Here’s everything you need to know about hiking and photographing Saddleback Pass for the larches in Autumn.
It’s no secret that Lake Louise is the gem of the Canadian Rockies. It’s far from hidden though, so be sure to get up early for this one. Either that, or be prepared to go late and potentially make it back down in the dark. The parking lot here has been disgracefully busy these past two seasons.
The extra distance from the city, and fighting for a parking stall is well worth it though! There’s a reason everyone wants to be around Lake Louise in the Autumn. Especially hiking up to Saddleback Pass. There is literally no more suiting name for this pass. It’s beautiful during the summer but it’s just spectacular in the autumn. The larches are abundant!
Distance from Calgary: 2 hours 2 minutes Hiking time (roundtrip): 3-4.5 hours Elevation gain: 660m Trail Distance (roundtrip): 8.2
The hike up to the pass starts from the west side of Lake Louise. There’s also a lot of trail right from the parking lot that intersect with the first few hundred metres of the Saddleback Pass trail. The trail is heavily trafficked. There’s no way to lose it the entire way up to the pass.
You gain quite a bit of elevation right away. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’re ascending up into the clouds on this trail. There are a few breaks in the trees where you can look out towards the bow valley and Ski Lake Louise on the other side of the highway 1.
I found the ascent to be fairly quickly and only needed to catch my breath maybe once or twice before reach the pass. The elevation it steep but I thought it was still fairly gradual. It helps that the trail is pretty wide and even.
As you climb higher towards Saddleback Pass, the golden larches will begin become more obvious. The orange and yellow needles will are a beautiful contrast from the other trees around. There were a lot of photo opportunities along the trail right before you actually gain the pass. The last bit of elevation before the plateau has endless compositions waiting to be captured!
Once you get up into Paradise Valley pass, you can see stunning views of Mount Temple. Mount Temple is incredible from any angle, but especially the angle from Saddleback Pass. There are tons of larches in this area too. The larches here make for great foreground before Mount Temple.
Being down in the pass is spectacular, however there is a trail that continues up Mount Fairview. There’s still quite a bit of elevation to gain from the valley, but if you have the time, it’s worth it! The views ascending up Mount Fairview open up to incredible views of the entire valley with countless larches below.
It isn’t even crucial to summit Mount Fairview. Even if you ascend just part way, you will have amazing views of Paradise Valley and Saddleback Pass below.
Everything you need to know about viewing and photographing the stunning larches at Chester Lake.
Kananaskis Country is home to a handful of family friendly and approachable hikes to view and photograph the larches each fall. The larches only grow 1800m above sea level though, so you need to find hikes where you you can gain a lot of elevation. Luckily, Chester Lake hike trailhead starts at a fairly high elevation along the Smith-Dorrien “highway”.
Distance from Calgary: 2 hours 3 minutes Hiking time (roundtrip): 2.5-4.5 hours Elevation gain: 420m Trail Distance (roundtrip): 9.3
Photographing the larches at Chester Lake is really quite beautiful. I would recommend avoiding the area on the weekends if you can. It’s a very busy destination for a lot of families. You should have the place mostly to yourself during the week.
If you’re limited to the weekends only, you might have clone-stamp a few people out of your photos along Chester Lake. I was limited to visiting during the weekend and had to get a little creative to select compositions that didn’t have too many people in the background.
The weather can be a little “touch-and-go” during autumn in the mountains. Be prepared to get rained on without notice. If you’re bringing all your camera equipment, be sure to bring some weather protection for your kit as-well.
From the trailhead, the heavily trafficked path gains a gradual elevation before eventually flattening out once you gain the plateau leading to Chester Lake. The path is very wide and obvious, there is no reason you should lose your way at any point. Once you get to a clearing in the plateau before the lake, you’ll begin to see the larches.
There will be more larches along Chester Lake once you arrive to the lakeside. Once you get to the lakeside you can choose to continue along the path to the left of the lake. This path will circle around the entire lake and affords a bunch of nice photo opportunities.
The detour is well worth the extra time on your feet and it won’t take you long to get around the entire lake. On the far side of the lake, there is an opportunity to gain a little bit of extra elevation. The view of the backdrop looking back towards Chester Lake is stunning. You don’t need to climb very high to see what I’m talking about.
