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.

Jan 162013
 

I have to spill the coffee beans…

This may be hard for some of you to believe, but…
I used to photograph food professionally. 

GASP!!

Not one to turn down a good challenge, I began shooting cuisine in late 2007 after seeing a stock call for “southwestern recipes” from a calendar company more famous for its landscape photography, and naively said, “Hmmm, that could be fun!”

For the three years that followed, fun it was as my husband, Craig, and I worked together to produce not one, not two, but three exclusive Southwest Cooking calendars.  In between developing new recipes and buying props for the calendars, I wrote restaurant reviews for a number of publications, including Arizona Highways magazine, who published my first restaurant article on one of our favorite spots in Arizona, The Cliff Dwellers Restaurant in Marble Canyon, called “Remote Possibilities.”  I also managed to collect a broad variety of commercial clients across Arizona to help with their advertising needs.

The food photography business was great on the pocketbook, but not so great for nurturing the soul of a nature lover – or for the booty, let’s be honest.  So in 2011, I stopped shooting alluring appetizers, enticing entrees, and delectable desserts to focus entirely on what I loved most, the Great Outdoors.

Though I’m no longer a shutterbug of sushi, I don’t regret spending those years getting a different flavor of photography.  In fact, I believe it’s made me a better nature photographer, as I still incorporate many of the techniques learned while photographing food during my outdoor escapades.  Specifically:

  1. Fleeting moments in nature disappear as quickly as fresh ice cream melts under hot lights.  For a single recipe featured in our calendars, we spent six to eight hours developing the recipe, arranging props, deciding on color schemes, and designing the set – “visualizing” – and only a few seconds photographing the final scene…which is about as long as most food looks edible in a studio setting.  Similarly, Mother Nature may only give us a few seconds to record “the” shot so prepare yourself for that special moment by drawing on paper or creating a picture in your mind of what you resulting photograph will look like – before snapping the shutter.
  2. If a photograph is truly worth 100o words, don’t use just 999 of them to convey your message.  During the extensive set designing process, we intentionally and precisely placed every single sesame seed, slice of lime, and sprinkle of cilantro in an exact location.  Before snapping the shutter, we studied every corner, the edges of the frame, and the visual relationship between the elements to ensure the scene appeared exactly as we wanted to convey exactly what we wanted.  Although changing moments in nature sometimes don’t allow a six to eight hour review of your composition, scan your frame before making the image to ensure you haven’t inadvertently included out of focus branches, overly lit areas on the edges of your frame, or anything else distracting from delivering a clear visual message.
  3. If the sesame seed doesn’t stay where you want when you move it, glue it.  Besides superglue, I’ve used glycerin, hairspray, soapy water, motor oil, mirrors, and a host of other hidden props to make a plate of food look presentable.  No matter your subject, once you have a clear vision, do whatever it takes to make it a reality (within legal and ethical boundaries, that is).  Put a shower cap over your lens to create an ethereal mood, hire a pilot to help you get an aerial perspective, or use a tongue-switch for hands-free operation of your camera while riding a bike (you’d be amazed at the stories you can tell about using a tongue switch!).  Being a persistent, creative problem solver pays off.  I’m currently imagining using the Cloud Machine to resolve my clear blue sky “dilemma.”
  4. Like a smooth, buttery Chardonnay, rocks, trees, and water don’t bite, so get closer.  If you think you’re close enough, if feasible, take two steps forward while keeping the same focal length of lens on your camera to eliminate extraneous details and keep your visual message clear.  Note:  Wildlife and people can bite so attach a teleconverter to a longer focal length lens instead of trying to get in their face.
  5. A normal-sized tostada looks more tantalizing on a tiny plate than on a big plate.  By tweaking proportions, we were able to draw attention to what seemed to be an abundant and attractive portion size.  When you aim to modify the relative size of natural objects, tap into the perspective distortion a wide-angle lens offers to make a bush or other object in the foreground look excessively large in comparison to its surroundings.  Or use a telephoto lens to compress two distant objects, making them seem closer together than they truly exist.

Have you recently tried photographing something outside your comfort zone?  What experiences and learnings have you had in photographing something other than the outdoors that eventually affected your nature photography?  We’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comments below!

