Making of an Image Part Two

Making of an Image Part 2

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Today I am sharing with you the techniques that I used to make this image of McCloud Falls in the Trinity-Shasta National Forest in Northern California. First, it is important to understand that conditions for photography were relatively perfect for this capture. This picture was taken on a soggy, still, and overcast morning around 10 am. The grey skies diffused the light eliminating any distracting glares or harsh contrasts in the shadows and highlights. Rain from earlier in the morning had saturated the color of the rocks, soil, trees, moss, and cliff walls. And most importantly, there was minimal wind resulting in a clear capture of the foreground greens and flowers growing out of the streambed. It should also be noted the water flow on this day was unseasonably low and happened to be ideal for photography.

During processing, I used two intermediate to advanced Photoshop techniques as I blended for both depth of field and dynamic range. The first thing that I did is settle on a base image. My base image is photo that I will rely on the most to make up my finished picture. In this case, it was focused on the background, exposed for the right of the histogram, and captured at F/13, ISO 100, with a shutter speed of .3 with my Canon wide angle lens. I found F/13 was a small enough aperture setting to ensure proper depth of field with sacrificing too much resolution of the overall picture.

Because this exposure clipped most of the highlights in the waterfall I used a separate image captured at F/22 ISO 100 with a shutter speed of .5 exposed towards the left of the histogram. The reason I chose F/22 was simply to achieve the proper shutter speed of .5 without having to use an additional neutral density filter, which creates more of a chance for human error. After processing the RAW files in Lightroom, I simply copied and pasted the images together in PS carefully hand painting the water exposure in on top of my base image. (Areas denoted by orange arrows)

Finally, I needed another picture with a focus on the foreground greens to blend into the image to achieve proper clarity from foreground to background. (Area circled in blue) I chose the settings of F/18, ISO 100, with a shutter speed of .3 to capture this part of the scene. Again, it is important to note there was very little wind as .3 shutter speed to capture delicate foliage is long and even the slightest bit of motion will result in a loss of clarity. In fact, there was a subtle breeze during my session and the image that I chose was not my sharpest one. Before I tell you why I selected it, I’ll briefly explain the ways to offset this with a faster shutter speed.

First, I could have removed my polarizer. Second, I could have selected a larger aperture setting. And lastly, I could have chosen a lower quality ISO speed. The reason I picked the settings that I did is because of the blend. I wanted it to be as seamless as possible. The most difficult part of the blend is the tiny, delicate flowers growing out of the greens that show up in the image flush against the mid-ground rocks. Here you’ll see what I mean as it is circled in red. If I had selected an larger aperture like F/8 those rocks what have been noticeably out-of-focus. Again, I copied and pasted the image on top of the others, aligned them, and hand blended.

In a nutshell and without bogging you down in more technical details that was the basic way I created this image. Of course color correction, contrast adjustments, and creative techniques were used as well, but the most important part was the ground work I laid during capture. I hope that you find this tutorial helpful please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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The Technical Making of a Photo

This  capture is of the McCloud River located in the Trinity-Shasta National Forest and this tutorial is about how I crafted the finished product. After a notoriously dry winter, the watersheds in Northern California were running low, especially for the season. For this shot, the lack of water actually worked to my advantage as a massive flow would have made the scene either too dangerous to capture or less aesthetically pleasing."Deep Cleanse"
A short down climb to a precarious, yet relatively safe ledge was necessary for this shot, which was photographed around 10 am on a cloudy morning. I used a circular polarizer to reduce the glare in the water as well as the foliage. During processing, I hand blended for dynamic range using three successive shots at F/16 and ISO 50, which were taken in manual mode. F/16 is my go to aperture setting for my wide angle lens as it gives me the best depth field while retaining the resolution comparable to some of the larger aperture settings.
ISO 50 was selected because I was looking to achieve specific shutter speeds for my picture. The three shutter speeds used on my Canon camera were: 1/13, .3, and .8. The middle exposure, which I used as the base for my image, encompassed most of the rocks and forest as well as a portion of the water. The 1/13 of a second exposure was used primarily for the highlights beneath the small falls and rapids where clipping usually occurs due to the concentrated and the swifter moving portions of the water.
The longest exposure was for the darkest parts of the sculpted rock most notably in the foreground. Processing was completed using Lightroom 6 and Photoshop CC 2015. Once my initial RAW edits were completed, the images were imported in PS, stacked on top of one another in layers and then hand blended to achieve proper dynamic range.

