For a place that is not reachable by any road, Glacier Bay National Park, tucked away in the southeastern corner of Alaska, can boast a great deal of popularity. This 5,000 square mile park, as large as any in the contiguous 48 states, gets its name from the long and narrow bay and the rivers of snow and ice that creep along its edges at a glacially slow pace. (Was that a pun? Ouch!)
Back in the Dark Ages of wet darkrooms, that phrase [generational loss] was used to describe the loss of quality commonly encountered when making a copy of a copy, as opposed to making additional prints from the original negative. Today, however, it seems reasonable to apply that term to a certain loss, or gap in the continuity of institutional memory from an earlier generation of photographers who grew up shooting film to many of our current brethren whose devotion to photography was born in the digital age.
In my experience, many digital photographers can easily fall into the attractive trap of machine-gun shooting while overlooking the fundamentals. It’s easy to get caught up in this. The seductive mood fostered by not having to pay for all of that film and expensive processing never fails to encourage us to shoot more and more.
Just as our civilization migrated from radio to television years ago, we have universally (well, almost) likewise transitioned from analog to digital photography. But just as both radio and TV require many of the same broadcasting skills, such as the abilities to verbalize and emote effectively, so are film and digital photography comparably similar. It’s axiomatic that both are photography; i.e., – literally “painting with light,” just in a different medium.
It’s clear to all that both are still photography and so rely on the consistent and thoughtful use of the very same basic skills and techniques. For the most part, these are composition and the use of light.
Too often, I see and hear photographers, many with highly sophisticated photo gear and seeming to be really concentrating on making good images, exhibiting a troubling mindset when, employing markedly less than the best technique, they say, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop.” If only they would mentally take a step back and think about this for an extra minute, many would perhaps realize that, if starting out with a really good image file, it would be much easier and more likely that the final product can be an outstanding photograph.
Photoshop, as well as the many other software tools of the digital darkroom, even though offering an incredibly great degree of control, are there for us to optimize our images and get the best out of them in exactly the same way as we did with chemicals and enlargers in days of yore. These remarkable software programs are not intended to turn bad pictures into good pictures.
Remember that old chestnut, “Garbage in, garbage out?” It’s just as true now as it ever was.
Let’s begin with the light. By now, we all know, or should know, about the Golden Hour when the sun is near the horizon. Whether morning or evening, the odds are with us at this time of day to be able to take advantage of many wonderful qualities of the light such as relatively low contrast, soft tones, warmth, long shadows and potentially dramatic skies. Even with the great controls in today’s software, we cannot replicate this kind of wonderful light during the harshness of mid-day.
One relevant episode occurred in my mother’s home a few years ago. Soon after my covering her living room walls with about two dozen large prints, my daughter, who fancies herself a photographer, arrived for a visit. She was really excited to see these new images and quickly grabbed a pen and paper to learn and note where I had made each of them. After managing to suppress a chuckle, I replied, “Listen, it doesn’t matter where I stood to get these shots. By the time you get yourself up and out of the house at the crack of noon, the light that you see here has been gone for several hours.” The fact is, the sun rises only once each day. There are no do-overs or instant replays. If you miss it, you simply have to wait for another day.
Now let’s turn our attention to composition. The old axiom, “If it’s not helping, it’s hurting!” referring to compositional elements still holds true in the digital age. While we can certainly crop, clone, eliminate fire hydrants, replace skies, etc., in software, there is still no substitute for getting it right the first time. Optimal camera position and framing on site will ultimately result in a more pleasing final image. Much of this reminds me of how many people think of knee replacement surgery. No matter how sophisticated the technology or how good the repair may seem, it’s never as good as the original creation.
If we compose the frame to the very best of our ability, we’ll be way ahead of the game. Cropping reduces our overall file size, often significantly, and the various pixel replacement tools can be very time-consuming.
Now we come to what is perhaps the least productive aspect of digital photography, aptly named “chomping.” One of the primary benefits of digital photography is undeniably the ability to see and review our images immediately. This gives us the opportunity to alter our exposure and framing, correct for apparent errors, tweak the results, and re-shoot on the spot if necessary.
So far, so good. But this is where the process can break down. While the large majority of photographers are really considerate, there are sometimes exceptions. One of my pet peeves and perhaps yours, is the occasional individual who, once finished making images at a particular spot, remains right there staring and often gawking at his/her screen while standing in the very spot either desired by others or smack in the middle of someone else’s composition.
I know, seems like another great application of the object removal/replacement feature of some software even if the inconsiderate photographer in question doesn’t exactly resemble a fire hydrant.
Not being the most patient person in the Western Hemisphere, these situations can make me wish that I have a cattle prod handy. While I grant that this is an extreme remedy and just wishful thinking, perhaps you can relate.
