Mastery, at its root, is the ability to overcome excessive failure.

Research, Logistics, Gear, Creativity, Camera Settings, Composition, Timing, Light, and Luck.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a good photograph, and it is easy to mess it up if you're not paying attention.  

From encountering new scenarios, lacking the proper equipment, forgetting to charge batteries, to hitting that metaphorical wall we have all grown to despise called Creativity Block. These are just some of the things that can go wrong when photographing the perfect landscape. In this week's post I am going to touch on some of my massive failures on the road to mastery. Every day I am making mistakes; learning and growing as a photographer. Even the greatest photographers alive will attest that making mistakes, missing the shot, and ultimately failing has gotten them to where they are today. 

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I call the above image veiled perfection. I got to my location early, composed this image well in advance, set my ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, and focused correctly, then waited for the sun to set over the distant mountain.... What I didn't do was adjust my shutter speed as the light faded and got darker. You see, I got my exposure reading in broad daylight with the sun directly overhead, and in my excitement forgot to adjust my shutter speed to compensate for the change in available light. In todays world digital cameras save our butts 90% of the time and we can still get the shot if heaven forbid something like this happens. 

Here's a fun one! The ever common image stack to get everything in focus. In layman terms, when your subject matters are too spread out and your camera cannot compensate to get the entire image in focus, it is sometimes necessary to "focus stack". This is taking images at different focusing distances then combining them later in post to get uniform sharpness across the image. When you screw this up it is the most frustrating thing in the world because it can be easily overlooked while shooting. In the image below look closely across the first hillside. The entirety of it is out of focus. This is because I only shot two images to stack and focused too close on my initial image. Ideally a tilt shift lens would be the best solution, but a costly one. So, focus stacking is a necessity at times to get the best image. I stopped editing this image when I noticed the error because there is only one way to fix this: Buy a new camera that allows you to change focus later. Thankfully I wasn't satisfied with the image 100% to begin with as the flowers were beginning to wilt. I found a different composition that I was more pleased with. 

 

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Here is an awesome picture of a blurry moose. 

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When photographing wildlife its oftentimes smart to turn on your autofocus, especially for beginners. I am not a beginner (nor am I an expert), but I try to do things as close to old school film shooting as possible and sometimes it bites me in the @$$. Here I attempted to manually focus on the moose with a semi fast aperture of ƒ4.5, while slowly moving backward since we walked up on each other. As I walked backward so did my point of focus, effectively focusing perfectly on the pine tree in front of my subject causing my moose friend to look velvety smooth and extremely blurry ... Chance missed!

Thankfully for all the times I've royally screwed up or done something goofy, there has been countless times when I've done something right. The below image is the most popular image I've ever taken. With 300+ more instagram likes than any other image, multiple reposts, over 60 combined comments, and multiple personal offline congratulations; it's safe to say I did something right when taking this image. 

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I'm no master, but you can be darn sure that I will continue making mistakes until I am. After all, failure is what drives success.

The Wildflower Fields Of The Timpanogos Basin

Sometimes it's hard to put into words just how amazing a place is!

I've written this particular blog entry twice now, and cannot seem to do justice to the experience I had while on Mt. Timpanogos. Therefore, I am going to let the photographs do the talking and only interject a few critical words.

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.
— Ansel Adams
 The Glory Of Timp  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

The Glory Of Timp

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Capturing images of the Timpanogos Wildflowers is not an easy task. It takes a commitment to carrying heavy camera and camping gear up a steep mountain 5,000+ ft to a basin just below the summit of the mountain in the summer heat.  From the ground Mt. Timpanogos is the most prominent mountain overlooking the Utah Valley. In fact it is the second highest mountain in the Wasatch Range. It is a truly spectacular mountain.

