Q & A with Landscape Photographer Alex Mody

Alex has been putting out some amazing work recently. We reached out and he graciously accepted an offer to talk about how he got started and share some of his experienced wisdom. Enjoy!

Give us a bit of your background and how you got started in nature photography.

I acquired my first point-and-shoot camera when I was 4 years old, and I was hooked from that point forward. My photos were absolutely atrocious (some might say that about my work today!), but I just loved having a way to capture and record all of the things I saw around me.

I have always enjoyed hiking, skiing, and simply being in the mountains. As my interests in the outdoors grew, and I got my hands on a DSLR, I realized that these two passions of mine could be combined. As I slowly discovered photographers whose work I enjoyed, and many of the amazing online resources there are at the disposal of a novice nature photographer, the snowball effect began to take place, and has led me right to where I am now. I have also been extremely fortunate to have great friends and mentors in Joe Rossbach and Ian Plant.


Walk us through your creative process. What happens before you click the shutter?

When photographing, I sometimes set out with a specific subject or composition in mind, but I find that I just as often come across images spontaneously in the field, when reacting to the conditions around me. I look for decisive convergences of light, weather, and form, and make an effort to arrange them in a way that pleases the eye.

What advice would you give to the younger crowd looking to get recognized for their photography? 

I take issue with this question. I believe that if a young photographer is looking to get recognized for their photography by others, more so than they are looking to find their unique vision and create their own art, then they are most likely destined to fail. 

I’m not sure that I can give advice to the entire younger crowd, but this is what I would tell a younger version of myself:

Be patient. Nobody has become a great photographer overnight. It takes a long time to hone in your vision. You will undoubtedly return home from the field disappointed – and often. When this happens, address what you think you did wrong, remember it, and try not to make the same mistakes the next time you are presented with a similar scenario. The process of trial and error, when combined with a positive, resilient attitude, will teach you so much more than anything else.

Don’t put too much stock into the praise you may receive on social media sites. Try to build relationships with other photographers whose work you admire, and listen to what they have to say instead. Having a sound mentor or two will do so much more for your art and craft than listening to what hundreds of practically anonymous people on the Internet might have to say.

What plans do you have for the next year?

This July, I will tour Europe with my band, Vestiges. After this, I plan to head to arctic Norway for a month, photographing the beautiful mountains and fjords. In September, I head back to Olympia, Washington, where I live, to begin my final year of college. This next fall, winter, and spring, will include: photographing Polar Bears in northern Alaska, Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks, a brief visit to the Appalachians, and of course, photographing as much as possible near my home in the Pacific Northwest.


Talk about one of your favorite places to photograph and include an image with it’s backstory. 

 I suspect my answer to this question may change after I spend a month in Norway later this year, but for now, I have never enjoyed photographing anywhere as much as the islands which make up Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. These remote, empty islands of Scotland have absolutely remarkable coastlines and mountains, harsh weather, and way more sheep than people! Ian Plant and I spent ten days exploring and photographing there in 2012, and we had a both amazing and productive time.

Any upcoming workshops, books, etc?

I am currently in the middle of three weeks of almost nonstop private and group workshops. After this, I will focus on my personal shooting and traveling, until September, when I will lead a soon-to-be-announced workshop in the Pacific Northwest.

Using Slow Shutter Speeds for Adding Interest in your Water Shots

Gibbon Falls
A 70-300mm lens at f40, and a ½ sec exposure, gave depth and helped to isolate the pine tree from the waterfall.

This insightful post comes to us from Gura Gear pro, Joe McDonald.

One of the easiest ways to make your water shots more interesting is simply by using slow shutter speeds, which blends flowing water, ripples, bubbles, and even floating objects into a soft blur. Admittedly, some photographers hate the look, considering it overdone and something of a cliché, which might be the origin for one of the names used to describe the effect – ‘cotton candy.’ Another name for the effect is ‘angel hair,’ but don’t ask me how that name originated. Regardless, sometimes using a slow shutter speed gives a familiar scene a completely new look, and it is certainly worth exploring when you’re shooting.

