Photography: Vision & Problem Solving

The Osguthorpe Barn near Park City, UT. Captured by Adam Barker Photography.

For those of you who live in or near Park City, UT, you will quickly recognize this barn. It is certainly one of the more photographed structures in northern UT. And rightly so! The Osguthorpe Barn (or McPolin Barn depending on who you talk to) has greeted visitors and locals alike traveling in to Park City since 1921. Simply put, it is a classic.

I have photographed here many times before, I’ll

do so many times in the future. It is the utmost in Americana, and I enjoy the challenge in finding new ways to capture the barn and its surroundings.

I arrived at this location later in the morning, and low fog was just beginning to thin out. I was excited to be at this spot with conditions I’d never seen before! I worked through several compositions, but none of them really worked as a whole.

Finally, I settled on a wider angle image, utilizing cattails as my FG subject. I’ve shot from this exact location before in the winter, but this time the grouping of cattails seemed more elongated towards the barn, and a vertical composition seemed more appropriate.

I actually began composing this image with my 16-35mm lens. I wanted to incorporate a more complete wide angle foreground, but I still wanted to maintain emphasis and hold the viewer’s attention on the barn itself. With the 16-35mm stopped down for maximum DOF, the scene felt busy, and my eye simply wouldn’t settle on the barn as I’d like it to.

Finally, I chose to pull out my 24mm tilt shift lens. By both tilting my plane of focus and shooting at a wide open aperture of f4.5, I was able to have my cake and eat it too.

The cattails are selectively blurred, giving context and providing the FG filler that I was looking for. Yet the sharp contrast in sharp vs. blurred takes the eye directly to the barn. Why didn’t I just shoot my 16-35mm wide open? Being a super wide angle f2.8 lens, it wasn’t giving me quite the separation that I needed from a DOF standpoint. Why didn’t I throw on a longer lens and utilize a shallow aperture to achieve that separation? Throwing on a longer lens would have effectively flattened this scene. I would have gotten that separation, but I would not have achieved the depth I get from a wide angle composition–I would not have that immediate, engaging FG element grab the viewer in the same way it does from a wider angle approach.

Much of photography is about simple problem solving. It all begins, however, with a clear vision of what you hope to capture. Know what you want out of a location. Know what type of image you hope to come away with. This will serve as your mental blueprint as you work through the small problems to achieve your final photographic goal.

Fall Photography Workshop, Sept. 21-23 2012

Who loves photography in the fall? I do! And I can imagine you do too. It’s one of my absolute favorite times of year to capture Mother Nature at her finest. Join me this year in one of the most scenic locations for fall photography (as noted by MSN.com!) in the spectacular Ogden Valley. Click on the image for workshop details, and I hope to see you there!

Better Fall Photography

Storm clouds and fall color in northern Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Storm clouds and fall color in northern Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Fall is quite possibly my favorite season. Perhaps it’s because the change in the air is so dramatic. Color, crispness, cooler temps–it’s allllll good. Fall pushes photographers everywhere to dig out both their camera and their personal commitment to creating meaningful imagery. It’s exciting to see the lanscape change so drastically, and quite honestly–there’s beauty in nearly every direction. Nothing fuels a photographer’s fire like gorgeous subject matter at a stone’s throw from nearly every canyon drive.

I’ve had opportunity to get out quite a bit with several workshop students and shoot some of fall’s finest here in northern Utah. The weather, however, has been challenging for the most part, with clear skies and warm temperatures. It has forced us to get creative and really search for meaningful shots without dramatic skies. We did luck out one morning with fantastic storm clouds, and we took full advantage, knowing it was a gift.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student shoots first light at Silver Lake, Brighton, UT.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student shoots first light at Silver Lake, Brighton, UT.

While gorgeous in their own right, colorful leaves don’t themselves a memorable image make. I imagine you, just as countless others, have come home from your fall photography forays only to find your images were flat and struggled to convey the sense of grandeur that you witnessed in person. The challenge, is depth. Conveying depth in our fall images is what really helps to take the viewer “there”. A flat mountainside with pretty leaves just won’t cut it. Sure, it’s pretty. But does it have impact? Probably not. Read below for a couple of tips on creating fall images with depth.

