So I’ve been in Nepal for the last while, exploring and discovering some pretty amazing things in a country that a year ago I thought I’d never visit, and now am planning to host a photo workshop at next year. So in the next few blog posts I’m going to talk a little about what made this trip so great and so memorable.
For this first post I’m going to go a little out on a limb and talk about a side of my photography that I rarely talk about. People. As a photographer I would say it is virtually impossible to do my job without doing at least some aspect of portraiture, whether that comes in the form of taking family photos for friends because “you have a camera” (which by the way I hate when people say), you’re taking photos of events with your loved ones, or you go somewhere to take photos and amazing and interesting people happen to be there. It is this last one that I want to focus on today.
Often times when I go to a new place, in this case Nepal, I get a little intimidated to take portraits of the people. Not that I feel its rude to take someone’s photo, but rather that I feel awkward asking to take the photo. Such was the case on this trip. We had spent 3 days in the country when we went up to the base of the Himalaya Mountains. While there I was busy taking my usual landscape and nature photos, walking on a dusty road to get to the places that I wanted to shoot. Then, almost from out of nowhere I became literally surrounded by children yelling(happily) for chocolate. Unfortunately I didn’t have any chocolate but I did have something else, my camera. I proceeded to take photos of the kids, who loved posing and then looking at themselves on the LCD screen after. This happened over and over again while I was walking on this road and got me thinking how easy it was to do this with children, why not with adults.
So that did it for me, the rest of the trip while I still took thousands of landscape photographs I also focused on portraits of the Nepali people. I also discovered something pretty great, people like getting their photos taken. As long as you either ask, or make it very clear that you intend to take their photo most people are pretty OK with it. Sometimes you also just have to be sneaky and take a photo of someone from a distance and catch them in their element(I’ll usually go up to them after and show them the photo). Some would say that you need to pay people to take their photo but I would disagree, for the most part I feel that people like feeling important enough to want to be photographed. And while I don’t know if my portraits were necessarily the best photographs I took on the trip they were definitely among the ones I will remember the most.
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As a nature photographer I am often asked how I set my exposure for my photos, and for the most part things vary greatly for depending on what effect I was going for or lighting conditions when the photo was taken. One thing, however, is much more constant and that is my ISO setting. I would say that for 95% of my photos my ISO settings are between 50 and 200, maybe if I were handholding the camera I would go to 400 with my ISO. By staying in the lower ISO range I allow my images to get the clearest and sharpest they can be, which is typically the desired outcome. But what about the other 5%…
When shooting at a high ISO with your DSLR you typically end up with a undesirable grainy look. This grain, or noise as it is often referred to, can often take away from the sharpness and can, if not wanted, give the photos an almost pixilated look. This look, while usually not the best, can be taken and transformed into something great. TURN THEM INTO BLACK AND WHITE! I remember when I was just beginning to shoot with a SLR camera I loved to use Ilford 3200 speed film. The grain it produced was something great and offered my photos an almost tangible realism. Now, when wanting to reproduce that look I boost my ISO to that same 3200 speed and knowing that I will want this look, change them to black and white in Photoshop. By doing this I once again offer a grainy realism to my photos that makes them something special.
A word of caution…you have to be careful though, not to go too high with your ISO as DSLRs these days have a huge range with the ISO options often ranging to 25,000. While you can go that high, often if you your photos will look overly noisy, making the picture less and less viewer friendly, where the noise gets to the point where it takes away rather than helps. It all goes back to taking the picture right and not editing it to become right.
It’s that time of year and the leaves are changing! Fall can offer some of the best variations in your photography and often allows for seemingly unnatural beauty in nature. However, capturing that image as you see it can often be more difficult than anticipated, but there are lots of great tips and things we can do in order to get the best photos possible.
First and foremost, the most important thing is lighting. Morning and evening light will allow the best images in a big scene, enhancing the colors throughout. However, this does not my any means imply that other times of the day are useless for shooting. Mid-day light, when focusing on groups of trees or leaves, allows for bright and vibrant colors when backlighting your subject. Another tip when shooting fall foliage is to backlight your subject to brighten the scene, especially when photographing aspen trees this will add another dimension to the scene. You can also take advantage of overcast and shadowed days. The muted quality of the light acts as a natural softbox and provides for added drama, also this gives you more time to be out and explore, allowing for more opportunities to get better photos, and while your colors may not look as vibrant you will be able to get some great even lighting.
Another tip to taking advantage of fall colors is to use a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter improves color, enhancing reds, blues, and greens. It will also help to eliminate reflections and a waxy look that leaves often have. One additional benefit of using a polarizer is that it cuts through morning and atmospheric haze. This added clarity allows subjects to stand out more against the deeper tones of the sky so that fall foliage looks even more pronounced. When shooting into the sky a polarizing filter can also deepen the color of the sky and help to reduce glare from the sun.
