Editor’s note: On October 31 the photo gallery founded by Galen Rowell and lovingly managed by his wife Barbara Rowell called Mountain Light will close. The Rowells died 15 years ago in a plane crash near their hometown of Bishop, California, while returning from a photography workshop in Alaska. Author Gary Crabbe’s first real job was as a manager of Rowell’s 400,000-photo library for nine years. Now a successful photographer living near San Francisco, he offers five things he learned from Rowell that helped boost his career from amateur to professional.
It was 15 years ago last August that internationally renowned photographer Galen Rowell and his wife, Barbara, perished in a plane crash near their hometown in Bishop, California. They were on the very last leg of a long return voyage home after teaching a workshop in the Arctic. In a moment, we lost one of the best-known photographers who helped pioneer the genres of climbing and adventure travel photography and helped to elevate the genre of landscape photography with what he called the “dynamic landscape.” Continue reading →
Ever wonder which of our 59 national parks is really the biggest? No, it’s not mighty Yellowstone or even sprawling Death Valley. Measuring a vast 13,200,000 acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, tucked into the southeast corner of Alaska, is far and away the biggest national park around, equal to six Yellowstones! It is larger than Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined, and includes two entire mountain ranges – the Wrangells and the St. Elias. Together with contiguous Kluane National Park across the border in Canada, the combined cross-border tract totals more than a whopping 25,000,000 acres and is the biggest wilderness area in the world.
While size does indeed matter, there is more to this sprawling wilderness than volume. Stunning peaks such as Sanford, Drum, Blackburn, Wrangell, St. Elias and others fill this rugged park. Continue reading →
Photography, like life, is a non-stop learning experience. While we should not take ourselves too seriously, it is still good to pause and reflect on your journey now and then. Recalling all the mistakes you made, and why you made them, helps you get ready for those still ahead. Often those mistakes start out as myths – received wisdom that ends up working poorly for you. These are some of mine:
1.) The more photos I publish, the better.
You will produce some poor work. Get used to it, but develop a critical eye and ruthlessly bury it.
We all know people who talk too much and tend to say foolish or inappropriate things, and we hope like hell that’s not us. Yes, there are times to speak, but it is wise to first listen and think, and doing that you are more likely to say something meaningful or memorable.
It is no different with your photography. You make your reputation on the images you put out there for people to see, so you want to be very, very careful that what you publish is consistent with the photographer you want to be. The great danger with publishing on the Web – web sites, album sites, social media – is that it is far too easy and tempting to publish way too much and in doing so, publish work that is not your best. Even a small amount of mediocre work in your portfolio is enough to tell people that you are not a judge or producer of great photography. Continue reading →
In past Showcase competitions, we asked the judges for insights and tips on image selection and preparation to help future participants produce winning photos. Here are some of their responses. Continue reading →
If you’ve ever tried to shoot nature photos within an urban environment, you’ve undoubtedly asked yourself questions like these at one time or another. I often write about the difficulties of pursuing a career as a nature photographer in a large metropolitan city. It’s not always economically or logistically possible to escape city limits and venture into the wild to capture true nature. You sometimes have no choice but to shoot nature wherever you can find it—amidst all the inherent distractions of a concrete jungle.
I used to go to great lengths to avoid any man-made objects in my nature photos, believing that any hint of urban artifacts would lessen the impact of the natural subject. This would be true if the objects were only in the shot due to careless oversight. However, it’s an entirely different story if their inclusion is deliberate and done for creative purposes.
Cities come alive with color in the spring. You probably won’t have to go far to find a beautiful flower display. Instead of attempting to isolate it from its surroundings, try to incorporate the natural and the artificial worlds.
Looking down Park Avenue
In New York, colorful tulips adorn the median of Park Avenue for several miles. With the traffic zooming by just a few feet away, it’s amazing that they survive. Yet, not only do they survive in this inhospitable environment, they flourish. And for a couple of weeks during the season, they really put the “park” in Park Avenue. Countless tourists photograph these flowers each year, but very few hang around until twilight. That’s too bad (well, it’s great for me since I practically have the whole place to myself), because the city and traffic lights add a lot of vitality to the scene. Instead of waiting for the traffic to clear out of the shot in the photo above, I waited for it to enter. I wanted to use the light trails from passing vehicles as a dynamic framing element for the tulips, as well as a way to help draw the viewer’s eye into the shot. I chose this particular spot in between two glass towers for more symmetry and more colorful light reflecting off the windows. Lastly, I used a 16mm fisheye lens to emphasize the “tunnel” effect of the scene. Continue reading →
Experience has taught me to exploit compositional techniques that help my nature images take on a more compelling story-telling quality. One such technique that I employ frequently is juxtaposition. This fancy word is formed by joining the Latin root “juxta”, which translates to “next to”, to the word “position”. Compositionally speaking, this means placing the subject next to some object in order to set the stage for a compare-and-contrast scenario. In some cases it is the similarity of the subject to the secondary object, whereas in other cases it may be the difference between the two that is stressed. More often than not, what results is a more inviting look and feel to the final image. In this article, I will delve into more detail about juxtaposition and highlight some examples from my own images. Continue reading →
Black skimmers are my enigma bird. Just when I think they couldn’t possibly be around, they show up in droves. Then when I think it’s a perfect day to see some, they’re nowhere to be found. Continue reading →
The landscape of the Colorado Plateau is ephemeral, a changeling, although to beings with short life spans this land seems immutable, a constant. But in canyon country stunning changes can occur in a single afternoon, altering the course of a stream, stranding a waterfall, even creating a new unheralded cascade. Thus, it has always been in Havasupai, named for the people of the blue-green water.
