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…

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.

Pictureline Presentation Aug. 23

I’m very pleased to announce a special evening at my favorite camera store, Pictureline–coming up in late August. I’ll be discussing one of the biggest challenges we face as photographers–creative composition. Check the link below for details and to sign up for the seminar. My last two presentations at Pictureline have filled up quickly. Get your seat now!

http://www.pictureline.com/events/conquer-composition-adam-barker-seminar.html

Pre-visualization in Ski Photography

With snow totals thus far this winter far below normal, my portfolio of fresh work has been looking a bit meager. Nearly 50″ of fluff fell from the sky last week, which means it was a busy one for yours truly. It felt good to finally get out and get some work done. One of the challenges, however, remains in the high avalanche danger that exists in the backcountry. This means we’ve been doing a lot of shooting in resort. Couple this with the lack of light during the stormy days, and it makes for some challenging obstacles in capturing unique and fresh imagery. Essentially, as a photog in these conditions, you must address two things: unless you have pre-public access to freshies in resort, you must deal with all the tracked out snow in the foreground and background of your image. Secondly, in greybird conditions, you must add contrast to the scene, which means most often that you’re shooting in the trees.

Pre-visualization, or the ability to “see” the shot before it actually takes places, is crucial to finding success in these conditions. Not only will it help you do what you need to do from a technical standpoint, but it will also help you in communicating with the athlete to make sure that all the variables line up to get a keeper image. Read on for a behind the scenes look at a particular powder sequence shot through the trees of Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort.

The first step is finding an alley in the trees. Most often, you see something from above the shot and then ski down to the side (making sure not to track out your shooting frame) where you can then get underneath and find a legit angle on the action.

The first photo you see here is essentially the first thing I see when settling on a spot from which to shoot. It’s a decent alley with adequate contrast and spacing for the skier. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do–especially if photog and athlete can combine to make the magic happen. At this point, I’m trying to envision a shot that will a) work within the space I’ve settled upon b) convey enough action to feel as though it’s part of a continuous line and c) work naturally and smoothly for the athlete.

Once I’ve settled upon a frame, I’ll envision a line and then pick out the points within that line that will shoot best. Choosing these select points of the line is crucial to both establishing your focusing zone (if utilizing AF) as well as communicating to the athlete where you hope to capture the climactic action. It’s important for them to know where “the shot” is as this will dictate how they ski the line and how they look (form-wise) throughout the line.

This second image displays the line envisioned, with several select points highlighted. As can be seen from the graphic, the skier was to enter skier’s left of the tree in the middle of the frame in a right -hand turn, transition to a left-hand turn and then skiing out of frame to skier’s left of the blurred tree in the LRH corner.

In my mind, the select points of the line most likely to render legit images were weighting in to the right-hand turn (#1), transitioning out of the right-hand turn (#2), weighting in to the left-hand turn (#3) and finally, skiing out of frame with contrail behind (#4).

Complicating things a bit further, I chose to prioritize the select points that would allow me to utilize the same focus zone(s) in my camera throughout the sequence while still allowing me to keep the general framework of the image intact (blurred trees in FG, etc.). These prioritized points were #1 and #4.

This was all communicated to athlete Parker Cook before shooting the a single frame. The line, as well as the select points were well understood. I chose my focus zones in my camera that would allow me to follow focus on the action, and still maintain the framework of the image (this is where previsualization is crucial).

The images below show the focus zones selected as they apply to the frames as they were being photographed (utilizing AI Servo on my Canon 1D MkIV).

Finally, the finished product below without the focus zones.

Were there other possibilities with this particular shot? Absolutely. I could have approached it in a way that filled the bottom part of the frame. But as a horizontal image, placing the action smack dab in the center of the frame nearly kills its chances of running as a double spread.

I could have chosen to pre-focus on just one spot, but I wanted to maximize my potential for keepers. There are plenty of times when I choose to go with one shot, rather than the potential for several, but this was not one of those times.

So what does this all illustrate?

1. Pre-visualization is key in both envisioning and capturing five-star imagery.

2. Pre-visualization is key in communicating your vision to the athlete, who plays an integral role in this whole process.

3. The more focus zones your camera has, the more latitude you have in framing up follow-focus shots like this. This image would have been much more difficult, if not impossible with a camera that only has 7 or 9 AF zones.

4. The more confident you are in your AF system, the more likely you are to utilize it, which opens up many more possibilities than simply pre-focusing.

