Something wrong in Shangri La – Using photos to communicate

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by
Categories: Bay Area, California, Environment, Outdoors, Photos, Rants and Raves

Photo: The fresh green hills of Briones Regional Park in spring, looking toward Mount Diablo, Contra Costa County, California

Image: The fresh green hills of Briones Regional Park in spring, looking toward Mount Diablo, Contra Costa County, California

One of the things I always tell participants in my workshops, presentations, and especially when I’m doing professional image critiques or portfolio reviews, is something that is often lost or not truly recognized by many beginning photographers; namely that photography is all about communication. This is especially true for most of the ‘I-just-like-taking-pretty-pictures’ crowd. Simply put, as a media, photography is a form of visual communication. As photographers, we use the frame of the camera as a conduit for expressing our vision of the world around us. Our goal as a visual communicator should be to have a clear and focused idea of what story we are trying to convey with our photos. It should then be much easier for the viewer to pick up on that story. Hopefully, the result will be that a viewer will share in your emotional connection with your subject, and can internally relate to the message that your image is trying to convey. If you don’t have a clear idea of the story you are trying to convey, or are unable to frame that story in a visually concise manner, you’re very likely to get a quick and dismissive “that’s nice,” as the viewer oh-so briefly looks at, and just as quickly moves on from your photo.

In a recent workshop, a participant asked, “How many photos does it take to make a story?” The simple answer is just One. Every picture should tell a story. If any of your photos aren’t telling a story, then the question begs to be asked, “Why did you take the picture?”

When you are able to take a series of photos, each reinforcing or adding to the others, then the strength and clarity of your story becomes clearer. This works for books filled with beautiful landscape pictures, a diary of travel scenes, to photojournalism-style essays involving any aspect of life, especially the harsh, gritty, or ugly truth that sometimes surrounds us.

Take for example the lead photo in this post. This is Briones Regional Park here in the East Bay hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. It my personal Shangri-La. It is where I hike to get my exercise, to clear my thoughts, refresh my soul, escape, and rejuvenate. The photo shows the fresh green landscape looking as lush as you might expect to find in the rolling hills of the English or Irish countryside, yet it’s mere miles from some of the largest population centers in California.

But what other kind of story about this beautiful place could I tell with my photography? Well, let’s take a look at some of the scenery I encountered on a single day’s hike last week. A friend of mine didn’t think I should waste my time with this, yet I felt a strong personal drive that this was a story that needed to be told. Furthermore, under the ‘Pictures are worth a thousand words’-category, I felt I could use my photography to tell this story in a much stronger fashion than I could than with words alone. What do you think?

This is an image of a plastic doggie waste litter bag. I’ve been seeing more and more of these left along the trails, as if some ‘responsible’ pet owners think that someone is employed by the park to provide trailside pick-up service for their pet’s waste. This is clearly not the case, as it is well posted that dog owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets AND packing out the trash; NOT leaving it for others to see or deal with. It’s becoming such an epidemic at our local park that it’s starting to negatively impact on the visitor experience. In fact, just the other day I saw a father walking ahead of me with his family and pointed out a bright orange baggie of dog waste that someone left a few hundred yards from the trailhead and garbage can. In fact, the photo here was taken approximately 100 feet from the parking lot and a trash can. On this hike I encountered nearly a dozen such instances of inconsiderate pet ownership waste. The sadness of it all leaves me feeling like these dog owners are what they leave behind.

These first four images were all taken within one-quarter mile of the parking lot. But wait… there’s more… Read the rest of this post »

What is, and how do you develop a Personal Vision and Style?

Posted March 10th, 2015 by
Categories: Coast, Photographers, Photos

Picture: Wave breaking on coastal rocks at sunset near Stinson Beach, Marin County, California

Image: Storm cloud over Lake Tahoe at sunset, from South Lake Tahoe, California

This month I have the privilege of being an invited guest photography mentor for an online photographic community where I get to provide advice, critiques, and insights regarding the participant members’ photos. In the forum, a member asked what I think is probably one of the most important and preeminent questions that any beginning or developing photographer could ask. It far and away supersedes any basic query regarding composition, equipment, or technique. In short, the question is, “What is Personal Vision or Style, and how do you develop it?” I thought the question is so important that I feel a need to share and expand upon my reply for all to consume.

Personal Vision is something that is created through a natural progression and growth of your own photographic pursuits and activities. It is not something that can be learned over a weekend workshop. It can take years of repeated trips out into the field, followed by critical and honest reviews of your work with an eye towards continually refining how you visually and photographically interpret the world around you. It’s that sort of personal interpretation that defines your personal vision. How you shape and process that vision becomes your style.

