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From Capture to Print Masterclass-Free Webinar Series

I’m happy to announce a new series of free webinars that I will be offering over the next few months. My goal is to share creative inspiration and practical recourses to help you continue to grow as a photographer.

Based on feedback I’ve received from students, blog readers, and newsletter subscribers, I’m going to address the most common challenges that come up over and over again. It’s no surprise that composition, creative inspiration, and originality are at the top of the list.

The first webinar, “From Capture to Print, The Making of a Landscape Photograph,”  will be held on Tuesday May 23rd, at 2pm EST. There will be a recording available for registered subscribers only. To learn more and reserve your spot, visit the webinar registration page here!

Hope you can join us!

New Dates for the Fine Art Printing Masterclass

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For those of you who are not subscribed to my Beyond the Lens newsletter, I wanted to announce that I’ve added a few more dates to the highly popular Fine Art Printing Masterclass. It’s an intensive 2-day workshop where I cover all you need to to know get started in printing your own work.

I’ve written at length about why I think making your own prints is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a photographer, and in this masterclass I thoroughly explain how and why. For example many people choose papers based on the general look they think they like for their images, but this overlooks one of the most important characteristics of paper:  how a papers surface and texture changes the perception of an image.

Quiet, aggressive, subdued, nuanced, painterly, photographic, literal or poetic – these are all aesthetic and perceptual qualities that the right paper can add to a photograph and to your personal vision for a print. When you factor in a world class fine art paper from Canson Infinity, the creative possibilities become much more personal and meaningful.

I cover all of this in detail and more in the workshop – if you’re interested, here are the remaining dates for 2016:

  • August 27th-28th
  • October 29th-30th
  • December 4th-5th
Register Here

 

Also read more than 25 in-depth reviews from students – many, many thanks to those who have taken the time to leave their feedback, I am extremely grateful.


Lakies Head, Nova Scotia printed on Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag paper.

Five Landscape Paintings to Study as a Landscape Photographer

There are lots of wonderful landscape photographers that have inspired me throughout my career. Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, David Muench, Galen Rowel – all iconic names that each and every aspiring nature photographer should become intimately familiar with. Their images continue to influence me to see and think about nature and the world around us. Whether through imitation or inspiration, studying their work is always time well spent.

But the study of other art forms, specifically painting, can also provide a much-needed change of perspective for many photographers. Painting provides a tremendous wealth of insight if you’re willing to take some time to look carefully.

Why Study Painting?

We can learn a great deal from painters and their incredible ability to create what we as landscape photographers strive to capture in nature. Although the subject matter may be similar, the way they create their work is fundamentally different. Painters start with a blank canvas and work towards complexity, whereas photographers work in reverse, eliminating and simplifying a scene to its essence.

These are two very different ways of arriving at a compelling picture, but both seek the same outcome; conveying an emotion to the viewer. They are also similar in that both require an understanding of the visual language to be effective. I can tell you that my photography has improved tremendously ever since I started to invest significant time in the study of my favorite landscape painters. Their use of light, shadow, contrast, and storytelling is a lifelong study that will always yield new ideas and insights.

I’ve chosen five paintings that I think are great examples of true masterpieces, and hopefully they inspire you to look at and appreciate this visual art form that is so similar to our pursuits as photographers. It’s no coincidence that most are from the Hudson River School of Painters, some of the finest landscape painters that have ever lived. What can I say, I’m biased since they worked in many of the locations I regularly visit to photograph.

Five Paintings To Study

A Gorge in the Mountains - Sanford Robinson Gifford - 1862

A Gorge in the MountainsSanford Robinson Gifford – 1862
This breaks all the “rules” of composition, yet looks and feels beautifully balanced and lyrical. Space is used to emphasize the edges and also allow the warmth of the sun to convey meaning.

In The Blue Mountains, Jamaica - Frederic Edwin Church (1865)

In The Blue Mountains, JamaicaFrederic Edwin Church (1865)
Shapes and lines dominate this composition, creating a wonderful rhythm that adds lots of depth and space to the landscape. Notice the use of diagonals – even the foreground tree bends to create a graceful gesture.

Forest In Morning Light - Asher B Durand, 1855

Forest In Morning LightAsher B Durand, 1855
Durand was masterful with forest scenes that often as so difficult to photograph successfully. But rather than remove chaos, he demonstrates how to carefully use lines and repetition together with light and shadow.

