Do you wait for photographs? Set up your tripod on a scene and then wait for something to happen? Lots of people think this is how #AnselAdams worked, but he didn’t. From everything I’ve heard he was’t patient enough, and neither am I. I find that my most favorite photographs are a response to light, to fleeting moments that unpredictably come into being, exist for a very short time, and then disappear. So while I rarely “wait” for a photograph, I’m always waiting on the light, which is an active process of looking, exploring, slowing down, sensing, tuning in to my environment. I waited on the light for a week to make this photograph. After some challenging life stuff, I took off for a week to camp on the #bigsur coast to clear my head and refresh myself. I spent a week exploring the nooks and crannies of the coast, watching tides rise and fall, but my 4x5 view camera stayed in my bag because a persistent marine layer created dead gray light that just didn’t inspire me. As you can imagine, that left me pretty frustrated because I thought I’d make a lot of new work that week, and on the last day of the trip I faced the prospect of returning home without even exposing any film. But on that final day while exploring an area just south of Carmel, the light started to break. In a mad dash, I broke out my view camera and quickly set up on the scene before me. I was only able to make a few exposures before the light left, but one of those captured what i saw as a rare pastel light illuminated the waves and tide pools. That one picture, on the last day, because I didn’t pack up early, made the whole trip.
Wisner 4x5, Nikon 135mm f5.6 W Lens, Fuji Velvia, exposure unrecorded, likely ƒ32-45
Do you have a flare problem? I’m not talking about the JJ Abrams Star Trek over-the-top creative use of it, I’m talking about those times that it’s killing the richness and saturation of your photographs. You know it can do that, right?
Lens flare is caused anytime light is falling directly on the lens. You don’t have to be pointing directly at the sun to cause it…It can happen even when the light source is outside your frame. When any bright light is hitting your lens, it causes all kinds of stray reflections that bounce around inside your lens and ruin contrast and saturation.
Camera phones are particularly prone to it. Look at this pair of photographs. The first picture was taken with no shading on the lens. The sun is outside the frame towards the upper left. The contrast and saturation have been degraded significantly from the real live view I saw with the naked eye.
I noticed the flare on the screen, so I made a second picture where I used my hand as a shade to stop sunlight from falling on the lens.
As you can see, the results are dramatic. The shaded photo shows a significant increase in contrast and saturation, both in the red leaves and the background, and shows the scene the way I intended.
Using a lens shade on your camera will help avoid flare, but the best way to avoid it is to know what it looks like through your viewfinder so that you can fix it anytime it appears. It’s just one of the many things to be aware of every time you are making a photograph.
Most of my adult life has been spent around photographers. They are my friends, my associates and my customers. Whenever photographers gather together, it’s inevitable that the subject of how to make a living at it comes up. I think many of us have had (and continue to have!) the dream that, if we could just find the right way to make a living in photography, we could quit our day job and just make photographs full time. I mean, who doesn’t want to photograph all of the time? I know I do. Making photographs in the field, and making fine prints of those photographs gives me an immense joy like few other pursuits can. The idea of being able to do it full time is a powerful attraction.
In the course of my career as a Fine Art Printmaker, I’ve gained an inside look at the business of hundreds of “successful” full time photographers. As a result of that I can tell you absolutely nothing about how to make a living at photography. I can tell you what they do: teach workshops; sell prints; shoot assignments; etc. Unfortunately, I can’t give you any formula that puts it all together into a guaranteed career like I could for a pharmacist, or a nurse, or an engineer.
The truth is that every successful photographer I know has put together some completely individualized package of their skills, passion, dedication, worth ethic, connections, and circumstances to make it work. I also know a lot of photographers who are incredibly talented image makers who have great skills, yet have struggled to make a living from photography.
I can’t tell you, in fact no one can tell you, how to make a living from photography. But I can give you something better. That better thing is that you don’t need to make a living from photography to have a deeply satisfying lifelong relationship with it. Why do you find photography so interesting in the first place? Seek those things; how it feeds you, grows you, challenges you, motivates you, and enriches you. Enjoy the fact that photography allows you to tell a story that is beyond words, share part of your soul with another, and define grand truths and great tragedies. That is why we photograph.
I’ve seen so many photographers burn out and leave the art because they were chasing making a living at it. I’ve seen others who take photography on its own terms, in balance with the other needs in their life. They are able to make incredible work that brings them immense satisfaction.
Becoming successful in photography is not a goal; it’s a lifelong pursuit. If you only want to do it to be the rock star, be ready to join the heap of other failed rock stars. But if you can learn to pursue photography for the joy of it; the joy of finding a subject, of clicking the shutter, of seeing a print come out, of communicating the deep things that are beyond words...then you can continue to grow, learn, and have a lifelong engagement with this incredible medium. Finding success in photography is not about reaching some elusive final destination. It’s about embracing the journey. It’s time to look up from the map, so you can fully enjoy the ride.
