Creating A Grand Scenic Image

Landscape Photography
(Creating a Grand Scenic)

Landscape photography is harder than you think. To create beautiful, sweeping, stunning grand scenic imagery is one of the most difficult types of photography. Most beginners include too much into the picture, leaving an image without focus and without a main subject—a subject that stands out and grips and tugs at your heart and emotions. Another common complaint for beginners is the term “record shot”. It used to describe an image without power and a strong subject where a photographer is literally is just recording the scene in front of his or her camera.

In addition, a “record shot” does not use or encompass some common photographic techniques: like leading lines, the use of a “S” curve, using shadows to add drama, contrasting colors with the use of late or early morning light, dramatic large foreground elements that stand out and contrast with the background, the rule of thirds to position the subject in a more pleasing compositional position, and finally to create a three dimensional image from a two dimensional medium. These aren’t all the ways to make a “record shot” into an image that you would proudly want to frame big and place prominently on your living room wall, but these are some basic techniques you can use to improve your landscape photography.

Diagonal lines add tension and are less static than horizontal or vertical lines, think of a diagonal line as of a fence leading you to the main subject, making the image more three dimensional. Ask where your eye goes! It should go to your main subject…

Another approach is to use a wide angle lens up close to make a foreground element more prominent. This works exceptionally well with wide angle lenses, creating within an image a foreground, middle ground, and background that give depth to the scene.

Graduated neutral density filters are essential tool for shrinking the range of light down to what your digital camera sensor can handle without clipping the highlights. Nowadays you can create graduated neutral density affects in the post processing as well as make many other targeted adjustments to an image. However, it is preferable to get the exposure correct in the first place.

Landscape photography is a big subject and takes lots of time, so study and practice creating images approaching those of the best landscape photographers of today and of years past. Study the master landscape photographers, their techniques, their style, and their compositions, Photography is an art, and has many principles and visual techniques that’s applied in painting and other forms of art. Study color too, the color wheel, and its relationships, complimentary color as well as pastel colors, good use of color can make or break a grand scenic image.

Location and timing, that perfect landscape light, is a crucial ingredient to a great landscape photograph-warm low light from the magic photographer’s hours, early or late in the day. Photography is all about light! Many successful and famous landscape photographers will find a location, but continue to come back to it many times for the right light, pre-visualizing the possibilities from a midday scout trip.

Bad weather can establish mood and drama, clearing or incoming storms offer fleeting but incredible moments to capture special scenic images, so spend more time photographing in spring, fall, and winter, and less time during the all blue skies and harsh light time of summer.

Take these ideas and incorporated them into your landscape photography, get out into nature with your wide angle lens and into the beautiful natural world and make some exciting grand scenic images. Make it more fun too, by taking a friend or friends with you…and smell the wildflowers, feel the earth and let it touch your soul and heart—inspiring your photography!

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Procedure To Darken Or Lighten Areas Within An Image

Procedure to Darken or Lighten Areas within an Image

By Bruce Finocchio

(Dodging and Burning Tip For Photoshop)

  1. Open Image Within Photoshop
  2. Hold Down Alt Key while clicking on New Layer Icon in Layers Palette
  3. Within New Layer Dialog Box Select Soft Light or Overlay Mode
  4. Check the Fill With Overlay or Soft Light Neutral Color 50% Gray Box, this will create a new layer filled with 50% Gray in the Layers palette
  5. Set Foreground Color: Black to Darken, White to Lighten (To switch from black to white or back, click the little rotating arrow on the top left of the black and white color box in the tool palette)
  6. Select Brush Tool, and size and type depending on area to dodge and burn (Use keyboard shortcut: open “[” bracket to decrease brush size, and close bracket “]” to increase brush size)
  7. Change Brush Opacity to 10 to 20, the sets the strength effect; these are general settings and can use more or less if desired (The lower opacity setting the lesser the effect)
  8. Paint areas where change is needed, key is to be very subtle, don’t overdo
  9. Click on the Dodge and Burn (Gray Filled) Layer Eye Icon to Observe the Changes

Close up of Original image without any darkening or lightening adjustments.

Using the above procedure I lighten the iris of the eye and darkened the pupil for added contrast. I also lighten some of the face feathers around the eye. The effect is subtle but yet enhances the photo, making the eye dramatically stand out.
“After all, the eye is the light of life”.

(Original image After Post Processing)
What do you think?

  • This Procedure I learned from Tim Grey many years ago….

Essential Tips for Bird Blind Photography

Essential Tips for Bird Blind Photography
(Blinds, Ponds, & Perches)

Bird photography starts with some kind of concealment because most birds do not tolerate close presence of people. To take bird images of exceptional quality that sing with their beauty, you must get close. With small birds that means within ten to fifteen feet, even with large lenses and the digital multiplication factor of some modern digital camera sensors.

