Dec 012016
 
Catch You When You Fall

“Catch You When You Fall” || Serene fall colors in the meadow at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Fine art prints available – click on photo to order)

How many of you have photographed a gorgeous location only to arrive at home to say, “I didn’t really capture what I wanted” while reviewing your images? Ever had that sinking feeling while you are sipping coffee at your desk when you realize if you would have just moved to the left two feet or switch to a different lens, that would have made the image you wanted—and now there’s nothing you can do about it?  It’s a total bummer, isn’t it?

While reviewing your images on your computer, asking yourself what you could have done differently on your photo shoot will certainly lead to a refined understanding of your current photographic abilities and provide new ideas to try on your next shoot. However, your ability to resolve what you do not like about your photograph is limited to some cropping, exposure levels, and other processing software features. Otherwise, it is difficult to “fix” an image you spent all that time working on in the field, brought home, and then generally disliked.

The ideal time to conduct an initial critique on your work is when you are standing behind your camera in the field. When you analyze your photograph while you are in the process of making it, you give yourself the opportunity to resolve any issues at the time of capture.

After you set up a composition, review your photograph on the back of your LCD.  Check for obvious technical issues like exposure, white balance, depth of field, etc. Then (assuming the light is not fleeting or the jaguar is not disappearing into the woods), take a minute to conduct a quick critique on your image, specifically asking, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?”

Pay attention to your answers! Increase the focus in your photograph on the elements you like. Then, fix or eliminate what you do not like. Repeat this process over and over until you have a frame you can say, “YES! I like everything in this photo!” Only then should you pick your tripod up and move on to another composition.

To give you an idea of how this works, here is the sequence of photographs I made which resulted in the marquee photo above titled, “Catch You When I Fall:”

Sequences of my RAW images that eventually resulted in “Catch Me When I Fall” (the photograph at the top of this post). Click on the photo to view larger.

Now, I typically have a difficult time seeing the trees through the forest (preferring instead to slap on a wide-angle lens and photograph the entire forest…). However, when I saw the colorful trees and leaves being cradled by the luscious grasses at Sieur de Monts in Acadia National Park in Maine this past autumn, I knew I wanted to make a more intimate image I titled, “Catch Me When I Fall” (which expressed the emotion I immediately felt when I saw the scene).

The landscape initially felt very busy to my eye, so I started with a classic horizontal composition with a birch tree in the bottom left corner of the Rule of Thirds grid and the leading lines of the grasses leading across the frame (image “_1110461.dng, or just #461 for short). After I snapped it, I asked myself, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t you like about it?” I loved the grasses and leaves, but the composition looked too forced and predictable. I also did not like how the subtle line of grasses led the eye essentially out of the frame without going anywhere interesting.

I moved my camera around slightly for image #462 and #463 to resolve those issues but in doing so, realized I had too much grass and not enough of the fall colors I enjoyed so much when I saw the scene. The balance of visual elements felt off.

I tilted my camera up slightly for image #464.

I checked my histogram, and the exposure was too dark so I added about 1/3 stop of light to lighten in #465.

Then I thought I might have too much of the grass in the foreground, which led to me walking into the scene about 10-12 feet to record image #466.

When I did so, however, I lost the leaves in the foreground which was a strong visual element critical to my composition. I decided if the horizontal orientation offered to much of the grass, a vertical orientation would reduce the amount. Hence, image #467.

I noted the image was underexposed, so added another third stop of light for image #468.

For #469, I tilted the camera up a little to position the leaves differently within the frame and emphasize the very subtle path of separated grasses takes from the foreground to the background through the trees. And to straighten my implied horizon. :) I liked this, though!

I could have stopped here (note that #469 and my final frame of #476 are quite similar), but being anal-retentive, I kept asking “what if…,” specifically, what if I moved the placement of the leaves within the frame starting with #470? I liked the leaves better, but I went too wide and started getting “UFO’s” (like distracting plant branches and berries on the left-hand side of my image, too many leaves in the bottom left corner). And my horizon was crooked. Again. So #471, 472, and 473.

