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Welcome to today’s post. Today I’m going to address the idea of second chances. It seems timely given UW-Wisconsin Badger’s recent Big Ten Championship victory over the Michigan State Spartans. Having lost a nail-biter early in the season in a game Wisco (or Sconi or Whisky or Bucky…) should have won, Wisco had a second chance at redemption on Saturday evening and made the most of it. Second chances are a gift. We should never doubt or turn our noses up at second chances. We are obligated to make the most of them.
Today’s images from Cedar Pass represent second chances. The first image is a seven frame panorama, when the sky was in early twilight and there was beautiful color, but this image needs to be seen very big to appreciate the detail. And the light was colorful, but not great for producing some character and separation in the peaks. Everything blurs together for me.
The next image came after sunrise; amazing light, great clouds, idiotic composition. This shot that left me thinking, “What was I thinking?” I have this land mass jutting in from the lower left, the patch of ugly grass and gravel on the right…there was a reason for this, but it didn’t play out in practice. Light changing too fast, I wasn’t paying attention to my gut, blah blah blah. I blew it. Boy, would I like to get this one back and do it right.
I came back my last morning in the park, not fully committed to shooting in Cedar Pass. Yes, I have photography commitment issues. Some photogs shoot to the subject and pray for good light. I shoot to the light and pray I can find a decent composition, hence my lack of commitment to a location or composition.
So here is a small glimpse into this situation: Start slowly, sitting in car in parking lot, coffee, potty break in the woods, windy as hell, still dark but not too dark to see the clouds I am dealing with. I drive over here, over there, look out the window, roll it down, get a stiff wind in my face, roll it back up, turn up the heater, drink coffee, text friends. Repeat. Now light starts to arrive. Slowly at first, but then it accelerates. With it I accelerate my frantic mental and physical pace to react real-time to the unfolding situation. Now I’m out of the car, running down this trail. No good. Run back to the car which is still running, drive to a different spot I’ve never scouted, run in there. No good. Repeat again. I want redemption. So, with nothing in hand but my gas station coffee I take off for my last hyper-scout. I find it. I sprint back to the car, grab my gear, drop my coffee and head off back to the spot. I am in a hurry, certain to not miss this second chance. Light changing quickly, uncertain of what could happen. I’m hurrying. I fall down two rock faces, scuff my ass, bruise my ego and curse my age. I don’t break any equipment. Miracles. Never doubt.
And there I sat. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Ginormous cloud killing sunrise color and light. But I stayed. Unwilling to admit defeat for a second time. I had to wait for 35 minutes after sunrise to get some decent light and color in the western sky, but when it came it was great and I was ready to take advantage of it. I was so excited after getting the last image that I wanted to run down to State Street in Madison, slug some beers and visit the Parthenon for gyro and fries. Maybe exchange high fives with some dorky landscape photographers in Cardinal and White hoodies embossed with giant swooping ‘B’ (for Badlands). But I wasn’t in Madison. I was in western South Dakota. I loaded up the car, left the park, got a 20 ounce cup of gas station coffee, chocolate donuts, Ibuprofen and drove 8 hrs back home with a well deserved victory in hand.
Welcome to today’s post. This is the seventh, and I hope final, attempt at this post. I hope you enjoy it. PLEASE click on images – they appear much better in the lightbox.
I love movies. When friends hear this they are quick to respond, “Ohh. Did you see so and so?” Most likely it will be a first run movie so the typical response from me is, “Nope, I haven’t yet.” I’m cheap. I wait for it to hit the Riverside Theater or show up someplace on the Internet. Suffice it to say that The Big Lebowski still sits near the top of my all time favorites. Another little know fact about movies in the theater – you can get a great idea about how good the movie will be by the quality of the previews.
A stranger joined me at Panorama Point, where these images were shot. Since I never caught his name, I’ll refer to him as The Dude. He pulled out his camera and snapped a few shots early, before sunset, and then headed back to his car. I couldn’t let him do that. I knew what was coming. The first image, the Preview, was too good. So I just blurted out to him, “Dude, the movie hasn’t even started yet. You need to stay another 20 minutes. Trust me on this. We’re just getting a preview of what is to come.”
