Don’t be scared of the big bad black…

An angler makes a spey cast on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile.

An angler makes a spey cast on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile.

I have always loved contrasty images. When done correctly, they engage the viewer and hold our attention within the frame.

Lately, there seems to be a trend with bringing detail into every part of the image with HDR or other adjustments in post. Honestly, I love the fact that we can express our vision in so many ways through photography. I’m not at all opposed to HDR, or this growing trend–even if I don’t subscribe to it myself.

I do feel strongly, however, that the inclusion of highlights and shadows as a compositional element is all but a lost art. It’s amazing how much Mother Nature does for us if we just let her. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this as well, as I am a huge fan of being able to bring out shadowed foregrounds with the use of Grad ND filters.

Images like this of an angler on the Rio Grande (Tierra del Fuego, Chile) take on an entirely different feel when we give in to the big bad black.I did this before in Amsterdam.I took a really nice shot with the river from my amsterdam apartments and gave it the big bad black. It is less about an activity, or even a place, and more about a graphic. It’s an oversimplification, and I truly believe that in many images, less is absolutely more.

So resist that urge to recover the shadows. Study your frame and decide what’s of greatest importance. Try letting go of that perfectly balanced exposure. By giving that up, you just might create an image that’s markedly different and better than what you’ve trained yourself to capture.

The Tug is the Drug

Angler Oliver White flyfishing for sharks on South Andros Island, Bahamas.

Angler Oliver White flyfishing for sharks on South Andros Island, Bahamas.

“The tug is the drug”.

This is a common saying amongst flyfishers, and one that rings true if you’ve ever had a good bend in the rod. Here, pro angler Oliver White sets the hook like a champ against a 6-ft lemon shark in the waters of South Andros, Bahamas.

Sometimes, when capturing a sport or activity, we forget that it’s often the more intimate moments that really hit home with viewers. It may not be the prettiest or most impressive scene, but it is something that demonstrates your understanding of what really means something to the audience with which you are trying to connect.

Despite the exclusion of the bigger picture, sometimes these intimate pieces engage the viewer much more immediately and require them to explore what is actually occurring. Once discovered, there’s a sub-conscious recognition, and immediate connection.

Strive to diversify the way you capture whatever it is that you capture. Challenge yourself to tell the story in a different way. Step out of that comfortable box and try exploring a different part of the scene. It may feel a bit funny at first, but I promise you will grow as a photographer because of it!

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.

Are you creating teasers or pleasers with your landscapes?

Sunset image with storm light in Lake Powell, UT

Are your landscape images teasers or pleasers? I ask this question of my workshop students all the time, as it really requires us to think about HOW we construct an image, and ultimately what kind of viewing experience results.

Think of each image as a visual journey. Just simply associating your image with a journey implies that there is a destination at which the viewer will arrive. Does this destination live up to the journey?

Take this image for example. Photographed during a particularly dramatic evening in Lake Powell, I was ecstatic when the storm clouds parted on the horizon and allowed for several minutes of intense gap light.

This visual journey begins in the lower right hand corner of the frame, winding up and through the image, finally arriving at the climactic “destination” of intense light on the sandstone butte above.

Think about the visual journey in each of your landscape images, and you’ll be creating pleasers, and forgetting the teasers.

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.

Long Lens Morning: Cascade Peak & Middle Provo River

Winter image of Cascade Peak and Middle Provo River by AdamBarkerPhotography

Banger morning. Middle Provo River. Cascade Peak.

The quick and dirty:
Perfect comp for a long lens shot with engaging elements from front to back of the frame. Think of your photographic frame in three-dimensional terms as a loaf of bread. Long lenses squish that loaf of bread, putting the back slice right up against the front slice. Additionally, this was shot at exactly 90 degrees to the sun, allowing me to utilize the Singh-Ray Filters LB warming polarizing filter to the fullest, deepening the sky, and giving the snowy peaks extra pop.

The What/When/Why/How: Questions 2/3

I recently answered several interview questions for a photography student and one of their projects. Thought it might interest some of you readers out there. I’ll post several of these questions/answers in coming weeks. See question #1 here.

2. How long did it take before you were able to fully support yourself through photography? What did you do in the meantime?

    I studied PR in college, and worked in PR capacities in the ski industry for about five years after college. During that time, I established my photography business. I obtained a business license and began learning the business side of photography. I worked on my photography business every second I wasn’t working on my PR job. I traveled for my day job to major cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Vancouver and elsewhere. I took my camera with me everywhere—woke up early and stayed out late shooting, while my PR appointments and duties took up the working day hours.

    I had my “side business” for about two to three years before finally taking the leap and committing to photography full time for my living. It’s been just under three years, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I love waking up and knowing there’s no limit to what I might accomplish on any given day. It comes with its pitfalls as well, but there’s nothing better than working for yourself.

    3. How much time to you spend on marketing and promotion versus shooting?

    This really depends on the week/season, but generally, it’s probably 65/35 (marketing/shooting). I’ve always said the hardest part of running a photography business is, in fact, running a photography business. This requires an understanding of when to shoot, and when to sit in your chair and get on the email, social media, phone calls, self promo and everything else that contributes to a successful business. Some photographers kid themselves into thinking that a skilled trigger finger will be their golden ticket to success. Shooting A+ images might make you a skilled photographer, but it won’t necessarily make you a successful business person.

    ABP Showcase Slideshow: Environmental Active Lifestyle Imagery

    I had a blast at the recent PDN Outdoor Photo Expo here in Salt Lake City. It was fantastic to attend seminars by many other talented photographers, and I had a great turnout to my presentation as well. For all those who couldn’t make it, I’ve included my feature slideshow below. The focus of my seminar was on the fusion of scenic landscape and active lifestyle imagery. Hint: Get the HD uploading, take a lunch/snooze/whatever break, and enjoy the show when you get back!

    Best Photog Watch Ever???

    As a landscape and active lifestyle photographer, I spend as much time looking at sunrise/sunset times as a wall street junkie spends checking the DOW. It dictates when, where and how I shoot. It is one of the single most useful and vital pieces of information to getting my job done, and getting it done well. If I could, I would hotwire my brain to the big eye in the sky and I would just know when that sun would rise and set each day. That would be too easy…

    Nearly just as easy, however, would be having that information on your wrist each and every day. Enter the Suunto Core Extreme Edition Everest. With over 400 pre-programmed locations worldwide for determining sunrise/sunset times every day of the year, it is certainly one of the handiest tools I’ve discovered out there for making good on the cliche of being at the right place at the right time. Sure you can look up the same info on your phone, iPad or any number of other devices, but I am all about simplifying and minimizing. The easier it is, the more useful it will be. And how often do we find ourselves wondering this info where phone service and/or wi-fi is nowhere to be found?  If you’re serious about getting serious images, check out this watch. There’s a host of other features you’ll find useful as well (altimeter/barometer, compass, storm alarm, depth meter, etc.), and the extra super bonus feature? It looks rad. ‘Nuff said.

    Flyfishing Imagery: Best of 2010

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