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“One should not photograph things for what they are but what else they are.” – Minor White

Blurs, blends, composites, pans, macro, long exposures, and multiple exposures are just a few ways to create abstract images. No matter how you create them, they all need a sense of line, color, and rhythm. As photographers we learn a system of techniques and “rules” in photography, but sooner or later we leave these “rules” behind and discover an entirely different world of photography—the abstract. I love photographing abstracts because there is a sense of freedom and spontaneity as I strive towards creativity, expressiveness, originality, and individuality. Here, I let go of my expectations and lean more towards intuition. I also think that practice photographing abstracts can make you a better and more well-rounded photographer.

Abstract photography may have started before the abstract painters, if you consider John William Draper’s spectroscope images abstract. Henri Becquerel is often regarded to have the first abstract photos in 1903. Because of the early abstract painters like Kandinsky, Braque, and Picasso turn-of-the-century photographers like Stieglitz, Strand, and Steichen all experimented with abstract images. And in the early 1900s, photographer Alvin Coburn created a mirrored lens for his camera to mimic the cubist paintings. Abstract imagery blossomed in the 1920s and 1930s in Prague with Jaroslav Rossler leading the charge, then Man Ray working in surrealism and futurism with his “Rayographs.” During the 1940s and 1950s Minor White pushed the boundaries of abstraction in photography. Later in the 1950s, William Garrett experimented with aerial photography to capture the land in its abstract form. Today, photographers like Edward Burtynsky capture the hand of man in abstract to create not only stunning images, but also powerful and moving ones. I also appreciate the minimalism in images like those from Michael Kenna and Hiroshi Sugimoto. With the popularity of the computer in the 1990s, new visual abstract photographers are blurring the lines between pure painting and photography. We’ll see what the coming years bring.

All abstract images have a few things in common: line, shape, form, color, tone, and texture. They also tend to strive for movement, pattern, balance, unity, variation, visual weight, contrast, dimension, and negative space. To strive for these objectives, you can use techniques like these:

        • Time–By keeping your shutter open for periods of time you can create images like the motion of the water reflecting fall color

       

  • Distance (long)–Sand dunes are popular abstracts in nature photography when using a telephoto lens, and aerial photographs from helicopter, plane, or drone can also be useful when creating abstracts from a distance.

  • Distance (short)–I’m often using my macro lens to pick out smaller images from larger subjects. The ones below are from a large billboard and a rusty car.

      • Reflections– like photographing reflections at harbors to create abstracts, but I also use flowers and reflective surfaces off things like mylar for abstract images.

      • Distortion–Photographing through distorted glass can create beautiful imagery and abstracts of color.

    • Panning–Vertical pans and panning your camera side-to-side with the element of time produces interesting abstracts of color and form.

  • Multiple exposure and composites–By taking more than one image on a frame or creating composites with post-processing software, you see what you get.

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Using the foreground ripples and reflected light to connect the background

Introduction

Back in 2011, I wrote an article on photographing White Sands National Monument based on my first visit. You can click the link here if you would like to see the article. The reason I wrote that particular article, is that fact I learned a lot of hard lessons from my trip to White Sands and I wanted to help other photographers from my mistakes. Recently, I had the chance to visit White Sands again. On my second visit to White Sands, I came away learning even more than my previous adventure. While researching the internet for information on White Sands for suggestions on how and where to photograph within the sand dunes, I discovered that there was very little in the way of helpful suggestions. With the advice from my photography friend on the trip, I decided I wanted to share those important lessons again. This time I wanted to go more in-depth and share as many aspects of successful tips for photographing White Sands. While writing this article, I kept discovering new elements that had not been mentioned before on the internet. I came to the conclusion, that several articles are needed and hopefully I can start with some of the more important ones. The suggestions in this article are solely my thoughts from past experiences and not necessarily right or wrong. I have included several images from the trip with captions that describe the thought process behind the image.

White Sands National Monument is in the northern Chihuahuan Desert in the U.S. state of New Mexico. What makes this place so different than any other place is it’s white gypsum sand dunes. The unusual shapes and color blend together to attract people from all over the world. Access to White Sands can be located at designated pullouts or trails and boardwalks that wind through the dunes. Dunes Drive is a looped road from the White Sands Visitor Center to the dune field.

There are many subjects I will discuss on White Sands but for this particular article, I will stick to an introduction of when and where to photograph within White Sands. I will also discuss what makes this place like no other.  It is, without a doubt, one of the unique places on this planet.

When To Photograph

One of the most important factors to capturing great photos is to know when to photograph. In photography, we refer to this concept as the ‘magic hour’. This occurs for landscape photographers in general when the sun is close to the horizon and the light highlights the landscape.  White Sands National Monument is no different in terms of when to photograph than any other place except for one major difference. Access to the monument is not open for sunrise with the admission gate opening roughly half an hour after sunrise. The gate at night closes shortly after sunset as well.  It is for this particular reason, that planning must be made well in advance to apply for a permit or camp within the designated area in the monument. Even though it has fluctuated in the past in terms of timing, it is now requested that a permit is reserved at least two weeks in advance. The type of permit will depend on your objective and goals. Permits range from guided walking, sunrise, and even full moon walking tours. The other option is backcountry camping within White Sands itself. So it’s important if you’re planning to photograph here to know your dates, and what time of the day you are planning to photograph. If you’re looking to photograph sunrise then it’s highly advisable to request a permit or consider backcountry camping.

As I had no commitment to a certain date for this particular adventure to White Sands, I showed up at sunrise hoping they would open the gate. It came as no surprise they could not open the gate for me. If you choose to stay outside of the park the best place for access and distance is the town of Alamogordo in New Mexico. It is a quick 20-minute drive to White Sands. Accommodation and dining are inexpensive with several options for both. The nearest popular airport would be El Paso Texas which is about 85 miles from the monument.