For me, the capture of a scene like this is mostly intuitive as creating pictures like this was the reason I first got serious about photography over 10 years ago. Processing usually requires more work and for this image it involved some trial and error as I originally tried to edit the picture using only two exposures. (This may be possible with some of the newer digital cameras with better sensors, but my camera is over 6 years old) If this type of photography interests you, but you don’t feel comfortable with the technical aspects of capture – keep practicing it will become more natural over time and with repetition. Happy shooting!

Samsung Galaxy S6 Phone Camera Review – A Visual Joureny of the Landscape

I put the new Samsung Galaxy S6 camera to the test to capturing over 200 pictures with the phone during a recent two week trip to the Pacific Northwest. I spent the vast majority in Northern California and Southern Oregon, but also included a few shots from the Sierra Nevadas and Mohave Desert. Enclosed are some of my top images and technical commentary on each. All of these images received some basic processing in Photoshop and were captured in the auto mode.

Mesmerizing Fern Patterns

Mesmerizing Fern Patterns  –  this camera normally performs well in macro situations not sure if the bluriness in the lower right hand side is from wind or depth of field. JPEG image file was also alarmingly flat out of camera.

Watson-Falls

272 foot Watson Falls. This was one of the few water images that I captured where considerable portions of the water weren’t blown out. Here it is only evidenced in the very top portion of the falls. The spray from this location was considerable making capture with my DSLR nearly impossible. Overall, I was pleased with the way this image turned out.

cinder cone top

Storm light on the top of the cinder cone Volcano. Image file turned out nicely with just a bit of haloing around edges of the peaks.Nice color and detail in the clouds without too much noise.

A transient morning fog in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This image file need a significant amount of color correction and it was also oversharped out of the camera.

A transient morning fog in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This image file need a significant amount of color correction and it was also oversharped out of the camera.

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One of my favorite compositions from a stormy day at Mono Lake on the first day of our trip. This image inexplicably came out of the camera oversharpened and the dynamic range in the sky isn’t great as many cloud highlights are blown. I applied some blur in post processing to lessen the amount of grain in the original picture.

Incredible conditions in the Mohave Desert returning home from the Pacific NW. This file out of camera was much smaller then the others and the sky was somewhat noisy too.

Incredible conditions in the Mohave Desert returning home from the Pacific NW. This file out of camera was much smaller then the others and the sky was somewhat noisy and lacking in overall quality.

Pine needles from a fallen tree on the trail in Lassen Volcanic NP. I am generally impressed with the macro cabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera.

Pine needles from a fallen tree on the trail in Lassen Volcanic NP. I am generally impressed with the macro cabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera.

Mohave Desert Pano Sunrise - the camera handled the dynamic range of the scene well and didn't apply too much of its in camera noise reduction software to the shot. The in camera pano featured was used. However, the final file size was disappointingly small.

Mohave Desert Pano Sunrise – the camera handled the dynamic range of the scene well and didn’t apply too much of its in camera noise reduction software to the shot, which ruined a lot of other pictures. The in camera pano feature was used. However, the final file size was disappointingly small.

And now my some of my very favorite images from the trip based on composition, subject matter, and how the camera handled the scene!

rainforest-2

The Samsung Galaxy S6 did an excellent job of handling all of the tricky rain forest scenes that I photographerd. No noticeable problems with dynamic range or depth of field. Making rain forest photography easy.

Probably the best looking image file of all the shots I reviewed from the trip. Excellent dynamic and clarity. I wish every image turned out like this one.

Probably the best looking image file of all the shots I reviewed from the trip. Excellent dynamic and clarity. I wish every image turned out like this one in terms of technical quality.

Love the way the camera handled this scene shooting directly into the sun at Bandon Beach. No noise in the shadows, minimal lens flare and the colors and dynamic range are excellent.