Image: Storm cloud over Lake Tahoe at sunset, from South Lake Tahoe, California

Personal Vision can also be partly defined through a natural or innate photographic talent; it’s what we refer to when we say that somebody has a “good eye.” For those people, the path towards developing a strong personal vision can be shorter, but it is a path nonetheless. I recently had a chance to Read the rest of this post »

All Quiet on the Western Front

Posted February 26th, 2015 by
Categories: Fossil Beds

Picture: Mist rising of unnamed lake in the Hope Valley, Alpine County, California

Image: Mist rising of unnamed lake in the Hope Valley, Alpine County, California

Regular readers of my blog posts might have noticed a longer than usual gap in my blog posts, so I thought I better chime in to let people know I’m still here. Typically I try to post something on the blog about once every week or two. I like to try and have something relatively significant to say when I post, vs. just spouting out random puffs of hot air. However, every so often, a combination of life, travels, or sometimes simply my desire to ‘unplug’ for a little while can impact the schedule or frequency of when I post new material. In this instance, things mostly outside of the photography realm have forced my attention in other directions. Fortunately those distractions aren’t anything major or bad. I will say that I’ve had way more than my desired share of technical issues with my computers, hard drives, electronics, web hosts, and cell phones over the last few months. At this point, just about everything has been fixed or replaced at least once, and in some cases, as many as four or times before being resolved. I’m not a very technical person, and at this point I’d rather have several root canals without novocaine than deal with another … nevermind… knock on wood… I’m not even gonna say it.

But things have settled down again. (Fi nge rsc ro sse d.) I do have a backlog of posts and other items that have been shuffled across the stove-top, and looking forward to sharing those over the number of weeks. In the meantime, stay tuned.

I continue to share images 3-4 times a week over on my Facebook Business Page, which I hope you’ve “Liked” and also selected ‘Get Notifications’ for when I post new items. (If you’re not familiar with the ‘Get Notifications’, Go to my business page, hover your mouse over the “LIKE” button, and you should see the option to select ‘Get Notifications’ appear. Notifications appear when you click on the globe on the top right of the facebook page.)

I also share images over on Google+, and less frequently on 500px.

If you hang out in any of these social sites, I hope you’ll connect with me there if you haven’t already. :)



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Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.

Point Reyes On-Assignment Photo Workshop Feb 20-22

Posted January 15th, 2015 by
Categories: California, Coast, Photo Workshops and Tours, Point Reyes, Workshops

Picture: Morning light at Drakes Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Image: Morning light at Drakes Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

I’m again leading a 3-day Photo Workshop, “Point Reyes – On Assignment” at the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore on September 26-28, 2014. This workshop is sponsored by the National Park’s non-profit partnership organization, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association and their Field Institute. For an amazingly friendly price, this special workshop includes accommodations at the Point Reyes Historic Lifeboat Station.

This workshop will focus on developing a creative and personal vision of a place, combined with visual storytelling. In addition, we’ll conclude the workshop with a wonderful image critique and review. For more information or to register, visit the Point Reyes Field Institute’s Photography web page. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, or coming to Northern California in late September, this would be a fantastic chance to learn from me while out in the field at one of California’s most-scenic locations.

I hope you’ll join me for this fun weekend filled with photography. Also, if you know anyone in the area who loves outdoor photography and might be interested in this course, please consider forwarding this information or letting them know about the class. Thanks! – Gary. :)

Read the rest of this post »

My Favorite Photos of 2014

Posted December 30th, 2014 by
Categories: Photos

I’m delighted to present this collection containing some of my favorite photos that I’ve taken throughout 2014. I hope you enjoy them, and I’d love to know which are your favorite(s).

(As with all of my work, all of these pictures are available as decor via fine art prints and wall murals, or can be licensed for use in publications. Please contact me if you’re interested or would like more information.)

Picture #01: Morning light on clouds over surfers along the North Shore of Maui, Hawaii (Click here to see a larger version)

Image: Morning light on clouds over surfers along the North Shore of Maui, Hawaii

Picture #02: Rainbow over sea stack, Bandon, Oregon

Image: Rainbow over sea stack, Bandon, Oregon

Picture #03: Photographers shooting the sunset at the Point Reyes Headlands, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Image: Photographers shooting the sunset at the Point Reyes Headlands, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Picture #04: Sunset light on cloud over dirt road in the Inyo National Forest, Inyo County, Eastern Sierra, California

Image: Sunset light on cloud over dirt road in the Inyo National Forest, Inyo County, Eastern Sierra, California

Picture #05: Sunset over rolling green hills in spring, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California

Image: Storm Sunset over rolling green hills in spring, Briones Regional Park, Contra Costa County, California


Read the rest of this post »

Class Photos from the Beaches of Point Reyes Workshop

Posted December 6th, 2014 by
Categories: Bay Area, California, Coast, Photo Workshops and Tours, Photos, Point Reyes, Travel, Workshops

Picture: Looking out from the cliffs above Drakes Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Looking out from the cliffs above Drakes Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Prescript: I hesitate to call this photo (above) a ‘snapshot’, since was taken with my newest camera, the Sony RX100-mIII, a high-end 20mp Point-n-Shoot, which produces some really excellent shots. I’ve been putting this camera through its paces over the last couple months and will be reviewing in an upcoming blog post.