And with The Dude I stood and made the uncontrollable, audible “ohhhh and ahhhh” noises. The sky began exploded around us. All the way around us. I find awe in those moments of twilight when the sky is in a real-time perceptible state of change. Most of us on any given day may not even give a glance to the sky. Those of us who do are probably considering whether it will rain. Furthermore, during most of the day the sunlight is hitting clouds from above, masking a majority of the character, texture and detail that exists in them. When the sun gets low a few things happen: First, the sun position is changing rapidly, creating rapid change in the circumstances. Second, the clouds are lit from the underside, giving rise to a much greater level of detail, contrast and character. Last, the light warms up in color.
The sky is changing right before your eyes. The color is changing. The texture is changing. It is real-time. It is like watching a movie plot unfold. The first image was a great Preview. The second (and other variations I shot during this 20 minute flick) was the main show. They were shot 15 minutes apart. Nothing perceptibly changes between noon and 12:15pm; it happens in those waning moments of before sunset and into twilight.
I hope for drama and beauty in my landscape images, but also for some relationship between the drama in the sky and the rest of the landscape. I got that in today’s images. As The Dude (in The Big Lebowski) said, “That rug really tied the room together.” And so it is in the clouds, color and landscape.
Technical Details: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 16-35mm lens, ISO100, f/16, 3.2 seconds, Singh Ray Warming Polarizer, bracketed +/- 2 stops for Photomatix (click on image, it always looks better when seen larger)
Welcome to today’s post. As promised, I have some new landscape images from Bandlands National Park to share with you over the next couple of posts, but I had to devise a strategy for sharing them. Options included sharing by order of life threatening moments (fell down a hill in Cedar Pass), by places I had a great conversation with total strangers (Panorama Point), or was nearly attacked by wildlife (Big Horn Ram near Visitor Center). Of course I could use a more conventional strategy, like color vs. BW, but that would be predictable. Since my goal is to share great images and give you a better sense of the park, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and share by location. If you’re thinking of visiting the park and taking some pictures, then these posts might serve as a guide for you.
My journey to the Badlands started late Tuesday night, about 10 pm, after working all day long – a straight drive through the night in hopes of making the east end of the park by sunrise Wednesday. That goal was never really in doubt, at least to the extent of my willingness to drive 90mph, which I did for the last 40 miles or so. Driving at night for over 8 hours is not for the timid. Its exhausting and requires a careful balance of tactics, including caffeine, light food, sunglasses, singing out loud, dimming lights on the dashboard, texting while driving and of course AM talk radio about excessive sightings of UFO’s in Missouri this year.
The good news about So Dak at night is the lack of any human existence and the lack of curves in the interstate. My powers of observation, which are, well…powerful…observed several 30-50 minute intervals during which neither car nor curve was detected. Its a great time to think through the problems in your life, but I will say this; contrary to common cultural wisdom regarding males, I did not think of sex every 7 seconds. Let’s do the math on this – nearly 9 hours on the road equals 32,400 seconds. Divide that by 7 secs and we have 4,629 times I would have thought about sex. No way did that happen. First, 2,117 of those opportunities were given to thinking about the Packers. I counted those. Another 1,977 were given to the show on UFO’s and how I hoped some would show up right there, near Kennebec or Murdo, South Dakota. Of the remaining 534 sex-thought opportunities, 521 went to photography, 11 went to gas/potty break stops, 2 to this blog post and 1 to sex. Truth be told, that 1 sex thought actually had to do with a question that’s plagued me for years now. How do porcupines have sex? Answer: Very carefully.
Ok, so I made it. Heart and nervous system no longer functional. Just twitching. Exhaustion, fatigue, dehydration, over-caffeination, excited with what I saw happening in the early twilight of sunrise. I came in to the east side of the park, near the Door and Window trails which are amazing at sunrise. And what a sunrise I had. I shot everywhere I could and needed at least 3 cameras in different locations to truly capture what was happening. But I don’t have three cameras. So I took shots, ran to another spot, took more shots, ran back to another spot, took some more shots and then went back to the car and nearly fell asleep at the wheel on my way to check in to the motel, while you were just waking up.
