When thinking about nature photography, many people instantly think of postcard-style scenes: grand landscapes under colorful skies. From my perspective, however, nature photography can be a much more expansive pursuit when considering the opportunities available with smaller scenes, including abstract renditions of natural subjects. In this article, I share some tips on learning to create abstract photographs along a continuum, from photos with abstract concepts that amplify an obvious subject to fully abstract photographs in which the scale and subject are difficult to discern.Read More
We just returned from a long trip to Death Valley National Park, one of my favorite places for photography and exploration. This trip reminded me how much I depend on a single app for my nature and landscape photography: Gaia GPS, which I use on my iPhone 7 Plus. Because Death Valley has so few trails and allows cross-country travel, the park is a great place for exploration and we used our Gaia GPS app for almost every photography outing in the park.
As an example, the Gaia GPS app helped make the photo at the top of this post possible. Since Ron and I have a bit of an obsession with mud and sand patterns, we spent some time on this trip exploring to see if we could find some new areas for this kind of photography. This exploration involved looking at satellite images of Death Valley National Park on Google to identify some potential spots and then heading out cross-country to see what we might find.
For this kind of outing, the Gaia app is helpful for recording a track, marking waypoints, and saving photos of promising spots. When heading out cross country for sunset, we could mark the location of our car to help in getting back after dark. For sunrise, having a point marked in advance - with a high-quality photo for reference - is helpful for returning to a very specific spot in a mostly featureless landscape. While I could do these same things with a handheld GPS, the Gaia app is so much easier to us, and saving photos as waypoints with detailed titles and notes has become an essential tool for my photography.Read More
Over the last few years, we have sporadically shared links to inspirational/thought-provoking articles, good resources, and other recommendations for nature photographers. Instead of sharing this information in a bunch of separate posts, we are going to collect everything in this single post and keep it updated over the course of 2018. If you have recommended additions, please share them in the comments.
Articles on Originality and Personal Expression: These three articles each take a different view of some of the current issues facing photographers in the areas of personal expression, originality, giving credit, and copying.
- The Value of Originality by Guy Tal
- Instagrammers are Sucking the Life & Soul Out of Travel in The Guardian
- Photographic Plagiarism by Eric Bennett
Michael Kenna Interview with Light & Land: In this interview, the highly-respected black and white photographer Michael Kenna shares some insights about his life as a photographer and his creative process.
The New Publishing Landscape: If you have any interest in publishing a hard-copy book of your photography, this interview with Iain Sargeent is a must-read. Sargeant is a photographer who has created his own publishing business, publishing nine books so far. This article is an in-depth look at his experience and advice.
Josh Cripps at Nikon Live: Our friend Josh Cripps recently gave a 30-minute talk on his wilderness photography, sharing inspiring stories about his backpacking trips and the resulting photographs. The talk will be available through June and you can view it by clicking the link and selecting "Nikon Live from CES Day 4."
North American Nature Photography Association Showcase: Each year, NANPA publishes a collection of wildlife, nature, landscape, and macro photography that includes many inspiring photographs. You can see this year's collection using this link. I do wish that NANPA would upgrade the viewing experience with larger photos and a slideshow option, as the current presentation is quite cumbersome.
Adapting to Light by Eric Bennett: In this post, Eric shares what we consider to be an essential lesson: all lighting conditions can create opportunities for photography. By moving beyond the confining box of colorful light at sunrise and sunset, nature photography can become a much more expansive pursuit.
Tired of Perfection by David duChemin: This post was on fire on Facebook and it seemed to resonate with many readers. In sharing it, I will add one small quibble. I do not think the issue is so much perfection as it is creating soulless photographs. For my own photography practice, seeking some kinds of perfection can be a positive habit (for example, being precise with composition and technique while in the field). Otherwise, the message in this post is certainly worth considering as you pursue photography in 2018.
Relevance by Zachary Bright: In this brief post, Zachary Bright continues in a similar thread to David duChemin's post. Here, Zachary discusses what he sees as some of the pitfalls of seeking to stay relevant with the quickly changing whims of social media audiences.
Ron's 2017 Year in Review: In case you missed it, Ron shared his favorite photos (a quite diverse collection!) and a quick wrap-up of 2017 in this post.