The participants in my recent “Photographing the Beaches of Point Reyes” photography workshop held last month were kind enough to give me permission to share samples of their work here on my blog. It’s a pleasure to present and share these images here with you. I’m sure they’d love to hear your thoughts about their photos if you’d care to leave them a comment. As is the case with all photography reviews I’ve done with workshops going all the way back to the 1990’s, it never ceases to amaze me at the variance of personal visions that arise when you have a group of photographers shooting at the same place and time. It just goes to show how we all see the world just a little bit differently.


Read the rest of this post »

A teaching moment: Bracket the length of your exposures

Posted December 2nd, 2014 by
Categories: California, Coast, Photo Workshops and Tours, Photographers, Point Reyes, Sunrise, Workshops

Picture: Photographer shooting at dawn, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Image: Photographer shooting the sunrise at Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

One of the things I love about teaching workshops are those moments out in the field when I can help a participant solve a problem, especially if it means getting them to think about, explore, play with, or see something differently. This was the case a couple weeks ago during my recent Photographing the Beaches of Point Reyes workshop. I’d gotten all the participants to the parking lot at Drakes Beach 90 minutes before sunrise. (The official time is called “Oh-my-gosh-it’s-still-so-dark-I-can-see-stars-Thirty.”)

On this occasion, one of the participants noticed the ripples in the water during the pre-dawn light and asked about how to get them sharper in her frame, since she was attracted by the golden light against the dark blue water. I suggested one way to accomplish what she wanted, which would have meant shooting with a much faster shutter speed than the low light levels would have allowed. This could be done by opening the aperture and raising the ISO. However the increase in the ISO would have resulted in more noise throughout the image, and the wider aperture would have reduced her depth of field. I also suggested (and demonstrated) playing with the opposite approach as well, making the ripples softer by extending the exposure time. In this case, I tried to show the difference between a starting exposure from 1.5 seconds (top), and then increasing the shutter speed to five seconds. (bottom) Notice how with the shorter exposure, the ripples are somewhere (non-definitively) between smooth and sharp, whereas with the longer exposure they’re definitively much smoother and more visually appealing in the early morning light. Which of the two images you prefer?

Image: Photographer shooting the sunrise at Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Image: Photographer shooting the sunrise at Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California

Whenever dealing with capturing motion or time in a photograph, remember there are always two possible approaches: You can either use faster exposures to freeze time and motion, or use longer exposures to really emphasize the sense of time and motion. If circumstances like weather, lighting, or equipment keep you from capturing one type of scene, don’t forget about trying the the opposite approach. In this case, bracketing the length of exposure helped create a softer feeling. If I’d wanted to, I could have extended the exposure even longer by adding a polarizer or neutral density filter. Similarly, if you’re shooting creeks, streams, waterfalls, or ocean waves, try shooting exposures of differing times. Every couple stops of time added or subtracted (adjusting the exposure accordingly) will significantly alter the look and feel of your photograph.

Also, if you have any samples of a scene shot with two notably different exposure speeds, I’d welcome you to include a link(s) in the comments. I’d love to see them.



If you like this post , I would greatly appreciate it if you’d consider sharing this with your friends using one of the Social Media sharing buttons located at the top of this post. You can also sign up to receive free updates by email when future posts are made to this blog.


 




Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.

Learning about Life and Photography by Jumping from a Plane

Posted November 20th, 2014 by
Categories: Aerials, California, Fossil Beds, Outdoors, People, Photos

Picture: Tandem paragliders floating down past the moon, Tres Pinos, San Benito County, California

Image: Tandem paragliders floating down past the moon, Tres Pinos, San Benito County, California

What can you learn about life and photography by jumping out of an airplane?

Last week I had an opportunity to jump out of a perfectly good airplane while flying at 13,000 feet over the Sacramento Valley. I hear some of you asking “Why would you do something like that?” For my 50th Birthday back in July, my wife bought us a certificate for a tandem jump from SkyDive Sacramento, which is located only 5 minutes from my sister-in-law’s house. We planned our jump to coincide with attending a baby shower for my niece, knowing we could spend the night and do our jump early the next morning.