I got as low and wide as I could to emphasize the ripples leading through the image

I have learned a couple of things from past visits that I hope to recommend to others looking to photograph White Sands.

First, I would allow several days to photograph this amazing and diverse place. Due to the time restrictions and size of the monument, it takes several days to become familiar with the layout of where things are in the monument. There is one main road called Dunes Drive that allows cars to drive through the middle of the park. Dunes Drive is an 8-mile scenic drive that begins at the visitor center and ends at a turnaround parking area within the dunes. So the round-trip is a 16-mile drive that takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. As you drive along the scenic road you will notice immediately the dunes to either side of the road. Because of the height of the dunes, it is hard to know where to pull out and photograph. White Sands National Monument is more challenging than other places in that access to viewpoints and photography lookouts can’t be seen from the road. One must park the car in one of the few designated pullouts and walk through the sand dunes. Even though walking through sand dunes can be a challenge, the distance needed to reach the viewpoints are short. You can walk designated boardwalks or choose your own path through the sand dunes.

Images from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

Scouting for good places to photograph is essential in this park. Because of its vastness and diversity, allow yourself several hours to explore. This can be done during the day but beware of hotter temperatures. I recommend allowing couple hours before sunset to find a place to avoid the hotter temperatures in the daytime. Because the park closes just after sunset it’s recommended to photograph near one’s vehicle if you are not backcountry camping. Depending on the time of year when photographing, the park closes roughly 30 minutes after sunset. This gives you depending on how far you’ve traveled from the vehicle a very small window to photograph both sunset and the blue hour. This is why the scouting is essential.

This leads me to my next recommendation, which is having a GPS device to mark the spots that you would like to be at for sunset and blue hour. The window for photographing can be less than 30 minutes so it’s critical to be at the right spot for sunset and twilight. Having a plan and being organized where you would like to shoot will maximize shooting time.  Having a GPS unit and a printed map is also advisable to prevent getting lost.

Using the early morning light and shadow to lead to the subject of the Yucca Plant

What Can I Find To See in White Sands

White Sands National Monument is comprised of several elements that make it special.

First, there is a variety of wildlife that can be found amongst the sand dunes. Animals such as insects, spiders, scorpions, and lizards are quite often spotted. Mammals such as foxes, rodents, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, porcupines and even bobcats’ make White Sands their home. There is even the sighting of African gazelles called the Oryx, which has become quite the hot topic for its host of problems within the area. Definitely worth researching more to find out how it’s causing quite the commotion for the National Monument.

Second, there is the subject of plants and trees within the area. One of the most popular and photogenic elements is the soaptree yucca plant. The soaptree Yucca plant has become one of the most popular elements to photograph within White Sands. It is the plant you are most likely to see in all the postcards and pictures from this area. The Yucca makes for a great foreground when photographing the sand dunes. One of the many reasons is that its unique shape and color stand out against the white background of the sand dunes. When the two elements of the sand dunes and plant are combined it tells a story of survival and struggle.

Another subject that is stunning to photograph within the monument are the wildflowers. Due to the temperatures, wildflowers only make an appearance after spring and summer rains. The wildflowers can reach as high as a foot long in some places. Desert wildflowers that can be spotted are the Colorado Four O’Clock and Desert Mentzelia, Globe Mallow, and Greenthread. Make sure to contact the monument rangers ahead of time to find more specific information about wildflowers when visiting. It can fluctuate from year to year based on the rainfall and weather.

Third, the most popular subject when photographing White Sands is the fascinating white gypsum sand dunes. Getting a chance to witness these unbelievable white sand dunes within the scope of the monument is awe-inspiring. But even better is the opportunity to photograph the dunes in the magic hour of sunset and the twilight hour. Because the glistening white sand dunes reflect the colors of the of the current ambient light. The colors are accentuated and constantly changing based on the sun’s position and light. As the sun descends and gets closer to the horizon, the light becomes warmer and the shadows become longer. The sand dunes are bathed in warm tones and the textures of the sand come alive. This happens all within a short period. Moments later as the sun dips behind the mountain range and horizon, the white sands turn from a warm color tone to an almost immediate cool blue tone. The sands reflective nature reflects the magenta – pinkish hues of the twilight sky.

The soft subtle colors of twilight reflected in the dunes showcase the unique patterns and flow to the dunes themselves. The combination of the reflected color on the dunes and the patterns become a thing of beauty. This is the time to photograph the essence of White Sands National Monument. This is what makes this place magical and my favorite place to photograph.

Using the late light to accentuate the warm tones and textures in the foreground which lead the viewer to the distant mountain range and sun

Where To Photograph

Although there are many photography locations, nothing quite excites me like White Sands. There are many reasons that make this particular place my favorite to photograph. Unlike other popular photography locations, it’s very easy to get away from the crowds and find solitude amongst the sand dunes. The only problem is that you cannot stray too far from your vehicle unless you have a backcountry camping permit. So it’s critical to find a place to photograph that allows enough time to shoot before the monument closes 30 min after dark.

White Sands National Monument can be broken down into three major interest areas when it comes to photography. Each of the three areas is very distinct from one another. I will highlight each of these areas on a map provided at the end of the article. It’s important to note that there are vehicle pullouts for each area I am referring to. The first area is where you can find the most yucca plants within the monument. Along with the majority of the yucca plants, access to the sand dunes is easily achieved with easy boardwalk trails. These trails will allow you walk quite far distances into the sand dunes as well as see a diversity of plants. This area is a great place to begin scouting for photography opportunities. It’s a great way to see different things within a small area. The problem with this area from a photographer’s perspective is that it’s very crowded. The boardwalk is often very crowded with tourists. Places to photograph are restricted due to the confines of the boardwalk. To capture the magic of a location, it’s important to photograph in a style that is your own. The most challenging aspect of this area is the size of the white sand dunes. The size and magnitude of the dunes range dramatically within the park. But this area it is made up mostly of very small dunes and even though it has lots of yucca plants it lacks the balance of the larger white sand dunes.

