Giving Up? – A Lesson in Seeing

October 18th, 2010 by Bret Edge

Today’s post is a short one, though I believe it imparts an important lesson.  

Last month I embarked upon a 4 day, 3 night motorcycle trip to Crested Butte, Aspen and beyond.  I didn’t have a set itinerary, although I knew I wanted to photograph an autumn sunrise of the Maroon Bells reflecting in the placid waters of Maroon Lake.  On the evening before the final day of my trip I arrived in Aspen and took the road leading to the Bells.  I found an idyllic campsite in the Silver Queen campground only a couple miles from the lake.  Once camp was set up I headed to the lake to scout compositions for sunrise the next morning.

Having heard stories from friends about dozens of photographers lining the lake with their tripods overlapping I knew I’d need to arrive early the next morning to stake my claim.  I awoke early, threw on layers of warm clothing to protect me from the chilly 34 degree ride and proceeded to the lake. Arriving a full half hour before sunrise, I was a bit surprised to find seven cars already in the parking lot.

Bad Light? Not for Portraits…

October 15th, 2010 by Rob Knight

Our model, Rachael, under overcast skies at the DPE Learning Weekend in Atlanta, GA

Overcast skies may be bad for landscape photography, but they are great for shooting portraits. When shooting under cloudy skies you’ve got a giant overhead softbox to work with. This creates soft light that wraps around your subject and makes it easy to capture a proper exposure without blown highlights or harsh shadows. This soft light is also a great base for adding off-camera flash.

A few tips for success on an overcast day:

•Set your white balance to ‘Cloudy’ to add a little warmth to your colors

•Don’t include the sky in your photos. Unless the clouds are very dramatic, an overcast sky doesn’t make a good background.

•Use off-camera flash (speedlights or strobes) to create more interesting or dramatic lighting. Use the ambient light as your fill and build the main light with your off-camera flash.

•You may need to bump up the contrast (I like to use a curves adjustment) in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Learn more about Rob, view his images and check out his workshops at his website.

Glowing In the Dark, or What to Photograph In the Dining Room

October 14th, 2010 by Royce Howland
Glowing In the Dark, Calgary

Glowing In the Dark, Calgary

Things are busy, feels like no time to head out to the field. What to do? I know! Still life closeups of flowers can be fun.

Sure, flowers smell nice and look colorful, but from arm’s length they’re part of the normal world. How often do we take in their intricate details? Viewed up close, the familiar can become strange or fascinating… perhaps both. Sounds like a job for a photographer.

On the dining room table, some cut lilies in a vase made a perfect subject. My wife remarked on their strong aroma that filled the room, and the beauty of the petals. I nodded my head, but was thinking of the macro lens, a close-up perspective, and some unusual lighting.

I broke out my Canon 5D Mk II, put on the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Macro lens, and got it all set up on the tripod. As the evening light through the picture window grew dim, I turned down the dining room lights as well. A small flashlight provided some targeted glow while the rest of the normal vibrant colors receded into the shadows. Selecting a fairly wide aperture of f/4 provided a shallow depth of field and the stage was all set for the composition.

Taking Pictures vs. Creating Art

October 8th, 2010 by Bret Edge

I vaguely remember the old days, back before I had an SLR and lenses and filters and a tripod.  When I’d see a pretty scene, I'd whip out my point & shoot and take a picture before continuing on my way.  I wasn’t creating art. Nope, I was just memorializing on film (yes, film) a scene or a moment that intrigued me.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Things are different today.  I lug around a big D-SLR with several lenses, a few filters, a tripod and a bunch of other stuff that I use not to record simple memories, but to create something approaching “art”.

Over the years I’ve heard photographers say they are “taking pictures, making images, capturing a moment, shooting photos” and a billion other phrases that essentially mean the same thing.  Or do they?

I can’t help but think that “taking pictures” or “shooting photos” is entirely different from what I and most other serious photographers do when we head out with our cameras.  I like to think that I am creating art.  

By it’s very nature, art is subjective.  What I think is a gorgeous piece of artwork you may think is a bunch of squiggly lines on canvas.  So, the images I create, that I consider art, you may consider just another pretty photo. Or, maybe it’s just another ugly photo.  Only you can decide that.  The point is this – I’m not just documenting a scene before me.  I’m trying to create something that is elevated from being a mere snapshot to something that others may consider to art.

Wow! You Must Have A Good Camera!

October 7th, 2010 by Mike Moats


The title of this post is a line that photographers hate to hear when people comment on their images.  I hear this one a lot at my art shows.  Due to the digital and photoshop age, people tend to think great images are produced by great equipment, when in fact low-end camera equipment can produce good quality images in the hands a of competent photographer.  The opposite is true as well:  top of the line equipment can easily shoot bad images by a careless photographer.

I ran across a video on called, “The iPhone Fashion Shoot By Lee Morris”.  Lee proves that a good photographer can produce good image even with a camera phone.

He attaches his camera phone to a tripod with velcro, sets up some lighting, and does a model shoot to prove his point: that it’s not all about the equipment. 

Shooting on a Workshop? Speak up, please!

