Salt Lake City Capitol Building Continued: How to Differentiate Iconic Images

I’ve had a bit of time recently to review some more images of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building. It really is a cool work of architecture, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains. This is such an iconic building to shoot in Salt Lake that it takes (in my opinion) quite a bit to make the image stand out. As with any iconic location, I think there are several things that can separate an image from the pack:

1. Great light. There’s no sustitute for jaw-dropping light. Some have asked how I create a certain glow in many of my images. The answer? I don’t create it. I capture it. It is entirely impossible to duplicate the magic of Mother Nature. Yes, you can get close with a good image and a host of photoshop knowledge, but you will never match the real deal. That is why exceptional light will always separate the good, from the unforgettable.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Buidling at Dusk

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building revels in late evening sunset light.

2. Unusual Weather Conditions. This kind of falls into (nearly) the same boat as great light. Strive to capture that icon (whichever it may be) in conditions never before seen by anyone else. Keep an eye on the weather, and do your best to understand how it will compliment the image you have in mind.

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The Salt Lake City Capitol Building sits below an unusually thick winter fogbank and spectacular sunset.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building sits below an unusually thick winter fogbank.

The Salt Lake City Capitol Building sits below an unusually thick winter fogbank.

3. Unique Angle. Look for an angle that hasn’t been shot before. Whether that’s above, below, behind, in front…whatever. Take advantage of the uninteresting shooting times to scout potential locations for that five-star morning or evening. The image below was shot from a roof-top of a large building along the foothills of SLC. I was fortunate to be up there shooting another project, and took advantage of this new angle on the Capitol Building.

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The Salt Lake City Capitol Building with Antelope Island in the background.

4. Attention to Detail. Perhaps there’s a part of an icon that speaks to you moreso than anyone else. And perhaps, that particular part of the icon will become iconic in and of itself.

A close look at the dome of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building

A close look at the dome of the Salt Lake City Capitol Building

We Dig Our Own Graves

Warning: This is a bit of a “Dear Diary” rant (mixed with random images to keep it REAL), but if you’re a working professional photographer, or an aspiring pro, it’s pertinent, so have a read. If you’re neither of those, this just might fill your drama cup for the day. Look at it this way–you can spend 10 less minutes watching Dr. Phil or Oprah…

Photographers are an incredibly skilled group of individuals. They capture what many others can’t for all of time, in a way that speaks to and connects with people that other messaging cannot. Most photographers are very creative and hard working. They are full of life, innovative and endlessly critical of their own work. Annnnnnd there are way too many photographers that are ridiculously short sighted, and for lack of a better term, stupid businessmen. Oh yeah. I said it. Stupid. Spell it out: S-T-U-P-I-D. I have long lived by the saying “It is better to teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime than give a man a fish and feed him for a day”. Learn how to run your business properly and you will survive the long haul of freelance photography. Satiate your financial appetite with lean fish here and there, and you will starve before too long. It’s that simple.

Iconic Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park, UT

Iconic Delicate Arch at sunset in Arches National Park, UT

I recently bid on a project in which the client was asking for extensive rights to a large number of images from a shoot that would have taken a week’s time or so. Being that this client had members or partners that would desire usage of the images as well, the client was asking to “share” these rights with its partners. The rights request was large, but that’s not uncommon in this day and age. It seems rights requests are more extensive, and you simply have to adapt your pricing structure to answer their needs. After all, everything is possible with the proper budget…

I was torn over bidding on this particular project, because I needed the job. Hey! This photog just welcomed baby boy #2 last Wednesday! I decided that as much as I needed this job, I couldn’t justify a bid that was unfair to this (photography) industry. Understanding that Salt Lake is not NYC or LA, I put in a bid that was priced right for what they were asking for in this market. It likely could have/should have been much higher in other markets, but I felt it was priced right for this job in this area (an important factor, IMO, when pricing out a job). To many, my bid might have seemed low, and I’ll be honest in saying it was moderate, but worthy. To others less experienced, it may have seemed exorbitant…

A monochrome take on Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

A monochrome take on Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

I received an email from the client this morning stating: “Mr. Barker –I think we’re going to go with another bid that came in for less dough.” Fair enough. I can’t fault the client for working it on their end to get the best deal possible. Come to find out, the winning bid came in at a quarter of what my (moderate) bid was. In the end, this photographer will be making less than $150 per image for unlimited rights for five year’s time. In addition, the photographer is losing additional business to the client’s partners who will have access to all the images shot for whatever they please.

Two words folks: PROFESSIONAL SUICIDE. I have no doubt the photographer that won this bid is skilled and very capable of delivering a final product that will satisfy the client. I also have no doubt that this photographer will not be able to continue doing business like this and stay afloat in these tough times. Could I have done a better job? Hell. Yes. You think I’d say otherwise???

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

I am the first to admit that we as photographers must be willing to bend the previous rules of business in these tough times. I am no old codger stuck in the golden era of photography where quality images were few and far between, and those with the skills paid the bills, period. I believe, however, that this photog simply broke all of the rules and in so doing, is twisting the knife in the chest of an industry he himself so adores (or maybe he doesn’t–who knows?). I love shooting pictures. I love making my living doing something that puts a smile on my face every day. Yes, it is up to each individual to go out there and make a living for himself, but it grows increasingly harder when photographers are willing to sacrifice their integrity and latch onto a sliver of what they could have in the end, for just a little bit right now.

