Tag Archives: guy tal

The Best Photography Advice I’ve Ever Received

Sunset on Sandstone Fins, Utah

Over the years I’ve received much great advice that has contributed significantly to my growth as a photographer.  While guiding a photographer last week who was only bitten by the photo bug a few months ago, I offered a simple piece of advice: “Sweep the edges of your viewfinder before making an exposure.”  It was something I learned ten years ago while reading a “how-to” book published by Arizona Highways.  At the end of the day I was happy to hear her say that she learned more during our few hours together than she had in several months on her own.  I always find it rewarding to help other photographers learn and grow as artists.

On the drive home I began to reminisce about all the little nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned in the past eleven years.  Some came from books, others from magazines and even more from other photographers.  Regardless of their origin, each one has benefitted me in some way.  Like many of you, I never want to stop learning.  No doubt, the advice below is only the beginning of what will surely be an even longer list in another eleven years.

Sweep the Edges - Since I mentioned this one in the introduction to the article I thought I’d start off with it.  It’s also one of my favorites and something I do every time I compose an image without even thinking about it.  Very simply, once you have composed a scene in your viewfinder do one final visual sweep of the edges of the frame before depressing the shutter button.  You’re looking for little distractions.  It might be a branch intruding into the frame, a bright spot in a corner or even the foot of your tripod creeping into the bottom of your composition.  This will also force you to slow down and spend more time crafting a deliberate composition.

Don’t Forget to Turn Around - I read this very early in my career in a “how-to” book published by Arizona Highways that seems to have been discontinued.  The author’s point is simple: no matter how awesome the scene before you is, always remember to glance over your shoulder because it just might be even better behind you.  I follow this advice on nearly every photography outing and it has netted me some of my favorite images.

Don’t Forget to Look Down - I learned this lesson while viewing Tom Till’s image of colorful desert wildflowers pushing through cracks in mud.  The placard next to it explained that while Tom was photographing a grand landscape he happened to look down and found a scene far more original and interesting than the one he had intended to photograph.  You just never know what you’ll find if you keep an open mind!

Include People in Your Photos - This one certainly won’t apply to everyone.  However, it’s a valuable tidbit of advice that has certainly been favorable to my bank account.  My good friend Todd Caudle, who has been one of the most generous and inspirational pro’s for the entire length of my career, is responsible for this one.  While photographing wildflowers at Lost Dutchman State Park about ten years ago, Todd suggested that I consider including people in my photos.  Todd suggested that photographing my girlfriend at the time while hiking, climbing, canyoneering and mountain biking would open doors to some of the outdoor magazines.  I didn’t take his advice seriously until I met my wife, Melissa, a few years later.  It’s a shame I waited.  Had I immediately began following Todd’s advice I surely would have been published much sooner.

Look For and Exploit Reflected Light - We’ve all seen photos of Antelope Canyon’s sculpted walls glowing neon with reflected light.  Until I gathered this piece of advice from uber-talented photographer and friend Guy Tal, I wasn’t aware that reflected light was so prevalent in nature.  And, it even happens on a grand scale.  Clouds reflect light back down on to the landscape and massive cliffs bounce light all the way across the Colorado River canyon near Moab.  Snow reflects light into shadows.  Once you learn to identify reflected light you can easily use it to your advantage – even when photographing in mid-day.

Don’t Immediately Set Up Your Tripod - I can’t remember where I learned this but it’s made a huge difference in the quality of my compositions.  Upon arriving at a location spend some time exploring the area before you plant your tripod.  Experiment with different vantage points.  Try getting low to the ground or finding an elevated perch.  Maybe you’d originally intended to go wide angle but a more interesting scene in the distance demands a telephoto?  Even a few steps to the left or right of you’re standing could make a dramatic difference.

