Thursday, August 25, 2016


The best photography is found where technical know-how and creative aesthetics meet.  For this month's blog, I will share a combination of both.

The right brain needs to "see something," then shake hands with the left brain and say,       "I have an idea.....and this is what I need from you." I will share tips from both sides of the brain and how they relate. Confused? Read on.

Although I have my preferences, every time of day and every weather condition can produce interesting results. It's more of a matter of taste than what is right or wrong. 

That said, I do prefer to shoot in the mornings, evenings, under cloudy or overcast skies, or after a calm rain. Mornings give me less harsh lighting, coupled with diagonal light and long shadows--all of which I take advantage. Evenings give me the same attributes, plus warm hues. Cloudy or overcast skies make colors "pop" and make it easy for the built-in light meter to give me what I want. Rainy days give me reflections--I love reflections.  

Other conditions I like are before the sun rises or sets. Both scenarios require uncommon long exposures, which can create magic in the final image.

Let me show some examples of why autumn remains my #1 season to photograph. I will share any pertinent right brain or left brain applications along the way.

Some say Maroon Bells in Colorado are the most photographed peaks in the U.S. I can't vouch for that, but, as you can see, it just might be true.

I have photographed Maroon Bells several times. When I know what I want, sometimes I need to return two, three, or even more get it right. This is that one time when almost everything came together for me. I had hoped that the clouds cleared the peaks completely. However, as it turned out, I liked the mystery added by the clouds. 

I waited 45 minutes for this shot. Yes. Really. When I started shooting that early morning, The clouds almost completely covered the peaks. So, I continued shooting other areas while I kept my eyes on the weather over the peaks. Then, I saw them. I got my composition, set my depth of field, set the proper exposore. Click!

Lessons: Be patient, very patient--the best opportunities seldom appear the moment you want them. Get up early. Most lakes are more mirror-like in early mornings. In my book,       I spend several sentences on a model I've followed for decades: CDE. You get your Composition, Depth of Field, and Exposure right and you can guarantee yourself a good shot. In this case, I chose a vertical view to enhance attention to the reflections. I intentionally included the rocks sprinkled throughout to add "eye flow" and "containment."

Make sure you have enough depth of field to cover everything from foreground to background (sharpening and clarity cannot fix errors in focusing and choice of f/stop).

When I decide on my composition and focus point/f-stop combination, I then estimate the best exposure (f/stop & shutter speed combination) and take a test shot. I then double check for depth of field and exposure, make any adjustments needed, then get my shot.  


Sometimes we don't have to do much with a scene--it's just there waiting for us to go "click."
However, we have to be there when the magic is happening. Timing. Timing. Timing. 

For this shot, I set out to find some side lighting, hoping to find the right composition. Wow did I luck out! Yes, I planned the timing. Yes, I had a general sense of what I wanted. Yes,    I had the skills to make the best of any scenario that presented itself to me. But, who was to know I would come across this natural Monet scenario, including the clouds. Click.

Lessons: Don't shoot like a tourist; shoot like a photographer. A tourist will start shooting at 10:00 and stop at 4:00, and look for those "post card" locales. Take advantage of side lighting. Include shadows and highlights in the scene--they give it mood, contrast, and a three dimensional feel. Add some foreground and some background, but not so much that they compete for attention--just enough to complement the main theme.

For the following shot, I put my camera right up against this tall aspen and shot straight up.
I was on my knees, so I couldn't see what I was getting. I had to carefully estimate where to aim my camera. My camera was on a tripod.

Lessons: There is no rule that says our eyes have to be behind the camera to get a shot.
Vary your perspectives--don't shoot everything from eye level. Focus approximately 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the view finder in order to increase your depth of field--never focus on the bottom of the viewfinder. As a general rule of thumb, your depth of field will be 1/3 in front of your focus point and 2/3 behind your focus point. Always over expose a scene like this when shooting against the bright sky, or you'll end up with silhouettes! This image was created at a +2 1/3 over exposure! Yes. If you expose for the middle tones, all other tones will fall into place--with just a little fine tuning needed afterward. My camera was about two feet from the ground.

It was getting late and the sun was setting. As I drove along a gravel road, I noticed the back lit aspens. Not the best lighting situation, but my intuition inspired me to stop the car, get out, and start exploring. I found this grouping of aspens with bright light behind them. 
I knew I wanted to emphasize the trail leading up to the aspens.

Lessons: Challenge yourself to shoot in less than ideal conditions--late evening, setting sun, back lit trees. In order to emphasize the trail and use it as a leading line, I had to get low, looking up at the trail. Alter your perspectives to get more interesting compositions. Don't be afraid to use your exposure compensation dial--what I call the "life saver" in photography.
This image was shot at a +1 1/3. You can safely assume that when you shoot against bright light, like in this scene, the built-in light meter will tend to expose for the brightest areas (the background sun light), thus rendering the leaves and trees darker than you would like.

I had been shooting all morning. Up to this point, I had concentrated on strictly nature shots. However, when I got to Lost Lake in Colorado, I saw this couple enjoying the moment.

Lessons: If you compose your shots carefully, you can include people and still go beyond documentary photography. If you can add reflections on top of that, you will end up with more than just a snapshot of a couple in a canoe. I composed my shot first, before the people were in view, then patiently waited for them to come across to complete my composition. See something before you see it. Create images, don't just take pictures.

As I shot around the Historic Loop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I saw this carriage coming up the street. The travel guide stopped next to this house as he shared Eureka history with the couple in the carriage. I quickly ran up to him, introduced myself, and asked him if I could take their picture. He said yes. I told him, "I'll stand over there and give you two signals--one when I'm ready to get the shot, and another one when I'm done. He and his customers politely obliged me, and I got my prize for the day.

Lessons:  At the risk of sounding redundant-- always get your composition down first, the rest will follow. I spend a chapter on composition in my book. Don't hesitate to talk to strangers--some of my best shots have been because I talked to people I didn't even know. Overcast skies really make autumn colors pop. Oh, and don't forget CDE. 

I could not leave you without introducing some photo art concepts. In today's digital world of photography, most of us try so hard to get everything, in every image, absolutely totally sharp and super saturated. It's okay to have less than sharp images. Really. We are programmed to think that is the only way it can be a great photograph. Part of that programming comes from the day we heard our parents say, "Take a picture." We are still "taking pictures."

I was in Crested Butte, Colorado, at the end of Maroon Avenue, when I came across a trail surrounded by aspens. I knew immediately that I had to convert the scene to Impressionism. I have the straight shot too in my collection, but I favor this one.

Lessons: Don't think so linear. Think outside the box. Loosen up. You don't always have to "take a picture." Think artistically. If you have a multiple exposure feature In your camera, start experimenting with it! Photography is not about engineering tolerance levels; it's about having fun! This is a double exposure. The first shot was slightly out of focus; the second one in sharp focus and slightly under exposed.

Now, pick your spots, go uninhibited without a specific agenda, let nature speak to you instead of you making firm decisions in advance, loosen up, and have fun! Oh, and don't forget--composition first!  

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