Working Through Creative Slumps

Nature Photographers Network

My latest blog post at my favorite Photography website, Nature Photographers Network.

In a creative slump? Perhaps you’re experiencing some discouragement because it seems like everyone else is creating brilliance, but your own worst critic, yourself, is telling you that your work is junk. Maybe you feel that you’re just not progressing as fast in your skill as you think you should. I’m here to tell you that it’s natural. We all get into a slump now and then. We have our good days and bad days. Sometimes we feel inspired and encouraged while on other days we feel uninspired and ready to take up another hobby like cultivating moss.

Click the link below to read more...

https://naturephotographers.network/articles/working-through-creative-slumps/

Your The Camera’s Aperture Affects your Focus

Single Exposure using my focus technique

We’re focusing on focusing this month. How do I focus my photos is one of the most asked questions of me by other photographers. It’s a great question, and one that one would think would be pretty basic and simple. It’s usually the last skill that a beginning photographer considers when starting out but seems to be the toughest to master. I mean it seems that it would be pretty basic, what with the sophistication of the Auto Focus features in modern digital cameras, but once one takes a few photos and is let down by the Auto Focus Mode it’s easy to see why in many cases, especially landscape and portraiture, you will want to manually focus your photo.

There are several things that will affect the focus or clarity of our photos including a completely out of focus image, one where the focus is so far off that nothing is clear or in focus. That issue is obvious, of course, so we won’t discuss this in depth. We will assume that we are focusing but want to refine the clarity and focus of the shot. I’m going to try to proceed without citing mathematics or terms and theories such as Hyperfocal Distance, Circle of Confusion etc. The purpose of this article is to just understand the basics enough to understand how to overcome a common problem with focusing. Trust that this could become so lengthy that it would require another ten pages of the Mountain Times to cover it. Sometimes when someone is learning something new more information beyond what it takes to understand the concept causes confusion and discouragement. Once the basics are learned the understanding can be broadened in the future. I always tell people that if it requires mathematics to take photos I’d be a C-Minus photographer.

First let’s consider blurring caused by the camera moving or objects in the scene moving. This is not a focus issue but it can affect the clarity and areas of focus in the photo as you affect it. If movement is causing problems then your shutter speed is too slow. You’ll need to make sure that your shutter speed is sufficiently fast to freeze the movement. There are times where a slow shutter blur effect is desirable such as in creeks or waterfalls. This typically requires one to make an aperture adjustment to vary the shutter speed. Opened more to make it quicker and closed more to make it slower, but the depth of field will change with each aperture change.

So what’s this depth of field of which you speak you ask? The depth of field is how deep the area that will be in focus is from front to back. The wider your aperture the shallower or narrower your depth of field will be and then when you stop down, or close the aperture down, the depth of field becomes deeper. Remember that the larger the aperture opening the smaller the f/stop number and the smaller the aperture opening is the larger the f/stop number. Something to consider when you’re trying to maximize your focus is that the closer you are to the subject or foreground narrower your depth of field will be as well. If you’re having trouble getting everything in the scene within acceptable focus stand back a little. The same with portraiture. If you’re shooting with a wide aperture to blur the background intentionally you may have trouble getting the person’s whole face in focus. There’s not a lot worse in portrait photography than having the eyes in focus but the nose out of focus or vice-versa. Either stop down (close down the aperture) or stand back a little further or both. This works best with a zoom lens so you can recompose as you move away.

Hyperfocal Distance - I know. I said that I was going to try not to mention this but I think that curiosity will eventually lead a photographer to wonder. Simply and basically, the hyperfocal distance is the point where you will focus to allow everything from the foreground to the background to be in “acceptable focus”.