Bad Weather = Good Photography - Another great piece of advice whose origin escapes me.  Bad weather often creates the most dynamic conditions for photography.  Menacing clouds, storm light, fog, rain and snow can all contribute to amazing photography.  Or they can flat out suck.  That’s the chance you take when you wander out on a stormy day to make photographs.  But instead of bemoaning the fact that rain is in the forecast, get excited by it.  Overcast?  You couldn’t ask for better light for intimate landscapes.  Fog?  If it’s winter you might find hoar frost.  Summer?  Look for features in the landscape playing hide and seek behind a veil of fog.

Adapt to the Conditions - This one ties in nicely with the one above.  Most of us have probably taken a trip to a far off location with the intent of photographing our hearts out only to find lousy weather upon our arrival.  There is alwayssomething to photograph.  It may not be what you came for, but if you stay positive and learn to adapt you will be able to make images.  I don’t remember where this one came from but it’s advice I’ve learned to follow.  Bonus: Not only do I get to make photos regardless of the conditions, but I’m much happier and less stressed out, too.

A Bad Day in the Mountains is Better Than a Good Day in the Office - This one comes to us from Todd Caudle.  And you know what?  He’s right.  Wouldn’t you rather hike ten miles into the mountains to photograph sunrise at an alpine lake only to be defeated by a dull gray overcast than spend one stinkin’ minute staring at your computer monitor?  I would.  I will add one small caveat: A bad day in the mountains is better than a good day in the office – so long as you don’t have to cut off your own arm!

Certainly you’ve all received some sage advice over the years.  Why not share it with us in the comments section below?  I, for one, am always open to good advice!

Grand Opening: Guy Tal’s New Gallery in Torrey, Utah

It isn’t often you’ll find me using my blog to pimp and promote other photographers.  However, I just can’t *not* share this little nugget.  My good friend and fellow nature photographer Guy Tal is opening the doors to his new gallery at 135 E. Center St. in Torrey, Utah this Friday, May 28!   If I were you, here’s what I would do: I’d call in sick to work on Friday, pack up my truck with camping and photography gear, then head out to Torrey for the gallery grand opening.  After wandering through the gallery in awe of Guy’s gorgeous prints you will be filled with inspiration.  I’d probably buy a print or two to hang in my home or offer as gifts to good friends.  After that, I’d head on into Capitol Reef NP to make images all weekend before driving home on Sunday.

I’ve known Guy for nearly 10 years.  We first met online at the Nature Photographer’s Network, where he was a forum moderator.  I was an eager new photographer, posting my images alongside those of much more accomplished artists and asking for honest critique.  I am eternally grateful to Guy and former moderator Michael Gordon, as well as hundreds of forum participants, for helping me to become the photographer I am today.  So, you can blame all of them.  Since then I’ve spent some time exploring the desert with Guy and even had a random encounter at a trailhead in the Uinta Mountains back in 2006.  Guy’s passion for the natural world and his amazing body of work is a constant source of inspiration for me.  I really hope you’ll visit his gallery the next time you’re in Torrey.  When you do, tell him Bret sent you.  He’ll either smack you or offer you an ice cold beer.  Take your chances. :-)

Best of luck, Guy.  I know you and your gallery will be wildly successful!

Ask An Expert: Vincent Versace & Macro Lens Decisions

Last week I received several interesting questions for the experts.  Today we’re answering three of them, because the first two are short and don’t warrant their own topic.  The answers come from Guy Tal, who is in my humble opinion the very best nature photographer in all of Utah.  Please do yourself a favor and visit his website, then prepare to be amazed.  His intimate landscape work is especially stunning.  Todd Caudle, Colorado’s premier landscape photographer and co-leader of workshops with me, also submitted an answer.  Much appreciated, Todd!

The Questions

1) I know the basics of Vincent Versace digital conversion, but who was Vincent Versace and why is this method named after him?

