Tips!

Introduction

There are hundreds of tips and tricks photography books out there. They can be helpful. However they usually deal in generalities. I’ve written this book in the first person as a direct way to convey my approach to photography.

This entry is my personal story about the creation of 40 specific images which inspired strong emotional reactions in millions of viewers. Keep these images in your mind as you go shooting and you’ll intuitively know when the moment is right!

High quality photography is the result of hundreds or even thousands of hours of hard work and practice. In any profession, a popular estimate is that it takes 10,000 hours to reach a high level of proficiency. Even Mozart, who was a child prodigy, didn’t write his best works until after his 21st birthday. It’s estimated that he worked for 10,000 hours to attain his highest level.

You may not have a desire to be the Mozart of photography. However, the importance of practice and dedicated effort can never be underestimated. Don’t feel like you have to become a professional to be good. Just get out there and enjoy yourself. Then, every hour you spend won’t feel like work at all. That’s the goal of any endeavor.

How to Capture the Photo

Every good photographer gets asked to divulge secrets. Especially by people who are just learning photography. There is no secret formula. However there are a few methods I follow which are rather unusual!

I’ve been photographing the landscape since 2006, so I’ve only used digital cameras. I’ve had no formal training in photography beyond thousands of hours of hard work, and reading every single book I could find on all aspects of photography. You can become an excellent photographer by learning all you can and applying that knowledge in your photographic practice. I’m also a computer programmer, so I’ve learned how to figure things out on my own. I hand-coded my own website and learned several programming languages to do it. The techniques I’ve developed are based purely on personal experimentation, and thousands of hours of practice. I’m sure that many experts would excommunicate me from their Church of Proper Photographic Techniques if they saw what I do. However, it works for me and that’s what counts. You need to find out what works for you.

It’s best to develop your own technique based on what you learn experimentally via lots of practice. This is very important. Don’t rely on articles that begin with 10 tips to, or anything that refers to easy steps! Find out for yourself, with the assistance of some foundational knowledge about how to operate your camera, and properly expose an image. There are hundreds of books on those topics.

 

First off:

 

Art is the merging of technology and emotion. When you see a work of art that stirs your soul, an application of technology delivered that feeling to you. A sculptor used chisels forged in a furnace. A painter used rare minerals mixed with oil, on cloth produced on machines. Photographers use mechanical devices to produce their works. It’s all about delivering emotions via technology.

Even though you wish to create art which will provoke an emotional response in you and your viewers, proceed as though you’re a scientist so you can accurately capture the emotion you feel. Many scientists begin their education in the lab, learning proper methods, procedures, equations and the like. What they’re actually learning are the methods of effective discovery. Scientists learn about the world via experimentation and statistically significant proof. Photographers can do the same thing. The big difference is you’re discovering what works for you and your vision of your art, while a scientist discovers what works in the universe. Only you know what works for you in your universe, yet you can still use the scientific method to discover your artistic self.

 

Image capture:

 

I like to get close to the violent Pacific Ocean to capture as much emotion as possible. I want people to feel as I did in the moment of capture. I’ve developed techniques for capture which are very simple and fast, out of necessity. I’m sure many photographers do some of the following things, but it doesn’t sound very professional. To put it simply, I do the following, (in all-manual mode shooting RAW, not jpg!)

1. Get to the location early. Stand there without your camera for quite a while. Take it all in.

It’s important to soak in the mood and feel of the place that you are about to photograph. Allow yourself time to experience emotion. The stronger the emotion, the better your photo will be. If you don’t experience emotion, you can’t convey a feeling to your viewer. The longer you stand there in an open state of mind, the better your image will be. It’s like meditation in a way. This reduces the amount of time you spend explaining your photos to your viewers because they’ll ‘get it.’

2. Decide which elements emotionally strike you the most, and visualize them in the image.

I usually compose the image in my mind before I actually move the camera into position. I watch the waves and other elements and imagine how to best capture them. I walk up and down the beach, noticing where the waves break best and where the sand and rocks are most interesting. I watch the sky. For me, it’s best to do this without the camera to hold me back, so I keep it in the backpack. However, do what you feel is best for you.

3. At a beach, stand on the shoreline and hand hold the camera with it on the tripod. At other places, stand at the place you think is best.

Once I have a good idea of how I wish to compose the image, I ask myself how wide I want my view to be. Too wide, and there may be distracting things at the edges, too narrow and you may not convey the mood of the moment. Ask yourself if the light is good enough to get a short enough exposure to show the proper amount of movement, or do I have to compromise in some way? Sometimes I have ideas which simply won’t work. Sometimes conditions change too quickly to capture it. Be ready for anything. Keep an open mind. Sometimes you need to change plans or even locations at the last minute. Some of my best images were made because I gave up on an original idea and searched for a new one.

4. Adjust the neutral density soft edge graduated filters so that the light is even from top to bottom.

Do this while looking at the image in the viewfinder. You want to get it right in the camera. You don’t want to spend time in Photoshop!

Contrary to what some people say, unless you wish to use HDR, ND grad filters are absolutely required most of the time when shooting landscapes with dramatic light. The dynamic range is usually too great unless you’re shooting away from the sun. Even though you can darken the sky manually in Photoshop with no graduated filters, the result is usually ugly or at least difficult to process. Why make more work for yourself? Just get the grad filters. They’re expensive but worth it. Usually a 0.6 and a 0.9 (or often two 0.9’s stacked in a three filter holder) will do the job. Ask yourself, “Can I get an evenly lit exposure throughout the entire frame with no grads?” I usually use both grads at once. I use Lee filters, but try out a friend’s filters if possible. Many types give you a strange color cast. If you use HDR, learn and practice before going out.

5. Decide how fast you want the shutter speed to be, and adjust the speed.

This is when I decide how much movement I want in the photograph. Usually at the beach on a day with average surf, a 1/8 to 1/4-second exposure shows some movement without it getting chaotic and messy. Similar rules apply with waterfalls and rivers. Even cloud movement is affected with exposure times greater than 5 seconds. Often when shooting waves, a 1/2-second or greater exposure shows the same bits of water moving around in different directions resulting in a messy blob of white cotton. However, experiment with your settings to see what’s best. Only with experience will you learn. Sometimes if the water is flowing smoothly, a 1-second exposure can work. After enough experimentation, you’ll get the hang of what works best. There are billions of different situations, so the best way to learn is via practice. No book of tips can teach you this.

6. Adjust the aperture to get the exposure needle right in the middle for the whole image.

I usually don’t have time to get a precise light reading or even think about something like a zone-system. The wave is about to strike, or the light is about to change. Fortunately, a digital exposure is nearly free so go for it! Then you can check all aspects of the image, including exposure, sharpness and composition. A photo with the resulting histogram is the best light reading you can have!