4 images from Door Trail. The last is a true, 5 frame pano composed of 15 total frames prepared through Photomatix and stitched together using PTGui.
AC Johnson Photography, featuring workshop leaders Alec Johnson and Robert Clark, led a wonderful group of participants for 4 amazing and challenging days through a photographic journey of image pre-visualization to final print production. The setting was the beautiful north shore of Lake Superior, with visits to the shore of Silver Bay, the Beaver River, and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
Prior to the workshop, a number of the participants expressed a need to improve their ability to pre-visualize an image. In the workshop we did something very unique for workshop setting – we ran scouting exercises. According to Gary Olejiniak, “The scouting trips were fantastic. We have been on at least 12 workshops and no one has ever had us scout a location!” Doug Steger also noted, “The central theme of scouting each shoot was an innovative idea.” We would lead the students through scouting time, encouraging them to perform “digital sketching.” The idea was for them to test compositions, anticipate light patterns, and really get dirty with the location before the good light hit. When they returned for sweet light, they had a good grasp of what and how to shoot the scene.
How they shot was influenced by several factors, including emphasis on HDR, good work with filters, and guidance in solid post-processing techniques. A number of the students used Singh Ray or Lee Filters, significantly improving the quality of in-camera capture. If they didn’t own any, we were more than happy to put a filter in their hands and have them play. The typical reaction was, “WOW!” There was a discussion of a wide variety of post-processing techniques in the classroom, including use of Adobe Photoshop and Photomatix Pro HDR processing, and the development of Black and White photographs. Finally, they were given the opportunity to finish off the production process and really give their images the final test – the PRINT. With the help of my Epson 3800 and a very generous donation of print product from Moab Papers (orchastrated by Robert Clark), we were able to develop some stunning prints. It wasn’t all work and no play, but I think Nick O. summed it up best.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better workshop. You blew me away with the gorgeously challenging locations you encouraged us to explore, and the classroom sessions you really showed us how to squeeze the absolute best images from the frames we captured. I’m amazed at what I produced. Thanks so much Alec and Robert, the workshop was a blast and has definitely pushed me and my photography to the next level.”
Great Participants. Great setting and weather. Great Photography. Hard to ask for any more than that. From me and Robert a heartfelt THANK YOU to all the participants for allowing us to spend a few short days with you on the North Shore of Lake Superior.
There are some outtakes from the workshop here and you can view the participants’ sample work from the week in this gallery.
Technical Details: Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 16-35mm @ 16mm, ISO100, F/14, 0.3 second exposure, 3 brackets 2stops, Singh Ray 2 stop Rev. ND, Singh Ray Warming Polarizer
Welcome to today’s post. Last week I ran my Lake Superior workshop. Students were instructed on the concept of dynamic compositions and techniques used in creating them. One tool is the a strong foreground, and sky that connects with the foreground, in a way that creates a whole image. The presence of a strong horizon line and a disconnect between sky and foreground can inadvertently create two different images from one. Generally, this is not a good thing. This is a particularly challenging tool to work with in landscape photography and really stretches one’s ability to see and to use a lens that creates/aides the relationship between foreground and sky.
Dynamic compositions are created by capturing dynamic color combinations, use of leading and diagonal lines, movement of light, strong foreground/middleground/background relationships. Dynamic compositions can take your mind’s eye on a visual trip through the image. These aren’t requirements for an image to succeed, just helpful tools to work with along the way. In today’s image, I would have loved some additional dramatic twilight color in the sky, but it just never came around, so I get to go back and try again! I did enjoy the shape relationship and visual movement created by both the foreground rocks and cloud structure. For better or worse, I don’t generally shy away from tricky compositions and in this case I put on my rubber boots and risked limb and photo gear, traversing very slippery rocks, to find today’s image. Thanks to Robert Clark for the great capture.
technical details: 3 frame/2 stop Photomatix Exposure Fusion, f/10, ISO100, Canon 24mm tilt shift, Canon 1Ds MkII
This post is a rare event of commercial work I present on my blog – mostly because I don’t shoot architecture that is all that exciting to me right now. A lot of it is fairly dull and documentary, from an photographic artist’s perspective. Its still VERY IMPORTANT to the client, though, and that’s what I want to focus on today: finding a way to make the potentially dull more attractive!
