Review: Guy Tal’s Creative Landscape Photography eBook

Guy Tal is a longtime friend and co-leader of our infrequent joint workshops (disclaimer made!). He’s also a gifted photographer and writer, and his internationally-acclaimed images and articles have been featured in such publications as Outdoor Photographer Magazine (US), PhotoLife (Canada), Digital Photographer (UK), as well as his own beautiful coffee table book, Exposures. In the current genre of landscape photography writing, I place Guy’s writing at the very top. I’ll be honest; most of what gets passed off as the best publications of our medium do little more than regurgitate what has already been regurgitated ad nauseam. Most of them are obsessively focused on gear and gear-based techniques, with few ever tackling more spiritual (if you will) and emotional approaches to landscape photography.

Designed as a companion to Guy’s Creative Landscape Photography workshop, this process-based instructional text is aimed at intermediate and advanced photographers who want to unlock their creative potential and evolve their craft. There’s also plenty of gear-based content for those who are still struggling with fundamentals. The book is well organized and features sections on the creative process; concept; visualization; composition; capture; processing; and presentation. It’s also filled with a number of Guy’s stunning images and accompanying text that explains his thought process and motives behind these particular photographs (no useless EXIF and aperture/shutter speed info!). There are also numerous exercises intended to aid in the evolution of your imagery (yes, “homework”!).

Taken a step further, creative photography is about the expression of subjective ideas, emotions, and sensibilities through the unique beauty of natural elements and using the medium of photography. A creative photograph is the result of venturing beyond the mere act of recording scenes and objects with a camera. Rather than thinking about what you want your viewers to see when looking at your work, think instead about how you want them to feel.

The eBook contains a whopping 86 pages, and at only $9.95, it may very well be one of the best valued eBooks I’ve seen. And at only $9.95, you can’t afford not having this eBook in your collection. Get ready to move to your photography to the next level…

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Photographic Memories

Desert Rats

In the early days of photography, long before it came to be used for virtually every imaginable purpose, photography was largely used as a means of recording people and places. The world was largely “undiscovered” at the time (the western U.S. was still almost completely wild), and the camera was mostly used a matter of record-keeping (think of Eugene Atget’s thousands of determined studies of Paris or William Henry Jackson’s photographic revelations of the “new” American west). Despite the amazing number of uses for all sorts of imagery today, by and large, most of the billions of photographs snapped each year are still a means to record important places, people, and events in our lives. While I may call myself a fine art photographer, my motives behind my work are none too different than most point-n-shooters: I want to record subjects and moments that I want to remember. Photographs as memories – especially for the photographer – are incredibly powerful and can trigger deep and dormant thoughts and feelings.

Almost exactly one year ago today, I spent a week exploring and photographing The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park with two good friends, Guy Tal and Steve Cole. It was an amazing adventure, and not one that many will get to experience, and I shared it with two dear friends. I could have written journals about our adventures; I could daydream incessantly about the things we did and saw; but a quick look at the photographs instantly transports me back to that very special place and time. Only the photographer can have this deep-seated connection to his or her images, and it’s a pretty damn powerful feeling.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Rare Earth

Factory Butte and Henry Mountains photo, picture. Large format black and white photograph.I made this photograph before dawn in Utah’s Caineville Badlands (east of capitol Reef National Park) one October 2009 morning. That’s Factory Butte on the right and the Henry Mountains on the left. Nearby, my good friend Guy Tal was making his own photograph. Out of sight from each other and enveloped by silence, our minds quieted. And all was right in the world.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Abusing Camera Gear in the Field

Photographer Guy Tal photographs The Maze

Photographer Guy Tal photographs The Maze

Outdoor photographers often subject their gear to poor environmental conditions: rain, wind, sleet, snow, blowing sand, and blowdowns. Blowdowns? My camera(s) have been blown over by strong gusts of wind more times than I care to remember. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve yet to have anything break (beyond use) in the process, and all my gear has continued to work just fine despite its injuries.