Top 25 Photographers of the Year By Christian Hoiberg of Capture Landscapes: Christian's Capture Landscape's site has become an excellent resource for photographers over the last year. He shares a lot of inspirational interviews and practical advice for nature photographers. In this specific post, Christian shares his list of 25 favorite photographers during 2017 (including me - thank you, Christian!). This list included quite a few photographers who are new to me so I hope it might also help our readers find some new sources of inspiration.
From our Archives: Ten Tips for Creating Better Black & White Nature Photographs: In our most-read post from 2017, Sarah shares an in-depth list of ten tips for black and white nature photography - covering everything from field practices to photo processing.
Sarah and I started and finished 2017 in Death Valley National Park. In between we also visited the Mojave Preserve in California, the Huntington Gardens near Pasadena, the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, Grand Teton National Park (twice), witnessed the total solar eclipse in Wyoming, and photographed fall colors in Zion National Park. We also photographed wildflowers and fall colors near our home in southwest Colorado, and finally moved into our house in October after living fourteen months full time in our Airstream trailer.
My complete processed work - so far - from 2017 can be viewed on my 2017 gallery, which includes:
- Elements Collection - A collection abstract scenes in nature, many captured in 2017
- Huntington Gardens - An incredible botanical garden near Pasadena, California
- Mojave Desert and Death Valley National Park
- Sonoran Desert
- Grand Teton National Park
- Colorado Wildflowers
- Colorado Fall Colors
- Zion Fall Colors
I also created a gallery of my favorite photos of 2017, a dozen of which I will share in this post below.
This photo was taken recently at Grand Teton National Park and was one of the most incredible sunrises I have witnessed in person. It has a rainbow, colorful clouds, and warm light on rolling hills in addition to perhaps the most iconic mountain range in the United States.
It also says nothing at all about me as a photographer.Read More
The Department of the Interior is accepting public comments on the Bears Ears National Monument designation in Utah for ONLY TWO MORE DAYS. If you have a few moments, please consider leaving a comment to let Secretary Zinke know that you support the protection of this special place and help send the message that we need to preserve more public land now, not less. Here are two options for sharing a comment:
- You can submit a personally drafted comment here.
- If you are pressed for time, you can also easily customize a prepared form letter here.
The following three photographers have shared their eloquent and thoughtful messages about protecting Bears Ears, each of which you can find in the links below:
- Greg Russell - In Defense of Bears Ears National Monument
- Jackson Frishman - Support National Monuments!
- Dave Showalter - An Open Letter to Secretary Zinke
- Helpful background information from the Grand Canyon Trust
I had hoped to write something like Greg, Jackson, and Dave but have simply run out of time. So, here is a rough draft of my finished but not terribly inspiring comment I plan to submit later today.
Dear Secretary Zinke:
I am writing to you from southwestern Colorado, only a short distance from Canyons of the Ancient National Monument – another monument under review despite strong local support for its designation. That is a matter for a different letter, as today I am writing to strongly support keeping the Bears Ears National Monument designation in place.
I am an income-earning landscape photographer and I depend on access to and the preservation of public lands for my livelihood. In my photography-related travels, two sites in the Cedar Mesa area of Bears Ears National Monument are the first backcountry archaeological sites I ever visited. With very vague directions, (and no established trail at the time), we set off by heading up a colorful sandstone canyon lined with junipers and other high desert plants. I remember coming upon the first ruin, tucked in an alcove under a spectacular overhang of fluted sandstone, and feeling a sense of awe, wonder, and a desire to learn more about the people who once called this place home. This is the kind of experience and place that we as a society should be preserving in perpetuity.
Bears Ears National Monument contains thousands of archaeological sites and spectacular wilderness – exactly the kind of place that the Antiquities Act was designed to protect. The process to create Bears Ears was comprehensive and inclusive, with a significant base of support among the tribes that consider the land sacred, local residents, and Utahans in general. Additionally, the Conservation in the West Poll, a bi-partisan poll of people living in western states, suggests that 80% of westerners want to keep monument designations - like Bears Ears - in place.
With regard to commercial interests, the energy industry is too often prioritized over different kinds of businesses, like those of landscape photographers, wilderness guides, outfitters, restaurants, hotels, and others catering to visitors. The tourism industry in Utah generates more state and local revenues, and significantly more jobs, than does the energy industry. Bears Ears National Monument is not the place for the mining of coal or uranium or the extraction of oil or natural gas. Instead, it is a sacred place full of irreplaceable cultural artifacts and wilderness quality land that deserves to be protected while maintaining access for local tribes, private landowners, and visitors with a priority for preservation.