Fall color in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Fall color in Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

1. Establish compositional zones. Find foregrounds, middle grounds and backgrounds for your images. Longer lens shots fall images here in the Wasatch are particularly well suited to this, with intersecting ridge lines and areas of strong color.

Late light long lens landscape at Snowbird, UT

Late light long lens landscape at Snowbird, UT

2. Search out broken light. Spotty clouds cast spotty or broken light. This random placement of lit and shaded areas carries viewers through the frame and creates that near/far perspective that helps to convey three dimensionality.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student waits for evening light amidst swirling storm clouds.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student waits for evening light amidst swirling storm clouds.

3. Use a polarizing filter. Even better, know where and how to use it most effectively. A polarizer will help to reveal full color in the foliage, by removing the natural sheen or reflection. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly (especially on those boring, crystal clear days), a polarizer will deepen skies, helping to add depth and interest to your fall photos. A polarizer is most effective when shot at 90 degrees to the sun–find those compositions that help the polarizer help you!

Dawn light and fall color at Park City's iconic Osguthorpe Barn

Dawn light and fall color at Park City's iconic Osguthorpe Barn

4. Change your angle to the sun. Fall color takes on a completely different look, depending on your angle to the sun. Front lit aspens can appear dull and washed out, but as soon as place that light source behind them, they glow with life. This is a technique you can use to capture stunning imagery even into the mid-day hours.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student, enveloped by backlit aspens.

An AdamBarkerPhotography workshop student, enveloped by backlit aspens.

5. Use Grad ND Filters. Not sure what they are? Search this blog or get on the Google. I use Singh Ray filters–the best! There’s absolutely no better tool out there for balancing difficult dynamic ranges and allowing you to capture dramatic skies.

Storm clouds and lightning bolt at first light over Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

Storm clouds and lightning bolt at first light over Utah's Wasatch Mountains.

6. Get out there. The golden rule of landscape photography. Simply being there will allow you to make magic. It’s too easy to stay home and wait for what you think might be the perfect conditions to capture that five-star fall keeper. How do you know that you haven’t already missed it? Nothing helps to get the creative juices flowing like being out in nature. You’re sure to find something that floats your boat, and then some. Forget the boring weather forecasts or lackluster color-get out there and find a way to excel behind the lens.

Interested in putting this into practice in the field with yours truly? Check out my workshop page for details.

Working a Scene Like the Local Buffett

So here’s a question for all you blog readers and photographers out there. When you sit down to chow at your favorite all-you-can-eat buffet, do you simply peck at the salad bar, or do you dive in head first and fill your plate to overflowing with delicacies beyond all earthly comprehension???  I’m guessing the answer is the latter. And if it’s not, you need to check yourself for a meeting with Maury Povich and his never fail lie detector test. Nobody goes to an all-you-can-eat buffet with any other intention than to take full, unadulterated advantage of the calorie-laden offerings on hand.

So what does this have to do with photography? For those of you that managed to stick with me, instead of sticking it to your local convenience store–it is this: It’s time to quit pecking at the proverbial salad bar of photo buffets. When you wake your tired bones up at the crack of dawn, or stay out past sunset, the least you can do is work your particular location until your visual and creative appetite has been satisfied. There is a fine line beween running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and properly working a scene. If you can find the balance, and prepare yourself accordingly, you will leave your photo shoots with so much more than just one or two keepers.  Suer, they may not all be that life-altering contest winner, but they’ll showcase your versatility as a photographer, and commitment to carrying your imagery forward.

For the purpose of this blog post, I have posted a number of fall images shot within a 1/4 mile radius over a period of 24 hrs. The greater majority were actually shot within a period of a couple hours from the same tripod location.  Read on for a couple of tips on taking full advantage of a every photo location you visit.

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

1. Know the area. Having a sure knowledge of the area you plan to shoot is unbeatable. It helps to have visited the location beforehand at different times of day and at different seasons. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, utilize the all-knowing interweb and drum up as much info as possible.

