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Today’s image is the first of three I’ll be posting as a series titled, “Giving Up.” In early Octoboer, 2009 I left Saint Paul at 3 am to catch sunrise on Lake Superior in Duluth. The forecast was for rain, it rained all the way up I35, then stopped in Duluth. Then started again in Two Harbors and never let up the rest of the day. “Perfect” I thought to myself. I’m not at a computer, I’m not working, I do have my cell phone, but thank you ATT for having bad service on the North Shore. No pushing. Its so easy to push hard, natural for many of us. To take hold of circumstances, engineer a vision or outcome, start pushing on the objects we think we need or can help us construct this vision, often times repeating the same processes we’ve employed in the past. This is not good or bad behavior, but we can’t assume it will actually produce the outcome we desire. My entrepreneur friends should notice I’m speaking directly at them.
Nor does it guarantee that we’ll feel good about the process when we’re done.
“Perfect” I thought again. I can’t lose today. Its horrible weather, so no expectations on the photography, just get settled into being here, explore areas I haven’t explored before, and just keep moving. At times I still love exploring. Maybe its just looking at land for sale around the arrowhead, maybe its taking the recommendation of my friend Lavonne; that gravel road “shortcut” to the top of Carleton Peak or the trail up the east side of the Beaver River that might give me a entirely new perspective (I’ve looked Lavonne, the trail isn’t there:)). In the next installment of Giving Up, it will be the turnout on Hwy1 near Finland. The “turnout.” Its not marked, its not used much. It was magical.
In taking this attitude, in avoiding the same routines I usually use, in giving up on the idea of taking good pictures, I was able to have one of the finest days of personal photography I’ve had in a long time. This was the last image created on that day in early October. I shot this at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, let Kaya out for a run, and headed home.
Technical: ISO 50, f/10, 2 second shutter, manual exposure mode, camera flash set to manual and rear curtain sync with no flash compensation
This the second of three images I made on my one day in the Flint Hills of Kansas. This post is written primarily for the landscape photographers who follow my blog, but anyone interested in the creative process might get something from this post. There were three key lessons I was reminded of in getting this image.
This shot was accomplished, first and foremost, by paying close attention to rapidly changing conditions. The “epic” snowstorm was coming quick, but had yet to arrive. Cloud cover was changing constantly. Travis and I were driving a dirt road out of Alta Vista, Kansas, Kansas Gazetteer in hand and chasing smoke on the horizon we thought would be a prairie fire. SIDEBAR: It was almost as cool as the guys on TV chasing tornadoes, almost…
Lesson 1: We were always on the lookout for a windmill shot with a mill that still operated and came across this one. As we passed it Travis said, “Alec, are the clouds starting to rise up and spread?” I pulled over and glanced, and winced. “Yep, with a polarizer we could pull out the contrast and detail in the clouds.” The lesson is that a polarizer will allow you detail and contrast that is not apparent to the naked eye.
Lesson 2: I tend towards significant drama in my black and whites and immediately began thinking in color to get a dramatic black and white. There are probably several good ways to do this, but my preference is to generate color schemes in the image the lend themselves to high contrast. With the a blue gold polarizer I get the benefit of polarization and separation of color that lends its self to contrast. The lesson is that to get really contrasty black and whites, you need to think in color first…
Lesson 3: Its easy to give up in the midst of overcast skies, dire weather reports, unfamiliar terrain. This image, and the entire day for that matter, reminds me why I love photography: the chase, the people I do it with (Travis), the people I get to meet along the way. Like Brian, who runs the grain elevator in Alta Vista, a hamlet of maybe 100 people. With his bright red hair and corn dust-infused beard and eyebrows, he granted us permission to shoot and entertained every one of my silly questions about grain elevator operations, the corn industry in that area, and on and on and on…or maybe it was the woman that owns Emma’s Cafe in Cottonwood Falls (though her name is not Emma…help Travis) who said, “we don’t have any menus, just order anything you want…except waffles. We don’t have a waffle iron either.” The lesson is understanding that a great image is less important than the process and the people, at least it is for me.
This is one lesson I can’t be reminded of often enough.
This was a fun image to shoot and produce. On Monday I posted an image of the pier which is built on a single row of pilings. Because of its design, the pier’s full design from left to right could not be revealed in a single frame. I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t show both sides in one frame so, hand-holding the camera, I’d shoot a frame from the left-side composition and then step to the right to get a right-side composition. I did this several times to get the two frames as close as possible to symmetric and then brought them into photoshop side by side, blending the center column together. I’m not sure if its an interesting or appealing image, but it was certainly a success from the perspective of accomplishing what I set out to do. It may speak more to how the use of photoshop can positively influence how we shoot, how we see subjects and portray them. Should we let photoshop influence how we shoot?
