6 Steps to Better Nature Photography — Review of Rob Sheppard’s New Book

6-Steps-Paper-RevHere is a fine new print book (which contains a downloadable video component) by master photographer and teacher Rob Sheppard.  6 Steps to Better Nature Photography lives up to its name.  It’s not about technical basics, nor about postprocessing—there are any number of good books on the market (e-books as well as print) that cover those topics—but about six essential considerations for anyone who wants to improve their nature photography to be aware of, take to heart, and put into practice.

What is more basic, more essential to photography than light? And so Rob opens with light. A beginning photographer can be so focused (pun intended) on the subject that he or she is totally unaware of how the light—its presence, absence, quality—is affecting the scene. (It’s a trap into which even experienced photographers can fall.) Chase the light, yes, but cultivate an awareness of how it interacts with your subject. On the theory that a picture is worth 1,000 words, Rob provides three of his own stunning photographs from Acadia National Park as examples of how light at different times of day affects the subject and thus how the image is composed accordingly.

And indeed, composition is the second step Rob covers—specifically, how to go beyond relying on your zoom lens and standing in one spot, zooming in and out to vary your compositions.  Different kinds of lenses influence how the viewer perceives the difference between the foreground and background in a photo, and Rob wants to make you aware of this; he also points out that a macro lens isn’t your only choice if you wish to make close-ups. I remember Rob teaching this very effectively in an online course several years ago. It can be a complicated topic, and I think that the presentation of this “step” could have been improved a tad just by some tweaking of the layout and formatting.

Rob Sheppard cares deeply about the environment—not simply as a collection of photographic subjects but as a living thing, a divine creation; and not only the environment as a whole or as a general concept, but every individual facet of it, from a mountain to an insect or a tiny flower. This reverence (that really is the correct word) is what, more than anything else, informs his approach to his work and to teaching it. Thus in the third step more than anywhere else, about macro and close-up photography, his knowledge of nature, of the habits of living things, comes into play. First, you can’t get pictures of insects the way he does without knowing something about how that insect behaves. Second, whatever kind of postprocessing he does, the end result remains a photograph that tells you some kind of story or conveys some information about the subject – about its natural surroundings and/or its behavior. He doesn’t exploit his subjects as raw material for “digital art,” for example.  The many inserts headed “The Nature of the Photo” not only inform you about Rob’s subjects; they also inspire and challenge you to find out something about the subjects you’re likely to encounter in your neck of the woods.

Again, Rob’s reverence for his subjects inform step four, “Avoiding Boring Photos of Nature” (if you’ve ever read his “Nature Photography Manifesto,” available as an e-book, you’ll know what I mean). This alone is worth the price of the book. You could do worse than write some of them out on index cards and tape them up where you’ll see them regularly.

Rob has been evolving into a master black-and-white photographer and, in step five, shares the fruits of his experience by outlining general principles to keep in mind if you aim to create effective black-and-white images. In step six he covers practical information about something every photographer is going to encounter while out shooting – the weather.

Rob Sheppard presents himself as an experienced photographer who is passionately in love with his craft and eager to share from is knowledge and expertise with the reader. But he never comes across as a big-shot know-it-all. He’s still on a journey too; in fact, the first words in the book are “It’s a Journey.” That’s what makes him entirely credible and what instills complete confidence in you, the reader/learner.

6 Steps to Better Nature Photography includes a video course on composition. The URL is in the back of the book, and you can watch the segments or download them to watch when you want so you needn’t be online to take advantage.  The information is basic but essential and, as always, benefits from Rob’s gifts as a teacher “live” as well as in print. Click on the title of the book or on the image of the cover and you’ll get right through to the relevant page on Rob’s website.

A Little Viveza Goes a Long Way

I don’t like to overprocess photos unless I deliberately want a sort of painterly look that may end up resembling something other than a photograph. For that, some of my favorite presents are in Topaz Labs’ Adjust. But for a photo that’s going to remain a photo and just wants that little something extra, I’m increasingly finding that Google’s Nik Viveza is a powerful yet minimalistic tool.

Screenshot 2015-07-30 20.38.27Viveza has four basic settings: Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Structure. You can use the sliders to determine how much you want (or don’t want) of each of these parameters, and there is also a Brush Tool that allows you to select a particular feature in the image to which to apply your edit.

