How to “read” my photographs.

Okay, I’ll let you in on the secret to my photographs… how I make my “magic” so-to-speak. I utilize up to five main ingredients in every single one of my photographs. Some have only one, some have all five. Some have different amounts of each. But they all have at least one of these ingredients. When you are finished reading this, you should be able to view any of my photographs and identify which of these ingredients I used, and to what extent the success of the photograph relies on it.

Color

Color often makes or breaks a photo. And it isn’t as simple as just capturing as much color as possible and over-saturating until your eyes bleed. It must be controlled in a very coordinated way. Some of my favorite color photographs only have one color.

Red On White. A simple monochromatic color scheme.

Red On White. A simple monochromatic color scheme.

For photographs with multiple colors, I often use a painters color wheel to make sure each of the colors fits into a coordinated color scheme. I either subtly de-saturate or shift colors that do not fit, or I simply don’t take the photograph.

Sunset at Glacier - Many various shades of reds and blues, and just a touch of yellowish-orange, all carefully balanced.

Sunset at Glacier – Many various shades of reds and blues, and just a touch of yellowish-orange, all carefully balanced.

 

Guides

If you show 100 people a strong photograph, and you had some method of tracking their eye movement within the first second or so, you’ll find that they all pretty much follow the same path. That’s because a strong photograph leads the eye around the frame.

There are several ways to do this, but two of my favorite ways to do this are with lines and tonal variation.

Lines… well, they are lines. Anything in an image that makes a line, or a curve. They can be real or implied. Lines are strong geometric elements, and serve as great guides for the eye. I often use them to lead the eye into the photographs to give it a feeling of depth.

Harvest Road - Trail in the grass leads the eye to the horizon.

Harvest Road – Trail in the grass leads the eye to the horizon.

I also love to use tone to guide the eye. Our eyes are drawn to brightness before darkness. So if I create a subtle gradient from darkness to bright, the eye will almost certainly be pulled in that direction. I often use this to my advantage and love to wait until the clouds create just the right shadows to pull the eye into the distance, as demonstrated beautifully in “Monument Valley Cumulus.” This photograph, one of my favorites, has such a great feeling of depth.

Monument Valley Cumulus

Monument Valley Cumulus

 

Light

Some great photographs are really average subjects and not-so-interesting compositions taken under incredibly interesting lighting conditions. Although I use the terms good light and bad light when I’m in the field, I really mean interesting light, and un-interesting light. Admittedly, the difference between the two is difficult to describe.  But as an example, uninteresting light is straight-down noon-light without a cloud in the sky. Sunrises and sunsets are considered to be the best light, especially for color photography, because the light is coming in a more pleasing angle and is quite colorful.

Imagine “Tseyi Sunrise” with noon light. Not so good.

Tseyi Sunrise

Tseyi Sunrise

 

Simplicity

The simpler an image is, the easier it is to understand. It really needs to be about one “thing”, and all the other elements should carefully support that “thing” without becoming their own “thing”. Got it? If something doesn’t add to the photograph, it takes away. So everything should benefit, or it shouldn’t be included.

Starry Cypress - Very simple photograph and composition.

Starry Cypress – Very simple photograph and composition.

 

Moment

Moment is something that can break all the rules and might even transcend technical or compositional flaws in some cases. It is when something happens that is rare, unique, unbelievable, etc. Sometimes it’s planned, sometimes it’s luck, but it’s always a special thing to experience in person, and it can make a great photograph. The trick is to be ready for it, and to have the knowledge and experience to take advantage.

Lightning With Rainbow - Right place at the right time, with the right knowledge, experience, and the right equipment.

Lightning With Rainbow – Right place at the right time, with the right knowledge, experience, and the right equipment.

 

There are other ingredients that I could list here, but then the list would get too long and you would be less likely to read it all. Besides, these are my most used ingredients right now. I cannot think of one photograph of mine that doesn’t use at least one of these as primary “hook”.

Of course, as I photograph more, I learn more, and my technique is always subject to change as I grow as a photographer. I might even come back in a few years and re-write this list with completely new ingredients! But for now, this is where I am. I hope that having read this, you will be better able to understand each of my photographs now.