The second area is my favorite area of the monument for many reasons. It has the most photography potential and opportunities. This area does not have a designated boardwalk trail but a short walk through the sand gets you to the best places to photograph. There is no boardwalk trail many tourists avoid this area so it’s easy to get away from the crowds and create your own compositions. A short 20 to 30-minute walk we’ll get you to places within the monument that very few people reach. This short walk will allow you to see the combination of all the elements in close proximity. You can find plenty of soap yucca plants as well as larger sand dunes. As well, there are plenty of elements to photograph in the foreground to complement the sand dunes.

The last area of White Sands is the very end of the monument. You will know you have reached this part of the park as vehicles can go no further and must turn around. In terms of elements, this part of White Sands has the largest sand dunes but lacks any sort of foreground elements to balance the sand dunes compositionally. More importantly, the yucca plants and other elements are limited here.

I used a 200-500 + 1.4 Teleconverter to compress the sand dunes and capture the rim light on the sand dune edges

Tell A Story When Photographing The Sand Dunes

Here are some suggestions for improving photography techniques when photographing White Sands. It is easy to photograph the sand dunes but it’s important to do more than just photograph a sand dune. Try to capture what makes a place special and convey that in your image. Personally, what this place so special is the combination of light and patterns when the right light is occurring. Pre-visualization is an important step that I consistently practice whenever I preparing to photograph. I research the Internet to find images that capture a certain mood. I figure out why that image is memorable to me. When I researched images based on White Sands, I discovered the pictures that stand out for me have the characteristics of color, patterns, and textures. A combination of these three things our concepts I found in each of the images that resonated with me. My objective was not to copy the images but to capture the same striking mood and color that made those images memorable. For each photographer, those concepts will be different. It’s essential for each photographer to pre-visualize. Identify the concepts that are important to you. For me, part of the pre-visualization was the combination of color, patterns, and texture. This meant shooting at the time just before and after sunset when shapes and patterns would be accentuated at its peak from the light. Twilight colors later in the night would be even more important to this concept of defining shape, pattern, and textures. With these concepts, I was able to more easily identify what to look for when photographing White Sands.

Using a combination of color and light to emphasize the patterns and shapes within the dunes from the twilight after color

Safety Recommendations For Both You And Your Camera

Here are safety tips for both you and your camera equipment when photographing within White Sands. This is helpful to both short and any long-distance hiking or camping.

  1. Plenty of fluid and food especially if you plan to hike during the day. This is also important if you are lost or stranded. It is easy to get lost and lose track of how far you have gone.
  1. It’s important to have both a printed map and if possible a GPS device. There are many GPS applications for your iPhone or Android. Just be aware that Internet is minimal so download offline maps are necessary.
  1. Become familiar with landmarks around you. Study the landmarks around you at all times. Example of this within White Sands would be identifying where the mountains are in relation to your position and vehicle.
  1. Bring with you only the lenses you will use. Be careful not to change lenses within the sand areas. Wind can easily wreck havoc and creep into the camera.
  1. Be careful of your surroundings. Make sure when picking up camera bag to look out for insects that can be dangerous like scorpions. It’s not uncommon to find one of these creatures the next time you open up your camera bag.
  1. Be aware of current weather conditions. Frequent windstorms within white sands can cause whiteouts and thus losing a sense of where things are.
  1. Because of the frequency of wind bring a cover for your bags as well as making sure you zip up your bag every time. The force from the wind can cause sand to reach everywhere in your bag.
  1. Bring lots of clothing-layers. Temperatures can be very high before sunset and dramatically reach cold temperatures shortly after sunset. Be prepared for all kinds of temperatures and weather.
  1. Be careful of where you are walking. This is especially relevant around the edges of sand dunes. It’s not uncommon for Sand dunes to have drop-offs that are quite significant and hidden. Be cognizant of where you walk and try to find footpaths that walk around them rather than over them.

10. For safety reasons try to go with another person or let someone know where you are going.

Atmospheric conditions caused by the sand/windstorm helped convey a sense of depth and 3-Dimensionality to the image

Conclusion

In conclusion, I highly recommend visiting White Sands National Monument. There are so many different aspects of the monument that make it special. Preparation and research is a critical component to achieving success from a photography standpoint. Finding what strikes you about White Sands is the key to a successful trip. Have fun and get some great images.

The combination of light and leading lines helps tie the foreground to the background and conveying a sense of place.

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Wild, snow-capped American mountains are often named after presidents or explorers, but a mountain named after an artist? That’s exactly how Grand Teton National Park’s Mount Moran got its name. But who was Thomas Moran, and what was his connection to American wilderness?

Thomas Moran was an American painter, born to English immigrants in 1837. As a teenager he apprenticed as a wood engraver in Philadelphia, and it was there that he discovered his passion for painting. He studied painting in London, and was especially inspired by the paintings of landscape artist J.W. Turner. Upon returning to the United States, he painted for Scribner’s Magazine, and it was there that he first became aware of the awe-inspiring landscapes of Yellowstone. He scrounged together his own money to join the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871, which explored and documented the natural features of the region that would eventually become Yellowstone National Park. The Hayden Expedition, led by geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, was the first federally funded geological survey of the area, and played an important role in convincing Congress to pass the legislation creating Yellowstone National Park. As the expedition’s artist, Thomas Moran’s paintings of the unique and jaw-dropping natural features were an essential part of this important mission.

