How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep Moving

How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep Moving

Dead Horse Point State Park, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingDead Horse Point, Utah  #57759

Sometimes giving your photographic creativity a boost can be achieved by implementing simple, but often overlooked, techniques. In this post we’ll explore one of these extremely simple tips, looking around, or scouting.

Just about every time I’m out photographing at a popular or iconic location I see something that never fails to bewilder me. That is, photographers appearing to be locked into a predetermined spot. Time and again I will watch them arrive at a scene and move directly to one spot. They will then set up their tripod in the chosen position and will not move an inch until the sun has set, or risen, depending on the occasion.

One of the many instances where I recently observed this behavior was at Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. This small park is famous for its magnificent views overlooking the Colorado River as it winds its way though canyons and cliffs. Basically the viewpoint is a peninsula of rock with distinctly views in three different directions. This park has endless possibilities for compositions all along the rim of the plateau.

During this visit I watched other photographers stake out their chosen spot and settle in for the duration. Over the course of the next hour or two none of them raised or lowered their tripod, moved left or right, switch from horizontal to vertical, or even bothered to change lens in an attempt for an alternative composition. Most of them, for the entire time, just stood there like a statue and stared ahead. Now of course this is all just my opinion, but if you are a photographer traveling many miles, using precious vacation time and funds, I would think you that would want to maximize your chances of success by scouting out the entire area. This is especially true when you are fortunate enough to get some truly dramatic lighting.

Dead Horse Point State Park, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingDead Horse Point, Utah  #57754

My usual modus operandi is to try and arrive in advance of my intended  photography session. That way I can scout around for the best compositions. Often at places like Dead Horse Point there are several options available. I like to prioritize them, moving from one composition to another as the light changes. In addition, I also like switch between vertical and horizontal formats, shoot low to the ground, and of course alternate different focal length lenses.

Above all, I don’t leave until it is very obvious that the light is gone. Many times other photographers will pack up and go as soon as the sun is set. Bad idea, often the best light occurs an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset. It is during these periods that you can photograph beautiful glowing tones and well balanced light! Not to mention the wind is also much calmer then. But that is a topic for another post.

Of course there are caveats that you will need to take into consideration. First of all is safety. If moving around for a better composition means edging off a cliff or standing on slippery rocks or in surf, you’re better off passing it up. Secondly, you may be in a situation where the spot is so small or there are so many other photographers that you can’t move around! Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, or Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park comes to mind.

Photographers at Bass Harbor, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingPhotographers at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse on a quiet day #59012

Here’s another very important consideration to keep in mind when scouting compositions. Don’t trample delicate vegetation, soils, or rock formations just to get that trophy photo! In many locations there are signs and sometimes fences or other barriers. Usually they are set in place to protect fragile environments. Please, please, please, don’t be that jerk that everyone hates who ignores signs and causes irreparable damage! Always follow the rule of Leave No Trace. Visible in the photo below is the erosion damage which thoughtless photographers have inflicted while trying to get a better shot.

Trail repair sign at Picture Lake, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingMount Shuksan, North Cascades #54384

So here are are my tips for today:

  1. Arrive early for scouting. A day ahead of time is ideal for complex locations.
  2. Explore the entire area. There may be an entirely different view or better compositions just beyond site of the initial main attraction.
  3. Be mindful of safety hazards and fragile environments.
  4. Have your shooting plan ready and arrive with plenty of time to evaluate the light.
  5. Prioritize your compositions and be flexible, be ready to abandon a spot if another is looking more attractive.
  6. One spot may look better in certain light. A lower sun angle may reveal composition enhancing patterns. Or a ray of light may fall on a special rock or tree.
  7. Get higher up or low down, don’t be afraid to get in a prone position.
  8. Change up formats, vertical may work better the horizontal.
  9. Keep working until the light is exhausted.


If you work all of these tips into your regular location workflow, I can guarantee that you will not only come back with much better images but with a greater diversity of them to boot!

Would you like to learn more on how to make better photographs? Contact me to set up a private instruction session for you and your friends!