-Tim

If I were an art collector…

I started to write a quick guide to collecting art, but there are different definitions for “collecting”, and a bazillion for “art”. Also, people collect in different ways and for different reasons. Instead, I’ll tell you how I would do it, and maybe it will give you a different impression of art collecting, and how affordable it can be. (Note that I don’t have an art collection as described below, mostly because I’m too busy making my own art. I guess you could say that I build my own collection. However, if I was not an artist, I could very well see myself as a collector.)

Moonset Over Santa Elena

Moonset Over Santa Elena

Budget

When I think of collecting, I think about my rock collection that I built while travelling throughout the western US as a kid on vacation with my family. I loved stopping in at rock shops and buying one or two pieces… whatever I could afford with my meager earnings. Sometimes I could even find something along side the road that I liked.  Over the years, I built a nice little collection of interesting things, and probably spent less than $100.

The limit for me, like most people, is that some art is expensive, especially large pieces. However, small art is usually extremely affordable. So I would limit my collection to small pieces. Maybe 8×10’s or 11×14’s.

Then I’d figure out how many of these it would take for me to feel like I had a “complete” collection. I reckon this would be 10 pieces of art, maybe even as many as 20. How much would I spend per piece, and how many of these pieces could I afford to purchase in a year?  Let’s say I spend $200 per year, and that allows me to buy four framed 8×10’s. Not a bad start. In five years, I’ll have a very nice (and very affordable) collection.

Of course, that means I’d have to find not only an artist that I like, but one that offers small artwork in my price range.

Moon At Turret Arch

Moon At Turret Arch

The Art and the Artist

The most important part of this is that I love my collection and that it speaks to me. I expect it to help me to somehow feel connected with the artist. I also want it to be cohesive, so I would choose a single medium (let’s go with photography!).

I’d start searching for one artist whose entire body of work really spoke to me both technically and artistically, and who was able to create consistent work on a regular basis. This is important! I don’t want to be drawn to one photograph, when the majority of the other photographs don’t appeal to me at all. It’s important for the artist to have a desirable and cohesive body of work, and not just one or two “one-hit-wonders”.

It would be beneficial if the artist is local, or at least does a show nearby regularly so I could meet him/her in person. I would, after all, want to like the artist as a person as well as their art. I want someone that I can enjoy and appreciate, before I invest my time and money.

Of course, they would also need to offer their artwork at the size and price range that meets my budget and space requirements. This is most likely true with photography, although many other artists also offer affordable small prints.

Moon Over Windmill

Moon Over Windmill

The Plan

If necessary, I’d narrow down the theme for my collection if the artist’s body of work is too broad. I might narrow it down to subject matter, location, color palette, etc. Maybe a collection of trees would be nice, or photographs with the color yellow. Perhaps black and white photographs of the moon? This will depend on what the artist has available. The more photographs available, the more I can narrow my theme.

I’d reserve an area in my home for my collection. Either a wall, a room, or a hallway. Something with good light, or more likely I’d add track lighting. Art dramatically benefits from good light.

Finally, I’d purchase one or two of my favorite pieces and either have the artist frame them, or choose a matching frame that I know will still be available a year or two down the road. I’d hang my new artwork in it’s reserved spot, and enjoy it for several months. After my new collection has had time to acclimate in my mind, I might already have another piece in mind that I had seen before that I would like to acquire next.

Moonset At White Sands

Moonset At White Sands

Follow

Perhaps even before I make my first purchase, I’d get to know the artist better. I’d read through their website, subscribe to their newsletter, and find more about who they are, what they’re up to, and what inspires them. I’d keep up to date on their latest releases to see what direction their work is going, and if I can better understand where he/she is taking me. I might even send them an email asking about a certain piece – perhaps why they composed it a certain way or how it makes them feel. In short, I’d get involved in their work and build an ongoing relationship.

Moon At Bryce

Moon At Bryce


 

Not only is this the way I would collect art, it is also my favorite kind of collector. The most exciting order for me to fulfill is not the largest and most expensive, but the one that’s going to someone who has purchased my work in the past, even if it’s just a $25 8×10.

I am so thankful for each of my customers, and especially the collectors that have added to their “Tim Herschbach” collections. Thank you so much for allowing me to serve you.