Remember that this is all happening in a matter of seconds! Think it all through before-hand. The more you do this, the more intuitive it will all become. Good luck!

The Value of Vision

Image of William Atkin House at This is The Place Heritage State Park in Salt Lake City, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography

It’s so easy these days to reduce photography to nothing more than pressing a button on the latest camera, with the latest lens, packed in the latest backpack, etc. etc. etc. There’s no question that photography has much to do with equipment. It’s also true that generally speaking, better equipment will yield better results, assuming the photographer has the technical knowledge necessary to utilize the added features and from more advanced equipment. It is most true, however, that exceptional photographers rely on that which is in their head, and not in their hands to produce imagery that will rise above the clutter of mediocrity.

Which brings me to this image from this morning’s shoot in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t planned on shooting this house. I hadn’t really even planned on shooting at all to be honest. But I woke up and the skies looked promising and I needed to breathe some cold air. The skies certainly delivered, but I soon realized that my vision for the scene in front of me had nothing to do with vibrant, cheery color.

This home is a replica of one built in 1877 by a mormon settler named William Atkin. It was located eight miles south of St. George on a 160-acred farm that later became the one-family town of Atkinville.

A one-family town in the middle of nowhere–I’m sure they saw some beautiful sunrises, but I can also imagine the over-abundance of hardships encountered in such an endeavor as well. Lonely. Bleak. Cold. And thus was born this image, which has moderate resemblance to the original (below). I can tell you exactly how I did this, but I’d rather you simply study the image and answer that for yourself. It’s about externalizing the internal thought process at the time of capture, and relies more on cognitive decision-making when shooting the image than reactive experimentation on the computer after the fact.

What’s the point of all this babble? The point is this: if you have no personal investment or direction in the final result of what you hope to create when you click the shutter, there really is very little substantive story-telling to be showcased. Without a story, you have no audience.

It’s likely that I will embrace the in-camera version of this image at some point. After all, I am a sucker for colored up clouds, and it is a beautiful and serene scene. However, on this morning, this was my vision. Vision has value. It’s value is far greater than the latest and greatest doohickey that just hit the interwebz. Vision, or the lack thereof, is ultimately a very large factor in whether you will succeed or fail in your quest to produce exceptional imagery.

Snippet: AdamBarkerPhotography/Telluride Photo Festival 2011


Here’s a quick look inside (well, really, outside!) my workshop at the 2011 Telluride Photo Festival. As always, many thanks to my sponsors Mark Miller Subaru, Arc’teryx, Mountain Khakis, Singh Ray Filters, Manfrotto School of Xcellence and Clikelite Backpacks. Many thanks to my assistant Nate Sorensen for putting the video together!

Recap: Telluride Photo Festival

AdamBarkerPhotography image of Dusk at the Dallas Divide near Telluride, Colorado

I had the recent pleasure of participating in the Telluride Photo Festival. As its namesake implies, this festival is located in one of the premier locations for fall foliage in the Rocky Mountains. Telluride is hopelessly beautiful, rugged and even a bit remote. It’s a classic mountain town, with over the top log homes, deluxe lodges and a bustling main street with an eclectic array of galleries, eateries and boutiques.

AdamBarkerPhotography image of Telluride, Colorado in fall.

My focus throughout the week was threefold: teaching a  three-day workshop on capturing the complete outdoor image, attendee portfolio reviews, and a seminar on environmental active lifestyle imagery. All told, it was a busy week full of beautiful imagery, lots of laughs and new relationships forged with wonderful people. I was joined by my trusty assistant/sidekick, Nate Sorensen and we had a blast driving countless dirt roads through a winding maze of foliage, underbrush and cattle guards in search of inspiring locations for my workshop. The Mark Miller Subaru Outback was a rally machine! Minor note, however: the road tires that came with Suby are not meant for some of Colorado’s finer dirt road shred sessions.

AdamBarkerPhotography image of Mark Miller Subaru Outback at Dallas Divide near Telluride, Colorado

Located at the head of a deep box canyon, Telluride (elev. 8,750 ft.) is already a significant hop, skip and jump above sea level. That should give some indication as to how tall the surrounding peaks are. The San Juan mountain range makes up a healthy portion of those surrounding peaks, and they’ve long been a fall photography destination at the top of my list. They did not disappoint.

