Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Free Olympic National Park Webinar

This weekend, we will open registration on Facebook for another free webinar. In the past, we've had students tell us they wished they'd known about upcoming webinars sooner - so we're giving you a few days notice before we start accepting registrants.

This webinar will focus on Olympic National Park in Washington. Facebook fans will be able to sign up as soon as registration opens this weekend. You can find our facebook page by clicking the link below:
Click to see our Facebook Page
Free Olympic National Park Webinar
Location: Online
Date: May 9, 2010
Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM EST
This seminar will focus on shooting in Olympic National Park and the techniques we use to capture some of our images. We'll show lots of photos, so you can see what the park looks like, and we'll talk a bit about what students can expect if they join us for one of our workshops.

We hope that you will be able to join us. Feel free to post questions here on our blog - or on Facebook.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lungwort Oysterleaf? You've got to be Kidding

Have you had a chance to take some Spring photos yet this year?

We weren't planning to shoot this morning, but heavy humidity provided gorgeous filtered light... so we headed out to search for Wildflowers. These are Virginia Bluebells (mertensia virginica) - also called Virginia Cowslip, Roanoke Bells, or Lungwort Oysterleaf (I kid you not). They were blooming in abundance near the river at Bedford Reservation in the Cleveland Metroparks.

Jay's shot (below) was taken with a 17-40mm lens. The leaves are back-lit with soft, diffused lighting.

For this next shot, Jay used a wide aperture to produce a shallow depth-of-field. In doing so, he was able to single out the flowers in the foreground. The soft background gives a satisfying sense of place without too much clutter. The out-of-focus area provides very little detail, so the viewer's attention is automatically focused on the clean details that are in focus. You can use this technique to simplify a complicated scene.
I took some wide-angle photos too, but I spent a lot of time shooting with my 180mm macro lens. The tiny details were truly beautiful. This shot provides a bit more detail, so you can see what these pretty little flowers looked like up close. I always love soft colors and simple compositions - and I tend to like brighter images. Jay prefers slightly darker exposures - as you can see from him images above. In this case, I wanted a soft, bright, feel to the shot... but if you like brighter images, be careful to avoid blown highlights!

It rained during the night, and water droplets were still clinging to flowers and foliage. I had to take several shots to get a sharp image since it was a bit breezy out there. It's often difficult to get sharp macro images outdoors, but I think it's worth the effort. ;)
So - what do you think? Did we capture the essence of Spring with our impromptu photo-shoot? We met some other photographers on the trails - I guess we all had the same idea today!

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Be Your Own Harshest Critic

What's the difference between the shot of Paria Canyon above and the one below? Both were taken on the same evening. I took the one with the flare (below) just as the sun was setting, and the one at the top just moments later - facing in the other direction. The skies were fantastic and the light was lovely... but in my mind, the top one works a lot better than the other. In this case, the foreground and mid-ground are key. The rocky outcropping in the shot below lacks a sense of order. There's no clear point of interest in the foreground, and the empty area at the left is pretty uninteresting. The shot at the top provides a clear point of focus in the foreground, and a leading line that takes your eye along the canyon and up to the sky. As a result, the image seems to posses great depth and continuity.

And how about this next shot? Beautiful autumn colors, the soft flow of the water... what's not to like? Lots of our rejected images contain pleasing elements, but as you can see in this shot, they don't always come together very well. Notice the tree trunks in the top third of the photo - they are neatly centered, which makes them more distracting than they should be. And the water seems to cut the image in half, rather than creating a pleasing leading line. The leaves in the foreground are scattered all over - so your eye wanders without a clear point of interest. Where does your eye come to rest in an image like this one?

That's a common compositional problem. In this shot from Death Valley, Jay has captured some beautiful patterns in the sand, and the curving line that leads the viewer into a beautiful sunrise. Unfortunately, what draws the eye is the brighter, less interesting area on the left. The most interesting area of the image is in shadow - not always a bad thing, but here it just gets lost.

It's important to critique your work honestly. If it's not good enough, let it go! But sometimes that's easier said than done. Take a look at this last shot. I stood on a little ledge for quite a while, waiting for the water to splash though holes in the rocky wall. I ended up with two images that could be combined to show two big splashes instead of one. The processing took a while, too. But the fact is, the composition is far too busy. Those dynamic splashes seem pretty insignificant because they're lost in a mess of rocky outcropping. There's nowhere to rest your eye in this image, and it seems heavy on the right. And although the effect of combining two images is interesting, it feels more like fakery than reality to me. It's tough to toss out an image after you've put a lot of work into it - but sometimes, you just have to let it go.

Except for the very first image you see here, you won't find any of these images in our portfolios. We wanted to share some of our least favorite images, because we think it's important to be your own harshest critic. Don't be afraid to throw away a lot of images. A small portfolio full of fantastic shots is much better than a large one with too much mediocrity. Quality is far more important than quantity.

With that said - I think I need to go clean out my showcase gallery!

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Student Showcase: Tex Schneider

Photography is a lifelong learning experience. We learn from books and internet articles, critiques and blog posts from other photographers, experience and experimentation... and we learn an amazing amount from our students. So, it seems appropriate to share some of the works of our student on our blog. Today, we'll start with the work of Tex Schneider. He joined us for a workshop in Death Valley this year, and for an iHDR seminar in San Jose last year. We've been very impressed with his work, and with his commitment to learning.

So, here it is - the beautiful work of Tex Schneider! Well done, Tex - and thanks for letting us share your work on our blog!

We've been to Death Valley several times in the past few years, but when we lead our students into Mosaic Canyon this January, Tex Schneider came away with something unique and special. Here is what he had to say about his photograph titled "Mosaic Graffiti":

The class took a mid-day walk through Mosaic Canyon.  Near the end of the walk, just as I was about to head for the parking lot, I saw this section of wall that looked like granite with white quartz mixed in the scene.  It struck me that it looked like graffiti.  While I was arranging the composition I kept thinking about the graffiti look and just knew that ‘graffiti’ had to be part of the title of the image.  It might be my imagination, but it seems to me that if I have a name for the scene I am trying to capture, before I click the shutter, then I end up with stronger compositions.
The Tech Specs: Canon 5D Mark II, 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 68mm
Exposure: iso 100, f22, 1/6 second
 On our first morning in Death Valley we brought our students into the dunes. Using his experience and quick thinking, Tex was able to capture this scene unfolding before him. His careful processing resulted in a final image with perfectly exposed highlights, stunning colors, and beautiful detail in both the foreground and the distance.
We were shooting the sunrise at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells. After spending some time shooting in the general direction of the rising sun, Jay and Varina alerted the students to look at the scene unfolding behind us. They suggested we quickly recompose for this lovely light on the mountains. I have read on several photography forums that you should always be checking the scene at your six o’clock position. This was an instance of learning the value of that wisdom. I wanted to have a foreground item for the image and the bush was the only strong element that was present and would allow for a timely composition with the changing light conditions.

The Tech Specs: Canon 5D Mark II, 70-200mm f/4 @ 70mm
Exposure: iso 100, f8@0.5s
We'll be showcasing more of our student's work over the next few months, so keep an eye out for upcoming posts!

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