Cool Ice, Hudson River

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Olympus OM-D E-M1, f/11 @1/20 sec, ISO 200, 20mm, no filters

This is a favorite spot on the Hudson for me because it’s close to home, offers great opportunities, and I never know what to expect when I visit. I’ve avoided it for a few months simply because I’ve been so busy, but I ventured out yesterday to see how much ice remained on the river after the freeze last week. I also wanted to try a new camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 which I’ll be taking with me to France next week instead of my usual DSLR. I paired it with a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens that I like quite a bit.

I’m extremely pleased with the results so far, as I’ve only had the camera body for a few days. I plan to use it with prime lenses only, and work within the limitations as compared to my Canon gear—mainly lower resolution and low light performance. But it’s hard to argue with much better size and weight, fantastic image quality, and better high ISO performance. (I’ll have more to say about the Olympus OM-D E-M1 when I return from my trip since I plan to use it extensively in many different shooting situations, but so far it’s awesome.)

In terms of making this image, the size and shape of the block of ice in the foreground caught my attention immediately. Strong and visually striking with wonderful texture, I felt it would make a very good foreground anchor to the image. So much so in fact that I used f/11 to purposely allow the photograph to go slightly soft in the distant mountains. Detail in that area of the image wasn’t that important to the composition, and in fact I think it strengthens the foreground since the eye always looks for areas of highest detail.

Everything in landscape photography is all about relationships, which is why it’s difficult to make generalizations or follow formulas. What works for one image may not work for another. The way to use this to your advantage is to constantly think about composition in its simplest form – the strongest way of seeing. I’ve repeated this Edward Weston quote countless times here and in workshops, but it continues to ring true the longer I photograph. It’s effective because it’s simple.

Of course applying it is not so simple, especially in nature. Sure there were many, many sheets of ice similar to this one on the shore. But I chose it specifically because it captured the sense of place simply and without distraction or confusion. That should be your goal each and  every time you make an image in nature. Break the scene down to its simplest forms—this usually leads to clarity about the message, meaning, or story. Remember, we’re using a visual language to communicate our ideas and feelings—no small feat.

Studying great painters and paintings is not about making your images look like paintings. It’s about understanding how to use the visual language. Learn from every source, then apply it in your own way. Sure you’ll fail, but that’s progress.

“A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.” – Confucius

Comments or feedback is always appreciated – thanks for reading!

Reader Questions Answered – April 2013

Newfound Gap, Smoky Mountains
Newfound Gap, Smoky Mountains

Every month I do a Q+A session on my Facebook page where I answer questions as quickly as possible about photography and related subjects. I thought it would be a good idea to post the questions and answers here for the benefit of those who missed it over there or aren’t on Facebook regularly. So here we go…

I tried a similar shot from Clingman’s Dome last May and now I am embarrassed after seeing yours. My succession of mountains lacked detail and my sky was quite noisy. Since then I’ve learned a lot but my question is about the noise–should I have used an ND grad and/or reduced my ISO?

It’s hard to say without seeing your image and settings, but in general low ISO’s are better in terms of having less noise and more detail. An ND grad has no effect on noise per say, but has more to do with exposure and maintaining highlight detail. This particular image was shot without a grad, just exposed to avoid clipping the highlights.

Do you use any secondary printing software such as Qimage or Image Print in your printing workflow?

Not anymore since I use Lightroom for most if not all of my printing workflow. The convenience, ease of use, and built in features like templates, selectable profiles, layout options, soft-proofing, and printing directly from RAW files make it the go-to choice for me.

Do you shoot video when you are out taking photographs, and if so, how often? One of the great things I love about Canon is the stunning video as well as stills.

I do shoot lots of video, but not when I’m shooting photos – way too much to deal with in terms of gear and creative approach to do at the same time. I use a combination of a Canon 60D and hacked Panasonic GH2 DSLR for video. Audio is also a problem, so I use a Zoom H4N to capture audio and sync later post.