Take the same way back to the parking lot. There is apparently another trail that runs parallel which is less trafficked. However, I was looking out for it and I didn’t end up seeing it.
My shots were all taken during the middle of the day. I had pretty spotty weather where I lucked out with nice light for some photos and had pretty flat light for others. It would definitely be worth going for sunrise or sunset. There are many bears in the area so be loud, groups are always encouraged, bear spray is not a luxury, bring it.
International travel is partially reopened. Depending on where you travel from and where you travel to, you probably have to quarantine when you arrive at your destination, as well as when you arrive home. 28 days of being stuck indoors is probably not an option for most travel photographers like me. So where does that leave us if this the new temporary normal?
Doubling down locally
This is probably a no brainer. However, there’s a good chance that before 2020, travel photographer were probably getting paid by companies of all kinds to fly into your hometown and photograph your stomping grounds. Why should a local business go through all the trouble of paying for flights, accommodations, food allowance, car rentals etc. when they could hire a local photographer?
Of course, if you’re used to excitement of world travel and epic destinations, this might sound like a drag. But one day, you might be happy you grew your local client community. Just imagine if you already had half of your business from local vendors rather than all of your business all over the world. You’d probably be pretty thankful!
The industry will change for a long time, maybe forever
Read that again. Things are different now. I do think that vendors all around the world will rebound and need media assets once again. I just think it’s going to manifest a lot differently than before.
Is that really such a bad thing though? I think most travel photographers are guilty of not having explored their own backyards enough. We’re always thinking of the next great destination. The next unbelievable travel experience. What if you didn’t really have to travel all the way to Asia, or Europe, or the Middle East to have life changing experiences?
How much time have you really invested in your own country? You can maximize this and see it as an opportunity to re-imagine what’s possible in your own nation. Ultimately, one day the boarders will open up, quarantines will be a distant bad memory. You’ll be able to enjoy a new country, but will you look back and be proud of how you pivoted? Will you be content with your creative efforts to try new things and overcome adversity?
I know I might not do everything right. And so far I’ve fallen on my face a lot this year. I know I’ll look back and know that I’ve tried and exhausted every last creative idea I had .
It might be time for that career switch after all
If you’ve been stuck in the travel bubble for a while now, what do you think about your lifestyle after being forced to slow down and be in one space for a while? Is traveling all the time really as great as you thought it would be? Or is the change of pace a blessing in disguise?
Travel photographers are some of the hardest working people I’ve met. We almost never sleep, and navigating airports and strange cities where no one speaks your language can really take a toll on you when you’re simply trying to do your job.
Perhaps there’s other avenues of commercial photography that you’ve never explored that you may find just as rewarding, if not more. Maybe there’s a way to better balance travel and work while still making a livable wage without all of the chaos of constantly being on the road.
You may be reading this and already know that you prefer the fast pace, high stress, quick turn-around lifestyle. That’s totally cool! Me too. I’m just learning that I also enjoy it from the comfort of my home occasionally as well.
Sometimes surviving is winning
Let’s face it. Unless you’re already a billionaire, you’re probably not getting rich this year. The thing is, if you can survive this time and be ready to pounce on opportunities once they eventually present themselves, you’ll be way ahead of the competition. A lot of people are going to be forced to tap out. If you can just survive this period of time, refine your skills, strengthen your ability to be patient, you’ll win in the long run.
This is where I think a lot of travel photographers will do well. Generally speaking, our overhead is very low. We travel too often to have an office. We likely don’t have many employees – I contract much of my work. We’re also extremely adaptable. It’s the nature of the job to thrive in uncertainty.
It’s time to dust off those old hard-drives and let you old photos make money for you
If you haven’t already invested some time into growing your stock photography library, now is probably the best time in your career. Instead of having tens of thousands of old photos sit on your hard-drives where they aren’t doing anything for your bottom line, it’s time to put them to work.
The pain with stock photography is that it takes a lot of time. Once you get to the point where you’re basically just adding shoot by shoot, it’s fairly low maintenance. The initial setup of going through your old images and selecting photos through thousands and thousands files can be time consuming. I can’t think of a better time.
My stock sales have increased about 50% since March. It’s still hit and miss but I believe stock photo sales will increase greatly by the end of this year and leading into next summer. There’s a really good chance a lot of people will be relying on stock photos to write blogs and post filler content on their pages. You don’t want to miss out on a huge potential surge of stock sales, you’ve already done the hard work of creating the photos. Now you just need to post them for sale!