7. Go to the edge of the water line, plant the tripod in a planned place, take a shot and run.

If you’re properly prepared and have composed the image ahead of time, you can get in there, plant the tripod, shoot and run in those few seconds in between wave impacts. You need a shutter release. A two second delay will not allow you to precisely time the wave. I usually have shorts and no shoes on. I know I’ll get wet because with a wide angle view, you must get in close to show action and drama. It’s surprising how many shots turn out really well if you risk it. In a wide-angle image, everything appears far away, so you need to get in close. If you like the scene and you want a good rendition of it, you may have to do five, ten or even more variations. Then you can decide which is best back home. This gets you a lot of physical exercise, which is good! Standing up on the cliff or taking the easy route along a river often yields average views and doesn’t convey emotion.

Timing is everything, so watch the waves (or whatever is dynamic) for a while so you can capture it at the most dramatic moment. Watch for repetitions of patterns in the order of events. Even then, you may need 10 tries! Don’t settle for the first few even if you like them. It’s amazing how randomness can make shot #10 be the best. If I had a policy of only taking 3 photos of a composition, I’d probably have just half of the good images I have today!

If you use a very wide angle of less than 20mm on a 35mm sensor, you must get very close to the foreground. Therefore, always find interesting and substantial foreground to anchor your photo. That’s how a viewer can be transported to your location!

8. Look at the back of the camera to see what you got and magnify it to 100%.

First, closely examine the overall picture to see detail in all areas. Then, zoom in to see if it’s sharp from foreground to background. Take a moment here and concentrate. You don’t want to return home thinking you made the shot of a lifetime only to find out that the foreground is out of focus, or a footprint is in the sand! On the widest angle photos, focus to near infinity. Everything from 3ft-infinity is razor sharp on my Canon 17-40L lens with the aperture between F11 and F16. F20 and above can make everything soft, so avoid it! Experiment in front of your home with focal sharpness so that you’re prepared in the field! Don’t rely on focal charts or advice, even from this book. Find out for yourself what works with your gear. Excommunication from the ‘Church of Proper Hyperfocal Distance’ will probably be your fate, but try it out! (Hyperfocal distance is a theoretical point where you can focus about 1/3 of the way into an image and everything will be in focus.) Preparing ahead of time simplifies things dramatically on super-wide shots, and you can still insist on everything being sharp. There is no time to mess around with focus when a 12-footer is bearing down on you, or that beam of light is about to fade away. So, focus manually ahead of time. When you zoom in, you must be more careful with hyperfocal distance, so experiment with all focal lengths ahead of time.

9. Look at the histogram.

We’re working with digital files and there are differences versus film. (Experienced digital photographers know the following information, but I’ll go over it anyway.) With film, you needed to get the most perfect exposure possible on the film. Sometimes you needed to underexpose in order to get the rich, saturated color of a sunset with detail. Some of this advice is still given, but we’re in the digital age now. If you still use film, this might not apply to you. A RAW digital file is really just a data file. So, the most important thing is to capture as much data as possible. That means getting as close to overexposing the image as possible. That’s because each pixel contains a value from 0/255-255/255. Zero is dark and 255 is pure white. Rather than trying to get as many pixels as possible to be around 128, try to get them closer to 180 or more. For example, let’s say you have a properly exposed picture where the dark areas are 5, the average is 128 and the bright areas are 220. Most of the picture looks good, but the dark areas (the 5’s) are really dark even though you can see detail in the dark areas with your own eyes.

The camera can’t capture the dynamic range of brightness that your eyes can, so you need a little help from the data file! What I do is make a picture that is as bright as I can get it without the white areas becoming blown out and overexposed. Even if it looks a little too bright in the back of the camera, the dark areas will have the detail I need when I process the shot. So now, you may have the darkest areas at 20 and the brightest at 240. Just don’t let the bright areas get too close to 255 or you will lose detail! In other words, don’t let the histogram touch the right side. Again, experiment for yourself. Do that when there is no pressure. Go to a park where you can take your time. It’s the only way to know for sure.

In the histogram, which is a graph displaying how many pixels are of what brightness, the idea is to push the peak of the graph as far to the right as possible without the right side of the graph going over the edge on the right. That would be overexposed. Just push it as much as you can.

I’ll go into processing below, but the main point is to experiment and get as much data into your picture file as possible. Then you have more leeway when processing. You also get more leeway by shooting in RAW mode compared to a jpg mode. This is very important because there is more data in a RAW file than a jpg file. Also, a jpg file is compressed even at a 12 setting. Each time you save a jpg file, a little bit of detail is lost, so avoid jpgs except as final output.

10. Adjust the exposure if necessary and shoot again until it looks good.

Yes, just keep trying until you are satisfied. Don’t be afraid to take chances and push the limits. After a while, you’ll develop intuition to help guide you in challenging situations.

 

That’s it! After doing this for a while, it’s really just four steps. Set it up, take a shot, make adjustments and shoot again. Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be. The important thing is to develop your own way of getting the most data you can in every image.

 

Light = Data!

 

To review, a digital file from a camera, especially a RAW file, is really a data file. Try to get as much data as you can into your file. The more light you capture, the more data you have. This often means slightly overexposing the image while making sure that no areas become overexposed. Often you end up with a picture in the back of the camera that looks a bit overexposed and sometimes downright ugly! However, that’s fine because when you darken the the bright areas of the image in Photoshop or your image editor of choice, colors and details are there, and often can look as good as it did to your own eyes without having to crank up the color saturation slider. And that’s the objective, because saturating an image loses detail. Get a feel for this and all other aspects of photography. Learn the limits.

It’s easier to darken a bright image than to brighten a dark image. Let’s say you have a dark area of the image with pixel values from 2/255 – 4/255 (where 0/255 is black and 255/255 is white.) Values of 2 or 4 are very dark. If you have a value of 2 and you wish to brighten it up, the next value is 3. On a percentage basis, going from 2 to 3 is a 50% increase in brightness.

There is no middle ground between 2 and 3, or the resulting 20 and 30 if you brighten it ten times over! So, when you have dark regions and you try to brighten them, you end up with ugly blotchy patches of noise and you lose detail. Now, if you have dark areas with values in the camera around 20 for example and you wish to brighten them a bit, you can go from 20 to 21. That’s only a 5% increase. So there is a smoother path for brightening vs. from 2 to 3 which is a 50% increase. Big percentage changes between pixels mean lots of noise in an image. What’s important is not whether you know the numbers, but rather that you know to get as much light (and therefore data) into your image as possible. The camera can’t capture all the dynamic range of light values that you can see with your eyes, so get as much as you can in the camera.