The Hayden Expedition proved to be a turning point in Moran’s career. His paintings of the Yellowstone wilderness captured the nation’s imagination, and linked him forever with the landscapes of the area. During the forty days he spent there, he documented over thirty different sites. Of these, his most famous is the huge painting “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” which was sold to Congress after the creation of Yellowstone as the nation’s first National Park, and still hangs to this day in the National Museum of American Art.

Following the successful adventure with the Hayden Expedition, Moran joined an expedition on the Colorado River with explorer John Wesley Powell. His masterpiece from this trip, “Chasm of the Colorado,” was purchased by Congress in 1874 and became the second of his western landscapes to hang in the Capitol. He continued to adventure well into his senior years, painting the breathtaking landscapes of the American west.

When he died in 1926, Moran was memorialized as the “Dean of American Landscape Painters.” But I’d call him a true adventure artist. An artist, an explorer, and a conservationist, who had a large part in creating Yellowstone National Park.

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This winter, in addition to a new camera system, I also invested in a Mavic Pro drone.  I’ve always wanted to do more aerial video and photography, and I’m having a blast with the Mavic Pro so far.  Winter is one my favorite seasons to photograph, and I was out photographing and flying the drone as much as the weather would allow.  I wanted to share some of my favorite clips I captured this winter with the Mavic Pro.  I hope you enjoy the video.

Aerial Video Highights Winter 2018 - YouTube

I also wanted to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned using the drone for a few months.

  1.  There are far more places you are not allowed to fly than places where you are.  Designated wilderness, national parks, some state parks, and anywhere within 5 miles of an airport are all restricted.  I had high hopes to fly in and around my home city of Bend, but the entire town is restricted air space.  I could fly in town if I really wanted to, but I would have to notify up to 5 different heliports, and airports that have overlapping restricted airspace each time I want to fly.  This makes practicing a little more challenging as I have to drive out of town to find unrestricted airspace.
  2. A lot of people are easily annoyed by drones, including myself :).  I always try to fly my drone well away from people, I don’t want take away from the experience of anyone out enjoying nature.  I haven’t had any confrontations with anyone yet, but I have talked to several other drone pilots who have been harassed and confronted by people, even though they hadn’t done anything illegal.  Some folks are just opposed to the idea of drones in general.  This is another reason I try to fly well away from any people.
  3. Drones are easy to crash and expensive to replace.  You’re supposed to keep your drone in your line of sight at all times, but even when you do it’s easy to mis-judge distance and crash into something.  I haven’t crashed my Mavic yet, but most drone pilots I’ve talked to have and say it’s only a matter of time.  For this reason, I did invest the DJI refresh program.  If I crash my drone, DJI will send me a replacement for a $100 deductible, which is a lot better than $800 for a new one.
  4. Flying a drone is even more fun than I thought.  They are actually quite easy to fly and capturing cinematic aerial shots is even more fun than I imagined.  I really enjoy the challenge of capturing different types of cinematic camera movements with the Mavic, it takes a steady hand, and some practice.  They do have a lot of programmed flight modes to help beginners capture some cool, cinematic shots like orbits, and fly away shots.  I personally like to learn how to achieve those same shots with good piloting technique.  It’s a fun skill and gives you greater control, which allows you to make more complex camera movements and adapt to different situations.
  5. The image quality of the video is truly impressive, especially when viewing in 4k.  The image quality far exceeded my expectations.  I’m constantly impressed when I view the footage I capture on the Mavic Pro.
  6. You can capture some pretty decent still images as well.  My Mavic Pro will not replace a DSLR, but you can capture some nice RAW images with it.  The sensor is only 12 megapixels on the Mavic Pro, but you can see some examples of images I’ve captured with it below.  I would love to get a drone in the future that can capture even higher quality images, I love the perspectives you can capture.  Ryan Dyar, Miles Morgan, David Thompson, Cody Wilson and a lot of other photographers are using the phantom drones to capture some really excellent photos.  I highly recommend taking a look the images they are capturing, inspiring stuff.
  7. The Mavic flies surprisingly well in the cold.  Several of the shots in the video were captured in temperatures well bellow freezing and even below 0 degrees.  My fingers on the other hand did not perform as well, it becomes really hard to operate the controls when your fingers are frozen.
  8. The Mavic Pro comes with me now on most photo shoots.  As long as it’s a location that isn’t restricted, I pack the Mavic in my camera bag.  Even though I wish I had one of the Phantom drones for the increased photo resolution, the Mavic is so small and fits in my bag like any of my lenses.  This makes it so easy to take along.  Even if I don’t use it, I like to have the option and it’s so light, I don’t worry about the extra weight.

I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Mavic Pro so far, and can’t wait to capture more stills and video this year.  Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you’d like to see more aerial video.  I also have a post processing series and Vlog series on the channel.  https://www.youtube.com/user/zschnepf77

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Exposure blending has become a regular tool in the digital darkroom for a lot of photographers. Exposure blending allows you to create an image of a scene in which the dynamic range of light was too great to record in a single exposure. Instead of blown out highlights or ink-black shadows, exposure blending makes it possible to retain good color and detail in the brightest highlights and deepest shadows and also do it in a way that looks natural. As the dynamic range capability of cameras continues to improve there are fewer situations which have a dynamic range beyond a single exposure, but there are still many cases that do.  And even if highlight and shadow recovery is possible from a single exposure, exposure blending can sometimes offer gains in final image color, clarity and noise.

But exposure blending can be a challenging and time-consuming technique, depending on the characteristics of the image.  In this video tutorial, I demonstrate a fast and easy way to accomplish natural looking exposure blends using the TKActions V6 panel which works for a lot of common high dynamic range situations landscape photographers encounter.

