Learning to See at 5000 Feet


Good nature photography is rarely a document of what was in front of the photographer. Capturing a 360-degree, three-dimensional experience by pointing a camera at it and pressing the shutter generally doesn’t produce the same experience in the photograph.
That’s where the art and craft of the photographer comes in. My goal is to floor you just as I am continually floored while hiking in nature. Most of the time I fail, but sometimes things come together and I am truly amazed and awed.


It took me a long time and a lot of wasted, expensive 4×5 film to be able to capture good images of where I lived in Marin County, CA. The shooting of images and wasting film is part of the process of learning to see. I had no trouble seeing beauty everywhere around me in Marin. I had trouble making images that captured that beauty. In learning to see, all ideas of who you are as a photographer, cameras, lenses and techniques have to be let go of. The only concepts worth retaining are how to operate your equipment, properly focus and expose an image. Everything else must be re-learned and continually re-learned.


Many of my images are taken on early morning hikes before I go to work. These hikes last about an hour. In Marin, I would hike without any cameras. I would come back with my 4×5 camera only after I saw something that I wanted to photograph That hasn’t worked here in Colorado. My 4×5 is too heavy and its lenses are usually not long enough and there’s usually enough wind here to make the slow shutter speeds required for exposing at f/32 way too slow to stop things from moving. My habits here have evolved into to taking my DSLR and a tripod with me on every morning hike. Every day the light is different, the wind is different and the sky is different. To stop moving leaves and branches I often crank the ISO up to 800. I miss the quality that 4×5 gives you but being able to take photos every day more than makes up for it. The beauty here, from a golden cottonwood to a psychedelically painted canyon wall, to a cascade of a creek, to the outrageous color and variety of mountain wildflowers is endlessly moving and fascinating to me.

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~ by danbaumbach on November 1, 2010.

8 Responses to “Learning to See at 5000 Feet”

  1. Beautiful photographs
    together with meaningful, wise words, Dan!

    Best Wishes
    Seung Kye

  2. Been enjoying seeing your work in a new environment, Dan.

  3. That meadow of flowers pulls me in. How beautiful your new hopme is! I enjoy your musings and Im happy to hear you get to shoot daily.

  4. You’re a lucky man to have such a beautiful neighbourhood to walk around in. Your photos do it justice.

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