This year the wildflower season on Timpanogos was mildly hindered by the amount of smoke in the air from ongoing wildfires, which this year are plaguing the Utah area. Despite the fact that smoke from a wildfire was evident above the summit of Timp, and there was a ban on campfires I still had to put out a fire that some unintelligent hikers left burning after they had packed up camp and left. I won't go into to detail, but I was furious. They had decided it was a good idea to throw half of a dead tree stump onto a pit at midnight. The photo to the right was taken at 10:00am the next morning. I spent a  good 40 minutes throwing water and dirt on top of it to put it out completely. People, stop being dumb. End rant.

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Back to wildflowers; despite the activities of our neighbors, Anna and I had a great time among the stars, wildflowers, and mountain goats. While I was out in a field on the other side of the basin at sunrise, Anna was surrounded by a herd of mountain goats that were making there way back up the mountain. The light that enters the basin in the morning is enough to warm the soul and as it creeps over the horizon, the expanse of the basin comes into full view. I turned around and grabbed a quick panorama of the sunlight hitting the basin.

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Finding a composition in a field of flowers this big can be overwhelming despite the plethora of subjects. Your never quite sure if you have the best image. I scouted a location the night before, because I knew it would be impossible to find anything in the dark the next morning. I came upon an area at the base of the ridge and took a photograph in case the morning light was bad.

 © Andrew Lockwood 2018

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

 I love the images I captured despite the wildfire haze, and I cannot wait to return again next year to see what the basin will have in store for me.

Next week I'll explore the Martian-like landscape of Goblin Valley and recall my attempt at photographing the Perseids Meteor Shower.

Wildflowers, Sunsets, and Mountains.. What more could you ask for?

 

Wow! Thats about all I can say when it comes to the wildflowers of Utah. Anna and I moved to Utah three weeks ago, right about the peak viewing season for wildflowers in the mountains. With loads of things to do around our new place, it was difficult finding the time to get out and photograph the wildflowers. We made a point however, to get up into the mountains and photograph as much as we could of the magnificent blooms. 

Our first excursion into the mountains quickly made us realize we were accustomed to the lower elevations of North Carolina and every step was a bit of a challenge. Regardless, we summited our first peak together and hiked a total of 7.5 miles all in search of a composition. We had a good laugh when, upon returning to our vehicle, I found a composition only 100 yards away.  I sat the camera up and made minor adjustments to the composition as we waited for sunset.

 Painting The Picture  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Painting The Picture

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

As I was watching the sunlight from the setting sun move across the mountainside in the background, I realized that the morning light would actually create a better image as it washed over the cliffside. So after wearily returning home, I made the decision to head back for sunrise. 

4:00 AM: The alarm rings and the last thing I want to do is wake up. 

We had been going hard for the last week. Getting settled into our new home and the previous days’ hike had taken its toll. Regardless, I know from experience that when you really don't feel like going and making photographs, you probably should. For some reason the higher powers like to test you and provide the best light on those days. So... I rolled out of bed, got dressed, and drove back up the mountain. I had seen another composition I wanted to try along with going back to the same place as the night before and determined to head there first. As the morning kicked off I sat in a field being eaten alive by mosquitos hoping I had made the right decision. It was overcast and raining on parts of the mountain and I hoped it would clear a little in time for sunrise.

 Cloudy Morning Meadow  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Cloudy Morning Meadow

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Thankfully the higher powers gave in and allowed some light to leak through as the morning continued on and I was able to snag this image.

 Storm Light In Albion  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Storm Light In Albion

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

A wise man once told me to never get tunnel vision and always look behind you while photographing nature, because while you are attempting against hope to create an amazing image in front of you, behind you is popping off with color. Such was the case today and thankfully I had been monitoring the scene behind me as it evolved. After I took the above image I turned around and hiked about 100 feet to a second spot I had decided on while waiting for the light and managed to capture what I think is the strongest image I took on this outing.

 Albion's Glory  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Albion's Glory

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

After getting the shot, I made my way to the previous nights’ location which was about a quarter of a mile away, to capture one final image. My previous nights’ assumption was correct and the light cast nicely on the rock face beyond the field of flowers. I set up a similar composition and took my photograph.