IMG_8514 copy

Thoughts on Shooting Palouse

The Palouse region is named after the town of Palouse in southeast Washington. It is a corner of the world that I didn’t know existed until I ran across a few photographs of it. I’m so glad I did. It is beautiful, American-proud farmland. Rolling green hills, miles of vacant dirt roads, curious horses, old red barns, and wheat. The air is clean and the folks are friendly.

Shooting Palouse

One afternoon while waiting for sunset, we drove into the small town of Fairfield (population of 612) looking for a restroom. There were cars parked all over downtown along the street but no one was around. “Where the heck is everyone?” We turned down a side street adorned with red, white, and blue flags and saw that the building labeled “Community Center” was in full swing with a big BBQ pit outside brewing some delicious smelling grub. A small community that lives like a community, enjoying one another’s company, celebrating our independence and freedom; and I suspect that most, if not all of them know each other. Down-to-earth people. I love that about the Palouse region.

Sunset from Steptoe Butte

Sunset from Steptoe Butte

While the area is absolutely incredible to drive through and experience, photographing it is challenging. Most of the roads go through valleys so there are only a few places to get a good overlook unless you have access to private property. Steptoe Butte state park is the best location for this.

The area also requires a lot of exploration on dirt roads.  Actual dirt roads, not gravel or rock.  If it rains, forget about it. I suspect most four-wheel-drive vehicles would struggle. The plus side is that you’ll rarely come across another person out there. At least that’s a plus until you break down. There is virtually no cell service other than in the towns.

Abbie and I shooting sunrise at Steptoe Butte... at 4:50 am.

Abbie and I shooting sunrise at Steptoe Butte… at 4:50 am.

By far, the hardest part about this trip was the incredibly long days and short nights. It never “dawned” on me that we were going to be shooting at the summer solstice in the northern latitudes. Nor did I realize how much of a difference that can make. So sunrise was around 4:50am and sunset at 8:50pm. So we were going to bed around 11 and waking up at 4. This was really difficult as I treasure my eight hours. Usually we were napping back at the hotel by 9 when the sun was already high and bright in the sky. Thank you black-out curtains.

The rewards of getting up early to catch the golden hour, 2000 miles of driving, and having to stretch my compositional creativity a bit, the resulting photographs from this area are awesome and I can’t wait to release them in September at my home gallery show. I hope you can attend!

Sunset At Palouse

How important is having a good camera?

Gulls on Catwalk

Gulls on Catwalk

Many I talk to at shows think that I can create great photographs because I have a “really nice camera”. It’s true that I have professional equipment, but how important is that to making compelling photographs?  Answer: It’s not. What is important is training my brain to see great photographs. This comes from knowledge and experience. This photograph of gulls was taken with an inexpensive “bridge” camera, a Minolta Dimage z2, now available for a whopping $60 used on Amazon.

Abbie in Sunlight
Abbie in Sunlight

Here is another from that trip to Disneyworld (our honeymoon) with the same camera. Light, composition, story, mood, emotion, expression, moment – these are the things that make a great photograph. Not technical details. These photographs could have been taken with any point-and-shoot.

Chipmunks on a Trunk
Chipmunks on a Trunk

This photograph is one of my very first. I believe it was taken in 1997 with an inexpensive Minolta SLR that I got as a high school graduation gift from Wal-Mart. Light, story, moment, emotion, expression – these are the things that matter the most when creating a compelling photograph. And no, it’s not simple or easy. It’s very complicated and it requires vision and a lot of thinking and decision-making.  Sometimes split-second decision-making.  Sometimes patience.

So why do I have expensive equipment? A few reasons. Here is a list from least important to most.

1. Status Quo – I’m a professional and I desire to be taken seriously. That’s difficult to do when shooting with a pocket camera.

2. Dependability/Durability – I sometimes shoot in wet ,cold, and dirty environments and I need gear that will work and survive.

3. Image Quality – If I’m going to put so much time, effort, and money into creating my photographs, I want the image quality to be as good as I can afford. That comes from having high quality lenses.

