Glenn Randall on the summit of 14,017-foot Wilson Peak, San Miguel Mountains, Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado

Never Eat Breakfast Before Midnight

Noted photographer John Sexton once said, “The only difference between me and my students is that I’ve made more mistakes than they have.” There’s a lot of truth in that. I have been a full-time professional landscape photographer for 26 years, so I’ve had plenty of time to learn from a long string of fumbles, failures, near-misses, and fiascos.

In this post I will share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my career in landscape photography. I’ll explain why you should never eat breakfast before midnight, why great landscape photographers have the brain of an engineer and the heart of a hopeless romantic, and why the potential reward is always greatest when the odds against you are the longest. By the time I’m finished, you’ll either be inspired to shoot sunrise from the summit of the hardest 14,000-foot peak in Colorado or be ready to sell all your cameras on eBay.

Wilson Peak and Gladstone Peak at sunrise from the summit of 14,246-foot Mt. Wilson, San Miguel Mountains, Lizard Head Wilderness, Colorado

Mistakes

I want to assure you that despite the many mistakes I’ve made, I’m actually a talented, experienced, and careful photographer. In fact, I blame all of my mistakes on high-altitude hypoxia, sleep deprivation, and excessive caffeine. 

Here’s an example. I was working on a seven-year project to shoot sunrise, or occasionally sunset, from the summit of all 54 of Colorado’s Fourteeners, peaks reaching over 14,000 feet in height. My next objectives were Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak. Tabeguache is one of three Fourteeners in the state where the only practical route to the summit is over the summit of an adjacent Fourteener. I drove to the trailhead, hiked in, and camped at about 10,000 feet. On the same day, I got up at 10:30 p.m. and left camp 45 minutes later so I could summit Mt. Tabeguache at 4:30 a.m. and shoot sunrise. 

I returned to camp, napped, then got up again at 11:30 p.m. so I could summit Mt. Shavano in time to shoot sunrise. On the way down from Mt. Shavano, still at about 14,000 feet, I stopped to photograph some tiny alpine flowers. As I was composing the shot, I discovered that auto-focus had suddenly stopped working. Repeatedly I pressed the shutter release halfway down, but the lens wouldn’t auto-focus. I checked the auto-focus switch on the lens. It was set to auto. I checked the camera body. The LCD readout confirmed that auto-focus was enabled. I switched lenses, but got the same behavior.

After puzzling over the issue for a good five minutes, I finally remembered that a year and a half earlier I had removed the auto-focus function from the shutter release and assigned it to the AF-on button on the back of the camera. For the past year and a half, I had always focused with the AF-on button on the back of the camera, not by pressing the shutter release halfway down. Just half an hour earlier, while shooting sunrise on the summit, I had been pressing the AF-on button on the back of the camera every time I wanted to focus. Granted, I was at 14,000 feet. I hadn’t slept properly in three days. Still, a photographer forgetting how to auto-focus? It was obviously long past time to get off that mountain, go home, and get some sleep.

Pursh’s wallflower and alpine parsley near the summit of Mt. Shavano, San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

Hard Work

This is landscape photography’s dirty little secret: it’s exciting, fun, and rewarding—and a lot of hard work. There’s just no way around this. Landscape photography requires an awful lot of getting up early and staying up late, driving hard and hiking hard. Sleep is for landscape photographers who don’t drink enough coffee. In fact, great landscape photography is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

I reluctantly reminded myself of this inspiring phrase after I hauled my 4×5 field camera up the steep sandstone slabs to Delicate Arch for the ninth time, finally captured the longed-for glow on the arch, then heard the photographer next to me remark, “That was nice! This is the first time I’ve ever been here!”

And since we’re on the topic of hard work, here’s another of my aphorisms: the potential reward is always greatest when the odds against you are the longest. For example, the most likely outcome on a morning with heavy clouds is a gray, boring sunrise. If, however, the sun finds a tiny gap between dense clouds and the horizon, the result can be some of the most spectacular light you’ll ever be privileged to photograph.