A popular blind that offers the advantage of portability is the Rue Ultimate Blind, these blinds offer set-up times within minutes and they can be easily moved to different locations. However, I prefer the hunting blinds from Ameristep; these offer the portability of the Rue blinds but offer greater visibility with their window versus snout style. Their mesh window coverings in various degrees can be Velcro attached to conceal the photographer. Also, the bottom is free of the spring steel rods that are sometimes bothersome with the Rue style. The Ameristep blinds also fold up like reflectors and diffusers and fit it a small back pack for easy carrying. Pocket or cloth blinds are another type that can be used, although I found that these types are also difficult with vision, compared to the Ameristep hunting blinds.

All these blinds can be moved from one location to another, from one feeding station or pond to others. Permanent blinds, of the wood type, do allow even shy bird species to become completely accustom to the blind. The portable blinds mentioned above if move or placed at different locations for short periods of time don’t always allow very sensitive species time to completely accept the presence of the blind. Each bird species has its sensitivity. Some species are very shy while others easily tolerate the presence of a blind.

If you provide feed and water, birds will come. Many types of feeders are available, and hummingbird feeders are also very popular. The main point is to be consistent, and keep feeding them once you start. You can set up feeders for bird photography in your backyard, simply hanging them on a favorite tree. An extra step would be to create some kind of pond for them. Something as simple as a drip system will attract birds. Birds like to bathe and keep their feathers clean. A fresh water pond would provide opportunities to take bathing and drinking images from a well placed blind.

Rural Ranches or properties in the suburbs offer more possibilities for attracting additional species to a pond and feeding station. With the extra acres and/or close proximity to parks or natural wilderness, many backyards and ranches offer the ideal habitats to bring birds within range of your camera. Many ranches and properties across the nation are now creating such locations for photo blinds and bird photography, and offer the possibility of photographing many different species of birds. The southwest and Texas where water is precious, many permanent blinds are set up around ponds or water tanks, especially designed for bird photographers. These places charge fees, and also sometimes offer different photographic seasons, where nesting, young birds, migrates, and adults in breeding plumage can be photographed usually during the spring or fall season.

If you are creating your own little bird habitat for photography, one benefit to consider is to create and use your own perch sticks. Birds coming into feeding stations need a place to land. A place to land free of the feeder itself, so you can create natural images of birds. Although, bird images on feeders are good to round out a story, and for products that cater to the bird feeding industry. With your own perch sticks you can put the bird in the right place photographically–using many types of perch sticks for many types of looks. Also, by using perch sticks from the natural areas surrounding your location, you can create realistic and natural images. You would not want to use evergreens from the Pacific Northwest for perches around a Texas hill country blind and watering station. Perch sticks with lichen offer pictorial elements to a scene or image. Green, yellow, or orange lichen, can create a perch image that is pictorially a notch above an image made with boring or ugly branch. Select your perch sticks with care, finding natural ones that enhance your images. In this way you’re actually designing your image, creating an image that sings with beauty and can be published by a magazine.

By knowing birds and their habitats, you can fit the perch sticks to the species. And even go as far as planting natural plants and trees specific to your area for your own backyard bird photographic habitat. Another advantage of perch sticks is that you can place them wherever you want around the feeder or pond. Tying or taping them to existing tree limbs works well. Hanging them over ponds as stopping areas before the birds land next to the water works well too. Placing them close to the feeder and having them different distances from the feeder will create many different landing and photographing points as the birds come in for food. A third advantage to perch sticks is they can be set up around cavity nesting bird nests. Images of parents returning to the nest with moths, butterflies, and other insects can be captured. Special care must be used in these situations as not to cause the parents to abandon the nest. As with all nature photography, the animal or bird’s welfare must be consider first, and no harm or detrimental behavior changes should be caused by any actions of the photographer.

You also must keep in mind the lighting situation of these perches. Bird photography usually relies on front lighting to identify birds and show off their beautiful feathers and plumage. Fill flash is also a great way to add a touch of light to make our feathered friends stand out and sing with beauty—adding the light particularly to the eyes to show the light of life. It fact, for all these reasons, fill flash is an essential tool for bird blind photography, a tool that I use all the time. By using a flash extender that attaches to the end of my flash head I get that extra extended reach from my flash. In addition, using an external battery pack helps recycle flashes quickly, and extends flash battery life. This means more successful fill flash images, for birds are always moving, and are rarely stationary for long periods. Another area to pay strict attention to is the background when placing perch sticks. Perch sticks placed in dense foliage will create a busy background and a busy unexciting image. Backgrounds are just as important as the subject, clean diffused, simple natural backgrounds are best. A scarlet red house in the background, even diffused, is not the type of background color for your natural looking bird images. Dark greens and browns are colors that work best—the colors of nature. Light colored backgrounds draw the viewer away from your subject bird, and make it difficult to see birds with dark plumages.