There is a big difference between good color and accurate color. Good color can be simply color that you like. If you like the prints coming off your printer, you can deem them “good” using just your opinion. There are definitely some circumstances where that is enough for a photographer...but the problem comes when you want to print the same file on a different paper, or a different printer. If you want prints to look the same when changing printers and papers, you need to have accurate color.
I define accurate color as being able to reproduce colors to a known standard. Accurate color requires testing; comparing prints from the device and/or paper you want to use, to a known, quality reference print.
My known reference prints are a pair of test sheets with several of my photographs on them that I know extremely well, from printing over many years on many devices and papers. The test sheets also include some color and gray charts, which are used as diagnostic tools, and for comparing one profile to another.
When I want to print on a new paper, I print my test sheets so I can visually compare them to known and approved reference prints I’ve made in the past. With an accurate ICC profile, it is possible to produce prints that are extremely accurate, and for all intents and purposes, the same as prints made on other devices and papers.
This precision in color is what I require before I approve a profile for production. The value of using this approval process has been proven to me, again and again over the years in my work as fine art printmaker. I’ve applied this process to approving dozens and dozens of profiles for different papers on fine art printing devices including inkjet printers, Chromiras, Lightjets, and even metal prints.
Creating my reference chart the first time was the hardest part. It required knowing what the photos should look like to a very high degree of precision, as well as being able to print it on several different papers and devices to validate that the master reference print was indeed accurate.
Time and time again in my teaching and workshops, I run into photographers who haven’t measured their prints against a known reference print, and don’t even have a known reference print. The easiest way for me to solve that is to offer approved and validated prints of my test sheet, and allowing photographers to print the same file on their printers, with their profiles, so they can compare their prints against my known and approved reference print.
I use two reference prints, one for color, and one for black-and-white. I’m offering copies of my reference prints for $30 for one, or $50 for both the color and black-and-white when ordered as a package. Each print has been printed on my Canon PRO-1000 printer, has been carefully checked against my master reference print, and signed by me as a mark that I’ve approved the color accuracy.
These prints are a valuable tool that will help you save time and frustration, as well as valuable paper and ink. They will help you gain confidence in your printing process, while showing you areas that need a little more work. And the prints themselves are pretty nice to look at, too!
I was deeply saddened to read that the recent rockfalls on Yosemite’s El Capitan killed climber Andrew Foster and injured his wife. There is a kindred spirit that runs through all who love Yosemite, and the loss of anyone there, even someone I didn’t know, is a loss to the greater Yosemite community.
Rockfalls like this are spectacular events, that are hard to understand unless you’ve studied or experienced one. A 65x131x4 foot section of rock falling 1800 feet and hitting the ground has an immense force that literally disintegrates much of the rock into small granules and grit only a bit larger than sand.
I was witness to the 1996 Happy Isles rockfall that had some similar effects. About twelve hours after the rockfall, I went photographing in the area impacted and then led my Ansel Adams Gallery camera walk there. The scene was literally a moonscape. Everything was covered in a fine dust of fresh granite to the point that no color was visible. It was like the change in the Wizard of Oz from color to black and white, only backwards. Rock dust was worked into every nook of bark on the trees, on every leaf, everything. I was so focused on black and white photography at that time that I didn’t even think to take a color photograph, which would have shown it in terms that are easier to understand, but I do have some of the black and white photographs I made that morning.
It’s hard to describe the texture and coarseness of the granite dust. It is like nothing anywhere else and it got into everything. Fine particles were still floating around and I remember feeling them on my teeth. They even got into the works of my lenses, and for years after I could feel them as I changed aperture on those lenses. After reading accounts of the Apollo astronauts, it’s probably the closest I’ll come to walking on the moon.
I thought black and white film would be perfect for capturing the truly monochromatic landscape, but the problem was everything was the same shade of gray, just a little lighter than a 18% gray card. Sunlit areas were brighter, but there was little shadow to create contrast. Truly a challenge situation to photograph.
While Yosemite is very safe compared to a lot of places in the world, it is still wild. We are not in control there. I’ve missed injury or death from rockfalls in Yosemite on several occasions, from having rockfalls on roads that I just passed minutes before, to “finding” a major rockfall in the Merced canyon late one night while returning home, that required screeching to a halt to avoid car sized boulders. During the Flood of 1997 I literally had to run from a rockfall on the backside of Yosemite falls. I’ll never forget the look on my friend Glenn’s face as he shouted “Run!” to me and my wife. We literally ran for our lives, and then later found the spot we were standing in covered in about a foot of small fist sized rocks. But my brush with the 1996 Happy Isles rockfall was most similar to the El Capitan event. My wife and I were planing to go to Happy Isles that evening, and would have been there at the time of the rockfall, but we were tired after a long drive that day and decided to skip it. Had we went, we would have experienced blinding dust, winds exceeding 100 miles per hour that snapped the top halves of 150 foot trees off, and knocked down others. At the time I was disappointed I didn’t get the ultimate front row seat for such an event. In hindsight, I’m glad I missed my front row ticket that night.