El Capitan, Yosemite - Albert Bierstadt - 1875

El Capitan, YosemiteAlbert Bierstadt – 1875
Wonderful lines, repetition, rhythm, texture – this painting has it all and yet it’s the light that creates the depth and divides the image diagonally. Notice that all the corners are used to make the composition as strong as possible.

Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye - Sidney Richard Percy, 1874

Loch Coruisk, Isle of SkyeSidney Richard Percy, 1874
Another great example of repeating strong lines and repeating shapes to lead the viewer through the image.

Going Further

Of course, this is not an absolute list, but merely my suggestions to get you started. Most importantly, visit museums, read art books in your local library, and take advantage of the internet to discover and learn about painters that inspire you. If you have an iPad, “Art Authority” is a must buy app, a true gold mine for learning about paintings throughout history. Also check out The Athenaeum, a free website that is cataloging the worlds paintings.

The best part is that regardless of whether you shoot landscapes, wildlife, portraits, or weddings, there is a wealth to learn from painters. Take advantage of it, and take time off from Flickr and other photo sharing sites – I promise it will be worth it.

I also lead a unique workshop in the Hudson Valley where we study the painters of the Hudson River School and use their approach to photograph and interpret the landscape in a contemporary way.

Explore your vision Visit this  page to find out more about the upcoming  workshop in September, 2015. 

Any ideas or suggestions for paintings? Do you have any comments, questions, or feedback? Need more suggestions? Let me know…I’m always happy to help.

Observations On The Making of Images

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I’ve just returned from the Great Smoky Mountains where I had the privilege of leading a 5-day workshop. It was a great learning experience for all, and we enjoyed great camaraderie and a shared passion for nature and the art of photography.

I’ve been noticing some trends over the past year or two that were very evident to me last week and thought would be worth sharing and exploring further.

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The Mirrorless Age

The first is the transition from conventional DSLRs to mirrorless cameras. On this particular workshop, half of the students were using mirrorless exclusively, and another student decided to make the switch as soon as the workshop was over. Size and weight savings for equal image quality were mentioned as being the primary reasons for making the switch. Based on my experience teaching printing workshops, most photographers who print their work are using either a 13” or 17” printer, so resolution is not an issue with a 16 or 18 MP sensor. And I’ve comfortably made 20” x 30” prints from my Olympus E-M1.

One student carried five prime lenses plus a body in a shoulder bag that weighed less than my Canon 70-200mm L lens. It’s hard to argue against that when your primary reason for photographing is having fun – even at the extremely serious or semi-pro level. And as a user of various mirrorless cameras myself, I can attest to the amazing image quality they can produce given proper camera technique and good lenses.

I was asked several times when and how I decide to use one format over another, and it really depends on my goals for whatever project I’m working on, NOT how much image quality I want or need. Do I need to generate large prints from the images? Am I hiking 4 or 5 miles to a location? Do I have access to batteries and/or electricity for chargers? Any combination of these answers will determine which is the best format for me to use, not how I want to be perceived. Yes I am a full time professional, but that doesn’t imply anything in terms of the tools I use, nor should it in my opinion.

My goal as a working fine art photographer is to make the best images possible that fulfill my vision. The format and gear I use helps me achieve that, not the other way around. In fact, I’m considering purchasing a large format film camera specifically for the ability to make very large prints in addition to the creative approach a camera like that demands. But I won’t be selling any of my digital cameras soon. That’s a decision driven by my creative goals, not commercial or public perceptions. But I also like to have fun.

Bottom line – use what works best for you, what delivers the most enjoyment from your creative pursuits with a camera, and forget all the rest. Forget the naysayers, the critics, the magazines, and the marketing pundits who suggest you need a particular “something” to be a “serious” photographer, or worst “compete” against others.

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Making vs. Editing

The second trend I’ve been noticing is the obsession with over-analyzing every image made on the cameras LCD, and letting that guide the creative process. Every good writer will tell you that writing and editing are two completely different activities and require separate “hats” so to speak. When writing, the idea is to get the words onto the paper or screen, letting the creative process guide each sentence to the next. We often hear of writers, composers, poets, and painters just letting the ideas flow out uninterrupted, and before they know it, they have more material than they expected. That happens because it starts you down a path that leads to more insights and ideas.