4. Ease of Use – Counter to intuition, the more professional the camera, the easier it is to operate. Consumer-grade cameras usually have a lot of buttons and cater to those shooting in auto exposure mode. A professional camera is generally much easier and faster to use when shooting in Manual exposure mode because it’s designed for that purpose. The less I have to think about the operation of the camera functions, the more I can think about composition and creativity.

5. Print Size –  Any camera can print a great 5×7, but when I’m making prints that are 70″ long, I need as much detail as I can muster. That’s the biggest advantage of having a nice sensor.

So, let me assure you, upgrading equipment to the latest and greatest does not allow you to create great photographs. You’ll just be creating larger versions of what you are already doing.  You’re better off buying a used $17 book on composition from Amazon. Or better yet, let me do the hard work and you can just sit back and enjoy!

Climate Planning

I often say that the worst thing you can have in a landscape photograph is a cloudless sky. The more dramatic the clouds, the better the photograph in my opinion.

Great cumulus clouds over Colorado!

Great cumulus clouds over Colorado!

I’m planning a trip sometime this year to the Grand Canyon area. I have been there several times but have never photographed it properly. Step #1 for me is to find out what time of the year the weather is the most active. After a few quick minutes looking at various sites, I find that Arizona’s monsoon season is roughly July and August. It sounds like it would be hot during the middle of summer, but at the Grand Canyon’s altitude, the high’s are typically in the 80’s. Not bad!  Just don’t hike down into it where the temperatures climb into the 100’s.

How about other factors like foliage? Many times you’ll want to plan a trip around the most colorful time of the year – either when the leaves are changing or when the flowers are blooming. Unfortunately, this doesn’t coincide with the monsoon season. For the style of photography I like however, the dynamic light that a great thunderstorm can create is a higher priority to me than using wildflowers as a foreground. Having both would be great, but if I’m only there for a week, I need to maximize my potential for great light.

Therefore, I need to shoot for July/August. That’s great because that is the slowest time of the year for me; it’s just too hot in Texas for art shows!  So expect to see some more work from Arizona from me around late summer.

How the Camera “Sees”

I am often asked at art shows if I “enhance” or “manipulate”.  If you’ve read my previous posts on this topic, you’ll know that I am first and foremost an artist. My #1 priority is to create a beautiful print.  I love to change the photographs!  My second priority is to give the viewer the feeling of being there. I want you to have a similar impression when you view my work as I had when I was standing there in the freezing cold, witnessing the perfect moment in person.  The problem is that the camera (among other limitations) does not know my vision and it cannot make necessary changes to accomplish this.

I want you to see the difference between a raw capture, which is what the camera’s sensor actually records, compared side-by-side to the final photograph after I’ve made my changes.  Here is Aspen Reflections as it was captured by the camera.

Aspen Reflections, raw capture

Aspen Reflections, raw capture

And here is the final version:

Aspen Reflections, final version

Aspen Reflections, final version

Changes made:

Cropping, leveling, stretching, contrast increase, removing the power line, removing the floating debris spots, increasing saturation in some areas, decreasing saturation in others, sharpening, lens distortion correction, lens vignette correction, levels adjustments, white balance.

The first image is what the camera captured, but it is not what it was like to stand there and look at these beautiful colors.  The final image is.

Essential Camera Equipment for Landscapes

When getting started out in photography, it can be very tempting to just start indiscriminately buying all sorts of gear.  A lot of times you’ll end up with stuff you don’t need, don’t know how to use, or stuff that is low quality.  I get asked often by folks who have just purchased a camera, what they should buy.  Well, I’m tempted to say you should have asked before you bought your camera, but that ship has sailed.  So here are the things that, in my opinion, you must have when you are starting out shooting landscapes.  And I apologize for the lack of images; this is a straight-info post.  Quick and dirty.

1. Camera Body.  Yup, you’re not going to take photographs without it! But what do you really need?  You don’t need the latest tech or the highest resolution.  You do need quality build, ease of use, and a model that has plenty of quality lenses.  Stick with Canon or Nikon.  I recommend “pro-sumer” models like the Canon 7D or 60D, or the 5D series if your budget can allow for it. Nikon has equivalent models. Don’t be afraid to buy used as you can get an excellent deal on a model that is only one or two years old. I love buying used.  Just make sure you bring someone along that knows how to check it out for you.

