How adding motion to a static Winter landscape image can make it more dynamic

Pancake ice and sunrise clouds on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont

Landscapes don’t move

Generally when we are talking about or viewing landscape photography we are really looking at subjects that do not move or are static in nature.

Good landscape photography is always compelling and adding some motion into them  is a way to stretch our creative brains and make something that is static much more dynamic.

Typically we don’t want motion in a landscape as it can leave undesirable blur but it’s a whole other thing when we introduce it intentionally.

Combining static elements with movement can make our landscapes come alive and make the viewer pause and wonder about how the effect was achieved.

We can use motion to out advantage even when it is not the original intention of the image like today’s example above. here in fact I embraced the motion in my image as the sunrise was just phenomenal.

Difficulties in capturing motion at sunrise

There are a number of ways to add motion into a static landscape image but they all require some conditions to be met to achieve the effect in camera. Add in the challenge of quickly changing sunrise light and Winter weather and you have the recipe for disappointment unless you can think quickly on your toes and embrace the conditions you have been given.

In this image I had different ideas for what I wanted to capture but I had little time to find a good foreground due to changing conditions so I had to act fast. How can I capture this scene without losing that excellent light from the sunrise? This scene presented a number of challenges immediately which I used to my advantage….

  1. Overhanging clouds – I knew this sunrise was going to be good but I wasn’t quite sure from where. There was a lot of low cloud coverage and I though maybe that the color would not materialize but the clouds opened up just enough to get some stellar reflected light of the clouds. My initial exposures at the beginning of the sunrise were quite long because of all the clouds around.
  2. Melting ice – Originally I wanted some foreground ice images but due to a warm snap what little ice we had in the area was melting and breaking apart. With the weather conditions and wind there was a lot of movement on the lake ice which in the end made for a much stronger image due to the added motion.
  3. Long exposures – There was just no way around this one. The low and plentiful cloud cover reduced the available light so my exposures were going to be long no matter what. If I waited for the light to become stronger than I would miss the color in the sky and the sunrise would have ended.
  4. Foreground interest – The light was changing fast and I had no time to move to another location so I went with what I could find. I focused primarily on the channel between the two large pieces of ice as a leading line into the image with that spectacular color beyond. There was just enough chunks of ice in this channel to reflect some light and give some interest for the eyes.
  5. Waves – The waves were an issue because as the waves would come in the ice would move all over the place. In fact the ice in the middle ground was moving in different directions to the foreground ice which would have made getting a really sharp image in these areas impossible anyways.
  6. The sky color – This light at the end of the sunrise really did not last long. In  total out of all the images I shot the good color was around for maybe about 15 minutes and about 8 minutes of that was when the really excellent color showed up and then vanished. Too short of a window to hike around for a better composition and just long enough to hunker down in place and shoot frames. Up until the last ten minutes I wasn’t really sure if anything would happen but I stuck it out and was rewarded.

Shooting a series of images

In the end I shot a series of 25 images which I would need to use to make an exposure blended image. I chose three for my final blend, Two images were for the foreground ice blocks and middle ground and one for the ice and water movement in the channel and for the background.

The three images were necessary due to the ice moving all over the place. I had to wait for a good moment when the ice had the least amount of movement to get a nice, sharp foreground shot.

The water movement was a different story as each incoming wave was at a different speed so getting the right amount of movement in a frame was crucial to the image.

The background image for the sky was the least troublesome and easiest to shoot as the there wasn’t much movement there at all. The raw files did not capture the full range of color that was present but easily remedied in post….

Vermont-Lake Champlain-Winter-sunrise-landscape photography technique
First capture original raw file used for foreground sharpness in the ice.
Vermont-Lake Champlain-Winter-sunrise-landscape photography technique
Second capture original raw file used for foreground sharpness in the ice.

Here I used these first captures for sharpness in the giant blocks of ice in the foreground. I wasn’t as concerned about the middle ground simply because there was so much movement that there would be motion blur in this section anyways. I did manage to get one capture where the foreground ice was still enough to get a nice, sharp image for blending.

Vermont-Lake Champlain-Winter-sunrise-landscape photography technique
Third capture original raw file used to blend in the motion of the water and ice in the foreground as well as the background sky.

The third image here was the most important one as out of several frames I shot to get the motion just right in the water this one was by far the best. This coupled with the sharp foreground ice is what would draw our viewers into this image.

Remember as well that these three images are raw files so they are a bit flat and didn’t capture the range of color that was present when I shot the image. The final image better represents exactly what I was seeing when capturing images.

To sum up my captures for adding motion I shot two images for sharpness in the foreground and one final image for the movement of the water and for sharpness in the background sky. With the short time that I had this was the best course of action so that later in post processing I could blend all three together.

The blending was complicated by the foreground and the sharp contrast between the blocks of ice and the moving water. I needed to do some more intricate brushwork to get the images to merge together seamlessly.

An image is the sum of its parts

Adding motion into your images can be complex as there is a lot more to think about than what you would find in a static shot. With some quick thinking and patience we can however make our images more dynamic. Here are my tips for adding more movement into your images….

  • Look for static elements – By this I mean that once you spot some type of motion that you want to add into your image visually an image will be more compelling if there is a static element in the shot. Above for example in the final edited version the ice is very sharp and appears still while the motion in the water is clearly visible. Something static for the motion to move around is a great visual trick for a more dynamic image.
  • Multiple captures – To get just the right amount of motion in your shots you may need to shoot more than one image at different exposure times. It’s what makes the process more challenging because at times like sunrise you simply don’t have a ton of time to shoot multiples…This is where your photography instincts come in to play. At the very least you will have many shots to choose the best one with the right look.
  • Long exposures – To record the motion generally you will need longer exposure times so look to shoot at sunrise, sunset or during overcast conditions. All of the images I used here were shot at one second and this was just the right amount of time to record the motion present. This will always be different depending on the subject.
  • Don’t fear motion – When I first started out shooting I would always avoid shots like this with motion but as I learned and grew  into landscape photography I wanted to experiment and try new things. I could have walked away from this shot but I would have missed a great opportunity to learn. The world moves and is dynamic, Capture it and do not shy away from it!
  • Chose your compositions wisely – Take the time to really learn how to “see” compositions like this. The craft of Photography is more than just rolling up, taking a shot and leaving. Look at as many images as you can that are similar and you will start to see what works and what doesn’t. Time is your enemy and by learning how to shoot compelling images you won’t waste your time when the light is fading.
  • Give yourself time – Exposure blending like this takes some time to get all of the shots just right. I do not set out with any plan to do an exposure blended image but if the situation presents itself then I will shoot accordingly. With any landscape work that I do I try to give myself enough time to do what I need to do. Rushing is almost never good for your images and the final shots will show it.

I think our job as artists and photographers is to present a dynamic image that draws a viewer in and really gets them thinking about your view of the world. Sometimes images are planned and sometimes happy accidents happen like the above image. Things don’t always go our way when on location and being able to change gears is what lets you go home with keepers rather than duds or worse yet nothing at all.

Adding motion into a still, landscape image is just the sort of outside the box thinking that will set your images apart. If you make the most of what you are given rather than shooting nothing at all then you will grow as a photographer and not remain stagnant.

Using Lightrooms graduated filter and adjustment brush to correct a landscape photograph

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Winter-Clouds-landscape photograph
My final corrected image of Mount Mansfield in Winter from a camera raw file.

The initial image capture is only the beginning

When we capture our original camera raw files we need to look at them as simply the start of expressing our artistic vision. We are doing more than  just making an image. We are gathering enough data in our raw files to be able to realize that start into a finished image.