When the writing stops, then and only then, does the editing hat go on, and you remove what doesn’t work, or rewrite from the original ideas. The creating is separated from the editing, providing the important space and freedom to experiment without the constant judging and criticism.

The same process should be used in photography, and, in fact, was the norm before digital cameras allowed us to see every image shot instantly on the beautiful, bright LCDs. As I remind my students often, the LCD should be used to check composition and get a sense of the creative direction you’re heading in. Don’t use it to make critical judgements about color, contrast, or even exposure. That’s what your eyes and the histogram is for. And don’t let it interrupt your vision. The more you keep your eyes on your surroundings, the more aware you become of changing light, mood, and your emotions. That can’t happen if you’re constantly engaged with the LCD trying to decide if the picture works. It interrupts the flow of seeing.

I suggest watching and waiting until you feel inspired by anything, then make an image or two and see where that leads. Make small adjustments, refine the composition, and try again. Keep your eyes on the subject, which increases your awareness to its form, its “gesture”, as Jay Maisel likes to say.

“What you’re shooting at doesn’t matter, the real question is: ‘Does it give you joy?’” – Jay Maisel

The camera has nothing to offer beyond a digital recording of the scene in front of the lens. You are the most important factor – the ingredient that makes the real difference and creates the magic that others potentially see in your pictures. That comes from letting the creative process happen uninterrupted, without criticism or judgement. When you’re in the field, let nature make as big an impact as possible. That’s hard to do when your attention is focused on your LCD.

Once you’re back home, away from the external stimulus of nature, then you can put on the editing hat and critique away. That’s how you learn both parts of successful photography – the creating and the editing. See what worked, and what didn’t, make notes, then go out and try again. If you have an approach that differs, and it works well for you, then great. If not, I suggest you give this a try – you may be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks once again to all the students who attended and help me keep doing what I love.

Video Tutorial: Mounting Prints Onto Gatorfoam Board

Have you ever wanted to display your prints in a modern and professional looking way without incurring the cost of traditional framing? How about avoid glass and all of the problems it causes with glare and reflection? And best of all do it yourself at home? I certainly have, and the solution I’ve been using for a few years is Gatorfoam board.

Gatorboard, as it’s commonly called, is similar to foam core, but is much stiffer and stronger which is important to avoid warping over time. It’s also available in black which is ideal for a modern and clean look. I buy a version that has a self-adhesive side in place and avoids using sloppy sprays and other adhesives.

Mounting prints onto gatorboard creates a very clean and modern look without glass, and lets the viewer really appreciate the photograph and paper at the same time. It’s also relatively inexpensive (at least compared to traditional matting and framing) and can de done by anyone at home with basic tools. Foamboardsource sells photographer sizes, and a sheet of 3/16“ thick –13” x 19″ is about $10.

Now to be clear this is not an archival mounting process, since the print is permanently glued to the gatorboard. I’m ok with that because the goal, at least for me, is not to sell these prints, but rather to have a way to show my work without the high cost of framing and avoid the use of glass. This works great in places like coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, and other spaces that may want to have your work displayed. It gives the photograph lots of impact and avoids all the problems that glass creates such as glare and reflection. And there’s always the option of spraying the prints for extra protection from UV if you need it.

If during an exhibition someone wants to buy a print, I’ll take an order and make a print specifically for that customer. I don’t mount my prints on gatorboard for galleries and traditional fine art exhibitions because customers generally want to buy on the spot. But for informal or relaxed environments, this has been a great way for me to share my work – and people love the presentation. When I use a beautiful paper like Canson Platine Fiber Rag, this type of presentation really conveys the quality of the print as a whole without any barriers for the viewer. As a photographer and printer maker, I really love that.

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This is also the way Canson Infinity mounts the prints in their booth for trade shows.

I’ve gotten lots of requests to show how to mount this way, so I made this video in my studio to show you exactly how to do it and what materials you’ll need. With a little practice, you can do this at home for any size print. In the video, I make a print that is 24“ x 36” and is part of an exhibition I have ongoing during the holidays at a local coffee shop. I’ll share more details about the exhibition soon. (BTW- I cover all of this and more in my Fine Art Printing Workshop.)

Here’s the materials list:

I hope you enjoyed the video and it was helpful. Any questions or comments? Please leave them below!

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