As I adjusted my composition, the clouds had thickened and the natural light had decreased so I needed more light via my exposure so I clicked #474.

During the middle of my 13-second exposure, the breeze kicked up and moved the grasses. I knew instantly that would be a throw-away frame but checked my histogram anyhow.  That’s when I noticed the sky in the top right corner blinking at me. Rather than darken the whole exposure, I chose to angle my camera down towards the ground to eliminate it from my composition resulting in #475.

I still did not like the few leaves in the bottom left corner, so I made a small camera tilt to eliminate them in #476. Then a YES! I like everything about it! “Catch You When You Fall” came to life!

(This process should bring great comfort to those of you who think you’re too analytical, as I am–I tell you what, it pays to be picky in your photography!)

This might take one try or six hundred.  Regardless, don’t give up! Something grabbed your attention strongly enough to stop you in your tracks and wrestle with that dreaded tripod (be one with the tripod…)—and since you are the only person in the world who can see it like you do, it is worth putting the effort into polishing your personal visual expression.

Keep in mind that fixing what you do not like about a photograph relies heavily on the tools you have collected in your photographic “toolbox” (e.g. technical knowledge, familiarity with your camera, human perception). So, if you find yourself with a problem you do not know how to fix, do not get frustrated. This is simply a sign of where you might need to develop a new skill.

This approach is especially helpful when you stand in front of an overwhelming scene and simply do not know where to start. Like putting a pen to a blank sheet of paper and then editing the words later, snap “anything.” Then review your photograph and ask, “What do you like about this photograph?” and “What don’t I like about it?” Keep what you like; fix what you don’t. Rinse, lather, repeat.

In addition to helping you bring home images you like with greater consistency, over time, you will train your brain and eye to quickly notice key visual elements (like shape, color, light, form, pattern, balance, spatial relationship, etc.) you like and to disregard what you do not like more naturally, which will ultimately help you develop your own individual style.

Have you tried this approach before? If so, tell us what you like about it (and what you don’t like about it)!

Jul 012016
 
Grand Serenity

“Grand Serenity” || The rising sun illuminates unnamed cliffs along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on the photo to order)

When I used to work as a project manager for Intel, I occasionally heard the advice from upper management, “Don’t confuse effort with results.”

Initially, it seemed like pretty harsh advice as my dedicated team worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to help bring a new software application to life for our internal customers.  Didn’t our managers (and customers) appreciate our tireless efforts?

Most of them did, yes; but it did not replace their expectations that the software application eventually had to function without “bugs” (flaws/issues), as designed and delivered on (or before) the date our team promised. Anyone who has been involved in software engineering knows this sometimes involves project teams displaying impressive feats of strength and willpower equivalent to Superman moving the Earth…

Although I left the corporate life behind over nine years ago, I see this playing out all too often in the outdoor photography world.  As photographers vie for attention on social media channels and elsewhere, this notion of traveling to unknown foreign lands, enduring unforgiving conditions, and torturing oneself to “get the shot” has overshadowed the value of an artist’s ability to observe, feel, and visually express their individual connection with the land.

Don’t get me wrong; as wondering and wandering photographers explore the Great Outdoors, fascinating adventure stories do tend to emerge. And sometimes you need to push and challenge yourself to experience a place to the fullest extent.  In fact, famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that the mental state of “flow”—when you feel like you are “in the zone,” and that leads to increased happiness and creativity—occurs when a person concentrates on an important and challenging activity that requires some level of skill.

But just because you walked 17 miles in Class 4 terrain on the side of a mountain while hobbling on a broken foot through the middle of the night in grizzly bear country during the worst summertime blizzard in recorded history does not automatically guarantee that you “nailed it.”

Don’t confuse effort with results.