The image editing process is different for everyone but all of the tools are the same. Like in cooking there are a thousand different ways to peel an onion but eventually we get to the same result no matter what method we use.

It is the same for our raw files in that there is no one correct way to get there but by using the power  of our raw files we can come up with a final, polished and corrected image.

How can we get there? What tools do we need to achieve our photographic vision. The answer lies in The graduated filter and adjustment brush in Lightroom.

Camera Raw files are boring

The raw files come straight out of the camera with no processing so what you’re seeing on import into your computer is exactly what you shot. Keep in mind though that unlike a JPEG which is processed in camera, Raw files are flat and boring.

They need processing to bring out all of the best data in the image so a well composed and properly exposed image is essential. While JPEG’s tend to get corrupted over time as they are an already edited image, Raw files can be re edited over and over until your final image emerges. Take for example my original image file for the above image and it’s histogram in Lightroom…..

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Winter-camera raw file example
View of Mount Mansfield with fresh snow and clouds from a field in Underhill, Vermont
Lightroom-histogram-camera raw file-example raw file image-landscape photography
My example image’s histogram from Lightroom.

Now this is a typical example of a camera raw file as it is straight out of camera. You can see that the image is rather flat with no contrast and there are some issues that need to be addressed in the editing process.

A scene like this can be difficult to shoot as the clouds bounce around bright light at times with the sun popping in and out from behind them. Couple that with it being Winter and the snow being really reflective and you have a pretty tricky exposure situation on your hands.

My Histogram is actually looking really good as the image was exposed to the right just before the highlights would be blown out. This is good as we can pull those highlights in during the editing process without messing up the shadows or making the image to dark. The issues I need to address are easily fixed but do require some time….

  1. The upper portion of the image with the clouds – It’s a little too bright at the top and you can’t really see a lot of the darker shadows in the clouds, Those highlights wash everything out and there isn’t much detail. The blue is washed out a bit as well even though when I shot this it was much closer to what the finished image looked like….That’s the trick really. Making our image look dynamic and just as we shot it without going overboard with out edits.
  2. The Mount Mansfield range in the middle ground – There are nice highlights there but it’s the shadows that are somewhat washed out due to some haze and the fact that in the image it’s snowing on Mount Mansfield itself as I was shooting. It’s really not bad but it just needs some work to make the image more appealing.
  3. The band of trees and forest below the mountain – Again this area is flat and has no contrast. The clouds were casting some interesting shadows in this area and it just isn’t dynamic enough for me. I need to add some contrast and depth to this area as the foreground draws you in and leads you through the trees and to the mountain beyond.
  4. The foreground – This area here is ok but it just needs to be brightened up with some contrast added.  All of the grass sticking out of the snow gets washed out in all of that white so I also would like to see some contrast here as well.

The graduated filter and adjustment brush tools

So we have our camera raw file and I am feeling pretty good about it but I know that this image can be so much better. The main tools that did the heavy lifting on this image were the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush tool. Both of these tools are great as you can target them to specific areas and use them multiple times within one image.

The graduated filter tool is very handy for corrections because unlike a traditional filter You can spin the tool 360 degrees making it more versatile for correcting landscapes. Manual filters and their holders are a bit more cumbersome in the field so I use them to get my images as close as I can then do more detailed corrections with the graduated density tool.

The other great thing about the tool is that you can use them multiple times in an image where this is not possible manually so it opens up some more opportunities in images that otherwise might not make the cut. I use them quite liberally because I can use one for a clarity adjustment in one area of the image but I can also use one to enhance color in the sky of a sunrise or sunset.

You can selectively use them for different edits just like you ca with the adjustment brush…..While the graduated density tool is used for more broad edits over bigger portions of the image you can use the adjustment brush for more targeted, precise adjustments in select areas to really build on your vision for the final, corrected image.

The adjustment brush work just like any other brush in Photoshop in that you can change its size and use it for specific adjustments in very localized parts of your image. You can also use it multiple times per image so say you want to make an exposure adjustment in one specific area you can just brush the area you want to change then move the appropriate sliders.

Using both tools on our image

Without getting into a very long conversation about my workflow I used three different graduated filters in the image to target the sky, the middle ground and the foreground. The image had a great deal of highlights to contend with and it also needed some contrast and haze adjustments.

Now these initial edits really improved my image however I performed four corrections with the adjustment brush to really make the image pop and take care of some of its flaws. One edit was made for some of the highlights in the clouds, another was used for the mountain to get rid of the haze and add in some contrast, Another was used on the middle ground forest and trees to add contrast and another was used on the foreground to bring out the contrast in the grasses and add some pop to them.

Essentially my workflow goes from a starting point which is a landscape preset I use on all of my images as an overall first step. I then hone this some more with some basic edits again to the overall image and then I dial in more concise edits with the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush.

Some images require more and some less and it all depends on where I want to go with the final outcome. Editing is as subjective as wine tasting and how we best utilize the tools at out disposal. This image was quite flat to begin with and originally I made a really nice black and white out of it but I also felt the color version was quite nice as I love the blue color in Winter scenes. Lightroom has a lot of powerful tools including ones that may be overlooked and the graduated density tool and adjustment brush can really help to lift your images from boring to exciting.

A Vermont landscape off the beaten path in Groton State Forest and Lanesboro, Vermont

Vermont-Autumn-Landscape-clouds-field-stream

The wondering photographer

Lanesboro, Vermont is a tiny speck of a town on a Vermont state map but it sits smack dab in the middle of some of the best foliage viewing the state has to offer.

Route 232 travels through the Groton State forest and on a side dirt road with a tiny sign for the town of Lanesboro you will come across this scene. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it location that’s between Groton, Marshfield and Plainfield.

During the Fall foliage season many photography spots can be overwhelmed with visitors and if you feel adventurous and want to get lost then scenes like this one can be found.

I had passed by this scene many times and on this occasion what really grabbed my eye was the wonderful color in the grasses in this open field along with the changing Autumn color in the background.

Tips for getting yourself lost on Vermont’s back roads

The road this location is near is an old railway bed that has since been converted into a dirt road and recreation path which connects to two very picturesque ponds and some of the more stunning foliage during  peak color of the Autumn season.

With more dirt roads than paved ones you can be assured that there will be a photography adventure around just about any corner in the state. With over 26 years of experience traversing the state’s roads I have come up with some tips for traveling and finding unique locations in Vermont.

  1. Bring a map – Seriously, Google Maps is good but what it won’t tell you is there are roads here that get closed or don’t allow certain types of vehicles or that its mud season. I would highly recommend having a set of paper maps as Vermont’s roads at times can be labeled differently on a map then they are on the road signs. Hell there are still places in Vermont that still use wooden road signs and those are often worn away or illegible. Have maps and know how to navigate, Don’t rely on Google Maps alone.
  2. Don’t be afraid to stray off a main road – Often times the side roads will offer up some really stunning imagery and while not noticeable at first will connect with main roads that can get you back into familiar territory. Most side roads in Vermont can be a little convoluted and can twist you around but most will make giant loops or connect to other roads to get you back onto a main road.
  3. Avoid mud season – This one is a no brainer but that period of time after winter ends but before spring officially starts can play havoc on vehicles. The mud gets deep and it likes to suck in cars or create ruts that are just impossible to navigate around. I have driven on many roads during this season and it just really isn’t worth it. Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere is a pretty unpleasant experience.
  4. Have a rugged vehicle – This one goes along with number three but have a tough vehicle if your going to get off the beaten path. A truck, A car with all wheel drive or four wheel drive, Anything that will not be hampered buy road conditions. I don’t have a truck but I do have awd and it will save your bacon on a muddy or washboard, rutted road.
  5. Not all landscapes will be sweeping vistas – Look for the smaller more intimate scenes as sometimes that grand Vermont landscape can be illusive depending on your location. The northern part of the state tends to be more mountainous with forests and trees tightly packed together and you have to climb above the treeline while the Southern sections are more like flat, rolling hill farmland landscapes. Forests will have ponds with tight forest cover and hard to access areas but you can also find abandoned rock quarries or farms. The smaller scenes will let you hone in on a specific element like my image above and the sky reflection in the small stream.
  6. Look for multiple places to shoot in or around one central location – By having one main shooting location and several side locations you can up your chances of coming home with a keeper. It can take a lot of drive time to reach some of the more scenic places in Vermont and you don’t want to waste your time while out. Have a plan a, b, c, and d around where your main location is so you can maximize your shooting potential.

