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. 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.

Story Behind the Shot: Rio Serrano BW

Black and white landscape photo of Rio Serrano and Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia by Adam Barker Photography

Black and white landscape photo of Rio Serrano and Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia by Adam Barker Photography

I captured this image on the 10th day of a nearly 3-week run and gun mission through the wilds of Chilean Patagonia. The impetus for the trip was really fly fishing, but I knew I would be served numerous opportunities to shoot scenic imagery as well, especially in the famed Torres del Paine National Park.

By day number ten of waking up before the sun, motivation comes more in the form of a slow, sad drip than a flood of excitement and energy. I was tired (aren’t we all???), and as I set my alarm clock for yet another mind-numbing hour, I wondered if I was really going to rise and shine, or even rise at all. Throw in the fact that skies were socked in and the likelihood of morning light was minimal, and I was darn near comatose by the time my head hit the pillow.

4:30 am came way too early, and as I peered out my window, my fears (hopes???) were confirmed as the weather still looked to be less than ideal for a sunrise shoot. I was a mixed bag of fatigue-induced emotions, equal parts stoked to justify a few more hours of sleep as well as disappointed that my hopes for an epic sunrise were dashed. I lay back down–restless. Minutes ticked by…I couldn’t do it. I had to get up. No matter how I tried to justify, I could not…not shoot. Here I was in one of the most wildly beautiful places on earth, and damn it all if a few clouds and half-closed eyelids were going to hold me back…

I frantically threw on my clothes, grabbed my pack, turned on my headlamp and out the door I went.

As part of a larger group during the entirety of this trip, I did not have my own car, so I was relegated to shooting locations that were relatively easy to get to from where we were staying. As I walked hurriedly up the dirt road, the clouds began to clear a bit, and the ambient light began to grow brighter.

Let’s clarify something real quick here–dawn is a fantastic time to shoot landscape imagery. The light is soft and inviting. It is one of my favorite types of light to shoot. Dawn, however, is incredibly fleeting. It does not occur right before sunrise. Typically, dawn happens about 8-15 minutes before sunrise. These were the thoughts that were going through my head as I watched dawn grow closer…and closer. I quickly realized that I had myself in quite a conundrum…I was still a decent ways away from my pre-selected shooting spot.

So I did what any photographer would do when suffering from the immediate effects of FOMI (Fear Of Missing It–closely related to FOMIA [fear of missing it ALL]).I STARTED RUNNING. I’m not talking casual fast-paced walk here. I’m talking Usaine Bolt arm-pumping, foaming at the mouth, heart coming through my throat sprint with a fully loaded camera pack. My lungs felt like the inside of a crematorium–I promise you I was closer to respiratory failure than Joan Rivers is to her next facial procedure…

With no time to spare, I arrived at “the spot”. I threw my pack on the ground, wrestled my camera onto the tripod, inserted the cable release, grabbed a grad filter and clicked away like the crazed photographer that I was/am. Sunrise was a bit of a bust, but dawn was worth every minute on the pain train. Moral of the story? Don’t set your alarm if you don’t plan on getting up. And if you do plan on getting up, don’t go back to bed for 10 min before putting yourself through hell to capture the goods. Oh, and the real moral of the story??? Don’t give yourself a choice. ALWAYS get up and go. I’ve never regretted getting skunked behind the lens, but I certainly wouldn’t mind taking back all the times I buried my head in the pillow…

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.