Anticipating the exceptional

No one denies that an image records a single, unrepeatable instant. But just as each instant is the culmination of a series of connected preceding events, most images have their own history that can be traced backward, often months or years before the shutter clicked. The moon didn’t just materialize above Half Dome that evening, and a moonbow isn’t just some random event at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall—their appearance can be directly connected to celestial dance that was set…

Are you a photographer or a tourist?

Years of leading photo workshops and reviewing the work of others has convinced me that to capture great images and maintain domestic bliss, you need to decide before the trip whether you’ll be a tourist or a photographer. You just can’t have it both ways. (I say this completely without judgement—there are times when I opt for tourist mode myself, and on a recent Mexico cruise I…

Exploring the familiar

I spend a lot of time guiding and teaching photographers who have traveled a great distance to capture a particular shot: Horsetail Fall in February, the spring moonbow on Yosemite Fall, the Milky Way above the Kilauea Caldera, to name a few. They’ve seen an image on my website, or someone else’s, and have decided want to add their version to their portfolio. Many…

The yin and yang of nature photography

Conducting photo workshops gives me unique insight into what inhibits aspiring nature photographers, and what propels them. The vast majority of photographers I instruct, from beginners to professionals, approach their craft with either a strong analytical or strong intuitive bias—one side or the other is strong, but rarely both. And rather than simply getting out of the way, the underdeveloped (notice I didn’t say…

Stupid cold

We warm blooded humans have lots of ways to express the discomfort induced by low temperatures, ranging from brisk to chilly to freezing to frigid. But because I’ve always felt that we need something beyond frigid, something that adequately conveys the potential suffering, let me submit: stupid cold. At the risk of stating the obvious, “stupid cold” is when it’s so cold, the only people without…

Securing the border

If you’ve ever been in one of my workshops, or (endured) one of my image reviews, you know where I’m going with this (I can sense eyes rolling from here). But I hope the rest of you stick with me, because as much as we try be vigilant, sometimes the emotion of a scene overwhelms our compositional good sense—we see something that moves us,…

Two out of three ain’t bad

I scheduled my Yosemite Comet ISON photo workshop way back when astronomers were crossing their fingers and whispering “Comet of the Century.” Sadly, the media took those whispers and amplified them a thousand times—when ISON did its Icarus act on Thanksgiving day, its story became the next in a long line of comet failures (raise your hand if you remember Kohoutek). But anyone who…

Oops

Last Friday evening, this professional photographer I know spent several hours photographing an assortment of beautiful Yosemite winter scenes at ISO 800. Apparently, he had increased his ISO earlier in the day while photographing a macro scene with three extension tubes—needing a faster shutter speed to freeze his subject in a light breeze, he’d bumped his ISO to 800. Wise decision. But, rushing to…

There’s a draft in here

Drafting an image Few writers create a polished piece of writing in a single pass—most start with a draft that gets refined and tightened until it’s ready for publication. It’s an incremental process that builds upon what’s already been done. As somebody who has been writing and taking pictures for a long time, I’ve found a real connection between the creation process of each…