Don’t let events like these scare you from Yosemite and other wild places. Your drive to work is probably more dangerous. We go to Yosemite because it is wild, not because we can tame it.
Sitting by a fire on a cool autumn evening holds a beauty and mystery that is universal in the human experience. It’s not just the warmth but the smell of the wood and sap burning like incense, the crackle, hisses, and pops as what was knit together over decades breaks apart into basic elements. It is a soothing, mediative experience.
Yosemite National Park often sets fires on purpose, when conditions are right, to allow slow, controlled burning to help prevent more catastrophic fires. It was during one of these fires that I pulled off the Tioga road to stop and just experience the fire. On an autumn night with virtually no traffic, I was alone, just me and the pop, sizzle, crack, and smoke of the fire. As I was setting up to photograph, the large tree in the center of this photo caught fire of “torched” as the firefighters call it. Even at about 100 yards away, the heat was intense as this 150 foot giant caught fire, every branch and needle engulfed like a touch in the night. For minutes afterward the embers on the branches glowed as captured in this piece of film. The energy released from this on tree was astounding, and left me with in awe.
Wisner 4x5 Nikkor 135mm lens Fuji RDP II 4x5 film
Very few people just pick up a musical instrument and start playing great music. There are exceptions, but most people need to receive formal instruction in both music and the instrument. This instruction gives musicians the foundation to understand how to play and create music, and to keep growing (and hopefully enjoying) the art.
Photography can, and should, be learned in a similar way. With proper instruction, photographers can attain an understanding of the creative controls that allow them to begin expressing themselves more clearly and easily. There are exercises and approaches that can be taught and learned by anyone through study and application.
The more fluent a photographer is in the creative controls of photography, the more the camera and software drop from conscious thought and allow the connection between what the photographer sees in their mind and what is actually in front of the camera to freely flow. This is no different than the musician and the connection they must have to their instrument, or the athlete who practices their swing over and over until it becomes transparent, allowing them to focus on the ball and the wider situation.
My approach to teaching is focused on growing students’ understanding and mastery of photography’s creative controls while guiding and encouraging development of artistic vision.
It is my experience that If I teach a student how to gain creative control over photography, I have given them the best foundation for growing and exploring their artistic expression. Coupled with that, I can expose them to great art and artists to inspire and broaden their palate, and mentor them in finding and expressing their story. My end goal is to give photographers the means to express themselves through photography so they can enjoy a lifelong relationship with the medium.
With Autumn rapidly approaching, I’m looking forward to sharing some more of my fall color work.
This is one of those rare photos where I got a second chance after failing to get a good photo the previous year. This creek is located in the nook between two tall mountains at about 7200’ elevation. The combination of open shade and the increased UV radiation contribute to make a very blue light. Our eyes, and digital cameras, do a very good job of white balancing this blue light to normal, but this photograph was made with film which has a fixed white balance. The first time I tried to make a photograph here, I didn’t use a warming filter to adjust the white balance, so it was horribly blue with no way to correct it out in Photoshop. The next year I was better prepared, and was able to make this exposure with my 4x5 Wisner field camera, 135mm Nikkor lens, Fuji RDP II film, and a warming filter. Because of the high resolution of 4x5 film and a high quality scan, many fine details are visible, including the vein structure in the leaves and even insect holes where they have made a snack of the beautiful fall foliage. It will always be a reflection of the experience I had making it, and so many crisp, clear fall days in the Eastern Sierra.
The eclipse may be over but this liquor store still has solar glasses...and beer goggles.
Sony AR7 II Zeiss FE 35mm F2.8 ZA 1/90s f8 ISO 100
Words are not sufficient to describe seeing a total eclipse of the sun in person. I have dreamed of seeing a total eclipse my entire life. I've been watching eclipse photography since the early 80's as it progressed from the film era into digital. I've seen countless photos of eclipses from around the world. Nothing prepared me for the experience. As the sun winked out of view in my viewing glasses, and I took them off, I was it a totally different world. The sun replaced by a black hole, the brightest thing in the sky a ring of light with billowing curtains of gossamer flowing from it. It was if I was transported to another planet, so profound was the change from partial eclipse to totality. Superlatives seem an insult.
Rich Seiling is a pioneer in Fine Art Printmaking, having worked on thousands of prints for leading photographers.