Photo Tip: Layer Your Landscapes

Photography is a tricky medium. With it, we are translating the 3D world into a 2D outcome. So how to you take a landscape, which has depth, and make a viewer see and feel dimension while looking at a flat screen or a flat photographic print?

First, we must realize that not every scene that we come across in real life is going to make a stunning photograph. How often on your travels do you pull over at a viewpoint and your jaw drops because the scene in front of you is gorgeous, but when you take the photo it just looks flat?

As photographers, we are responsible for “building in” depth to our pictures by adding layers into our landscapes. Sometimes light creates natural depth in a scene for us. As in the above shot from Cape Town, angled sunlight creates long shadows that tell our eyes there is dimension in the scene. Other times, we have to work harder to find a position to shoot from that incorporates interesting foregrounds, middle grounds, and backgrounds that force layers in the photograph.

In this post, I’ll show you a few photos from a recent backpacking trip into the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Eastern Oregon that will hopefully shed a little light (pun intended) onto how I think when composing a landscape shot.

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I’ll begin with the above straightforward “postcard”shot of Aneroid Lake that was taken in mid-afternoon. The angle of the sun allows a bit of play between light and shadow on the mountains (and is much more forgiving that if I’d taken this shot at noon), but there isn’t any depth to this photo aside from a bit of foreground leading my eye into the frame on the left.

Aneroid Lake in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon.

I decided to wait a bit longer for the sun to set further and create more dramatic light. You can see that the light is almost dancing around the mountain peak and has made the row of trees along the lake’s edge seem spotlit. I also decided to work harder by wading into the chilly water and finding a fallen tree to use as foreground. The silhouetted trees in the mid-ground also help to add dimension.

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Still not totally satisfied, I got up early the next morning to see if I could make an even better picture. In this setup, I found some trees to use as dramatically silhouetted foreground and I was careful to include the curving bank to frame the edge of the photo and lead my eye back into the scene. The morning sun cast beautiful light onto the mountainside and gave dimension to the forest and rocks.

How do you add dimension and layers into your landscape shots? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Fall is for Photography

I’ve noticed recently that the days seemed to have already grown shorter and the mornings are crisper. That can only mean fall is right around the corner. Luckily, the changing of seasons brings about the opportunity to join photographer Jennifer Davidson and myself on two photo workshops in Texas and Virginia.

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On October 13th through the 16th, join us in Texas’ quirky state capital for round two of Picture Austin. We had so much fun last year that we are doing it again!

During this workshop, we will pack the days to the brim with photographic learning. Time spent shooting in the field will be balanced with classroom sessions where we give students immediate feedback on their images and prepare them for more photographic exploration.

Come ready to rub elbows with politicos near the capitol building, tap your feet to live music along South Congress Avenue,  and rise early as the sun soaks the skyline, all while making captivating images that tell the story of this unique American city.

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This October 20th through 23rd, you can join us in Virginia for Picture Williamsburg. During this four-day workshop, we will base in Colonial Williamsburg where you will learn how to make compelling images of this unique living history experience. Honing our people photography skills, we will make portraits of reenactors and learn how to translate those skills into everyday portrait situations in downtown Williamsburg.

We will also venture to Historic Jamestowne and the Yorktown Battlefield to round out our exploration of Virginia’s Historic Triangle and practice more photographic skills such as landscape photography. Come prepared to improve your photography where the past meets present.

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The students of Picture Austin 2015 with Jennifer and Krista.

Enrollment is limited to allow students maximum time with both instructors. We’d love to see you this fall!

Please visit the Picture Austin and Picture Williamsburg websites for more information. Or email me directly if you have any questions: krista(at)kristarossow.com.

Krista Rossow Speaking at OPTIC 2016 in NYC

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I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking in New York City as part of OPTIC 2016, a photography event from June 5th-8th put on by the legendary B&H Photo Video and National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions. This “Outdoor Photo/Video Travel Imaging Conference” can be attended for free in person or via livestreaming. Simply visit the website to register for either option.

On Sunday, June 5th, I’ll be speaking for Fujifilm discussing my recent experience using the X Series mirrorless system while traveling in Asia this past winter. For those curious about making the switch from DSLRs to mirrorless, I’ll be discussing my experience while sharing the resulting photographs and teaching why bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to cameras. If you can’t make it in person, read a recap on B&H’s Explora blog here or watch the archived footage here.