Another advantage of slightly overexposing an image is that you don’t have to saturate it in post-processing to get back the color you saw with your own eyes. Often times, the color in a ‘properly’ exposed image looks flat in the back of the camera compared to what you see before you. Then you get home and try to bring back the color and you get lots of ugly noise. That’s because there isn’t enough data to recreate the scene you just photographed. When you have a lot of data, you can darken the picture by adjusting the levels. Darkening via levels, brings back the color without increasing the noise. Then it looks more accurate and natural compared to what you originally saw. I spend a LOT of time getting into a place with dramatic light, so I want to make sure that I can bring it home with me.

You don’t need to be a Photoshop guru to create world class images.

Remember, no amount of playing around in Photoshop will make up for the glaring bright light of the majority of most days. You need good light at the best time of day. That light often lasts for a few minutes at best. And it’s not necessarily best right at sunset. Sometimes the deep red of a dramatic sunset provides poor lighting for the entire landscape underneath it. Sometimes 15-30 minutes before sunset (with partially cloudy skies) is the best time to get a warmly lit sky and evenly lit landscape at the same time. It’s important to capture the landscape well lit. It’s not all about the sunset!

An essential tool for landscape photography are neutral density (ND) graduated filters as I mentioned above. The sky is usually very bright compared to the land. Even though your eye can adjust to the dynamic range of bright and dark areas, the camera can’t record it. (My apologies to those who use them all the time. You know this already.) You place the darker half of the filter over the brightest areas of the scene before you. Slide them up and down in the filter holder until the light looks even. Take a test shot or two. Be meticulous. Don’t skip quickly by this step or the image may not be salvageable. A long discussion of ND grads is beyond the scope of this book, so read up on them if you are unfamiliar. Sometimes people think that ND grads are not necessary because they can go into Photoshop and darken the sky. Usually this doesn’t work very well because the sky pixels will be so close to 255 that darkening them does nothing at all and it can get really ugly! Darkening near 255 works just as poorly as brightening near 0, though not as dramatically.

The proper use of ND grad filters (sometimes called GND filters) allows you to get the maximum amount of data possible into your picture’s data file (in the darker areas) so you can more easily process it when you get home. Lee filters are a good choice for natural colors. It’s best to be photographing and not spending much time adjusting images. It’s best to spend time being there when the light is good. Taking an extra hour to get the best shot can save an hour in Photoshop. Where would you rather spend that hour, in nature or in front of your computer processing a picture?

Sometimes, HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing can take the place of ND grad filters. Especially in cities or canyons with jagged horizons. In HDR photography, you take several pictures ranging from severely underexposed to severely overexposed and the HDR software averages them out to make a composite which can look realistic if processed subtly. Sometimes people push HDR processing to make a dramatic and surreal image. Careful HDR processing can look very artistic, but for this book, I’m focusing on making natural and artistic landscapes from a single RAW file exposure.

Processing Photos

When I get back to my computer to process my photos, I want to recreate the feeling I had when I first saw the scene with my own eyes. For me, that’s the essence of landscape photography as art. I want to see it again, and feel it again. If I can create a TIFF file which brings me back to that place whenever I wish, that’s art for me. Sometimes it may not be art for other people, but that’s okay. Not everyone will relate to every picture. So rather than worry about whether others will like it, I try to make sure that I like it. And hopefully others will too.

When I review the photos, I use Capture One RAW processing software by Phase One. There are many other RAW processing programs which do a fine job. When I browse through them, I end up liking about 10% of the photos I made. I don’t take many shots on a single sunrise or sunset outing. On average I take about 20-30 exposures and like 2 or 3. I try to be a ruthless editor, but I don’t delete any for a few days. I may have a change of heart! Even though I try really hard to make every exposure a fine work of art, most simply don’t turn out. The exposure and focus are usually fine, but somehow that feeling of being there is just not there. The process of review is rarely what I expect. Sometimes I think I captured some amazing images and I might even show them around in order to do a bit of chimping (going ooh ooh oooh, aah aah aaah.) Then, I look at them later and silently say, “What was I thinking? This is flat and boring!” Sometimes I almost delete photos that later I like a lot. In short when you’re reviewing your photos, don’t believe everything you think!

If I have 2 nice images from one outing that I enjoy seeing again and again, I’m happy. Often I’ll wait a day or two before processing them in order to see if I still like them the next day. Before making my final decisions, I look at the ones I rejected to see if I like them now.

Processing photos is a 5-step procedure for me. Some photographers have similar methods. You might have other methods that work for you. Feel free to incorporate these techniques into your repertoire where they are useful.

Step One: Convert RAW files to TIFF’s. Make basic adjustments to entire image.

Step Two: Edit TIFF file in Photoshop or other editor. Adjust brightness for even exposure.

Step Three: Adjust color in the TIFF file to look natural.

Step Four: Sharpen very carefully. Make this the very last step for the TIFF file.

Step Five: Create JPG files for the web, etc. Resharpening is required when resizing.

 

Processing, Step One – Convert RAW Files

My first step in processing is to take the RAW data file from the camera and convert it into a 16-bit TIFF file which can be further adjusted in Photoshop (or your favorite photo editor) if necessary. I believe that most professionals process small groups of landscape photos in this way. If you have large groups of files, there are programs such as Lightroom, which are more efficient for handling hundreds or thousands of photos at a time. However, I make few photos and take my time processing them.

There are two basic types of TIFF files, 8-bit and 16-bit. The 16-bit files are about twice the size of the 8-bit files. Each pixel contains twice the information. The biggest difference is that the 16-bit file contains more gradual steps between colors. So as one color changes to another, it’s a little smoother. I find it difficult to tell the difference between an 8-bit print and a 16-bit print. However, during processing, 16-bit files allow you to make changes that look smoother and more natural. Also, there seems to be a little extra data in the darkest areas of a 16-bit photo and it is easier to brighten them up a bit. The important thing is that most professionals use a 16-bit file even though they’re twice the size. These days, storage space is inexpensive.

I use Capture One for my processing program. It’s made by a company called Phase One. Phase One also makes those medium-format digital cameras with well over 100 megapixels on a very large sensor. Capture One is expensive, but it’s easy to use and has some powerful features like ‘dynamic range sliders’ which adjust contrast in a natural way so that you get more dynamic range without having to use HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing. It doesn’t substitute for true HDR though, because you need to take several exposures to get the large amount of dynamic range for those extreme situations. However, for my use a little bit of extra dynamic range helps because I avoid those extremely contrasty situations when I shoot. I often point the camera 90 degrees away from the bright sun for example, towards more evenly distributed light.

Though I use Capture One, many RAW editors these days contain similar features, so don’t be concerned if you use another RAW processing program. Most can make a top quality TIFF file, no problem.

When I open the RAW file, I begin processing by making brightness adjustments. RAW file editors make changes to the entire image. You have to get it into Photoshop or your editor before you can make changes to parts of the image. I want the image to be bright but with very few if any over-bright spots (‘blown out’ spots.) Therefore, I want the highest pixel brightness values below 240 out of a possible 255, which is pure white. Then I adjust the levels to increase contrast a bit. I rarely use the curves adjustment. Each RAW editor has a different way of making contrast adjustments so you’ll have to experiment. My suggestion is that if you start with a very bright RAW image in the camera, you can get back all the color you saw by adjusting the levels without cranking up the color saturation. Of course, if the color was never there, you cannot get color in this way.

