Winners of Summit Workshops’ Annual Photo Contests receive free tuition to any of Summit Workshops’ award-winning non-destination photography workshops.
Professional Photo Contest Winner:
Isaiah Downing (Instagram: @isaiahdowningphoto)
When you are out in the field and you’re not sure if your the image you are making is any good, go through this quick mental checklist to see if your image contains these four essential ingredients.
Light is by far the most important element of a landscape photograph. A photograph of a stunning location taken in harsh mid-day light will fall flat. A photograph of a boring location taken at that perfect moment when the light is magical will turn into a unique and memorable photograph.
I don’t actually believe that there is any kind of light that is inherently bad. You just have to know what to do with the light conditions that you are given.
The golden hour light of sunrise and sunset are usually a favourite time for photographers. My favourite time is the blue hour: twilight. It’s hard to go wrong with these two types of light.
When you have a day with bright harsh sunlight, take advantage of the opportunity to look for interesting shadows.
The white sky of an overcast day is an excellent time to photograph close-ups.
And what about those stormy days? Those can be the best of all with the dramatic clouds that accompany a storm.
The next thing is to make sure you have a main subject. That may sound pretty obvious but keep it in mind. You may find yourself, as I sometimes do, making an image of some general landscape without a clear subject. It’s just some land with some trees and maybe some water. You need to decide what the subject is and that will help you make an image that is more compelling.
When I get to a location I like to think of what it is about that place that grabbed my attention and I make that the main subject. That’s not to say you cannot then turn your attention to another main subject later, but if you have too many subjects in your scene, none of them with be the main subject and your image will be too general to be interesting.
My first love in photography when I first got my trusty old Minolta SLR as a teenager was landscape photography. There’s something about getting out in nature with the challenge of capturing some of the amazing beauty that you see. Perhaps it fits with my personality type – but I loved the quietness and stillness of waiting for the perfect moment for the shot, scoping out an area for the best vantage point and then seeing the way that the light changed a scene over a few hours.
While I don’t get as much time as I’d like for Landscape Photography these days – I thought I’d jot down a few of the lessons that I learned in my early years of doing it. I’d love to hear your own tips in comments below.
While there may be times that you want to get a little more creative and experiment with narrow depth of fields in your Landscape Photography – the normal approach is to ensure that as much of your scene is in focus as possible. The simplest way to do this is to choose a small Aperture setting (a large number) as the smaller your aperture the greater the depth of field in your shots.
Do keep in mind that smaller apertures mean less light is hitting your image sensor at any point in time so they will mean you need to compensate either by increasing your ISO or lengthening your shutter speed (or both).
PS: of course there are times when you can get some great results with a very shallow DOF in a landscape setting (see the picture of the double yellow line below).
As a result of the longer shutter speed that you may need to select to compensate for a small aperture you will need to find a way of ensuring your camera is completely still during the exposure. In fact even if you’re able to shoot at a fast shutter speed the practice of using a tripod can be beneficial to you. Also consider a cable or wireless shutter release mechanism for extra camera stillness.
All shots need some sort of focal point to them and landscapes are no different – in fact landscape photographs without them end up looking rather empty and will leave your viewers eye wondering through the image with nowhere to rest (and they’ll generally move on quickly).
Focal points can take many forms in landscapes and could range from a building or structure, a striking tree, a boulder or rock formation, a silhouette etc.
Think not only about what the focal point is but where you place it. The rule of thirdsmight be useful here.
Jen Edney has been to several Summit Photography Workshops and even helped at the workshops as the second-ever workshop mentor. Jen just recently landed two photos (out of 10 total) in Sports Illustrated’s gallery on the Volvo Ocean Race. The race takes place once every four years, lasts for nine-months and visits 11 ports in 11 countries on five continents. To view the entire gallery, visit it >>HERE<< on SI.com.
An eye for composition is one of the things that elevates the work of the best photographers above the rest. One of the best ways to learn about composition is focus on applying one idea at a time. You can treat it as an exercise that will help you improve your composition skills, the same way that piano players practice scales. Here are five ideas to get you started.
Lenses have an enormous influence on the look of a photo, and the best way to learn exactly what effect they have is to spend some time using just one lens. Ideally it would be a prime lens, but if you have a zoom you can use a piece of tape to fix the lens to one focal length (some lenses have a locking switch you can use instead).
If you use a single focal length you will become intimately acquainted with its characteristics.
While it is useful to own multiple lenses, the ability to switch from one to another may mean that you don’t get to know any of them very well. This exercise helps overcome that tendency.