Outdoor recreation is larger now than ever
People have been thriving outside. The mountains near my home have been busier this year than any other summer I can remember. People are just happy to be outside and exploring new trails and engaging with their friends in a safe environment where viruses are unlikely to spread effectively. That means there’s more new photographers than ever heading into the outdoors.
Are you taking advantage of creating helpful articles, creating courses, teaching? These new photographers are going to need to learn from somebody somewhere. Why not you? If you think you have a lot of experience and wisdom to share, why not invest some time into helping the emerging younger community grow in this time as well. It’s not just good karma, it’s good business karma.
One day you might be hiring a new assistant, or contracting more jobs, maybe you’ll be selling a new course bundle. You’ll benefit from investing into your community if you are intentional about it. Someone might even thank you!
I personally don’t like social media. It can be a huge time suck and it’s clearly awful for mental health. That’s why I spend most of my time of this blog instead of scrolling on social media. That said, it is a powerful tool. It’s a huge lead generator for a lot of people and businesses. Chances are if you’re a travel photographer, you probably have a pretty good handle on how to use social media.
A lot of companies are looking for social media managers and people who can help get organic engagement. I have had many existing photography clients happy to have me manage and grow their social accounts such as Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ve spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of those platforms for my own business. Why not help grow someone else’s business? The benefit of course is that it’s all completely remote.
Have a little faith
At the end of the day, things have to get better. Some resemblance of normality has to eventually work its’ way back into our lives someday. You can either choose to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and plan for it. Or you can succumb to the overwhelming darkness and just give up. The choice is obvious. Have a little faith, choose to believe things will be alright, the just might be.
They won’t teach you this in photography school. Here’s 9 tips for shooting into the sun for dramatic images and how to do it right.
People are often surprised when they ask me, “where did you go to school to learn photo and film?” – then I respond by explaining I’m 100% self taught. Trial by fire. Here’s the thing though, there’s a reason I didn’t go to school to learn tricks of the trade. Shooting into the sun was the biggest reason. Let me explain.
When I began entertaining the idea of a career in photo and film I started looking into school. I spoke to some profs. I looked at some course outlines. Something caught my eye. “Using natural light and avoid shooting into the sun”. This made no sense to me.
I hadn’t been shooting long at the time but I knew that the images I loved most were almost always backlit (the key light is directly behind the subject). It was one factor among many, but I just knew school wouldn’t be for me after I learned more about it. I’ve never looked back, and some of my favourite photos are still shot right into the sun. Here’s how to do it right. (Not according to traditional schools).
1. Make Blue Bird Days More Interesting.
Shooting into the sun is a great way to make an otherwise high contrast and harshly lit photo into a more interesting and dynamic photo.
2. Create Silhouettes by Exposing to the Sky in Low Light.
Silhouettes are dramatic and timeless. Exposing to the brightest part of your composition will under expose your subject when backlit by the sun.
3. Create a “Sun Burst” Effect by Closing Your Aperture.
Closing your aperture to F/11 – F/16 will create a sun burst effect giving the sun in your photo more shape and definition. Don’t forget to position the sun against something like a rock, tree, horizon, person, etc. The sun burst will look more dramatic if you have it “breaking” against an object or subject in your image.
4. Try Under Exposing and Pulling Shadows Out in Post.
Even if you’re not creating a silhouette, try under exposing a little and then pulling out your shadows in post. There’s more information in lowlight than highlights. That means you can still have a lot of detail in your shot even after pulling your shadows and the sky looks totally natural just as you shot it.
5. Using Shallow Depth of Field for Real Lens Flares.
Tasteful sometimes in Hollywood, but almost never done well in photography is lens flares. Make sure your lens is spotless, and your aperture is wide open. For best results you want a fast lens like a 2.8 or 1.8.
6. Applying Other Rules to Your Composition.
Don’t forget to still consider rules like “leading lines”, or “rule of thirds”. Including traditional rules while intentionally breaking other traditional rules is a recipe for interesting photos.
7. Shoot Into the Sun After the Sun Sets.
Using leftover available light it a great way to create dramatic photos. Try exposing to subject and blowing out the highlights a little bit. This technique looks great in the winter when you can see a person’s breath, or ice particles in the air.