Maybe you did.  Maybe this harrowing experience was so real, rich, and personal that you made a hundred images that were meaningful to you.  Awesome.  The expressive images you created resulted from you wholeheartedly feeling the fear of the darkness, the cold snowflakes seeping through your leg cast, and the wind burning exposed parts of your skin, though, not because you merely survived the grand adventure.

This personal and emotional connection with your journey and with your environment drives the creation of unique images—and you can accomplish this in your backyard under sunny skies, in Iceland under a glorious sunset, and everywhere in between.  It matters not where you are standing but rather how you make the most of what you are standing in front of by incorporating your skills, intimate knowledge, and background.

Maybe you didn’t bring home any images.  Awesome.  Was the experience meaningful to you?  Did you have fun?  Mission accomplished.

To drive the point home, I made the image above from our Fossil camp (river mile ~125.5) while on our raft trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Before dawn, I casually strolled about 100 yards on a gorgeous sandy horseshoe-shaped beach to reach this point on the river.  I waded across a small riffle and sat on a boulder waiting for the rising sun to illuminate the deep canyon walls in the distance.  I inhaled my surroundings.  I felt at peace and at home after four days on the river.  I felt like each new day unfolded exciting mysteries of geology, history, and adventure.  I felt the constant shifts between flat water and roaring rapids.

I intentionally composed to show this serenity, this mystery of light, and the balance of the two water energies.  Then I snapped my frame.

With a cup of delicious coffee in one hand (and cable release in the other, of course).  In 80-degree weather with a light cool breeze.  While still in my pajamas.  While waiting for our amazing guides to finish cooking up made-to-order Eggs Benedict for our group’s breakfast.  One can only imagine the immensity of the tragic conditions I endured.

But really, I should not confuse effort with results…

Apr 132016
 

(**My apologies if you see a duplicate post on this topic…technical issues…**)

Back in January, I had the privilege of serving as a guest on the renowned Take & Talk Pics with Rob Kreuger.  If you missed the show and would like to listen in, find the links from my earlier blog post about it at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/go-4-it-colleens-take-talk-pics-podcast/.

After we completed my interview, I suggested to Rob that I would love to know his answers to the questions he posed to me so I could hear his excellent insights as a wedding and commercial photographer.  Who knew that would lead to my first experience as a podcast interviewer!?!

For episode #161 on April 6, 2016–the podcast’s first anniversary–I had distinct honor to turn the tables on Rob and interview HIM on his own show! I was a little nervous in the opening minutes, but the experience was great fun and ended up being a really exciting show (of course, I am slightly biased…).

If you’d like to hear his story and insights into the photography business, visit http://takeandtalkpics.com/161-rob-krueger/.  Hope you enjoy!

A huge congratulations to Rob and Take & Talk Pics for all his success thus far. And cheers for more to come! Thanks for all you do for the photography community, Rob!

Apr 122016
 

Recently, I was honored to be the featured guest on Fred Weymouth’s Lens and Landscape Photography Podcast.  We had a lovely chat about Arizona’s wildflowers, the NPS artist-in-residency program, the creative process and photography, and more!

Have a listen to the 40-minute episode for free (or if you prefer, read the transcript posted) at http://www.lensandlandscape.net/epi…/5-colleen-miniuk-sperry.  Here’s hoping you get some new ideas and inspirations out of our interview!

Fred recently started this podcast and has already featured some amazing photographers on his show like Larry Lindahl and Mike Moats (coming soon) so you might also wish to check out his other interviews as well.  You’ll definitely want to bookmark his page to hear his future shows too.  Can’t wait to see what he comes up with!

Jan 212016
 

Looking for some great tips and inspiration for getting into–and surviving and enjoying!–the outdoor photography industry?  I recently had a blast serving as a featured guest on the very popular Take & Talk Pics podcast with Rob Krueger.

In this exciting one-hour episode titled “Go 4 It,” I share my story about how I got into this business and how I operate today in hopes of helping those who are either in the outdoor photography world professionally or are seriously considering it further their own interests.  However, even those who simply love and enjoy of photography as a hobby will hopefully also draw inspiration from our talk.

