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Finding Your Creative Vision Part 2 – Seasonal Images

28 Apr

The difference between a seasonal image and the grand scenic (see last post) is the subject matter is based primarily on and around the seasonal element within the landscape. In other words, it is the time of year that makes the image.

The most common images that come to mind are forest scenes. The forest makes excellent seasonal subject matter, especially trees captured in the brilliance of fall, or draped in snow, or possibly cloaked in their freshest colors of the spring. Let’s take a look at one of my personal favorite seasonal images.

This was captured back in the fall of 2006 during my first and only visit to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Without the water, I probably wouldn’t have taken this shot, but it is the time of year that brings this image to life. Let’s dissect the composition.

First, the most obvious aspect of the image is the light shining through the yellow foliage in the background. This leads the viewers eyes through the scene and it also creates a powerful v shape in the background forest, accentuating form. (That shape is somewhat mimicked by the shape of the rock ledge spillway in the foreground) .The color of the trees also help convey depth to the scene by breaking up the monotony of the towering green rhododendron in the mid ground.

Lastly, look at the leaves on the moss covered rocks. The burnt orange/brownish colors compliment the green of the rocks and provide more visual interest as well. Combined with the background, this type of scenery is only evident diuring a small window of time each year. In my opinion, that is the distinguishing feature of this image – the season.

In this image, taken in Colorado last fall, I used the thinning aspen trees to create depth and accentuate form while utilizing the yellow and green color combo again. Another scene available only during the late fall. This image is inherently much more abstract than the previous one.

In summary, the seasonal image doesn’t utilize the drama of nature’s finest moments to the extent the grand scenic does. Skies may or may not be part of the scene and if they are, there is usually no dramatic color. From a creative standpoint, the seasonal image often plays to the photographer’s resourcefulness in finding a composition where others might not see one. After all, it is hard to miss a grand scenic! While the use of light is vitally important in all landscape photography, the grand scenic is heavily dependent on spectacular light, while there is a greater range of acceptable light when composing a seasonal image.

Stayed tuned for the next segment of Finding Your Creative Vision, hopefully I’ll have that to you by Monday or Tuesday. Have a great weekend!

Finding Your Creative Edge in Landscape Photography Pt.1 – The Grand Scenic

27 Apr

What is the difference between a good landscape photographer and a great one? What separates the top photographers in this genre from the many others trying to emulate them? Is it luck, time in the field, or maybe they have more technical and even physical skills? It couldn’t possibly be their camera equipment could it? Well, what is it?

Today we are starting a new series that I hope will answer these questions and more. My goal is to provide you with a more fundamental understanding of landscape photography and to inspire you to think outside the box to find your own creative advantages.

After several years of regularly studying landscape photographs from an artist’s perspective, I’ve begun to see more clearly the creative nuances many of the top pros use to hone their craft. Before we dive into the creative aspects of the genre, it is important to have a fundamental grasp of the different types of images that are common in this field. I call these sub-genres and we’ll briefly discuss each as it relates to overall understanding of landscape photography. We’ll start with just about everyone’s favorite type of the image – the grand scenic.

If you follow my work at all then you’ve probably seen this image before. Entitled Celestial Alignment, this is probably my favorite grand scenic in my current gallery of images. What exactly is a grand scenic?

Well, I’ll take the definition out of one of my all time favorite photography books entitled “Photographing the Landscape, the Art of Seeing” by John Fielder. This is how Fielder describes this type of image…. "Grand scenics often contain all....(the) photographic toppings, and they employ their use in ways that heighten their impact. Colors are usually complementary, forms are unique and pleasing, the moment clearly transitory, the perspective implies great depth, and the view takes in what is only necessary to make a great composition."

To paraphrase, he is saying a grand scenic normally means a scene with a wide and deep view. This usually includes some type of dramatic sky or at least soft, warm light that compliments and/or accentuates the subject matter. The composition also needs to be precise and well balanced, with strong continuity from side to side and front to back.