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Oct 192012
 
Reflections of Calgary

Reflections of Calgary; Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

During my 10-day visit to Alberta, Canada last July to support the Through Each Others Eyes cultural photography exchange, my right pointer finger enthusiastically clicked the shutter over 4400 times.  While it was thrilling at the time to blast away at seemingly anything and everything that caught my eye, it created a gi-normous pile o’pixels I must now wade through to select a mere 20 photographs to display for the upcoming exhibition.  For the non-math majors in the crowd, that means picking out the top 0.5%!  YIKES!

Out of the thousands of images we might capture during a photographic outing, how do we decide which ones to keep and which ones to throw out?   No doubt, editing and critiquing our own photos can seem like an arduous quest – one that has no right or wrong answers – but here are some tips to help you identify your “keepers” in your collection:

  1.  Get organized.  Invest in an image management software like Adobe Bridge, Adobe  Lightroom, Apple Aperture, or the applications that arrived with your camera on a disc (e.g. Nikon Capture or Canon Digital Pro Photo) to help establish a centralized location to easily and consistently conduct your self-critique.
  2.  Bury your obvious screw-ups.  We all got ‘em, but the world doesn’t need to know about ‘em!  (Thank goodness we don’t track batting averages in photography!)  Once you’ve downloaded your images into your chosen software, liberally use the delete key to immediately eliminate frames that are out of focus, badly composed, poorly lit, unintentionally overexposed, and severely underexposed.
  3. Form a first impression.  Scan your images quickly for “keepers.” Simply make a snap decision as to whether your eyes enjoy the photograph or not.  Mark any frame you like (e.g. using the star rating in Adobe Bridge) to tag it for future in-depth analysis.
  4. Whichever Way the Wind Blows

    Whichever Way the Wind Blows; Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

    Unplug your emotions.  Like your mother told you growing up, first impressions aren’t always correct.  After doing an initial evaluation, let your images “rest” for a day, a week, or even a few months to disconnect emotionally from your photographs.  Once you’re back in the saddle, turn your flagged images upside-down so they are less recognizable to your brain and therefore less connected with your recollection of the influential experiences you had while making the shot.

  5. Get out the butcher knife.  Start hacking away on the technical aspects of your image.  Does the scene convey a sense of depth through the chosen depth of field?  Is the horizon level and positioned away from the middle of the rectangular box?  Could you simplify the composition withou

    t losing context?  Is the light illuminating the subject matter and helping to create shape, depth, and contrast?  Are there any overly bright areas or out of focus areas that are distracting to the eye?

  6. Say something different.  A technically-perfect image might feel boring and be ineffective in visually communicating your desired message.  Viewers will react to your images if they contain subjects and stories that are clear, fresh, intriguing, emotionally-charged, or even controversial.  Does your photograph showcase an unrepeatable moment?  Does it convey a specific mood?  Will your capture provoke thought, dig up memories, or spark new meaning with your viewers?
  7. Taking It All In

    Taking It All In; Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

    Remember, “To each their own.”  What may be the “best” photo for one audience may not be for another so you might find yourself keeping different photos for differing purposes.  For example, you may capture a pleasing iconic Grand Canyon shot good enough to hang on your wall because it reminds you of your last family vacation but not appropriate to send to a magazine who isn’t interested in publishing a story on the “big ditch” in the next 100 years.

  8. Get a brutally honest second opinion.  Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, hand your butcher knife to a trusted friend, family member, or photographer who will gladly use the blade on your work.  Listening to others’ insights can help trigger new ideas and highlight aspects you might not have previously considered.
Valve at Nordegg Mine

Valve at Nordegg Mine; Nordegg, Alberta, Canada (Click on image to see larger; prints available!)

While assessing your own work can be a time consuming, grueling task, being a harsh critic can help not only pick out the winners from your digital dump, but also refine your photographic techniques and polish your unique creative vision over time.

By using this process, my Alberta pixel pile yielded a 20-print story I can’t wait to share at my upcoming exhibition.  And the images in this post did NOT make the cut (even though I like them!)!  In my next blog post, I’ll give you a sneak peek into one photo that did!