Thank you for your consideration of this comment offered in strong support of preserving the Bears Ears National Monument designation.
If you share a comment on Bears Ears or the other monuments under review, please let us know in the comments. We welcome the opportunity to see your thoughts on this topic.
While we haven't shared many articles on our blog over the last few weeks, we have been busy writing for other websites. You can use these links to get to some of our recent articles published in other places. As always, thanks for reading and supporting our photography endeavors.
In this post for Capture Landscapes, Sarah shares information about her approach to black and white photography, along with an overview of her workflow for processing black and white photographs.
Ron shared this post over on our occasional travel blog. We will be moving into a new house in southwestern Colorado this fall. While we wait for it to be finished, we are living full-time in our 25' Airstream trailer. In this post, Ron shares some of the things we would change about our Airstream based on many months living in it.
In this post for Visual Wilderness, Sarah shares some practical tips for preparing for photography-related travel.
In this post for Outdoor Photography Guide, Sarah shares the story behind one of her favorite black and white photographs (below).
In this post for Visual Wilderness, Sarah shares five practices that can help you develop your creativity as a nature and landscape photographer.
Drones are the latest rage among nature photographers these days. It is easy to see why, they provide unique perspectives of the world that were previously impossible to get, or at the very least expensive. They keep getting better too, the DJI Phantom 4 drone has a 20 megapixel camera sensor!
There is a downside, of course. As of this writing, the DJI Phantom 4 retails for around $1,300, and the soon(?) to be released DJI Mavic Pro retails for $999. For photographers used to shelling out a lot of hard earned money on lenses, that actually doesn't seem too bad. But still, I would like to offer a cheaper if not perfectly equivalent alternative: A macro lens!
I know, a macro lens is not the same thing as a drone, and it is certainly not a replacement for one, but it does provide a similar function in that it offers a new and different perspectives on the everyday world around us. When concentrating on abstract patterns and shapes, perspectives a few hundred feet in the air can look very similar to those just inches away from the ground.
Best of all, great quality macro lenses are (relatively) cheap! My favorite macro lens, and the sharpest lens I own, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L ISM 1X macro lens, is only $799 (all photos in this post were taken with that lens) If you truly want to get microscopic the Canon MP-E6 1-5X Macro Lens is even more crazy, providing a 5X magnification (though it's slightly more expensive at $1,050). 1X magnification means that a subject that is the same size as your camera sensor will fill the frame. 5X magnification means an object 5 times smaller than your camera sensor will fill the entire frame.
Other advantages of a macro lens over a drone:
- Macro lenses do not need to comply with FAA regulations!
- Macro lenses do not sound like the world's most annoying hair dryer
- Macro lenses are permitted everywhere photography is permitted, including National Parks
- Macro lenses easily fit into your existing camera bag
- Macro lenses do not need their own batteries
- Macro lenses do not fly away from you never to return again
- Macro lenses can take long exposures at low ISO when using a tripod
- Macro lenses can work with the latest camera sensors, which can be upgraded independently
Macro lenses also have benefits over traditional lenses. Macro lenses have a closer minimum focusing distance than equivalent focal length non-macro lenses (which is how they achieve 1X and higher magnification). The Canon 100mm macro has a focusing distance of 1 foot, the Canon 100mm prime f/2 (non-macro) lens has a minimum focusing distance of three feet. This means that with a macro lens you can get closer to your subject matter and still have everything in focus, giving you a different photographic perspective. Remember that cropping a photo does not change perspective, it only decreases resolution, so having a closer minimum focusing distance opens up new creative possibilities. The Canon 100mm macro (and many others) can also focus at infinity, allowing you to use the lens as a normal prime lens in addition to as a macro lens.
Macro lenses are often used to photograph small subjects, allowing you to easily modify light and have it affect the entire scene. Most typically this involves shading your subject on a sunny day using a reflector or diffuser or just the shadow of your own body. This means that you can photograph macro subjects during more hours of a day than might be suitable for a wide-angle grand scenic.
Most of all, like drones, macro lenses are fun!
So by all means, purchase that drone (we will get one at some point when we have a place to store it), but also get a macro lens, even if it isn't as sexy these days. They both can provide opportunities that are not available with traditional lenses.
For more on small scenes and macro photography, please see our e-book Beyond the Grand Landscape: A Guide to Photographing Nature's Smaller Scenes. Colleen Miniuk-Sperry also has a recent blog post on gear and accessories for macro/wildflower photography that is well worth reading.