Love the way the camera handled this scene shooting directly into the sun at Bandon Beach. No noise in the shadows, minimal lens flare and the colors and dynamic range are excellent.

Like with most cell phone cameras - the zoom feature  doesn't work great making shots like this tricky. This one, however, came out surprisingly well. Look at the shadow detail in the bright fog as well as in the dark green trees.

Like with most cell phone cameras – the zoom feature doesn’t work great making shots like this tricky. This one, however, came out surprisingly well. Look at the shadow detail in the bright fog as well as in the dark green trees.

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Another tricky technical capture made easy with the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera. Look at the detail in the moss as well as the amount of shadow and highlight detail that were retained during capture make this one of my favorite cam phone shots from the trip.

Overall, if I had to rate how I felt about the phone perforamnce in taking pictures I’d probably give it a B or B -. Some pictures turned out extremely well while others were disappointingly poor. Too much inconsistency to give it higher reviews. Shooting in low light is basically a bust and using the zoom feature makes it difficult to get a clear picture. The dynamic range of the sensor is acceptable, but the inexplicable in camera sharpening of certain image is a definite turn off.

Bryce Canyon Full Moon/Monsoon Workshop 2015 July 30 – August 1

Monsoons, Moonrise, and Hoodoos Bryce Canyon National Park Photography Workshop  July 30 – August 1

  • Workshop to start at 2pm on July 30 and last through sunset on August 1
  • $400.00 per person
  • Minimum group size 3 people max group size 7 people
  • Fully insured and commercially authorized
  • Will photograph all day weather permitting including sunrise, moonrise and sunset
  • Moderate Hiking
  • I will not be photographing during the workshop
  • Photo critiques and detailed processing advice for tricky exposures
  • Camp in the park or stay in a hotel either is fine
  • Expect 6 solid hours or more of quality shooting every day!

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  • Cleaniest and Best Air in the Southwest
  • Bluest Skies You’ll Ever See
  • Colorful rock formations
  • Vibrant green trees
  • Most Photogenic Park in Utah
  • Unlimited Compositional Opportunities
  • Plenty of Room for Everyone

I captured these shots below and many more in a 48 hour period just last month! You will get great shots!

IMG_9467-Hoodoos-! IMG_9399-hoodoo-4 IMG_9245-storm-over-Bryce IMG_9215-Tree-blend-flat IMG_9458-Hoodoos-2Contact me for a detailed itinerary with more pictures!

 

 

 

Grand Canyon Winter Storm Trip Report 2015

I recently finished processing my first batch of winter storm images captured in early March at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. I arrived on a late Sunday afternoon as the snow was falling.

A fast moving storm passes through the canyon walls near Grandview Point.

A fast moving storm passes through the canyon walls near Grandview Point.

It continued for the rest of the evening before eventually turning to overnight rain. The next morning about 8 inches of additional snow fell before the skies finally parted towards the late afternoon. This time yielded several productive hours of shooting although I was somewhat limited by my mistake of leaving my telephoto lens in my hotel room

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While light snow fell overnight, Tuesday morning did not disappoint yielding the most spectacular conditions of the trip.

Fresh snow and gorgeous morning light accentuated the already pristine scenery.

Fresh snow and gorgeous morning light accentuated the already pristine scenery.

This image was captured a short time later from a nearby vantage point. In the image above I concentrated on developing the color and accentuating the views while the below image I focused on bringing to life as much detail as possible.Castles Made of SnowThe storms were fun, yet challenging to photograph. The editing was even more difficult. Although sunset did not light up the sky on Tuesday evening, I was treated to about 30 minutes of exceptional blue hour photography. This is probably my favorite from that time.

Captured near Mather Point

Captured near Mather Point

I am sure that I have a few more gems to display from this trip, but this will do for now. I hope that you enjoy this brief photographic journey through time. If you have a moment, I’d love to know which image you like the best? Thanks!

