Environmental Lifestyle Imagery: Don’t be Average

Angler Geoff Mueller casts to cruising bonefish at Bair's Lodge, South Andros, Bahamas.

What is an environmental lifestyle image? Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? It’s an image that gives as much (if not more) attention to the environment, as it does to the activity taking place. It’s the perfect marriage between location

and recreation. It’s the type of image so many of us fall in love with because it highlights both an action or activity as well as a beautiful place. It’s an image that is both beautiful from a straight photographic standpoint, and one that connects with many viewers on a more personal level depending on their experience with the activity actually taking place in the image.

For me, it’s like having my cake and eating it too. I discovered my passion for photography in scenic landscape work. I have also been an avid participant in many recreational pursuits since a young age. It’s a combo that takes me to many beautiful locations, while watching and/or participating in the things I love to do.

This image embodies everything I love about fly fishing on the ocean. Clean, open air. Limitless space. Uninhibited motion. Surreal landscape. Endless skies. Soft, barefoot sand. Whether approaching it with a camera, or a rod in hand, it is an absolute dream.

This image was captured about 15 min before sunset. Having that sun low on the horizon emphasized the repetitive texture in this spit of sand. The location was perfect here. The activity was spot on. But the light it what brought this image to life. Without light, this image is an average shot of a dude casting to bonefish on a pleasant spit of sand in the middle of the Bahamas. And we all know that average is just as close to the bottom as it is to the top.

Don’t be average.

Quick Tips for Underwater Fish Photography

Underwater image of brown trout and fly fisherman with net by AdamBarkerPhotography.

Good times on the water yesterday. Once again, I can’t bring myself to pass up an opportunity to shoot some imagery underwater.

For the most part, the fish were somewhat uncooperative yesterday (can’t really blame em’!), but this healthy brown trout posed for the camera for nearly a minute after its release. This lighting conditions and exclusion of most of the angler lend a mysterious quality to this image. It begs the viewer to study it for a moment. Upon further inspection, it all comes together–fly fishing, small creek, catch & release, nostalgic moment, etc.

There certainly is a learning curve to shooting UW photographs. It’s taken me some time to dial in my methods, and I finally feel like I have a routine under the water, just as I do above the water. Two of the key steps in my UW approach:

1. Shoot in manual mode and pre-adjust your exposure before shooting. Most of the time, I point my camera down in the water and set my exposure for the UW light reading. If I’m shooting half in/half out shots, I may underexpose for UW by 1/2 to a full stop in order to maintain detail above water as well. If lighting conditions are just right, the two environments will actually balance quite well in terms of dynamic range.

2. Utilize your camera auto AF selection mode. This is a big one. One of the hardest parts of UW photography (without looking through the viewfinder or at the liveview display) is ensuring proper focus on the parts of the image that you want to be sharp. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to let your camera select the focus zones, as opposed to pre-selecting a focus zone and trying to place the fish (or more precisely, the fish’s eye) in the perfect spot. This is literally the only time I ever use this function on my camera, as I generally want to have say over what the camera focuses on.

If you happen to venture into UW photography, the above tips should be useful. Most importantly, shoot a lot of images–the throw-away to keeper ratio is significant…

Dear Fly Fishing Photographer…

Believe it or not, you CAN make money at this game. Oh yes! It’s not just some pie in the sky myth that might come true on the 4th leap year of the new Etruscan moon cycle while the tide is full and Mother Earth’s Unicorn plays Greensleeves on a diamond encrusted ukelele. Believe it or not, there are clients out there that would pay money, and decent money at that for quality imagery. Yet, currently, these budgets are being allocated elsewhere as it’s just that easy to find the next travel-hungry lensman ready to jump on a plane and deliver “everything” for a week’s worth of pina coladas and a pre-planned sunburn.

Yes, it’s true–travel is exotic, fun and fantastic for the time being. But think about this–someday, you will truly end up realizing that dream of making a living as a full time professional photographer,  and there will be no side job or other income to pay those bills that are not being paid with a high five to your bro on the front of a panga. Keep in mind you actually just paid to get to that panga (I know, flights are cheap yo!). Sure, everything’s covered once you’re there, but that’s where you’re coming up short once again–you’re working hard, using your hard-earned (and paid for) equipment and spending time away from the computer or other jobs that would be putting legitimate income into your bank account. It all feels pretty good, until you get home and have to spend another 20 hours editing, processing and uploading the unlimited number of images you owe the lodge for the “free but paid and STILL paying for” shooting gig.