I do everything I can to avoid saturating an image because that introduces noise and when you have noise, you have less detail and resolution. If you saw the color with your eyes, it should be in the RAW file. But initially the image may look relatively colorless on your computer screen. That’s why I shoot the photo as bright as possible and tune it using the levels adjustment.

After I make basic brightness and contrast adjustments, I might adjust the temperature. This is measured in degrees, usually from 4,000-10,000. 4,000 is a cool blue and 10,000 has lots of reds and yellows. If you shoot in RAW, you don’t have to set your temperature as you shoot because you can set it in the RAW file. Often, the camera will set up a default like 6,400 for example as a starting point but you can adjust it up or down. If my image appears too blue, I’ll ‘warm’ it up a bit in the RAW editor. Don’t warm it up too much or you’ll make the entire picture look ‘cooked!’ Usually up or down a few hundred degrees is enough.

If after I’ve made all these adjustments, the color is still a little flat, I’ll saturate it just a bit. Too much saturation will make it ugly as I mentioned above! Just a few percent is enough. And sometimes I’ll even desaturate if the natural colors are too intense such as during a dramatic red sunset. Too much color results in red featureless blobs in the sky.

Once the RAW file looks good, save it as a 16-bit TIFF file. Then open it in Photoshop or your preferred editor. If it doesn’t look good, go back into your RAW editor, make adjustments and create another TIFF file. If you get it right in this first step, all the other steps will be easier! So take your time.

 

Processing, Step Two: Edit TIFF file

 

Here’s an important thing, I make brightness adjustments to each area of a photo. Rather than dodging and burning, I select each area of a photo, feather the selection to perhaps 20-100 pixels, and brighten or darken the area. When I brighten dark areas and darken bright areas, the photo looks more realistic because our eye sees more dynamic range than our cameras, so we must adjust for that and help the camera see what we see. Be careful not to overdo this technique or it will look like a bad HDR photo!

When I’m ready to process the TIFF image, I look at it in Photoshop and compare it to my own memory and sometimes to the back of the camera. It seems as though every picture must be adjusted in some way because the camera cannot capture the range of light and color that our eyes see. That’s true even though I use neutral density graduated filters to balance out the light in the sky with the light on the land. Often times the brightest areas are too bright while the darkest areas are too dark, even though with my eyes I could see detail in all areas. Usually right after I take the shot, I’ll hold up the viewfinder to the scene before me and compare, just so I’ll have an idea on how to process it.

At this point I must say that I rarely use layers, even though the experts think I should. I tend to use one single layer and make all adjustments to that layer. Not everyone does it that way, but it works for me. If you use layers, just continue using them. There are some advantages such as undoing a change that you made last week because it did not print out right, but the added complexity is just not worth it to me.

Once I have the TIFF file open, the first thing I do is select the darkest areas, feather the edge to 20-100 pixels or whatever looks best, and brighten them up a bit (if necessary) using the levels adjustment in Photoshop. Then I darken the brightest areas just a bit too. If you adjust things too severely, you’ll end up with blotchy areas with lots of noise, so be careful. Sometimes the darkest areas can’t be saved, so leave them alone. You can’t get something for nothing. If the light was not there to begin with, you cannot invent it when you are processing. If you invent light, that’s manipulating an image. You’re putting something into the picture that was not originally there in the scene. Other than dust spots or something very small, I avoid manipulating an image. It ruins my memory of the place if it doesn’t look and feel as it did when I took the shot. Slightly brightening up a spot is not manipulation because you’re restoring the image to the way it looked to your eye.

Once the file is properly exposed in all areas, I’ll examine all areas of the photo at 100% magnification and scan for problems.

 

Processing, Step Three: Adjust color in the TIFF file

 

Once I’ve made adjustments to the brightness of the image, I’m ready to make the color as realistic as possible. I may need to increase or decrease the saturation depending on the situation.

When I’m adjusting the brightness I’m doing it for all colors from blue to red. Here, I wish to adjust the brightness for individual colors. For example, if I’m fortunate enough to see a spectacular sunset or sunrise with intense red areas in the sky, I may need to choose just the reds in that portion of the image and darken just the reds a bit. In the same way that the camera can not record the entire dynamic range of brightness that our eyes can see, the camera also cannot record color as vividly as we see it. Therefore, what we see as an incredible red sky may look like a bunch of reddish, blown out blobs with no detail at all in the photo. Sometimes people don’t realize what they are missing when they rave about an over saturated sky in a photo. They don’t realize that there were incredible patterns and textures in the sky. Sometimes it’s frustrating to walk into a photo gallery and see people admiring a photo where you know the photographer simply cranked up the saturation. I can see the noise and lack of detail but sometimes people don’t notice.

The way that I get back the detail in a overly red sky is to select the areas that are the reddest, feather the selected area to soften the edge of the selection, and then go to the levels adjustment (It’s called levels in PhotoShop but other editors have a similar adjustment option.) Then, I choose the red channel and adjust the levels to darken the reds just a bit. If that doesn’t look good, cancel and select the area and desaturate it. Either way, there will be a bit less color but the detail will be restored from what used to be a big red blob, assuming that there was detail in the sky when you took the photo. The goal is to bring back in the photo, what I saw with my own eyes.

Once I’ve taken care of any overly colorful spots, I look at the overall picture to see if it’s too blue. This often happens when the sun is just below the horizon. To our eyes, there may be a hint of blue but still lots of reds and yellows. However, the photo may appear to be much more blue than what we see. In this case the camera is actually recording reality better than our eyes. The human eye and the software in our brain make adjustments to what we see 30-60 times per second. In this case and for reasons that are still unclear, our eye reduces the amount of blue that we see in low light situations. Perhaps it’s some survival thing from our past, enhancing our rather limited night vision? I’m not sure. Since the camera records more blue than we see, I like to desaturate the blues just a bit if they appear too blue in the photo. I’ll select the blue area and feather as before. Then I’ll use the levels adjustment to desaturate the blues a bit. If this looks unnatural, I may use the temperature adjustment to warm up the area or the entire photo a bit. Or, I may directly desaturate it a small amount. Experiment with this because there are dozens of ways to reduce the blues. Just be careful or you may make the photo look rather green and surreal. Not good!