Now understand that I’m not a adrenaline junkie or overt thrill-seeker, but I find even the biggest roller coasters pretty tame after the second or third trip through. Jumping out of a plane was something I’ve certainly thought about, and while it wasn’t on my #mustdo bucket list, my wife knew I’d be game for giving it a try.

Learning about Life: There is no doubt that contemplating jumping out of an airplane coincides with contemplating the possibility of death. In fact, our first minutes on site were signing legal contracts and watching a video wherein we acknowledge that nothing is perfect, nothing is guaranteed, and you are risking serious injury and even death by choosing to undertake this activity. They even say it again, … and again, just to make sure you understand what you’re getting into: “You Could Die.”

In the days leading up to the jump, I did Read the rest of this post »

That Crazy Nikon D800 HDR issue

Posted November 13th, 2014 by
Categories: California, Digital, Eastern Sierra, Mountains, Photos

Picture: Beaver Pond along Mill Creek, Lundy Canyon, Mono County, Eastern Sierra, California

Image: Beaver Pond along Mill Creek, Lundy Canyon, Mono County, Eastern Sierra, California

There are times when we come across a scene that we, as experienced photographers, know has an exposure range that is beyond what our camera is capable of recording in a single frame.

With that in mind, and looking at this image above, do you think it is:

(A) – A multiple exposure which has been manually blended to combine the best areas from each exposure?
(B) – A Single RAW image file that has been processed multiple times, and then manually blended using masks to create the final image?
(C) – A multiple exposure that’s been run through an automated HDR process like PhotoShop “Merge to HDR”?
(D) – An in-camera HDR?

Here are the original RAW frames from this image:

Back in the days of shooting slide film, you had very little choice on how to solve this kind of exposure latitude dilemma. You could adjust your composition to eliminate problem areas, or you could use lights or reflectors to bring your darker problem areas of the scene into balance with the brighter areas of your shot. In some cases you could possibly use a graduated neutral density filter to help solve the problem, but that didn’t offer much help if problem areas were in multiple locations throughout a frame.

With the advent of digital photography, we now have some very handy methods for solving dynamic range issues in scenes that exceed what our camera is capable of handling on its own. These methods include blending multiple frames with masking techniques using either multiple frames, or multiple-processed versions of a single RAW file. There’s also the grand-daddy of all solutions, the automated HDR software processing of multiple frames, each with a different exposure value. This is a great option for scenes which have lots of details and where the light values are mixed among fine details, for example inside a high-contrast scene like a sunlit forest with lots of shade. The big problem with HDR and Tone Mapping multiple exposures is that some people simply use the technique to wander so far off into the “Electric Kool-Aid Candyland” that all sense of reality is tossed aside.

My Nikon D800 camera is pretty nifty, in that it will do HDR processing for me in the camera. I don’t even need Photoshop to make HDR images anymore. (Not that I’ve ever really made that many HDR images to begin with.)

Well for those of you who are wondering, the answer is Read the rest of this post »

The recent Black and White Challenge

Posted November 11th, 2014 by
Categories: Black & White, Photos

Picture:Half Dome and Yosemite Valley as seen from the summit of Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park, California

Image: Half Dome and Yosemite Valley as seen from the summit of Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park, California

I do black and white photography. Surprised? Me too.

In recent weeks, many people may have noticed a surge of black and white photos being posted and shared across social media sites. This is due in large part to the viral spreading of a 5-day Black and White Challenge. This is where one photographer challenges another to post a black and white image for 5 days, and they in turn then challenge another photographer to do the same. My friend and fellow photographer Richard Wong, (who’s also co-moderator of the California & Western States Landscape Photography Community on G+) handed me the challenge.

I have to admit this challenge was really a bit of … well, a challenge. That’s because I’ve done so little black and white work across the years. My only formal photographic education was my Photography 101 class in college where I learned to develop my own Black & White film and prints in a darkroom. But when I first started working with the late Galen Rowell back in 1990, I was exposed to (read: inundated with) some of the best use of color in landscape photography on the planet. From that point forward, that’s where my own personal interest was directed. However, prior to that point, I once had completely decorated my college apartment with cut up Ansel Adams calendars and postcards. So it’s not to say that the art of Black and White wasn’t an early influence on my interest in photography. Nor have I ever ceased or wavered in my appreciation for those who pursue this fine craft. But this challenge has certainly done more to rekindle my interest in creating more black and white work more than anything else has in the last 20 years. (And for that fact alone, I probably owe Richard at least a few of my home-brewed beers.)

I posted more than five images, since I missed a few days wherein I only had time to simply repost some images that I’d already converted, rather than taking on converting some fresh new images. In case you missed any of them, here are the images that I recently shared as part of this challenge.

Picture: Le Conte Falls on the Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park, California

Image: Le Conte Falls on the Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park, California
Read the rest of this post »