The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Photoshop by Guy Tal

•February 18, 2018 • 2 Comments

I’m very familiar with Guy Tal as a wonderful photographer and writer, but I originally was not interested in reading his new book, The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Photoshop. Boy am I glad I took a look at it. I’ve been working in Photoshop for over 20 years. I know that there’s always more to learn about it, but I was very comfortable with my workflow. Guy’s description of his techniques are so clear and simple that it was a joy to try them and incorporate some of them as regulars of my own. There are still more that I’m looking to try out when the need comes.

There’s a lot of information and technique in Guy’s book but it’s not your standard how-to cookbook. It’s more of a prolonged one-on-one workshop with Guy.

The first part is not about Photoshop at all. Guy leads us into how he works—how he looks at landscapes and envisions the photographs he can make of them, how he captures the landscape with composition and exposure with his vision in mind.

He shows you how he looks at the raw image in Lightroom and Camera Raw and makes a list of each aspect of the work it needs. He does very little in these raw conversion programs except open shadows or bring in highlights. Everything else is done in Photoshop.

So instead of a cookbook of different techniques, we’re instructed in how to see, how to visualize and how to actualize that vision. Photoshop tools are not taught so you can have more techniques in your tool belt. They’re taught with very clear examples of how to take the raw material that your camera gives you and actualize your vision.

A lot of plug-ins and applications are out there that are readily available for making different tricks in Photoshop easy, but that’s not Guy’s way. Off-the-shelf plug-ins often make the same types of adjustments for everyone, making our images look similar. Guy leads us step by step to make these adjustments ourselves, always using his own images as examples.

I was always nervous of blending for dynamic range or focus, but Guy makes these jobs so easy, I’ll never use an external program again.

No matter what kind of photographs you take or how much you think you know about Photoshop, I think that most of us will find something valuable to take away from this book.

Here’s a link to it on Guy’s website.

Advertisements

Forces of Nature

•February 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

If you ever have doubts about your life—you’re at the wrong job, with the wrong mate, you need to radically change your personality, etc; just log onto Facebook or the social media platform of your choice and you’re sure to find that your doubts are well-founded.

You’ll be told how to think. What affirmations to use. How to visualize your perfect life, etc.

Or, if you’re like me and still have all these doubts, but have done all the self improvement crap and realized that most of it is crap, you might be lucky enough to just stop and realize how lucky you are. And in that realization you might be lucky enough to accept the messes that we are and move on.

What does this have to do with photography? This is life and photography is part of life. Photography is one way for us to be creative and this is about being creative. How does one be creative? There are lots of theories about independent thought and not following the crowd, but that’s all looking at it from the outside. And just like self-improvement from the outside is ultimately unsatisfactory, so is creativity from the outside. We can’t do creativity. We can’t follow certain rules to be creative.

I think of creativity as a lot like love. You don’t affirm yourself into love, though I’m sure we’ve all tried it; we fall in love. We don’t make ourselves creative—we’re naturally creative. We just stop doing uncreative things like thinking about being creative and let creativity arise.

I was lucky enough to do a workshop with Galen Rowell a year before his untimely death. He taught us how to see like film, how to use split neutral density filters and such, all things that I already knew. I didn’t learn any techniques at the workshop; I got so much more: I got to spend time with a truly creative person. I saw a person so confident in his creative self that he just ran with it without looking back. I spent time with a force of nature.

When Galen was out with his camera, you could say he worked very hard, but it wasn’t what we call work. It wasn’t drudgery. He wasn’t working on being more open to his surroundings. He wasn’t working on being a better photographer. He was just letting his creativity come out and take him over. In being around him I too chose to trust myself more and just let my creativity flow.

How do we allow ourselves to be more creative? Being creative is not something that we do. It’s natural for us. What we can do or at least observe is how we stop ourselves from being creative. How we try too much. How we over-criticize ourselves, how we try to limit and protect ourselves.

Go out and be creative. Make mistakes. Get embarassed. Feel stupid; but don’t let any of it get to you. Keep going.

That Dirty Word

•January 10, 2018 • 4 Comments

We’re tough here in the US. We don’t run; we fight. We’re no nation of wimps. As photographers, we get the shot. We nail it. We’ll stay up nights in freezing rain at 12,000 feet, but we’ll get it.

I’m going to talk about a concept that is an anathema to the “American Way”. It’s called Surrender.

When I speak of surrender, I’m not talking about our lying down and having people walk over us. I’m talking laying down all that keeps us from being open and responsive.

Take gratitude. Gratitude is very in vogue these days. Gratitude is good. We feel good and peaceful when we feel grateful. Well, in order to feel gratitude, we have to lay down all our striving and hunger that tells us that things aren’t good enough as they are and surrender into gratitude.