For the non-photogs that visit my site, you’ll no doubt think this discussion is too technical, but perhaps you’ll appreciate the close relationship between artistic eye and technical action.
For the photogs, perhaps I can provide a tool or two for you to improve your personal vision for any image.
The Case Study: The new law firm space and a study in DYNAMIC
Situation: Developer Client wants pretty images to sell design and construction services. No particular features, just eye catching. This is a typical situation and gives me a lot of freedom to shoot how I want to – which is necessary in commercial spaces like this law firm.
Process: Walk through with client, visiting shot list, restrictions around time of operation, potential law firm client interruptions, etc. Staff considerations are big. People in shots? Who? Releases? In this case, we decided on excluding people from shots. Entry (first image) was the most architecturally interesting shot, so timing of shoot built around light in this space.
Day of Shoot: Varying cloud cover producing changing light conditions in lobby/entry. Begin shooting tests, reviewing, variety of camera positions, all the time keeping an eye on clouds and changing light conditions. Also paying attention to typical, distracting garbage that appears on a lobby desk i.e. taped up signs, calenders, staplers, etc. All this stuff needs to be addressed and managed by the photog.
Concepts: Dynamic Color – Dynamic Lines Looking for good lines and observation that interior colors are warm, colors on widows and TV cool. This gives me some dynamic color to work with…also observing dynamic lines created by furniture, patterns in ceiling tiles, etc.
Execution: HDR bracketing to manage variations in strong natural light with ambient artificial light, no polarization needed for windows. They were treated with polarization coating, giving rise to low level reflections.
Post Production: Manage hue and saturation of yellows/reds for interior and blues in window using Selective Color Adjustment layer. Specifically, my Canon tends to push blues to a very strong, saturated and unnatural hue. I pull blues back with +15 points of yellow. This makes a huge difference in reading the overall color pallet and dynamic balance of the image. I use Photomatix Exposure fusion to balance light without the harsh, surreal effects typical of the HDR engine.
Technical Details: HDR using Photomatix Exposure Fusion, Canon 1Ds Mk II, Canon 16-35mm, f/10, 10/5/30 sec exposures, ISO200, Singh Ray circular polarizer
Hi Gang, I want to share an image I shot over the weekend and discuss some of the technique use in it and the images in my previous post. “Why Are They Surfing Lake Superior?” Let’s start with that one by mentioning the photographers currently inspiring/influencing my personal work. One is Joel Grimes (my cousin KC turned me on to him) – Joel’s work blows me away. Another is the work of Eric Curry, who I’ve mentioned previously. I’m beginning to play with their techniques as a fresh start to 2011 photography season.
Next I want to share a quote my friend Megan sent to me, read by her daughter from Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams book. “An artist gives people back a part of themselves – the stories and sounds, the feeling of what it’s like to be alive. That’s a pretty powerful gift.” Its just a beautiful quote I wanted to share with others.
In the Lake Superior portraits I used one light, my speedlight with a softbox on a light stand, above and right behind me. My intention was to use a three strobe setup, but upon arriving I found out that my power converter wouldn’t handle it. No worries, I had my alien bees battery pack as a backup. Well, I thought it was charging the entire drive up, but it was dead. So, #3 backup was the single speedlight I was fortunate enough to have with me.
I first shot my portraits with the light, then had John the surfer step out of the scene and shot a series of 3 images for HDR processes. In post production I first produced the background using the Photomatix HDR engine, then I brought the frame with John back in and masked him into the image. In both images of John I used a series of Photoshop processes, including Selective Color layers pulling back the brightness on reds and yellows, as well as a mix of gradient maps and high pass filtering to get my own gritty look.
