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!

    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.

    Photography: Subjective by Nature

    Sunset light in the high country at Devil's Castle, Alta Ski Area, UT

    Sunset light in the high country at Devil's Castle, Alta Ski Area, UT

    It’s late, and I’ve got photography on the brain (what’s new). So hold on for what’s sure to be a semi-coherent rambling on a topic that has been covered by countless photographers the world over.

    I posted this image on a well known photography forum the other day. I regularly try to post on several forums to both participate in photo-centric communities (online) and drive a bit of traffic to my website as well. It’s a great opportunity to see good, and sometimes great work, as well as get a feel from the photo public out there as to what they think of my work. In the end, there’s a lot of back patting, ego padding, armchair quarterbacking, pixel peeping and the occasional solid critique with well thought out criticisms and compliments. It must all be taken with a grain of salt, and, depending on who you are, it may have more effect on some than others, as to what they think of their work, and how they approach new imagery in the future.

    Which brings me to a question that every photographer asks themselves over and over throughout the course of their career. Do I care what others think of my work??? To say no would be a bold faced lie. To give an outright “yes” would be misleading. My answer? Yes. Sometimes. Kind of. It depends. Perfectly clear, right???

    Let me preface the rest of these thoughts by saying this–no matter where you are in your career and how accomplished you are with your imagery, I think you can ALWAYS benefit from critique. Whether it be positive or negative, it is always well worth it to hear what others think of your work. What you do with that critique really depends on who is giving it. Do I care what the amateur photographer thinks of the work I just submitted to “X” magazine? Probably not. Do I care what the editor of that magazine thinks? You’d better believe it.

    Do I care what the editor of “X” magazine thinks of the fine art/scenic work I just did? Maybe. Do I care what the amateur photographer enthusiast with a penchant for photo workshops thinks? Yes I do. Do I care what the editor of “X” magazine and the amateur photographer enthusiast think about the edgy personal work I just did? Actually, yes. Because in the end, everything I put out there reflects my ability to perform behind the lens. It is a reflection of me. My brand. We all have a brand, whether you understand it or not.

    The key is this: while I care what others think, I will never, NEVER be able to please everyone. And neither will you. And that’s just how it works. Once you have found your personal style and have become comfortable with that, the criticism will sting less and the truly worthy critiques will shine through. It’s important to give ample attention to what others think of your work. It’s even more important to understand when your personal and creative vision trumps the mainstream minds of…the mainstream.

    Care what others think. You have to care to some degree to see success in this business. But we all know that the path most traveled is worn for a reason. There are times when you must leave the comfort of the well trodden path, buck the unfounded criticisms and venture off into your own photo-topia of sorts. I can remember the first portfolio review I ever received. I took my work to one of my professors (I didn’t study photography in college) who was a former photojournalist. I got ripped apart. Torn to shreds. Can’t recall one positive thing said about my work at that time. And I am now so grateful for an honest eye. I cared then, and I care now. But the extent to which I let the critique of others direct my work has changed to some degree. I know what I want, and I know where it will take me. I know my style, and I know what I want to convey when I shoot an image. This will always serve as my internal creative compass. Let’s hope it points me in the right direction!