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Welcome to today’s post. First, I guess its only fair to acknowledge my misleading statements from the previous post. I promised to bring you some photography from a place other than Lake Superior, and its coming, but I haven’t shot it yet. I’m planning a trip to the Badlands next week, weather permitting. In the mean time I want to share with you an image I shot last week at Gooseberry Falls and use it to discuss the concept of The Hero, introduced to me by fashion photog Matthew Jordan Smith.
Hero: a subject of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities. Often understated or unexpected qualities.
A successful image has a hero. This may or may not be in your main subject. The Hero. The hero can take many forms in all styles of photography, but its worth asking in your photography, “Who is the Hero in this image?” Not a super-hero, like Super Man, with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The hero is often that understated or unexpected secondary subject, supporting subject, that makes the image move from good to great. In landscape photography it can be as simple as a small leaf of color in a big scenic that ties the image together, or a simple cloud structure that rhymes with the lines of the landscape, or the shape of rocks that repeats in some sort of rhythmic pattern. Who is the hero in your photograph? A successful photograph has a hero.
In today’s photo, the heros (in my opinion) are the two tiny falls of water flanking the larger flow. They add that certain, understated quality. They are guardians and protectors of the image, keeping it from being a simple, cliche waterfall shot. They are not random – they are intentional. They are simple, balanced, noble.
Technical Details: Canon 5d MkII, Canon 16-35mm @16mm, ISO50, f/16, 2.5 seconds Singh Ray Warming Polarizer
I need to apologize. Nothing heavy, but you must be tired of seeing images from the North Shore of Lake Superior and for better or worse you’re going to get a good dose of them in the next couple of posts. I don’t even have a good story to tell. No run-ins with animals, no crazy weather, I didn’t drop any expensive electronics into the water, I didn’t risk life or limb to get a shot, didn’t get lost in the dark. A fairly mundane outing by my standards. Nonetheless, last weekend I spent 30 hours racing around some familiar haunts on the shore, mostly asking myself if I had anything new to share; anything that in one way or another might be new or fresh for all of us. I was pretty sure I didn’t until I got home. After going through the images I realized that there are so many new ways to show a tired subject and today’s is no exception.
This is the upper falls or Glen Avon, on the Beaver River. Glen Avon is not in a state park, it’s not one of the quintessential falls like Gooseberry Falls, yet its one of the most intriguing falls I’ve shot on the north shore. Some falls are a one trick pony. Not Glen Avon. I’ve posted several images from Glen Avon going back to last April, the first time I visited the area. I’ve shot there many times since and captured many fun images.
On this day I found myself doing something I often do in my photography; avoiding commitment. I was gaming the weather, the clouds and trying to optimize an outcome. I was not convinced that exciting cloud cover would be around for a shoreline sunset image, so an hour before I would be on the shore I ran up to Glen Avon to scout the water level. Finding it at its lowest since spring thaw, Glen Avon had an entirely new personality and was literally in a new light! The sun has moved quite a ways to the south, presenting the landscape very differently. I shot for 30 minutes, chatted with some strangers that wandered into the area and then packed up to head to the shore for sunset. Some days I hunker down on a spot and some days I keep my feet moving. This weekend I just keep my feet moving – to remain productive, to remain fresh, to change routine, habits, and hopefully see things a little differently.
And I promise by next January I’ll have some new images from other parts of the county! Not sure where yet, but its happening.
Technical Details: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 24 – 70 mm @ 24mm, ISO100, f/14, 63 seconds, Singh Ray Gold & Blue Polorizer, 7 stops of Singh Ray Neutral Density Glass
Quick reminder. Saturday, Nov. 5 is my first photography show, featuring 16 LARGE black and white images of Lake Superior printed on canvas. Proceeds from the event go to an amazing non-profit, DesignWise Medical. I hope to see you all at the event. For more details, please visit the show link here in the blog.
Now, on to today’s post.