An AdamBarkerPhotography image of fall foliage in first light at the Dallas Divide near Telluride, Colorado

Huge, sprawling stands of aspen were peppered with yellow, orange and green splotches of color, only to stand in stark contrast against sky scraping peaks like Wilson Peak and Mt. Sneffels. Spending the whole week in the area, it was interesting to see nature’s subtle nuances as colors ebbed and flowed each day. It’s amazing how much an area can change overnight, and we were certainly witness to this in many of the classic drives in the area.

Photo of Adam Barker teaching a workshop at the Telluride Photo Festival

There are countless sunrise/sunset photo locations in the area, and we were fortunate to have gorgeous dawn skies at both the Dallas Divide and West Dallas Creek Road. Especially with clear skies and uninteresting weather, dawn/dusk are some of the best times to capture saturated, even colors with deep skies. The lack of direct light, and the glow emanating from the far horizon make for fantastically detailed landscapes that have a rich, subtle glow to them. It wasn’t uncommon to see most people show up to similar locations 20 minutes or so after we’d begun shooting. By that time, skies were pale, and we were preparing for first light.

AdamBarkerPhotography image of fall color at sunset at Lizard Head Pass during the Telluride Photo Festival

We were blessed with ominous clouds and killer color at Lizard Head Pass one evening for sunset. Low light and intermittent overcast skies made for fantastic directional lighting as well as soft, diffused indirect light. The greatest thing about fall is the way the landscape and color changes with different types of light. The workshop was a huge success, and my group of students was fantastic–always eager to learn and practice some of the new technique they’d learned with their Singh Ray Filters.

AdamBarkerPhotography image of Mark Miller Subaru Outback at Dallas Divide near Telluride, Colorado

Towards the end of the week, five straight days of 5 am wakeup calls had caught up to us. I took a breather from sunrise shoots and focused my efforts on portfolio reviews. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of work. It’s always an inspiration to see work from other photographers (whether aspiring or veteran) and it never fails to give me a new outlook on the world in which we live.

I wrapped up the week with a seminar on environmental active lifestyle imagery. Many thanks to my sponsors Arc’teryx, Clikelite Backpacks and Mountain Khakis for providing some schwag to share with the crowd. I can honestly say there are few places as majestic as Telluride. The photographic opportunities are endless, the people are kind-hearted and the Telluride Photo Festival proved a perfect forum for learning and photographic enrichment from some huge names in the business (Tim Kemple, Rob Haggart, Kristen Fortier (Men’s Journal), Mark Lesh (Skiing mag), Julia Vandenoever (Backpacker Mag) Tom Till and many, many more. Keep an eye out for next year’s lineup–should be a doozy!

Change–More than Just a Campaign Slogan

A man and woman on mountain bikes enjoy early morning light and fresh mountain air at Deer Valley Resort

This is an excerpt from the  February 2009 ABP In Focus Newsletter

It seems “change” is the word of the day. Every day. Whether it’s the historical inauguration of an African American president, or an anticipated drop in the mercury, change seems to be on people’s minds.
My mind, although quite stubborn and cluttered, has not been spared by this wave of change either. I have noticed a great change in the way fellow photographers speak of this industry that many of us fight for from the inside, or appreciate from the outside.
Put bluntly, photography is changing. Whereas skilled photographers used to be veritable needles in a creative haystack, they are now found at every family reunion, weekend wedding, and sporting event. The advent of digital imaging has made it easier than ever before to achieve levels of photography previously reserved for the studied and scholarly.
I welcome this change, and this influx of imagery with open arms. There are certainly pros and cons to the current state of the photography industry, but as a glass-half-full type of guy, I feel that creative boundaries, work ethic and marketing prowess are being pushed as never before. Competition breeds excellence, and true excellence is all that will stand out and survive.
I tip my hat to the photographers that have inspired me with their words and imagery. May the strong survive, and the weak get day jobs.

Recap: Bavaria Photo Workshop

Curious cows. Captured during an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I’ve been back from Germany now for a week or so, but it feels like just yesterday that I was dining on schnitzel and watching the sun rise and set over some of the more fantastic shooting locations I’ve experienced behind the lens. This workshop was conducted in cooperation with the Edelweiss Lodge & Resort, located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The facilities were great, and as a vacation resort catering solely to our United States Military service men and women (and spouses), it was a pleasure to be amongst so many that contribute on a daily basis to the freedom that we enjoy in this great country.