Let’s take a look at the image above and examine the foreground elements. There is a definite near to far perspective, with the strongest hoodoos placed in a position that looks out and diagonally across the scene to the sun rising over the horizon. This creates a fluid perspective leading the viewer through the scene, starting in the foreground.

In my opinion, this is also an example of a balanced scene. If you cover up half (any way) of the photograph you’ll see what I mean. No one half is any stronger than the other. If you look at the placement of the sun within the picture, it is classically approximately 1/3rd of the way in from the right and 1/3rd of the way down from the top. In the mid ground, the forest of trees in the canyon breaks up the monotony of the shades of deep oranges and reds produced by the brilliant light reflecting off the natural color of the rocks. Additionally, look at the sides of the image. All the elements are clean, thoughtfully arranged, and cohesive.

Finally, the sky is brilliant and clearly transitory. Anyone who has spent time in the field during the magic hours can surely see this is not a “normal” sunrise. It was highly unusual with the moment lasting approximately three to four minutes.

Capturing a grand scenic is one of the most rewarding experiences in landscape photography because of the rarity of the event. In another sense, the images require a less than average amount of artistic creativity to get them right.

Certainly, in most cases, they require a high level of technical competence having to deal with the high dynamic range of light while executing in the field and in the digital dark room. However, outside of that aspect and the ability to see a strong composition, most of the creative work gets overshadowed by the spectacle of natural phenomena captured.

Well, I’ll wrap this up today and by Thursday we’ll discuss another type of image.

Shooting Tips for Slot Canyons

13 Apr

I recently returned from a three day photography trip to northern Arizona, where the most productive photography was in Lower Antelope Canyon outside of Page. It was there that I met fellow landscape photographer and friend Justin Reznick and we spent several days together exploring the area and shooting this slot canyon.

In case you haven’t visited or are unfamiliar with this place,  Antelope Canyon may be the most photographed slice of real estate in this country or anywhere for that matter, and for good reason, It is a lot of fun and the scenery is stunning. Today I’ll share a couple of  my recent pictures along with a pair of my favorite approaches to photographing this incredible area.

1) Use a small, lightweight tripod instead of your big, bulky one. Slot canyons are tight and Lower Antelope in particular can have as many as 150 people passing through every hour.  Therefore, space is seriously at a premium.  It is to a photographer’s advantage to set up and shoot as quickly as possible. Many shots are taken near the ground from a lower perspective. A small tripod makes perfect sense.  The larger the tripod, the harder it is to travel through the slot canyon. Set up time is longer, and there is a good chance of damaging a larger tripod by accidentally banging on the narrow canyon walls when you move.

Versatility is a key component in your shooting success in slot canyons. Using a small, lightweight tripod allows me to scramble to achieve shots like this.

2) For compositions, look for scenes with a variety of depth and color. I look for compositions that give me angles to capture elements of the canyon that present it at its greatest depth. One element that helps provide depth is color. The color you see in slot canyons is simply a product of the intensity and temperature of the reflected light.

It is also important to pay attention to what is going on outside the canyon walls. If the sun is cutting in and out because of fast-moving clouds, the light is going to change often and this is critical information to understand to achieve your desired results in the slot canyon.

Once I get honed onto a scene,  I will work that scene using several varieties of the same general composition while continuing to pay close attention to the light. I’ll use the vertical lines and shapes of the sandstone to block any direct light and accentuate glare and form while creating abstract images.

Even though the color can be amazing, photographers can still create high quality images using a black and white conversion. This image uses the vertical and horizontal bands and erosion patterns of the sandstone to form a complex picture of shapes all accentuated by the reflected light.

In closing,  slot canyons allow the landscape photographer a high degree of photographic creativity in the field as well as in the digital darkroom.  If the light is right, you’ll have the opportunity to capture multiple stunning images in a relatively short period of time.  When you go to Lower Antelope Canyon, be mentally prepared to deal with crowds, travel light, and pay close attention to the light and its source.  You’ll have a wonderful experience!