Sunrise at Columbine Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Not only is the potential reward greatest when the odds against you are the longest: the potential reward is also greater if you remove your lens cap before taking the photo. Back in the film era, I had a medium-format Fuji rangefinder. In January, 2005, I did a solo, off-trail trip into the Sangre de Cristo Range. On the first day I hiked, then snowshoed and scrambled to a campsite at about 10,600 feet. The next day I continued upward another 1,700 vertical feet and picked out a sunset location with rippled snow in the foreground and the Fourteeners Kit Carson, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle in the background, all of which would get sunset light.

One disadvantage of rangefinders, of course, is that you aren’t looking through the lens, which means there’s no obvious clue that the lens cap is still on. As the light peaked, I shot two rolls of medium-format film that I thought were capturing the best light of the trip.

When I finally looked at the front of the camera and saw that the lens cap was still attached, I dropped to my knees in the snow and buried my head in my hands. Then I chided myself: Glenn, you’re alone, it’s January, you’re at 12,000 feet, it’s getting dark, and you’re 1,700 vertical feet above your campsite. This is no time to throw a hissy fit. I stood up, regrouped, and saw that the clouds over the peaks were starting to light up, so I was able to make a few decent photos even though I certainly missed the best images of the trip.

Kit Carson, Crestone Peak & Crestone Needle, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, CO
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#TravelTuesday has landed here again on ScottKelby.com and I, Dave Williams, have a nugget to share with you!

Making progress in photography means many things to many people, but to me, it’s important to keep photography social if we stand a chance at making progress. Having a social angle allows us not only to network and to make and maintain relationships, but also to share experiences and ideas, and to challenge ourselves and our skills. On Sunday in London, I hosted a small meetup of photographers and it compounded my belief in creating and maintaining relationships in photography rather than doing what so many photographers do and seeing everyone else carrying a camera as a competitor. On that note, they’re not your competition! Trust me, they’re really not. A competitor is someone working in the same field as you, in the same location as you, reaching out to the same market as you. Even if you find yourself competing, if you’re staying on top of your game by networking and practicing, then you really have nothing to worry about anyway!

So, with the Worldwide Photowalk fresh in our minds as one obvious idea, what else can we do to be social in photography?

#1 – Engage on Social Media

If we see something awesome, we should say so! When an amazing image catches our eye for its aesthetics, its composition, its light, its tone, its worth, saying something. Every time you see something awesome, leave a positive comment and tell the photographer why you like it. Think of it the other way around—if you posted an awesome shot, you’d want people to say something nice, so leaving positive comments can kick-start that cycle. Another way to engage on social media is through Facebook groups. I have one here, where I look to people for advice and feedback, and there are some other great groups, such as the Photoshop and Lightroom Group, the Friends of the Grid, and PhotoReview, which all encourage sharing and learning through feedback. If you aren’t involved in groups on Facebook, I strongly recommend taking a look around and finding some groups that fit your interest and getting involved with them.

#2 – Enter Contests

This is a cool way to interact with other photographers and it can be very, very rewarding. I was fortunate enough to be in the final round of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and the excitement and feeling of pride that came with it was insane—and I didn’t even win! There are contests in photography all the time, largely published on social media. I’ve run the Sunrise Challenge for the past two years and the community that forms around it is great, with everyone getting involved in the contest hashtag and checking out each other’s work. Another thing a contest can do is give you the opportunity to put your images in front of the biggest names in photography who often make up the judging panels, and they give you a goal to work towards as well.

#3 – Join a Club

This is perhaps one of the best things in the photography community. Through a club, you’ll have the door opened up to attend talks and events with big names in the industry, have critique on your images, and meet like-minded people who meet regularly with the same passion. Lots of things can happen in the in-between times as well, and it’s also possible to work toward a professional affiliation or recognition through a photography club with the right mentoring to get you there. If you don’t have a photography club near you, make one! Failing that, there are other ways to recreate the photography club experience, such as becoming a KelbyOne member and interacting in the forums with other members and learning through online courses (and there’s a sale on right now, too!)

#4 – Photo Walks!