Trusting your vision

I drive right by today’s image but as you progress as a photographer you learn to trust your eyes and your brain when it says “Stop!” That’s preciously what happened to me and I am glad that I listened to my inner artist otherwise I would have missed this shot.

This small stream here is right along the side of the road and I noticed first that it made a nice leading line into the image. The color on the field grasses was quite striking as well as the changing foliage in the background trees. Grasses like this are a common site here and their color changes throughout the foliage season. The reflection in the water provides a nice focal point to draw you in and to follow through the rest of the image. Here is my original image….

Vermont-Groton State Forest-Lanesboro-Autumn-landscape photography
Here is my original Camera Raw image file and as you can see the sky is a bit bland and the highlights on the grass wash out their detail.

My original shot was off a bit so this one would need some edits to make it really shine. Cropping to center the stream reflection, The highlights, The sky and coaxing some more detail out of the water reflection were all that was needed to really make this one shine. I used the HSL panel to make the colors really pop and add some drama to them.

Getting off the main roads and opening yourself up to the adventure really isn’t so bad is it?

Let the adventure be your guide

Vermont pretty much has it all in terms of what you can find for landscape imagery. All of it really is there if your willing to venture away from the crowds and really explore the state.

I do a great deal of planning when I shoot my landscapes but there as always room to roam the unique back roads that we have here. While we are sadly losing a lot of our rich farming traditions and the industrial production of years past, There still is a lot of vintage charm to find.

Get out there, Zig when you should zag and find your next great landscape image.

A stark winter landscape always provides a photography opportunity if you know where to look.

beach grass and storm clouds over the adirondack mountains in charlotte vermont

Stick season. It is the bane of my existence as a landscape photographer here in Vermont.

That subtle season right before the snow flies where all of the Fall foliage has been stripped from the trees leaving bare skeletons of limbs.

The landscape turns from vibrantly colored to muted and bare.

The challenge in all of this is finding an interesting landscape to focus on with your camera.

While this season can lead to despair I tend to look at it as a challenge to hone my eye to see what otherwise would be forgotten.

Why we overlook these beautiful, stark landscapes 

Often as landscape photographers we tend to want to shoot that grand sweeping landscape. The more colorful months of Spring, Summer and Fall her in Vermont provide a wealth of photo ops that are easy to find and shoot. It doesn’t take much to find a beautiful landscape to shoot but the real challenge comes during the transition periods between seasons. This is especially true during stick season which typically happens when the Fall foliage finally drops from the trees but before it starts snowing.

Why are we not seeing with our eyes? What is behind rejecting scenes such as the one I shot above….

  • Preconceived notions about what is beautiful. We build up over years of practice at photography what it is that we like to shoot. We get attached to certain scenes or elements and we stick to them and then the seasons change as in Fall to Winter and the landscape becomes devoid of color or interest. Or does it? Instead of packing up your gear for a few months maybe it’s possible to wipe away all of your ideas about beauty and challenge yourself more.  Think outside of your box and you will see that even something as benign as beach grass as in the above image has beautiful shape and color.
  • Not separating decent images out from the chaos. Landscapes during stick season can be very chaotic. Like in the beach scene above this location can be hard to shoot upon first visiting it. A rocky shoreline that changes with lake water levels, tree stumps and logs, and empty, open areas are just some of the locations challenges. You have to be able to separate out a really decent fore, middle and background. Look at them all as separate elements that are part of a much larger whole. Jettison anything that does not tell your story in the image and boil your image down to its most essential elements. 
  • Nothing to anchor your scene in the foreground. Shooting in the vertical orientation is challenging in itself as your frame is compressed on the sides making your foreground most important. 99% of my images are shot vertically and my foregrounds have to count. I want to draw the viewer in and have their eye naturally move from the foreground into the middle and background. My story starts in the foreground. Don’t overlook the simplest of elements to use as a foreground. In my image here while there is no pronounced element the grasses were what I wanted to be to most dominant feature in the image. I wanted the viewer to feel like they were walking into this scene.
  • There are no elements that say what season it is in the image. Right off the bat you can see that it’s not apparent that this image was taken in the winter time. There is now snow or ice but the only thing telling you that there is a change in seasons is the dead foreground lake grass. The lake will recede a bit in Winter and the grasses die back turning this wonderful golden color until the Spring when things start growing again. The tendency is to skip a scene like this but I did not because anyone who shoots in Vermont knows the beginning and end of Winter will often look like this, Somewhat dreary. In this image though I felt the color of the grasses and the camera position lead you into what is happening in the background with the approaching storm clouds and the Adirondack Mountains beyond.

How to bring out your best image of a very stark, Winter landscape

Now that we have identified why we rush past these scenes we need to look at how we go about capturing them and bringing out all of the actual beauty that is there. After we find one of these challenging compositions we then need to figure out the best way to shoot them.

For me most of the time that is going to be exposure blending.

It can be difficult especially in scenes like this one where the sky is really bright and the foreground is very dark to get the correct exposure in a single capture.

My personal technique for exposure blending is very simple but requires some forethought in order to produce a high quality image. Below are the two images that I used for the blended, final image that is at the top of this post…