Updates, Musings, and the Future

3 Mar

Well, here is an update with the latest happenings at Wild Moments…

Hard Drive Issues

 
My hard drive is at the forensics lab and hopefully I”ll know by later today whether any of the information we’ve lost is recoverable. If it is, we have to decide whether it is worth the price of recovery, which could range anywhere from $200 and $2000! Being that it was basically the third hard drive failure in a little over a year, we have decided to bite the bullet and get a new computer within the next few months.

Unfortunately, I did lose all the notes on our current blog series entitled, “Wild Moments” and some of the information I had recorded I just can’t seem to remember.  I plan on continuing that series in the future. On a positive note, I did not lose any RAW photography files,  just recently edited ones and a few master versions that were not backed up.

Art Festivals

Our next art festival is in less than two weeks. It is the Litchfield Park Arts and Culinary Festival. We plan to add some new items and to expand the variety of our inventory even more with some different sizes, prices, and products. We were also recently accepted for the Prescott Fine Art and Wine Festival on Mother’s Day weekend May 7 – 8.  If you stop by, be sure to mention you read about the festivals here for a 15% discount off any single item purchase.

Recent Trips

Over the past two months, we have enjoyed several day trips out to the Superstition Mountains, a three day trip to Tucson and another trip to the Mohave Desert. Currently, the website does not feature all of the images captured on these trips as we are a little behind due to the loss of information from our recent computer failure. We hope to be caught up within a month.

Upcoming Trips

Joyce and I are returning to Tucson this month for a couple more days and nights. During that time, two of our images will be debuting at an exhibit at the Art Institute of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Hopefully while we are there,  spring conditions will prevail and will have some new wildflower pictures to share. We are also in the middle stages of planning our second trip to the Pacific Northwest.  We will be visiting in May and plan on spending equal amounts of time at the Columbia River Gorge and the Palouse.  We are hoping to time our trip for peak wildflower season. This will be probably be the only photography trip of the year where we actually fly to our destination. 

Workshops

Our Zion Narrows workshop is coming up at the end of June. If anyone is interested please contact me or check out our workshops page for more info. This is an incredible opportunity to work with me in a very small group setting and grab some killer images of the Narrows. This is the best time of the year to visit.

Special Thanks

Thanks to everyone who has supported Wild Moments by purchasing our products and sharing our website with their family and friends. We couldn’t do it without you! We hope to hear from you again soon.

Michael and Joyce

Tucson Barrio

27 Jan

Joyce and I are back from an awesome weekend in Tucson. I have to say that here  in Phoenix, the city of Tucson sometimes is portrayed negatively and unfairly (in my opinion) by many of the local print publications. It is unfortunate because Tucson has a ton of character on its streets that  really isn’t as evident here in the valley. Although it has grown dramatically in the past ten years, it still maintains the feel of its Spanish roots. Tucson has also down a good job of preserving historic sites. The Mission at San Xavier del Bac just south of the City is a shining example painstaking preservation efforts. In addition, Tucson has some killer mountains on all four sides and probably the best saguaro forests in the country. Saguaro National Park is a must do trip on any visit to the Tucson area.

Today I want to talk about the Tucson barrio.  As many of you may know, I volunteer for Friends of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. It was through the Friends organization that I first learned about this  amazing place. They do a workshop there in the spring and reading about this place captured my imagination.  I’ve always been interested in photographing doors and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The brilliant colors and unique architectural features in the barrio are mesmerizing.

With a weather forecast of clear, blue skies all weekend long I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to capture some urban art in the heart of the “Old Pueblo.”  Joyce and I spent several sunrises there capturing the colors and atmosphere of the unique barrio. Below is one of my favorite images from the trip….

I prefer the distressed look on the abandoned properties as opposed to the cleaner presentation of many of the remodeled homes in the area

Joyce captured some fantastic shots too. Even though this home is remodeled, I think the light shining in the middle of it really makes this shot for me. It is definitely one of my favorites…

The barrio is a really cool place if you are interested in this type of photography. We felt the best location was in the vicinity of Stone and Cushing streets in downtown Tucson. If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth a look. My next post will most likely be on Monday, until then, have a fantastic weekend!