To listen to the podcast (free of charge), visit takeandtalkpics.com/go-for-it-colleen-miniuk-sperry or head over to iTunes to download via the direct link:  itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/take-talk-pics-rob-krueger/id982926616?mt=2.  Some of the key topics we cover include:

  • What my mantra “You Can Sleep When You’re Dead” really means
  • How photographing everything BUT landscape photography for several years helped me become a better outdoor photographer today
  • Why bringing curiosity to my work is my most important business practice
  • The one bad business habit I’d like to break
  • The three key things photographers can do to grow and succeed in the photography industry
  • And much more!

Need more convincing?  Take & Talk Pics founder and interviewer, Rob Krueger, had this to say in his write-up about our discussion: “Now Photo World it has been months since I have had an episode go much further than my usual 30 minutes of amazing content but today is nearly twice that. After getting to know Colleen a bit I knew that she had a lot to share with you as you grow on your own journey’s. Also I can’t even remember the last time I wet [sic] over all of my questions for an interview. I am glad to say that today’s episode is saturated with value…”

So GO FOR IT!  Have a listen!  You can sleep when you’re dead!

(And if you like what you hear or have additional tips based on your experience, please feel free to leave a comment about it here on this blog post or on Rob’s at takeandtalkpics.com/go-for-it-colleen-miniuk-sperry)

~Colleen

Oct 232015
 
Whispers in the Water

“A Whisper in the Water” || Jordan Stream, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available – click on photo to purchase yours!)

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”  ~Elizabeth Lawrence

While Acadia National Park no doubt possesses grand beauty, I oftentimes find myself marveling (sometimes for hours and hours…) at the little details and moments that make the landscapes so special.  While sauntering along Jordan Stream on my final day in the park last week (on my most recent two-week stay), magical reflections dancing in a small pool absolutely entranced me.  Thanks to a variety of trees donning their fall colors beneath a blue sky opposite of where I stood, the palette of colors – reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues – changed constantly on top of the water.  I could have watched this interplay of light and hues all evening, but I knew I had to make a photo of this!

As I put my 100-400mm lens on my tripod, I decided I needed a little faster shutter speed to keep the undulating water from rending too much motion in the final photo.  However, I was photographing underneath a canopy of trees (in shade) in late afternoon light.  In other words, I did not have a lot of natural light available.  That’s an easy enough challenge, but I also had a polarizing filter stuck on the front of my lens (for almost two years now; I have tried it all, it is not budging) which meant I would lose one to two stops of light as a result.

Considering my circumstances, I settled on my widest aperture of f/5.6 and an ISO speed of 1600, which yielded a 1/40th of a second shutter speed.  Not as fast as I would have liked, but I was not willing to bump my ISO speed to 3200 to get to 1/80th of a second.  With how slow the water was moving, in the difference between those two settings would have been inconsequential – and would have increased the noise/grain in the final image.

After snapping numerous frames of just the water reflections, I evaluated my results.  I liked the general concept of the wave movement, colors, and light, but in the end, felt the images lacked some structure.

As I observed the colors and patterns change, nearby eddy would occasionally push leaves into my composition.  Sometimes a clump of five or six would enter my frame; on a few occasions, only one would pass through.  As they would float by, I felt like they were subtle whispers or messages crossing momentarily through reflections.  I originally kept them out of my frame because I was not sure if I could render them sharp enough with my shutter speed.  I figured I would give it a shot (or two or two hundred) though…it’s only pixels after all.  And they put the Delete button on the back of the camera for a reason, right? Right!