This is the simplest, most engaging way to be social in photography. Scott organises the world’s largest photo walk each year, but there’s nothing to stop you from running one throughout the rest of the year. They can be fantastic ways to meet people and to forge and maintain friendships. I’m lucky to say that a lot of the people I have had attend my photo walks have become friends, and the reason is this: –

The photo walk, being the part with the camera, is the small part of a bigger picture. Meeting up and taking photos is cool because we can learn from each other whilst our lenses are pointed in the same direction, but it’s the bits in-between and afterward, that really matter the most. The walking between locations gives us an opportunity to really dig deep and share our experiences, both in photography and in life, and taking the time afterward to have some food or coffee (or beer) to further share and build those relationships. We’re one big team of photographers, we aren’t really competing, and we need to behave that way and help each other. You could be missing one small yet vital nugget of wisdom and all it could take to realise it is meeting with other photographers to help unlock that one thing to push you miles down the road in your photographic journey!

Jump into social photography, meet people, introduce yourself in those Facebook groups (say Dave sent you!), and see what a difference it makes.

Much love
Dave

I think a lot of photographers these days are taking the old adage about “Shooting at Sunrise” too literally, and because of it, they’re missing out on a lot of great shots.

Here’s what I mean: The best light, and amazing skies, and empty streets, and tourist-free areas — the dream of travel photographers everywhere, all happen well before sunrise. The sunrise itself is silently signaling “Here comes the end of your shoot — time for breakfast!” But unfortunately, that seems to be when all the photographers start showing up — right after all the good stuff just ended.

Just before sunrise. Beautiful light and you’re all alone. (photo by Erik Kuna)

Erik Kuna (Rocket-photographers and my co-host on ‘The Grid’) and I were in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago leading a local photo walk as part of my annual Worldwide Photo Walk. During the walk, we went through Millennium Park, and its most famous feature, the giant chrome-covered “Bean” sculpture (it’s actually named the ‘Cloud Gate sculpture,’ but I’ve yet to hear anyone call it anything other than “The Bean”). Anyway, around 70,000 people visit The Bean each day — it’s absolutely packed with people from morning to night. But Erik decided to get up really early to shoot it. Ya know how many people Erik found when he went to The Bean well before sunrise? Just one.

Look in the reflection – there’s nobody there. (photo by Erik Kuna)

Not only were there no tourists. There were no photographers. All this beautiful light. Great clouds. No tourists, and not a single photographer in sight. As soon as the great light is gone, and the harsh sun is coming up, here come the photographers, streaming into the park right along with the first groups of tourists. What they wind up getting is kind of crappy light and a bunch of tourists milling around. They missed the great light and tourist-free scene by about 20 to 30 minutes.

Right at sunrise, the light isn’t nearly as nice, and the photographers and tourists arrive (seen in reflections). (photo by Erik Kuna)
A little while later; everybody’s there, and it’ll be like this until late, late at night. (photo by Erik Kuna)

The same thing happened this week in New York

The Vessel. We went the day before this was taken. There were tourists, photographers, and instragrammers everywhere. Right before dawn? Nobody. (Photo by Erik Kuna)

Erik experienced this same phenomenon this past week in New York City (we were up there for the Photo Plus Expo). He got up early and walked over to “Vessel” in Hudson Yard (it’s part public modern art piece, part spiral staircase [with its 150+ interconnected staircases], and part observatory. It’s free to enter [you get tickets online] and you can walk-up inside it when it’s open). When Erik got there — sure enough, lots of beautiful light, no tourists, and most notably — no photographers, even though there is a major photography tradeshow being held right across the street at the Javitz Center.

That Dumbo location well before sunrise – nobody’s there at all. (photo by Erik Kuna)
Right before sunrise, still nobody there and nice light. BTW: These NYC shots were taken by Erik with his iPhone 11.
Sun’s up – here come the photographers and Instagrammers.

He also got up early on the 2nd day; went out to that famous shooting location in the Dumbo park area of Brooklyn (you know the one), and ya know what? Same thing — great light; no tourists, and still no photographers. Once the sun came up, with it came the photographers, the tourists, and the Instagrammers with selfie sticks.

This is an easy mistake to avoid

All the good stuff happens well before sunrise. In that 30 minutes before the sun comes up — you need to be out there, in place, on a tripod, ready to capture the tourist-free scenes in beautiful light. Once the sun comes up, you have just a few more minutes where the light is still good — the color is warm, and the sun is touching the edges of things as it rises, but 15 or so minutes after that, the light generally turns pretty bad, and that’s the way it stays, getting worse and worse all day until about an hour or so before sunset.