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

2. Keep your eye on the prize. I always like to have one potential 5-star image in mind when I go to a particular spot. This will help you not to leave empty handed. As that magical moment begins to take shape for the image you pre-visualized, pay attention to the surroundings, but resist the temptation to move locations unless you’re absolutely sure you have enough time to set yourself up once again for that fabled 5-star shot.

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

3. Forget what I just said. There are times when Mother Nature will be hitting us across the face with her giant frying pan and we’re just too stubborn to pay attention. Know when a better opportunity presents itself. It’s hard to describe exactly how and when this happens, but after enough practice, you will simply be able to see when you need to run like hell and capture an angle different than the one you had previously anticipated.

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

4. Just change your lens. Many times we are able to capture an entirely different take from the exact same tripod location simply by throwing on a longer or wider lens. Fine tune your ability to “see” as if you were looking through your different lenses. This is an unbelievably beneficial skill in learning how to capture fleeting moments that don’t allow you enough time to throw on every lens in your collection “just to have a peek”. Telephoto and wide angle zoom lenses can be particularly useful when practicing this, as they will account for a number of different focal lengths within their given range. Don’t forget to experiment with both vertical and horizontal compositions!

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

5. Anticipate. Just as an athlete anticipates his opponent’s next move, we can anticipate what may happen as Mother Nature makes the magic happen. Anticipate where the light will fall, and how it will affect the particular composition for which you are set up. Look for opportunities to capture skim light as the sun crests mountain peaks. If you’re not capturing this light within the first 30 seconds, you’re too late. Anticipate! (hey, that rhymes…)

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

Cascade Springs, UT in Fall

6. Visit often. The better you know a location, the better you can take advantage of it in differing conditions. Study the location and know it well enough to ace the next test Mother Nature throws your way.

Fall Foliage of the Wasatch Workshop: Day 3

Day three marked the end of my 2009 Fall Foliage workshop. We made the bumpy drive yet one more time over Guardsman Pass and to the Alpine Loop. Arriving with plenty of time to spare, we set up our tripods overlooking intense groupings of red and orange leaves. The maples and oaks were on fire with color! One of the most serene moments of the workshop was watching the dawn glow fade to grey, soon welcoming the rising sun. All was quiet, except for the clicking of shutters, and the subtle grunts of approval as five-star images appeared on everyone’s LCD displays. In addition to the exciting field sessions, we were also able to spend ample time in the classroom, discussing composition, exposure, use of Grad ND filters and numerous other topics pertinent to capturing memorable and meaningful imagery. Many thanks to Cliff Velinga, Todd Smith, Lewie Edwards, Kit Smith, Jon Sheppard and Guy Moore for a fantastic weekend of photography, and maybe just a little bit of fun too…

Photographer Cliff Velinga at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Cliff Velinga at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Vibrant fall color at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Vibrant fall color at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Fall Foliage of the Wasatch Workshop: Day 2

Day 2 of the ABP Fall Foliage workshop is officially in the bag, and I can say that I am completely and totally spent. In a good way. Despite clear and uninteresting skies, the color this year is absolutely off the charts. The back side of the Wasatch is as good as I’ve ever seen it, and the front side is shaping up nicely. We shot sunrise above Cascade Springs, looking towards Mt. Timpanogos and Cascade Peak. The students are all loving their newfound knowledge of how to implement Singh Ray Grad ND filters into their creative and technical workflow. Finally they are capturing the image in camera as their eyes see it! Delicious late light was in full supply at Willow Lake for tonight’s evening shoot. One more early rise tomorrow, and then the planning begins for next year’s workshop(s). Hope to see you there!