 

Tips to Take Your Landscape Photography to the Next Level – Understanding Basic Aperture

What is Aperture and How Does It Impact Your Photography

Wikipedia defines aperture as “a hole or an opening through which light travels.” Where it gets a little confusing is the smaller the aperture the bigger the number (e.g. F/22) or the larger/wider the aperture the smaller the number (e.g. F/6.3). Now, maybe you are wondering what the ‘F’ stands for in this equation. It is basically a correlation to the adjusted size of the aperture.

image courtesy of www.Wikipedia.com  1) small aperture 2) larger aperture

image courtesy of www.Wikipedia.com; author: Mohylek  
1) large aperture e.g F/6.3  2)  small aperture e.g. F/20

The number on the side of your lens represents its widest aperture (e.g. F/1.8 above).  As a general rule of thumb, whatever number that is times it by a multiple of four will give you the aperture that is going to produce your sharpest image. However, these results vary from lens to lens. The best way to truly test this is to take the same picture at different apertures and view the results on your computer. However, keep in mind these results may differ at different focal lengths if testing a zoom lens.

Understanding aperture as it relates to depth of field

In landscape photography, most photographers want clarity from foreground to background. Generally, that is what is referred to as a large depth of field or DOF. To help you achieve this effect, I find it helpful to think of your camera’s aperture setting as metaphor for your eye as it is actually called the iris. When your eyes are wide open you can definitely see better straight in front of you and see more information as well; but you can’t see clearly out of your peripheral vision, especially if you are looking down or up. Meanwhile, if you squint or close your eye a bit a greater percentage of what you are seeing comes into focus, but the effect still is not optimal and you can only use it selectively. No one likes to walk around with their eyes squinted all the time just to see better!

The same principal is applied when trying to focus on something right in front as well as an object in the distant background. Your eye simply cannot focus on both objects at once. So, what am I getting at? Putting this altogether, if you are shooting with a wide angle lens <35mm and trying to capture a big scene from nearest foreground subject to distant mountains and sky…a smaller aperture e.g. F/16 is probably better. And that’s where many burgeoning photographers start. That will provide you with a greater percentage of clarity although what you are actually focusing on won’t be quite as clear. Conversely, if your subject matter is a little further away and your focal plane (the angle at which you are shooting) is straight a larger aperture e.g. F/10 will be produce at clearer image of your subject matter while still allowing for excellent depth of field.

Practical Application

The best way to decide in the field on what aperture without calculating hyperfocal distance (the nearest distance at which objects become acceptably clear) is to take some test shots with each of your lenses at different apertures, carefully review the images on your computer, and make a determination for yourself, which you think looks the best. Or if you don’t want to do that just do a Google search on your particular lens and its sharpest aperture and I’m sure you can find some opinions.

Once you’ve determined your aperture preferences, I recommend starting with those aperture settings in the field and then review each image on your LCD, zoom all the way in, and especially scrutinize the corners of your image. If your corners are acceptably clear, then you have achieved an acceptable DOF, but if your corners are still too blurry you’ll either need to 1) make your aperture smaller (higher F-stop) or 2) manually focus and use photoshop to blend your images for max DOF.

Depth of Field Blending As It Relates to Aperture

The advanced method of blending images at different focal points to achieve maximum depth of field has gained popularity over the last few years with the continuous amounts of technological advancements, especially with editing software. In certain circumstances and depending on the type of lens, depth of field blending is almost necessary to achieve optimal results. There are certainly many ways of doing this. It would be out of the context and scope of this article to go into detail about the various technical editing aspects of this technique. I bring it up because I found for myself using a mid-range aperture between F/10 – F/14 makes the process much easier because the extended depth of field makes transitions look more ‘seamless’.

Depth of field blending was necessary for this image of the Grand Canyon where the camera was pointed slightly down. I used two images both shot at F/14    to achieve this effect.

Depth of field blending was necessary for this image of the Grand Canyon where the camera was pointed slightly down. I used two images both shot at F/14 to achieve this effect.

Sunstars

One creative effect that is achieved almost exclusively by aperture usage is that of a sunstar or sunburst. Keep in mind this general rule of thumb…if you are trying to achieve this effect shoot at F/22. Other factors that influence sunstars are the lens you are using and the placement of the the sunstar in the composition. Let’s look at these two examples.