Just get up a little bit earlier. Don’t time your morning to get there at sunrise. Get there at least 30 minutes early, and the difference in your images will be amazing, you’ll have your choice of spots, no tourists, and you’ll see for yourself why it pays big time to set your alarm clock a bit earlier.

Here’s wishing you a tourist-free, great light week of shooting wherever you are. :)

-Scott

P.S. I’m off to San Francisco next week for my “Ultimate Photography Crash Course” full-day seminar out there on November 6th. Hope you can join me — you’ll super dig it. Tickets and info here.

I’m up in New York City today for the big photography show, Photo Plus Expo, and at 11:00 am this morning, over on my Facebook page, we’ll be living streaming a tour of the expo floor, so you can see what all’s going on at the show firsthand. Join me and Erik “the rocket man” Kuna (everybody’s invited); we’ll be taking your requests for booths to visit and gear to see, so make sure you join us (and please help us spread the word). That’s 11:00 AM New York Time (ET) on my Facebook page. See you then!

Come By and say “Hi” at My Book Signing today

If you’re up there in New York for the Expo, I’m also doing a book signing at 3:00 PM at the Rocky Nook booth. They are in booth 572 — at the back of the 500 Aisle on the left-hand side. I’d love to meet you (you don’t have to buy a book), just come on by and say hi if you get a chance. :)

You Missed A Really Cool Episode of ‘The Grid’ Yesterday

Well, actually you only missed it if you weren’t watching, but in case you didn’t catch the live stream of our weekly photography podcast, our guest was high-end LA-based retoucher Viktor Fejes (he’s in town recording two new classes for KelbyOne) and he offered to share some retouching techniques for viewers who sent in their portrait images. He is an absolute master of color, and he gave some killer Photoshop tips (in between cracking us up with his snarky comments). If you missed it, you can watch it below:

This next one is for KelbyOne members.

Issue 55 of Lightroom Magazine Is Now Available

Look at that – one of my Blue Angels images wound up on the cover. Sweet!

From Managing Editor Chris Main: Issue 55 of Lightroom Magazine is now available for KelbyOne members on the KelbyOne site and the KelbyOne Mags app for iOS and Android.

In this issue, our cover story is about avoiding the five biggest post-processing mistakes, plus Rick Sammon shares his “five Ps” for travel photography, using Guided Upright with panoramic landscape images, managing profiles, adding beams of light to your photos, and so much more!

Note: KelbyOne Pro & Plus members have access to more than 75 back issues of Photoshop User magazine all the way back to January 2012, plus all 55 issues of Lightroom Magazine. Not a Pro Member yet? Click here for more information.

Hope to run into you on the Expo Floor today! :)

-Scott

Focus and Focal Length Blending for Landscapes with Ramtin Kazemi

Join Ramtin Kazemi for advanced techniques for editing landscape photographs. In this class you’ll learn the importance of focus stacking landscape images, how to blend images taken at different focal lengths together to bring the background closer, how to replace the sky with one that is more interesting, how to enhance the colors in the photo, why you should dodge and burn to enhance the lighting in the scene, and some final touches that help to unify the end result. Understanding these techniques will help you shoot differently to capture all of the necessary elements and give you the skills to blend them all together for eye popping results.



In Case You Missed It: Advanced Landscape Post Processing Techniques

Learn advanced techniques for processing your landscape photos with Ramtin Kazemi! In this class you’ll discover Ramtin’s workflow, from start to finish, for taking a raw photo from scratch through to being ready to print or share online. Ramtin takes you step-by-step through his techniques for creating vertical panoramas, color adjustments, luminosity masks, selective contrast adjustments, adding atmosphere, and so much more!

Shooting for Consistency

10-15 years ago this wasn’t even a concept. I wish I had access to photographers’ old websites so I could show you just how differently photography was branded compared to now.

More and more potential clients aren’t even going to your website. They’re checking out your other portfolio: Instagram.

Instagram can be a photographer’s best friend or worst enemy. Thanks to this social platform, users can take a look at our most updated portfolio in a millisecond. We’re judged only by the last six pictures we posted.

When potential clients are looking at our images that quickly, and that displayed on that tiny mobile screen, there’s one thing that will stick out in their minds. “Does this brand look put together?”