Also on Sunday, I’ll be on the main stage speaking about how to “Think Like an Editor.” I will discuss how I believe that for travel photography, photo editing begins even before taking a picture. Today’s photographers are their own photo editors, and not in the sense of using Instagram filters or Photoshop, but in the sense of selecting the best imagery to share with an audience, whether that is in a family album or professional portfolio. I will give tips on how to “improve your photographic odds” by preparing to take travel photographs through research and planning. I will discuss considerations for capturing the best images while in the field and give insight on the process of curating the best images once the images have been made. From my experience as a both a photographer on assignment and as a photo editor needing to convey an effective story, I will give practical insight into improving your photography and telling your own story. Register here to livestream this talk.

Sign up to also hear talks by my National Geographic colleagues Erika Larsen, Jay Dickman, Flip Nicklen, and Ralph Lee Hopkins and many other industry professionals. If you are in New York City, make sure to visit the trade show and to register for portfolio reviews, a photo walk in Central Park, a photo cruise, and a dinner party sponsored by Nikon. All the information is on the website: www.optic2016.com.

I hope to see you in New York or virtually on the small-screen somewhere in the world!

UPDATE: The talks I gave in New York are now archived with B&H. To see my editing talk, click here, and to see the talk about shooting with mirrorless, click here.

Seattle Washington skyline at twilight with Space Needle.

Photographing the Blue Hour

My favorite time of day to photograph cities is the blue hour. Now, the blue hour really isn’t an hour at all, but a much shorter span of time that occurs before sunrise or after sunset.

In the morning, it is the transition time where the sun is inching closer to the horizon and the sky turns from inky black to an electric blue; with the opposite occurring in the evening. Depending on cloud cover, this lighting scenario happens approximately twenty to thirty minutes before sunrise or after sunset.

During this window of time, the ambient light balances with the artificial lights of buildings and monuments in urban scenes and you can easily capture the entire dynamic range of the scene. No need to take multiple exposures and stitch together an HDR (high-dynamic range) shot!

Dinner party scene in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town with Table Mountain in background.

When I was invited to a dinner at Side Street Studios, I arrived early to scout out an angle that would include Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. Shortly after sunset, the timing was right and I captured both the activity of guests mingling and the mountain silhouetted against a dark blue sky.

Tech Talk

To capture the electric blue sky, it is optimal to use a tripod which will allow you to shoot with a lower ISO such as 400 or 800 and a wider depth of field like f/11 while keeping steady at slow shutter speeds. Because slow shutter speeds can easily be achieved at this time of day, I also love to play with motion blur from vehicles and other moving objects to add interest to my compositions.

But if you are tripod averse, as I often am, the solution is simple: turn up your ISO, shoot at your shallowest aperture, and do your best to reduce camera shake by bracing yourself or your camera against something solid. You won’t get to play with motion blur, but you’ll capture this vibrant time of day nonetheless.

The Arc de Triomphe at dusk in the Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, France.

The Arc de Triomphe already looks gorgeous with a stunning blue sky behind it, but by using a tripod and a slow shutter speed, the vehicle lights add another dynamic visual element and also fill the empty space of pavement surrounding the monument.

Be Prepared

I have to admit that I prefer photographing the blue hour after sunset rather than before sunrise. This is simply because I can easily scout out the scene I want to capture in the daylight instead of having to scout the day prior or finding myself fumbling around in the dark with a flashlight and hoping I’ve found a good position.

Once in position, take test shots and get ready for the light to change quickly. I like to take test shots and check my histogram as I go to not only adjust exposure but to also see when the scene is getting more similar in tone. I find that the optimal time for the best photograph is actually when the scene is looking a bit too dark to my eyes.

Examples of changing light at Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar at dawn.

The light changes very quickly at dawn, as you can see from these shots which were taken at 6:31am, 6:39am, and 6:45am at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

Looking Ahead: Springtime in Texas

I’m pleased to announce the Hill Country Photo Roundup, another workshop I’ll be teaching with veteran photo instructor and native Texan Jennifer Davidson in one of the most beautiful and culturally rich regions of Texas.

If you’ve been to Hill Country before, you’re already in on the secret, but if you were like me, I had a different idea of what this region outside of Austin and San Antonio had in store before my recent visit. The Hill Country has hills, true enough, but it has so much more: wildflowers, cypress-lined rivers, rock plateaus, barbecue, dance halls, and even schnitzel.

We will be based in Fredericksburg, a Texan town rich in German heritage that is a mecca for artists and wine-lovers. The location will allow us to make day trips throughout the region to photograph through barbecue smoke in Llano, search for cowboy culture in Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” and kick up our heels as we click our shutters at the Luckenbach dance hall.

We will photograph Enchanted Rock at dawn, a beautiful pink granite formation, and float down a crystal-clear river lined with the graceful roots of cypress trees. And, if Mother Nature is kind to us this March, our vistas will be brightened with blooming wildflowers.