Sometimes the camera doesn’t pick up the color we see. In those cases I’ll increase the saturation just a bit, either to the entire photo or usually to just a portion. After I take the shot, I’ll look at the back of the camera and compare it to what I see in front of me. Sometimes there is more color in the camera, but usually there is a bit less. Your view screen may vary, so get used to how it compares with reality. When I get back to my computer, I can look at the back of the camera while I edit my photo in Photoshop, keeping in mind what I remember from the comparison I did when I made the photo. I’m very careful about increasing saturation. If you do it too much, it may look nice from a distance, but when you look closely, you’ll see ugly blobs of noise. You can’t get something from nothing. If the color wasn’t there in the first place, you cannot create it in Photoshop by moving the saturation slider! Yes, it bears repeating. There are other ways to create color from nothing, but I’d consider that to be a manipulated image. Manipulation is fine as long as you say what you’re doing. I enjoy looking at some manipulated photos.

Memory is very important when I’m processing my picture. If I witnessed some incredible sunset with surreal colors, it may be difficult to remember how it really was for very long. That’s why I look at the scene immediately after taking the shot and compare it to the back of the camera. That physical action keeps it in my memory.

When I’m finished adjusting the color, I give the entire photo one last look for the overall effect. My goal is for the photo to remind me of the feeling of being there!

I know this barely touches the surface of color processing, but in this book, I’m just explaining my process.

 

Processing, Step Four: Sharpen very carefully.

After I’ve made adjustments to the color I’m ready to sharpen the picture.

Sharpening is the very last thing I do to a full-sized TIFF file. This is because adjustments for brightness, contrast and color often affects how an image is perceived in terms of sharpness. In other words, when you increase the contrast of an image it often appears more in focus to the eye. Sharpness is just the contrast in brightness between the edge of one object and the edge of another. If you were to sharpen before doing anything else, you might become limited when making the other adjustments. Those other adjustments are the foundation of your image. Sharpness is the icing on the cake. So, sharpening is very important but it should be done last.

For the moment, I use the Canon 21mp 5D mkII with in-camera sharpening set off. I want control over my own sharpening. I also turn off auto-sharpen in my RAW editor since it applies the sharpening over the entire image all at once. In general, I turn off anything that says auto. I like to sharpen each object (sand, sky, rock) separately in different ways. Even with this camera, the RAW files always look a little soft in terms of sharpness when I first inspect them. This softness gives you the leeway to sharpen or not, and it gives you a little extra dynamic range.

My sharpening process:

I don’t have a standard way of sharpening. Whatever catches my eye first is what I sharpen first. And I do it in three steps, experimenting every step of the way.

1) A subtle sharpening at a wide radius (>2 pixels), mostly to increase contrast.

2) A standard sharpening with a radius around 1 pixel.

3) Fine, stronger sharpening from 0.2-0.8 pixel radius.

I have found that doing two or all three steps yield much better results than just sharpening once. Yes, it seems like a lot of extra work but it really brings out all the detail and allows bigger prints to be made than if sharpening not been done carefully. Occasionally a single sharpening of all non-sky areas at 1 pixel works best, but see what works for you.

In general, a wide pixel radius means that the sharpening of one pixel strongly affects nearby pixels. So if you sharpen one pixel at a radius of four, at least four pixels to the left and right will be sharpened too, with the effect diminishing over distance. It is like a soft sharpen. Conversely, if you choose a radius like 0.2, each pixel has little effect on nearby pixels. That is a fine-sharpen.

This is how I would sharpen a seascape image with some open sky, clouds, ocean with whitecaps, waves crashing onto the beach, sand, and a nice foreground rock. I would probably leave the sky alone and start with the open ocean all the way to the horizon. I would select the water including the waves and exclude any rocks in the water. Even violent water motion is soft and flowing, so sharpen it differently than rock! Feather your selection so that the sharpening effect fades out to the edge of the selection. I use the ‘smart-sharpen’ feature in Photoshop, but use whatever sharpening program you like best. I make sure that I can preview the effect that I am trying. Sharpening is a constant experiment it seems.

For the water, I might set a radius of 4.0-8.0 with a small strength of sharpening. This is step one above. Then I move the slider back and forth, and examine the resulting effect in the preview window. This wide radius is really a contrast adjustment. It makes the textures in the flowing water more visible without introducing noise into the flowing areas. If I want to see more fine detail in the water, I’ll keep the current area selected and smart-sharpen at a radius of 2-3 with a low to medium strength of sharpening. This may introduce a little noise, so back off until you see no noise. You want smoothly flowing water even in a raging current with no grainy noise! On water, I don’t use fine sharpening under 2 pixels in radius. It just enhances noise and adds no detail at all.

For the rocks in the water, I select them around the edges and feather them first. Then as above with the water, I do step 1 or 2 from above, adjusting for what looks good. Then I’d do step 3, the fine sharpening. Sometimes on middle-ground rocks, it helps and sometimes it just adds noise. Just look closely and you can see whether or not to use it.

For beaches, rock, grass and other elements in the foreground, I select all of those as a whole or individually and start with step 2. Then definitely use step 3. You want to see every grain of sand if possible! I usually skip step 1 for foreground items because usually the contrast looks good already. Sometimes I sharpen down to a 0.2 radius and it looks great. Especially after sharpening with step 2.

As for the sky, I often leave it alone. Sharpening the sky often adds ugly blotches of color grain and noise. However, sometimes the sky in the back view screen of the camera after I take the shot has better contrast than what I see on my computer screen. I have found that I can get a little extra contrast by doing a super-wide radius sharpening. The contrast adjustment has a different and unnatural effect most of the time, so I don’t use it.

I might use a radius between 30.0-60.0 pixels with a very low strength. This type of sharpening does not make the sky look sharper, but rather it increases the contrast and brings out texture and sometimes color. This works only sometimes, but it’s worth an experiment or two. Be careful because it’s easy to ruin the natural look of the sky and it can end up looking like a bad HDR image!

Well, that’s it for sharpening. There are lots of small adjustments but these steps are the main ones. You may end up with a different set of steps. The important thing is that one sharpen action does not solve all of your sharpening needs. You have to take each object and texture differently whether it is a rock or a human face.

 

 

Processing, Step Five: Create JPG files for the web, etc.

Okay, I’ve processed the RAW file, created a TIFF file and it now looks ready for printing and for its debut on the web. Remember, don’t even think of making changes to a JPG file because each time you make a change, you lose information! This step only deals with creating a JPG file once all changes to the TIFF file are finished.

Before you create any new files, it is important to update the TIFF file with metadata. Metadata simply means data about data. For photos, it’s how you describe and label your photo for others to see and for you to remember. It’s important that you enter metadata before you create any extra files for the web etc. Then you only have to do it once and the resulting files will also contain the metadata.

Here are some common metadata fields that you should fill in with information. Each photo editor is different but the important thing is to enter it on every photo! In Photoshop, it is called ‘File Info:’

Title: The name of the photo. Be sure to include the location with the title, such as ‘Rainbow Falls, Niagra Falls, New York.’ Including the location will enable people to find your photo easier on the internet.

Author: Your name, and the name of your company if there is one.