8. Celebrate Over Exposing Subjects.
This is of course the exact opposite of under exposing your subject like previously mentioned. Obviously variety is the key. Try a little bit of everything.
9. Pay Attention to the Way the Sun-Light Wraps Around Other Elements in Your Photo.
Watching the sun interact with other elements like people, and foreground is the coolest thing for me. I just love watching the way the sun makes interest shapes and colours around the environment as it sets behind the horizon.
10. “Paint” Your Subjects in Post.
When you expose to the sky you’ll be under exposing your subjects. Know your camera and it’s capabilities in post. The more megapixels the better in this case. Make local shadow adjustments by painting your subjects to your desired exposure. In this photo I pulled the shadows on Hailey and I and lifted the exposure.
It costs 5x to 25x more to find a new client than to retain an existing one. So why would you ever want to fire a client? Well, buckle up.
It costs 5x to 25x more to find a new client than to retain an existing one. So why would you ever want to fire a client? Well, buckle up.
The 80/20 Rule
AKA the Pareto principle which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In the case of your clients, typically 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients. Conversely, 80% of the time you spend is catered to 20% of your clients. We all know the ones…
The ones where your contract clearly states one revision. You’re a professional, you know the pre production was extensive. Yet, the client insists on revision after revision after revision. What’s worse is they’re expecting you to do it for free even though your written agreement states only one revision is included in the price agreed upon.
They’re the client that tries tirelessly to nickel in dime every aspect of every shoot. Before, during, and after the date of the shoot. They pay late. Some clients even try to avoid signing contracts all together.
You Owe it to Your Preferred Clients
You actually have a responsibility to your other clients to fire problem clients like this so that you can better serve your best clients. They deserve it after all. The 20% of your clients paying 80% of your revenue should be royalty to you. Short of cutting off your own arm, you should be willing to do anything for them.
You should be willing to do anything for them.
They’re the clients that would never dream of asking you to do something “for exposure”. They pay you on time. They admire your professionalism when you explain the ins and outs of a contract to them. Most of all they respect you, and you respect them.
If you have trouble clients that are impeding on the quality of service you provide to the clients that you wish you had more of, then you need to fire those bad clients immediately.
What if You Don’t Have Dream Clients Yet
You’re never going to get to the place where you have outstanding clients that respect the hell out of your business if you can’t respect yourself. You’ll know… After you’ve put in the time, you’ve been in trenches, you’ve done the hard stuff and now you’re demanding a little respect. Stick to your guns. The clients you want to have will admire you for it.
It’s better to have one outstanding client than ten bad clients.
Out With the Old and In With the New
Listen, I get it. We have all been there. You have to do a lot of stuff you don’t want to do when you’re on the long road to becoming a full time photographer and filmmaker. You work jobs you don’t love, you work for less than you’re worth. It’s a reality unfortunately. However, don’t take that baggage with you.
This is what I mean.
If you were once the $500 guy. To some clients, they might always see you as the $500 guy. You’re going to evolve, you’re going to get better at your craft. You’ll continue to pick up new skills and become more sought after. When this happens it can be awkward telling old clients that your prices are going up. There’s a right way to do it. Still though, it can be awkward and doesn’t always go over well.
Thinking of your dream clients though, how do you think they would feel if they knew you were shooting a full day commercial project for $500 if you’re charging them $3000 for the exact same thing. Is that fair to the client shelling out $3000? Of course not. It’s also not fair to you.
It’s also not fair to you.
You know you’ve worked your ass off to get to the point where someone is willing to pay you what you’re worth. Don’t let clients from your past de-value that. If they don’t understand that, and if you’ve done everything in your power to communicate with them… you need to fire them!
There’s a common theme here. You need to be constantly be thinking about what’s best for your preferred clients, and also for you.
A Natural Parting of Ways
Sometimes it’s not as dramatic and black and white. Sometimes you begin working with a client in hopes of a future that you both imagine together. Maybe it’s partnering with a startup or a smaller brand. You might give them a break on some shoots, maybe they trade some of their product or services for your services.
You’re happy to do it at the time because you believe in the direction it’s going, the doors its’ opening. It may feel mutually beneficial for a while, so why not. Well, time changes things. Maybe you don’t require their services anymore and the exchange that once worked doesn’t really make sense for you now.