In between our photo excursions in the region, we will have ample time for one-on-one critiques, two group reviews, multiple lectures, and socializing to get to know your fellow photographers.

I hope to see you March 15th-20th, 2016, in Texas! To find out more and register, click here.

Holiday Special: Make your deposit by December 31st and receive a 5% discount off of the total workshop fee!

Austin skyline at twilight

Photo Workshop: Deep in the Heart of Texas

I’m excited to announce Picture Austin, a photo workshop I’ll be teaching with photographer and educator Jennifer Davidson this summer in Austin, Texas. Join us this July 30th to August 2nd to explore this unique Texas city.

We will spend time lecturing and reviewing images in the classroom as well as time in the field. We’ll not only explore Austin, but we’ve timed this workshop to coincide with the Bastrop Rodeo, where we will photograph the culture of a small town celebration.

To learn more about this workshop and sign up, click here. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

We hope to explore Austin with you this summer!

Herding sheep in Idaho.

Photo Workshop: Sun Valley, Idaho

This October 9-12th, join fellow National Geographic Creative photographer Jonathan Kingston and me in beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho, for a four-day travel photography workshop. “On Assignment: Sun Valley” is timed to coincide with the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, a celebration surrounding Idaho’s sheep-raising history. We will spend time lecturing and reviewing images in the classroom as well as time in the field shooting with the ultimate goal of putting together a travel story.

To learn more about this workshop and sign up, click here. Please feel free to email me at krista <at> kristarossow.com with any questions.

We hope to explore Sun Valley with you this fall!

Marine iguanas at sunset

On Assignment with National Geographic Expeditions: Galápagos Islands

I’m recently back from my first trip to the Galápagos Islands. I was lucky enough to visit these islands located 600 miles off of the coast of Ecuador while working as a Photo Expert and Instructor for National Geographic Expeditions and Lindblad. Calling these pristine volcanic islands my “office” for two weeks while navigating above and below the Equator on the National Geographic Endeavour was an unparalleled experience.

With my background as a photo editor, you can imagine that I’ve seen quite a few images from the Galápagos Islands. I knew I’d be seeing giant tortoises (for which the islands are named) and the popular blue-footed booby. What I wasn’t prepared for was what it felt like to be on the islands.

My first impression was that I’d arrived in a prehistoric land, sans dinosaurs but, as Darwin learned over a few short months in 1835, teeming with a variety of species who have adapted quite uniquely to their environments. You could not only feel the age of the islands, but you could see it as we traveled from west to east, from the youngest to the oldest islands. At the young age of less than a million years old, Fernandina is still volcanically active and growing while nurturing scores of animals.Visiting older Genovesa you see only the crescent moon of a sinking caldera, an island in the final stages of life yet still home to thousands of seabirds.

During the two weeks on board I met guests from as near as Oregon and as far as Australia, children whose ages were in the single digits and retired folks who made being in their eighties look easy, and eager-to-shoot photo enthusiasts and people who didn’t know they’d have so much fun with their cameras while on the islands. I worked with a talented photo team, namely Jennifer Davidson and Jose Calvo, and for one week had the chance to work a legend of National Geographic, Annie Griffiths. During every outing I was impressed with the knowledge of Lindblad Expeditions’ naturalists, whose passion for the islands is palpable. And every time I was on the ship I was taken care of by a friendly and professional crew.

And the best part is that I get to go back. I’ll be returning to the islands for two more photo-specific expeditions on October 24th and 31st (details here). I hope these photos give you an idea of what it feels like to be on an expedition in the Galápagos. And I’d love to see you there in the fall!

A sea lion approaches people on a beach.

One of the most delightful things about the Galápagos is how close humans can get to the animals. Sea lions, like this one at Punta Pitt, are as curious about us as we are about them. Because the animals on the islands have few predators, they are unafraid. Using their energy to get out of our way would be wasteful, but visitors must keep a 6-ft distance to comply with national park rules.

National Geographic Endeavour ship at sunset.

The hull of the National Geographic Endeavour glistens in the last light as we return from a hike on Genovesa Island. The ship was our base as we explored the islands using small inflatable boats known as zodiacs to ferry us to shore or out on deep-water snorkels.

A red footed booby on Genovesa Island

Everyone hears about the blue-footed booby, but my personal favorite booby is the red-footed species. Their bright blue and purple beaks won me over.

Photographing a Peruvian booby in the Galapagos Islands

Speaking of boobies, we were lucky enough to be present for the first spotting of a Peruvian booby on the Galápagos Islands. Here naturalist Walter Perez and his zodiac full of guests photograph the surprising animal. Read more about the news on the Lindblad Expeditions blog here.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands.

