Photo Journal: Lower Courthouse Reflection, Utah

Canon 5DS R |  f/14@1/30 sec, ISO 100, 29mm, no filters

I’ve been a bit quiet here on the blog for a few reasons, mainly because of a busy travel schedule. I’m currently in Moab, Utah for the upcoming Arches and Canyonlands workshop, just days after a ten day trip to northern Italy with my family. That was mostly a personal trip but I did manage to capture a few interesting images which I will post soon.

Another reason is simply a lack of time due to several projects I’m working on. But no worries, I am very much committed to the blog and sharing as much as possible in hopes that if helps you in your creative pursuits.

I wanted to share an image I captured a few days ago while hiking in one of the lesser known areas of Arches. It was late in the evening and I didn’t think I would have any opportunities to make the kind of image I had in mind. I didn’t start the hike with a specific image in mind, that’s something that develops as I respond to what I see. In fact I wouldn’t even want to start with a pre-visualization because I think that inhibits your potential connection to what’s actually happening in nature.

Lets not forget, Ansel Adams talked about “visualization,” which means that in real time he formed in his mind a picture of what he saw and felt. That’s a dynamic and fluid situation that keeps you engaged with nature. Where is the light at every instant? How is if affecting the tonality, highlights and shadows, and most importantly your internal dialogue?

So as I thought about where I was and how I felt, I imagined an image that felt cool and dark, yet had something that captured the beauty I saw and the gratitude I had for opportunity to experience it yet again. But it was simply too dark and the contrast too extreme to make an image of the interior of the canyon and the golden light hitting the walls above. That’s when I came across this pool of water and wondered if I might have enough of a reflection to “fill” the foreground with the same warmth and light above.

I got my tripod fairly low to the ground and worked the composition for what seemed like too long of a time considering the light was slowly disappearing as it moved up the canyon walls. As I looked through the viewfinder, I realized it was important to keep the entire reflection of the tall rock intact, and also important to get a sharp silhouette of the trees on the right. I didn’t want to retain shadow detail, I just wanted the shapes because the it’s the blue sky in the reflection that adds the contrast, the “cool” element I mentioned before. It keeps the feeling of being inside of a canyon, which felt cool. Too much detail in the reflection or the canyon background and the image becomes too busy, less clear.

When I first edited the image in Lightroom, I thought I wanted to lighten the foreground, but I found it moved away from the feel I wanted the image to have. So I tried darkening it even further and that made the silhouettes more effective, and the blue color of the sky darker and richer. A little bit of highlight recovery for the brightest part of the sky and I was basically done. I must admit I was tempted to lighten some of the trees and other foreground elements, but every time I did, it moved away from the image I had in mind.

It’s so tempting to repeat the things that have worked in the past, or to follow conventional ways of capturing and processing our images. But as I always tell my students (as a way of reminding myself), use your eyes. Look at the image on your monitor and decide if it resonates with you, never mind what the controls or camera settings are.

There are no formulas, no presets, and no guarantees in creative photography. The only thing you can be confident in is your emotional connection to the subject. Then you try again, and again, and again.

May 2016 Free Desktop Wallpaper – Beigua Natural Park, Italy

The May 2016 Free Desktop Wallpaper is now available for download, apologies for the late posting.

As always, come closer to nature in northern Italy.


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Photo Journal: Branch Colors

I’ve been pushing myself recently to resist my first reaction when I feel motivated to make an image, and instead try to look deeper, and for longer periods of time. Not that this is anything new in general, as I’ve talked about this approach many times before. But it’s so easy to rely on what’s worked in the past, or default to what’s comfortable. And so it’s always a good habit to ask yourself if you’re truly exploring all of the available options.

That was certainly the case on this particular morning when I saw this small pool of water reflecting the blue sky. I liked the gradation of the colors, and the ripples caused by the wind, as well as the branches creating a nice color contrast. But the more I tried to simplify the image (thinking it was too busy) the more I felt something was missing.

That’s when I realized that what I was seeing with my eyes, what attracted me almost subconsciously, was the chaotic energy of the branches—the lines that they created and repeated—to convey an almost rhythmic pattern. And so I took a different visual approach and explored using the branches and the angles they created with the edges of the camera frame to create movement through the image.

And for me that creates the tension between the lines flaring from the bottom corners of the image to the top where they gain more visual weight, and the color gradient getting darker and stronger from top to bottom. Finally, the rocks add some grounding, something out of the reflection that creates perspective, some spacial depth space between the different elements of the image. I tried both vertical and horizontal formats, but as you can see the vertical is much stronger for both the color gradient and nature of the lines.

The red lines and arrow show the repetition and movement of the eye from bottom (or foreground) to top. The green lines show the opposing movement from weaker to stronger color, the gradient. The yellow circles show the brightest areas and the greatest visual weight.

I used my Olympus E-M1 with an Olympus 40-150mm lens to frame the image at 158mm (35mm equivalent). Settings were f/8 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 200, no filters.

Another subtle but important aspect to this image is the movement of the water. A perfect reflection would have made the tress too distinctive, and I quite like the slight blur that the water creates, emphasizing the solidity of the rocks. Too much wind and the lines disappear, making the image too ambiguous.

Many subtle design elements go into making strong compositions, not to mention the most important element of all – does the image convey something of what the photographer felt or intended.

And for me the answer is less interesting that the creative approach we take to make images. That is where you learn the most, when you’re reaching for something that is right at the edge of your ability.

The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

Adam Grant is a best selling author who has written lots of great books, and his latest book “Originals” is one of my favorites even though I haven’t finished it yet. In this TED video, he explains many of the similar traits that history’s greatest “originals” have shared and how we can also learn to be more creative and original.

I had several “lightbulb” moments watching his talk as I thought about how best to apply his findings to my own photography. One that immediately caught my attention was that in order to make great images, you have to make lots of images. You can see this in the work ethic and habits of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, who each were incredibly prolific in their lifetimes. That volume of work is what allowed them to create the incredible masterpieces they did. Watch the video for more insightful ideas.