Sometimes you just have to go with your gut, there’s not always a perfect formula to know when it’s time to move on. Making yourself available for something new can be tough. You might even make the wrong move. Some of this is guess work, and that’s okay. The most important thing is you do what feels right for your clients, for you, and for your business.
When you first get your camera, you will probably spend some time shooting in automatic mode. The big “M” on your mode wheel might seem a little daunting. However, it doesn’t need to be with these tips.
When you first get your camera, you will probably spend some time shooting in automatic mode. The big “M” on your mode wheel might seem a little daunting. However, it doesn’t need to be with these tips.
Why Shooting Manual is Important
Shooting in manual mode gives you creative control over the picture you’re creating. Simply pointing and shooting a camera in automatic mode is totally fine when you’re just starting out. Chances are though, if you’re reading this it’s because you want to begin to create unique images. The only way to do that is by learning to control your camera.
Your camera is ultimately tool. The better you understand how to control that tool, the more expression you have to create images that didn’t exist before. That’s the difference between a “photo taker” and a “photographer”.
How to Make the Switch
The switch can be as gradual as you like. Stay in automatic for a while longer. Start to pay attention to what your camera settings are doing in different lighting situations. If you’re shooting in direct daylight with no cloud coverage, pay attention to what the settings are at. Look at your shutter speed, your aperture, and you ISO.
Understanding Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO
The shutter speed refers to how quickly the shutter of the camera opens and then shuts again. The longer the shutter of the camera is open, the longer the amount of time light is being let into the sensor. The faster the shutter closes again, the less light will reach the sensor.
You’ll begin to see that in situations where there is a lot of light, your camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to be very fast. In lower light situations like shooting at dusk or dawn, the shutter speed will be a lot slower. That’s a clue for when you make the switch to manual.
Understanding shutter speed will become really important for all kinds of outdoor photography styles. Fast shutter speeds can be really important for shooting action sports, and moving subjects. Where as a slow shutter speed is crucial for long exposure photography which is a very popular kind of landscape photography.
Aperture is measured by “F stops”. Think of aperture as a pupil like the human eye. When you shine bright light directly into somebodies eye, their pupils will shrink significantly. Limiting the amount of light exposed to their retina (in the camera’s case, the sensor).
For example, if you’re photographing in direct sunlight, your shutter speed will be fast, like 1/640 and your aperture might be stopped down to F/16. The higher the F stop number, the smaller the aperture or “opening”. The lower the F stop number, the more open the aperture. It’s a little confusing, however it’ll begin to make sense once you start to play around the settings on your camera.
Aperture can affect the “fall off” or bokeh on a subject. For example, portraits can sometimes have a nice soft feel to them with a wide open aperture around F 2.8 or 1.4. With landscapes, you often want everything in the frame to be sharp and in focus. So you would want to typically have the F stop between F 8 and F 16.
ISO can be a confusing concept to understand initially. It’s essentially the camera using technology to increase the brightness internally. So if you require more light to hit the sensor, but your aperture is already wide open and you shutter speed is already veery slow, like 1/50, you’ll have to turn up your ISO.
Often with sports and action photography you require some extra ISO so you can still be shooting at a hight shutter speed to avoid motion blur in lower light conditions.
Try shooting some scenarios where you might be forced to practice your new skills.
Portraits In Direct Sunlight
Typically you’d want to take portraits at dusk or dawn. It’s a good exercise though because it will force you to play with your settings. Try opening up your aperture to f4 and see how fast you need to adjust your shutter speed.
Shooting Landscapes or City Scapes After Sunset
Waiting for the sun to go down then take some photos of a landscape or city scape. Pay attention to how slow you might have to make your shutter speed. Keep in mind if you have some foreground in your photo, you’ll want everything to be sharp. Your aperture should be around F 8. You might have to push your ISO a little bit.
Moving Subjects in Low Light
Try waking up early and photography a moving subject like a friend running along the sidewalk or moving cars. Track the moving subject. Try to make everything sharp, and in focus. If you’re moving your camera to track a moving subject you typically down want to be shooting much slower than 1/250 to 1/400 depending on how fast the subject is moving.
If there isn’t much light outside from the sun yet, you’ll really have to bump up your ISO and have your aperture open as much as possible.
The learning curve for transitioning from auto to full manual is like anything else. It take paying attention and lots of practice. Luckily for you, practicing photography is a lot of fun and it shouldn’t take too long to get a grasp on how to get full control over your camera settings.