Snorkeling is an almost daily activity while on expedition in the islands. With visions of ancient pirates in our minds, we swam into a cave at Buccaneer Cove on Santiago Island and found a large school of fish. During the snorkels we not only swam with fish, but also with sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, penguins, and cormorants.

Naturalist on the Galapagos.

Naturalist Pato Maldonado explains to some young guests how different animals use the cacti growing on Santa Cruz Islands as food. Every hike, zodiac ride, or snorkel is led by a naturalist guide in groups of 16 or less. All naturalists in the Galapagos are required to be residents of the islands.

Joyful woman hiking in the Galapagos.

One of the guests expresses her joy at reaching the top of the hike near Darwin Lake on Isabela Island. This photograph of her happiness captures what it is like to explore these beautiful islands.

Guests on the bow of the National Geographic Endeavour

One evening before heading to the recap session, guests had a cocktail at sunset while the ship cruised near Daphne Major Islet. The nightly recap sessions in the lounge included a briefing on the next day’s activities and could include mini-sessions on photography or natural history and perhaps a short screening of underwater footage from that day’s snorkel.

The barrel at Post Office Bay

You’ve got mail! There are few signs of the history of man on the Galápagos Islands, but on Floreana Island there is a post office barrel where whalers and sailors would leave their correspondence to be picked-up and hand delivered by others who happened to be passing in the right direction. The tradition continues and I happened to pick up two postcards that I’ll be able to deliver in Oregon.

Lava cactus and landscape in Fernandina

Visiting the islands, you quickly learn how different each one can appear from the others. Fernandina is the youngest of the islands in the Galapagos. It is home to a large colony of marine iguanas and the endemic lava cactus species.

Walking back to ship in Galapagos.

A hike comes to an end as guests walk back to catch a zodiac to the National Geographic Endeavour. On the two photo-focused weeks I taught on, we spent as much time as we could shooting the islands at sunset and sunrise.

Krista photographing a sea lion in the Galapagos Islands. Photo by Naturalist and Photo Instructor Greg Aranea.

A photo of me photographing a sea lion in the Galápagos Islands. Perhaps I’ll see you in the Galápagos this fall? Photo by Naturalist Greg Aranea.

 

Woodstock on the Rise

Dramatic view from the top of the Old Biscuit Mill of the surrounding neighborhood of Woodstock and the mountains of Cape Town at sunset.

Dramatic view from the top of the Old Biscuit Mill of the surrounding neighborhood of Woodstock and the mountains of Cape Town at sunset.

One of the perks of working on assignment for a travel magazine is getting to explore such wonderful places. I recently had two of my images published in the latest National Geographic Traveler magazine for a small article about the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town, but there were many other images made that have yet to see the light of day. Take a peek at the gallery of outtakes below from my time exploring this neighborhood home to artists and innovators, great food, and fabulous design.

And if you’ve missed my ravings about how wonderful Cape Town is, check out my travel blog entries including a photo gallery here, more delicious food here, my obsession with the Cape Floral Kingdom, and the funky neighborhood that I briefly called home.

Learn How to Photograph Boobies (the Blue-Footed Kind)

Krista giving feedback during a one-on-one critique with a workshop participant in Washington, DC.

Krista giving feedback during a one-on-one critique with a workshop participant in Washington, DC. Video still by Steve Pickard.

Now that I’ve got your attention, no blue-footed booby picture here yet, but read on for a chance to learn how to photograph these unique birds with me in the Galápagos Islands.

A student photographs the Lincoln Memorial during a sunrise shoot on a weekend photo workshop Krista taught with Dan Westergren.

A student photographs the Lincoln Memorial during a sunrise shoot on a weekend photo workshop Krista taught with Dan Westergren.

For the last few years I’ve been working as an instructor on National Geographic Expeditions’ weekend photo workshops in New Orleans and Washington, DC. I’ve not only been able to share my love for these two fabulous cities, but also share my knowledge of photography and photo editing. It is honestly a delight to be surrounded by people eager to learn and immerse themselves in photography for four days. Recently we had a videographer join one of the DC workshops led by Mark Thiessen to put together a taste of what the workshops are like. Check out the video put together by Steve Pickard.

Also, I’m so delighted to share news that I’ll be working as a National Geographic Expert with National Geographic Expeditions on their Galápagos Photo Expeditions in 2014. From June 13th through 22nd we will be photographing the diverse wildlife and gorgeous scenery of the islands and spending time back on the National Geographic Endeavor ship delving deeper into learning photography. The next week I’ll be serving as a photo instructor with Expert Annie Griffiths and in October/November with Expert Rich Reid. Check out the full schedule here.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Galápagos with students, new and old. I hope to photograph blue-footed boobies with you there!