Much as some of us might yearn for the halcyon days of Kodachrome 25, that iconic film is now ensconced in a museum right next to my favorite buggy whip.
Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America. More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com Or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed. Note: At midnight on Friday, January 19, the United States federal government entered a partial shut down. We do not know how long this will last. Our regular columnist and expert on National Parks, Jerry Ginsberg, provides some ideas on how one may gain access to the parks during this time.
With the partial shutdown of the federal government, our ability as photographers to access virtually all federal lands will be impacted for as long as this situation persists. Allow me to lay out some of the ways in which such an event can impact our ability to enter various federal units. At the outset, please know that any and all political issues, views and debates are well beyond both the mission of NANPA and certainly the scope of this space. I wish only to address our abilities to photograph within these lands.
To my knowledge, there are just five cave systems within our 59 national parks, at least those that are open to the public. While other caverns are found in some national monuments, let’s stick to these big 5 for now.
Alaska is often called “the last frontier” for good reason. The overwhelming majority of our 49th state is still pristine and wild. When traipsing around this wonderful wilderness, I am constantly reminded of the American pioneers of yesteryear such as John Colter and Jedediah Smith, so open is this vast state. It is truly in a class all by itself. Perhaps the prime feature shared by all eight national parks of Alaska (only California has more) is this singularly pristine wildness. These wonderful parks are vast tracts of pure, untamed and untrammeled Nature. Towering volcanoes, sparkling glaciers, crystalline lakes and mega fauna in the wild seem to be everywhere.
A century and a half after being acquired by Secretary of State William Seward from Russia’s Czar Alexander II, “Alyeska” remains remote, sparsely populated and largely roadless. Throughout this immense state, if you want to get around beyond the point where the few roads end, you will likely be using a raft or canoe to navigate the many river drainages or the ever-popular and ubiquitous bush planes for just about everything else.
Nestled in the southwestern corner of Colorado sits the first and (almost) the only national park established to protect the works of man, rather than Nature, the fascinating Mesa Verde.
Hidden for centuries and unknown to Europeans until a couple of cowboys looking for strays stumbled upon it in 1888, this treasure trove of Native American history includes several thousand structures, both simple and complex, that were built here spanning a period that is estimated to have lasted from perhaps 600 to about 1300 C.E.
We are accustomed to driving to our national parks. This is definitely not the case with Channel Islands National Park. This little archipelago of a half-dozen rocks jutting out of the Pacific Ocean a few miles off the coast of central California is reachable only by a short boat ride. This rather contradictory blend of remoteness and accessibility offers some unique opportunities for us photographers.
The Channel Islands are called America’s Galapagos – and for good reason. A wide variety of birds and pinnipeds are in plentiful supply. Western gulls find safety here. Continue reading →
As I have mentioned a time or two, Grand Staircase-Escalante in central Utah is my favorite national monument. This is the case primarily for one reason; variety. This sprawling tract covers close to two million acres, almost as big as immense Yellowstone National Park. The monument was established in 1996 with the former Escalante Wilderness as its core, primarily as a means of protecting this chunk of central Utah from the prospective strip mining of its extensive coal deposits. At the same time, whether by accident or design, it has the simultaneous effect of protecting some of the most spectacular rock formations in all of the Southwest. Lucky us!
There are several wonderful areas within the boundaries of “The Escalante” so it can be a challenge to decide where to begin. Whether or not you have researched the monument online in advance of any trip here, it’s a good idea to make an initial stop at one of the BLM / multi-agency ranger stations serving the Escalante. They are located in the towns of Kanab and Escalante, Utah. Stopping to speak with a ranger can help to put some of the photo opportunities here in some degree of logical order.
In brief and in no particular order, the prime ‘Do Not Miss’ areas here are:
Devil’s Garden A tightly packed and surreal playground filed with outrageously eroded hoodoos and arches. My wife, at a willowy 5’9″ is accustomed to her high vantage point. Even in light of that, she is quite struck to be “feeling like Alice in Wonderland” among these remarkable geologic forms. Continue reading →
Without a doubt, one of the crowning jewels of both the national park system and the entire world is Yosemite. Over the eons, millions (billions?) of tons of metamorphic granite have been shaped and sculpted, largely by glaciers, into countless harmonious and visually riveting forms.
After decades of being photographed by the renowned Ansel Adams and the many who came after him, creating original images here is a real challenge — but it is not impossible. There is an absolutely endless variety of compositions in Yosemite even though so many natural features are pretty much a monochromatic gray. John Muir called the Sierra Nevada — home to Yosemite — “the range of light.”
Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.” — John Muir from The Yosemite (1912)
To enjoy a productive photo trip to Yosemite, we should first get organized by breaking the park into four distinct regions. These include Yosemite Valley, the High Country, the Glacier Point Road and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoia trees. There are many other subjects in-between, but these are the primary areas of this thousand square mile wonder. Continue reading →