Dead Horse Point State Park, How To Boost Your Creativity | Keep MovingDead Horse Point, Utah  #40240






How to Boost Your Creativity Back to the Basics

How to Boost Your Creativity Back to the Basics

Purcell Mountain Storm Clouds, British Columbia  #25556r

How to Boost Your Creativity  Back to the Basics :  You hear it all the time in every field, from sports to science and everything in between. When you’re having difficulty working something out or getting more creative it always helps to start fresh and get back to the basics.

One of the first assignments I had way back in my days of art school was to go out and create images with only one lens on the camera, a 50mm focal length often called a normal lens. In addition the camera was to be set only on manual. Back then it wasn’t difficult to do since I only had one lens and my Nikkormat 35mm camera was manual only.

The point of this assignment was of course to learn the basics of exposure by adjusting shutter speeds and f-stops on your own and not relying on technology to do the thinking for you. Limiting your choice of lens to only a 50mm also forced you to visualize your subject matter and compose more carefully.

Try this, find a small object, a flower, trinket, door knob, whatever, set it up on a table and try photographing it with a normal lens, no filters or special lighting techniques allowed, just room or daylight. See if you can photograph it in a way that brings out an interesting aspect of the object. I  once worked with a woman who photographed through the bottom of drink glasses, a pretty dull subject matter that she brought to life in a very creative way. I’ll always remember those beautiful colors and patterns.

In my art school drawing class we once had a pile of randomly arranged chairs which we had to draw over and over again for what seemed like forever. The point was to see shapes and patterns of interest in a seemingly mundane object, not a lesson we enjoyed but effective nonetheless.

During my years working with large format view cameras these and other lessons paid off and further honed my skills. View cameras are basically just large boxes with a lens on one end and they have no form of auto exposure or auto focusing. In addition each sheet of film can be very costly both in itself and with processing, the result being a very much forced slowdown in methodology which sharpened my way of seeing more carefully.

Today with digital cameras sporting multiple exposure and autofocus modes, gps, and setup with a zoom lens it’s hard not to just jump in and let the camera do all the creative work for you. However if you want to be more creative turn off all those whistles and bells and put yourself in the driver’s seat for a change.

Another basic way to learn to see more creatively is to work in black and white. Monochrome photography strips the image down to the most basic of elements and forces the viewer to see the subject in a more pure state. Take a look at your photos and do a quick conversion to black and white, you may notice that some images are pretty dull and lifeless when you strip out the color. You may also see flaws in the composition that aren’t as apparent with color distracting them.

Now this isn’t to say that monochrome is superior to color photography or vise versa, it’s just another way of seeing and a powerful tool creative every photographer can benefit from.

Of course boosting your creativity by getting back to the basics can be extended to post processing the film or digital files but that’s a big topic for another post.


How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the Past

Imnaha Canyon Oregon How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the PastImnaha Canyon Oregon #45023

How to Boost Your Creativity Learn From the Past  Here’s another easy way to boost your creativity, study artists and photographers from previous generations. You can do this by visiting museums art galleries and book stores that specialize in art and rare editions.

A few years ago I made my first trip to the California coast and while photographing Big Sur I made a point of spending some time in Carmel, the epicenter of early twentieth century landscape photography and home to Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. I wanted to check out the galleries there to see original prints up close by many of the true masters. Both the Weston Gallery and Photography West Gallery displayed numerous prints of both classic well known images and many I’ve never seen before. I came away from there truly moved and inspired to go further in my own work.

In the over 150 years of photography there has been an enormous wealth of creativity that can offer lessons and inspire even the most jaded photographer. Of course everyone in landscape and nature photography knows Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, but how many know of Wynn Bullock, Minor White, Morley Baer, Don Worth and a host of others?

And what about photographers outside of the landscape genre? Does anyone remember Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Frank, Walker Evens and more? Does anyone also remember Alfred Stieglitz, the one man who did more than any other to elevate photography as an artistic medium equal to painting and sculpture?