There are plenty of exciting tricks and techniques in a multitude of different shooting scenarios where controlling your camera in full manual will really open up an entire world of possibilities for you. We’ll get more into techniques in our intermediate courses later.
For now, practice those scenarios. Shoot in tons of different lighting situations, and keep the stoke high!
The sports’ increasing popularity is also creating its’ demand for photographing trail running. This is what I’ve learned over the years.
Trail running in the mountains is getting bigger and bigger here in North America. The sports’ increasing popularity is also creating a huge demand for photographers well versed in photographing it. I’ve been photographing trail running professionally for over three years now. This is what I’ve learned.
Story > Everything Else.
This is universally true with photography. However, I find it especially applies to trail running. Why? It’s not high action like other sports. It’s not ripping on downhill bikes. It isn’t flipping off 100″ vertical jumps into pow. It’s running. So how do you make an endurance sport as compelling as a high action sport like snowboarding or mountain biking? Easy. The story.
The photo above was taken in the middle of the African summer in the oldest desert on earth during a huge expedition called Trans Namibia. The two runners in frame were running 1850 km across the Namib Desert. The runners were raising awareness and for their not for profit organization that empowers youth to explore the world by facilitating youth expeditions. The photo becomes instantly more compelling with just a touch of context.
Flip the Script. Change the Viewers Perspective.
I was running in one of my favourite places on earth, Canmore Alberta. I was descending down the back side of a popular mountain in the area. Every few minutes I had to dump pebbles out of my shoe because their was so much loose, dry scree. I instantly recognized that so many runners could relate to this feeling. I pulled out my wide angle and snapped a photo of my pouring pebbles out of my shoe.
Photographing trail running in a way that takes the viewers on a journey and pulls them into, not just the landscape, but the actual experience of being there is the ultimate goal. Pulling them into your world for a brief moment. That’s special, that’s what outdoor photography is all about. And that’s what you should be aiming for when photographing trail running.
Photographing Trail Running and Its’ In-between Moments.
I shot this at 3 day stage race. The runner pictured here had his feet completely mangled from the 150 km he had just ran. His feet looked like ground beef. The photo manages to tell so much about his 3 day experience. Best part is, it has nothing directly to do with “running”. Images like this leave a lot to the imagination. Instantly you start to wonder how gnarly the trails were, to destroy his feet so badly he had to soak them in Ice.
Sometimes the best trail running photos are taken at camp. Maybe they’re taken pre race, post race, at a hut, the trailhead, parking lot, home. There are so many in-between moments that build a better visual story by bridging the gap with powerful suggestions rather than obviously visual descriptions.
I wouldn’t usually think to take a “detail” shot on a wide angle. It just happened that the detail of the water droplets were wide spread. The message remains true though. Whether your shooting your frame tight or wide, it’s important to incorporate little details, not just massive sweeping landscapes.
Honestly, big landscapes and little runners can sometimes be a little bit of a gimmick. Too many shots like that can dilute your ability to share the entire experience. Remember, immersing your viewer in the moment, and telling a story is the key here. Not just beauty shots and low hanging fruit. Include some details. Include a lot of details!
Put Away Your Camera on Blue Bird Days.
Stormy skies add are my secret specialty sauce when it comes to trail running. Like I said early, running isn’t high action. So you have to be creative to compel your viewers. Weather is always an interesting element to have in your photos. Landscapes are rarely photographed before or after storms. People aren’t used to seeing dramatic, sometimes melancholy photos with trail runners as the subject!
Photographing Trail Running Events are Like Commercial Shoots on Speed.
It’s going to be easier to get your feet wet photographing trail running events than picking up commercial gigs right away. Shooting races is a great way to get involved with the trail running community, meet athletes, and give you more opportunities as a result. Commercial trail running gigs are a lot easier to shoot, but harder to come by.
If you can create “commercial-like” compositions for 200 real-life race participants running their guts out, you’ll be that much better at creating stronger compositions for ad companies with a controlled environment and model when the opportunity presents itself.
…And I don’t mean in Lightroom! Plan ahead. I knew what to expect on our trail running trip to the Yukon. I chose a jacket that would stand out against the often cloudy skies, and the green environment. Had I chosen a black or green jacket, I would have been completely lost in 90% of the photos I had taken during my trip.