The image capture that I used for the foreground grasses. This is an uncorrected raw file and while the light is nice on the grasses I want it to be just a bit darker. The range is good here and I will match the exposures in post.
image capture for an exposure blended image used for exposure and sharpness in the sky and middle ground.
The image capture that I used for the sky and foreground. This is an uncorrected raw image with flaws that will be corrected in post. There is some bowing of the horizon from the wide-angle lens and you can see the transition of the graduated filter I was using on my lens to tame the light in the sky.
  1. Look for images with a strong fore, middle and background. With this image I was looking for some separation between the foreground grasses and the background mountains so that I could have a nice transition area for the exposure blend. This middle transition area allows for much easier blending in Photoshop as there will be a lot less brush work involved. While the middle ground trees do add a bit of complexity to the exposure blend as there is some wind movement those issues can be overcome with your brush work. I composed the image so that the viewer would be placed directly into this field of grasses and when it was viewed I wanted the sense that your were walking through them into the background.
  2. Shoot multiple images using the various focus points in your camera. My current camera has 18 focus points which is more than enough to capture sharpness throughout this scene. I composed and shot my images knowing that I would only have to use all of the center focus points which equals 7 images in the vertical orientation. The reason why I shoot a series of images is so I have enough images to create a seamless blend from front to back using as few images as possible. I want to be able to pick out at least two images with acceptable focus all the way through the image. Obviously this will change on what your shooting and at times I will cover all 18 focus points. While it’s not entirely necessary to shoot all seven shots I do so I am not limited when it goes to selecting shots for the blend. With my first focus point at the bottom of the frame on the grasses I work my way up focusing and shooting at each focus point. The last focus point I place somewhere on the horizon whether it be the clouds or the mountains so the background is in focus.
  3. Do test shots of the foreground and sky to determine exposure values. Really the first thing that you want to do is to determine what exposure values to use with your shots. This scene is no different in that the sky and the foreground have different exposure needs. The foreground grasses needed to be light enough to show their color and the highlights needed to be tamed in the clouds. The sky was shot at 1/5 of a second and the grasses were shot at half a second. With the wind gusting off of the lake I had to wait in between gusts for the grasses to stop moving for a clean shot. After I do my test shots and get the light correct I then shoot my series of images for sharpness using the settings determined in my tests. Everything else will be smoothed out in the editing process after the images are blended.
  4. Decide which images you are going to use for the blend. This is one of the harder parts of the process as you have to look at each image in the set and determine which shots will be the best for the blend. I always wait until after I blend my raw images together before doing any edits. This way you can ensure that each image is identical which makes stitching them together much easier and fixing any inconsistencies like a visible neutral density filter line easier as well. Zooming in at 100% will allow you to see how focus changes from image to image and which ones are the sharpest. In the case of my example image I only needed two to make a sharp image throughout and that had proper exposure in both the foreground and the sky. The image for the foreground was the one in the series taken with the focus point just under the center point and the sky image was taken with the top most point placed on the mountains in the background. Below is the blended raw files straight out of Photoshop with no edits….
An exposure blended landscape photograph after blending in Photoshop with no corrections applied
Here are the two images blended together with no editing done.

5     Blend your images together in Photoshop. I prefer to do these blends manually versus having software do the heavy lifting. Software can be broad in its corrections versus honing in on exactly where the blends will occur and what edits on the final image that you will be making. I always try to get my blends down to two images but this all depends on the type of scene you are shooting and how complicated the scene is (i.e. trees, moving objects, etc.). The scenes that require more than two images are generally ones that will need some sharpness in the corners and sides of the image depending on what lens you use and where the focus falls off from maximum sharpness. Check out this older post here which explains the blending process that I use in much more detail. While it was written using Adobe Photoshop CS 2 the process is exactly the same with the newer versions of both Lightroom and Photoshop. Once I complete the image blend I then import the TIFF file back into Lightroom to do my final corrections on the image.

6     The final editing process. Now at this final stage is where your artistic vision will come into play. My first corrections will fix any of the broad issues like straight, level horizons, bowing from my wide-angle lens, sensor spotting and consistent exposure throughout the image. Next I use my own personal landscape preset which I use on all my landscape images where my corrections are almost always the same, dehaze, clarity, etc. After I apply my preset I go from there and fine tune the image to have it look exactly like I saw it when I was shooting it. The image at the top of the post is where I wanted to be with it….Showing off the color in the lake grass while showing the stormy sky over the Adirondack Mountains beyond.

Never miss an opportunity

As landscapers I think we should be always constantly evolving how we look at the world and our techniques for realizing our vision.

We must train our eyes to look beyond our preconceived ideas and judgments about the world otherwise we can miss exciting images. Sometimes the most boring landscape can have the most profound image if we stop for a few moments, Soak in the area and really open our eyes to the possibilities.

You won’t always get it right and you most certainly will shoot a ton of dud images but it’s always that one out of a hundred image that makes all of the sacrifices you make as a landscape photographer worth it.

Always look at the world with a fresh perspective and a new set of eyes…It’s worth it.

A how to guide for Salt Printing part two-An alternative photography process

Continuing on in my how to on salt printing series I will finish up in this post on the rest of the equipment that you will need to start making your prints. You really don’t need as much equipment to get started as in developing film so it is relatively easy to get set up to do salt printing.

lets dive right in to the rest of our gear:

The transparency sheets

After a great deal of research online I finally came across the Pictorico line of transparency sheets. I had to read a ton of really old forum conversation threads and amazon reviews to find out that this is what you want to use. These sheets are made for working with alternative photography processes so you are going to want to spend the money and get them as they do work in inkjet printers.

One thing to note when using them is to always hold them up to the light and inspect them before use. Once in a while just like with your paper there will be some kind of anomaly they may interfere with your image. After several packs I have come across one or two sheets that couldn’t be used because of some random spotting. It’s rare but it does happen.

One other thing to note that when printing on these I always set my images to print at a higher dpi. With my digital work I always go with 300 dpi but at these lower settings with negatives and transparencies I found you will see more lines from where the print heads move across the transparency sheets. For my salt prints I use 600 dpi and I have never had any issues with it. You could go higher than that but for me 600 has worked great.

Something to tack your paper too

This piece can be simple and cheap but you will need something to tack your paper too in order to keep it flat while coating and drying your paper. Here I am using a Styrofoam block I had lying around the house with some basic thumb tacks.

You really could use anything for this purpose but it should be flat and something easily thrown away as you may get chemicals on it. This thing was cheap and it serves its purpose.

A smock of some kind and safety glasses

You are going to want to wear something over your regular clothes to minimize any chemical spills you may get on your clothes. I am always careful and handle the chemicals with safety in mind but accidents happen and you want to be prepared. Here I am using an old chef’s jacket I had in my closet. In my day job I am a chef and had this lying around but it’s heavy with long sleeves and it just works. Again you could really use anything for this purpose. The safety glasses are self explanatory. You really don’t want to screw with your vision so you will need at least some minimal protection in case of spills or splashes.

Developing trays

For salt printing you only need two trays, One for washing your print in water and one for your fixer. It doesn’t matter what color they are really but I used a white one for my water wash and a grey one for my fixer. These are cheap and you can find them anywhere.

Odds and ends

In this image are some odds and ends you will need including:

  • rubber gloves-you really want to be careful mostly with the silver compound as it can stain your skin black. These are a necessity and give you protection from handling the chemicals.
  • LED yellow safe light. You cam buy these in any hardware or building supply store and they are not very expensive. I chose yellow but you could use red also. I chose LED lighting for its efficiency and long-term usage. Again here we are adapting modern technology to a very old process.
  • squeegee you can find these anywhere….Amazon, hardware stores or janitorial supply stores. You don’t have to spend a lot of money it just has to be of decent quality as you will be using it to get water off your prints which will be essential for proper drying of your paper. This one I got on amazon for around $7.00.
  • Measuring spoon – You only need a to measure teaspoons for your fixer and this simple one I bought at the grocery store works well. Just label it and keep it away from your other kitchen utensils…only use it for your fixer.
  • Tongs- I bought a pair of really cheap tongs and two is all you will need to salt print. You need one for the wash and one for your fix and while I notice their shortcomings as a cheap alternative to more expensive ones they have performed well for over a year now.
  • Face mask – The chemicals for salt printing are nowhere near as bad as collodion is but there are vapors present and you do want to protect yourself. These have been adequate so far but in the future I will get the respirator type to exercise even more caution.
  • Two small mixing cups – You will need two small cups for portioning out your salt and silver solutions. We have tons of these little medicine cups around with a four-year old in the house and they are perfect for measuring out your chemicals. Just be sure to properly label which is which, I use one for the salt solution and the other is for the silver.

One quart container with lid (not pictured)- While it’s not in the picture you can get plastic or metal one quart containers for mixing paint at any hardware or home improvement store. I use one to mix one quart of fixer that I keep on hand for making prints.