Jon Sheppard of Avon, Co at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Jon Sheppard of Avon, Co at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Cliff Velinga of Las Vegas, NV at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Cliff Velinga of Las Vegas, NV at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Fall's reflection, AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Fall's reflection, AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Jon Sheppard of Avon, Co at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Jon Sheppard of Avon, Co at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Kit Smith of Salt Lake City, UT using Singh Ray Grad ND Filters at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Kit Smith of Salt Lake City, UT using Singh Ray Grad ND Filters at the AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Broken light falls on Casade Spring and Cascade Peak, AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Broken light falls on Casade Spring and Cascade Peak, AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Early light on Cascade Peak, AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Early light on Cascade Peak, AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Fall Foliage of the Wasatch Workshop: Day 1

The ABP Fall Foliage Workshop began today to beautiful weather and stunning Wasatch color. I’ve got a great group this year, and it appears the timing for the workshop is perfect as lifesaver colors are vibrant as ever across the Wasatch front and back. The workshop began this afternoon with some classroom discussion on basic photography fundamentals. Additionally, we had an in depth tutorial on using Grad ND filters in scenic photography. The day was capped off by an evening shoot at Cascade Springs. Clear skies made for more challenging shooting than usual, but the dusk glow was epic. Full day tomorrow! Gotta be ready to jet for our sunrise shoot at 5:20 am. Looking forward to updating you with the events of day 2!

Photographer Cliff Velinga of Las Vegas, NV. AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Photographer Cliff Velinga of Las Vegas, NV. AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Dusk falls over Cascade Springs, with Cascade Peak in the background. AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Dusk falls over Cascade Springs, with Cascade Peak in the background. AdamBarkerPhotography Fall Foliage Workshop 2009

Upgrade your Creativity

With the announcement of the new Canon EOS 7D, I’ve been thinking a bunch about how quickly technology is advancing these days. If you look at what we were shooting digital images with just 5 years ago, the advancements are mind blowing. It would appear, that it’s becoming easier to shoot “good” images and becoming increasingly harder to stand out as a photographer and create imagery that one remembers. In this world of visual distractions (and attractions), only the technically sound and (perhaps more importantly) the creatively innovative will be able to produce imagery that will stand the test of time.

Fall color, perfect for photography in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Fall color, perfect for photography in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Here’s a frightening statistc: Online photo sharing site Flickr hosts more than 3.5 billion images. An average of 3 million images are uploaded daily. You read that right. 3 million images are uploaded EVERY DAY. How, in the name of Ansel, are you going to produce something that stands out?

A hiker gazes in wonder at a tree growing through red rock canyons on Wallstreet, Bryce Canyon National Park

A hiker gazes in wonder at a tree growing through red rock canyons on Wallstreet, Bryce Canyon National Park

Here is some food for thought. Instead of upgrading your camera, lens, computer, memory card, huge 30″ monitor, new zoom lens, tripod, filters, cable release, operating system, editing software, backpack, lens cap, camera belt, lens cleaning solution, dust remover or any other piece of the endless list of equipment we all use, try this: UPGRADE YOUR CREATIVITY. Manufacturers produce new cameras nearly every quarter these days, but how often do we upgrade our ability not just to create, but to see better imagery.

Morning storm clouds and mist over the Wasatch Mountains, east of Salt Lake City, UT

Morning storm clouds over the Wasatch Mountains, east of Salt Lake City, UT

Read a good book. Follow an inspiring blog. Give yourself a challenging assignment. Fail. Succeed. And then do it all over again. And here’s the important part–do it with your own style and panache.

Trail running in late evening light through the foothills above Salt Lake City, UT

Trail running in late evening light through the foothills above Salt Lake City, UT

Here’s another idea: Build your own better version of you. How long have you been running on Joe v1.1 or Sarah v1.2. It’s time to upgrade to version 1.5, or better yet, give yourself an entire system upgrade and find Bill v2.0. Sleeker, faster, smoother, more efficient, and a creative animal beyond compare. Hey! I’d buy it!

A few stout sprigs of Indian Paintbrush stand resolutely beneath towering aspen trees in Big Cotonwood Canyon, UT

A few stout sprigs of Indian Paintbrush stand resolutely beneath towering aspen trees in Big Cotonwood Canyon, UT

The longer I am in the business of photography, the harder it gets to challenge myself to be a better version of me. Resist the temptation to become a better Chase Jarvis or Art Wolfe or even (gasp) Adam Barker. Much like looking at a road map, the work of established photographers doesn’t speak so much to the destination as it does to the journey. There are a million ways to arrive at the pinnacle, why follow a path already trodden?

A bent rod and tight line on the Weber River, UT

A bent rod and tight line on the Weber River, UT