What exactly makes an epic photo? Well, if you don’t know yet, you’re about to.
Outdoor photography is an entirely different beast than any other photography genre. Outdoor photography has more variables and moving parts. You no control over the elements, or the light. Half the challenge of shooting outside is just getting to the location of your shoot. So here are some outdoor photography fundamentals to help stack the cards in your favour.
4 critical elements for creating epic outdoor photography.
Subject placement is crucial. Nature has so many dynamic elements. All of which are worthy of being the main subject in a photo. It’s important that you pick one subject though. Lead the viewers eye to it. Use framing techniques, leading lines, and depth of field to help clearly identify the primary subject in your shot.
This isn’t a controlled three light set-up in a controlled hipster studio attached to a trendy cafe. This is the outdoors. One “key light” (primary light source). The sun. Use it to your advantage. If you have to fight it, be creative. Shot into the sun, try overexposing your subject, create silhouettes! If you’re shooting portraits, avoid harsh shadows on their face. Shoot your subject fully backlit (sun behind subject).
Ever find yourself walking down the street and then you see an insane ad on a bus, something that just pulls you in and grabs your attention. Photos that stop people in their tracks and make them go “holy crap”. That’s stopping power. Try shooting for that.
Don’t date your photos. Outdoor brands can be pretty obnoxious when it comes to branding and logos. So this one is sometimes difficult to avoid. However, do your best not to include logos, trends and other elements that might quickly date your photo. Great photos should stand the test of time. That statement is practically counter culture thanks to Instagram, but it’s truer now than ever.
Chances are you think you need better gear. You can waste a lot of great photo opportunities if you’re at home bummed, because you think you need better gear. Sure better gear makes life easier. Creating amazing images despite your access to top of the line gear though, that will set you up for success in so many ways. You’ll learn how to problem solve. Problem solving is the most important component to shooting pro. Additionally, you’ll just be better. You’ll be better at creating that image in your head.
Outdoor photography is unique. It’s unique because typically in photography, your expenses are usually just your camera, lenses etc. Unlike outdoor photography. Your major expenses are outdoor apparel and equipment. Proper rain jackets are up-words $500, backpacks, $300, maybe you’re climbing so there’s rope, harnesses, shoes, etc.
Anything that assists you in creating your photos, and participating in the sport or activity your shooting, is gear. And all of that gear needs to be considered, and not overlooked. Forgetting a down jacket on your overnight camping trip could majorly affect your ability to shoot fun campfire photos.
Plan ahead. Not just logistically – which is also super important. Also mentally. Think about what your destination might look like, who will be there, what will be happening, and how will you shoot it? Don’t just visualize best case scenarios either. Think about what could go wrong, and then plan for the salutions that might absolve those issues. Stay one step ahead.
There’s a laundry list of things that could go sideways. Weather, poor lighting, weather, did I mention weather? Just remember, when you’re outdoors, you can’t be creative if you’re cold or hungry. Look after yourself first and foremost.
Shooting Techniques Specific to Outdoor Photography.
Chances are, if you’re shooting at eye level, you’re not creating anything new. Change your vantage. Get up high. Maybe on a tree, or your car. Try shooting from underneath your subject. Take the viewer with you. Avoid “snapshots”.
Shoot all the vantages, and then take wide shots. Take tight shots. landscape, portraits, details, everything. Memory is cheap, it costs practically nothing and you’ll never regret having too many photos to choose from. However, you will regret not taking enough.
Switch it up. Try long exposures anytime there is any kind of motion or action in frame. Long exposures will change the way you see moving subjects!
Know them all first though. Don’t break a bunch of rules because you’re just being lazy or shooting unintentionally. But if your creative brain is telling you to shoots 2 stops over exposed, try it. Maybe you want to place a subject in a jarring place in the frame. Typically you’d never centre a subject. Sometimes I think it demands authority when you do though.
Seek Inspiration Daily
There are so many incredible photographers in the outdoors. See what they’re creating. Try to see what they saw. It will help you visualize and help keep you motivated to create new things.
Know how your camera, know the files and the power and capabilities, as well as the limits of post processing. Enhancing your final images is a big part of the entire process of any images. When you know how far you can push and pull in Lightroom, you can change your shooting style in the field to better compliment your creative style in post. This will ultimately shift how you think of creating images too.