How do you know how to price your photos? And besides using your printer where else would you recommend to print up your photos?

Pricing prints is a combination of the current market, perception, artist reputation, and cost of materials and labor- there is no easy answer. Here’s nice guide from PhotoShelter on selling and pricing prints.
I recommend White House Custom Colour for printing and have used them in the past with great results.

If you had to travel light and could only bring one Canon lens on a hike to photograph “flora and fauna”, which would you chose and why?

mmm…that’s a tough one, but I’d go with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens. Great image quality, image stabilization, lightweight, fast 2.8 aperture, and great for many subjects besides flowers. A close second would be the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. It has a very close focusing distance and .70 magnification factor, which is the highest for a zoom lens from Canon, has image stabilization (IS), great quality, and a versatile zoom range.

I shoot in RAW, but when I upload my images to an art site that I use for sales I have to convert them to jpeg. Does this damage the photo, and should I just shoot in jpeg since I have to convert them anyway?

Absolutely shoot in RAW – this is your original digital negative. You don’t convert the image to jpeg, you generate a copy that is a jpeg. This is a smaller version and is compressed, but you still have your RAW image as the original to work with. If you shoot in jpeg, your “original” is already compressed and compromised in other ways, so that is not a good option. Always start with the highest quality file, and generate copies from that in whatever form you need.

Lightroom 4 manages this entire process for you, and it’s a major reason why it’s my recommendation for cataloging and processing of your entire raw library. Most of the industry agrees with me as well :)

If you are taking pictures on a windy day, how do you make sure the image is not blurred, example flowering trees?

The key is to maintain a high enough shutter speed to avoid blur (or wait for the subject to stop moving!) Use high ISO’s (800+) and fast (large) apertures of 2.8 or bigger to raise your shutter speed. This is very general and depends on the image itself, but the higher the shutter speed, the less the risk of blur from movement. Aim for 1/250th or higher for flowers and leaves.

I teach beginning nature photography classes and rarely does a beginner have a tripod (which I feel is just as important as the camera/lens). They have usually spent money for the camera/lens and are glazed-eye when I recommend a tripod. Do you have any suggestions for inexpensive tripods ($250 & less) that would be sturdy and efficient? Know anything about Induro or Vanguard? I have always used Manfrotto and am happy with them.

Any suggestions for a lightweight tripod suitable for hiking (I have the Gitzo CF – wonderful and stable with a big lens but much too klunky to cart around in the woods!).

There are so many out there it’s hard to choose just one. I love the Manfrotto 190CXPro3 carbon fiber tripod for a long term investment that will outlast most of your other camera gear.

Yes tripods from Induro are good quality and economic as well. Check out these other great economical tripods (relative to Gitzo) from my friends over at Outdoor Photo Gear who I highly recommend.

Here are some reviews of 3 more carbon tripods that are super lightweight and affordable.

Thanks to all the readers for their great questions! If you have any related questions or feedback, or comments about my responses, please leave them below. I’m always happy to hear from you.

My 10 Days in France with Canson Infinity

Annonay, France  panorama

Annonay, France

I’m finally back from my trip to Annonay France, where I spent 10 days working with Canson at their bi-yearly customer appreciation event. As a Canson ambassador (more info to come), it was a fantastic experience to learn both about the history and heritage of Canson, as well as the French culture itself. To say that I enjoyed wine, cheese, and great food would be an understatement, so I am definitely spoiled now when it comes to a good dining experience.

Customers from around the world were invited to spend a few days at a beautiful resort learning about Canson products, the paper making process, and the history of the company. They were then given tours of the various Canson facilities, including the paper mill, the world wide distribution center, and the museum. It was interesting to learn how paper is made, all of the quality standards that are used, and how how they strive to make the process as green as possible. In the digital paper seminar, I spoke about which papers I use and how I chose them, my printing workflow, and my photography business in general. This gave customers an artist perspective as well as ideas for working with photographers in their own local regions.