With a portable blind and a rain tarp you can photograph in any weather, getting those dramatic winter images that you see in bird magazines. Take advantage inclement weather, and of the beautiful diffused light of cloudy days that we loved from our film shooting days. With some planning, preparation, and a little hard work over time you can create your own little bird oasis right in your backyard. Feeders and ponds will bring birds to you, and perches properly placed will give you the opportunity to make great lasting images of our avian friends.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Upper Yosemite Falls from the Swinging Bridge—sky exposure reduced with a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Graduated Neutral Density Filters are an essential and indispensable tool for the Landscape photographer.

These filters come in rectangle sheets with gray color on the top portion to clear on the bottom portion of the filter, with an area of less dense gray in the middle.  Their purpose is to hold back the brighter areas of an image like the sky, reducing the dynamic range of the image. Since the eye can see a considerably greater range of light than can be recorded by a digital sensor, or film, particularly slide film, these filters help reduce the range of light bringing detail to the shadow areas.

Ring type graduated neutral density filers with a half portion gray are not very useful for most situations, since they do not allow placement of the transition.  With the rectangle sheet type and a filter holder you can slide the transition to the desired place within the image. Even hand holding the filter you still can place the shaded area precisely where you want; this is not possible with the ring type filter which only has center placement—half and half portions, half grey and half clear.

A scene with great contrast and dynamic range, the dilemma is what do you expose for, the highlights or the shadows. A typical scene at sunset or sunrise, where the sky is very bright, expose for the sky, the shadows are typically very dark and hold very little detail.  The graduated neutral density filter can equalize or reduce the range of exposure, so highlight areas are not blow out when exposing for the shadows, conversely shadows aren’t black and devote of detail when exposing for the highlight areas.

These filters come in various degrees of strength, referring to how dark is the gray section of the filter, and how much light is blocked. This measurement is called stops, i.e. two stops or three stops, with three stops being darker or holding back more light than a two stop filter. Neutral Density filters also have another measurement term referring to how gradual the gray area of the filter fades to clear. For hard stop filter, the area of demarcation is sharp with little or no faded area. Soft stop filters have a much greater area of fade from gray to clear; a much greater transition area for a softer blending effect.

Overall, graduated neutral density filters greatly help in reducing the range of light, allowing detail, color, and texture in both the highlights and shadow area within an image.

Many manufacturers make these types of filters including Cokin, Tiffin, and Singh Ray. With many variations and intensities, hard and soft stops, reverse type where the gray density is in the middle section of the filter.

The larger “P” size filter can also be used as a complete neutral density filter to reduce harsh light areas as well as darkening light colors, increasing color intensity and saturation.

Remember; when that grand scenic with a wide range of light is in front of your lens do not forget this indispensable filter.

Of course, in today’s digital world, you can create the same graduated neutral density effect digitally, that’s worth a whole another post.

Yosemite In Winter

Yosemite in Winter
(Iconic or Non-Iconic Image?)

 How do you create photographs in Yosemite without copying someone else’ photographic style?  How do you avoid the iconic Yosemite image? The view points and vistas are all around you—Tunnel view, Valley view, Sentinel Bridge, Ahwahnee Meadow, and many more special roadside turnouts and locations. Every serious photographer who has visited Yosemite has placed their tripod at these locations.  How do you not copy legendary photographers like Ansel Adams, and many other well know photographers who have made many famous iconic images of Yosemite Valley’s special landmarks.  

In mid February the valley is flooded with photographers all trying to capture that sometimes elusive image of Horsetail Falls. They come from all over the country, and many make it a ritual to come back year after year at this time.  The El Capitan picnic area is jammed packed with photographers’ hours before the magical sunset time.  All these photographers will create a very similar image—images with just a slightly different crop, created using a different zoom settings or with a somewhat different lens choice.

In reality actually, if you’re in Yosemite Valley, as a photographer, you just have to take iconic pictures. The beauty and the awesome grandeur of the place calls to the landscape photographer inside of you–demands that you capture the great earth gesture of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the geological forces that created Yosemite Valley. Why go there and not try your hand at taking iconic images.  

What I am saying though is also to try to create an image that’s your own, non-iconic, that represents your style and vision.  Experiment, try to step out of your comfort zone, if you’re always using a wide angle lens then try a mid zoom for a different landscape composition. Make your photographic weakness, your new strength, by learning some photo technique beforehand, like star trails or painting at night. Or try a composition that does show the valley’s recognizable landmarks; see if you can create a memorable image without them.