I love photography and creating images, as many of you do. Like many of you, much of my inspiration comes from those around me, for if I had to rely on full, self-generated creative thought I probably wouldn’t get very far. Over the past couple of years I’ve blogged about the idea of finding photographers you like and trying to replicate what they have done; not so much to create what they created, but to learn from them, allowing you to put your own spin on things, to inspire you to create from a new place. Today’s post, the first of a two part series on this image, is about just that.
Today’s image/post is inspired by a good friend, great photographer and workshop participant, Gary Olejniczak (click on his name to see some of his stunning fall photography). Gary, like many of my workshop participants, has shown me a new way to see subjects that I have shot many, many times. This is what I find so invigorating as a workshop leader; I get to LEARN from my participants. Gary has shown me how to see differently. I’ve approached this feature of rocks from the same place, the same way so many times and had just about given up on them. Then comes along Gary, who in one sitting with this feature, totally new to him, shows me a composition I had yet to find. A really strong composition. I assure you, and as Gary can attest, my image looks nothing like his, but I wouldn’t have captured this image had Gary not shown me a new way to see it.
As is said in yoga, “Namaste.” The teacher me acknowledges the teacher in you.
Yet, I’m curious about this notion and how other people think of it. Do you think its inappropriate or disingenuous to take your cues from others? Fake? Fraud? Copycat? Maybe a better question is, “How do you learn?”
Part 2 of Post: A tutorial taking you through, in depth, a number of technical approaches to getting this final image.
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: Pouring rain, slippery granite, treacherous, but in the game (feel free to click on the image for a larger view)
Last weekend my good friend Travis and I spent three days on Lake Superior battling non-stop rain, fog, mist and generally poor photography conditions. I shot over 300 frames, mostly pure garbage. This particular image was shot out of stubbornness and as I consider getting into the rain to take it, I heard in my head the words of another dear friend commenting on an entirely unrelated situation. “Pissy Shmissy. Grab a mit and get in the game.” These words stuck with me right down deep in my gut and I spoke them to Travis as I headed out to set up the shot. To avoid the wind and rain falling on my equipment and on me, I posted up underneath the Hwy 61 bridge over the Beaver River. Equipped with decent rubber boots for footing and paper towel to dry my lens, I began to shoot. I was in the game.
Travis and I had to take whatever each day gave us, which was mostly rain and thick clouds. We’d end each day with a volley of sarcastic comments like, “worst shit I ever shot” or “I’m going to sell my equipment” or “Lake Superior can sure humble a photog.” I’ve spent hours mining my images for something I like from this trip and perhaps this is the one gem of the entire 3 days. It is my visual response to “Pissy Shmissy…” and the motivating quality of that comment. The words we choose matter and can stick with those around us. I’m constantly reminded of this fact. Perhaps some images have the same stickiness.
Today’s image came at the tail end of a great, but interesting day. Weather on the North Shore was gorgeous and I had been out all morning looking a property to purchase. I went into Two Harbors for lunch and decided to return to a few lots for a second look. Upon returning I parked the truck into what could only be described as quick sand.
With no one around, no one to call, I got down on all 4′s and starting digging with my hands, uncovering both front wheels enough to insert some large rocks upon which my 4WD could find purchase. Of course I got out, but then the noise under the front end began. A mile down the road and I found myself here:
A guy I know who lives on this road came by with some pliers and I was back in business in no time and in need of some relaxation. I arrived at The Landing just in time to watch the Kentucky Derby and a little of this:
(sincere apologies to all my packer friends. The other side of the glass said “Miller Lite” and I had to make a quick photo decision). After all this I drove 25 miles back up the shore to the Beaver River, well above the lake to area some locals refer to as Avon Glen. My research reveals that an “Avon” is Celtic for river, and a “Glen” is more like a gorge and less like a valley. The area I was shooting was certainly more valley than gorge, but I do like the sound of Avon Glen, so we’re sticking with it. Some of the finest stretch of river I’ve seen yet on the North Shore. It will take me days to shoot it properly, but today we have an initial take on it.
Reminder, The Lake Superior Landscape workshop is starts August 8 and there are only 4 spots remaining. Click here for more info.