A picture is worth a thousand words. So let me explain further using a few recently processed (or reprocessed) images.

First I sometimes use Viveza to give an overall livelier tone to my image — a bit more “punch,”one might say. That’s what I’ve done to this image of the interior of the Higher Grounds Coffee Co. in Windham, and to this picture of Main Street in Phoenicia. Both towns are in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I did not amp up the saturation of the coffee shop interior to an unnatural level, by the way. Not my style.

But as I said, Viveza’s Brush Tool is a very effective way to apply an edit to a selected part of a photograph.

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In these two images from the Mountain Top Historical Society’s campus in Haines Falls, I increased the structure and brushed the new setting onto the tree stump in the image on the left because I wanted the detail in the venerable old stump to stand in contrast to tne summer’s new greenery, which in places is ever so slightly blurred due to the breeze that was blowing that day.

In the image on the right I increased the Brightness and Structure and brushed these onto the rock to draw the viewer’s attention to the rock.

I did something similar with Motif no. 1 in this photo (below) of that famous building, ensuring that the enhanced Brightness and Structure would catch the viewer’s eye.

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If, like me, you want to give a bit of a “pop” to your photo without going overboard — something nice and subtle — I would recommend trying Nik Viveza 2.

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To learn more about Nik Viveza 2,click here to visit the website.

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To purchase any of my photos on the page, click the photo to get to my Fine Art America site.

A Photograph’s Unexpected Odyssey

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In late June Anton de Flon (check out his site — he is “the” Catskill Dude) and I went out to North-South Lake for a short hike. When we came to the point where the trail ascends these rocks, I decided to stop and take in the spirit of Hudson River painter Asher B. Durand, whose presence I sensed nearby. Asher loved to paint studies of rocks.DSC4400 original s

Here is the original of the first picture I took. I wanted a vertical. Yes, it’s a bit far off, but that’s me — I like to begin zoomed out and then gradually move in closer. Same way I like to get to know people.

After some very basic processing in Lightroom, I took it into Photoshop to do the main work. One of the first things I did was to zoom in to clone out one of those blue round trail markers. Then I looked at the zoomed-in picture and it struck me — Hey! I rather like that!  Yes, I wanted a vertical, but I have at least three other verticals from that day, better compositions all of them, so … I cropped the image down to exactly what i saw on the screen, then lopped a tiny slice more off the bottom.  It’s the one at the top of this post..

OK, what to do with it now?  I had been thinking of a monochrome with lots of the detail DSC4400 Nik 028 sshowing. So, into Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 we went.  And I realized it wasn’t working, at least not with the detail I had envisioned.  But among the presets I tried was this — and I liked it a lot. Very atmospheric.  I think Asher would have approved of it — as a sketch, anyway.  (I also tried a sepia preset that made it look like something you’d find at the bottom of a drawer in the archives of the Adirondack Museum. Can you see the headline now?  “Obscure 19th-century Print in ADK Museum Collection Now Discovered to Depict the Catskills.” I did not save this version.)

OK, but then what? Well, let’s see what Topaz Adjust 5 has to offer. Click, click, click on various presets — and then came the revelation. This one — called “French Countryside” — the problem was that leaving in all the details was making for too confused an image, and what it really needed was to be smoothed out. This one worked best for the purpose.

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What do you think?

Photography Workshop with Jeff Sinon Does Not Disappoint

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Want to go on a photography workshop? You’re in luck — whatever your location, your subject matter of interest, your topic of interest, it’s not difficult to find something to suit your requirements. It’s then a matter of matching up the logistics — the where and when — with what you can afford to pay.

DSC3818 sI’m enamored with the New England coast. I’m a New England wannabe. Having spent years traveling to and photographing Rhode Island, I discovered the northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire coasts a little over a year ago. New Hampshire can boast of only 18 miles of coastline, but what an amazing variety of visual experiences it offers. How can a visitor from New York make the most of it in a short time?

Enter photographer Jeff Sinon. A member of the

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prestigious New England Photography Guild, Jeff lives in the area and knows every inch of the New Hampshire coastline. By wonderful coincidence, Jeff had just put out a notice that he was beginning to offer workshops, and I was just a few weeks away from a week-long visit to the area. Could we arrange a meetup? We sure could.