Captured with a Canon 16-35mm F/2.8 wide angle lens.

Captured with a Canon 16-35mm F/2.8 wide angle lens.

Burning October

Captured with a Canon 28-70 F/2.8 lens at 50mm

As you can see, there is quite a difference is the style of the effect. Both images were shot at sunrise. The top image of Mesa Arch was captured just minutes after sunrise, while the other image captured near the Dallas Divide in Colorado was about 40 minutes after sunrise. Just something to keep in mind.

To summarize, understanding aperture and using it to enhance your photography is important for a variety of reasons. We hope this post was able to streamline the technicalities of it to allow the photographer to focus on his or her creative vision while in the field.

Wildmoments.net Updates

Lately, I’ve been spending time updating my site’s ever-changing content. Now, with my total website inventory approaching 400 images, I’m going back through and ‘touching up’ some pictures that I feel could use a refreshing. I am constantly looking to improve my product and personalize my style. While this isn’t as effective as re-editing the image from scratch; it is a lot less time consuming.

In a joint project, I’ve also decided on a 2015 update of my online watermark. To date, I’ve used only one watermark for images on my website, which started at the beginning of 2013. Before that time, I simply did not use anything.

The oldest image on Wildmoments.Net captured in October of 2006

Where it all started! The oldest image on Wildmoments.net captured in October 2006 in Great Smoky Mountains NP (Click on image for larger version)

One of the reasons for my use of watermarks was that I began including larger versions of my work for display. When this website went live in March of 2010, all horizontal images were presented at 800 pixels in width. By 2013, most people owned faster computers and the wireless internet had become much more prevalent so I pushed the display size up a notch to 900 pixels.

A very remote lake captured while on a backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness. Note the slightly larger size and original watermark.

A very remote, off-trail lake captured while on a backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness in August of 2013. Note the slightly larger size and my original watermark.

Now, in 2015, I settled on a new, more personal and stylized font for my watermark as well as adding my name. The reason for this is two fold. First, my business name is technically Michael Greene’s Wild Moments and not wildmoments.net, which is my URL. Furthermore, my Twitter handle is Wildmoments1 and I would prefer not to have any more name disassociation with my brand. Check this image out:

A recent re-work of an image captured nearly 3 years ago in remote section of Canyonlands NP. Originally entitled "Gentle Desert" - it's now being called "The Vibe."  Note the fresh, new watermark.

A recent re-work of an image captured nearly 3 years ago in remote section of Canyonlands NP. Originally entitled “Gentle Desert” – it’s now being called “The Vibe.” Note new watermark.

Moving forward, all images will feature these graphics and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to update as many older images as I deem necessary. What’s interesting is that I experimented with many different watermarks in the past while displaying my work on my FLICKR. If you want to check out some of those shots – (some not available on my website) here is the link.

As a side note, while some photographers are now showcasing even larger sized images on their sites, I’m keeping mine at 900 pixels to keep bandwidths lower and load times faster as my content continues to expand. If you have an opinion of anything you’ve read or seen by me – I’d love to know what you think ; ) Happy Shooting!!

For your comparison, the 2012 version, entitled "Gentle Desert"

For your comparison, the 2012 version, entitled “Gentle Desert”

 

Inside Landscape Photography: The Making of a Photo

Today’s post involves the thought process, vision, and technique behind making one of my photos. The image that we are discussing today is called “Society of the Disengaged”. Here is the current version of this image…Fallen-leaves-Jones-Gap_5599 This image was captured in Jones Gap State Park in the middle of the afternoon on a stormy, autumn day. The technical camera specifications are: 70mm, F/20, 5 sec, ISO 100.

The story:  I was several miles deep within the park actively looking for waterfalls as the main trail began to venture up in the mountains towards a neighboring wilderness area. Despite moving further away from the primary watershed, I was enjoying the relatively steep, but steady grade of the trail and also noticed an improvement foliage as I ventured up the mountain. I was hoping to get some telephoto compression shots of the area. However, I didn’t find any suitable breaks in the tree line, but I did stumble onto this particularly interesting area of fallen leaves, which was also my turn around point.