When I’m photographing water I usually avoid two shutter speeds, 1/60th and 1/125th, finding that these speeds neither freeze the motion of the water sufficiently (on the fast end) or blur it enough (on the slow end). At 1/250th or faster, water, usually, appears ‘frozen,’ and depending upon the shot that might work well. Conversely, ‘freezing’ the water may add unwanted or unnecessary detail which may compete or conflict with other elements of the image.

Back in the ol’ film days photographers either used a particular shutter speed by default, or bracketed shutter speeds to insure that one or more of the images would have a pleasing look. Of course, digital photography has taken the guess work out of this, allowing you to review the LCD monitor to discern what shutter speed works best. As a general rule, the slower the better, so I’d start with 1/8th of a second or slower to achieve the effect.

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls, Brazil at 1/4th at f20 with a 70-200mm lens, giving some telephoto compression to incorporate the distant waterfalls.

Depending upon the ambient light level, getting a slow shutter speed may require taking one or several routes. The easiest is simply lowering the ISO to the lowest setting possible, but if that is not enough then try using a polarizing filter to reduce the light by one or two stops, or a tele-converter, as a 1.4X cuts out one stop, and a 2X cuts out two stops. Or use a neutral density filter, especially one of the variable ND filters that reduce the light traveling through the lens by one to nine f-stops. I prefer to use one of the variable ND filters for the flexibility it offers. At 9 stops, a ND filter so reduces the light that the lens essentially goes black, but a 7 or 8 stop reduction provides enough light, usually, to compose. I’d recommend focusing first, then rotating the filter, reducing the amount of light only as much as is needed. That might be just a reduction of 2 or 3 stops, or it might be more.

Big Horn Sheep
We normally use fast shutter speeds for photographing wildlife, freezing water motion in doing so. Using a slow speed gave an entirely different look, although I had to shoot several .8 second exposures before the big horn stood still long enough for one to work.

Depending upon the season, time of day, or the environment, reflected color can really jazz up your images when combined with this slow shutter speed technique. In spring, as new leaves burst from their buds, calm, relatively motionless water may reflect an interesting Gator Aid lime green, while in the fall that same waterway may be colored red or yellow or orange from the reflections of fall foliage. In some canyons, late afternoon light reflecting off of cliffs may turn the still water gold, but finding these colors will depend upon your angle. You may need to walk up or down a stream, keeping your eyes open not only for the white water rapids but also the color reflected in the still areas, and on our photo tours I find that many photographers do not automatically watch for this.

Although I’m most often frustrated in my attempts, I love to try to incorporate wildlife in these slow shutter speed water shots. Most don’t work because the animal moves during the exposure, but heck, with digital, who cares? Provided the subject stays in the frame, I’d suggest shooting as many times as you can for you might get lucky and get a crisp image. I love those shots when I am successful.

Gardiner River
I walked up and down the road paralleling the river to find a spot where the late evening light striking the cliffs was reflected as gold water, and the 13 second exposure softened the rapids and ripples to a pleasing blur.

Also consider using longer zoom lenses, rather than lenses in the wide-angle range, to capture vignettes of the scene. While wide-angle images can be very effective, especially when you have a powerful foreground to anchor the scene, longer focal lengths will simplify the scene to its essential elements. A point we always stress in our workshops regarding composition is this: If you were a painter, you would add elements to your blank canvas until you achieved the effect you desired. As photographers, the reverse holds true, as most scenes are busy and complicated, and your goal is to simplify and eliminate the busyness to achieve the same result. Using a medium focal length zoom lens and slow shutter speeds may help you to do exactly that.

Joe McDonald
www.hoothollow.com

Q & A with Landscape Photographer Hans Kruse

We found the work of Hans Kruse to be quite amazing and were lucky enough to have him answer some questions about his creative process. Hopefully you find something worth noting to help you in your continual endeavor to perfect your craft.  