I saved the exposing light for last because it will require a lot of explaining as it has been a thorn in my side since I started salt printing. Here is some images of the light I am currently using and then I will get in-depth about why it is such a pain in the ass…..

This is a cheap way to have something on hand to expose your salt prints. UV exposing boxes cost thousands and all they are really is just wooden boxes with fluorescent light fixtures put inside them. This really isn’t economical for most people and unless it’s LED lighting your wasting electricity. I wanted LED’s to save on power consumption and I needed something small, light weight and portable that didn’t cost thousands of dollars. The original box that I built consisted of an 11×14 shadow box frame with LED strip lights mounted inside with a power plug. Strip lighting is great because you can cut the strips and make it into any shape that you want only the cut strips need a connector to attach them together. This set up while cheap proved unusable for a few reasons..

  • The LED strip lights are too under powered with exposures taking over an hour to complete. Better than using the sun but still not good enough.
  • The connector strips used to attach one piece of strip lighting to another are the weak point in that scenario. You only have so much length of the strips and connectors before you start losing power, It gets weaker the longer the strips and the more connectors you use. The strips can be quite flimsy and it can be difficult to get a solid connection making shorts common with this setup.
  • Unless you mount the strips right next to each other you will have strips of over and underexposed spots on your salt prints. Not acceptable to make quality prints.
  •  I abandoned this approach as it’s cheap but does not work very well.

Eventually I came across these LED floodlights that are used for concerts and lighting shows. These lights are great because the are cheap, LED and efficient meaning short exposure times and you can just plug them in and go. This particular unit covers a 5×7 area which is the size I like to print at however after about a year of using it I am finding some drawbacks that has required some hacking of the light unit…

  • The LED’s are mounted in a small square in the center and reflected outward with a metal insert under the glass of the light. Using the light as is creates hot spots in your exposure in the center if the light is too close to the glass of the contact printing frame. To mitigate that I moved the light away from the glass a few inches and through some testing have found that this spreads the light to far out creating really light exposure on the edges of your image area. That’s just not good enough for prints that will be exhibited or sold. I want an even exposure. I have experimented with several distances and can’t quite get the even exposure I am looking for.
  • I did a test where I turned all the lights off and flipped the light so it was shining towards my face with the glass from my contact printing frame for reference. The goal was to see where exactly the light was shining at different distances. This way you can see where exactly the light is shining and how far it is spreading or falling off from the center and at what distance it does the fall off at. Sure enough my the distance I was exposing at is wrong, This light likes it around an inch off the glass which gives a nice 5×7 exposing area with no fall off.
  • The LED’s in the center are another problem as that’s where they are at their brightest and at one inch off the glass does cause a hot spot in the center of your exposed image. My solution right now is to simply cover the LED’s with small squares of copy paper to reduce the light’s intensity and evening out the exposure. I have not as of yet made an actual print this way, I am only in the experimenting phase.
  • These floodlights have a glass covering over the LED’s with a black border on the glass with an interior silver reflector. Both of these together get reflected onto the image when held at certain distances. I never noticed it before as currently I am exposing prints with the lamp about three inches away but up close the lines from the shape of the reflector are clearly visible.

All of these issues coupled together make exposing a big pain in the but however they can be overcome. Currently I am tinkering with removing the silver reflector and the glass top and that should solve the issues. I really want this light to work 100% as it is a good cheap alternative to spending thousands on an exposure table which would make the process financially unworkable. I will report back when I can get to making some prints with my hacks on this light.  So there you have it, Two posts covering everything you need to start salt printing!

See part one of this series right here! The header image in part one is an example of what is wrong with my lighting setup….That image shows a nicely exposed center but at the edges is where the light really falls off. That tells you that I am holding the light too far away.

A how to guide for Salt Printing part one-An alternative photography process

 

A alternative process photography salt print of a field of daisiesFinding my alt process medium

I first came across salt printing during my initial research into the wet plate collodion process which was something that I wanted to attempt for a number of years. I decided in the end to focus on dry plate tintypes which are far less dangerous to produce and the subject of a future blog post.

I looked at a ton of different vintage processes and finally settled on salt printing as the best medium to start learning how to do alternative process work. Like any of these vintage ways to print images there are a lot of points in the process where things can go wrong and you have to learn to embrace flaws. Salt printing is a good first step because…..

  1. You do not need a traditional darkroom. You do need subdued lighting and you have to use a safe light but the room does not need to be completely dark. In my case I use my kitchen as there is only one window to cover and I have a source of water. I take great care to clean and cover all of my working surfaces and remove any items where there could be a chance of contamination. alternatively you could also use a bathroom.
  2. There are only four chemicals involved in the process and compared to other processes they are relatively safe. While great care and respect must be taken when using these chemicals, I do store them in my home but out of the way where only I can access them. They are also available in kits so you don’t have to have a chemistry lab on site  to make salt prints.

A minimum amount of equipment is needed, Some you can be thrifty and cheap on but some of it You should really spend money on to get the highest quality. Everything I use for the process can be kept in a space the size of a dresser drawer.

The negative side 

You control the entire process from image capture to printing and it will give you appreciation for the history of photography. You have a physical object you can hold in your hand that is one of a kind and the process is well suited for portraits.

There are a few minor negatives to the process but nothing that can’t be overcome with lots of trial and error. Hopefully with these posts you can avoid some of what I had to go through as the information online about salt printing is fragmentary and outdated. The negatives are…..

    1. It takes some time to do even two or three prints so you have to set aside a good chunk of time to print. I have gotten my exposure times down to less than 15 minutes but between coating and drying the paper, printing and exposing you are looking at close to an hour for one print.
    2. Whatever you use for a light source to expose the prints will be your biggest issue. This is something I have tinkered with for over a year now and still I feel the exposures need work. I will go into more detail when I get to the exposing part but you can either spend over a thousand bucks for an exposing table or go cheap. The sun was used when the process was invented but this is too inconsistent and it would take all day to make a print.
    3. Embrace flaws and take mistakes in stride. There are a lot of steps in making salt prints and when you are adapting a process invented in the 1800’s to modern techniques you will make mistakes along the way. No two prints will ever come out the same and there will be times when a print or two just will not come out. My hope with this series is to help you keep the mistakes to a minimum as I think I have made them all trying to adapt this process.

The gear you will need

Salt printing chemicals

An image of the chemicals in brown bottles used in the salt printing process

Thankfully all of the chemicals that you will need to do salt printing can be found in a convenient kit made by  Bostick and Sullivan. You can buy the kit online from their website, It comes well packaged and protected  and it’s cost is reasonable. The kit contains full instructions, eye droppers for the chemicals, fixer (sodium thiosulphate), salt solution, silver nitrate( makes the paper light-sensitive), And potassium dichromate for contrast in the prints. In a future post I will detail the entire process of making a print.

The contact printing frame

The contact printing frame is one of the more crucial parts of this process so I would recommend either finding a vintage one like I did, buying a brand new one which can be extremely expensive or being crafty and making one yourself.

I experimented with making them myself but in the end I wanted a vintage one because I felt the process warranted it. It took me about a year of looking to find one in  decent shape but the 8×10 in the above images was at a reasonable price considering it was 70-90 years old.

The frame consists of a wooden outer frame with a glass front and a wooden, hinged back with pressure springs to hold the paper and negative tight against each other and the glass which is important to maintain sharpness. The hinged back allows you to check the print during development without disturbing the registration between the print and your negative.