While Jeff organizes workshops around places he thinks would interest people — New Hampshire waterfalls was one recent offering, and he has one coming for (of course) the famous Lupine Festival in Sugar Hill — he will also design one tailor-made to a client’s needs, whether it be a small group or, like me, an individual. My requirements were simple: My time — any time — I spend in this gorgeous region is limited; can you show me a selection of places that would otherwise have taken quite a while to discover on my own, if at all? That’s it — I know how to use my camera, I’m fine with postprocessing, I just want to find the places and, within those places, any special views I should be aware of.

DSC3808 5 x 7Jeff picked me up at my hotel in Seabrook toward late afternoon — he had decided, quite rightly as it turned out, that this would best be done toward sunset — and we worked our way northward.  We came upon a lovely little harbor with lobster boats. We also stopped at some picturesque coves that, because of the tall rocks that separate the road from the beach, wouldn’t be visible (and therefore known) to anyone not familiar with the area. And there was Great Island Common, popularly known as New Castle Common, near Portsmouth. Great Island Common offers great views of two lighthouses, Portsmouth Harbor Light and Whaleback Light, the latter of which is actually in Maine waters.  But Jeff pointed out two other unique features: the “lone maple tree,” one of the most photographed trees around, and The Seascape Artist, a metal sculpture that you can photograph so as to have it frame the scene and look as if the artist is painting it.

The one improvement I could have wished for was totally beyond Jeff’s control: it was a chillyDSC3791 s and unbelievably windy evening. Not entirely conducive to getting completely into the meditative zone I need in order to concentrate on getting the best possible images (or to getting tack-sharp images with my 70-300-mm telephoto maxed out). But I think I came away with some good ones. You can judge for yourself by what you see here.

If you’re planning a visit to New Hampshire and want to check out workshops, whether preorganized or self-designed, I highly recommend that you contact Jeff Sinon.  He knows what he’s about, and in a self-designed workshop such as mine you’ll get exactly what you want — he’s knowledgeable and respects his clients’ wishes. And he’s a master photographer. He has just been chosen to represent New Hampshire in the U.S. edition of Photography’s Traveling Journal. Click here for Jeff’s website.

Forces Of Nature

lighthouse75:

I was Jeff’s first client. I’ll post something about my experience very soon.

Originally posted on Jeff Sinon Photography :

Long exposure image of The Basin, Franconia, NH

Patience

 Nature has a design known only to her,

Slowly revealing her artistic intent with the passing of ages.

As the river flows, sculpting the landscape,

To the Forces of Nature even the granite succumbs.

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Rocky Gorge, Autumn Fog.

And Now, By Popular Demand.

Over the last few years I’ve often been asked if I offer workshops. The answer has always been, “Some day.”

I’m pleased to announce that “Some Day” has finally arrived!

Whether you’re looking for a private one-on-one or a small group experience, I can taylor a workshop to your needs.

Seascapes, both morning and evening, along the rugged New Hampshire seacoast, I do that.

Or is photographing the historic charm of a classic New England seacoast town more to your liking? Let me be your guide as we walk around the Portsmouth, NH area in search of iconic New England architecture.

Waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls. The White Mountains of New…

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Do It Now! — Again

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Some time ago I wrote a blog post admonishing my readers not to postpone getting that picture until “later,” because you never know whether the subject you want to photograph will still be there later, and as an example I posted a photo I had taken of a vintage, no longer operative country store in Arkville, Delaware County, NY. That was the “before” image. In the “after” image, the building had been sanitized into a red-vinyl cookie-cutter adjunct to a petrol station by a company that obviously had plans to operate the business in a, well, somewhat more character-challenged incarnation. Clearly my “Do it now!” admonition doesn’t apply in every single instance — for example, Mt. Washington isn’t likely to change much or disappear if you put off shooting it for a few weeks or so. But it does have to be taken seriously when you’re shooting ruins or abandoned buildings, for example.