If you are viewing this blog via email you can view the video at this link: https://youtu.be/FxDIIP-5-40

TKActions V6: FAST Exposure Blending - YouTube

The steps I demo in the tutorial are as follows:

  1. Start by making basic raw adjustments to the exposures.
  2. Open the exposures in Photoshop as smart objects.
  3. Stack the smart objects as layers in a single image document with the dark layer on top.
  4. Select the top layer and turn off its visibility.
  5. Turn on Layer Mask mode in the V6 RapidMask2 module.
  6. Click the Composite or Lights-1 mask button in the module to apply a Lights-1 mask to the top layer.
  7. Turn the visibility of the dark layer back on.
  8. Paint on the Lights-1 luminosity mask with a soft black brush to further mask out the landscape area of the image.
  9. Fine tune the raw adjustments to each of the smart object layers to help them “match” or blend in the transition zone.

That’s it. Make sure to watch the video to pick up some additional tips and variations on the technique. Most exposure blends done using this technique can be accomplished in a minute or two once you get the steps down.

I hope this helps you out when you need to blend exposures. Leave me a comment or question if you have one and I’ll get back to you.

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A view of one of my prints alongside others in an exhibition in England.

While the end uses of documentary and commercial photographs are limitless, the photograph that exists for its own sake is traditionally destined for a wall. This tendency is especially true for fine art landscape photographs, which ordinarily end up within a private context, such as a home, a hotel, or an office building. Not all styles and subjects of landscape photography are very suitable for these contexts, however. Photographs that are not particularly relatable, calming, or uplifting are less likely to appeal for display in spaces that are dedicated to purposes other than the exhibition of art. Nonetheless, the genre of landscape photography would be impoverished without its more unorthodox photographs. If you feel as though the idea of interior decor is governing your creative decisions, then it may be rewarding to think outside those walls.

The Statement Piece

No matter where a photograph is displayed, its context will affect the experience of viewing it. The photograph in a private environment typically becomes a statement piece: through its selection and placement, it signals something about its owner’s interests, values, experiences, personality, or even social status, thereby adding a layer of meaning on top of whatever ideas may have gone into the process of creating it. The print that we see over a mantle may tell us that the owner enjoys oceans, or lives near a particular coastal area, or really likes the color blue. The print in an office lobby may symbolize the company’s industry or else suggest some abstract quality of the company culture, such as openness or sophistication. Because of the process of selection and display, a print hung in a private space will make a statement about that space and about the print’s reason for being there, even if it is hanging in the photographer’s own home.

With domestic and business contexts in mind, photographers are likely to favor certain creative decisions that cater to the traditions of private decor or even to customer preferences. Landscape photographs therefore tend to feature locations, subjects, moods, and colors that will have broad appeal, and it is no wonder that the genre is widely considered to be especially traditional, with its harshest critics thinking of it as hopelessly trite. Not all landscape photographs need to meet the demands of interior decor, however, and even those that do can still be powerful works of art that offer much more than their decorative qualities or their usefulness in communicating identities or a sense of place.

The Conversation Piece

It is often said that the defining purpose of modern art is to inspire discussion, to encourage people to ponder visual cues and to engage in conversations about them. Pre-modern art functioned through a similar principle, using visual cues, symbolism, and metaphors to facilitate discussion, but usually for some higher purpose, such as education. With the evolution of art for art’s sake in the modern era, the discussion of artworks became an end in itself.

No matter how intimate or grand, landscapes can be rich wells of ideas for the viewer willing to contemplate them, as I explained a few years ago in “How Landscape Photographs Tell Stories” (Photo Cascadia Blog, July 13th, 2015). Indeed, some images are well suited for this purpose alone. Even if a dark or sullen landscape is hauntingly beautiful, it may nonetheless have scarce appeal as anything other than a conversation piece; alas, few people really want Mordor in their living room. Similar biases run against photographs of obscure locations, indistinct subjects, hostile environments, frightening situations, or intense scenes that demand attention: beautiful or not, most photographs of these varieties are not generally desirable for the typical home or business context—but they can excel at suggesting ideas, and that singular purpose should be reason enough for these photographs to exist.

Where, then, are we to imagine such photographs, if they are not well suited to traditional private contexts? The obvious answer is the museum context, which is by no means a pretentious goal. The word museum has its origins in a concept more akin to a library than a storehouse for precious objects, initially describing a building filled with items that were singled out for study. In that regard, even a book or a website can serve as a sort of museum, and so can any exhibition space that serves no other function than to display prints for contemplation (which could include a dedicated space that a collector might set aside within their home). Such spaces for exhibiting prints may be limited, but they represent a distinct and important end use for a fine art photograph: the contemplation of the image itself, including its place within a photographer’s body of work and within the history of the medium of photography.

Landscape photographers typically consider books, websites, and museums as supplemental destinations for their works, but thinking of them as valid primary destinations can throw off the shackles of traditional limitations. Likewise, viewers are sure to gain a greater appreciation for any photograph if they are willing to imagine it in the ‘museum’ context, regardless of where it is actually displayed. Homes, hotels, and offices are venerable venues for display, but there is a lot of room for imagination beyond their walls.

Does the idea of interior decor factor into your photography? How do you feel about landscape photographs that depart from traditional aesthetics? Let us know in the comments below!

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I originally wrote a very similar blog post back in early 2011. It’s been a long time yet the subject is still quite applicable. I thought I would dust it off and make some updates for readers that might not have been following our blog that far back.

I can assure you this will not be the most visually stimulating blog post filled with amazing photos from across the globe. Yet I can also assure you it’s one that is worth the time to read for anyone that struggles with how to determine pricing of the work you sell. Pricing your photography products is an important decision that everyone from the hobbyists to the full time professionals need to analyze and determine what price points work best. Pricing is completely up to each person, we will not all have the same prices nor the exact same factors to consider. That is a good thing. What people should understand though is that you need to have some level of thought and analysis on how to come up with pricing. You don’t want to just pick a price because you think it sounds good or because it’s inline with what your best friend or family member (#1 fan of your work) is willing to pay. If you are selling your work for next to nothing you are doing the industry and yourself a disservice. You are honestly better off giving away your work than charging ultra cheap prices. I give a number of prints away each year and I am fine with this. If you donate or give away work occasionally it still holds value in accordance to the investment you ask of your paying customers.