These are just a few of the many who made their mark in photography, whose images have stood the test of time and continue to inspire and move viewers generations later. If you are truly serious about your photography and you desire to move beyond clichéd images then check out some of the names I mentioned here. You’ll soon realize that they are just the very tip of the iceberg, and that there are many newcomers to the field still pushing the boundaries of creativity. Have fun and enjoy the trip!


How to Boost Your Creativity; Tip Two

Lake Crescent Olympic National ParkLake Crescent Olympic National Park #53926

How to Boost Your Creativity; Tip Two

In my last post of How to Boost Your Creativity I spoke of photo sharing websites, this post I’m going to talk a little about stepping outside of your comfort zone. Once again I’m addressing primarily landscape and nature photographers, although these tips will work for anyone in a creative rut.

Today’s tip is probably the most important in helping you boost your creativity, it’s also one of the easiest to do and nearly guaranteed to bring quick results, or at least get you thinking a little different.

Tip #2: Look Beyond Your Genre If you limit your online and print media exposure to magazines like Landscape Photography Outdoor Photography Nature’s Best and such you’re going to end up with a severely myopic view of the natural world and what it should look like, and consequently you won’t experience much creative growth.

To truly get inspired to create something new you must look beyond the cozy cocooned genre of landscapes and nature.

My first suggestion is to look to the commercial photography field for a change in scenery. For quite a long time commercial assignment photography was looked on as a dull unimaginative field where photographers only recorded on film what the art director and or ad agency dictated to them. Over the years commercial photography has grown in leaps and bounds creatively and many photographers have blurred the line between commercial and true fine art. One example is my current favorite photographer, Colin Homes. His excellent work has earned him a thriving business in both the fine art market and commercial photography.

One of my longtime favorites for creative inspiration is Communication Arts. CA has an extensive website with resources for illustrators photographers and designers and publish lavishly produced annuals for these and other fields in the commercial genre. If you enroll for a subscription make sure it includes the printed versions of the annuals. The photography side of CA often shows a surprising number of photographers that are nearly unknown in the landscape photo sharing circles that create astonishingly fresh images.

Another source I like to check out on a regular basis is A Photo Editor (APE). This site, built by Rob Haggart a former photo editor for several large magazines, showcases some of the more creative photographers working in both commercial assignment and fine art fields. Another aspect of this site I love is the regular sidebar feature of promotional mailers sent to Rob for review, lots of good stuff there.

While up to this point I focused on sources for inspiration in the commercial side of photography, it is also important to look to other segments such as editorial and traditional fine art. If you are strictly creating in color it would be a sore mistake to ignore what’s going on in the black and white world. Successful monochrome images utilize a different way of seeing that may not be apparent to those working in color, and some of those techniques are easily transferable.

A few more sources I like that may help I’ve you a creative boost are Photographer’s Forum Magazine and LENSCRATCH, the later of which will most definitely challenge your way of seeing the world. There are many more sources than those mentioned in this post in which you can check out with a little searching.

So in conclusion if you want to boost your creativity try and look to different genres for inspiration! See you next time.



Using a Reverse Gradual Neutral Density Filter

Larrabee State Park 47212

Last week I was out shooting in evening light at Larrabee State Park near my home in Bellingham. Along with me on this trip was Michael Russell who was new to this location. As we were setting up some photos I mentioned to him that this is a great example of when to use a reverse gradual neutral density filter instead of a standard grad. Since he had never used one I thought there may be others out there who could benefit from a little explanation as to why this filter should have a place in every nature photographer’s location kit.
First off I am a firm believer that it is much better to use GND filters in the field than to replicate their effect later digitally. Get your exposure right when shooting and you’ll have less work correcting it later. In extreme instances it may be impossible to digitally correct for contrast in a bright sky and dark foreground. Of course you can resort to bracketing and HDR or merging exposures, but again why not try for a perfect exposure in the first place?
Reverse Grads come in handy anytime there is an area that needs to be toned down that is bordered by mid or dark tones. An especially good example is when shooting near or in the direction of the sun. In that situation where you need the filter the most is in the middle along that bright band on the horizon. Further up in the sky you will will not require as much filtration. With a reverse grad you can put that density exactly where you need it and avoid the rest of the sky from going too dark.