My favourite recommendation for learning more about composition is to work inblack and white.
Colour is such a powerful element that it dominates most photos. It becomes more difficult to see and appreciate the underlying building blocks of composition liketexture, line, pattern and tonal contrast. Take colour away and all these things become easier to see; once you are aware of them, you can start using them to improve the composition of your photos.
For example, in the black and white photo above, did you notice the shapes in the photo? I’m referring to the white rectangle of the cinema screen (yes, that’s what it is), the shapes of the Chinese letters and the diamond pattern in the stones on the ground. All these things are easier to see in black and white.
Another thing to look out for is repeating patterns and shapes. When I took the photo above I noticed that the repeating shapes of the cards made an interesting composition.
There are two strong elements to this photo. The first is the pattern formed by the lines of cards. The second is the lines created by the shelf edges and the cards themselves. I took the photo at an angle so the lines created by the shelves moved diagonally across the frame.
Train yourself to recognize patterns and shapes, so you can use them in your compositions.
Autofocus is so good on modern cameras that most photographers use it all the time. It seemingly never lets you down. But, let’s say it’s nighttime and you are going to do some shooting. You find a good spot. You set up your tripod. You go to focus your camera using the autofocus. You can feel the camera’s focus ring twisting back and forth, trying to focus. But it never gets there. The camera keeps hunting for a focus spot but never finds one.
Uh-oh. What are you going to do now?
Actually, this problem doesn’t arise only at night. Your camera will typically have trouble focusing in any really dark scene. So here are some tips for dealing with that situation and focusing your camera when it is dark:
Sometimes you can still use your autofocus. Even though it is dark, most night scenes will have a bright spot or two. They might be streetlights, or a lit-up building, or even the moon. That bright spot can be used to set your autofocus.
To do so, find a bright spot that is reasonably close to your desired plane of focus (i.e., the same distance away as your focal point). Autofocusing on that point should take care of your problem. Just focus on that bright spot in a normal fashion and your camera is now focused on something the same distance away as your subject. You should then be able to take your picture with proper focus.
Most cameras focus using something called contrast detection. That means the camera will have the best chance at finding something to focus on if you aim at the area of high contrast between something bright and the dark background. So don’t aim your focus point at the middle of the bright spot in your frame. Rather, focus on the edge of the bright point. The camera will use the contrast between the very light and the very dark tones to focus.
If you are attempting to autofocus on a relatively close subject, you can use a flashlight to assist with the focus. This is one of the many reasons to keep a flashlight in your camera bag.
To do that, shine your flashlight on your subject. That will lighten it up enough for the camera to focus on it. Set your focus, then you can turn off the flashlight and take your shot.
Assume you now have your focus set using the methods set forth above. But to get that focus, you had to move your camera away from your desired composition to focus on the edge of a bright spot. Move your camera back to your desired composition to get the shot. Don’t refocus as you do so though – just move the camera and take the shot with the focus you’ve already set. (You will need to either hold the shutter button part way down, use focus lock, or focus and then turn off the AF so it doesn’t attempt to refocus once you have recomposed – or see #5 below.)
In many ways, shutter speed is an inaccurate term. I read an article a few years ago and the photographer referred to shutter speed as shutter time. The logic was spot on. A shutter always opens or closes at the same “speed”. The key value is how long the shutter stays open, hence shutter time. On Canon cameras the shutter speed function (shutter priority) on the mode dial is abbreviated to Tv, which stands for “Time Value”, and is a more accurate description of what this article is about. I am going to refer to shutter time as opposed to shutter speed, it sounds crazy, but it will make more sense. The reason this definition is important is because, we are going to be looking at how you can use the time that the shutter is open (and gathering light onto the sensor) creatively.
In a sense, shutter time is a bit like time travel. You camera’s shutter can open and shut in 1/8000th of a second. Think about that. Take one second, divide it by 8000 and one of those units is the time your shutter was open. That is very quick. On the other end of the spectrum, you can shoot super long exposures of 20 or 30 minutes. That means the shutter stays open for that length of time. Again, amazing. Think of all that light falling onto the sensor during that time, and the images that can be created doing so.
The shutter time becomes more than simply a moment in time, it could be a split second (literally) or a few seconds. The resulting image will capture and freeze the moment or, with a longer shutter time, there will be blurred movement. This is the fun part of photography. In many ways, your camera can “see” events that happen which you cannot. The camera can capture a frozen moment and suspend your subject in that moment forever, this is like magic. The compelling images are amazing to see and are reasonably easy to make, so let’s take a look at a few of them and see how they are done.