Your printing paper

I use Bergger cot 320 8×10 sheets that come 24 sheets to a pack. Your paper is another one of those items that I would not cheap out on. Spend the money, You will save yourself a ton of frustration by trying to use cheap or inferior papers. This paper is made for alternative process work and most importantly dries flat. I dry my prints about 3/4 of the way and then press between heavy books, This way you will have a flat print for printing that is not warped or crinkled.

Print screen and a squeegee board

Now here are two things that you will need that you can most certainly go cheap on and it  won’t hurt your prints in the least. The print screen is used to evenly dry your prints. It allows air to flow over and under the print and these are used for regular film prints as well. You can buy them but here I simply took an old picture frame and taped window screen to it. Cheap and things I already had lying around. In the future I will construct a better one but this works for now.

The squeegee board was just the glass from the frame I used for the print screen with some tape around the edges for safety. It really helps to have a flat surface to squeegee prints and this does the trick nicely and basically it cost nothing.

Self healing cutting mat and hair dryer

The cutting mat will be useful in marking where to align your negative before you sensitize the paper. You can then use those marks to align your image and you will have a guide for applying the chemicals when you are under the safe light. I use 8×10 sheets of paper but my image area is 5×7 because I like the look of some white area around the image. The mat lets you be precise when centering the image and applying the chemicals on your paper. You can find these at office supply or art supply stores and the run around 20 dollars.

The hair dryer is used to simply to speed up the drying time when your chemicals are applied and to dry your finished prints. This is a cheap one that has a high and low setting and you can find them at any pharmacy.

In part two I will go over the rest of what you need to get into making your own salt prints. You really don’t need much equipment or space and with the exception of the contact printing frame can be found just about anywhere or online! Check out part two in this series detailing the rest of the equipment you need to make your own salt prints!

How to mount a photo print for framing or sale in eight easy steps

A salt print of a young female ready for mounting and framing

As photographers mounting and framing our own prints is the culmination of all of our hard efforts at image capture. Today we will be discussing the best, easiest way yo mount your images to mat board in a professional manner. In this way you can either package the print in a plastic sleeve for safekeeping and sale or prep the print for framing.

The image above is a salt print that I produced from a digital file and the one I will be using to mount the print to mat board. I use a special paper for alt process printing that doesn’t warp or crinkle when dried so I won’t have any issues when I go to attach the print to the mat board. By doing this process ourselves we can have more of a physical connection to our work as well ad delivering a hand made product to our customers.

A list of materials for a premium mounted print

When we mount our prints we want to make sure that we use the best mounting materials that we can find. There is no sense in shooting and editing to craft the perfect image and then mounting on cheap mat boards or using non archival materials. While more expensive the better quality materials will last longer and provide many years of viewing pleasure to your customers. You really want to reassure your buyers that your prints will stand the test of time.

The following list contains everything that I use to mount my prints. This list is not the be all, end all of what you could use it’s simply what works best for me in how I want my work to presented to clients.

  • A print. For the salt prints I make myself The paper I use is Bergger Cot 320 8×10 sheets. It is made for this type of alt process work and dries flat without warping and I would highly recommend that. For regular printing I get all of my prints at mpix.com. I have used them for years, Would highly recommend them and they ship prints flat and well protected.
  • Mat and backer board. With these I do not go cheap. I always use archival mats and backer boards. Its not worth it to go cheap and the presentation of your work will suffer. Spend the money and get archival and acid free materials. I use redimat.com for this as they have all the supplies you would want and sell convenient kits that include the mat, backer board, hinging tape and a plastic sleeve for the print. Expensive but worth it because you wont have to track down all of that individually. I highly recommend them.
  • Hinging tape. This is what you will use to attach the mat to the backer board and the print to the mat. My preference again is for acid free, archival tape that is self adhesive. You can also use hinging tape where you have to apply water to make it sticky which is what I used in this example but the self adhesive is much easier to work with
  • Plastic sleeve. Your options are limitless here so I won’t get into what you should or shouldn’t use. Again I use the redimat kits and they come with clear sleeves. Clearbags.com, dickblick.com and bagsunlimited.com are a few places that I have bought them from in the past.
  • Something to sign with. Again this is just personal choice but I am now using a calligraphy pen with black ink to sign both the print and mat. I personally just like the look of the ink strokes but you could use pencil or whatever you like. Ansel Adams signed all of his prints in pencil.
  • Scissors, small brush. It really does not matter what scissors you just something sharp. The small brush is only if you are using hinging tape that needs water to make the adhesive active. The brush makes this step much easier.
  • Dust blower. While not entirely necessary I use one before I seal the print in it’s sleeve to make sure there is no stray bits of dust on the print or in the sleeve.

The eight steps

Now the fun part can begin. After you utilize these eight simple steps all of your hard work will come to fruition in the final packaging of your image.

An example of mat board with alignment markings to mount a photo print

place the mat against a light source like a window and align the print behind the mat opening. In this way you will be able to see the edges of the mat opening and where to perfectly align the print with the opening. With a pencil make light guide marks at the edges of the print on the corners. You will use these guides later to align the print for attachment to the mat. In the image above you can see my pencil marks where the print will attach.

2. An example of mat and backer board placed together and ready for hinging tape

lay the mat and backer board down on a flat surface and align the two half’s together making the seam as tight as possible. There are always variations in size with these and there will be times where the sizing is slightly off. These size imperfections are nothing to worry about, Just align the two half’s as close as you can. Your really talking a variation of 1/4 of an inch or less….the backer board is only there to give the print strength in an acid free environment.

3. An example of mat and backer board that have a hinge and ready to mount a photo print

Using the hinging tape attach the mat and backer board together. You can do this in a few different ways, one giant piece, Two pieces like I did here in the example image or three pieces. I have always done three but here I just wanted to see what two would look like. Apply a thin amount of water to the tape if your using the non self adhesive kind with a brush and carefully hinge the two pieces together. You want enough water for the pieces to be tacky but not so wet that they slide around. In the picture above the tape is still slightly wet.

4. Example of an artist signature in calligraphy style on a photo print

Sign your print. Again this will be personal preference as to what you use to do this with. I have been using a calligraphy pen lately simply because I really like the look of the ink strokes, I think it gives the print a vintage, Polished feel to it.

5. A photo print on a hinged mat board with hinging tape strips and water ready for mounting

Place your print in the guidelines that you made in the previous steps and cut four pieces of hinging tape. You can also tear the pieces of tape but I chose cutting…i just have never noticed a difference in tearing it versus cutting it. Here in this example image I have everything ready…..water and brush, print and mat, And my four pieces of hinging tape.

6. A signed photo print mounted to mat board with a t hinge

Attach the print to the mat with the strips of hinging tape using a t pattern….one strip in a horizontal position, half on the print and half on the mat and another piece in the vertical position covering the half from the horizontal piece on the mat only. In the example image above you can see the t pattern made by the strips of hinging tape.

7. A finished alternative process salt print mounted and signed to mat and backer board

Fold the pieces of your now hinged mat together and lay the print facing up on your work space. You can now sign the mat in the lower right corner or wherever you wish.

8.

A signed and mounted alternative process salt print inside of a plastic sleeve

The final step is to place the mounted print into a protective plastic sleeve. It is hard to see in this example but there is a sleeve! Now you can get sleeves with the adhesive strip on the bag flap or on the bag itself. I always go with the strip on the bag because when it’s on the flap there is the potential of harming the print or the mat.

The final product

So now we have a final piece of artwork that was packaged and presented in eight simple steps. It is daunting at first to add in the steps to mount your work but your buyers will notice the craftsmanship and materials.