Larrabee State Park 47178

In the image above made last week at Larrabee you can see how this plays out. Here I used a two stop reverse grad, I also have a three stop reverse grad but it rendered the top half too dark. With the two stop the highlights were still a little brighter then I hoped but were well within range of correction. Without a filter the highlights all along the horizon would’ve been completely clipped, leaving no pixels at all to work with.

Above is a two stop soft grad on the left and a two stop reverse grad on the right.
As with all GND filters it pays to buy the best, they’re definitely not cheap but are a great investment in the future of your photography. I use Singh Ray for all of mine. You’ve already invested thousands of dollars in those great lenses, why would you put an inferior filter in front of it?
Would you like to learn more about this and other location techniques? Join me on one of my workshops or photo tours!
Click here to see more of my images from Larrabee State Park.

Utilizing Light Throughout The Day

Glen Canyon Badlands 38085

Many landscape photographers will tell you that good photos are made only during the sweet light hours surrounding sunrise and sunset and dismiss any mid-day photography as folly. While it is true these times of day can yield outstanding images you also must be aware that good images can be made at any time of day under just about any lighting conditions. A good photographer will always be on the lookout for elements that come together to make a photo and keep an open mind to possibilities that might not yet present themselves.

The image here is a good example. I had just finished camping out at Ahlstrom Point in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area photographing Lake Powell. On the way in I noticed this interesting area and on stopping I found several nice compositions that depicted the harsh nature of these badlands. However the sun was high with no clouds and drab washed out light, definitely a good candidate for morning or evening photos instead. On my way out a few days later I remembered this spot and hoped to get a few photos from there, but I was disappointed that I would arrive in late morning, too late to get anything good. However as I neared the badlands I noticed an interesting cloud formation that I felt could add to the composition and became excited. Sure enough the cloud added exactly what was needed and I came away with several nice images. Back at the office as editing proceeded these photos seemed to still lack a certain element but I went ahead and processed and archived them as normal. It wasn’t until today, nearly two years later that I took another look and saw what was needed, a black and white conversion with a little aggressive contrast and burning and dodging.

This is but one example, there are so many things that can occur during the course of a day that can change a bland poorly lit landscape image into something unusual and visually striking. All you need to do is keep an open mind and two open eyes!


Seizing the moment

Mount Shuksan

Before heading back up to the Mount Baker/Mount Shuksan area today I wanted to share an image from the portfolio of my recent trip. Yes, this is Shuksan again. It’s hard to get enough photos of it since there are so many great perspectives of it in both winter and summer.

This photo was made in early afternoon while scouting for compositions for the morning and evening light. On the way up I noticed these graceful patterns of sastrugi and knew that they’d make a great compositional element. I definitely wanted to utilize them for evening light when the snows glow with warm light. As I was visualizing the possibilities the sun started breaking through the clouds and throwing a soft light on the scene, the sign to go to work. The light lasted for around fifteen minutes allowing me to make around a dozen pleasing images. I was very glad I didn’t pass up this chance since the evening light I hoped for did not appear during my stay.

The lesson here is if you see an opportunity to make a photo don’t pass it up thinking you’ll come back to it later, you may not have the chance. On my trip back there today I’m sure the wind and snow will have sculpted an entirely new scene for me. Check out the rest of the photos from tis trip here.


Bringing New Life To Old Photos

Zion Canyon Narrows

One thing I’ve come to enjoy about Google+ and other Social Media sites is how they’ve gotten me to think more about making and remaking images. There are so many wonderful photographers out there with wildly diverse styles that they inspire me to take my photos to a higher level. This weekend I spent considerable time going back to a group of Zion photos I made in the first year of using a digital camera. There were many favorites there that seemed like they could use some improvement now that my digital skills have matured somewhat. Upon opening the DNG files I saw all kinds of errors that could easily be corrected, so I went to work, throwing out all my previous settings and starting from scratch. The resulting final Tiffs had a fresh more realistic look and it was like coming home from location with a new batch of images.

