Friday, November 27, 2009

Winter is here

En route to airport in snowstorm. I hope the flight isn't delayed! Utah - here we come?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Part 2: Capturing Vibrant Colors

...continued from Capturing Vibrant Colors - Part 1...

When you want to capture vibrant colors, consider the season and the location. Shooting outdoors in the Northeast in the middle of winter might produce a relatively colorless image - overcast skies and leafless trees leave the landscape barren. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to shoot! Far from it! An opening in the clouds near the horizon might let the sun peak through, so be ready for pretty sunsets even in the dead of winter! This shot from Lake Erie's shore shows a vibrant sky and soft, reflected color on the ice in the foreground.
When the landscape seems lifeless, look for elements that stand out. A single bright leaf left over from Autumn's glory days adds a touch of warmth to this chilly shot. If you are in the mood for color, look for bright berries, frosted leaves, and interesting skies this time of year.
Autumn is, of course, the most colorful time of year. Jay took this shot in Colorado's beautiful Snowmass Wilderness when fall colors were at their peak. He used reflections on the lake to fill the frame with reflected color from the trees and clouds.
Knowledge of a location is also useful when you are looking for brilliant color. We scout as much as possible when we're traveling, so that we can get to know the geology and topography of a region. We came upon this location while hiking in the Paria River. Jay composed a brilliantly colored photograph with striped canyon walls and cracked mud in the foreground.
Paria Canyon is equally beautiful in the winter, when the clean, white ice contrasts beautifully with the colorful canyon walls. Notice that the color varies with the direction of light, moisture, and location within the canyon.
continued on Part 3: Capturing Vibrant Colors

Tips for Capturing Vibrant Colors
  • Look for brightly colored elements that stand out against barren landscapes
  • Consider the season - and return at different time of the year
  • Look for unique geology

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gestalt - Similarity Principle

At the beginning of November, I wrote a bit about Gestalt Figure/Ground Articulation. If you haven't read that post, you might want to start there. :)

...How can we apply a basic understanding of perception to composition in photography?...

Let's take one principle at a time. The Similarity Principle states that we tend to see things with similar visual characteristics as belonging together. The image below illustrates the point...

Do you see a triangle in the image, above? Almost all of us do. And yet - there isn't one. The figure is entirely made up of circles and squares. Our minds do the rest. We see the individual elements as two separate parts - (remember "figure" and "ground" from my first post on gestalt?) - and that happens because of the similarity principle. The circles become one group, and the squares become a second group. Our brains process this collection of shapes as two distinct groups.

So, how does this apply to composition in photography? Take a look at the image below. Can you see the similarity principle at work?

The lines in the sandstone are similar to one another, so our eyes see them as part of a whole. Rather than individual elements, they become an interesting "ground" - a single element. And the leaf? It is dissimilar... and so it is not associated with the diagonal lines. It becomes "figure" because it is different.

How about something a bit more complex?

This shot is made up of thousands of individual elements. Each tiny flower, every blade of grass... countless trees in the distance... And yet, our brains are not overwhelmed. We process the image in groups made up of similar elements. The bright red flowers become a single group. The blues blend together - and though we distinguish between mountains, storm clouds, and hazy distance, the elements are perceived as one.

In this case, the image is broken into two parts - foreground and distance. And each of these two parts is broken down once more - into figure and ground. The sunbeams and the flowers are "figure", and the blue and green areas are "ground". The image is so much simpler when we break it down in this way!

Of course, most of us never take the time to consider this when we're looking at a photograph - and yet, our brains are constantly grouping and categorizing in this way.

More on gestalt principles another day! :)

Go to Gestalt - Proximity Principle

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Part 1: Capturing Vibrant Colors

It is a common misconception that the vibrant colors you see in a photograph are captured using a special film (like Velvia), or are the result of special processing techniques. While it is true that film choice and post-processing can effect the colors, the art of capturing vibrant colors starts in the field. In this two-part article, we will explore how to create images with vibrant colors.

The circular polarizer is a very commonly-used filter for enhancing colors in a photograph. Circular polarizers cut through glare created by scattered light, and bring out the rich and vibrant colors in an image. This filter is particularly effective when you want to bring out the colors on a wet surface - like the beach in the photo below. Jay used a circular polarizer to reduce the sun's glare on the water, and to bring out the stunning colors at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.