About one year ago, while at California’s Amboy Crater, one of my lensboards was not securely fastened to the front standard of my 4×5″ view camera (my hasty mistake), and thus my Schneider Apo-Symmar-L 120mm lens went crashing onto the basalt surrounding the crater. No glass was shattered, but the front element of the lens was pitted in two locations. No worries; I mounted the lens back onto the camera, and proceeded to make this photograph. Don’t let anyone tell you that a scratched and/or pitted front element signals the end of a lens, because it doesn’t.

Moments after making the above photograph of good friend, writer, and photographer Guy Tal, we were in the eye of a thunderstorm downburst. From out of nowhere, winds kicked ferociously through our camp, sending our personal effects in all different directions. Despite having roughly fifty pounds of ballast hanging from my tripod (large rocks stuffed in my backpack), my rig was no match for the swirling winds. Guy and I watched as my Chamonix 045-N view camera, mounted with my already abused Schneider Apo-Symmar-L 120 mm lens, went smashing violently into the ground. A testament to both the camera and lens quality, both survived almost entirely unscathed. No broken ground glass, no additional pits on the front element. One of the rear standard’s rails was slightly bent, but it was perfectly usable afterwards. We then spent the next ten minutes chasing down equipment and effects that had blown in all compass directions away from our camp.

As an outdoor photographer, I don’t believe in babying my gear. They’re just tools to help me create my art, and if the tools get damaged in the process of having great experiences and making great photographs, then I’m all for it! Besides, I’d have no stories to tell around the campfire. 🙂

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

The Maximum D.O.F. (Depth of Field) Myth of Landscape Photography

There exists amongst many landscape photographers a notion that all landscape photographs must be razor sharp near to far – f64 and be there (not!). Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all approach to landscape photography quite often increases the visual complexity (busy-ness) of an image and creates visual competition amongst its elements. Most importantly, displaying everything in the frame in brilliant sharpness leaves very little to the viewer’s imagination.

Razor sharpness throughout the entire frame of a landscape/nature photograph often runs counter-effect to the photographer’s intention. When attempting to depict the vastness of the scene before the camera, employing maximum Depth of Field (DOF) ironically often destroys the very depth depth that the photographer seeks to create. This is a particularly egregious habit of view camera users (i.e., users of large format sheet film cameras), many of whom feel that since camera movements afford precise control of focus, the image should employ maximum DOF and be in precise focus throughout.

Let’s take a look at a photograph I made in September 2007 in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah (click to enlarge):
Amongst the Maples, f11
This photograph was made with a 4×5″ view camera with a 120mm lens, and my focus was placed somewhere on the tree limbs. I restricted the aperture to about f11 to focus the viewer’s attention on the elements that grabbed my attention. The radiating form of the tree limbs and mixed splashes of color and light sucked me right in. As Guy Tal and I discuss in all our workshops, the elements that draw you to photograph something are the elements that you should seek to emphasize, while all other elements in the scene should be diminished or absent. This is a basic and solid theory of composition, and it magically works every time. In the brilliant words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

When I first began showing this photograph, non-photographers reacted very favorably towards it, whereas many photographers made comments about the shallow DOF/lack of sharp focus throughout. Naturally, I was humored by the latter comments, as the shallow DOF was intentional – not the result of an unfortunate error!

Now let’s take a look at a second but nearly identical photograph – same everything but aperture. For this exposure the aperture was f32 (or possibly f45) (click to enlarge):
Amongst the Maples, f32
With greater DOF, the background elements become more distracting, and the splash of light in the background becomes more glaring. Not only does greater DOF ruin my impression of the scene, it makes for greater visual clutter. Not something I strive for in a photograph.

When I am attracted to photograph something, I analyze the elements and ask questions: What is it that drew me over here to make this photograph? What are the important elements here? What is it that I want to emphasize? When I have answered these questions, where I place my tripod and camera, where I focus, and what aperture I use are essentially answered for me. I don’t blindly apply maximum DOF rules just because my equipment is capable nor because that’s what is instructed by the how-to guides of landscape and nature photography. In image-making, the primary goal for any photographer should be to do what best serves the subject matter. A one-size-fits-all approach to DOF in landscape photography rarely does that.

What do you think?

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.