My vision: What you see is what you get. I did not move anything on the ground to come up with this composition. In forming this image, I tried to avoid any twigs that disrupted the flow of the scenery and my initial impressions always involved the middle portion of the frame, which  I consider the strongest. Once I identify an area that I find appealing, I work outwards trying to ‘compose’ the rest of the scene around it. This is usually done by avoiding elements at the edge of the scene that disrupt or distract the viewers’ attention. In this particular shot, I felt the pine cones added some visual interest and obviously the different shapes and colors of the leaves were the other main drawing points. The spacing is good and I feel the scene is well balanced.

The captureA straight forward, single shot image. I used a low aperture to ensure the corners of the image were sharp and a warming polarizer to reduce glare. There wasn’t any wind to blow the leaves so a 5 second exposure wasn’t a problem on this day.

Processing: The biggest area to overcome when processing this image is obtaining proper color correction. A light rain had just stopped so I was fortunate in that the leaves were already saturated with water, which allows for greater vibrancy. As you can see, the reds can be quite strong. It is difficult to balance the colors for viewing ubiquitously across all monitors and it also depends on which browser you are using. Also, there was a warm color cast on the image. Eventually, I went back and employed some additional processing techniques to obtain further color separation, which I believe makes for a more aesthetically appealing image.

My original post.

My original post.

Title: The title is obviously a metaphor and represents more than one idea. The literal concept involves the leaves, which are now removed from their original habitat and share the same space with one another and are in a perpetual state of dying and constant change. As in life, this image represents a brief moment in time that will be replicated annually, but never duplicated.

Additionally, this is a social commentary on our world’s current state of affairs mostly involving our youth. Technology has created a different type of socialization process – one that resonates strongly with those under the age of 21. My intention is not to judge a certain demographic of people – it is merely a general observation about what I see in many public places. Technology has created an entirely new socialization process.

Well, if you made it this far thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this or have any comments please let me know!

 

2014 Autumn Smokies Trip Report

I had an opportunity to visit the Great Smoky Mountains for a few days this past fall, which in a way brought my landscape photography journeys full circle as this was the place of my first official photography trip back in 2006. Previous to that first grand adventure, I spent weeks pouring over detailed guidebooks to make sure I visited the most optimum places for photography in the park. Conversely, on this trip I spent almost zero time in preparations.

One of my favorite shots from the '06 trip.

“Covered” One of my favorite shots from the ’06 trip.

The primary purpose of this photo excursion was to capture the fall colors of the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.  Ultimately, my timing did not work out for the best. From what I could tell, it was a down year all along the east coast for fall color with no symmetry in foliage changes. There were very few ‘peak’ trees while most were either unchanged, totally brown or leafless. It took about 2 hours of driving through the forest for me to figure out that I needed some new scenery. Enter Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Rapid detail along Big Creek Trail 2014.

Rapid detail along Big Creek Trail 2014.

I headed right to one of my favorite areas of the park that I visited in ’06 – the Big Creek Trail. En route…the mountain sides had marginal color and I didn’t have high hopes of finding prime scenery. What I did know, however, was that if I hiked back a couple of miles and gained some elevation there could be a huge difference in the color of the foliage. I was right! A four mile, late afternoon hike yieled some fantastic results with the picture below representing the most diverse and peak group of colors I saw during my travels.

"Circular Motion" 2014

“Circular Motion” 2014

After spending the night at the trail head I ventured deeper into the heart of the park arriving around lunch time the following day at Gatlinburg, TN. As expected, the traffic and crowds were thick and despite it’s small size and my familiarity with the city; navigating to some of the adjacent areas in the park was still tricky.

I ended up on Newfound Gap Road, which travels up the mountain and over the top of the park ending in its southern terminus just outside of Cherokee, North Carolina. For those of you who don’t know, the Great Smoky Mountains NP gets more visitors than any other national park and autumn is its peak season. Luckily, there were no bears as there were on my last visit in ’06, which can cause massive traffic jams as inconsiderate drivers stop in already congested areas for long periods to see the animals.