Make no mistake, photographers (and really all businesses) on Instagram are viewed and evaluated as a whole, not by single images. Consumers are wise to what a good, cohesive, consistent, branded business looks like and they expect it.

In addition to looking at how many followers you have to determine if you’re a reputable business, they will look at your images as a Collective.

Scared yet? You shouldn’t be!

As a photographer, this is your strong suit. If you haven’t honed in on your photography brand image yet, now is the time to start.

As a photographer you have control over lighting like no other businessperson does. There are three easy ways you can start displaying a strong brand, using lighting as your guide.

Finding And Creating Consistent Light

This is where it starts. Your effort here must be very intentional, and not haphazard, or your outcome won’t be successful.

I’ve decided that my images are to be bright, vibrant and soft. So, when I’m deciding where to photograph details, or the bridal party, or the bride and groom, I’m placing them (and any other light that I’m using) fairly consistently in the same kind of places.

For example, if I’m looking for a spot for the bride and groom, I’m looking for a background that is backlit, and I plan on filling in the light in their faces with a reflector or off-camera flash. If I had a more moody style to my imagery, I might always look for a contrasting background with light coming more from the right or left.

This isn’t to stifle creativity. I’m not saying that every picture you take must look exactly the same. Of course I take pictures that are more moody, and moody photographers will take pictures that are more bright and light.

But the overall body of your work should be collectively parallel. Not only for social media branding, but so that you fulfill the expectations you’ve given to your clients. After all, if you have nothing but dark and moody pictures on your website, but then half of your pictures are light and airy, you probably will have clients wondering what happened to the photographer they thought they hired.

Creating Light If You Can’t “Find It” Naturally

You may be a natural light photographer, but what happens when the natural light just isn’t cooperating? You don’t want to run the risk of not delivering the style and quality photos that you’ve promised your clients. You need to be able to create the light instead.

I know off camera flash can be daunting for photographers who shoot natural light. I remember trying to learn for years and getting frustrated with the existing technology and my failing results. Thankfully, it’s gotten much easier.

If you’re ready to learn off-camera-flash, I have something for you. I’ve written a book all about it. But it’s unlike any other book on flash out there.

This is “scenario-based” teaching, and without all of the complicated terms and photograph-ese. You want to make it look like golden hour? Here’s what you need. Looking to create a magenta sunset? Here’s steps 1, 2 and 3. It’s simple, easy to understand and you don’t need to read the whole book to start trying it out right away.

It’s being published by Rocky Nook in February, and you can pre-order yours right here.

Editing Consistently

The next step to creating consistently lit photos is in the post-processing. As we know, there are limitless ways to edit, enhance and potentially destroy a photograph. This is where I see most photographers make mistakes, and you’re not alone! Just scroll down my Instagram feed a little while and you’ll see my all-over-the-place editing and posting (@vanessajoy).

Thankfully, post-production companies (mine is Freedom Edits – $50 off if you use that link) are helping out a lot of photographers now-a-days. When you send your work out to be edited by another company, one of their primary goals is to give you consistent editing. I believe this is teaching photographers the importance of editing consistency and helping their urges to edit according to their mood that day.

This is a place where decision-making has to take place either with your editing company or on your own. As much as one photo might look killer with a vintage edit on it, it just won’t bode well to have it sitting next to a vibrant, colorfully edited image. Make a decision on what you want your images to portray and stick to it.

Again, this isn’t to put you into a box of any kind. You absolutely can change your editing style, and your lighting style even. But these kinds of changes should be done gradually and over time, not daily and whenever the feeling flows.

Another smart move in the Instagram world is to purposefully set your first six pictures up perfectly if you have a marketing push coming. For example, if you know that you’re going to have an ad running, or be implementing some kind of Instagram marketing, anything that’ll drive traffic to your profile, make sure that you’ve “set-up” your profile spectacularly. 

Remember, most people won’t even give you a scroll, they only see the first six images you’ve posted. So, if you’re knowingly making an effort to push people to your Instafeed, make sure those first six pictures are amazing individually and collectively.

Happy shooting!

Vanessa Joy is an NJ NYC wedding photographer. You can keep up with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest!

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