One of the mistakes I made back then, and one common to most photographers, was ignoring the histogram both in the camera and in Camera Raw and Photoshop. Without knowing it I allowed the dark and light areas to go off the scale from poor exposure, and excessive post-processing contrast and over-saturation. Fortunately for me I always shoot Raw and then convert to DNG files when processing back home in the office. The DNG files are then archived and backed up separately from working and final Tiffs. This way I can always go back and view the original file as it came directly from the camera, then make some basic adjustments such as white balance, exposure, and saturation before working on a final Tiff file. When working on the final file it is then usually just a matter of tweaking levels and curves and adding some basic burning and dodging.

Now I’m definitely far from being an expert on post-processing techniques, but like just about everything in life it’s a long learning process that is constantly changing as technology advances. What matters is to learn from mistakes and don’t dismiss images based on your current knowledge and style. It could be months or years down the road when you come across an old file and suddenly see it in a new light.

Zion Canyon Narrows

Winter Photography Tips and Tricks/ Part Two

Trophy Mountains British Columbia

Making great photographs in winter is all about planning and timing, especially if you’re photographing landscapes. As I outlined in my previous post winter photography presents some unique challenges to the photographer, but if you can get past them a whole new world rich with rewards will be open to you. Few experiences can match getting out of your tent at dawn after a storm has cleared to photograph a trackless pristine winter scene in perfect light.
In winter the sun of course is in a lower latitude and for the photographer that means more opportunities for golden light and side lighting, and since the days are shorter there’s a lot less down time and waiting around in the cold for the light. The golden hour lasts longer in the morning and starts earlier in the afternoon. Even in late morning and early afternoon the angle of the sun can present good photographic opportunities. As a bonus you don’t need to get up as early in the morning, but if you’re camping out you’re in for nearly fourteen hours of reading and sleeping in the tent. On the flip side of this you’ll have less time to get in position and some locations may require an overnight trip because of the shorter days. Many backcountry skiers don’t start their season until March or April to take advantage of longer days but be aware the light then will be different and you’ll be faced with possibly more challenging weather.

Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park

Ideally you’ll want to get on location as a storm cycle concludes, leaving the landscape covered in fresh snow, with the remnant clouds bathed in glowing morning or evening (more like late afternoon in winter) light. To do this your first challenge is to become an amateur meteorologist, although most photographers already have a good grasp of weather patterns. In winter you should track weather patterns and trends for your desired destination for several weeks in advance, and daily a week before your trip, especially if you are new to the location. Observe storm patterns and satellite images on weather sites, watch the direction they come in where and how long they usually stall and the temperature fluctuations before during and after a storm. Also look at the bigger picture and find out the seasonal patterns of weather. Let’s take a look at why this is important.

Table Mountain North Cascades

Here in the Pacific Northwest the storms come in and dump huge quantities of heavy wet snow in the mountains and temperatures can change the snow to rain in an instant. This is especially true in November and December, the stormiest months of the year. However January and February have cooler more consistent temperatures with more calm periods between storms, making it a better time to visit locations such as Mount Rainier or Mount Baker. In March the storms ramp up again with more variable temps.

Snow Encased Trees Manning Provincial Park B.C.

If however you are planning a photography trip to the Rocky Mountain states or the Canadian Rockies you’ll encounter a completely different scenario. The big difference is temperature, this far inland it’s is much colder and dryer. That means that the snowfall amounts will be a lot less, even in major storms, and even more importantly the snow will be dryer and less likely to accumulate on trees. So your window of opportunity to photograph that fresh snowfall much smaller. I’ve been in the Canadian Rockies after a storm only to see the dry snow being blown off the trees and exposed slopes by the wind in minutes. While in the North Cascades the snow encased trees can last for days after a storm.