Technical Info: Canon 5D, 24-70mm @ 50mm, ISO800, f/9, 1/25 second exposure, hand-held
You’re probably happy to know this will be the last image from DV. It was shot in the Cow Creek area of the park, another salt basin with ground water seeping up through it, providing the visual juxtopostion that is Death Valley. The ranger told me that the valley evaporates 100 inches of water a year!
For those new to landscape photography, I shot this using a split ND filter and have a new video tutorial on the use of them. Click HERE to watch.
Technical: Canon 1Ds MarkII, 16-35mm @17mm, ISO100, f/11, Singh Ray Reverse Two Stop ND, split focus technique.
Split Focus: I shot two frames, one focused at 3 ft (pretty much the shrub) and one focused at infinity and combined them in photoshop to maximize sharpness everywhere in the image.
I’m moving to the Badwater area of DV for the next couple of images. This shot was made in early twilight and with the significant (and sad level of air pollution sitting in the valley, the light was very blue. Both Travis and I commented when we walked out on to the the area that the light just screamed for use of tungsten white balance. Selecting tungsten white balance biases any day light towards blue. During certain times of the day, like twilight, even more so. The blue, then, is not a function of photoshop trickery but rather a choice made in the field about the mood and light at the moment and working with that. Architectural photographers have made use of this relationship between tungsten film and daylight for decades to capture some of the most beautiful images you’ve seen in Architectural Digest.
Technical: Canon 1Ds MarkII, 16-35mm@16, f/9, ISO100, Singh Ray 2 stop reverse neutral density filter.
This week I’ll finish with a couple more dunes images then move to some different images from Death Valley. Then we’ll take a break for the holidays and come back strong afterwards with some new images, new video content and a new….?????
Technical: Canon 1Ds MarkII, 24-70mm@43mm, ISO400, f/13, 1/200 sec hand held, singh ray warming polarizer.
Location: Mesquite Flats Dunes, Death Valley
Technical: Canon 1Ds MarkII, Singh Ray warming polarizer, hand held, 16-35mm lens @35mm, f/10, ISO100, 1/500th shutter speed. Black and white conversion in Adobe Photoshop CS4
If you’re interested in the HOW of black and white creation in these images, email me and I’ll consider producing a short video tutorial on what I look for in the scene and how I get the tones in Photoshop.
This image was made in Mesquite Sand Dunes. No trickery here, all in camera. The exposure was 40 minutes to capture the star trails. The foreground light was created during the exposure by taking my camera flash, walking around and flashing it. The light on me was made by Travis shining a flashlight on me at various intervals of rotation.
Technical: Canon 1DsMarkII, 16-35mm superwide zoom @16mm, ISO 100, 40 minute shutter speed, in camera noise reduction.
I just returned late last night from a long weekend in Death Valley National Park. For the next week or so I’ll be running a series of landscape images from DV and I’m working on a new video tutorial on the use of split neutral density filters.
I’m not a big fan of desert landscapes, but DV really made its way into my heart. It’s to be experienced for sure and hopefully these images will give you a small taste of it.
From a photographer’s perspective, 3 days in the park was simply a long scouting trip. I wasn’t sure I’d come back with 1 image to share and while I think I did, it was a great reminder of just how much work it takes to get great photography out of an unfamiliar place in a short period of time. DV is the largest park in the lower 48, making it very difficult to get to know. You watch the weather, you hike the trails, contemplating all the possible shots and under what conditions you’d like to shoot them. Then you move 30 miles down the road and do that again. And finally you have to pull the trigger, make a decision and drive another 30 miles because of something happening in the sky, the light. Then you get there and it evaporates and you find yourself muttering the same old cliche, “If it were easy everyone would be doing it.”
I also want to wish everyone a HAPPY HOLIDAY and hope you all enjoy your time with family and friends.
Technical: Zabriski Point, Canon 1Ds Mark II, 24-70mm, Singh Ray Blue/Gold polarizer, ISO800, tripod, composite of 4 frames, early twilight morning, aperture priority, varying shutter speed.
In the Slap Zoom Video there is a short clip where I’m covering the lens and rotating the camera. This is a technique I’ve been using with my CANON camera, which does not provide a multiple exposure routine (like Nikon does (
This is one of many images I’ve created using this technique and have some ideas on how to improve it.
Technical: Canon 1Ds Mark II, cloudy/evening twilight, no filters, 70-200mm lens, ISO100, f/32, 20 seconds, 4 camera movements. Cover lens in between movements.