These are the images we all know about; ones that have captured a frozen moment in time. Normally these are sports images, the winning goal, or the knockout punch connecting. They are intriguing to most people and are compelling because we can’t freeze the moment in our eyes. We see a moving, continuous rendition of the events happening in front of us. You have seen “slo-mo” shots of the winning goal; the frozen moment image is that equivalent.
These images take a bit of practice to get right. Lets assume for a moment, you are photographing a soccer match. It is great to get action shots, but you will want to get any shots of the teams scoring goals. You will then need to have the correct lens. Insports photography, it will be a pretty long zoom or telephoto lens. Most sports photographers will use 400mm and longer. You will also need to keep your camera steady. A tripod in these cases is somewhat impractical as you need to be able to move the camera quickly and easily to follow the game. A monopod is normally what works best.
Depending on the lighting conditions you need to make sure you have a shutter time that captures the players in mid-action. You also need to take the lighting into consideration. If you are shooting in an outdoor arena, the natural light may be sufficient, but if you are in an indoor arena, you might need to be more aware of your exposure. In that case, you may need to push your ISO up high enough to allow you to freeze your subject. In most sports 1/1500th of a second is the starting point for freezing action. In very fast sports like ice hockey, soccer, rugby and so on, you may need to be shooting at even faster speeds than that. This is how you set up the shots.
How to do it: Set your aperture to an aperture setting of f/2.8 or f/4.5. This will allow for a quicker shutter time, which will in turn freeze the action. If you are shooting a sporting event in the sunlight, you may need to have your shutter time set to 1/1500 or faster. If this is still not freezing the action, make the shutter time even quicker. Try and anticipate the action and release the shutter at the moment you think it will happen. Be aware that your focus will need to be spot on. With a wide aperture, you run the risk of misfocusing and missing a shot. I once heard a sports photographer say this ” If you see the goal in your viewfinder, you missed the shot”. When you do get that shot though, it will be worth it.
Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the phrase, “The Decisive Moment”. Do a google image search on Cartier-Bresson and the decisive moment, you will see many of his great images. He was well known as a street and people photographer, and he believed that you need to choose the precise moment when something happens to hit the shutter release. As you can imagine, this is not easy. Sometimes this might mean you need quick reflexes. Most of the time, it requires patience. He would often set up the shot, get the framing right and then wait. You don’t want to wait for hours, but be patient, sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and watch the scene. Take note of how people are moving into, and out of your frame. When time is right, or the perfect subject (person, vehicle, animal, whatever you choose) moves into the best position, release your shutter at that moment. This will take practice and more than a few shots to get it right, but when you do, you will be ecstatic. The shot will look candid, but you will know what it took to get that image. Many people assume Cartier-Bresson’s images were simply shot quickly from the hip, but much of the time they were planned and he waited patiently for the decisive moment.
How to do it: You need to think of a scene you would like to capture, visualize it. You may want to capture the comings and goings at a coffee shop in your city. You may want to have someone with a red coat sitting outside, sipping coffee. You should then set up and frame your shot, then sit there until the scene unfolds. Someone with a yellow jacket may sit down, which might work too. So be flexible, but be patient, sooner or later the shot will unfold.
What operation on a camera could possibly be more simple than pressing the shutter button to take a picture? There’s not much to it, really – you look through the viewfinder (or at the LCD screen on the back of the camera), press a button with your index finger, wait for the camera to focus, and voilà! You’ve got a photo.
Well, as the popular saying goes, what if I told you there was a better way? Hidden deep within the settings of most cameras is a feature called Back Button Focusing, and enabling it can transform your approach to photography.
To understand what Back Button Focusing is, it’s important to know a little about the history of the autofocus function on your camera. Until the mid-1980s, there was no such thing as autofocus on consumer-level film cameras. You had to hold your camera up to your eye and either turn a ring on the outside of the lens or adjust what’s known as a rangefinder in the top-left corner. It required a great deal of patience and practice, and there are many photographers today that still swear by this method.
In 1985 Minolta released the Maxxum 7000 which integrated the autofocus function into the shutter button, which seemed like a sensible choice because you would normally want to make sure the camera was focused before taking a photo. This implementation of autofocus worked well, but required a bit of maneuvering if the photographer wanted to focus on something other than what was in the center of the photo. To do that, he or she would have to aim the camera at the object to be in focus, carefully hold the shutter button down halfway to keep the focus locked while re-composing the shot, then pushing the button all the way when the picture was ready.