There are really two models to go with; high volume and low price or low volume and high price. Most of us cannot have high prices and high volume. There are a very select few but I won’t name names here, that can sell high end work at high end prices and high volume but they are the exception. Pricing was something that I was mentored on more than once when starting out with portraits and weddings, and of course isn’t much different moving into the landscape nature side. What you see below are expenses to consider plus some examples how pricing at different price points can greatly impact the bottom line.

The following are expenses you might want to take into account. This is definitely not an exhaustive list, there are more but this gives you a good starting point. I venture to guess some of these people don’t often think about so they end up under pricing their work.

– Travel: Gas, food, wear & tear on vehicle, oil changes, lodging
– Camera Equipment: maintenance, replacements, everyday wear & tear
– Office Equipment: computer, software, Internet, phone, general office supplies
– Operations Expenses: bank account fees, credit card merchant expenses, website costs, marketing needs
– Time: Your time spent at the location scouting, taking the photo and processing the final image
– Misc: Equipment insurance, business license fees, postage & shipping, photo organization dues, taxes

When I first did this post many years ago I was following the model from Example 1. Since that time I have realized the cost and time involved to receive work from the lab and resend out is significant. As such I have moved to the model in Example 2. You will see with these examples I keep it simple and focus on the immediate costs for an order yet the above list factored in certainly impacts your overall profit even if it’s an indirect expense. Obviously different labs charge varying prices and printing it yourself has it’s own set of costs. I chose a smaller print size with output as a metal print for this example since that is a popular medium at this time.

Example 1 – The Photographer Keeping Expenses In Mind – Lab Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $195 including shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)

Example 2 – The Photographer Keeping Expenses In Mind – Photographer Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $195 including shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)
– $15 in package/presentation materials
– $10 shipping

Example 3 – The Photographer with little Concept of Expenses – Lab Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $90 including Shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)

Example 4 – The Photographer with little Concept of Expenses – Photographer Shipping to the Client

12×18 Print priced at $90 including Shipping
(consumer bought online, pays by credit card and is being shipped within the contiguous United States)
– 2.5% to credit card merchant (at minimum)
– 5% storefront or website fee
– $45 lab charge (print expense incl shipping)
– $15 in package/presentation materials
– $10 shipping

What is above should give you a good visual of how much different the same type of image with very different pricing can end up after the sale. Pretty different, huh! The interesting or unfortunate part is we are not done yet, this was just the cost we took into account for this one sale. Thinking about all the other expenses I noted earlier on, this will cut into the final profit. Let’s also assume with a transaction like this that you have limited phone and or an email time corresponding with the customer to complete the order and answer questions. This does not always happen but it’s likely and I always want to help my customers out as much as I can. This will be more time spent on the order. And you will need to think about the time it takes you actually fulfill the order. Is all of this getting your mind going? Here is a list of items on how it typically looks for me and likely not too different from person to person.

1. Reviewing received order for any issues or open questions
2. Send thank you email or call to client for placing order
3. Additional editing before it gets printed or goes to the lab for printing
4. Placing the print order or printing it yourself
5. Input transaction into tracking software or spreadsheet for accounting
6. Any additional correspondence with the customer during and after the order

By the time you look at this all together, in Examples 3 or 4 you aren’t even working for minimum wage. You are working at a loss when you start taking into account the other business expenses I mention early on. I have seen photographers pricing work at fairs or online sites at very low prices that make me wonder how they can truly make a profit, even as a part-time photographer. You might also be saying to yourself that my expenses are more, or less, than what you have in your examples. That is high likely. You might have tiered pricing where you offer cheaper open edition prints and more expensive limited edition prints. You might have an additional service offering that takes more time or money to complete the order. There are a myriad of ways this might be different for you. This is meant to be an example of one size and medium for an online sale.

This is my take on it to help provide all of you reading it some insight on this topic. There is much more that can be discussed and covered. I encourage you to research this topic as you are evaluating the pricing you want to offer. I would also say it’s important to revisit your pricing at least every other year to ensure you don’t need to make price adjustments.

I will also mention sometimes we make mistakes and need to eat the cost of that mistake. As an example; do not go back to the customer to change amounts after you have given a final price (unless it’s some bizarre or unique situation). I have had a few cases over the years where I had to eat the cost. So be it. One example from a number of years ago I had a client order a 30×45 canvas that I accidentally way under priced the shipping and packing fee. Even though I had sent products out many times I wound up paying much more for shipping and packing supplies than I charged this client. Do you think I went back to the client to ask for more money on this transaction? No way. I feel this would be a poor way to do business. Do the best you can and when you miss the mark try to learn from it for the next time.

Lastly, in the end you need to decide what is best for you and how you want to run your business. You might be selling a fairly high volume and low prices at places like farmers markets, coffee shops, etc.  On the flip side you might be selling at lower volume and higher prices at juried art fairs, galleries, etc. Nothing wrong with either one of these models. Just remember to not sell yourself short. As artists we tend be hard on ourselves and it’s easy to think our work is worth less than it really is when we are not paying attention or getting the right guidance. Myself included!

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“Lighthouses are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other.”  – Virginia Woolf

I love photographing lighthouses; they can be so majestic, mysterious, beautiful, and yes even foreboding. We have quite a few along the Pacific west coast where I live, but I’ve photographed them all over the world. As with any subject, it’s not the thing (the lighthouse) I photograph, but it’s the light around it which enhances the subject. I also prefer to photograph lighthouses either at the golden hour or in the soft light of pre-dawn or dusk, so for me a tripod is essential.