How to price a Photography print for sale

Maine-Atlantic Ocean-Sunset-Marginal Way
The Atlantic Ocean at sunset along the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine.

As I am building out this site and trying to finish up some last details before it goes completely live I wanted to talk a little bit about how I price my prints and all of the factors that go into my pricing structure. I am very sensitive to cost issues and  the main goal is to strike a balance between an affordable price, getting my work out there to be seen and enjoyed while also making a profit on all of the hard work that goes into making images. As most photographers know, making a profit on our work is what allows us to continue producing high quality images. While making money is not my highest concern it does play a factor in what I do.

To often photographers can just come up with arbitrary prices out of their heads and to me this just doesn’t take into account all of the costs that come into play with photography work nor is it a sustainable business model. I need my prices to be consistent, fair and not just taken out of thin air. While I don’t want to get too into the nuts and bolts of why I price the way I do, I would like to offer some guidelines for others trying to price their work but also give my buyers some information as to everything that goes into my cost of producing images. A lot of thought and care has gone in to my pricing and I feel it does strike a good balance with the premium product that I want buyers to receive.

How do I determine the price that I charge for my work? The formulas…

The easiest way to come up with a consistent pricing structure is to:

  1. Markup = 100 divided by 35 (35% cost of goods…See below) = 2.85
  2. Determine your cost for producing and shipping a print product. List out everything that is required from the print to the shipping costs. (See my list below. Also include your time calculation into your cost.)
  3. Multiply your cost by your markup to come to a final sale price for your image

This is probably the easiest part to figure out but does require a bit of math so that our pricing stays consistent. This is key because we want to accurately quote a price to a buyer and it had to be the same from buyer to buyer. Pulling a random number out of the air just won’t work and even worse you could be under charging by using this strategy. Take some time, figure out every last cost that goes into your work and your figures will accurately reflect that with an honest price.

The first thing that I did to have a more consistent pricing structure was to use the 35% cost of goods pricing structure for everything that sell. The cost of goods is simply all of the money that I spend for the inventory that I sell. In my instance under this model 65% of the total artwork price is profit and other fixed costs while 35% covers all the costs to produce, package and ship a piece of artwork.

Using those numbers I divide 100 by 35 to get 2.85 which is now my markup. Next I simply take the total cost of an item and multiply by 2.85 to come to the final sale price of a print. It sounds complicated but it’s accurate and consistent, Not a random number. You will always be able to quote a price from buyer to buyer and it will always be the same.

The second thing I like to do is to make a list of every single cost that it takes to produce and package my work. Everything from my time to the products I use have a cost and I need to figure out a monetary value per print size and per print product what I am spending on those items. The final sale price of my work is based on the following list and a few math formulas.

And the final calculation you need to make is for your time. Your time is valuable and it must be accounted for when figuring out a final sale price of your prints. The formula for your time is to take your wage (What you would like to make per year) divided by 50 weeks (assuming two weeks off for vacation) divided by 40 hours per week divided by 60 minutes which will equal your per minute wage. Once you know how much time has been invested into an image (for me I factor about 1/2 an hour to an hour per image excluding drive time and shooting time. I really am only accounting for my processing and prep time to ship the image to the customer.) To me it’s a trade off…I concede some of my time and do not include all of it in the final price so that I can offer a competitive price for my work and get it out there. Again this is a subjective formula as everyone is different but it’s a very good starting point to accurately calculate your sale price.

What costs go into every print product I sell?

Of course everyone’s list will vary from mine to some degree but generally this is everything that goes into the cost of my prints:

  • The paper or metal print itself
  • Archival quality mats, backing boards, plastic sleeves and hinging tape
  • Protective box for shipping
  • Shipping both to me and to the customer
  • A printed certificate of authenticity
  • My time editing and prepping the print
  • Salt Printing Chemicals and supplies including specialized paper for the prints and transparency sheets for the digital negatives

On top of this are the hidden costs that come out of any profit that I make. Here I am not even including driving time, wear and tear on my car and gas but along with this are the costs that must be factored into profit for “keeping the lights on” which are:

  • Yearly domain name registration
  • yearly payment for this sites theme
  • Monthly payment for website hosting
  • Monthly payment for Adobe  Creative Cloud subscription
  • Computer maintenance/ upgrades – custom-built windows based computer for image work costs roughly $1500 to $2000 and will last ten years. Current computer build is ten years old and due for replacement.
  • Camera gear maintenance/ Upgrades
  • Stock on hand for print sales including all packaging material

Pricing is subjective but should be consistent

Here I am only offering a guide as to how to get started with your pricing. In building this site I wanted to present to buyers how I structure my prices and what is actually going into the piece of artwork that they are buying. Customers are putting a lot of faith in me as to the high quality of the work and materials and I want them to be assured that they are getting the most value for their money. To be fair, Pricing is different for every photographer or artist but in my mind it must be consistent from customer to customer. Picking a price off the top of your head just is not going to account for all of the variables that you may encounter in producing your work. Remember…. Be fair, Be consistent, Offer high quality and value through a superior product and service. Above all make a personal connection with your customers!

 

 

Farmhouse In Blue- A Quick Primer In Star Trail Processing

A blue hour image of an abandoned farmhouse in Vermont with star trails and fireflies.
An abandoned farmhouse at twilight with star trails and fireflies in Duxbury, Vermont.

Finally after a few weeks we had some clear nights so I headed about an hour away from my home to shoot this abandoned farmhouse. One thing that we have a lot of here in Vermont is old barns and farmhouses and this one sits in an area that is just great for night work… No light pollution and a nice subject to place in the frame underneath the star trails. It really is a great feeling to be under the stars by yourself on a country road with no one bothering you. As an added bonus the fireflies were out in force on the night I was here adding an interesting element into this frame!

I challenged myself on this one as I was shooting during the blue hour at twilight and I shot multiple exposures of the house for later blending. In my rush to get to this spot I forgot any lighting implements so to begin processing this star trail I first started with two shots…One for the sky and one for the house at a higher ISO so that it would be more than just a silhouette in the frame. This blended image was used as the base to layer all of the other images in the series. The added bonus in this shot were the fireflies…Each frame on its own looks quite uninteresting but when they are all combined it adds a bit of magic into the shot.

I was a little hesitant to share this one as my white balance was a bit off but the more I looked at this one the less that imperfection bothered me. I was shooting at twilight during blue hour so the light did have a really pleasing blue quality to it. The processing for this one went as follows…

1. I first blended two shots for my base image of the house and sky. One image was shot for the house at ISO 800 just to bring up the shadows and add a bit of light onto the house…I wanted to see the home not just a silhouette. I brought both images together with a gradient and made some tweaks to this base image in Lightroom for white balance and lighting.

2. Once I was done with the base image I imported the base shot plus all of the other images in the series into a separate folder on my computer.

3. In Photoshop CC I then chose File-Browse in bridge- Then choose the folder you placed the series of images into. Select all by right clicking on the first image which should be your base image and the start of your star trail series.

4. Once all of your images are highlighted in Bridge choose Tools-Photoshop-Load files into Photoshop layers. Photoshop will place all of the images onto one canvas in their own separate layers. Here you will have to wait a few minutes depending on how many images/layers you have.

5. Once all of the images are layered in Photoshop highlight and select all of the layers and then set the blending mode to lighten. Before your eyes the magic happens and the star trail will appear!