Abraham Lake, Alberta

In the Rockies the cold dry conditions are a great benefit for photographing other winter subjects, such as ice. The consistently colder temperatures freezes waterfalls lakes and rivers, something that is quite rare in the coastal ranges. As shown in the photo of Abraham Lake in Alberta the cold windy conditions create a whole new range of subject matter. So make sure you educate yourself to the various conditions in different areas, it’ll help get you there at the right time and decide where to go for different subject matter, not to mention when it’s time to high tail it out to the safety of a motel.
Another challenge of winter photography is getting to your subject safely. Obviously that well groomed summer trail to your favorite mountain vista will be under several feet of snow in the winter, leaving it up to you to find the route. Even in good weather that route will look much different. I’ve been up to Artist Point by Mount Baker dozens of times in winter and summer and it always amazes me how unfamiliar the route looks in winter. Check in with park rangers for special winter routes and advice or go online to local winter recreation forums for advice. For example, getting around the Paradise area at Mount Rainier has different winter routes specified due to safety considerations, this and more in depth info is available at the visitors center.

Mount Rainier

Here is where I’ll get into trouble with many readers. I firmly believe that you must educate yourself in map reading and route finding skills and not rely on GPS cell phones and other electronic gadgets. In winter especially you must develop a new set of skills and common sense to get around safely. It is unbelievably easy for things to go wrong in winter, simply dropping a device in the snow directly in front of you in a white out can mean disaster. On an assignment for Backpacker Magazine years ago a member of our group dropped his watch in the snow and never found it, and years later I once spent a half hour trying to locate a detached ski in deep snow two feet from where I fell! So go ahead and use your GPS but please also use your head and develop the skills to get you out on your own!
This brings me to the most important safety consideration while photographing in the mountains in winter, avalanches. Never ever travel alone in any area that is is susceptible to avalanches! If you are caught in even a small slide your chances for getting out alive are very slim. Visit your local outdoor recreation store to get books on avalanche awareness and safe winter travel, most likely they will also offer avalanche safety courses or direct you to someone who does. A good short course will educate you sufficiently and you’ll have fun and probably meet some future travel partners.

Backcountry Skier on Table Mountain

Here’s a link to perhaps the best course you’ll find, Wells Gray Adventures. I took this affordable course with a friend and it was a blast, not only was it educational but we got to spend two nights in a backcountry hut in the Trophy Mountains of B.C.. I came back with lots of great photos and a thorough knowledge of avalanche safety.
Want to learn more about winter photography? Join me in the field at Heather Meadows Recreation Area adjacent to the Mount Baker Ski Area for my one day Winter Photography Workshops. Three dates are available, January 14, 28 and February 11 2012.
Helpful links:

Light show in the Painted Hills of Oregon/ a lesson in patience

Painted Hills 6:30 p.m.

Last month during my Photo Tour of Oregon I made a point of stopping for a few days in the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This very small remote area has been a popular attraction to photographers for many years due to it’s colorful layers and abstract patterns in the sediments making up the hills. Unlike similar features in the Southwest which are lit up almost daily with fabulous light a photographer visiting the Painted Hills can be in for a long wait to get the right light.

Painted Hills 6:35 p.m.

On this trip I was very fortunate even though forecasts called for rain and showers all week long. Coming from Bend Oregon the sky was not very promising with heavy clouds most of the way. However upon arriving at the Hills conditions improved and I was treated to a sky filled with puffy clouds and very clean air, a brief interlude between storms. As usual I spent the day re-scouting the best locations and settled in for the wait until evening. The same cloud pattern continued into evening photographing became a joy. Then the sky started packing in and a look to the horizon showed that the sun would soon be disappearing behind a heavy cloud bank, just as the light was about to get dramatic. There were only a couple other photographers there and they decided the show was over and indeed it did look that way. I was bummed too but waited anyway. Within ten minutes the sun found a hole in the clouds and the light show really started an despite threatening to end any second it continued until well aster the sun went down, long after everyone else gave up.

Painted Hills 7:50 p.m.

So the lesson here is it’ not over ’til it’s over. If you set aside precious time and money to photograph at your special location you had better be patient and be prepared for when the light surprises you. It’s a sinking feeling to be driving away or be back in camp and look up to see you that missed a great light show by not waiting a few more minutes. The next several days as promised brought constant overcast with rain and snow showers.
Painted Hills 8:05 p.m.

Painted Hills 8:10 p.m.

Painted Hills 8:20 p.m.