There’s a mystical mathematical formula to determine what that the hyperfocal distance is, but if you remember this advice you will get by like I have been for a long time without taking a calculator into the field with me. Here goes - I remember that I want to be in my lens’s sweet spot, which is the upper and lower limit of the aperture’s clearest settings. Each lens is different but the average lens is approximately f/8 to f/14. Compose your shot but try not to get too close to the foreground unless you don’t mind the background to be soft - Remember the closer to your foreground the less likely the object in the background will be in focus - And then focus to infinity on your lens focus ring and then focus back until the foreground just comes into focus. Then you will usually have the depth of field maximised and pushed out as far as possible while still maintaining a focused foreground. It’s easy to understand once you try it.

That may have been a long road to a short conclusion but just a basic understanding of how your aperture and depth of field affects focus allows you to take control of exactly how you will focus your photo. I hope that I made that as clear as possible.

Shallow Depth of Field Photo
Shallow Depth of Field Photo
Focus Stacked Photo
Focus Stacked Photo

Lost In The Mossy Forest

Lost in The Mossy Forest.

Here's a photo that I made yesterday while guiding my friends Al and Kathy Baca, from Long Island New York, around the Mount Hood National Forest. We spent a day in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and a day in the Mount Hood National Forest with a day of post processing between. It was a great time.

This photo was made while they were photographing bugs, flowers. lichen and moss with their macro lenses. I let them be for a few moments while I dove into the forest to get to this area. The roots captured my attention immediately. While I was there I felt as if I was in the realm of the forest sprites and gnomes.

This whole forest is in it's Springtime best. All of the deciduous leaves are fresh green as well as the mosses. The forest is moist right now and emits a primordial essence and exudes an aura of primal simplicity. Life in its most primitive and its most beautiful.

I love the Pacific Northwest rain forests, especially in the Springtime. Consider a private Oregon photography exploration tour with Gary Randall Photography some day to explore some of the less visited places in this incredible state. I think that you'll be glad that you did.

You can purchase prints of this photo at this link. https://gary-randall.com/product/deep-in-the-forest/ 

Critique and Competition in Photography – The Painted Hills in Central Oregon. 

Critique and Competition in Photography

Critique and Competition in Photography - The Painted Hills in Central Oregon.

My son Chris and I took my mom to the Painted Hills this past Sunday. Mom had never been there and was completely stoked by its beauty.

I enjoy taking photo at this location with a long lens. I usually take my 70-200 and shoot little micro scenes of the textures and folds in the hills. I also enjoy the textures of the soil, but I have found that it confuses some people, I'll explain later. On this day I used my Tamron 150-600 G2 and had a great time.

I entered a similar photo to this in a competition once. One of the things that I was gigged for was the texture. I remember that every time that I return to this location. The judge couldn't figure out what the "grain in the foreground" was. I just slapped my forehead and fell back in my chair in dismay. I wanted to yell into the screen that it was coarse soil. I also entered a cool shot of the lava ocean entry and I was gigged due to some "diffusion and lens distortion" that one judge perceived to be an issue. The issue was the steam from the lava. I was taken aback by that one too. All in all I did fairly well in the competition, but after that day I became a bit disillusioned by professional competitions. Their critique gave me no encouragement or advice in how to improve my work, but I suppose that's not the purpose of these competitions anyway.

Call me dumb or closed minded but I got nothing from the critique or comments. I think that competitions are fine, but really, I hate making photography a competition to begin with. I also question the qualifications beyond the certifications of some of those who are judges after the last one that I participated in. I compare them with "book learned" engineers. I'd love to have taken a couple of them out into the field with me and show them how I work.

All of the photographers whom I admire and am inspired by do not enter competitions. For them, I perceive, and I photography isn't about winning. It's not about professional credentials. It's about the experience and inspiring others to follow their dreams and aspirations. I hope that I do this with my own work. In my opinion competitions only encourage the victors.

In the end a photographer's audience will not judge them or their work by the competitions that they win, or the credentials that they earn but, rather, the images that they create that touch their audience in the most personal way, many of which aren't technically perfect. And only you and those who admire what you do can actually honestly judge your work in a positive way.