Speaking to Canson customers in the digital seminar

Customers came from around the globe, and I really enjoyed meeting them and learning about their culture and way of life.  Represented countries included Norway, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Dubai, Pakistan, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, Korea, and others I may have forgotten. This was truly an eye opener for me as someone who has never traveled abroad.

Conference Center and Golf Course

2 days later...

I was asked to make a portrait of each guest which was then printed and matted (on Canson paper of course), and given as a gift of appreciation. While I do not market myself as a portrait photographer, it is one of my personal passions, so this was a great chance to practice and have fun with the guests. I used a combination of my Canon 60D with a Sigma 30mm f/1.8 lens, and a Panasonic GH2 with the 20mm f/ 1.7 lens. Both lenses are fast and perfect for natural light portraits, so it was just a matter of finding great window light and experimenting. BTW- with the crop sensors in each camera, that works out to 47mm and 40mm respectively, a decent focal length for portrait work.

I also visited Lyon, the largest city in the area, which is rich in history, culture, and architecture. While my time there was limited, I did visit some of the key areas of the city including the largest cathedrals and old neighborhoods which date back hundreds of years.

Rhone River

City Square

St Johns Cathedral

Classic Lyon courtyard

Lyon cityscape

I’ll have more info and photos on the rest of my trip in part II – stay tuned!

 

My First Visit to Europe at Canson Headquarters

Canson booth – PhotoPlus Expo 2011

Tomorrow I am heading to southern France as an invited guest of Canson Infinity for their “Customer Appreciation Days” yearly event. Basically they invite their best customers from around the globe to join them in a week long educational conference where they learn about all of their newest products (mostly fine art papers and canvas’) and how best to use them. As an official evangelist, my role is to talk about why I use Canson papers for my own work, my fine art printing workflow, and my landscape photography in general. I’ll also be taking many photos of the event, and Canson will be using these for promotion and web use.

While I’m taking my full gear bag with me, I’ll be using my Pansonic GH2 with a Lumix 20mm f/1.7 panacake lens for the event photos. I haven’t used this camera much for still photos (using it mostly for video), so this will give me a chance to put the camera to work, and also dive into the new Lightroom 4 beta.

I’m deeply honored for this opportunity, and also really excited about traveling to France for the first time. I’m not sure how much free time I’ll have to shoot some landscapes, but I’ll keep you updated here with photos and updates. I’ll be there for 10 days so hopefully I’ll find time to sneak away into nature!

7 Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

Inspired by a recent post on another blog, I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of the things I have been enjoying in my life over the last few months ( and some for much longer) in hope that it might inspire you in some way or another in your creative endeavors. While this is somewhat off topic of what I normally talk about, mainly the art and craft of landscape photography, it was fun to put together, especially as we come to the end of another great year and think about what waits for us in 2012.

1-Vegan Diet

I’ve written here before about physical conditioning and how it can improve your nature photography. Exercise goes hand in hand with nutrition however, and since June 1 of this year, I have been eating a mostly 95% vegan diet. I say 95% because while I have been a vegetarian for 10 years or so, I still sneak in some animal foods such as cheese and turkey on Thanksgiving. This is not an absolute issue for me, but more of a general guideline about what I eat and don’t eat. But since committing to the vegan diet, which basically means no animal products of any kind, I have definitely noticed some major improvements in how I feel and perform on and off the trail. I have more energy, sleep less and can get up earlier without feeling groggy, and just feel healthier overall than I ever have. It can be a challenge, especially when eating out, but there are plenty of resources online to find good delicious food and get plenty of protein.