At first, I tracked a few leaves using autofocus, thinking that would be the fastest way to ensure the leaves rendered sharp.  I missed a bunch of great opportunities as my lens kept zooming in and out, trying unsuccessfully to pick up the requisite contrast to focus on in the ripples.  So I returned to manual focus and tried to track the leaves with my camera as they’d cross my view.  But trying to focus while tracking on a tripod became a comical exercise.  I could not hand-hold the camera steady enough at 1/40th of a second to get a sharp image.  Generally, you want your shutter speed to be faster than 1/focal length of your lens to ensure sharp images while hand-holding the camera.  In my case, this meant 1/400th of a second or faster…theoretically, I could have increased my ISO significantly, but again at the expense of much grain.

Instead of taking my camera off the tripod, I decided on a different approach – one I use while photographing people in the environment ironically.  I composed my frame with my desire background of the reflections, and then simply waited (and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited….) for a leaf to come into my frame.  As Elizabeth Lawrence’s quote above suggests, I sat still and watched the leaves turn along the stream.  This experience alone was worth my time; if a photo resulted, it would be simply be more proverbial gravy on a heaping pile of delectable mashed potatoes.

Within the 70 attempts I made as various collections and individuals of leaves roaming through my composition, I managed to create the photograph of a single leaf (see above), one I titled “A Whisper in the Water” because of my emotional connection with it.  I really liked the lone leaf, as it conveyed more serenity and calmness than the groupings of leaves did – and helped express the concept of “whispers” I wanted to share.

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm at 400mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6 at 1/40th sec., polarizer (by necessity, not choice, which did nothing for my photo other than slow it down).

Want to learn more about photographing Jordan Stream and other beautiful locations in Acadia National Park? Pick up an autographed copy of my guidebook Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How at www.photoacadia.com.

Sep 032015
 
What Lies Within Counts

“What Lies Within Counts” || Abstract, close-up view of a dandelion seed head from City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Sometimes while photographing, we arrive at a grand scene offering so much beauty that causes us to – rightfully so – feel quickly overwhelmed.  To overcome this unsettling sensation, I tap into mindfulness techniques as a way to become more aware and connected with our surroundings (as some of you have experienced while participating in my photo workshops).

When I intentionally slow myself down to express curiosity and gratitude for my surroundings, the process oftentimes leads to a “flash of perception” experience, or in other words, a moment where I say, “WOW, look at THAT!”  When I catch myself saying this (especially if I say it aloud while alone!), I know instantly it is my cue to break out the camera gear and start creating a photograph.

Without further exploration and definition, though, the “THAT” is difficult to bottle up and stuff into a rectangular frame successfully.  To help provide additional guidance to my compositions, I will frequently title my image before I snap the shutter.  If I have trouble condensing my thoughts into a short title, I will simply talk through what I am seeing, focusing on the shapes, colors, lines, forms, etc. grabbing my attention.  As I outline my thoughts, I pay close attention to the words and concepts I can express photographically.

In May 2015, at the Moab Photography Symposium, a frequent attendee and fine photographer introduced me (and eventually the entire audience) to his favorite way to connect what he sees with what he feels – a haiku – a technique he learned from famous photographer Eddie Soloway.  Using the traditional haiku form of three lines (the first and last lines requiring five syllables and the second, seven), a photographer describes what you see in the first two lines and then how you feel about it in the final line.

Having a great interest in poetry myself and having created haikus before in a different context, I immediately gravitated towards this new idea so relevant to photographers trying to understand their surroundings and ultimately, express their thoughts in pixels.  I’ve not only incorporated this process more regularly into my own photographic pursuits, but I now also offer it to my students during my photography workshops as another option for expressing what we observe.  In fact, I put the practice to recent use on my photographic outing last week.

While hiking one afternoon among the gigantic granite spires in City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho, I came upon a meadow full of summer blooms – rabbit brush, yellow salsify, asters, and more – interspersed among the junipers and sage brush.  I spent a few minutes simply admiring summer’s abundance – and my fortunate opportunity to see it.  After observing for awhile, I noticed a small dandelion seed head off on its own in a small clearing in the middle of the busyness. I walked over to inspect more closely.