It’s all good, cause you can come home and then license the images to the next rod, reel or apparel company that has been trained to trade product for imagery. A new reel–suh-weet! Add that to your collection and then hustle back to the computer and list it on Ebay. Feels quite proper, until you actually think about the cycle here. Let’s see…reel company trades you a reel for imagery. You then go and hawk the reel for a fraction of the new price, justifying the deal done for trade and finally actually putting some cold hard cash in your pocket. Then you realize this means that one less person will be purchasing one less reel from your local fly fishing shop which will be ordering one less reel from the manufacturer which means the manufacturers expendable income for things like marketing (imagery) is hurting even more. It’s an ugly cycle. One that really only hurts everyone in the end…

In all fairness though, there is plenty of room to play devil’s advocate here. Many of these trips yield legitimate “portfolio-building” imagery, establish relationships with decision makers, and contribute to the overall sexiness of your brand (not talking about the sick silhouetted casting tattoo on your once-rippling lats there, chieftain.). I have certainly been there. And at times, I believed it to be the right decision.  The decision process is/was cloudy at best. To make it even cloudier, you get plenty of time with a rod in your hand and it feeds our incessant need to fish (it’s a sickness!). At different times in your career, it may feel more justified than not. But in the end, it leaves you feeling sheepishly satisfied at best.

One certainly can’t blame the clients. They’ve been trained to take full advantage of us photographers who are essentially peeing in our own kiddie pool time and time again. If I could get a t-bone for the price of a hamburger, you better believe I’d do it.But I can’t help but think it hasn’t bitten them as well.

So, what to do? Decide today that you will make informed decisions. Weigh the pros vs. the cons. Think beyond the next month. There are extenuating circumstances, yes. But take a moment to think about whether the next uber trip to pluto’s fifth moon to fish for the dragon-eyed bumblefish is really going to do anything for you (and those with whom you associate on a professional level) but pad your ego and crowd your Facebook page.

This post is neither a me vs. you post, nor an us vs. them post.  We can all work together to make this industry stronger and healthier than ever before. Mediocre photographers say yes to mediocre deals, which leaves the client with mediocre imagery, which shows the world that they cater to a mediocre crowd looking for a mediocre experience. That spells one giant FAIL for all parties involved. Exceptional photographers say yes to deals that benefit both parties equally. Is there a cash component involved? Ideally, yes. At times, perhaps not, but that lies upon our own shoulders to determine if what we do gain is of adequate value vs. what we deliver.  It’s up to us to educate, negotiate and deliver.

Now.  About that tattoo…

Edit: I’ve had numerous responses to this blog post privately. Some will take this post to be preachy–I don’t mean it as such although it’s somewhat inevitable when addressing a topic such as this with a side of sarcasm. It has nothing to do with jobs I may or may not have been awarded and everything to do with a fluid thought process that influences the way I look at my profession. Let me clarify by noting that each photographer has every right to approach his or her business as he/she so chooses. There are many, many other factors I consider when approaching a shooting opportunity than the bottom line, cash in hand result. Whether this post has you nodding your head in agreement, or cursing the monitor through clenched teeth…it has served its purpose. We progress when we think and analyze. We digress when we refuse to give even a small place in our minds to an alien approach or thought process…

11 Best of 2011 from AdamBarkerPhotography

2011 was a spectacular year on all accounts. Foot upon foot of pow skied, fish from Wyoming to the Bahamas hooked, festivals in the far corners of the earth, ancient pathways crossed–all contributed to what could perhaps be one of my most productive years behind the lens. Cliche as it may be, I can’t help but look back in review and share some of my favorites from the past year.  As always, many thanks to my sponsors: Arc’teryx, Suunto, Mark Miller Subaru, Mountain Khakis, Manfrotto School of Xcellence, Clikelite Backpacks and Singh Ray Filters. Hope you all enjoy, and here’s to an even better 2012! (click on images to view larger versions)

1. Jesse Hall takes a moment to ponder human flight, as he stands inside the hot air balloon from which he’ll subsequently launch himself into gravity’s liberating grasp. Park City, UT.

2. Angler Al Chidester finds himself surrounded by all that is good in this world: fresh air, fall foliage…and fantastic fishing in some of western Wyoming’s most treasured water.

