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Photo Journal: Branches of Trees, Hudson River – Capture to Print


“There is always something to photograph; the question is what?”

That’s something I used to tell myself every time I went out into the field with my camera. I believed that if I thought positively about each and every situation, it would help me to see better. After all, vision is as much about what is inside our minds as is  what is outside. And it was helpful to the extent that it made me much more aware of the environment, the light, the details.

But I realized over time that it also created a different problem, one of expectations, or what eastern philosophers call attachment. Because I was starting from the perspective of “wanting” to photograph, it rarely resulted in images that were personal. And personal images are the most important images you can make because they keep you on the only path that matters, your path.

“Branches of Trees” was not an image I was looking for. In fact, I had walked past this spot several times before finally setting up my camera. But from the beginning something had caught my eye even though I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

So I waited and watched.

I didn’t need to make an image to be happy, I was already happy just being there. From the moment I had stepped out of my car and onto the trail, I was grateful. It was a cold but clear morning, and it felt good just to get out and feel the stillness, the silence, the space between each breath. And I was in nature.

“Art will never be able to exist without nature.” – Pierre Bonnard

Sitting by the shore, I watched the surface of the water get brighter as the sun rose higher on the horizon. Clouds appeared and then slowly drifted away, reflecting their ephemeral shapes against the deep blue water. And as I focused on the open spaces in the scene; the sky, the water—I suddenly realized what attracted me, even if I didn’t know whether it would work.

I setup my tripod with an Olympus E-M1 and a 20mm lens at f/8, and framed the jumble of branches in the foreground right in the middle of the composition. I wanted them to anchor the image, because it was the repetition of the branches that lead my eye towards the background and the sky. It’s the patterns within the patterns that held my attention the most, and I think using the negative space of the water and sky helps make it the “story” of the image. I focused slightly in front of the farthest branch (using the water as a guide) and exposed to make sure I didn’t overexpose any of the clouds. 1/100 sec @ISO200.

I made a few exposures, then moved slightly to the left and made a few more, but by then the light had changed, and I didn’t have the same clarity about the image as before. Did I know I had captured a good image? Not really, because I have my doubts about almost every image I make. But I try and remind myself that the experience is more important than the result.



Original RAW file and histogram.


Final edit before converting to black & white

In Lightroom, I started editing the image in color, but converting to black and white brought the image to life for me. Removing the color emphasizes the tones and shapes, and that’s what caused me to pause, to think, and to feel.

There are several themes for me in this image. One is the contrast between the chaotic rhythm of the branches in the foreground and the water behind them. The other is the seeming stillness of the image even with all of the visual activity created by the repeating shapes. There’s a certain tension between those two ideas that I noticed initially, but didn’t really “see” until I decided to slow down, to wait.

The red circle shows the main subject area that “points” to the repeating themes and patterns in the image, highlighted in yellow. The orange lines represent the negative space that slows the eye, and creates the tension I wanted to convey. There are also groups of threes in various places which are helpful in visual design.

The Print

I’ve written before about why I think making prints  adds greater depth and direction to your photography. Because of this I make a print of  any image I think is strong enough to be in my print portfolio.

When you print an image, the papers character becomes part of the photograph, and so you have to have a good idea of what the image is about, what you’re trying to convey, and how specific papers either enhance or weaken your vision for the final print.

I chose Canson Infinity Platine Fiber Rag for it’s rich black density and organic subtle texture that still preserves the high frequency detail found in this image. Separation between the branches and surrounding water is important, as well as all of the textures in the trees, branches, and grasses in the background.

The Lightroom Print module with the image centered on a 13×19 layout.

Here is the image’s native resolution for a 13×19 paper size with 1″ borders.


Because the native resolution of the image is higher than 300ppi (the native resolution of Canon printers) I chose to interpolate to 600ppi and print at Canon’s highest print resolution which os optimized for 600ppi. I explain this in greater detail in my printing workshops and also my Digital Fine Art Printing Book


Printing on the Canon iPF8400.


Final print on Canson Platine Fibre Rag 310, my favorite fiber paper.


Here you can really appreciate the subtle but dimensional texture of Platine and how it helps give the print that extra depth in the smooth areas without being distracting.
Fine detail of the grasses and tree branches is nicely enhanced by the surface of Platine, and printing at the native resolution of the iPF8400 (600ppi) helps as well.

Final Thoughts

I’ve covered a lot in this post, but I wanted to provide you with an overview of my thought process from “capture to print.” It’s not meant to provide a formula for making images and prints, but inspire you to think about your process, and question any assumptions. We all need that in every part of our lives, and I want to share as much as I can as I learn myself.

Many of these ideas may seem a little abstract or non-specific, but it’s the only way I can express a thought process that happens without words, and relies on patience and intuition rather that specific steps.

For me, the camera is a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. Henri Cartier-Bresson

Don’t be afraid of intuition, learn to trust it when it speaks loudly. It’s the only way to develop your vision, whether or not you choose to make a picture.

Don’t look for photographs, let them come to you.

Questions, comments, feedback? Please join the conversation. Thanks for reading!

Cool Ice, Hudson River


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!