Joy in the Little Things

“Joy in the Little Things” || Abstract macro view of a yellow salisfy seed from the Henry Mountains in southern Utah (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Having recently photographed a similar, but much larger subject – the yellow salsify seed head – in the Henry Mountains this past July (see photo “Joy in the Little Things”  on the right) and again along the very trail I was hiking before reaching this meadow, I knew I wanted to get my lens as close as possible to study the intricate details of this smaller, but equally exciting, specimen.  To do so, I grabbed my 100mm macro lens and two 12mm extension tubes.

As I set up around the fluff ball, I started to think about how I would title my frame by considering why I picked out this exact subject.  Certainly, the intriguing shapes and structure contrasting the softness interested me.  But, there was more to it than just the visual appeal…

I came up with “What Lies Within Counts” to reference not only the dandelion within the larger context of its existence in the field and it’s relevance to life in general, but also the heart-like shape I saw (which is the shape of the out-of-focus bracts of the dandelion) that offset the bright white radiating shapes.

Immediately thereafter, in almost in a whimsical song, a haiku started to develop in my head, with the title of my photograph becoming the last line of the haiku:

Look Closely (A Haiku)
A busy field sways,
Veils one dandelion’s grace –
What lies within counts.

With the title and haiku as my guides, I tested a number of different compositions to fulfill these notions.  I eventually settled on placing the dandelion bracts as off-centered as possible to create a sense of asymmetrical balance while keeping the flower itself centered in the frame to allow for a natural vignette to occur (which is simply the edge of the flower appearing against the ground, blurred by a wide f/2.8 aperture setting).  Because of a substantial, but irregular breeze, I bumped my ISO to 800, which yielded a fast enough shutter speed (1/500th of a second) to help freeze the dandelion as it swayed in the meadow.

In addition to waiting for the breeze to calm momentarily, I also waited for a cloud to pass in front of the sun to turn the harsh, contrasty mid-day light into more pleasing, softer diffused light.

As I packed up, I still noodled on the title and tagline of the haiku as it related to photography.  In order to make our personally meaningful nature photographs, I certainly believe “what lies inside [the photographer] counts.”  By paying attention to our individual backgrounds, experience, knowledge, and interests – all the things that drive you to you say “WOW, look at THAT!” – leads to more consistent success and satisfaction in the image making process.

Just remember to look closely not just at your subjects, but at yourself as you do so…

May 062015
 

Photo copyright Ashlee Outsen

I enjoy walking around the beautiful city of Flagstaff that I live in. I love the beauty of nature and everything that it inspires. I find that I can really disconnect from the world and relax from everything that life holds. This image was a spur of the moment decision. I was actually taking a picture of my fiancée, and saw the way the sun set through the weeds. I choose to snap this photograph and capture this ethereal feel that the sunset was creating.

I have an old Nikon D3100 and the lens that I have on my camera is originally from a film Nikon. It’s so old it doesn’t even have auto focus. But, this lens allows me to appreciate the work that goes into photography and it also helps me to take the perfect image, because I will stop and think through the photograph and take the needed time in order to create an image like this one. It’s just a standard 18-55mm lens. In order to account for the large amount of sun that was coming through the lens, I had a small aperture of around F 5.6 and a fairly quick shutter speed of 1/140. My ISO was set at 100.

For post processing, I always bump up the clarity. I love crisp image where you can practically jump into the photograph! I also like black and white image more than color. It is partially because of my personality. I like things in life black and white, yes or no. But, this image was so warm that I decided that it needed to have slight color brought into it. It’s just warm enough so you can get that feel of sun after winter. It’s as if it almost rejuvenates your soul. That’s the effect that I wanted this image to have. I wanted you to be able to look at it and just image how warm the sun felt on this day. I want you to be able to get lost in this image and forget about the world for just a second. Think about all of the wonderful things that have happened in your life instead of the bad.

That’s what I like my images to do. To allow the viewer to stop and catch their breath from the mundane day to day life and drift off into a fairytale and enjoy that moment, if just for a minute.