Havasupai, the mythic side canyon hidden well to the west of the South Rim summer mayhem and adjoining Grand Canyon National Park, has always been near the top of my favorite locations to photograph. I’ve been lucky to shoot this desert Shangri-la a dozen times since the late 70’s, with a progression of cameras from 4×5 to 67 Pentax to a variety of digital formats. For years I blithely assumed that the interwoven terraces of travertine below each of the three great waterfalls, Havasu, Navajo, and Mooney, would always be there to compose as one of the most artistic foregrounds imaginable. Continue reading →
Nevada is one of the featured keynote speakers at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com.
Images and Story by Nevada Wier
Photographing in low light is particularly challenging, but immensely satisfying — if you can overcome the difficulties. However, it is these kinds of situations that stimulate me as a photographer. I know that it is these times when it is more possible to create what I call a “snowflake photo”: one that no one else has in his or her portfolio. So I seek out the difficult light and perspectives. Of course, that also means that the chance of failure is high; I have to work extra hard in these situations. I am on alert, paying attention, anticipating the action and seeking out whatever light is available.
One is definitely constrained by the quality of their equipment. Sorry, an iPhone is not going to be the camera of choice for photographing at night or inside a hut lit by a candle – unless you are going for an abstract with high noise. Many digital camera sensors are not able to produce a relatively noise-free image at an extremely high ISO. Unless you have a top-of-the-line camera that can handle 1600 ISO or more, the highest exploitable ISO for most cameras ranges between 400–1600 ISO. Another limiting factor is the lens. If you are using a zoom lens that has a minimum aperture of f/4.5, it is going to be problematic. Not only will you not have a fast enough shutter speed, the lens will not be able to quickly and accurately focus in dim light. And, it is critical to pay attention to the focusing. During the day in strong light focusing quickly is easy and accurate; it only takes a quick press of the focus button to be accurate (I use the back * button on my Canon for focusing and to set a specific focal point). In low light it is important to squeeze the focus button until you see the focus alert signal in the viewfinder. Sometimes I have to use manual assist. Occasionally I need to shine a flashlight on my subject so I can focus.
Sometimes I use flash but not for a primary source of light, rather to pop color or stop the action with a slow shutter speed. A flash is always a secondary source of light. I usually go to the highest ISO that I am comfortable using and on my Canon 5D MarkIII I rarely go above 1600 ISO; if I can I much prefer to stay at 800 ISO or lower. I photograph primarily on Shutter Priority, but in low light I sometimes switch to Aperture Priority when I want to stay at a wide-open aperture. However, I do like slow shutter speeds (and I’m not afraid to hand-hold at ½ sec. or slower) in combination with flash, either for panning or having a flash stop the action within a blur, so there is sharpness within a sense of motion. I carry a number of different gels for my flash so the flash outputs blends seamlessly with the ambient light. I usually keep my white balance on Daylight unless there is an abundance of red, and then I use Auto (red is a difficult color to desaturate, it tends towards purple).
I make sure my exposure is absolutely perfect; better too light than too dark. I constantly check my histogram. At a high ISO you do not want to have to lighten your image in post processing and expose ugly noise. Honestly, I rarely use a tripod. I don’t like to walk around with them. The photographs I’m showing you on this blog are all hand-held. In fast moving situations it is difficult to use a tripod, and in crowds – forget about it! Knowing how to use flash appropriately is a big key to success.
I mentioned earlier that it is important to anticipate so that one can be in the front of a crowd. I am used to “wiggling” myself into a good location. There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, but I don’t want to end up in the back of a huge crowd.
I expect a lot of failures; in fact I mostly have failures in these kinds of situations, as they are technically and often socially difficult. However, all I need is one great image! I try as many shutter speeds as possible; depth of field is not a critical concern to me at these times. I try slow shutter speeds with or without panning, usually with the flash on. I turn the flash off and work with natural light. I try everything! I always say, “If you don’t try, you don’t get”. And, often what one gets is that magical snowflake image.
Nevada Wier is a multiple award-winning photographer specializing in the remote corners of the globe and the cultures that inhabit them. Her journeys have her crisscrossing the world in search of compelling travel experiences and images. To read more about Nevada, view her extraordinary photography and get information about her photo workshops and tours, visit her website at www.nevadawier.com.