Critique is fine, but ultimately it's objective. And when the judge's goal is to be critical of the photo, it won't be viewed in the same way as the photographer's fans. And it certainly won't be seen in the same light as the one who created the image.

Create your work for yourself first. Break away from standards that are used to judge photos. That's where creativity and originality starts. If you need advice seek it from someone whom you admire and trust. Take the critique of a stranger, no matter their professional credentials, with less weight than those who are trying to find positive in what you've done. And don't get discouraged.

Critique and Competition in Photography
Critique and Competition in Photography

Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords

Whittier Alaska Tour with Gary Randall Photography

Photographing Alaska Glaciers and Fjords - The gurgling sound of the twin 200 horsepower outboard motors mounted in tandem on the stern of our excursion boat mixed with the sound of camera shutters and the random “ooh and ahh” as we cruised back and forth through the still, ice laden water at the face of the massive wall of glacial ice before us. Once everyone was through photographing this incredible scene our boat captain eased forward on the throttle turning the gurgle to a roar as we left the sheltered cove to head back to where we started this incredible day. Our group of intrepid photographers sat at rest enjoying the views after a full day of cruising the Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska photographing wildlife and the immense, wild remote scenery that surrounded us.

Our day started at our log lodge located near Palmer in the beautiful Matanuska Valley located about an hour northeast of Anchorage. We had a drive to make and a schedule to adhere to as we had to be at the Whittier Tunnel on time to pass through with the regularly scheduled opening that allowed visitors and residents to get to the little town of Whittier located at the other end on the majestic and scenic Prince William Sound. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, commonly called The Whittier Tunnel, is a tunnel that was made through a mountain between the town of Whittier and the the Seward Highway, which is a major thoroughfare taking traffic to and from the Kenai Peninsula to Alaska’s mainland.

The Whittier Tunnel is a one way, single lane, tunnel 2 ½ miles long. It’s the longest highway tunnel in North America. The roadway includes a set of train tracks to accommodate the Alaska Railroad. The inside of the tunnel is rough rock, almost cave like, and is a bit claustrophobic the first time through, but is a bit exciting nonetheless. There’s a time schedule for opening the tunnel that accommodates the train as well as car and truck traffic in each direction at different times. If you miss your scheduled opening you must wait an hour before it’s open again in your direction.

On this morning our group awoke with adventure on our minds. We all climbed into the van and headed out. We were right on time, although the bathroom break along the way threatened to cause a little concern about catching the tunnel, we made it with time to spare. Our destination this morning was Epic Charters and the boat that we had reserved to take us out into the fjords of the Prince William Sound to photograph not just scenery, but also for the chance to photograph its wildlife.

The day was calm with some overcast skies. The ride out into the sound was calm and exhilarating. The Chugach Mountains surrounding us tower up from the water to reach an average height of 4000-5000 feet with peaks as high as 13,000 feet. Many have majestic glaciers covering their flanks and filling their valleys with some ultimately crumbling into the ocean waters. As we travel along we pass small islands covered with sea lions, rafts, as they’re called, of sea otters and eagles flying overhead while we hope to see orcas on our search for black bears.

Our skipper navigated our boat into a couple small bays, one of which was the location of a remote salmon hatchery where we found at least a dozen or more opportunistic black bears roaming the shore, dipping their paws into the water and dragging out a fish with little challenge. We left there and made our way to another bay where we found several more bears away from man made surroundings, a small group of which consisted of a mother and three cubs hiding in tall grasses on the shoreline. Their heads peeked up every so often just to keep an eye on the boat full of shutterbugs sitting in the water beyond the shoreline.