In today’s image it was much more complicated. Tommy, the subject, is an amazing talent. He’s a musician, but he’s also incredibly inventive and creative. The remote control car at his hands was built by stripping down parts from three other cars and building what he wanted. He knows more about a race car than a NASCAR crew chief. I wanted to photograph him in his boycave, where his work gets done. It doesn’t stop with cars, though. He builds extremely large, intricate Star Wars cruisers, in the background is a solar oven he built as a class project (it basically got much hotter much faster than any other), and like many young men, he digs riding his skateboard and snowboard. While building his creations he watches “Top Gear” on TV.
The space was staged and then I brought in my strobes. Two accent/rim lights and a key light immediately camera left. Then the lights were removed and I shot a series of 3 images with all the room lights on, for HDR production (Photomatix Exposure Fusion engine). After that, both Tommy and I started painting with light. We used a fluorescent work lamp from Home Depot wrapped in blue gel for the star wars ships. I used a spot light for the car at his hands, as well as across the floor, the stack of tires, the small helicopter lower left, etc. Then on the lower left space ship Tommy put a flashlight down inside to get the warm glow in the control deck. All in all, I layered together 25 frames to compose the single final image. I’ve included a few of the layer images for reference. The first is the HDR image, then a couple of frames painted with light.
Are these guys nuts – these people who surf Lake Superior during late fall/winter/early spring during big storms. Why do they do this? I haven’t got a clear answer to why any particular person surfs Lake Superior, but I have no doubt it may be difficult to articulate. There is a very real sense of why, just difficult to articulate.
I was recently asked to judge a photography club competition. On my drive to the club meeting to present my judging results a thought occurred to me. I realized I like judging – working with an audience, talking about photography, sharing some insights or experiences, meeting new people – but don’t like being a judge. The ranking, sorting, “this one is better than that one.” I found it odd, given my professional history, that I would be so uncomfortable with this part of the judging process. It took me a while to sort it out, but I settled on this one simple notion that we all learned as small children; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As a photographer that has presented his images to many strangers and friends alike through this blog, I’ve had the beholder lesson reaffirmed many times over. Some responses to my work really hurt and some responses were amazingly kind and generous. All of it was true and all of it has me less concerned with WHAT (external judgment of good/bad, creative/dull) of my photography and more focused on the WHY (internal motivation and approach) of it.
Sharing our photography, like many endeavors artistic or otherwise, takes a great deal of courage. We tend to think of our photography as a reflection of the sum total of us because its a product of our energy. I see this in photographers, in musicians, in entrepreneurs and in parents. Its natural to feel this way. We put significant energy into these things and at some point we all want validation that the outcome was somehow worth the effort. We want our artistic work to be praised, our businesses to be successful and our children to be happy and secure. The EGO really needs this, but we shouldn’t boil our sense of self down to any one single event or image, or painting, or song or business. I contend that WHAT we produce says relatively little about us and WHY we produce it says relatively more about us. Just like the surfers on Lake Superior. Yes, they are surfing – the WHAT – but the motivation behind – the WHY – says more about the individual than the sheer act of courage and insanity to actually do it. The WHAT is easy to focus on – it hits our five senses – but the WHY is very difficult to observe. Each of us has to go out of our way to find the WHY.
The WHY aspect of our work was articulated by Simon Sinek in a recent TED talk. 18 minutes of your life well-spent watching this talk. Click HERE to watch video at TED.com
Which all leads us back to today’s images of my good friend John Benzik who regularly surfs Lake Superior. We here in MN had a classic early spring snowstorm this week that created some great surf on the Lake Superior. On short notice I grabbed my gear, my good friend Sam Sherf, and we all headed north to catch one remaining hour of daylight to photograph a Lake Superior surfer. Why? I think I’ve answered it for myself, but I’m curious to know your WHY with photography.