Photographer Adam Barker with student during Germany Photo Workshop p: Brad Hayes

Garmisch is quintessential storybook Germany. When you think of spending time in a classic German setting, you’re thinking of Garmisch-Partenkirchen–you just don’t realize it. Aesthetic church steeples, colorful window flowerboxes, quaint chalets with painted murals on the walls, cobblestone streets, beer steins served full to the brim with the best Bavarian brews, towering limestone peaks, lush green farm fields and rolling valleys, misty mornings, and yes–guys sporting their lederhosen loud and proud–it’s all there, and it’s all a part of every day life in this unique part of the world.

Endless shooting opportunities on an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Needless to say, there was no lack of photographic subject matter. If anything, there were times when it was all a bit overwhelming–difficult, even, to capture in multiple clicks of the shutter. I taught two 3-day workshops back to back (14 and 17 students respectively). Mother nature was here and there and…everywhere. The weather in Garmisch moves in and out quicker that you can imagine, and thus–we needed to be flexible with our schedule. The students were fantastic, all very open to changes in schedule and shooting location. I was fortunate to be paired up with Edelweiss Dir. of Marketing Brad Hays, a legit photographer in his own right. Brad has lived in the area for ten years, and was indispensable in helping me to become familiar with the locations and shooting options.

Workshop students at an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I quickly found that sunrise and sunset were a crapshoot on any given morning or evening. The weather was always in and out, which really, was much more desirable than clear blue skies each morning/evening. Many times we would arrive at a location, shrouded in dawn mist, only to be spat out of the clouds minutes later witnessing rose-colored peaks in the distance with rolling farm fields in the foreground. I discovered that the minutes and hours just after sunrise, and leading up to sunset were the most reliable for direct light. We did have one or two morning and evening shoots where the clouds just exploded with color, and it was a riot to see eager photographers scrambling every which way trying to capitalize on the gift from above.

Farmer's shed and Bavarian Alps at an AdamBarkerPhotography Photo Workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

The landscape was ideal for mid to long focal length shots. Wide angle images were just a bit tougher to come by as there wasn’t an overabundance of foreground objects to plant in the immediate in-your-face foreground. Curious cows, of course, were the rare exception, if you could persuade them to stand still! We worked extensively on finding dynamic compositions, and balancing the light that made for challenging exposures at times. It was the ideal setting to instruct everyone on how to use Singh Ray Filters to capture the scene as our eyes saw it. It’s always amazing to see the light bulb go on when students finally overcome the hurdles that have challenged them in their photography.

Students at an AdamBarkerPhotography photo workshop near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

All in all, and despite some particularly inclement weather for the second workshop, it was a fantastic experience (see attendee comments on the workshop below). I hope to return to Garmisch-Partenkirchen again some time–it looks to be a stunning photography location during the fall season! Are you interested in having a spectacular time learning how to take you photographic skills and creative vision to the next level? I’ve got domestic and international workshops/photo tours coming up this fall that are calling your name! Check out my workshop at the upcoming Telluride Photo Festival, or travel across the pond to the Far East with myself and M&M Photo Tours during our Southeast Asia photo tour.

Misty morning shoot near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany during an AdamBarkerPhotography Workshop

Bavaria Workshop Attendee Comments:

“Adam Barker is a fantastic instructor. So much energy and passion for photography. He was very patient with everyone
and a whole lot of fun to hang out with. I truly enjoyed this workshop and would attend another Adam Barker workshop if
you bring him back.”

“All I can say, it was an awesome workshop and will do it again if Adam comes back!”

“Let’s just say there was no bad memories. Garmisch, Adam Barker and Edelweiss Lodge & Resort. It was a win-win-win
situation…”

“The additional evening shoot that we did on Friday night was incredible. It really left me excited and inspired to get out
and really focus more on my photography. It was truly a fantastic workshop. Adam Barker was INCREDIBLE!”

Remember this?

That’s right–my instructional DVD on Capturing the Complete Outdoor Image is, you guessed, still available! Who would’ve thunk it? It’s also available as a digital download. I thought I’d post this recent email I just received from a satisfied viewer. Check it out for yourself–it’s an inexpensive workshop that you can take over and over again!

“Adam,

This is something I don’t generally do, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to create the DVD workshop you did. It is very inspirational for me and I there is some much that I learn from it each time I watch it. It is taking practice but I am starting to be able to use the gradient filters from Singh-Ray with some good results. Your photography has something very unique and special. I am also learning from watching about improving my composition and layout of my photographs. It was especially helpful in the video when you showed the overall landscape where you were shooting and then what you chose to shoot in the view finder.”

From Chris A.