20 More Ideas To Improve Your Landscape Photography!

 

Vermont-Charlotte-Old Barn-Storm
An old barn and field with gathering storm clouds in the Lower Lake Champlain Valley. Charlotte, Vermont

A few years ago I wrote my original blog post 25 ideas to improve your landscape photography and I felt with my improving skills that I should update that post! I have learned a lot along the way through much trial and error and I wanted to pass along some of the knowledge that I have learned along the way. Often times the best teacher is experience and I try to shoot as much as I can as often as I can. In any given month I can shoot anywhere from 100 to 500 images and I feel fortunate if I get five or six really strong images that are worth sharing, submitting to magazines, etc.

While the road to becoming a full-time professional Landscape photographer (My original goal/ Not quite there yet but you have to keep moving forward!) has been a long one it’s nice to have a platform on this blog to be able to share what I know and help others along the way! Some of these ideas may not be new but they will always be worth repeating.

*If you like the image above and would like to purchase a copy you can view it here on Fine Art America!

1. Go on scouting missions: If your time is limited always have a plan. Use maps, do research on the internet and during your photography down times go and scout your chosen locations. See how the light interacts with your composition at different times of day and weather conditions. It may seem like you are losing valuable shooting time but in the long run one stunning shot is better than 10 mediocre ones.

2. Bad weather is a photographers best friend: Do you want to be the person that sits at home all the time when the weather is terrible or the one who gets a killer shot? Motivate yourself to go out when it’s cold, at night or when storms are brewing. You will be rewarded with some great light especially at the beginning and ending of storms and unique images that no one else has.

3. Put your tripod where other people won’t: Never be afraid to move and shoot where other people are not shooting. if you are bold and plant your tripod in another spot where no on else is or has shot you will surprise yourself with all of the new compositions you can find. Move around, Don’t get stuck shooting the same compositions and subjects that other people do. Set yourself apart from the pack and your images will get better!

4. Always look behind you during sunrise and sunset: While the light can certainly be amazing when pointing your camera towards the sun at sunrise and sunset always look behind you. The color and intensity of the light will be much different in the opposite direction and can be just as amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I have been out shooting and done this and been more attracted to what’s behind me than what’s in front of me!

5. Always strive to make your next shot better than your last: Never get too comfortable with your work. When you go to make an image ask yourself how can I make this one better than the last one I shot? What can I change to make an average shot an exceptional one?  Always analyze what you are doing and how you can improve upon what you have already done.

6. Don’t snap. Take time to study your subject: Weather your shooting a landscape or a portrait always evaluate what you are shooting. Be patient and take your time with your chosen subject. While a snapshot does have its place you may miss a much better composition if you take some time to study what you are shooting.

7. Always think foreground to background: Ask yourself what is going to draw the viewer into this image? A good foreground starts the story in your shot and the mid and background serve to enhance it. Compelling foregrounds tell what your image is about and lead the viewer into your image. Everything else in the shot helps the viewer to know “where” they are in the shot. Look through your viewfinder and take the time to make sure all the elements…Fore, mid and background are compelling.

8. Don’t forget about the corners: Along with number 7 above make sure to check the corners of your composition. We can often forget about the corners but here is where we can eliminate anything unnecessary in the frame. It’s an extra step but a critical one to coming home with a keeper. Many times I have shot something only to get home and wished I had checked the corners!

9. Study the work of landscape masters: Buy some books or research online for any of the masters of landscape photography. Study their work and learn why people gravitate to those images. Find out what makes their work so compelling and learn about all of the hard work that goes into a great landscape shot. Stunning works don’t just happen and if you are in a rut take a look at all of the masters that came before you and learn the history of landscape photography.

10. Shoot at the beginning or ending of storms: Watch the weather and try to anticipate when storms will pop up. I personally feel that the light at the beginning and ending of storm systems is just phenomenal and not to be missed. The build up of a storm system and its last gasps as it passes by and dies out can yield some great shots so never miss out on those storms! I have shot some of my own favorite images this way…The atmosphere of storms adds some great mood to a landscape shot.

11. Learn to shoot at night: With the birth of my daughter last year came the challenge of finding time to fit in my photography work. I had never made night images before but shooting at night was a perfect fit for me. While my wife and daughter are sleeping I can get in some shutter time and keep making images. It takes a great deal of practice to produce some decent night work but the hard work will pay off.

12. Perform an ISO sensor test with your camera body: Set your camera up outside, Point it up at a clear, blue sky or something without a ton of distractions and take a series of shots starting at the lowest ISO and moving to the highest on your camera body. Review these images without any edits at 100% to see where your threshold is for the grain becoming objectionable. On my camera it’s at ISO 1000 which at times I will push higher but only if I am shooting the night sky. Doing this will allow you to know in what situations you can and cannot shoot in. Know your gear and it’s limitations.

13. Practice using graduated and neutral density filters: One thing that will improve your landscape work tremendously is to start learning how to use graduated and neutral density filters. While not a cure-all they can help you to balance exposures between the land and the sky which are often very far apart in exposure values. Using them either hand-held or in a filter holder you will not be disappointed as the amount of keeper shots goes up. I was against using them when I first started shooting but quickly learned their usefulness and my filter sets are always in my camera bag.

14. Don’t be afraid to shoot during the middle of the day: This is not something I like to do but sometimes it is the only time I have so I have to make use of it for photography work. If I know I am going to be shooting during the mid day hours I make sure that the skies will be overcast or partially cloudy. Sometimes the mood strikes me and I shoot on clear blue sky days but for the most part I personally need some interest in the sky. Don’t let the mid day hours be a barrier to getting in some shutter time!

15. Talk to people: I can illustrate this one by explaining the barn image at the top of this post. For years I have looked at this property but I always thought that it was on private property. It turns out that I was wrong as I had a very nice conversation with the people who live in the farmhouse on this piece of land. A handshake, an introduction and a conversation got me access to a really stunning view of Lake Champlain and the valley’s around it. I always ask permission when it comes to shooting on private land and you may just meet some interesting people in the process!

16. Learn everything there is to know about your camera gear: Take some time and learn everything there is to know about your gear. The last thing you want is to be fumbling around with your setup out in the middle of nowhere missing some great light or on a paid shoot for a client. Read the manuals, shoot a ton but know your gear inside and out including its limitations.

17. Add motion into your images: I really like those shots that have a combination of static and moving elements in them. Cloud and water movement are two of the most obvious choices for this but you can use you imagination and shoot whatever you like! Panning techniques is another great way to add in some motion and make some interesting images. I love these types of shots because they are a challenge to pull off but adding in motion to a still frame just adds a whole new dynamic to the composition!

18. Self edit and be critical of your work: Both are important skills to learn as not every shot is good nor should they all be shared. Learning these skills will train your eye and allow you to become better at picking out the best compositions. You have to take a step back from your work at times and ask yourself tough questions about its quality. It’s a tough task for sure especially with magazine submissions as oftentimes you can only send in a certain amount of images. There is an emotional attachment to everything we shoot but step away and look at your images from the viewers or buyers perspective. Yes you shoot because you love it but you should also have a critical eye on your own work.

19. Get out of your car and of the beaten path: While you can get perfectly acceptable images this way I think more compelling images can be had away from the car and out in the middle of nowhere. Taking the time to get away from man’s modern conveniences can really add some real emotion to your images as you now have some time to quiet yourself and reflect on what you’re doing photographically. Walk away from what you know and into the unknown!

20. Hike and shoot with a partner: Shooting with a photography friend leads to some interesting images as you both can feed off of each others creativity. Usually we practice our craft alone which for me is about 90% of the time but there are times that I do enjoy hiking and shooting with other photography enthusiasts because you can’t shoot alone all of the time. The other person sees the world differently than you will and often may see a composition you never even noticed!