About the Photographer:
Hi! My name is Ashlee Outsen and I am a student at Northern Arizona University. I am majoring in Graphic design and minoring in photography. I have always been interested in the aspect of telling a story without using words. It gives people the opportunity to experience the photograph on their own rather then the entire story literally being spelled out before them. Photography has been a hobby for about 7 years now. That being said, I focus on landscape because it makes my heart happy.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 162013
 
Waves of Change

“Waves of Change,” Ecola State Park (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Almost eight years ago to the day, Craig and I celebrated the end of our first temporary stay in Oregon by standing on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach.

Sunset at Indian Beach

“Sunset at Indian Beach” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I remember that evening in 2005 so vividly, I can still feel the memory today:  The gentle ocean breeze.  The smell of the tide change.  The warmth of the setting sun.  Two of the photographs I captured that evening – with my Contax 645 medium format film camera – now rest above our bed in our Arizona home to serve as a daily reminder of one of our favorite places and moments along the Oregon coast.

Months ago, as we prepared for our second temporary stay in Oregon, a rush of thoughts overwhelmed my mind based on our first experience.  Where to go, when to go, what to see, who to see, and how to record such ample and different beauty in Oregon. As they say, “So many places to see, so little time.” The list of places to see and things I want to do became longer than a child’s Christmas list.

Sea Stack Sunset

“Sea Stack Sunset” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Despite the seemingly endless new photographic opportunities this transition presented, I decided to start my photographic journey in Oregon in the same place I left off:  on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park.  It’s a place I’d been countless times before, and yet when I arrived on Tuesday morning, nothing, nothing, looked the same as 2005.

Upon coming to the realization that nothing, nothing, had remained the same, I smiled as big as the little girl who got everything she wished for on December 25.  In that instance, I mouthed the words as the wind whispered, “No man ever steps in same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~Heraclitus.

(Turns out Heraclitus’ quote applies to oceans and women too!)

I couldn’t have been happier to learn that in eight years, everything, everything, has changed.  Mother Nature altered the landscape such that I can no longer stand in the same place as I did before, thanks to landslides.   Those landslides pushed new rocks into the ocean, and each wave crashed a little differently on those new sea stacks.  It’s not possible for me to re-create the same compositions I did in 2005, even if I wanted to-I didn’t.

On top of significant natural changes and differing light/weather, I’m thankfully not the same person, photographer, artist that stood on that headland before.  I replaced my film camera long ago with two generations of digital cameras.  I now know what to do with a graduated neutral density filter.   I’ve embraced my love affair with the coast, despite living in the desert.  Endless experiences – conversations, readings, successes, failures, travels, and other inspirations – have challenged and changed my perspectives over time so that when I look at a scene I’ve seen before, I’m looking through an entirely different lens.

Ansel Adams summed it best:   “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Hang On!

“Hang On!” Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Whether we know it or not, as time passes, we and the world around us are constantly changing.  But, neither change nor creativity needs to be a passive activity.  If we seek to create new images in the same spots, we must change as a person.  Simply buying a new lens won’t cut it.  Oh sure, new gear can help execute new visions, but we need to start with new ideas and make different associations among the knowledge we already possess to see, and ultimately photograph, something new in places we’ve already been once or a hundred times.

Consciously and subconsciously, we can gain fresh thoughts everywhere and anytime, not just while photographing.  Some ideas how:

  • Reverse engineer photos you like to understand the process they used to achieve a specific result.  How’d they do it?  Then how would you do it differently?
  • Keep asking “what if.”  What if you used a different lens?  What if you climbed the hill for a more aerial perspective?  What if you saw the ocean as the desert, metaphorically speaking?
  • Devour books.  Not just photography books, but anything that tickles your passion and stimulates your brain.
  • Listen to music, watch movies, attend plays.  And then think about how you can incorporate the concepts and ideas you hear, see, and experience into your photography.
  • Talk with and exchange ideas with others.  Not just other photographers, but also those who know nothing about photography, who explore other activities and fields you enjoy, and think differently than you.  Surround yourself with people who know more than you.
  • Screw up.  Often.  Then learn from the experience to develop even more new ideas.
  • Engage with your environment.  An experience you have in one location can help trigger ideas in a different location.  Ride a bike, go for a hike, take a field-based class – whatever gets you closer to your subject.