We left that bay and made our way further into the sound to a little island where we all stepped off of the boat to stretch our legs for a little while before making our way into the incredible Harriman Fjord, a finger off of the sound into the realm of huge hanging and tidewater glaciers. Our boat made it to the face of Surprise Glacier where we floated around taking in the massive mountains and huge flows of glacial ice. Massive waterfalls flowed down huge solid stone walls from the ice fields and hanging glaciers above. The boat slowly cruised through the iceberg filled water, several of which were the size of the boat itself as we observed walls of ice calving into the ocean creating waves that would gently rock the boat as we stood there in amazement of the scene surrounding us.

In time we turned to head back to Whittier. As we skimmed over the calm water we passed by the glaciers in the College Fjord before heading back into deeper water and passage back. The boat’s captain pushed the throttle further and brought the boat up onto a plane as our group sat at the stern watching the scene disappear behind us. As we sat there taking it all in for one last time, and recalling all that had happened on that day, a rainbow appeared behind us as one final parting gift from this spectacular land.

Our group left the pier and our captain as we gathered together to make sure to catch the tunnel scheduled opening for our trip back through and to the Seward Highway for our drive back to the lodge, with one more stop for a meal at the Turnagain Arm Pit, a favorite barbecue restaurant along the way. Once back at the lodge all everyone wanted to do was rest and look at all of their photos from this amazing time. This trip has become a favorite part of our yearly Alaska Adventure tours, but is only one day of the five that we spend photographing Alaska. Each and every day is filled with another incredible experience.

 

 

Turnagain Arm Sunbeams

Turnagain Arm Sunbeams

Turnagain Arm Sunbeams - The Turnagain Arm is a waterway in the Gulf of Alaska and is one of two branches of the Cook inlet, the other being the Knik Arm. It happens to be one of my favorite places for photography.

The Turnagain Arm was named by William Bligh of the HMS Bounty fame who served as the sailing master for Captain James Cook, British Explorer and cartographer, on his third and final voyage on his quest for the Northwest Passage. In the exploration of the Cook Inlet a party was first sent up the Knik Arm only to return reporting that it led to a river. A second party went up the next Arm only to turn back saying that it too was only a river. In their frustration of having to turn back again they named it the Turnagain River, later to be designated an arm of the Cook Inlet, thus the Turnagain Arm.

The Turnagain Arm's geography affects the weather in dramatic ways. On the south side of the waterway lies the Kenai Peninsula with its mountain peaks averaging 3000'-5000' while on the opposite side rise the Chugach Mountain Range with peaks comparable in size to the Kenai Mountains but, because of their position to the Cook Inlet set world records for snowfall with averages 1500 cm (800 in). With the waterway between the weather can be intense, and the sun being low on the horizon most all seasons, the light is incredible an inordinate amount of times throughout the year.

Another unique part of exploring the Turnagain Arm is it's bore tide. A bore tide happens only in a small handful of places around the world. A bore tide is a tidal phenomenon where the incoming tidal flow meets an outgoing flow of the bay or a river. The leading edge forms a wave that travels up the arm on the incoming tides. It's always fun to go to the Turnagain Arm and chase the bore tide.

We always make the Turnagain Arm a primary feature of our Alaska workshops. When the bore tide happens just before a sunset, magic can happen. We had the opportunity on this particular evening to chase and photograph the bore tide and the Alaskan surfers along the Seward Highway, a sunset and as a bonus we experienced Baluga whales breaching just below where were were standing taking in the last light of the sunset.

These experiences are hard to describe, even with a photograph to accompany the narrative. They are things that one must experience in person to appreciate. Darlene and I have a combined total of over 25 years of experience exploring Alaska. If you have ever considered an Alaska adventure please consider signing up to one of our Alaska workshops.

Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance

Purple Mountain Lavender

Finding Fantastic Focus - Learning Hyperfocal Distance. It’s a beautiful morning as you gather your camera and gear to head out to take some beautiful landscape photos. You understand the settings that you’ll need to get the proper exposure, in this case with a fast enough shutter to overcome the blur caused by the breeze that’s tosses the flowers around in front of you. In the background is a view of Mount Hood on the horizon. You allow the camera to set the focus by using one of the automatic settings. Perhaps you focus on either the foreground or the background. Or, if you are using manual focus, you use the age old method learned from another photographer who learned it from his uncle who was a photographer who learned it from some guy named Ansel, you focus a third of the way into the scene and hope for the best.