Take all your photographic knowledge about light and composition and blend that with solid technique practiced beforehand, freeing your spirit and moving into a special Zen like relationship with your subject. This shouldn’t be hard in Yosemite!

I believe all great photographic images are created when you are in this Taoist state, in complete harmony with the world and your connection and relationship to it.  In this state your vision is expanded: you see more, feel more, and are more alive than before.  Enabling you in the moment to create great images!

If your successful, then, your non-iconic image of Yosemite will become the next iconic image…and along the way, you’ll develop a style and vision that’s recognizable and your own.

“When I am experimenting with a new idea, I’ll determine technical aspects well beforehand, so when I am shooting, I don’t need to think. This let’s me be as receptive to the moment as possible.” – Chris McDonough

 

 

 
“I am not interested in shooting new things—I am interested to see things new.” – Ernest Haas
 

 

 

 

 

 

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting beauty. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”— Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quotes from The Tao of Photograph, Seeing Beyond Seeing, Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro: by Chris McDonough, pg. 110, Ernest Haas, pg. 126, Henri Cartier-Bresson, pg. 106.

Sometimes It’s Magical

(A two month old otter pup gives a love bite to its caring mom)

Sometimes it’s magical. Nature just enfolds visual delights constantly, and if you are lucky and talented you can capture one of these special moments.

What a great day I had last Thursday, at that special place for Sea Otters: Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough. My photography friends and I were greeted with a nice sunny day, an unusual occurrence of late with the winter storms that have been coming into the West Coast in waves.

Viewpoint is a critical component, getting low and down into the sea otter’s visual world makes a big difference in the final image.

Luck, talent, and patience too, especially patience to wait for the right moment, goes into creating a provocative image.

Even more than these attributes; it is about having a special spiritual feeling for a place or the animal you are photographing. It’s really all about love!

Sea Otters Of Moss Landing

Sometimes you are privileged to enter into the world of another animal, so it was for me On Valentine’s Day! I witnessed a mother’s love, a mother sea otter’s love and deep imbibing care for her young otter pup.

I saw in the wild for the first time a mother otter pushing mussels and other shellfish to her little one, perhaps for the first time…and it looked at these gifts with curious eyes full of wonder.

Witnessing this moment was incredible privilege, and to capture it forever in an image was just as exciting. I hope these images convey the emotion and feeling that I felt while taking them.

There is something special about sea otters that touches our hearts and stirs our souls… especially the young pups, you can’t look into their eyes and not be moved–their squeaky calls of alarm when they miss place their mothers, calls deep into the being of every person that has heard that sound.

Why do we think sea otters are so cute, so enduring?  It’s their faces, their flat noses and pudgy faces subconsciously remind us of our own babies…

Where do you photograph sea otters? Where can you get up close and capture images that evoke these human feelings? There are many places; my favorite one is Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough.

Across from highway one and the Whole Enchilada Restaurant is a boat dock area where sometimes the otters rest and hang out.  I have even seen them mating here twice.  Because the land area next to the water is low and the otters aren’t far away, you can good images here. The downsides are that they aren’t always there, and good sightings can draw big crowds and attract passersby from the nearby road.

Under the bluffs below Jetty Road is a very good place to see lots of otters, they usually raft up there and you can see twenty or thirty or more sometimes—quite a sight. A must stop for those who have never seen a raft of otters.

The best way to photograph otters is from a kayak. You can get down at water level, and have a less condescending viewpoint in your images.  Photographing from a Kayak does present issues and dangers: choppy and rough water, stiff breezes, and a unbalanced boat, and this could result in a lens and camera body easily in Elkhorn Slough’s waters. Remember wildlife viewing rules prohibit close approach making necessary the use of long telephoto lenses.  

When you encounter an animal in the wild, you represent all of that individual’s cumulative experiences with humans, and you are adding to that experience with your own actions.”*

Elkhorn Safari Tours offer tours up the slough on a flat pontoon boat where you can photograph lots of wildlife and many species of birds, including sea otters that happen to be feeding close by.  I think I have been on Capitan Yohn’s boat at least seven or eight times over the years. Elkhorn Slough is a beautiful and special natural place worth experiencing even without photography.  

Kayak Rentals:

http://www.kayakconnection.com/

http://www.montereybaykayaks.com/elkhorn_slough/

Elkhorn Safari Tours:

http://www.elkhornslough.com/

*Quote from 25th Anniversary issue of Outdoor Photographer Magazine…Steve Werner, Publisher/Editor in Chief, In this Issue section, quoting George Lepp from his new book.

http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/past-issues/december-2010/in-this-issue.html