I don’t go too wide when photographing my lighthouses. I often use a 24-70mm lens to capture a foreground, but not wide enough to make the sides of the lighthouse go wonky. You can straighten things up a bit in post-processing, but it never seems to look right.

Also, I try to tell a story when photographing a lighthouse. I might include a passing ship, or I photograph on a stormy day to convey to the viewer why that lighthouse exists in the first place. Sometimes I might use a telephoto lens to capture my lighthouse in front of a setting moon to suggest the story of the tides. I might also use the lighthouse as a small counterpoint in the image, to give a sense of its remoteness. Use your imagination; there are plenty of lighthouse stories to tell with an image.

As with many landscape images, when photographing lighthouses use a foreground. Some interesting colored stones, fence lines, dune grass, pools reflecting the lighthouse, or jaggedly formed rocks all make great foreground subjects. Take your time and look for what works best with your subject.

Use a leading line. This not only enhances your foreground, but it gives the image more dimension. Coastal shorelines are the most obvious choice. Other suggestions for leading lines might be the reflected light of the setting sun or moon on the ocean, footprints in the sand, breaking waves, or the fence line around the lighthouse.

If the lantern is still functioning at the lighthouse, try to capture the catch-light. As with wildlife photography and capturing that glint in the animal’s eye to give it life, the same is true for a lighthouse. Wait for that light and make sure you capture the glint in the lighthouse’s “eye.”

Change your perspective. Get high above the lighthouse if you can, and shoot down or walk to the base of the lighthouse and shoot up for a different look. Sometimes a piece of the lighthouse can be more interesting than the whole. It might be some old paint, a rusty slab of metal, a cool window, a handrail, the spiral staircase to the lantern, or a detail image of the lantern itself; whatever it is take your time to explore and find that interesting piece.

I hope these handful of tips help you the next time you head out to your favorite lighthouse, whether it be a stormy weekend or during a sunny vacation.

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Using the foreground ripples and reflected light to connect the background

Introduction

Back in 2011, I wrote an article on photographing White Sands National Monument based on my first visit. You can click the link here if you would like to see the article. The reason I wrote that particular article, is that fact I learned a lot of hard lessons from my trip to White Sands and I wanted to help other photographers from my mistakes. Recently, I had the chance to visit White Sands again. On my second visit to White Sands, I came away learning even more than my previous adventure. While researching the internet for information on White Sands for suggestions on how and where to photograph within the sand dunes, I discovered that there was very little in the way of helpful suggestions. With the advice from my photography friend on the trip, I decided I wanted to share those important lessons again. This time I wanted to go more in-depth and share as many aspects of successful tips for photographing White Sands. While writing this article, I kept discovering new elements that had not been mentioned before on the internet. I came to the conclusion, that several articles are needed and hopefully I can start with some of the more important ones. The suggestions in this article are solely my thoughts from past experiences and not necessarily right or wrong. I have included several images from the trip with captions that describe the thought process behind the image.

White Sands National Monument is in the northern Chihuahuan Desert in the U.S. state of New Mexico. What makes this place so different than any other place is it’s white gypsum sand dunes. The unusual shapes and color blend together to attract people from all over the world. Access to White Sands can be located at designated pullouts or trails and boardwalks that wind through the dunes. Dunes Drive is a looped road from the White Sands Visitor Center to the dune field.

There are many subjects I will discuss on White Sands but for this particular article, I will stick to an introduction of when and where to photograph within White Sands. I will also discuss what makes this place like no other.  It is, without a doubt, one of the unique places on this planet.

When To Photograph

One of the most important factors to capturing great photos is to know when to photograph. In photography, we refer to this concept as the ‘magic hour’. This occurs for landscape photographers in general when the sun is close to the horizon and the light highlights the landscape.  White Sands National Monument is no different in terms of when to photograph than any other place except for one major difference. Access to the monument is not open for sunrise with the admission gate opening roughly half an hour after sunrise. The gate at night closes shortly after sunset as well.  It is for this particular reason, that planning must be made well in advance to apply for a permit or camp within the designated area in the monument. Even though it has fluctuated in the past in terms of timing, it is now requested that a permit is reserved at least two weeks in advance. The type of permit will depend on your objective and goals. Permits range from guided walking, sunrise, and even full moon walking tours. The other option is backcountry camping within White Sands itself. So it’s important if you’re planning to photograph here to know your dates, and what time of the day you are planning to photograph. If you’re looking to photograph sunrise then it’s highly advisable to request a permit or consider backcountry camping.

As I had no commitment to a certain date for this particular adventure to White Sands, I showed up at sunrise hoping they would open the gate. It came as no surprise they could not open the gate for me. If you choose to stay outside of the park the best place for access and distance is the town of Alamogordo in New Mexico. It is a quick 20-minute drive to White Sands. Accommodation and dining are inexpensive with several options for both. The nearest popular airport would be El Paso Texas which is about 85 miles from the monument.

I got as low and wide as I could to emphasize the ripples leading through the image

I have learned a couple of things from past visits that I hope to recommend to others looking to photograph White Sands.

First, I would allow several days to photograph this amazing and diverse place. Due to the time restrictions and size of the monument, it takes several days to become familiar with the layout of where things are in the monument. There is one main road called Dunes Drive that allows cars to drive through the middle of the park. Dunes Drive is an 8-mile scenic drive that begins at the visitor center and ends at a turnaround parking area within the dunes. So the round-trip is a 16-mile drive that takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. As you drive along the scenic road you will notice immediately the dunes to either side of the road. Because of the height of the dunes, it is hard to know where to pull out and photograph. White Sands National Monument is more challenging than other places in that access to viewpoints and photography lookouts can’t be seen from the road. One must park the car in one of the few designated pullouts and walk through the sand dunes. Even though walking through sand dunes can be a challenge, the distance needed to reach the viewpoints are short. You can walk designated boardwalks or choose your own path through the sand dunes.