Description: A short or long description. This may include location, time of year, inspiration, or any other item of interest. The more solid information the better. However, too much extraneous or duplicated information will be ignored by Google and the other search engines.

Keywords: Anything you can think of. For example one recent photo of an island in San Francisco Bay has these keywords: landscape; seascape; sausalito; marin; san francisco; angel island; san francisco bay; bay area; fog; sunset; travel; vacation; water; long exposure; red; nature; pilings; california. Sometimes I add more to make searches easier.

Copyright: Definitely include a copyright notice and you may want to file a copyright notice with your country’s patent office. If you have a place to enter a copyright URL, enter your website address. I’ve found that copyrighting my work is a waste of time. When people steal my work, including entering it into photo contests, it’s usually in foreign countries where US copyright means nothing. Even with no copyright, you can still sue someone who uses your photo if you can prove it’s yours. This is a touchy subject for photographers. Many think my attitude is unsafe, so think about how it might affect you to see someone stealing your photos.

Email Address/website: Definitely enter them!

Other fields: There may be other things to enter in your photo editor. Enter as much as you can! Sometimes you can set up hot keys, or actions, to fill in all of this data.

Metadata is also entered by your camera automatically in to the RAW file. If you properly convert to a TIFF file, this information should have been copied over and will end up in the jpg file too. Camera metadata includes shutter speed, aperture, and all other camera settings. Sometimes it includes geographic location information.

It’s important that all of the metadata be entered before you create any other files for the web or anywhere else. For example, the photo sharing website Flickr and others take the metadata and display it for searches later. So, the title you enter will show up as the title when you see the photo on Flickr. In some photo printing places like Zenfolio, the title will automatically be printed on the back of every photo. Enter your data once!

Another very important reason to enter metadata is for your own protection. If someone steals your photo and you find it, you can prove ownership by referring to the metadata. It’s difficult to remove metadata and most thieves don’t do that. Also, in many countries, it’s a crime to remove metadata! That shows malice.

Once the metadata is entered, you may want to place a watermark on your photo. You can do this as a layer so that you can make it visible or invisible depending on the use. Most professional photographers place watermarks such as (c) 2029 Jane Doe Photography, usually in faint white or black semi-transparent lettering, across the photo. If you do this, make sure it’s not so large so as to distract from the beauty of the photo. However, make sure it is large enough to be seen so you can identify it if someone steals your photo.

I do not place watermarks on my photos, but most people think I’m crazy not to. So do what you feel is right for you. From my standpoint, a 1200 pixel file would make a low quality print anyway, so I don’t bother. But I must warn you that I have found thousands of websites and blogs with my photos on them. The vast majority I have not approved of course. Regardless, 99.99% of these uses were not authorized by me! So far, more positives have resulted from this than negatives.

Once the metadata has been entered, give the entire photo one last close inspection. Examine it as a whole and make sure that the overall contrast and brightness are correct. Sometimes after looking for little flaws and making minute corrections, you can lose sight of the big picture! The whole thing may be too dark or bright. After that, enlarge it to 100% and make one last pass and move across the photo in a smooth way so that any spots of dust or salt will stand out. Make sure that it all looks clean because the first thing you will see on a print is a dust spot even if you did not notice it before on the screen.

You may also wish to do a small proof print to see how it will really look before you make bigger prints.

Now, you are ready to let the world see it. ‘The world’ may just be your family, or the internet. Neither venue is more important when it comes to quality. I want them all to look good. When it comes to printing, I’ve found it difficult to tell the difference, even on a great printer, between a print from a 16-bit TIFF file and an 8-bit JPG file. But you should always work on the TIFF file and create the JPG file as the last step.

First save the TIFF File! Then you need to convert the 16-bit TIFF to an 8-bit TIFF because JPGs are 8-bit. Then I create the JPG file. 16-bit files have twice the amount of information per pixel as an 8-bit file. But it is hard for the human eye to notice this difference as long as you don’t edit the 8-bit JPG after you create it.

IMPORTANT! Don’t save the TIFF file after you’ve saved it as a jpg file or you may lose your TIFF file! Save the TIFF file before you save it as anything else. Then you can cancel if it asks you to save.

On my websites where people can buy or download open edition prints, I have JPG files which I save at a quality of 12 in Photoshop, which is the highest quality. That turns a 120mb 16-bit TIFF, to a 60mb 8-bit TIFF, and finally to a 15-25mb 8-bit JPG. These smaller JPG files I upload to the website for printing up to 24×36 inches. I don’t have to resharpen these because the dimensions are unchanged. I don’t use the save for web option because that strips out the metadata! Never use Save to web or anything that strips out your metadata!

When I create a 1200 pixel version for internet use, I first make sure that the full sized TIFF has been saved. Then I’ll re-size the horizontal dimension of my TIFF to 1200 pixels (on landscape oriented photos) and sharpen it. I usually use smart-sharpen at 0.2 pixels (very fine) and move the strength bar past 400 until it all looks sharp. First I try it on the entire picture. Sometimes sharp edges of a distant hill or rock will develop a sharpening halo, which looks like a bright line right over the edge. If this happens I cancel the sharpening and sharpen everything but the edges. Then I select just the edges and sharpen just a little if I can. Sometimes I leave the edges alone.

I’ve found that after a re-size an image to a smaller size, it always looks a bit soft, so I need to sharpen.

One other thing to consider when resizing for the web is what quality you want. Quality varies directly with file size. Sometimes you don’t want a big file because it will display slowly on the web and your viewers may leave after getting bored watching your photo paint so slowly. Therefore, you want the best compromise between quality and size. Generally, a quality of 8 on a 1200×800 photo will give you about a 300kb file vs. a two mb file size when saved at the highest quality of 12. I usually adjust the quality down until I begin to notice ugly compression artifacts forming. Just experiment for what you want regarding this issue. I wouldn’t go below eight.

After you save the JPG, make sure it still has the metadata. And make sure you have not overwritten your big TIFF file!!! It has happened to me, but if you do it, you can usually recover it if you do not close the file by just reverting back (undo, crrl-z on a PC) until you have the full-sized, 16 bit TIFF file back on your screen. Then save it again!

That’s all there is to my processing routine.

Lessons Learned

Learning photography requires a lot of trial and error. Here are some things I’ve learned.

 

In landscape photography, planning and previsualization are very important to increase your odds, but things rarely turn out as you planned. Often times, you must let go of your vision in order to make your own luck.

Earlier in this book, I discussed the huge role luck plays in the making of a good landscape photograph. I’ve logged thousands of hours of practice, visualizing and planning. However, most of the time I had only a vague idea of how the photos from a particular outing would turn out. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that some photographers sure seem to have a lot of good luck. The luckiest photographers will tell you that planning ahead had a lot to do with that good luck. Planning ahead and having a vision of what you want are definitely prerequisites to finding a great image, but with millions of ways for plans to go awry, is there something else that can be done to improve the odds?