October 5th, 2010 by Rick Sammon

Photographs © Rick Sammon

Juan Pons and I were recently acting as assistants on the sunset hula shoot at the Maui Photo Festival.

Great fun! Great dancers! Great light.

As usual, something interesting happened. After Juan and I set up the reflectors and diffusers to control the harsh light, I ask the crowd of maybe 40 photographers, “Can you guys see the difference in the light when using these accessories?”


I asked again. Silence again.

From Portrait Snapshots to Great Shots

October 1st, 2010 by Rick Sammon

Rick and Juan where teaching at the awesome Maui Photo Festival a few weeks back and we took a bit of time to record this quick and easy tip on creating great portrait shots in harsh light situations.

Hope you enjoy this tip!

Make sure and keep up with Rick and Juan at the Digital Photo Experience.

The Shadow Is the Subject

September 29th, 2010 by Royce Howland


Aquamarine Shadow, Abraham Lake

Aquamarine Shadow, Abraham Lake

Things have been busy! In the spare time from the day job, I’ve been doing some writing and catching up on cataloging. I’ve also been doing some location scouting and other prep work for the coming Light Matters Masterclass. (Spaces are still available for the class, by the way.)

While taking in the scenery around Aurum Lodge on a scouting visit, I was standing on a low rocky crest in late afternoon light, overlooking the stunning blue-green waters of Lake Abraham. I never tire of this color in the mountain lakes… far more than clear water, this glacial coloring seems to me like the chromatic embodiment of freshness and purity.

I was looking down at my shadow dancing in the ripples of the lake waters, and thought of the saying that I've heard and read from many photographers — “light illuminates, shadow defines.” What if the shadow doesn’t just define the subject, but is the whole subject? I took a position on a craggy stretch of the rocks, pulled out my pocket camera (a Panasonic LX3), and captured an image of my shadow self over the water. Pay attention to shadows… including your own!

Learn more about Royce, his images and his workshops at Vivid Aspect Photography.

Unleashing the Mad Scientist Within

September 23rd, 2010 by Bret Edge

Tonight I feel a bit like a mad scientist. For some unknown reason I got an itch to try something totally new in Lightroom and Photoshop. I made this image of bison grazing in the meadow at Mormon Row in the Tetons while there a couple weeks ago. Straight out of the camera the image wasn’t terribly exciting but I felt it had potential. Those of you who are familiar with my work know that my images are generally pretty straightforward. I don’t apply creative effects and I process the images to look more or less like the scene did when I photographed it. A little tweak of contrast here, add some saturation there, darken a sky now and again and do a little dodge and burning – voila, the final image appears. I have nothing at all against images that have been heavily manipulated. Photography is an art and we should feel free to create our art on our own terms.

Now, I have obviously taken some serious creative liberties with this image.  For starters, my camera doesn’t make square photos.  I used a fairly heavy digital grad filter to darken the sky with a heavy dose of clarity to give more separation in the clouds, added some global negative vibrance to mute the colors, made a curves adjustment to increase contrast, dodged the bison to make them stand out a bit more from the meadow, added a vignette and some “grain” – all in Lightroom 3.  I exported the image to Photoshop CS4 and experimented with different blurs using the gradient tool to keep the bison sharp-ish while blurring out the background.  I didn’t like the results of any of those efforts.  What to do?  Hmmm…

Why I Love HDR – Part 1 by Royce Howland

September 20th, 2010 by Royce Howland

You can click on Royce's images for a larger view.

I’m mainly a landscape photographer, and I’ve been using High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques in my work for about 5 years now. During that time I’ve used HDR on many images. In fact, I’d venture to say that HDR has become nearly indispensable to my way of working. I don’t use it for everything, and it’s not the only tool in my toolbox, but it’s a very important part of my process.

I’ve done some thinking about HDR and photography, and written about it as well as discussed it with people. I’ve also read quite a bit written by others, both pro and con. It’s now clear to me that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love HDR, and everyone else.

(Side note – okay, okay. Really, there are two kinds of people: those who think there are two kinds of people, and everyone else. But this is about HDR and photography, not some kind of social studies. And I needed a controversial-seeming opening line.)

Elliott Peak At First Light, White Goat Lakes

When I show my images or prints and disclose something about the part that HDR plays, those who know about digital photography or post-processing frequently have a reaction like “Wow, that doesn’t look like HDR, it looks natural!” Hmm. First, thanks very much – it’s a gratifying comment to receive. It’s my intention to present art, not artifice, and I don’t want my use of technique to be very front-and-center to the visual experience. The main point should be the image itself, not the processing.

But second, there’s something else going on with this interaction. Maybe there’s an implication that my images don’t look like HDR because HDR must look “unnatural”. Just maybe there’s a feeling that there’s a little something different to my images even though they still look kind of “normal”. There are definitely some assumptions about what a “natural” or “normal” photograph is. What’s up with this?

Perhaps a few of those who know that HDR exists and don’t love it simply don’t understand it the way I do. That’s right – HDR isn’t bad, it’s just misunderstood! I don’t want to try to convince anybody to adopt something they don’t need;