Once you get home and download your photos you notice that in some of the photos the foreground is out of focus and the background is in perfect focus, while in others the foreground is sharp but the background is out of focus. Some may be fine from front to back but you don’t know why or how it happened.

In time, as you hone your photography skills, you will want to understand how to focus properly and consistently. It’s something that is hard to guess your way through or to accidentally discover. And once you figure out that there’s a method, understanding it seems daunting but it’s rather simple to understand if explained properly, so I’ll give it a try.

What you need to understand is something called hyperfocal distance. By focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance your photo will be in acceptable focus from half that distance all the way to infinity. In other words if your hyperfocal distance is 20 feet everything will be in focus from 10 feet to infinity. In landscape photography especially it allows you to maximize your depth of field. Knowing this, in this example, we can then push our depth of field out by focusing to 30 feet, ten feet past your subject, maximizing the depth of field.

Determining the hyperfocal distance for a particular focal length and aperture combination can be tricky, but there are charts that you can put in your billfold or camera case. There are also apps for your smartphone that will help you calculate what it is for your particular camera, focal length and aperture setting. Because of this I won’t go into the complications of the mathematics involved in determining your hyperfocal distance. With one of the variables being “The Circle of Confusion”, it would be easier to explain a method that I use that you can start using right away to maximize your depth of field resulting in a more accurate and consistent focus in your photos.

Start by switching your lens to Manual. Turn off any kind of vibration reduction if you’re using a tripod, leave it active if you’re hand holding. Make sure to stop down, aiming for the lens “sweet spot”, an aperture setting of roughly f/8 - f/11. The sweet spot is the range of sharpest aperture settings of your lens. It’s typically two full stops from your widest aperture depending on the lens. Just make sure to stop down to increase your depth of field.

Turn on your Live View screen and increase its magnification and scroll the view to the closest spot that you want to be in focus in the scene. Observe that area as you turn your lens focus ring to infinity, which will slightly blur your foreground, and then focus back from infinity slowly until your foreground object just comes into sharp focus then stop. Once you do this you’ve moved your depth of field out as far as it can go while maintaining focus at your foreground object. Using this method you don’t need to know distances to set your focus.

I should mention that there are times when hyperfocal distance is not desired or necessary. Many forms of photography rely on a shallow depth of field such as portraiture or macro photography. In that case, none of this is necessary as having areas that lack focus is desired to direct the viewer's attention to the subject which is in focus.

Also modern digital photography and computerized post processing allows a photographer to take multiple shots of a scene, focusing from front to back, and then combine them to create a focus that is sharp throughout the image. This method is called Focus Stacking, but in most cases it’s unnecessary if you use the methods described in this article.

As in most cases when an instructor explains something, they will always seem to take the long way. I know that I gave you the shortcut at the end of a lengthy description, but in any skill it’s more than doing, it’s also about understanding. The more that we understand what we are doing, the more we’re able to perfect how we do it. I hope that this rudimentary explanation of hyperfocal distance helps you to take your photos one step closer to perfection.

Photography in The Winter

Snowy Forest Scene

Photography in The Winter

As the Mama’s and The Papa’s once sang, “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey”. But that shouldn’t stop you from taking a walk on a Winter’s day. And while you’re at it, don’t think that photography season has passed. I can think of at least six reason why Winter is a great time for photography.

The first reason that comes to mind concerns the weather. The common thought about photography in the weather would be that it’s a terrible time to go due to the grey skies, rain or snow. It is commonly believed, especially among non-photographers, that the Summertime is the best time for photos. Although the Summer weather is a great time to be in the outdoors it may not be the best time to make beautiful photos - Especially photos of dramatic light and skies. A clear blue sky is beautiful in a photo, but there can be a lot of negative space to try to fill, whereas a grey, dramatic cloudy sky can add texture and drama to the scene.