Extra: Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet

2-VitaMix Blender

When I committed to a vegan diet, I decided to try having regular green smoothies that would pack a nutritional punch and make eating fruits and veggies much more appealing and palatable. I quickly discovered our run of the mill blender would not be up to the task, so I invested in a Vitamix blender. While not inexpensive, it has been well worth the money. It easily turns whole fruits and veggies into smooth and creamy smoothies that are also delicious. Most days of the week I’ll have the following smoothie for breakfast, then may follow it with another recipe for lunch. I would probably never sit down to eat this on a plate, but as a smoothie I look forward to it every morning.

  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 whole carrot
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 slice yellow pepper
  • 1/2 apple
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 broccoli floret
  • 2 teaspoons hemp protein
  • 1 cup ice

3-Kindle Fire

As many of you know I am a very avid reader, so any device that allows me to read more is definitely valuable to me. While I do have an iPad, I prefer the size and dedicated nature of the Kindle Fire when I just want to read, and not get distracted by other apps, the web, email, games, etc. It is easier to hold and carry, and it integrates seamlessly with all of Amazon’s services, ie. books, music, videos, etc. As an instructor, I am always reading photo related books to stay on top of new technology, as well as learning more about classic concepts that never age. For $199, it is a small price to pay for what I get out of it.

4-Panasonic GH2

I picked this camera up primarily for its video features, and it has not disappointed. I am in the middle of filming several projects (more info soon), and the video quality is fantastic for capturing high detailed scenes such as landscapes and nature in general.

There is also a hack available (which I have installed) , that increases the bit rate from 24mps to upwards of 88mps, and transforms this camera into a serious tool rivaling cameras costing thousands more.

5-Final Cut Pro  X

There has been ongoing debate in the world of video editing about Final Cut Pro X and whether Apple abandoned their existing user base by completely rewriting this application. Leaving that aside, in my opinion this is the best version of Final Cut Pro Apple has ever produced. My favorite features include: easy importing of digital files in several formats, the magnetic timeline, advanced keywording and metadata for managing video footage, and easy sharing to several web services and devices, ie iPad, AppleTV, Youtube, Vimeo, and Blu Ray.

Sure it creates several problems for those with a huge dependency on projects done in FCP 7, but this is the future of video editing for sure. Otherwise, this is a must have application for anyone serious abouy video editing, whether with traditional video cameras, or the latest crop of HDSLR’s. I’ll be offering a course in FCP X in the near future, stay tuned…

6-Landscape Photography Magazine

I discovered this beautifully produced  online magazine several months ago, and it is a refreshing and well produced look at landscape photography today. Short on ads and other advertising, it is packed with great photos, photographer portfolios, and in depth articles on everything from processing, camera technique, locations, and overall inspiration. Plus it looks great on the iPad. The first six issues were free, but now they are charging a very moderate subscription fee of $9.50/yr. I highly recommend it!

Landscape Photography Magazine

7-Yoga

Each time I practice yoga I learn something new about my body and mind. From increased strength, flexibility, and balance, to better concentration, mindfulness, and patience, these are all things I can apply directly to my work behind the camera. And the most incredible thing is it doesn’t really take that much effort. I started with 20 mins a day over 3 years ago, and now I am up to 45min 5 days a week. The important thing is consistency, regardless of how little you do each day. It is cumulative, just like practice is whether working in Lightroom, or with a favorite lens. The more you invest regularly, the more you get out of it.

Extra: The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume I

Bonus: 8-Teaching Workshops

I love to teach, and mostly because of the satisfaction I get from giving to others something that is truly worthwhile to them. Inspiring someone to see something differently, make a new image, experience a special moment in a way that they might not have noticed before. These are the reasons that keep me motivated to share what I have learned in my own journey as a nature photographer. Giving of yourself is one of the greatest gifts imaginable, and it is the basis of how I approach teaching and life in general. While I did not discover this til later in life, I am grateful nonetheless, and proves it is never too late for anything in life.

Extra: Beyond the Lens Photo Workshops

As always, thanks for reading, and I’d love to get your feedback or questions about anything I’ve mentioned above. What are you enjoying that is making a difference in your life or your photography?