Vision and Creativity

Views From the Canyon

Dappled light along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Dappled light along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park. Watching the cloud shadows move across the canyon from this spot was one of the highlights of the trip for me.



Most people make their best photographs of places or subjects they’re familiar with.

In landscape photography, it helps immensely if you know an area well, and know what spots might work best under certain conditions, so you can put yourself in the right place at the right time.

I think it’s also natural and inevitable that we’re going to make our best and most meaningful images when we feel a connection with the subject or place. You can often trace a direct correlation between the depth of that connection and the depth of the imagery. And making those connections takes time.

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Ocean Moods

Creek and sea stack, sunrise, Oregon coast, USA

Creek and sea stack, sunrise, Oregon Coast. I used a slow shutter speed (30 seconds) to smooth the waves, which simplified the scene by eliminating texture in the water, and helped create a more ethereal quality to the image.

In one of my posts about Yellowstone last fall I talked about my attraction to dynamic landscapes. And Yellowstone is certainly dynamic, with its ever-changing array of spouting geysers and steaming vents.

But seascapes might be even more dynamic. In addition to the usual variables of landscape photography – light and weather – there’s the ocean itself. Tides, wave height, wave direction, and wind all have big effects on the way a scene looks. And no two waves are the same, so one moment will often look quite different from the next.

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Overlooked Images

Aspens in fog, White River NF, CO, USA

Aspens in fog, White River NF, Colorado. I used a bit of negative Dehaze to slightly soften this image.

In preparing my recent presentation for the Out of Chicago Live conference, I was digging through my archives for examples to use, and found some interesting images I had overlooked. In some cases I had put them aside, too busy to process them at the time, and then just forgot about them. In other cases I think my perceptions had changed. And sometimes I could see the potential to process an image differently, using new tools and new skills.

One of those tools is the Dehaze slider in Lightroom. It’s not that new (2015), but didn’t exist when I initially processed some images, and can sometimes make a big difference – especially with fog. I’m a big fan of fog for forest scenes, and these days I’m often using Dehaze selectively with the Adjustment Brush to cut through fog in one part of an image, or thicken fog in another area to hide or deemphasize something. (Just to be clear, you can’t create fog where none existed; there has to be some fog to begin with. But you can make some tenuous fog look a little more substantial. I show how to do all this in my latest Lightroom course, Landscapes in Lightroom: Advanced Techniques.)

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Canyon Mood

Dusk light, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Dusk light, Grand Canyon, Arizona

In a recent post I described how Claudia and I made a spur-of-the-moment detour to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We arrived in the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day checking out various viewpoints.

As sunset approached we had just enough light to check out one more spot. We made it there just after sunset, and in the gathering dusk I thought the light in the canyon to the west was exquisite: soft, with a beautiful backlit glow, and a slight haze to add atmosphere and depth.

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Influences

Redbud above a rapid in the Merced River, CA, USA

Redbud above a rapid in the Merced River, California

My mother grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, in the hills above Panama City, running and playing all year in the tropical weather, watching sloths in the trees outside her bedroom window, shaking her shoes out each morning to make sure there were no scorpions inside.

When she was 13 years old her family moved to Queens, New York, but later, in the early years of her marriage, she and my father migrated to the outer suburbs, and once again she was surrounded by nature. She would often point out beautiful things she noticed to my brothers and me: the first buds of spring, a sunset, ice-coated branches, a bird singing, autumn leaves starting to turn…

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Soft Images in a Harsh Landscape

Sand dunes at dusk, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Sand dunes at dusk, Death Valley

Sand dunes present an incredible array of shapes, forms, and textures, which makes them highly photogenic. When I first started photographing dunes I was fascinated by those abstract patterns, especially with low-angle light raking across them. And I still am.

But on our last visits to Death Valley, at the end of February and beginning of March, I realized that my tastes have evolved, and I actually prefer photographing the dunes in soft light, before the sun reaches them in the morning, or after the sun leaves them in the evening. At dawn and dusk the dunes can reflect beautiful colors from the sky, turning gold, blue, pink, or even purple. But also, and perhaps more importantly, they look softer. Under that light the dunes look like big, fluffy pillows of sand. They’re less harsh, and more inviting.

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