Note: Links on this page and blog are Amazon affiliate links, if you click on them, you help support this site at no extra cost to you. Nature Photo Guides is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
In my latest article for Jay & Varina Patel's Visual Wilderness website, I write about five ways that I have cultivated creativity and improved my photography as a result:
- Think of yourself as a creative person.
- Banish expectations.
- Develop your observational skills.
- Set aside time for practice and experimentation.
- Try working within constraints.
You can read the full article and see the example photographs on the Visual Wilderness website. Have you found any of these practices or others to be helpful in your photography? If so, I would be interested to hear about your experience in the comments.
I hope you have enjoyed all of my recent posts about black and white photography. These posts have been the ramp-up to launching our newest educational product for nature and landscape photographers. Thus, we are excited to announce our new ebook + video course, Black & White Photography: A Complete Guide for Nature Photographers.
This course is designed to help you create compelling, personally expressive black and white photographs. It is highly practical, teaching you tools that can be immediately integrated into your field practices and processing workflow. The course includes the following modules:
- 183-page PDF ebook - $15.95. Topics include creativity, field practices, and the digital darkroom. Includes more than 80 photos and many more illustrations. Two practice files are included.
- Adobe Lightroom video course - $39.95, which includes 5 videos (2 hours) on how to use Lightroom to process black and white photos, including essential concepts, workflow recommendations, an overview of Lightroom's key tools, and a full start-to-finish example. Two practice files are included.
- Adobe Photoshop video course - $39.95, which includes 5 videos (2.5 hours) on how to use Photoshop to process black and white photos, including essential concepts, workflow recommendations, an overview of Photoshop's key tools, and a full start-to-finish example. Five practice files are included.
- Silver Efex Pro mini-course - $7.95, which includes one video (36 minutes) on how to use this software to process black and white photos, including a review of the presets panel, an overview of key tools, and a full start-to-finish example.
With the coupon code BW20, you can purchase the full course for $79 (almost 40% off the full price) or the individual modules at a 20% discount (prices above include the discount). This introductory pricing ends on March 31, so don't wait to make your purchase.
Customer Feedback for Black & White Photography: A Complete Guide for Nature Photographers
Note: You must enter the coupon code BW20 to get the savings reflected in the prices above!
Thank you for your continued support of our photography. We are very grateful for all of our readers and customers. :)
In sharing my recent black and white photos, I have received a lot of questions about my approach to photo processing. I typically start in Lightroom and finish in Photoshop, using tools like levels, curves, and luminosity masks (a workflow I discuss in detail in my ebook + video course, Black & White Photography: A Complete Guide for Nature Photographers).
Even though I prefer to use Photoshop, it isn't necessary to get good results for less complex photos like this one. I just posted this 32-minute video tutorial on YouTube about taking and processing this photo from Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park. The video includes these topics: field techniques, composition, camera settings, and an overview of the processing steps I took to finish the photo, primarily using Adobe Lightroom.
If you have any questions about the content of the video, please let me know!
After sharing selected photos from my black and white portfolios in my last three blog posts (landscapes, nature's small scenes, and plants), I am going to turn to discussing tips for how nature photographers can create more compelling, interesting, and dynamic black and white photographs. While it is hard to distill years of reading, trial and error, and experimentation into a few bullet points, I consider the following ten items to be the most important things I have learned along the way in creating my photographs.
As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I generally feel more restrained when presenting a photograph in color. While I do not hold others to the same principles, I personally think that my color photographs need to be mostly grounded in the reality of the moment I experienced in the field. While working within this constraint is my choice, it does highly influence my work in a way that applies boundaries. With my color work, I often seek to portray simplicity, quietness, elegance, and contemplation. Many of my color photos are light and bright, or soft and quiet. With my black and white work, I often choose to portray drama, grandeur, and darkness in a way that just does not work for me when working in color.
With black and white photography, the constraints of conveying “reality” do not come into play since there is no reality conveyed in shades of gray. Thus, I can take an image file and create something that reflects my interests, visual preferences, and emotions about a scene or place in a much different way than I can with a color photograph. By shedding the expectations that come along with color photography, I have the opportunity to share my photographic concepts with greater latitude. For me, black and white photography feels like a more expansive pursuit than color photography because of the opportunities and creative freedoms I discuss below.Read More