3. Fire and rain over Warm Creek Bay, Lake Powell, UT.

4. Hazy skies make for ethereal and ancient interpretations of East Jerusalem, Israel.

5. First light envelopes Agua Canyon in a glow only Mother Nature could furnish. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT.

6. Ralph Lauren’s Double RL Ranch shows its true colors in crisp early morning light. Dallas Divide, CO.

7. Angler Geoff Mueller admires a healthy bonefish (caught and released) in Abaco Island’s skinniest of water.

8. Calm in the chaos of Hanoi traffic, Vietnam.

9. Bavaria’s finest color smiles upon a lone farmer’s shed in the fields near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

10. Skier Drew Stoecklein can, in fact turn right. At just the right time. In just the right place. Alta Backcountry, UT.

11. Angler Geoff Mueller and Oliver White tense up as they ply the waters off Abaco Island for huge permit.

Published Gallery Feature: Mountain Magazine

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley (highlights added)

I am ecstatic and honored to be occupying a significant chunk of page space in the winter issue of Mountain Magazine alongside photographer extraordinaire Jordan Manley. Run by a stellar editorial and art team (including former Skiing magazine editor in chief Marc Peruzzi), Mountain Magazine is a sumptuous mix of mountain lifestyle, adventure and profile pieces. If you live and love life in the mountains, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy at your nearest bookseller. These images were shot at a number of local resorts including Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, and feature local pro like Julian Carr, Cody Barnhill and Parker Cook (with an angling cameo from one Jay Beyer!). See my images below, and pick up a copy in print to see the entire feature!

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley

Mountain Magazine Photo Gallery Feature with Adam Barker and Jordan Manley

The Over/Under: Quick Tutorial to Underwater Fly fishing Photography

Angler Geoff Mueller sizes admires a bonefish caught and released on the fly at Abaco Lodge, Bahamas

As skinny as it comes!
And I’m not talking about the fish here. In saltwater flyfishing, shallow water is commonly referred to as “skinny” water. Let’s just say this stretch of water at Abaco Lodge, Bahamas was on a tidal diet on this particular morning.
Underwater photography is unpredictable and challenging, but that all contributes to an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction when it all works out.

Over/under shots like this are heavily dependent on the right equipment, knowledge and always a bit of luck. It’s key to have a legit housing with a dome port. If you don’t have a dome port, you can still pull these types of shots off, but it’s much more difficult. I always spit on the dome glass and rub it around before getting it wet–this keeps the water from beading up on the part of the glass that remains above water.

Ideally–you will set your exposure just before shooting the sequence (on manual mode, of course). It’s always an approximate guess on lining up all the elements and shooting away. Here, I am kneeling down in the water, holding the housing at waist level or so. Obviously, there’s no looking through the viewfinder, so you need to understand very well what your chosen lens will include depending on where you hold the camera. Pointing and shifting the housing slightly up or down can drastically affect where the dividing water/air line will be in your frame. Experiment each and every time until you start to get a better idea of where that line will fall.

Note that even if you’ve put that line right in the middle of the dome port, it may not be dividing your image in half. Water moves up and down very quickly, and you’re much less steady than you think when holding the housing.

Two last tips! Get a diopter to place on the front element of your lens (before it goes in the housing). This will help mitigate the softness on the corners that is a constant issue when shooting through domes and it will also decrease your minimum focusing distance for your lens–which is key when trying to fill the frame when shooting.
Annnnd, shots like this benefit from front and/or sidelight to properly expose the image both above and underwater. Obviously, the brighter the ocean/river bottom is, the better it will balance with the sky.

UW housings are pricey, but they’re worth every penny. Rent one for a day from manufacturers like AquaTech and see if it might be a good fit for you. Have fun!

Published Cover: The Flyfish Journal

AdamBarkerPhotography image on the cover of the current Flyfish Journal

I am so pleased to have the cover of the current issue of the Flyfish Journal. If you’re a fly fisher and you’ve never had the privilege of thumbing through this magazine, drop everything and head to your local newsstand or fishing outfitter. Gorgeous imagery and insightful and entertaining writing adorn its pages. It truly is a step above much of the competition. This ranks right up there as one of my most prized and cherished editorial accomplishments.

When to Tilt Shift???