Well, as I write this post we’ve just come off another epic spring storm which brought several inches of snow to the north shore of Lake Superior on April 15th/16th. Also, the weather report has more snow in it for the upcoming week here in the Twin Cities. Might as well enjoy the ride, right?
So, storms it is. I got my tax return, which was just enough to cover gas to Silver Bay, MN and back, plus a flat tire and a few cups of coffee this weekend. What a storm it was…I started shooting at Lester River (Duluth) around 6pm, but the wind and spray were beyond manageable so I made a last minute decision, packed up and headed north to Silver Bay hoping to find shelter in a secret cove I found a few months back. There was no protection when I arrived and had to orient my camera to minimize the spray which was blown by 40mph + winds off the top of 10 foot + surf. It was HUGE surf. You just have to stand on the shore and experience its awesome power. From a photographer’s perspective it was all a Hail Mary. Wind shaking tripod, spray covering the lens, getting swamped by large wave sets. I did make a good decision to buy some rubber boots at Marine General and few hours earlier and they proved very very handy. I like getting in the water to shoot, but the conditions were so extreme that it would have made a boy out of Peter Lik (Weather Channel Reality TV show about a photographer). Sorry Peter, but its true.
These first two images were shot using a Singh Ray Blue/Gold polarizer. The first image was a 6 second exposure and the second was a 60 second exposure at f/11 processed with some fill light and range adjustments in raw converter. Canon 5D MKII and Canon 24-70mm lens.
That evening, April 15 the snow started falling and when I woke pre-sunrise there was nothing to shoot. So I grabbed some coffee and made my way from Grand Superior Lodge back down to Stoney Point to meet some friends coming up to surf. I’m including a few shots of that just for documentary sake.
By the late afternoon, after a flat tire repair and wonderful brunch with friends, I made my way back out to Lester River for some calmer surf, melting snow and clearing storm light. A great way to finish the trip. This image was shot using the Singh Ray Blue Gold polarizer along with a Singh Ray 2 stop HS split neutral density filter. Shot at ISO50, f/16 and 2 seconds shutter speed, Canon 5D MKII and Canon 24-70mm lens.
And a little chunk of video with filters for how this shot was made. Blue Gold on lens, 2 stop split brought in over that.
I guess I’m not sure which chaser I most connect with in the series, Storm Chasers. Definitely not Reed, probably not Sean, but I think its Tim Samaras. Ok, if you haven’t watched Storm Chasers then this analogy won’t go anywhere. All you need to understand is that Storm Chasers do just what the name says, chase storms. The guys on TV chase tornadoes and this weekend I chased a snow storm. The kind that builds steam with strong easterly winds over Lake Superior, giving rise to an opportunity to shoot the lake in a nasty mood that has become a favorite of mine. Yet, getting the vision I see in my head captured in a photograph is not necessarily the easiest. And this weekend I didn’t. I loved every minute of the adventure, but sometimes there is a great deal of risk with mother nature that just can’t be managed. I share with you what I went through for two finished images this past weekend, during our epic early season snow storm.
The process starts days in advance. I’m always watching Weather.com’s 10 day forecast for signs of a storm that might produce strong easterly winds on Lake Superior. The easterlies drive a large surf into the north shore. So, by Tuesday of last week the forecast was calling for rain and not much else on the shore. By Wednesday it was calling for nothing but clouds and by Thursday it was calling for WIND and light rain, and I was now in full planning phase for a trip to photograph in the windy conditions. By Friday the weather service was issuing Winter Storm watches all across Minnesota and by late Friday these had become Winter Storm Warnings with forecasts of up to 8 inches of snow in Saint Paul and 4 inches around the north shore of Lake Superior.