This system remains in place on most cameras today, and it’s probably how your own camera operates. At this point you might be wondering why you should bother to change something that has worked perfectly well for the past 30 years.
The answer is because there really is a better way to focus your camera before you take a picture, and it was invented by Canon in 1989. On their EOS 630 camera they included an option within the camera’s custom settings menu to separate the actions of focusing and snapping the shutter. Users could tell the camera to use a separate button on the back of the camera to handle focusing duties, which left the shutter button to do one thing and one thing alone: take the picture. It was not an immediately obvious feature, and it never really caught on like Canon may have hoped, but the same capability is in every Canon DSLR today as well as virtually all cameras from other manufacturers like Nikon, Pentax, Sony, and the rest. If you have any sort of DSLR or mirrorless camera there is probably an option in your settings menu to enable Back Button Focus, and it’s something I highly recommend trying out.
Back Button Focus requires your thumb to press a button on the back of your camera (hence the name) and your index finger to press the shutter, which does take a few days to get used to, but soon becomes second nature. All this begs the question – why should you re-learn how to do something as basic as focusing your camera when the shutter half-press works perfectly fine? The answer lies in the overall concept of giving more control back to you, the photographer.
Cameras today have a dizzying array of autofocus points – those little dots or squares that light up in the viewfinder when you press the shutter button down halfway. You also have a ton of options in how you use these points. You can select an individual point, you can have the camera select what it thinks is the best one, you can tell your camera to use some of them in conjunction with one another, and many cameras have modes such as automatic face detection as well. To be honest, all these options works really well. But just know that by decoupling the act of focusing from the shutter button, and moving it to a separate button, you will be able to do a lot more with your photography than you may realize.
By using a button on the back to focus, you will no longer have to hunt around for the specific autofocus point you want to use or wait for the camera to focus on what it thinks you want to before allowing you to take a picture. Trying to keep a moving subject in focus while deftly holding the shutter down halfway is a feat of dexterity that would keep Legolas himself at bay. This is easily remedied by using back button focus. With this method you can hold the back button down as long as you want, which keeps your camera continually focusing on your subject, until you are good and ready to snap a photo. This is incredibly useful when your subject is in motion, whether people, animals, mechanical objects, or simply a flower petal meandering across a meadow.
One of my favorite cameras is the Nikon D7100, which has 51 autofocus points that cover almost the entire frame. For a while I used all of them, frantically shifting from one to the next as I adjusted each shot or tried to track a moving subject. It worked fairly well, especially in conjunction with Nikon’s 3D subject tracking algorithm (variants of that can be found in most cameras today) which did a good job of keeping my subject in focus whether it moved or I altered my perspective. But I found that I often messed up some critical shots because I was either too busy changing the autofocus point, or letting my camera decide what it thought should be in focus. Switching to back button focus remedied all of this, and helped me gets shots that would have been much more difficult otherwise.
Founded by legendary Sports Illustrated photographer and former National Geographic Director of Photography Rich Clarkson, the Summit Series of Workshops has featured some of the best photographers and editors in the country for nearly three decades.
Their team recently launched a series of online classes at www.summitonline.co. The lessons cover lighting, sports, nature, and adventure photography, and feature many of the instructors who teach at their live workshops. I was given the opportunity to watch one of those tutorials, “Inside an Editor’s Mind, with Brad Smith.”
Brad Smith is currently the Director of Photography at Sports Illustrated and has over 20 years of experience under his belt, including past positions at the White House and the New York Times.
His course covers all of the work that goes into covering a big event (in this case, Olympic swimming) from initial prep with the photographers to final edits for the magazine.
For more, visit The Photo Brigade
The world of sports is mourning the passing of Dean Smith, who died February 7, 2015 at the age of 83. Smith was called a “coaching legend” by the Basketball Hall of Fame after an illustrious career that included 36 years as the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball coach. Though he is best known for his days coaching the Tar Heels, Smith grew up in Kansas and attended the University of Kansas, playing basketball and eventually coaching as an assistant. Summit Workshops’ Founder Rich Clarkson had the rare priviledge of traveling with the team as a photographer while attending the University of Kansas, where he occasionally roomed with none other than Dean Smith. Clarkson also had the rare priviledge of following and photographing Smith’s career from player to head coach.
Sports Illustrated has recently released their Dean Smith Special Tribute Issue, and it includes several of Rich Clarkson’s favorite images from throughout Smith’s career. Thank you to Sports Illustrated and Director of Photography Brad Smith for creating a truly memorable issue and allowing us to share an excerpt from it.