Yes, you can improve the odds a lot by simply not getting married to your vision. This means that despite your investment in time and strategy, you must survey the situation when you arrive at your spot and make an honest assessment as to whether your plans will turn out the way you had hoped.

For example, lets say that you’ve planned to go to a lake in the fall just when there will be the best colors of the year. After checking the weather, you realize that there will probably be a nice low fog covering the lake and filtering through the trees just like you saw last year at this time. Not only that, but the moon will be setting just as the sun rises and there is a rock on the shore where the red and yellow leaves fall, providing a perfect foreground. The mist will turn gold by the rising sun. The clouds will glow. You have been waiting a year for this moment and you can visualize in your mind that perfect shot! And you get only one chance at this place this year.

So, you get up before sunrise and walk through the low motionless tule fog to your spot. Things are developing nicely as dawn approaches. It’s all so perfect. A one in a million chance. You set up the tripod, compose everything just as you had hoped and wait for the best light.

A faint breeze starts to blow and in just a minute or two, most of the fog is swept off the lake. You get this sinking feeling in your stomach as you witness the events unfold. Dawn continues to approach. You must make a quick decision. Do you sit there and wait for your dream shot, or try something else? The answer depends on what else is around you.

At this point, the best thing is to completely let go of your vision regardless of how married you were to it. This is not easy, but if you’re ready ahead of time to let go of your hard-earned vision, it’s a lot easier when you need to do it! At these times, I simply say to myself, “Okay, this isn’t going according to my plan, but this is a beautiful place. What do I like best about it at this moment?” I guess you can call it, ‘Pre-visualized re-visualization.’ In other words, anticipate that things might happen that you can’t anticipate!

In this example, there’s still a moon setting and some nice fall foliage which will be very well lit when the sun rises. So I would pull up my tripod and keep looking around. Perhaps there is a nice reflection of the foliage covered hills. Maybe you were hoping to point towards the rising sun over the fog, but now the best light can be seen on the hills pointing away from the sun. Just remember that nature doesn’t care about what you had planned, so go with what’s served up for you.

The important thing is to keep a clear mind and open eyes. Even though your vision may not ever be realized, the image you capture may be even better or at least a pleasant surprise. Your exact vision was only one possibility in a billion anyway, and it was probably not #1 out of that billion. Who can think of all possibilities? But with an open mind, free from the pre-visualized gold chains you placed on yourself, you may capture a glorious moment you had not anticipated.

Don’t get me wrong here, planning and pre-visualization are essential for increasing your odds of being in the right place at the right time. I do it every time I go out. Planning allows you to be in the right place when good things can happen, even if they aren’t exactly the good things you had visualized. I would guess that about 25% of the time, what I see and photograph is at least somewhat like what I had in mind. And about 5% of the time, my guess is fairly close. The rest of the time, it’s pure improvisation. These numbers seem really low to me because I put a lot of time into planning and pre-visualization. But that’s fine because a big part of the adventure of photographing the landscape is seeing and experiencing new things.

You spent all that time planning and visualizing your photo, but nature has other plans. So how do you make a new vision when conditions are changing so quickly?

I discussed how important it is to plan and visualize the image you wish to make. However, no matter how much energy you put into being in the right place at the right time, what you hoped to see is rarely what you get. Therefore, often times you need to let go of your hopes and create a new vision on the spot. Sometimes you only have a few minutes of good light remaining so time is of the essence!

The best way to do this is not to think about my advice or the advice of others, but rather to think about what you like most about where you are at the moment. Photography is like meditation, it works best when you’re there in the moment without distraction. Ask yourself, “What really strikes me the most?” It might be the way the light filters through the trees, or the reflection of the clouds on the water. Just forget about everything and focus on the moment. Otherwise you get distracted, just like an athlete who is still upset about a recent failure, or is worried about failing again. Sure, there’s a good chance that the weather may turn bad and dash your hopes of witnessing something really special. That’s the nature of randomness. If you’re distracted and that special event happens, you’ll probably not see it, or see it too late.

Landscape photography can be a form of meditation. Even if you don’t get that amazing shot you planned, the process of opening your mind to the possibilities and letting go can be its own reward. It can prepare you for better things to come. Sometimes I come home without even taking the camera out of the backpack, but I am almost always happy because I had a great time with the exercise and scenery of doing photography. I often use that time to visualize possible images, scout new locations and imagine those images in the best light. I always feel as though I’ve improved just a bit on each outing.

Repeating this meditative process also helps you to improve, just like other forms of practice. It takes years of focus and concentration to calm your mind and eliminate distraction. It can take years to understand how your mind works. I believe that if you go with a free and open mind with the intention of enjoying the process of witnessing nature, the intangible qualities of your photos will benefit. And people will notice and appreciate it. Even if you show your photos to nobody, you’ll enjoy looking at them more. I must admit that I take photos so I can look at them again and again.

What I’m writing isn’t advice in a conventional sort of way. I’m not discussing camera settings, techniques, or anything like that, though I included the settings for each photo in this book. You can get information on operating a camera anywhere. My settings are just the standard settings everyone else uses. I focus on understanding the interaction between the mind and heart, with the outside world. Understanding nature and how to use the camera is a prerequisite. However, knowing yourself and your viewers is at least as important. Even though there is a proliferation of photography books, workshops and critique websites, there never seems to be enough advice to satisfy people. It’s like that with new diet fads too. That’s because there are as many ways to have a good diet, as there are numbers of people. There are as many ways to do landscape photography, as there are people. So really, I would guess that each person would have to try millions of diets or photo workshops before a compatible one would be found.

This is why I say that you must find your own way of seeing the world so you can show it to others and preserve memories for yourself. Photography is about memories.

The most successful landscape photographers seem to have developed a unique personal way of viewing the world. So how can we develop our own vision?

It’s important to be open to whatever comes your way. If you wish to do this on a consistent basis you must develop a personal vision, your own unique way of seeing the world. Even the most popular landscape photographers invested thousands of hours of time and practice in the development of their vision. So how can you develop a unique personal vision of the world?

From all that I’ve read about people who’ve excelled at their craft and from my own experience, you must do what you love and be inquisitive. This goes for any endeavor. For example, I remember when the great American news reporter and anchorman Walter Cronkite died at 92. I watched a long list of top people in the news field and other famous people talk about their experiences with him. The thing that struck me the most is that he loved the news. He loved to discover the story and uncover the truth. He loved to talk about the news for hours with his colleagues, even if they were competitors. He tried his best to be unbiased and tell it like it is. He kept an open mind and was ready in an instant to change his reporting if new information was discovered. His viewers loved him because they could depend on him and also because he loved what he did.