Take love. Those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to have some good relationships know that love is not a competitive sport. It’s not about getting more. It’s about letting go of “my needs” and surrendering to our true nature which isn’t greed or competitiveness, but love.

All right, alright: finally I’ll talk about photography. Surrender is key to any kind of creativity and that includes photography

We choose a location, we choose a time, and we bring certain equipment with us when we go out to take photographs because we have some idea of what we want to photograph and what kinds of photographs we want to take.

What if the light doesn’t turn out the way we expected? What if there’s too much wind? What if the sunrise/sunset is a dud? We can be disappointed or angry and go home, or we can surrender. Even if all the conditions turn out the way we want them to, it would be better if we surrendered.

By surrender I mean dropping all the mental crap about what we’re trying to accomplish. Surrender our desires that tell us what a successful day shooting will consist of. Surrender everything in our minds that keeps us from being where we are and responding to what’s in front of us.

So now our minds are relatively quiet and we can see clearly and respond to what we see. Now we’re ready to take photographs. Maybe we see something we didn’t plan on photographing but looks more compelling. Let’s go for it. Maybe it’s too windy so we have to look for stationary objects. Lets go for it. Maybe the sky looks awesome. Lets go for it.

Who knows what will grab our attention when we’re able to see and respond. Lets go for it.

I was planning of photographing ice this morning, but the sky was so interesting I managed to squeeze this out between the trees.

Seeing and Execution

•January 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

With my first workshop — Quiet and Creativity — coming up in June, I’ve been reading a lot about the topic. I’m not terribly articulate about my photographic process so I was hoping that I could learn how to explain things better from others. I’ve been looking at everyone from Minor White in the the 1960s to the Contemplative Photographers of today.

And, in the process, I’ve realized that what I’ve been doing with writing is what I’ve been preaching against in photography: namely, that someone else can articulate for me and I don’t have to use my own words and experience to say it. So, here goes…

To me, creativity has two aspects: Seeing and Execution.

Execution consists of knowing how to use your equipment — how to operate you camera, how your camera sees things. How different lenses see things. Then there’s post processing. How to take the raw material that your camera produces and make it into a beautiful photograph. The thing about execution is, all of it, can be learned by study and practice. Because it’s something that can be learned, that is where most of us spend our time. We need a better camera, better lenses, better locations and subject matter. We need a more powerful computer. It has to be a Mac, not a PC. And so on.

Most camera magazines are geared toward execution. We’re led to believe that if we could spend some time in Yosemite, or Denali or Arches, and if we had that new Sony mirrorless, we could be as good and proud as the others. Execution is easy to write about because it’s all about conveying information. And, with convincing readers of their need for new equipment and special locations, magazines can sell ads.

Don’t get me wrong, execution is very important. You need good equipment. You need to know how to use it properly. However execution without seeing will produce empty and me-too photographs.

Seeing is hard to teach because seeing is unique to each of us. I can’t teach you to see like me. It’s a waste of your time for me to force you to look at some grass fronds till you can see the beauty in them that I can.

What I can’t teach (but I can try to describe) is that state I get into where I can look at grass fronds — or as in the photo above, ice — and see their beauty and grace.

Just like I have to drop what I’ve learned and read and try to write about seeing from my own experience, so we have to do the same when we go out and take photographs.

The difficult thing about teaching seeing is that it can’t be “done”. It’s about un-doing. It’s about not looking for a certain type of photograph. It’s about not trying to take a certain type of photograph. It’s not about doing anything. It’s about being quiet and responding to our surroundings. Some have described it as like seeing things for the first time, but I think it’s more like noticing things you might not have noticed before.

I’m no zen master or Buddhist. When I go out with my camera I have all sorts of crap running through my mind. The thing is, I love taking photographs so much, and I so love looking around at my surroundings, taking it all in and being filled with joy and excitement, that I’m willing to drop my crap about success, money, power, and security at least for a while and just get immersed in responding and photographing. Those desires and fears may be waiting patiently to occupy my mind when I’m finished, but at least for a while, I’m free.

I Need Storyshop

•December 31, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A few years ago when I was doing a workshop in the Sierras, I had an encounter with a “teenage” bear. I was on a break and was walking to my room when I rounded a parked car and there he was right in front of me, a teenage bear. He was as shocked and frightened to see me as I was to see him. He had all the energy, excitement and curiosity of a teenage dog or cat. As we looked at each other, I thought that I should be careful and not frighten him too much because even though he was young, he could still hurt me. But, before I could do anything, he got too frightened and ran off.

What a great encounter. I was thrilled. Just like a good RAW photograph, my story was well exposed, had low contrast and saturation, and had good detail in the highlights and shadows.