I just had another example of this happen last week. One year ago I visited Gloucester, Massachusetts for the first time and, in a random walk through the town, came upon the old fish processing factory you see in the above photo. This is the best of three photos I took, all fairly wide-angle shots. The sky was clouding over, the wind was picking up (the latter is nothing unusual for Gloucester), so I packed it in, figuring I could try some close-ups on another visit. (The close-ups would have required a change of lens, and with the wind there was quite a lot of dirt and sand blowing around — enough to make you consider whether it was worth risking a lens change.)

Fast forward one year, and I was in Gloucester once again, two weeks ago. Since this building wasn’t too far from the famous Fishermen’s Memorial, and I was heading that way, I figured it would be a good time to revisit the building and get some different shots.

And when I got there, here, to my dismay, is what I saw:

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The Good Harbor Fillet Co. deconstructed!

Well, I’m glad I got some images of it when I did. Do I regret not having changed the lens for close-ups on my previous visit? Given the weather conditions that day, no. But now that I have the Olympus SH-1, with its 600-mm zoom, that I carry round as a backup. I would have regretted not pulling that out and using it as an alternative.

Avian Photography and Bird Snapshots and the Olympus Stylus SH-1

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First, I don’t pretend to be an avian photographer. Avian photographers are people who take pictures of birds using bazooka lenses that look as if they evolved from cannons (ha! pun intended) that had their heyday at the Battle of Gettysburg. Avian photographers also have an amazing degree of patience. You can’t ask that Bald Eagle or that Song Sparrow to strike just the right pose in the right kind of light — you have to wait … and wait … and wait for the bird to do it. And don’t forget the catch light in their eye!

I don’t have that kind of patience. And my bazooka lens, a Tokina AT-X 80-400mm, is, in my hands anyway, better suited for shooting stationary objects like lighthouses rather than birds that you may capture on the wing. But what I do have is an amazing little point-and-shoot, the Olympus Stylus SH-1. It was recommended to me by fellow upstate New York photographer Dan Burkholder. In fact, the first time Dan and I met, at the reception for his gallery show in Hunter, we recognized each other because we each had this camera hanging around our necks.  With its zoom that reaches to an astounding 600mm, this Olympus is capable of getting bird close-ups that (for me, anyway) would otherwise have been impossible.

The image of the heron, above, is the closest I’ve ever come to “avian photography” with the Olympus Stylus SH-1. I was in San Diego on a business trip, and the heron obligingly posed in the waters of the harbor right outside my hotel. (I had gone out just after breakfast to photograph the ships–I have a thing about anything nautical–and this guy was there as an added bonus). Otherwise, as far as photographing birds is concerned, I find that this handy camera has various other uses. For example:

getting record shots of the birds that visit my feeders in winter (visual confirmation of the ticked boxes on the lists at the back of my Kaufman Field Guide), such as

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr. Downy Woodpecker (the red cap identifies him as male), who seems to have moved in permanently; I sometimes see his mate, as well as a second male who is, in the opinion of the first Mr., avis non grata; or —

this White-Breasted Nuthatch. These are aggressive littleOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA birds who are able to run up and down trees, and when they run down, they go head first. Cute to watch. Always on the move, they’re difficult to photograph and so you have to keep shooting successively in hopes of getting something fairly usable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother application for photographing birds with the Olympus: Boasting rights, so I can email a photo such as this one of a White-Throated Sparrow to my birding friend in New England as proof that my feeder got one of these guys before his did. (Yup, that white stuff is snowflakes. This is the Northeast, remember.)

And similarly — to send to my birding friend for identification: Is this really a Carolina Wren? Yes,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA he confirmed, and I’m at the northern end of their range.

Finally, here’s one that I like to think goes beyond just a plain old bird snapshot. This Red-Tailed Hawk was perched in a tree at the McIntosh Audubon Preserve in Bristol, Rhode Island last month, patiently waiting to find someone to eat. Very patiently. And he wasn’t bothered by my walking slowly and ever closer to where he was. He had his back to me and eventually I was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAable to pass the tree and get some front shots of him — even with that all-important catch-light in his eye. Eventually he did swoop down on something but I don’t think he caught it. He landed in a tree on the opposite side of the field, but after a time returned to his original perch. To think that I was almost going to leave the Olympus in my car and just take the Nikon DSLR. Moral of the story: Never ever ignore that little inner voice that whispers a suggestion.