There’s a lot to be learned from his example, even though he was definitely not a landscape photographer. You must decide what you really love about nature. If you like many things, then pick one thing for now. It could be beaches, mountains, lakes, wheat fields, clouds, flowers, anything. Forget what people tell you to do, or what’s popular. You must be passionate, or your images will fall flat and people will notice. If you love your subject, people will acknowledge it even if the images aren’t perfect. The result will be that you’ll enjoy looking at them later. Passion is generated by curiosity and the desire to know and capture what you love.

One interviewee I just saw on TV said, that even when Walter Cronkite had been doing the news for decades and had been all over the world, he would still want to rush downstairs to report on an incident outside on the street and try to get the real story. He retained a sense of curiosity, and that kept his personal vision fresh and continually developing. Keeping a fresh eye is one of the best ways to develop your vision for landscape photography. Who cares how many times you’ve been to that beach, park or lake? I bet that you can come up with a different way (your way) of seeing it.

It takes energy and a sense of adventure to create a good landscape photograph. I believe that if you do what you love, and let nature take its course, you will find out that your own style and personal vision will emerge. Give it time.

People say that they can recognize a photo as being mine before they read the description. I’m not sure how they do that, but I hear it often. If you already have an established style and are successfully doing good landscapes, you can still develop new ways of seeing by being like a curious child. Be like you were when you were young. I try to do this because I don’t want to be too predictable. I’m not sure how successful I am at being unpredictable, but I’m working on it.

Good photography is a mix of the predictable and the unpredictable. Both are required if you wish to develop a fresh and changing style.

Sometimes ‘style’ implies predictability. If you add a bit of the unpredictable into your efforts, you can have a style that evolves and improves over time.

One way to be unpredictable by being open to trying new things. For example, I recently purchased a *very* dark circular filter by Hoya called the ndx-400. I also have a 10-stop Lee Big stopper square filter which fits into a filter holder. They have almost 10-stops of darkness, or more accurately, they reduce light by 10 stops. They are so dark that it’s difficult to see and compose the shot in the viewfinder. Sometimes I have to compose first before attaching the filter! So instead of a 1/4-second exposure, I can do a one minute exposure with the filter on, even in mid-day light.

Normally I like to show lots of action in my pictures such as waves breaking with just a hint of motion. However, with the filter on, the ocean is reduced to a hazy blur, which can look great when you want to isolate rock formations. The side benefit to a longer exposure time is the ability to show motion in the clouds. You can often see this in long exposures taken after sunset on a beach with clouds streaking overhead.

I never thought of using the dark filter in a place like Yosemite, where the rocks and water are so well known and are usually the focal point in photos taken there. However, when I saw the clouds streaking over, around and through the tall cliffs, I realized that I could ‘time’ the clouds just like I time a wave. So I began to experiment and soon I figured out how to show the clouds interacting with the land and cliffs in a dramatic way. I could not have predicted that I would be doing this sort of photography. My ‘style’ was to capture dramatic low-light photos with lots of color. But now, I’m always thinking of ways to make dramatic long-exposures in daylight. My style has changed. The funny thing is that people have written me to say that they recognized my first photo with the dark filter as being ‘mine’ before they even read the description. I’m not sure how that can be since these photos look so different from my others. I guess that ‘style’ is something innate that can be spotted from a distance.

The point is that I am not working on my style. It’s just evolving. As Joseph Campbell would say, ‘I’m following my bliss.’ Of course, it’s difficult to follow your bliss if you are having trouble with things like exposure, processing etc. So make sure you master the basics and practice.

About Tripods

 

I’ve read in countless magazines that a large, solid and sturdy (and usually expensive) tripod is the way to go if you are ‘serious’ about landscape photography. But after shooting countless (very sharp) photos while getting pounded by wind and salt spray, I believe that a small, well-built tripod is just fine.

I use a very small and lightweight Slik tripod. It’s so small that I can take it in my carry-on backpack on planes and I hardly notice it when hiking in the hills. It’s also very sturdy and doesn’t vibrate in the wind unless the wind is so strong that I am having trouble standing up! I use it with a Manfrotto pistol-grip ball head, which is good for quickly reacting to a wave etc.

I never shoot at eye level, but rather about 2-4 feet off the ground. I’ve noticed that you lose perspective at wide angles when the camera is 5 feet or more above the ground. The foreground looks far away, and not much closer than the background. Also, if you want a good amount of foreground, you have to point the camera downward when the lens is 5 feet above the ground. When I watch most photographers, they seem to extend the legs of their huge tripods all the way out and shoot at eye level. I can’t help but to think that they are all getting almost the same shot!

About the Author

I enjoy landscape photography. I’ve admired the landscape for my entire life and grew up studying the architectural hills and canyons of the San Francisco cityscape, and the natural open spaces north of the Golden Gate in Marin County California. I seek to witness everything that is splendid in the landscape and bring it back for all to see. I’ll go to great lengths to be in the right place at the right time to capture nature’s finest moments. I still live in the San Francisco area and travel up and down the California coast and elsewhere looking for natural beauty that will inspire people to protect and save our precious natural landscape and seascape. I hope that I will be able to capture some of that light in the real world.

I do other things besides photography. I created the world’s largest blood specimen bank and wrote AI software to link the specimens to large public datasets using probability theory. I’m also writing a science fiction series about our future as a species.

 

My Approach

 

The beauty of nature is all around us at all times, but there are brief moments when a combination of elements present themselves in a truly spectacular way. Anybody who is fortunate enough to witnesses one of these events will look back fondly upon the memory. And they are even more fortunate if they happen to have a camera ready to record the event. In order to be in the right place at the right time, it’s necessary to understand the complex interactions between light, weather, landscape, the tides, plants, and animals. It’s important to have a deep respect for this planet and its inhabitants. I hope that photography can bring people closer to nature and encourage them to preserve it for future generations.

I want to be able to capture exactly how it feels to be there at the moment of exposure. So I try to get as close to the interesting action as possible. So you won’t find many images of mine taken at the usual tourist postcard, side of the road pullout spots if I can help it! I often get wet when making seascape images so that you can feel the sea spray in your face too. I often climb thousands of feet in the hills to bring back a view not often seen.

Also, I’ll wait a long time for the light and clouds to make a memorable scene. In California, there are many clear days so I often have to wait a long time for conditions to be right.

I enjoy visiting fine art galleries as often as possible. I especially like works from classical painters such as Claude Lorrain, whose work I was fortunate enough to see in San Francisco, that depict the landscape and seascape with that dramatic light and form that you rarely if ever see in person. That’s the sort of image I hope to capture if I can be so fortunate. I also enjoy the surreal works of artists such as Salvador Dali. Sometimes, extra long exposures can create landscapes that are part real and part surreal. It’s possible that the reality of photography can never match the imagination of a talented artist, but I can hope that I will be able to capture some of that imagination in the real world.

You can contact me at patrick@patricksmithphotography.com

Touch here to return to Patrick Smith Photography