In addition to shooting in the right time of day and using a polarizing filter, the easiest way to get great fall foliage pictures is to change your perspective! Don’t ALWAYS focus on the great scene in front of you, but look close and see what else is around that might not have been so readily apparent. Fallen leaves, reflections, and other small elements can offer new views to a easily viewed scene. Switch your lens from standard zoom to telephoto or macro and see the new scene that can be captured by your camera. But last and most importantly of all, just get out and shoot!
As a photographer I travel a lot, its great to get out on the road and see new and exciting places but no matter how many new places I go there are certain places that I go back to again and again. Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park is one of those places! Located about 20 minutes north of Jackson, WY this dirt road offers some of the best places to view sunrise in Grand Teton. There are 2 fantastic and historic barns, which offer not only great foreground elements for the photograph but also a glimpse into what early settlers in this area had to work with. Like I said, sunrise in this area is one of my favorites; as the sun rises, lighting the clouds that so often act as halos to the Tetons, it also brings life to this beautiful area. During the year my family heads the area at least 10 times and no trip, no matter how many times I’ve been there before seems to feel right without at least a quick visit to see these testaments to the past.
I often say that the best way to get good images is to take lots of images. No one ever got anywhere just staying at home, watching old reruns of the Cosby Show, and swearing that “tomorrow” they would go out and shoot. The best photographers are the ones who are continually trying to master their craft, which come by…wait for it…WORKING ON IT!
I recently had the chance to take a friend to Grand Teton National Park. We had very limited time so it was key that we planned out what we wanted to do. However, things don’t always happen that way. First off, we had car problems in the middle of the trip which set us back the first night, not allowing us to get a sunset shot. Then the next and only day we had for shooting there was a fire close by in Idaho which was awesome for sunrise, creating super orange and red skies, but shortly thereafter the smoke covered the Tetons making it impossible to even see then, let alone get good shots. So we spent the day driving and hiking, hoping to come across something of worth. I was pretty discouraged but then, while driving past a wheat field with some trees in the back, the image of this photograph just popped into my head. So I slammed on the breaks and got this little beauty.
The high contrast light on the green coupled with the smoky mountains behind, creates for an effect that at no other time would have been there. It just goes to say that even though we as photographers can’t control the elements, we can definitely control how we respond to them.
Nikon D800E, Nikkor 70-200mm, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/800 sec
Last week I moved to Doha Qatar(I know, super crazy and probably the most random place in the world), but before I left I taught a bunch of workshops and took a ton of photo trips to try to get my fill of mountains since the next couple of months I’ll only be able to look at sand. The last workshop I taught was in Zion National Park and as part of that I took the people to the Toroweap Overlook on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Its only about 60 miles from Zion but it takes a few hours because the road is a little sketch, and yes I did have a blowout in my Suburban(YAHOO!). But no matter the road the end result is amazing with fantastic views of the Colorado River and we were blessed with great light. Here are a few of the pics from that trip.
Nikon D800E, Singh-Ray 3 stop soft grad filter, ISO 50, 24mm, f/11, 2 sec
Nikon D800E, 14mm. Canyon: ISO 800, f/2.8 490 sec. Sky ISO 3200, f/2.8 48 sec
Nikon D800E, Singh-Ray 3 stop reverse grad filter, ISO 160, f/16, 0.6 sec
So here I am, like the thousands of other photographers in the world, trying to stand out and make someone notice my work. To me, photography is more than just taking a snapshot of a pretty sunset or tall waterfall; its more than a cute couple or newborn baby; its even more than remembering the family vacation to the beach or uploading pictures on Facebook so people think I do way more fun things that I actually do. To me photography is a way of life, the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I contemplate before going to bed. Photography is my life bread, the driving force that keeps me working on today and planning for the future.
In the world of digital photography and endless amounts of storage space, anyone who has a little bit of money and more than a little bit of free time can claim to be a photographer. But what makes the difference between a “photographer” and a photographer? Is it the size of your camera, how long you went to school to get that BFA or MFA, or maybe the number of Lightroom presets you have downloaded to your computer? If you ask me, the difference between the two is the dedication and the drive that you have. Photography isn’t learned overnight, it takes thousands and millions of photographs to become even remotely proficient. And can anyone get lucky and get a few great images amongst the many failures, of course, and everyone takes photos that aren’t what we want. However, it is those who put in the time and effort to make their photography work and successful that in the end will be successful.
Photography is my life, and I believe it shows in my work.
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