 Picture Painted  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Picture Painted

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Sometimes you get lucky and are rewarded with multiple strong photographs, and other days, you get nothing. Thankfully, I got a few good ones that morning of the Albion Basin wildflowers. I returned home more tired than I was when I woke up, but couldn't resist finalizing the images before I took a nap. As I edited away, I knew I had to get back outside and photograph more. And so, two days after, I found myself en route back to the mountains.

I was headed to the Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest and the hunt was on!

You'll have to wait until my next post however, to find out how that trip went. 

Going Back For Seconds... and Thirds...: Creating the best image possible

Oftentimes, my best image of a location doesn't happen the first or even second time I visit a location. Sometimes it takes many, MANY times to achieve the image I had envisioned. 

I recently moved to Utah, and while I am familiar with the layout of the land, I confess I am at a loss as to the intricacies of the states endless potential. Scouting locations has quickly become my greatest time investment. I still aim to come home with an image of the location I am exploring, but at the end of the day, if I find a place to come back to when the elements for a great photograph exist then I am happy. One such location exists in Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest. Above one of the many lakes in the area a cliff rises to offer a dramatic view of the surrounding area. Knowing how the light would fall as the sun went down afforded me the ability to pre visualize what the scene may look like at sunset. I snapped a reference photo and pinged my GPS coordinates.

 Reference Photo  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Reference Photo

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

By doing this it allows me to return to the exact location when optimal conditions exist.  You may ask why I didn't stay and wait for conditions to present themselves. The answer is simple. I was in unfamiliar territory deep in the backcountry, with a long exit hike in the dark if I waited for optimal lighting. Those three factors can be a recipe for disaster, and have the potential to become life threatening. It is alway best to understand an area before committing to a long hike in the dark. Even experienced hikers can find themselves lost in the wilderness. Besides, as I mentioned before, I was scouting. I already had a photograph planned for that evening some 15 miles away from this location that I had scouted the day before. That image can be seen below.

 

 Reference Photo  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Reference Photo

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

 Final Image  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Final Image

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

 

 

The other day I found myself sitting in a field of wildflowers, being eaten alive by mosquitos, waiting for the magic to happen. As the light faded away and darkness descended I had only taken one image, a rather flat image that felt to me as though it was missing something. I left with the idea of returning the following day to attempt to produce a better image. The image I created that first night, some may say is beautiful and a good image, but I knew it could be better. And so I returned the following morning. Understanding how the light fell a little better, I was able to deduce that the morning light would create a much more dynamic scene. I waited (again being eaten alive by mosquitos) for the perfect moment to create my image, and was happy with the outcome. 

 

 

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© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The blank sky in the first image, while not ugly, leaves a weird negative space that lacks interest. As you can see, the way the light hits the the rock face in the second image, along with the cloudy sky make it seem more dramatic. The second image is an improvement over the first. I believe however that I can create an even better image than the second given the right conditions. I will continue to monitor the weather and see if another chance is in the cards. As you know wildflowers don't have an infinite lifespan and sometimes it can become a race against the clock.

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© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Here is another example of going back for seconds. In this case I felt as though the first image was perfect except for a few small things. It was Fall, and I was attempting to express that fact through the change in color of the leaves, however I arrived to find them still mostly green. There was also a lot of wind on the water, obscuring the reflection. I took an image anyway because the light was immaculate, but knew I wanted to return to capture the change of season better, and hopefully get a good reflection. The second image does that, and thankfully I was awarded with some good light and no wind on the second evening! Both images are strong images, but for me the latter depicts the creative vision I set off to capture. 

It is important not to simply settle for your first image of a location, even though it may be good. Chances are the as you begin to gain an intimate knowledge of a place from repetitively photographing it, you will also develop a better understanding of how to create a better image as well. Even if you do happen to capture your best image of that location on your first go around, you can't really be upset with being back in an amazing place. Can you?

Check back next week for some amazing wildflower photos and a story about planning your time appropriately.