2.  Lenses.  Again, no photos without a lens.  I recommend two focal ranges.  A wide angle zoom, and a telephoto zoom.  Canon has the 17-40 f/4 which is a great lens, and the 70-200 series, all of which are excellent.  For landscape, you don’t need image stabilization (IS) (a.k.a vibration control (VR), optical stabilization (OS), or vibration reduction (VR), depending on the brand).  You also typically don’t need “fast” lenses like the 70-200 2.8.  However, if you can afford it, these features will be very useful for other types of photography.  The Canon 70-200 f/4 is a fine lens for landscape, and it’s cheaper and lighter than it’s bigger brothers that have the IS and/or 2.8 maximum apertures.

3.  Tripod.  Essentially, you cannot create fine art landscape photographs without a tripod because you will be typically be shooting at slower shutter speeds.  And you don’t want a cheap Wal-Mart brand tripod.  A good, yet affordable brand is Manfrotto.  I recommend the 055CXPRO3.

4.  Head.  The head is the link between the tripod and the camera.  There are two types of heads, ball heads and pan heads. I find the ball heads to be easier and faster to use.  I use the Manfrotto 322RC2.  Like the tripod and 95% of everything else related to photography, you don’t want to get something cheap here or you’ll be wasting your money.

5.  Computer with editing software.  If you do not process and edit your photographs, you are shooting yourself in the foot.  I recommend Adobe Photoshop CS6, but earlier versions are fine as well.  Just make sure that your camera model is compatible with the version of Adobe Raw that comes with it.  Photoshop CS6 comes with Bridge, which will view raw files in folders and allows you to rank and view metadata, and Adobe Raw, which is critical.  I assume you want to make the finest images possible, so you will be shooting in raw mode, which means you will be processing the photographs yourself on a computer.  Use the raw processor to make global adjustments, and then use Photoshop to fine tune.

I’m going to assume you are only going to share your photos online.  What you need to print and mat your photographs is a whole new list of expensive things which would double the length of this article, which I don’t want to do.

Realistically, those five things (assuming you have a battery, charger, and memory card) are all you need.  You don’t need prime lenses (fixed focal length), macro lenses, extenders, flashes, remotes, vests, or filters.  You can create great photographs with only the above four things.  However, the next most useful accessory that I think will have the biggest impact on your photographs, would be a high quality circular polarized filter. B+W is a great brand, and I wouldn’t buy anything else.  Match the size to your largest lens, or buy one for each of your lenses.  Or buy lenses with the same filter size.

Of course, this is the gear you need.  Learning how to use this equipment – I leave to you.  If you are considering purchasing something and would like my input, feel free to email me.  tim@herschbachphotography.com

10 questions I ask before I take the shot

There are perhaps hundreds of decisions that I make when creating a photograph. I’d like to share a fraction of them with you so that you can understand my work a little better.  Note that some of these questions are completely artistic in nature, and others are technical. Technical decisions directly contribute to the look of the final photograph and thereby are indirectly artistic.

In no particular order:

1. What is the main subject?

Most photographs contain a main subject.  Sometimes two or three.  Any more and the “story” can become confusing.

Bodie

Bodie – This ’37 Chevy is definitely the main subject.

2.  What feeling am I trying to express?

Drama, mystery, awe, beauty… where will this photograph fit the best? Once I decide, I can often find ways to increase that emotional response.

manzanar_edited

Gateway to Manzanar uses the sweeping curves of the trees and the converging lines of the clouds to create drama.

3.  Is my tripod stable?

I always check to make sure that my tripod is balanced within all three legs or it could fall over.  This can be very difficult to visually judge when I’m on a 30 degree incline so I often will give it a nudge to see how easily it moves.

Using my tripod in a creek.

Using my tripod in a creek. It had better be stable!

4.  Can I imagine a better lighting situation?

If I expect conditions to improve, I wait.  If the light is not right for the shot, I come back later or else I don’t bother.

The red light from the sun is lighting the clouds directly, but not the land. We are in the shadow of the mountain.

Tufa at Sunset – The best light.

5.  What is in the sky?

Clean blue sky and completely flat overcast sky are very difficult to create interesting photographs with if including the sky in the photograph.