Tell us a little bit about how you got started in photography.

I was shooting film and especially black and white back in the 1970’s, which was great as long as I had access to a dark room. I even setup my own for a while. I liked to have control over the process from taking the pictures to creating a print. I never got to that point with color photography with a professional career in IT and a family with children. Eventually there was less and less time for photography.

Later on with the advent of digital photography and finding more free time, my interest came back. I could now control the process from shooting to final display in print or on screen. My first real camera in the digital era was the Canon 10D in 2003. I got interested in photographing nature, wild life, landscapes and people during my travels and near my home.

When I retired from the IT industry, I decided to organize photo workshops. My first one was in October 2008 and since then I have led 25 workshops with 7 still to come in 2014.

 

What is it that draws you to landscape photography? 

Landscape photography is special to me because taking great landscape photos requires not only making a picture of a great scene with a good composition and post processing, but also finding the right interesting location, weather and light

I like the search for the right locations and I go back many times to locations that I feel have the best potential. Without going back to the same locations it is much more random what shots one can get even in great landscapes. Going back to the same scenes is interesting and rewarding as they can transform completely depending on the season, weather, light etc. From year to year I have learned that the light and colors can be very different in the same locations.

I like shooting iconic locations, but I especially enjoy finding unknown spots in the areas surrounding those iconic locations. Even iconic locations can be captured in a different way that has not been seen before. Some locations can be seen as clichés, but there is often a different way to photograph these locations.

The excitement you get when you finish processing an image and the happiness you feel when it turns out makes it worth all the effort.  

 

You mention on your website the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a given field. Explain your process in becoming a better photographer and share an insight or two that might help others do the same.

 The 10,000 hours rule is maybe a kind of cliché but it is worth considering for someone starting out in photography that thinks they can quickly learn the technical aspects and take great photos. Certainly the technical side of photography can be learned much quicker today due to the advances in technology and a faster turn around cycle. However, it seems for most photographers that going from stage to stage in the personal development process just takes a lot of effort and there are no shortcuts. An important part of becoming better is to show your work to others and try to get feedback. Also critiquing your own work and going back to the same locations and looking at previous work can help in becoming better and seeing the locations in a new light.

For me taking many different compositions with different lenses at a location and evaluating the work back at the computer is important in seeing what works and what does not work so well. Having done this many times has helped me in considering new scenes. The important part is to really spend the time evaluating the pictures and being critical towards your own work.

 

Tell us the story behind one of your favorite photos.

This picture and the story behind it shows what it sometimes takes to get the shot. It happened during my first photo workshop in the Dolomites in October 2010. This well known location, which is iconic in the Dolomites, was covered with clouds when we drove up to the location. We literally could only see a few meters in front of us. We parked and I looked at the clouds, which we were in the middle of, and I was not very optimistic at that point for us to get any shots. But I knew from experience that the clouds, in the mountains especially, drift and big changes can happen in only an hour and especially the hour before sunset. The group I had brought up to this location was quite skeptical to my story about clouds that suddenly open up. However, after waiting for about an hour, the clouds did open up for a few minutes and let in the sunlight on the mountains behind this little lake and the hut where you can be served cappuccino sometimes.

I have many other examples of shots which I would not have gotten if I had not been determined to stay out in rain or overcast weather where amazing situations suddenly were presented. 

What upcoming workshops do you have?

The programme for the 2014 photo workshops can be found here: http://www.hanskrusephotography.com/Hans-Kruse-Photo-Workshops/Workshops which contains links to the description of the individual workshops. The programme for 2015 is under development and will be added to this when available. So far the locations are only in Italy, but I’m working on adding locations elsewhere.

 

You can find more of Hans' work on these websites:

Hans' website http://www.hanskrusephotography.com/

Hans' Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HansKrusePhotography

Hans' 500px http://500px.com/hanskrusephotography