I had a plan. Get some rest early Friday evening, get up at 1 a.m. Saturday morning. I was on the road by 2 a.m in a raging snow storm, driving out of it to reach my location 45 minutes before twilight. All went as planned. I’m hoping for winds, no precipitation and some texture to the cloud cover. Over 4 hours of driving one way to roll the dice on those 3 factors, just to get a killer shot. Well, I got two of the three conditions I wanted – the wind and no precipitation. Not too strong a wind, but driving some good wave action and no precipitation upon arrival. Just a deep gray, soggy sky that appeared to be on the verge of busting apart. I shot through the morning twilight and then started to feel the pitter patter of drops. DANG IT. The real part of the storm had arrived. With the rain/snow mix came more wind, bigger surf and an epic north shore storm, but the photography was all done. I could no longer keep my gear dry and drops of sleet off my lens and filters.
I had some breakfast at the Northwoods Cafe in Silver Bay, scouted some other shots, and looked at a house to buy in Canal Park. By this point, 11 a.m or so, the winds were pushing 40+ mph with driving sleet. Time to head back to Saint Paul in what turned out to be a treacherous run down I 35 in a very bad snow storm, with just a handful of images on board.
Moral of the story? I wasn’t going to share these images and the story, but my good friend Matt Gibson said, “I think people love to see struggle and even if you don’t get a good picture, the story of just “making” pictures (even bad ones) is important to tell.” Thanks Matt, I hope you’re right. Many of my favorite images from Lake Superior have been made just this way.
This set of images was taken on the night of Dec. 23 and during the day, Dec. 24, 2009. Our epic snowstorm blowing in, my friend Chet and I decide to head to Duluth and take what comes our way. We arrived in the harbor at night, but in reasonable conditions. The winds were blowing at 20 mph or higher and the temps were in the mid 20′s. Not bad by Duluth winter standards. We drove in to the Blatnick Bridge area and then the Harbor proper to catch an ore ship arriving. On the 24th traveled from Ilgen Falls back down to Split Rock Lighthouse in the snow and wind. A great two days.
All these images are experiments in post processing with Lab Color and Gradient Maps. Many of you don’t know what these are and don’t care. I hope you enjoy the images regardless. Some of you will understand these terms and are curious about how to work with them. If so, post a comment and ask. For those well versed in these, please feel free let the rest of us know how you use them.
A selection of these images and other landscape work of mine is available for purchase at my new gallery site. http://acjphoto.zenfolio.com Here you can order prints and framing. Its wonderfully easy to use and the product quality is excellent. Even better, with this service I was able to dramatically lower my prices!
Happy New Year to all!
Today’s image is a re-post from quite a long time ago. Its also one of my personal favorites for many reasons.
I want to use today’s image to talk about concepts in photography and using visual design elements to work with those concepts. I don’t always go out and shoot with clear concepts in mind. Sometimes I go out to shoot just to be out shooting. Sometimes I go out to shoot and I don’t shoot anything. There are no rules you must follow, but there are always opportunities. Having concepts in mind that you enjoy working with will allow you:
1) To recognize new opportunities where you might not have seen them previously;
2) Permission to begin shooting if you get stuck or feel uninspired;
3) To develop a style, or look, to your images that is all your own.
CALM; a concept I work with often on Lake Superior - Shooting a subject with multiple personalities, like Lake Superior, can take a long time to get to know. It has a reputation for being surly, but I’ve spent the last few years photographing it in very different moods. The mood I like the best is when its dead calm, which happens QUITE OFTEN. I have really grown to enjoy this quiet, gentle yet powerful personality of the lake and work with that personality as a CONCEPT for many of my shots.
The visual design elements I used in this image (and many I shoot) were: super-slow shutter speeds combined with BIG WAVE ACTION of Lake Superior, shooting FOR black and white conversion in Photoshop, and a very simple, dramatic line/subject.
Sit down, make a list of adjectives that describe subjects you enjoy shooting, then build on those “concepts” using visual design elements, lighting, etc. to bring the concept (s) forward in your image. Then the next time you’re out shooting and feel unsure about what it is you’re trying to accomplish, come back to the concepts that draw you to the subject matter in the first place.
I’d love to hear from others in the comment section about what subjects they enjoy shooting and what concepts they work with when shooting that subject.