Big Sky - This wouldn't work without an interesting cloud arrangement.

Big Sky – This wouldn’t work without an interesting cloud arrangement.

6. Is anything in the frame moving?

If so, shutter speed becomes very important.  Do I want the moving object to blur or not?

Blurred water from a one second shutter speed.

Aspen Reflections – Blurred water from a one second shutter speed.

7. Color or Monochrome?

If I am in a colorful area, then I may look for natural color palettes that work together. Otherwise, I will focus on what I like in monochromatic photographs… high contrast, sharp details, vivid textures, dramatic skies, etc.

Blue-Violet and Yellow-Orange, complimentary colors.

Guadalupe Sunset – Contains Blue-Violet and Yellow-Orange, complimentary colors.

8. Is there a story here?

A story is often told by inferring human characteristics on nature. It’s not easy to tell a story while limiting myself to natural, non-animated objects, nor is it always necessary.  But if I can find one, it can result in a more emotional photograph.

Storm Over Water artwork

Storm Over Water

9.  Mirror Lock-up on?

I always shoot with mirror lock up to minimize camera shake when the shutter releases (I also use either a remote release or the built-in timer so I am not touching the camera when the shutter releases).  This insures the sharpest image possible.

Guadalupe Foothills

Guadalupe Foothills – Excellent Detail

10.  Is this the best?

Once I take a shot, I examine it on the screen (I love digital) and become very critical. Are there distractions? What if I moved a few inches to the right, left, up, or down? Is the exposure perfect?  Focus?  Does my eye flow naturally?  What will it look like printed large?  Small?

Guadalupe Sunrise

Guadalupe Sunrise

These are just a few of the many questions that I ask myself when I am creating a photograph.  With experience, some decisions become subconscious while others are made in a fraction of a second, but they are made nonetheless.

Waiting for the Light

I want to show you a series of photographs that led up to my popular photograph Guadalupe Sunrise.  Notice the time stamps and how just a bit of waiting for the right light can be the difference between boring and excellent. I recognized that the sun was low in the sky and the clouds were moving quickly, therefore the light was changing quickly. It was just a matter of time.  In this case, less than 13 minutes.

Time: 8:33:48AM

Time: 8:33:48AM

Time: 8:43:46AM

Time: 8:43:46AM

Time: 8:45:28AM

Time: 8:45:28AM

Time: 8:45:46AM

Time: 8:45:46AM

Time: 8:45:59AM

Time: 8:45:59AM

Time: 8:46:18AM

Time: 8:46:18AM

Note that the final creation Guadalupe Sunrise (not shown here) is a composite of the second and last photographs.  Also note that there is only the same basic processing applied to these images, and with the exception of the first being at f/10, the rest are f/14, 1/8 of a second, at ISO 100.

The Color of Sunlight

When trying to capture a colorful grand landscape, it is often important to wait until the light itself has color.  We judge daytime sunlight to be white.  But when the sun is on the horizon, that light becomes “warmer” because it has to travel through more atmosphere to reach us.  Sometimes, depending on the geography, the clouds, and the particles in the atmosphere (haze, dust, smoke, pollution, water vapor), the early and late day color can be very dramatic.

When my wife and I were photographing in California last October, we visited Mono Lake.  When we arrived, the light was bright and harsh:

Harsh Light during mid-afternoon.  White clouds, deep shadows, true color.

Harsh Light during mid-afternoon. White clouds, deep shadows, true color.

Occasionally, early and late light can be dramatic.

As the sun dipped behind White Mountain, the light coming from the sun was not reaching us directly, but instead reflecting off the clouds above which were turning a deep red, showing the current color of the light.  This red light, in turn, lit the landscape.

The red light from the sun is lighting the clouds directly, but not the land. We are in the shadow of the mountain.

The red light from the sun is lighting the clouds directly, but not the land. We are in the shadow of the mountain.

Just when I thought we’d seen the best of it, the sun dropped further below the horizon and the sky exploded in red.  It was so surreal, like being on a different planet.

The peak of color.

The peak of color.

This deep red lasted for about one minute before it faded into the blue of night.  I’ve never seen such a dramatic display of color.  It’s one evening I’ll never forget.