Vision and Creativity

Shutter Speeds and Mood

Misty evening light along the Oregon coast, USA

Misty evening light along the Oregon coast. I thought a slow shutter speed (1 second) complemented the soft, misty, painterly light in this scene.

If you want to make expressive photographs – ones that capture a mood, or tell a story – then light, composition, and timing (the moment you capture) are usually the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Those three essential elements largely define the message and feeling of a photograph.

But while these tools are vital, they’re not the only ones at our disposal. We also have camera controls, like shutter speed, aperture, and filters. And we can use processing to interpret and enhance the photograph’s message.


Canyon Moods

Dappled light above the Colorado River, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona. I used a neutral-density filter (probably seven stops) to slow the shutter speed to three seconds and smooth the water, and had to wait for moments when the wind was calm at the camera position, lest the wind vibrate the camera and blur the photo during the long exposure.

I left the Grand Canyon just a week ago. Once again I co-led a ten-day raft trip down the canyon with my friend Jerry Dodrill for Visionary Wild. And once again it was an amazing trip.

This journey is hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it. It’s more than just a photography trip – although the photography is fantastic. It’s a true wilderness adventure, immersed in the depths of this magnificent canyon for ten days, sleeping under the stars, living by the rhythm of the sun, moon, and river, sharing the experience with a small group of like-minded people. It’s unforgettable.


Taking Another Look

Swirling leaves, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Swirling leaves, Inyo NF, California. (See the text for a detailed description of this photo.)

In between our visits to the Pacific Northwest Claudia and I spent a little time in the Eastern Sierra, and close to home in Yosemite. Last year I was in New Zealand in October, and I missed our local autumn, so it was nice to catch a bit of autumn glow in some of our favorite places.

When photographing familiar locations it’s easy to get jaded and think, “I’ve done all this before.” But actually you haven’t. No place is ever exactly the same, because things are always changing. And you’ve changed too; you’re not the same person, or the same photographer, as the last time you were there.

When I go back to a familiar spot, I often ask myself what’s changed – what’s different about the conditions that might create new opportunities. What’s happening now that’s interesting or unusual? It could be the light, the weather, fall color, flowers, water levels, beavers flooding a grove of aspens, a riverbank eroding… nothing ever stays the same.


Motion and Mood Along the Oregon Coast

Misty sunset on the Oregon Coast, USA

Misty sunset on the Oregon Coast. 73mm, 8 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, ND filter.

Claudia and I have been spending a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest this year, which is great, as I love this part of the world. We just finished a workshop along the Oregon Coast, and now we’re making our way to Bellingham, Washington, to visit our son and daughter-in-law, and stopping to see friends along the way.

The workshop was a lot of fun. A great group of people, and we saw some beautiful light, as well as big waves crashing against the shore.


Character and Mood on the Northern California Coast

Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons, northern California coast. I’ve photographed sun breaking through fog in redwood forests many times, but it’s always a special treat. At this particular moment the sun highlighted the redwood trunk on the left, providing a visual focal point, with the ferns, rhododendrons, other trunks, and patches of sunlight all arranging themselves in a harmonious way. I consciously planted the tripod at a spot where I could see decent spacing and separation between the trunks.

Claudia and I have been traveling a lot this year, with trips to Mono Lake, Zion, Valley of Fire, Anza-Borrego and the Central Coast ranges for flowers, the Olympic Peninsula, and multiple visits to Death Valley – along with day trips to Yosemite, of course.

And recently we made another trip, this time to the northern California redwoods for our annual workshop there. But even though that was a long drive, it seemed like we were coming home, rather than leaving home. I always feel that way when we return to the redwoods, because I love that area so much.


Oregon Moods

Crashing wave in late-afternoon light, Oregon coast, USA

Crashing wave in late-afternoon light, Oregon coast. We had to deal with off-and-on rain while trying to photograph large waves crashing against the shore. But then the sun broke through for about five minutes late in the afternoon, bathing this scene in beautiful light. Luckily we caught a few big wave splashes during those five minutes. 70mm, 1/500 sec. at f/8, ISO 160.

After returning from New Zealand I made a trip to the Oregon Coast for our annual workshop. This part of the world is very different from my usual mountain haunts, which might be why I enjoy it so much. There’s a wild, rugged grandeur to this coastline, and if you’re lucky enough to encounter some big waves that just adds to the sense of awe.

And we did experience some big waves. Watching – and hearing – those monsters crash ashore was an experience none of us will soon forget. But even under calmer conditions this area offers wonderful opportunities to capture moody scenes of fog, or stormy skies.