Still, finding places to shoot and pull off the road with so much traffic was tricky. The foliage was spotty as was the light and parking and the constant stream of vehicles in both directions created smog that lingered in the valley below the mountains rugged peaks.

I arrived that afternoon in Cherokee eventually making my way over to the charming mountain town of Bryson City, NC. After a late afternoon hike I enjoyed a delicious meal and excellent service at Bryson City Cork and Bean.

After another night at a trailhead I ventured out at sunrise on the Rowland Creek Trail – a remote area of the park that I had not previously visited or researched. As chance would have it, the light and conditions worked out well and spent most of the morning hiking up and down a portion of trail, getting my feet wet in the creek, and enjoying the quiet breezes of solitude and tremendous autumn weather. It was a wonderful day!

Altogether, I spent about 3 days and two nights in the park and explored several other trails in different areas, but the two aforementioned trails were the only two that were bountiful in terms of photography for this year. It was another short, but spellbinding trip and despite the park’s popularity it is very easy to find solitude in the 100’s of miles of trails and watersheds in the area.

"Graceful Waters"

Searching for Inspiration : The Art of Being a Landscape Photographer

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. - Ecceliastes 1:14

A New Approach to Landscape Photography

This blog is about a paradigm shift in my mental approach to taking better pictures. It’s about a little tweak in my psyche that has produced a more rewarding and gratifying experience while roaming the wilderness. However, before I tell you what I’ve learned it is necessary for me to explain where I’ve been.

Earlier in my career, my travels revolved around finding that next superior image. In other words, a goal oriented search for that  show-stopping picture, which I could proudly display to the world as the culmination of my hard work. It’s what you could call a “world-class” shot or one that screams, “Look at me!”  The type of photograph that anyone would love to call their own.

Show stopping light over Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park

Show stopping light over Mather Gorge in Great Falls Park

Hiking Versus Landscape Photography

I sometimes think that my intentions were more noble when I was just a mere hiker and didn’t bother carrying a camera during my travels. I was just as passionate as I am now only not so concerned with the light. Sunrises and sunsets were mostly viewed from the car and trips were based on my calendar and the weather. Nothing more. The main purpose of my journeys was for the fulfillment of feelings, both physically and spiritually.  In other words, it was personal.

Journey to Nowhere

A Journey to Nowhere

Serious, high quality landscape photography changed things. Now there was a new prize. A different outcome. A new reason for everything. What was once private now needed to be shared with the world.

Initially, this new pursuit could be viewed as superior. For instance, while hikers find solace in just being there, landscape photographers must be present at that exact, optimal moment of the day. Ready to successfully capture it forever.

Eventually, I began to understand the subtle nuances of light and started thinking through the abstract, mental lens of a camera frame. All of these aspects (and others) resulted in a more aesthetically pleasing experience. Through the duty of photography, I was able to actualize  transcendent moments like never before. It was like hiking 2.0.

It is easy to get your priorities mixed up while wandering the wilds alone in solitude trying to take pictures for a living. While the actual art of photography is one of many wonderful aspects of my occupation it is not hard to put the cart before the horse. Or in my case, the product before the process.

Somewhere along the line I became jaded. The personal contentment and spiritual nourishment that fueled my love for the outdoors gradually changed.  Maybe I took things for granted. Spending time in the wilderness became diluted by the pursuit of the superficial, an act which involved capturing something that I had no control over.

You see as a hiker I was just happy to be there. Now, everything had to be perfect. This idea resulted in a errant, incorrect approach to my craft. I had fallen into the trap about caring too much about what other people think.

It is easy to overlook the small details

It is easy to overlook the small details

A New Change

What I’ve learned is that approaching photography from this point of view leaves one feeling empty. A shallowness associated with vain pursuits. While the art of taking pictures can be psychologically draining, it should never get to the point where the reason for your first love is lost and what you are left with is the pursuit of something unattainable.

For me, the great outdoors was never about photography. It was my photography that was about the great outdoors. Unconditionally accepting everything that nature becomes helps me to accept the wilderness for what it is – wild and unpredictable. It is always changing and never stagnant. With that approach, finding contentment my surroundings will always be more important the discovering the perfect picture.