Manhattan and 42nd St. at dusk

Tilt-shift lenses were initially created for architectural photographers looking to counter the distortion that occurs when pointing a camera up or down (keystoning/pincushion distortion). You’ll notice in your images where you are pointing your camera up or down that vertical lines/shapes tend to lean in or out. The solution??? Unless you’re shooting with a view camera, the solution is a tilt-shift lens.

TS lenses, however, have creative applications as well. By tilting the plane of focus, the photographer is able to achieve a miniaturized or snow globe effect, manifested in the majority of the image having a blurred, dream-like or soft focus feel while a certain slice of the image remains sharp. It’s cliche, it’s trendy and it’s fun. Most importantly, however, it’s useful and extremely effective if not over utilized and when done correctly.

So–back to the question at hand–when/why tilt-shift???

Old Town Park City, UT

1. Creative Freedom–it’s different than the typical approach to imagery. It’s fun and it can lend an interesting, artistic and quirky look to your images. It might be the tool that helps you see many of the same old shots in a new way.

Trail Runner at Alta, UT

2. Visual Impact/Subject Isolation–TS lenses are a fantastic manifestation of the power of selective focus. Many times, I will be shooting wide angle imagery where I’m unable to achieve the very shallow DOF (depth of field) that I’d like to separate the subject from its surroundings. Without the use of a TS lens in images like that of the trail runner above, the subject would be completely lost in the frame. By using the TS effect, I’m able to provide a huge amount of context in the image, and still draw the focus directly to the activity/subject.

Fisherman on the Weber River, UT

3. Editorial/Commercial Spreads–it takes a certain type of editor or art director to actually use TS images, but when it’s right, it’s right. As mentioned above, TS images can make negative space out of filler that would have otherwise been busy and unusable. Words and logos pop off the page when placed on soft backgrounds. (why do you think that “blur” tool exists in PS???) TS images can work well for full bleed editorial spreads where the copy is placed directly on the image.

Pret Helmets Commercial Shoot

4. Product Highlighting–and really, highlighting anything else for that matter. It’s a great way to draw attention to specific parts of a product like a logo or any other cool feature, while still including the whole product.

Wildflowers at Willow Lake, UT

5. Depth of Field without stopping down–this is yet one more fantastic advantage to a TS lens. By tilting you plane of focus correctly, you can achieve greater depth of field without stopping your lens down. Essentially, you’re able to render both FG and BG objects sharp, while some of the middle elements remain somewhat soft. This is especially useful when you need depth of field, but can’t accommodate the longer shutter speeds required when stopping your lens down to those smaller apertures. Example? The above image of wildflowers at Willow Lake. In short–windy evening. I wanted both the flowers in the FG, and aspens in the BG to be sharp. Stopping the lens down in the typical manner of achieving this DOF gave me long multi-second exposures. By tilting my plane of focus with my TS lens, I was able to get this DOF while shooting at f5.6 and keeping that shutter speed in check.

My two biggest rules with TS lenses? ALWAYS check your focus at 10x zoom (if possible) on your live view display. If you don’t have live view, check it on your LCD after clicking the shutter. The margin for error when shooting TS lenses (especially at larger apertures) is very slim. You may think you’ve gotten exactly what you want, only to find that the sharpest part of your image is slight off from what you had hoped for.

Secondly, don’t overdo it. TS should be the exception rather than the rule. It can quickly lose it’s effectiveness when over-utilized. Make it your icing on the cake, instead of the other way around. TS lenses don’t come cheap, but they are tons of fun and extremely effective when used correctly. If you don’t own one, try renting one for a day and see if it’s something that fits in with your creative and technical needs. Have fun!

All of these images were captured with Canon cameras and the 24mm TS-E lens.

Flyfishing Imagery: Best of 2010

Just wrapped up a quick slideshow sharing some of my favorite fly fishing images from 2010. Hope you enjoy!

The Perfect Father’s Day Gift?

_MG_1746 (1)

If he’s a flyfisher, I sure think so!

It’s not too late to order one and get it in your hands for Father’s Day. I have four left in my current inventory. Three 5 x 7 prints are double matted and framed in an elegant dark wood molding, making for an intimate gift for the fly fishing dad in your life. Pricing is $265.00. I’m willing to give the next two orders 10% off, saving an additional $20.00. Please send an email to adam(at)adambarkerphotography.com to order.