So last Tuesday, I brought with me to Indian Beach all my experiences from spending 90+ days in Acadia National Park in Maine over the last four years, every critique I’ve conducted during all the photography workshops I teach, the entire process of writing a book about Arizona wildflowers, and more simply, even the songs I heard on the radio as I drove to Ecola State Park, among so many other things.  And as a result, my photographs look nothing, nothing, like they did in 2005.

What other tips do you have to see the same place with fresh eyes?

Spring Emergence

“Spring Emergence,” False lily-of-the-valley at Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Apr 202013
 
Valgento_Tracy

Photograph copyright Tracy Valgento

Hello! First off I wanted to say how happy I am to be featured on You Can Sleep When You’re Dead! My name is Tracy Valgento and I wanted to share with you a tutorial that puts a new spin on art photography.

This is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image of a bronze fire sculpture. (Don’t know what that is? Click here for a great instructional page on HDRs http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/high-dynamic-range.htm) While HDRs are traditionally used for sunsets and landscapes, I wanted something unique. I was inspired to take this image after seeing an HDR of a bronze Buddha in a Thai temple. It was so beautiful that it sent me into a creative tailspin!

The art of metal working is something I have never had an interest in doing, but that I admire greatly. For this image I wanted to portray the ‘grit’ of welding that gives metal sculptures their character. Additionally, I wanted an abstract effect when I shot the image, hence the tight crop that allows for the flames to be visible, but still left open for viewer interpretation.

My method: This picture was taken with a Canon 30D and the 18-55mm lens. This is an HDR image, which means that it is a compilation of three images at three different exposures mushed together in post-production. Before taking the picture, I set my camera up on a tripod (you want to make sure to have exactly the same picture 3x over to avoid “ghosting”, which happens when everything isn’t lined up). I then set the camera to the “drive” setting on my camera and set up the exposure bracketing. I set the camera to take pictures at three stops so that one was overexposed (too bright), one was normally exposed and one was under exposed(too dark). (You can set it to include the half stops as well to equal five, but this is not crucial to the effect.) Then I hit the shutter. In one click I had all the shots I needed to go home and make an HDR!

For post-production I usually default to Lightroom, but in this case Photoshop is really the best tool. I uploaded the images to Lightroom and merged them into one stack, this makes for easy transfer to Photoshop via the “edit in” function. Once the images were in Photoshop I began the HDR magic!

Open the “Merge to HDR” tool, found under “File> Automate” in the top menu, and click “OK” to compile the images. It will take a while to process depending on how fast your computer processor is butonce the image has compressed, you will see a combined histogram for your HDR with a variety of adjustment tools. For this image, I adjusted the detail extensively to show off the previously mentioned welding marks, and then boosted the black contrast on the image (a matter of personal preference).  Once this is done, you want to make sure and compress the layers in Photoshop before you export and save!

About the Photographer:
I’ve always considered myself a creative person: I love to craft, cook, and sew, but most of all I love photography. My focus is on wedding, portrait, and lifestyle photography because it gives me so much joy to capture special moments in people’s lives.

Contact me at tracyvalgentophotography@gmail.com. Or if you are interested in my work, or would like to know more about me and my photography please check out the following:

My Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tracy-Valgento-Photograpy/319808464800098?fref=ts

I also Pinterest, follow me there to get photo tips and tricks or see what inspires me: http://pinterest.com/tracyvphoto/photography

My blog:  http://tracyvalgentophotography.blogspot.com (This is currently under review, but should be up and running soon!)

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction on our April 15 post at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/introducing-the-nau-photography-students-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project.