Images from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

Scouting for good places to photograph is essential in this park. Because of its vastness and diversity, allow yourself several hours to explore. This can be done during the day but beware of hotter temperatures. I recommend allowing couple hours before sunset to find a place to avoid the hotter temperatures in the daytime. Because the park closes just after sunset it’s recommended to photograph near one’s vehicle if you are not backcountry camping. Depending on the time of year when photographing, the park closes roughly 30 minutes after sunset. This gives you depending on how far you’ve traveled from the vehicle a very small window to photograph both sunset and the blue hour. This is why the scouting is essential.

This leads me to my next recommendation, which is having a GPS device to mark the spots that you would like to be at for sunset and blue hour. The window for photographing can be less than 30 minutes so it’s critical to be at the right spot for sunset and twilight. Having a plan and being organized where you would like to shoot will maximize shooting time.  Having a GPS unit and a printed map is also advisable to prevent getting lost.

Using the early morning light and shadow to lead to the subject of the Yucca Plant

What Can I Find To See in White Sands

White Sands National Monument is comprised of several elements that make it special.

First, there is a variety of wildlife that can be found amongst the sand dunes. Animals such as insects, spiders, scorpions, and lizards are quite often spotted. Mammals such as foxes, rodents, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, porcupines and even bobcats’ make White Sands their home. There is even the sighting of African gazelles called the Oryx, which has become quite the hot topic for its host of problems within the area. Definitely worth researching more to find out how it’s causing quite the commotion for the National Monument.

Second, there is the subject of plants and trees within the area. One of the most popular and photogenic elements is the soaptree yucca plant. The soaptree Yucca plant has become one of the most popular elements to photograph within White Sands. It is the plant you are most likely to see in all the postcards and pictures from this area. The Yucca makes for a great foreground when photographing the sand dunes. One of the many reasons is that its unique shape and color stand out against the white background of the sand dunes. When the two elements of the sand dunes and plant are combined it tells a story of survival and struggle.

Another subject that is stunning to photograph within the monument are the wildflowers. Due to the temperatures, wildflowers only make an appearance after spring and summer rains. The wildflowers can reach as high as a foot long in some places. Desert wildflowers that can be spotted are the Colorado Four O’Clock and Desert Mentzelia, Globe Mallow, and Greenthread. Make sure to contact the monument rangers ahead of time to find more specific information about wildflowers when visiting. It can fluctuate from year to year based on the rainfall and weather.

Third, the most popular subject when photographing White Sands is the fascinating white gypsum sand dunes. Getting a chance to witness these unbelievable white sand dunes within the scope of the monument is awe-inspiring. But even better is the opportunity to photograph the dunes in the magic hour of sunset and the twilight hour. Because the glistening white sand dunes reflect the colors of the of the current ambient light. The colors are accentuated and constantly changing based on the sun’s position and light. As the sun descends and gets closer to the horizon, the light becomes warmer and the shadows become longer. The sand dunes are bathed in warm tones and the textures of the sand come alive. This happens all within a short period. Moments later as the sun dips behind the mountain range and horizon, the white sands turn from a warm color tone to an almost immediate cool blue tone. The sands reflective nature reflects the magenta – pinkish hues of the twilight sky.

The soft subtle colors of twilight reflected in the dunes showcase the unique patterns and flow to the dunes themselves. The combination of the reflected color on the dunes and the patterns become a thing of beauty. This is the time to photograph the essence of White Sands National Monument. This is what makes this place magical and my favorite place to photograph.

Using the late light to accentuate the warm tones and textures in the foreground which lead the viewer to the distant mountain range and sun

Where To Photograph

Although there are many photography locations, nothing quite excites me like White Sands. There are many reasons that make this particular place my favorite to photograph. Unlike other popular photography locations, it’s very easy to get away from the crowds and find solitude amongst the sand dunes. The only problem is that you cannot stray too far from your vehicle unless you have a backcountry camping permit. So it’s critical to find a place to photograph that allows enough time to shoot before the monument closes 30 min after dark.

White Sands National Monument can be broken down into three major interest areas when it comes to photography. Each of the three areas is very distinct from one another. I will highlight each of these areas on a map provided at the end of the article. It’s important to note that there are vehicle pullouts for each area I am referring to. The first area is where you can find the most yucca plants within the monument. Along with the majority of the yucca plants, access to the sand dunes is easily achieved with easy boardwalk trails. These trails will allow you walk quite far distances into the sand dunes as well as see a diversity of plants. This area is a great place to begin scouting for photography opportunities. It’s a great way to see different things within a small area. The problem with this area from a photographer’s perspective is that it’s very crowded. The boardwalk is often very crowded with tourists. Places to photograph are restricted due to the confines of the boardwalk. To capture the magic of a location, it’s important to photograph in a style that is your own. The most challenging aspect of this area is the size of the white sand dunes. The size and magnitude of the dunes range dramatically within the park. But this area it is made up mostly of very small dunes and even though it has lots of yucca plants it lacks the balance of the larger white sand dunes.

The second area is my favorite area of the monument for many reasons. It has the most photography potential and opportunities. This area does not have a designated boardwalk trail but a short walk through the sand gets you to the best places to photograph. There is no boardwalk trail many tourists avoid this area so it’s easy to get away from the crowds and create your own compositions. A short 20 to 30-minute walk we’ll get you to places within the monument that very few people reach. This short walk will allow you to see the combination of all the elements in close proximity. You can find plenty of soap yucca plants as well as larger sand dunes. As well, there are plenty of elements to photograph in the foreground to complement the sand dunes.

The last area of White Sands is the very end of the monument. You will know you have reached this part of the park as vehicles can go no further and must turn around. In terms of elements, this part of White Sands..

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