Another factor to consider when shooting intense colors is exposure. An over or underexposed image will show dull colors and low contrast. The color in a properly exposed image will be rich and vibrant. Because landscape photographers deal with uneven lighting over large areas, they often end up with images that are overexposed in some areas and perfectly exposed in others. Varina's photograph (below) shows over exposure in the sky - and the resulting low contrast and dull colors.
In order to fix the problem, she used a Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filter to reduce the brightness of the sky. (We often use our iHDR technique to accomplish the same purpose.) The exposure is now balanced between the sky and the ground, and the rich, vibrant colors in the sky have returned.
Another simple but effective way to enhance colors in a photograph is to use reflections. Reflected light - like you see in Jay's photo below - can fill the image with colors. The reflected colors become an important compositional element... and they are especially appealing next to the colors in the sky.

continued on Part 2: Capturing Vibrant Colors

Tips for Capturing Vibrant Colors
  • Select the proper exposure
  • Use reflections to add color to your composition
  • Use a circular polarizer to cut through glare and enhance colors

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Featured Photographer: Alpenglow Images

Varina is the featured Photographer at Alpenglow images right now. She was contacted by Greg Russell last week, and this is the result of their email conversations. Greg is featuring photographers who shoot in Southern Utah, and Varina is the second photographer he's featured in this series. Take a look at his blog and website - we're sure you'll enjoy some of the beautiful work you see there!

"I think many landscape photographers need that solitude as surely as they need oxygen or water, and they begin taking images as a way to search out and capture that feeling." - This line from Greg's post is absolutely true for Varina!

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Featured Portfolio

Since Jan 2004, Nature Photographer's Online Magazine has featured the portfolios of some very talented photographers. This month, NPN is featuring Jay's portfolio.

Check it out here: Jay's Featured Portfolio

If you have a little extra time, we highly recommend that you take a look at some of the past featured portfolios as well... you'll find a whole lot of highly inspirational nature photography images:

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Featured Download: Colors of Paradise

Now that winter is coming, we thought we'd share this desktop wallpaper. Forget about heavy coats and fur-lined hats, and get lost in dreams of a tropical paradise. Maybe it's time to take that trip you've been putting off. Warm sun, clear water, soft sand...

This photograph was taken on Jay's first (and ONLY) trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. The island is located about 70 miles Southwest of Key West and can be reached only by a ferry or sea plane. While photographing the beautiful old fort, he happened to find a completely intact fan coral that had washed ashore. He used the fan coral as an foreground, and composed the photograph to minimize harsh shadows. He used a circular polarizer filter to cut through the glare and bring out the brilliant colors of the water. Hope you enjoy this featured download.

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More free wallpaper is available at our Download Site.

These images are provided for personal use as computer wallpaper or backgrounds ONLY. Copyright belongs to the photographer, and photographs cannot be used, redistributed, or recreated in print or on the web or on any other medium without written permission from the photographer.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Free Webinar - Photographing Death Valley

We are happy to announce that this event is now FULL. Please stay tuned for our upcoming workshops and seminars.

Today we are announcing a Free Webinar on Photographing Death Valley. Registration is open to anyone - simply drop us an email, or RSVP via facebook to reserve your spot. The first 20 people will receive an email with instructions for joining the webinar. We're sorry we can't accommodate more people!

Location: Online
Date: 11/8/09
Time: 1:00 PM EST - 2:00 PM EST
Participants Limit: 20
For Registration:
  • Via email:
Death Valley is a Landscape Photographer's dream-come-true. Beautiful skies, incredible textures, and intense colors provide inspiration wherever you go. This is a land of extremes... it is the driest, the hottest, and the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere. Intense weather conditions and an amazing variety of landscapes characterize the area. From the scorched and windblown sands of the dunes, to the peaceful flow of Darwin Falls - from the bizarre salt formations at Badwater, to the fascinating tracks left by moving stones at the Racetrack - Death Valley is a fascinating place.

The webinar will focus on the following topics:
  • Getting around in Death Valley - travel considerations, distances, and road conditions
  • Shooting Locations
  • Weather and Terrain
  • Clothing
  • Photographic Equipment
We hope you will be able to join us!

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Gestalt - Figure/Ground Articulation

A pleasing composition begins with an understanding of how we see - and that leads us to the gestalt theories of perception. Gestalt - which is a German word literally meaning shape or form - is defined by Miraiam Webster as "a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts." But what does that mean, exactly?

The whole is more than the sum of it's parts. An image is made up of individual elements - shapes, lines, colors, textures, etc. As the photographer, we can change the elements within an image - their placement, color, relative size, softness, and so on.

So - let's start with the most basic premise of Gestalt. Figure/Ground articulation simply states that we generally perceive our visual field as being divided into two parts - Figure and Ground.

Take a look at the figure above. The small green object seems more important than the larger blue figure. In this case, because it is smaller, and seems to be on top , the green shape has become "figure", while the blue shape has become "ground". In photography, the goal is often to separate figure from ground using compositional elements. Here's an example...

Here - the small, light colored circles are perceived as "figure", while the orange sandstone becomes ground. The distinct color and shape of these elements separate them in our minds.

The unusual ridged stone in the foreground becomes "figure" in the image above, while sky and rock become "ground". And in the image below, the beams of light are clearly "figure", even though some of the overlapping walls of the slot canyon are closer to the camera.

So - why do our brains separate elements in this way? How can we begin to understand why we see things the way we do? And how can we apply a basic understanding of perception to composition in photography?

I'll talk about this more in future posts. :) Stay tuned!

More gestalt:
Similarity Principle
Proximity Principle

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