Rain can help a scene as well, especially a forested creek or a waterfall. The rain wets the foliage that may still be in the forest, including moss and evergreen trees. When the foliage is wet I like to apply a circular polarizer to my lens and turn it until the shine and glare that’s on the leaves and rocks, which is a reflection of the sky and ambient light, disappear, which will in turn bring out the color of the forest. Don’t hesitate to go out and photograph in the snow. The snow can make some great photos, especially fresh snow. A bluebird day and fresh snow will bring clear views of the horizon and any geographic features such as a mountain into view.

Wintertime is the best time for beautiful sunrises. Winter skies and rainstorms can, at times, clear or partially clear at night and during daybreak only to succumb to a completely overcast or stormy sky soon after sunrise. I always try to go to bed early, set my alarm and head out to a view to try to witness a sunrise.

Winter forest scenes can be dramatic as well as artistic. The lack of foliage leaves the forest with a clear view through tree trucks and bushes. Many times a view of a scene such as a creek, waterfall or view into the distance is exposed in the Winter when it’s obscured by foliage in the Summer. Also, with the tree trunks exposed, creative abstract landscape scenes can be found.

Summertime weather, sun and no rain, leaves the streams and waterfalls dry or with a limited flow but the rains of Winter fill these streams with water. With rain comes renewed growth of the moss around these streams and waterfalls as well.Winter can be a great time to photograph them. And don’t hesitate to arrive after a fresh snow to photograph them in the Winter white forest. I enjoy photographing streams and waterfalls in the Winter.

Winter weather will also filter out a lot of fair weather photographers too. Not all will dare to go out to get those unique Winter photos. This leaves you with more room to work at a location. Less people in a photograph will allow you to concentrate your subject better, no matter if you’re photographing a landscape or a portrait shoot in a park.

Then there are the holidays. The Winter season brings holidays that will traditionally bring families together for family events and get togethers. Don’t let these times with family pass without documenting them with a photograph. A lot of times, in this busy day and age, we are so distracted by our personal day to day routine that these holidays are the only times throughout the year when family can be gathered together in one place. Take advantage of that time to gather images for posterity.

As you can see the Winter season is no time to set your camera aside. There are plenty of reasons to look at Winter as another time of the year to get beautiful photos.

Pathway To The Stars – The Milky Way Over Mount Hood

The Milky way Over Mount Hood Oregon

Pathway To The Stars. The Milky Way Over Mount Hood Oregon - I had a great time hanging around in the dark with my brudda Rob last night. We shot the night sky over Mount Hood from the north side while talking about the Milky Way over Mauna Loa - The night was as warm as a Big Island night - and other places where we've stood and observed the stars.

There are very few things that surpass the brilliance of the stars on a dark Summer night. Since I was a small boy I have slept outside whenever possible, even if only in my backyard. I'm fortunate to have lived in some places that have extremely dark night skies.

I remember great times while I was in school in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon when neighbor friends, my brother and I would just lay blankets out in the pasture, set up our sleeping bags and count falling stars and satellites until we fell asleep only to wake up again at sunrise covered in dew.

I was reading the other day that 80% of the people in the United States are unable to see the Milky Way at night. That's a sad figure. I sincerely feel that when we remove ourselves from the natural world we suffer. Taking away the stars in the sky that have caused so many people to dream fantastic dreams and thoughts of wonderment and hope is the last brick in the wall of separation of humanity from Nature. Stand in a city some night and search for anything natural. Even the sky is cloaked in a bath of unnatural light. How can we understand what Nature requires from us if we don't understand her?

Please do yourself and Nature a favor and reconnect your soul to the Earth and all of its natural fantastic wonders. Drive somewhere dark some night and look up. Bring a blanket and a sleeping bag. You may be there for a while.

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