A Print Makers Thoughts….

16 Dec

Today we are going to talk about printing and how to harvest the full power of your photograph. I chose this particular topic now as I just went through a period of prolific print making for our winter art festival season. 

There are few thoughts I’d like to share that I think will really help you in making your own photographs stand out. The print is really the culminating piece in any photographers arsenal.  How your print looks really defines your work. (Currently, I outsource all my printing to a local company in Scottsdale. so these tips may not be completely applicable for someone who does their own fine art printing).

1) Consider your lighting – How is your print going to be displayed? You may not know this, but keep it in mind. Here are some other relevant questions to think about. Will the print have direct lighting or natural lighting? These are important considerations in determining how bright you want your print. Keep in mind, if it is placed in a dark room, the shadows will look almost completely black, and darkness will dilute and dull the colors of your print. If you are concerned it is not going to show up well because of the lighting, you should enhance your colors a little bit to compensate.

2) Test prints – Don’t learn the hard way like I did, paying good money for prints only to discover weeks later that you really don’t like the finished product. I’ve learned to run each image through a rigorous set of test printing. I am not concerned about the cost, my prints are a reflection of my work and they must look right.

3) Paper – Are your printing on glossy or matte? Perhaps you print on canvas. Each individual printing surface has a slightly different color and each also showcases the colors differently. The sharpness of an image is affected by the kind of paper you are using. Some papers have a yellow tinge that must be accounted for in your editing. Other papers can enhance or slightly dull your colors. Your sharpening levels will be different depending on the size and kind of paper you use to print on as well.

4) Brightness – This is an extension of number one. Make sure you closely monitor the blacks in your shadows. Some printers block up shadows, rendering a darker black with less shadow detail. This is a subtlety that an artist can initially overlook caught up in the moment of enjoying his or her print. Make sure you compare the shadow detail of your physical print to that on your finished electronic file.

5) Clipping – Clipping is the loss of information due to overexposure resulting in a concentrated area of pure white in your photograph.  However, clipping can occur during the editing process as well, which is what I describe here. If your print comes out slighty dark and you lighten it, you must be aware very small sections of that image that could potentially clip during this time. This is a process where you must physically scroll over every inch of your photograph to ensure its quality. Be aware that lighter colors tend to clip quicker than darker ones, so if you have an image with snow, water or even light grey rocks, these are parts of the image that can be readily affected.

Well, I am wrapping up for now. Hopefully you’ve got something from this and if there is more information that comes to mind I’ll make another post on this subject. For now, I leave you with my best selling prints from this month’s art festivals.

Window of Opportunity

Celestial Alignment

The Magic Place

The Magic Place

Vision of Excellence

Vision of Excellence

5 Photography Tips & Bryce Sunrise 24 x 36 Print

1 Dec

Before we get into the photography tips,  here’s a quick personal update on the latest happenings in my photography world. The first big festival of the winter is upon us and we are making final preparations for a successful show. Our inventory is fully stocked, show pricing is in place, and we have several options of styles including framed and matted prints, notecards as well as canvas giclees.  For this show, we also made a couple of large prints including my bryce canyon sunrise shot entitled, “Celestial Alignment” at 24 x 36. That’s my largest print to date, we just got it home this afternoon and here’s a quick snap shot with me in it to give you a sense of size. Including the matting and frame – the image is 49 inches wide.

One of my showstoppers for Tempe this year. This is a 24 x 36 Lightjet print on FujiFlex paper with distressed gold trim, suede matting, museum glass, and a Southwestern wood frame. For more information on purchasing this piece...please contact me.

Now onto my photo tips. Ron, my contact at Induro Gear,  asked me to submit my top five photography tips and he published that article on the Induro blog earlier this week. You can read it here.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I apologize for not updating my blog for frequently. This has been an incredibly busy time. You can expect me to update the blog at least once per week from now until the new year.

Michael

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