Please don’t read this as a self-pity post. This is simply a cry to fellow professionals to stay true to your business and help this industry. For the up-and-comers: learn how and what you should charge. Know when to walk away. Shoot shoot shoot, and build that portfolio. You can spend your time under bidding and landing the small fish, or you can continue to build your portfolio so that the big fish won’t be able to say no once the opportunity comes along.

If this blog post hits home for you. Pass it along…

Edit: Good friend and skilled photog Justin Cash sent me a link to John Harrington’s Photo Business blog that is super pertinent to my post above. John makes a very valid point about going after clients that are more result and service oriented rather than focused solely on price.

Visit www.adambarkerphotography.com

Featured Article in Salt Lake Tribune

Despite the ridiculously dorky picture of yours truly, I’m excited to have an article featuring my landscape photography in the Salt Lake Tribune. You can see it online at http://www.sltrib.com/outdoors/ci_12141658?source=rv if you don’t get the paper. Thanks to Brett Prettyman for the great writeup!

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Moab the Mecca

Moab. A mecca for so much. World class mountain biking. National and state parks as beautiful as any around. And even…skiing. Yessir–skiing in Moab. The La Sal mountains are no bump on a log. Topping out at 12,000 ft, the La Sals command at least a good long glance from most anyone who visits Moab. I recently returned from a trip down south on assignment for Skiing magazine shooting a skiing/biking story for a small feature being published this fall.

A lone skier searching for turns near Moab, UT

A lone skier searching for turns near Moab, UT

We were expecting classic corn skiing above distant red rock desert. Instead, we found survival skiing on breakable crust that threatened to break your knee caps and laugh at you for even considering gliding downhill on what more resembled a moonscape than a skiable slope. Regardless, much fun was had, and eventually, the snow did soften. Our goal was to ski the La Sals and bike all the way to Moab itself from the bottom of our ski descent. Unfortunately, it had snowed a good amount several days earlier and the trails up high were still snow covered.

Forrest Coots stands under the iconic Delicate Arch with the La Sal mountains in the background. Moab, UT

Forrest Coots stands under the iconic Delicate Arch with the La Sal mountains in the background. Moab, UT

We decided to drive down to LPS and ride the Porcupine Rim trail all the way to town. For those that have ridden that trail, you’ll likely nod your heads in agreement when I say it is one of the best in the world, hands down. Super scenic, fast and plenty of technical spots to keep you on your toes. Doing it with 20 lbs of camera gear on the back was harrowing at times, to say the least. Let’s just say it felt good to have my gear insured.

Mountain bikers on the Porcupine Rim trail in late light. Moab, UT

Mountain bikers on the Porcupine Rim trail in late light. Moab, UT

Kirstin Peterson pedals the Porcupine Rim trail. Moab, UT

Kirstin Peterson pedals the Porcupine Rim trail. Moab, UT

Despite being completely hammered from an epic day, I woke up the next morning to shoot sunrise at Dead Horse Point State Park. Wow that place is beautiful. So much to see. The afternoon was spent hiking some short trails in Arches National park, and then it was off to Canyonlands National Park for a sunset shoot. I was hoping for dramatic skies, as crystal clear was becoming much too common with my scenic shooting of late. Mother Nature did not disappoint as an approaching storm provided ample drama to work with.

First light at Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, UT

First light at Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab, UT

Moab is a fantastic place for recreation, relaxation and photography. Get down there solo, or with the fam–you certainly won’t regret it. Stay tuned for some exciting workshop news with the Sorrel River Ranch down there. We are currently in the process of establishing two scenic photography workshops for this fall. Should be epic!

Approaching storm front at Canyonlands National Park, UT

Approaching storm front at Canyonlands National Park, UT

Bryce Canyon: Experience the Beauty

Conditions last week looked primo for a visit to one of America’s most intriguing national parks. Declared a National Park in 1924, Bryce Canyon is best known for its unique, brightly colored hoodoo formations, created over thousands of years by frost-wedging and rain water. The weather forecast looked promising, calling for fresh snow, and then partly cloudy skies throughout the week. The stage was set for what I hoped to be “all time” conditions for a Bryce Canyon shoot. I had visions of intense pink sunrises, endless spotty clouds and fresh powder.

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We arrived instead to…howling winds, frigid temps and…not a flake of new snow. Were it any place but Bryce Canyon, I might have been a bit more disappointed, but the truth is, you’d have to be crazy not to be able to do something with this canvas that Mother Nature was certainly inspired to create–regardless of the weather.

Having only been to Bryce Canyon once previously, I had a number of traditional images in mind that I hope to come home with. As usual, however, I was equally interested in finding my own piece of Bryce that perhaps had not been captured by any other lens. Sure, it may have been glossed over by other eyes, but had it really been seen?

A different take on Thor's Hammer. Shot with a Canon 24mm TS/E lens.