Later that day a workshop participant, who was much more skilled in story post-processing than I am, described her encounter with the same bear. Though both of our encounters couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, her story lasted a lot longer. She had applied a curve to the entire story to give it more contrast. She took the salient points and added more contrast and saturation to them, while taking the unimportant parts of the encounter and darkened them a little so they wouldn’t be distracting. The cars in the parking lot were still too sharp so she did this brilliant thing. She just selected the cars, created a layer with them and applied a blur to that layer. That way the bear was the sharp focal point and the cars were just blurry background.

Finally she added a saturation layer and gave the entire tale some more saturation to make it more compelling and to keep her audience’s attention.

I was blown away. I wish I could post process a story like that. I need to get a copy of Storyshop.

Don’t Fall Down a Tripod Hole

•November 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As photographers we we used to to talk about the “tripod holes” at some locations. What we meant is that so many photographers set up to take the same picture at certain iconic spots that the feet of their tripods wore indentations into the ground. We were talking about places like Tunnel View or Valley View in Yosemite, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or the Maroon Bells here in Colorado. These places are icons for a reason — they’re absolutely beautiful. If you have a chance to visit any one of these spots, do so. If you want to photograph a memory for your wall, do so. But how many photographers go to these spots, take the same photo as everyone else and then like to show it around. Put it on Facebook and you’ll probably get more likes than one of my grass pictures.

We’re a funny species in a funny country. Being a good sheep is highly prized. Most of us who have no interest in being sheep are usually scorned, unless we’re successful. Then we’re highly prized and we develop our own sheep followers.

I for one have no interest in being a sheep and if you’ve gotten this far without thinking I’m an a-hole, then I expect you don’t, either.

As artists, we try to be innovators. We may get praise, blame or nothing but if we’re lucky we won’t let people’s opinions sway us too much in any direction and will only listen to ourselves. We need to be forces of nature.

Listening to ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean our art will be any good. I have plenty of ideas and opinions as I work on images, but I’m wrong as many times as I’m right and all I have are my own opinions. I may post them to Facebook and get your opinions. You may agree or disagree with mine. No matter whether it’s praise or scorn I get, it always comes back to me: Do I like the photograph or not?

For me, a good photograph should end up as a print on a wall; and in my exhibits, I’ve found in general that my opinions have been validated.

Being an artist like this is lonely work, but i find it very satisfying and fulfilling.

Why do you take photographs? What do you want?

 
Continue reading ‘Don’t Fall Down a Tripod Hole’

Quiet

•September 24, 2017 • 1 Comment

Most of us who photograph the natural world are lovers of quiet.  We can hear the sounds of rushing water, the wind and animals — but being in nature brings us an internal quiet that we all crave. The things that usually claim our thoughts diminish in their power and we just relax and feel good.

We don’t have to be in the wild to experience this kind of quiet, but for most of us it’s more difficult in other circumstances. There are times I fall into it working on photographs at my computer. I can even experience it at work when I’m programming.

This quiet is the source of many and all things, but since this is a photography blog, we’ll focus on it as an infinite source of creativity.

We all give lip service to this quiet, but if we really wanted it so badly we’d have it whenever we wanted it. The reality is, we give a lot more energy to what we want and what we want to avoid than this quiet space.

To fall into this quiet, we have to let all these desires fall into the background and not put any energy on achieving their goals.

When we go out with our camera, what is our desire?  Are we going out to have an adventure or going out to make a specific photograph? What types of images are we drawn to making? Are we drawn to making images we’ve seen before or images that are fresh to us?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It’s just good to be clear about what you want to accomplish when going out into the field.

There’s this famous quote: “When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are pockets.”  What do we see when we go out with a camera? It’s rare for me to just go out without any pre-visualized photographs in my mind.  That’s why I usually pick a particular location to begin with. Where I get lucky is that usually through the act of focusing on looking at and making images, I’m able to react to what’s in front of me rather that looking for a particular image.  

When we stop looking for something and just see what’s in front of us, that’s when we can really start to be creative. With little preconceived notion of what we should be photographing, we can just see and appreciate what we see and then decide if we want to make a photograph of it or not.

This is the kind if quiet I’m speaking about:  just quiet appreciation our our surroundings.  For this you don’t have to be in nature — you can be anywhere. I’ve experienced it photographing on the streets of New York and in museums.

Maybe this kind of approach is not for you. But if you think that it might be, the next time you go out with your camera ask yourself what you want to accomplish and what kind of image are you trying to produce. See how much of that you can push to the background. Then go out and have a great time.

Many times you’ll be surprised at what attracts you. You might find yourself making images that don’t make sense to you. I went up to Lake Isabelle thinking of the sun on mount Apache and wondering what foreground I could put with it. I did photograph Apache a lot, but then I got to Isabelle and was suddenly I was drawn to these trees at treeline and the turning colors of the tundra. My Apache images are so so. But I’m very happy with how this turned out.

I’ll be starting workshops on silence and photography next spring and summer. You can get more information about them here.