If you’d like to see the other 19 I selected, as well as the photographs from my fellow Arizona-Alberta exchange partners-in-crime – Ken Ross, Peter Carroll, and Royce Howland – then please join us on November 7 from 7-9 pm at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona for our exhibition’s Artist Reception. For more information, please visit www.teoe.org/?page_id=829.

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Sep 052012
 

One of the most enjoyable and valuable educational aspects of the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops (AHPW) – of which I’m honored to lead a number of each year – is the post-workshop critiques.  Though we conduct image review sessions during the workshop, a post-workshop critique allows participants additional time to edit and process their photographs before submitting to their instructors for additional feedback after the class concludes.

Whether we complete these productive reviews during or after the workshop, we analyze the positive aspects of each student’s images and constructively outline ideas for how to potentially improve them from a technical and artistic perspective.  Kind of like this:

What the Duck

“What The Duck” comic strip copyright and courtesy of the author and artist Aaron Johnson at http://www.whattheduck.net.

All choking and joking aside, the point of the evaluation is to go beyond answering the simple question: “Do you like this picture?”  The true value of the exercise comes in when we define in-depth we WHY like and don’t like an image, which generates new ideas to sharpen our skills and polish our individual styles from our different answers.

Earlier this week, I completed the post-workshop critique for the recent Women’s Photography Retreat at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Although I’ve shared image-specific comments for 45 images, I thought I’d share a summary of the three main take-away’s from this particular critique session:

The Totem Poles and Yei Bi Chei at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Example:  Tilting my camera down emphasizes the sandy landscape and allows the sky to become a less dominating backdrop. By composing so that the line of bushes and the patterns from the wind-blown sand lead my audience into the frame, it helps guide the eye through the landscape towards my primary subject: the side-lit Totem Poles at Monument Valley. Do you agree?  How would you critique this image?  (Prints available! Click on photo for a direct link).

  1. “Half and half” works well in coffee, but not always in landscape images. Unless you aim for symmetry among the various elements within your frame (e.g. a reflection of mountain in a lake), placing the horizon line in the middle of your frame will only serve to divide your viewers’ attention.  Should they look at the land or the sky?  Make it clear:  If the sky is more interesting, tilt your camera up and place the horizon line at the bottom

    third of the Rule of Thirds tic-tac-toe grid.  If the land is what caught your eye, then tilt your camera down so the horizon is at least at the top third of the grid.

  2. Let there be light…oh, and a strong subject too!  Is there anything better than sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon and recordings the rays of the setting sun break through the clouds, turning the landscape and sky into a fiery mix of orange, pink, and purple? (In more technical terms, we call this “super yummy light.”)  YES!  That same spectacular show by Mother Nature happening over a well-thought-out composition!  Good light alone is often not enough to make a great image.  Similarly, a strong center of interest without interesting light may lack shape, contrast, and mood.   To capture the best subject in the best light, visualize strong compositions first in the field, then return to work the scene when the light is just right.
  3. As “all roads lead to Rome,” all lines should lead to somewhere important.  Lines can direct your viewer to through your image, but the payoff at the end of the line shouldn’t be a one-way ticket out of your frame.  To keep the viewer’s interest, ensure the visual path doesn’t extend beyond the edge of your frame and leverage diagonal, converging, S-curve and other style lines to pull your viewer not just into your frame, but also somewhere interesting.

If you’re a past student of AHPW – not just of this specific workshop, but any of them – you have the ability to view my image-specific comments by logging into the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Smugmug site with the password you received during your workshops and selecting the “Women’s Photo Retreat” folder.  You also have the ability to leave comments as well, so hop on the site and let’s here you’re thoughts!

If you aren’t a past student of AHPW, there’s no need for you to feel left out.  If you’d like input on one or more of your images, stop by my page and submit your shots at GuruShots at www.gurushots.com/colleen-miniuk-sperry.

In closing, I’d like to thank the ladies who submitted their beautiful photographs for critique:  Denise, Deanna, Christy, Amy, Julie, Tamara, Sue, Pearl, and Jeanne.  As Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not achieved by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”  May we all embrace learning like these and all of the women who attended the Women’s Photo Retreat have.

AHPW Women's Photo Retreat:  Silly Group Photo

The attendees of the AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat having a “Zen” moment during our Group Photo.  I’m not sleeping, I’m merely practicing “Corpse Pose.”

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