s start with a funky photograph I got at the Santa Rosa Creek estuary way south down in Cambria, California.  I went up to Cambria a couple of days before the workshop started for a little exploring.  It paid off.  I call this one, “Get Your Ducks in a Row.”

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Also that same day I caught a surfer catching a wave.  The surf was definitely up.

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We start the photography workshop Monday in San Simeon at the southern end of the Big Sur coast.  To get it off to a good start we photographed sunset at the southern end of the impressive Big Sur headlands.  And we were treated to some equally impressive light.

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Getting Great Landscape Photographs – Tripods

October 5th, 2013

Like many of us I was passionate about photography when I was in college and for a while afterwards.  Then the effort seriously building a career started consuming all my time and photography got pushed aside.  But I bought a new camera when my daughter was born and that kick started my return to photography.  It wasn’t long after that that I started getting back into landscape photography and I went out to purchase a tripod.  I didn’t have a lot to spend so I picked up one in the $125 range and said ‘Ouch’ when I put it on my credit card.  It was something like this one.

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Every time I wanted to use it I had to screw the camera on to the camera mount.  It wasn’t very tall so I find myself extending the center post all the time and still I had to hunch over to look through the viewfinder.  But it was light weight and I thought all the handles and nobs used to aim and adjust your camera were pretty cool, even if they were a bit awkward.

I got a lot of use out of it – until I set it down at Mt Rushmore, forgot it, and walked off.  When I discovered my mistake we want back to check with the rangers to see if anyone had turned it in.  Of course it was gone.  So we rushed into Rapid City, South Dakota to find a camera store and buy another one for the rest of the trip.  I got the same kind.

It took awhile but it eventually became apparent that a $125 tripod just wasn’t going to do the trick.  It wasn’t very solid and was pretty awkward to use.  So I started reading up on them.  I came across the blog article that explained how you can save $2000 on a tripod by spending $2000 on your first tripod.  That still seemed like a lot of money.  But if that is what it was going to take, ….  So, working from the bottom up I started putting together what I needed.

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