Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Polarizing filters are used routinely in landscape photography. There are many examples of how much they can contribute to a scene, by removing reflections, intensifying colors, and darkening skies.
Light coming from the sun is vibrating in multiple directions. The filter basically blocks light in one direction, allowing parallel beams of light to get through in the other direction. This is called "polarization by transmission," and is described further here: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/light/u12l1e.cfm
To complicate matters, light is actually polarized by reflecting off water, and the interaction of the two kinds of polarization can be interesting. By rotating the circular polarizing filter, one can see the different effects of the light altering characteristics of the filter in any given direction. Some of the most dramatic variations can be seen by rotating the filter while pointing the camera at a rainbow. It can become much more intense or almost invisible. Here, we're again dealing with light polarized by more than one factor.

Sometimes, the polarizing effects can negate some of the benefit of the scene.
Example: After a long hot hike to a mountain lake, facing about 90  degrees from the sun, I might assume that a polarized photo is the one I want, particularly if I'm wearing my own polarizing filters in the form of sunglasses when I make that decision.
One problem with that thought is that it is usually wise to consider all options when making a landscape composition. The view isn't likely to fly away after all.
Here's the photo without a polarizing filter:

and with the filter:

The critical difference here is the lack of reflections of the partially snow-covered mountains and the trees in the water, making a photo that has much less impact. Same location, camera and lens.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is Memory Cheap?

There is a lot of talk among photographers that "memory is cheap," referring to the ever decreasing cost   of memory cards and hard drives. The thought being, since memory is so cheap, photograph anything and everything and keep it forever. Sometimes we find that a long overlooked photo is really good, and, years later, uncover its true potential. OK. That happens. But, much more commonly, good photos never get discovered in the morass of all those unedited files kept because we made too many photos in the first place and then didn't delete them when we had the time and energy.
Memory may be cheap, but our creativity isn't. For me, choosing to work on a few really good photos is much more likely to happen if they aren't buried in hundreds that should have been deleted months or years ago. If I cannot bring myself to search through thousands of files to find what inspires me to move ahead, then I'm seriously impeding my own progress.
There are limits to how messy a desk can be before we just give up trying to find anything. Even well organized piles become obstructive when they get too high. Same with photos. I am much more productive when I can look through a few good images to find the one that I want to process than when I try to plow through hundreds. I just lose the motivation. Motivation and creativity are not cheap. To me, that's what matters.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thoughts on Photographing Wildlife

Much has been written already, and I’m not sure I can add greatly to points previously made about certain approaches to wildlife. Unbelievably dramatic photos of action are so striking, it’s certainly hard to argue against impact. There are good points on both sides of the argument for using captive animals as subjects, and in between the whole captive vs wild discussion, and then there’s the baiting issue. It’s much easier to get exactly what you want when you arrange for the raptor to come to you.
My perspective on these matters may change with time, but so far, the more I contemplate the options, the more I look at what gives me personal satisfaction and meaning as I photograph. For me, even if all the other issues were equal, I believe I would still find more delight in being out there in the moment with the wildlife and just being privileged to witness what they will show me of their world. I am not na├»ve enough to believe that I can be there and have no effect on the animal I’m watching, but I do think there are ways to observe relatively unobtrusively, and in that observation, I get the spontaneity of not directing my “model,” but of being allowed to see what I have never seen and couldn’t precisely have predicted.
For me, the experience is maybe more valuable than the product. I love the product, but I really love the experience. Great work is done in all sorts of studios, but my best pleasure comes from being in as close to the natural environment as possible, even if that means hours and days and weeks and months of less than I’d hoped in terms of the finished photos. This is a choice of style of work, and it seems to fit my style. It’s not the best choice for everybody, and just maybe, it won’t always be the best choice for me, but it is for now.

Here's a bird who flew by as I was observing other snowy owls in their winter location in Ocean Shores, Washington:

Here's a scene that I had visualized for months before I actually captured it with my camera. It took multiple trips and hours of waiting, but I learned so much about osprey behavior by waiting for those moments:
I watched the bird on the right from days after hatching to seeing it fight with it's nest mates over food and space. Minutes before this photo was made, it had tumbled out of the nest in a struggle with a seemingly stronger sibling, only to recover and get back at the moment dinner arrived.

In each case, I was allowed to observe the birds in as close to their natural habitat as possible. Coming to a better understanding of their behavior, to me, is more fun than setting up the exact shot I want.