A different take on Thor's Hammer. Shot with a Canon 24mm TS/E lens.

The first evening was cold and relativey clear. Having just arrived in the park, we hurriedly set up at and around Sunset Point. I was really focusing on the big picture here, and the dusk glow was terrific.

Bryce Canyon at dusk, as seen from Sunset Point.

Bryce Canyon at dusk, as seen from Sunset Point.

With the mercury reading a balmy 10 degrees F, we bundled up for sunrise the next morning, again heading to different spots around the canyon rim near Sunset Point. The skies were crystal clear, which meant I would just look for compositions that included less sky. One of the most spectacular things about Bryce Canyon is the way the landscape changes as the sun rises. Hoodoos glow as if lit on fire by the hand of a higher power. The bounce light is insanely beautiful and warm. Typically, I wrap up my morning shoots about an hour or at the very most, two hours after sunrise. We shot well into the morning, taking a hike on the Navajo Loop trail and exploring new photo opportunities around every bend. Winter is a wonderful time to visit Bryce as foot traffic is at a relative crawl compared to other times of the year. Much to our delight, spots that typically would have been a veritable tripod gathering were empty.

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park

Late afternoon was spent exploring some of the lesser visited spots in the Park like Agua Canyon and Rainbow Point. The light in Agua Canyon was a tad harsh, but the colors were amazing. My Singh Ray LB Color Combo polarizer was absolutely key in cutting glare, saturating the colors and deepening the sky. Seriously–if you aren’t familiar with a polarizing filter, it is amazing to watch how it transforms the landscape when used correctly. Remember that the best angle for polarization is when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to what you are shooting.

Agua Canyon in afternoon light

Agua Canyon in afternoon light

Sunset that evening was windy and cold at Bryce Point. The view is simply mind blowing. Spotty clouds made for some classic 3D lighting, but we were just a bit late in arriving to capture the best light on the hoodoos. I don’t think I’ve ever shot in wind like that before–it was a huge challenge to handhold my grad NDs while keeping my tripod steady for the longer exposures.

A compressed evening view from Bryce Point. Shot with a Canon 70-200mm lensa and 1.4x teleconverter

A compressed evening view from Bryce Point. Shot with a Canon 70-200mm lensa and 1.4x teleconverter

Sunrise the next morning was spent at one of my new favorite places on earth. Agua Canyon is peppered with interesting, colorful rock creations–all surrounded by towering cliffs offering super cool and engaging angles from which to shoot. Perched on top of an 800 foot cliff, I couldn’t help but pinch myself as I took in the sights and sounds of a truly unique and inspiring place. Movements were slow and steady–one wrong move meant either myself, or my gear taking a life-ending tumble.

Agua Canyon...definitely one of the most exposed places I've ever shot

Agua Canyon...definitely one of the most exposed places I've ever shot (p: Drew Stoecklein)

First Light at Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

First Light at Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

All in all, I’d say the trip was a great success. I find the longer I shoot, the harder it is for me to come away from places with images that impress and inspire. I feel that, especially given the brief nature of the visit, I came away with some memorable imagery. I’ve listed just a few tips that may help you in your next visit to photograph Bryce Canyon National Park.

1. Arrive early. Stay late. This is generally true for any photo location, but even moreso for Bryce. Popular photo spots can get extremely crowded very quickly–you want to secure your dream spot without stepping on anyone else’s toes. Be sure to stay late for that dusk glow. The hoodoos reflect an inordinate amount of light not really seen by the human eye, but readily picked up by your camera’s sensor. Exposure times will certainly be on the longer end, but these images will be void of any harsh highlights or shadows, focusing mainly on the warm colors of the redrock and the indigo sky.

2. Take a polarizer. Be familiar with its performance and where/when/how you can use it best. You can really deepen the sky and allow the hoodoos and canyon walls to pop against an azure background with the help of a polarizer. It will also help to saturate the color just a tad bit more.

3. Search for bounce light. As the sun rises higher in the sky, get down in the canyon trails and explore Bryce Canyon in a more intimate manner. While the broader vistas may appear washed out and harsh, there are countless opportunities to shoot bounce (or reflected light) down in the canyon.

Bounce light at its finest

Bounce light at its finest

4. Take a wide assortment of lenses. I used everything from my widest to my longest lenses, and everything in between. One of my favorite practices is to throw on a long lens and “hunt” for that engaging piece of the broader landscape. This is especially applicable in Bryce Canyon as certain hoodoos or areas light up at different times. Make sure you have a sturdy tripod!

Bryce Canyon hoodoos aglow. Shot with a Canon 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter

Bryce Canyon hoodoos aglow. Shot with a Canon 300mm lens and 1.4x teleconverter

5. Don’t forget your graduated neutral density filters–a must for any serious landscape photographer!

6. Look for opportunities to include a human element in your images to help give scale to the landscape.

Photographer Drew Stoecklein atop the cliffs above Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

Photographer Drew Stoecklein atop the cliffs above Agua Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park

7. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Seems so many times we are so consumed with coming away with that wall hanger that we forget to simply enjoy the beautiful surroundings in which we find ourselves. Take a step back from the tripod, and enjoy a moment for yourself.