2) As a fairly new recruit to the world of DSLRs, I have been wondering which affordable lenses are best for macro photography. Right now I have the Canon 50mm/1.8 lens for my Canon EOS RebelXS 1000D. While it’s a  pretty handly lens because it sees things just as the naked eye does, it doesn’t get nearly as close as I would like to get. I have a lens budget of about $600. What do you recommend? I have also heard that tubes can come in handy for macro, but I’m not entirely sure what the use of them is. Is it something I should look into, or am I better off just buying a
better lens?

3) I’d really like to know which of the following will get more depth of field at the same magnification: Extension Tubes, Diopters or a lens that can accomplish ‘X’ magnification without any additional equipment. I would assume they would all have the same depth of field, but I’m getting mixed replies from various macro photographers. I’m not worried about image quality, loss of light, etc, only depth of field.

Guy’s Responses:

1) Vincent Versace is alive and well and the method is named after him because he developed it.

2) The decision should be based on what you plan to photograph. You can achieve close focus with just about any lens (e.g. by adding extension tubes or a bellows) but the working distance may not be acceptable for some subjects. For example, you wouldn’t want a setup that forces you to be 1″ away from a skittish insect to get sufficient magnification. Since you already have a normal lens, my suggestion would be to get a mid-range macro lens in the 90-105mm range that is capable of 1:1 magnification without additional items. Most manufacturers have such lenses in their lineup. This will give you sufficient working distance for most subjects without the loss of AF, and allow you to focus all the way from 1:! magnification to infinity without the hassle of adding or removing tubes and diopters. These lenses are very versatile and can also double as portrait lenses and general-use short-telephotos.

3) At a given magnification (which is determined by the focal length and subject distance), and with all other factors being equal (i.e. same size circle-of confusion, same f-stop, and same format,) depth of field will be the same.

Todd’s Response to Question 2:

First, decide not only what you will photograph, but also how often you’ll use a macro lens. What I see first and foremost in the question is a) ownership of a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens, which is mediocre at best, and b) $600 to spend. I would recommend getting rid of the 50mm (remarkably, they sell for nearly new price on eBay, or about $80-$90), and using the $600 plus whatever you get for the 50mm to replace it with a higher quality zoom lens that has a decent macro capability. You will instantly increase your photographic choices by having any focal length within the range of the lens, and a good macro capability. I owned a Tamron  24-135mm aspherical lens and was very happy with it for years. Its macro capability was 1:3.3, which was plenty for my purposes. Sure, there might be times when 1:2 or 1:1 might be preferable, but in my opinion, that’s not often enough to justify buying (and CARRYING!) a lens just for that, when a good zoom lens can provide so many more options. Not sure if that Tamron lens is still available, but there are lenses in your price range by Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina — all good companies — that would work well.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Guy!  If you’re looking for amazing fine art prints to decorate your home or business, check out the galleries on Guy’s website.  He also leads photo workshops with Michael Gordon that are great for photographers working at any level.  Learn more about their workshops at the Gordon-Tal Workshop website.

Todd is a Colorado based landscape photographer with a HUGE collection of images from all across the state.  You name the mountain and he’s photographed it, probably two or three times.  He has published numerous books and calendars, and his work has appeared in several popular magazines.  Check out the galleries on Todd’s website for some real alpine inspiration!

Visualize Candlesticks And Clouds

Candlestick Tower in Fog

I recently re-read a blog post written by my good friend Guy Tal, titled “Visualization (aka Postprevisualization)”. Guy is a nature photographer and writer based in the tiny town of Torrey, Utah.  Actually, it really isn’t accurate to call Guy a “nature photographer and writer”.  He is both of those things.  But his talent for both is on a level so far above that which most of us will ever reach simply calling him a “photographer and writer” may well be the understatement of the decade.  He is also one of the most humble, passionate, compassionate, articulate, giving and just downright genuine people you’ll ever meet.  I kind of hope he never reads this because if he does, he probably won’t be all that happy with me for gushing about him for all to read.  Sorry, Guy!  I’m in kind of a reflective mood so I’ll blame this entire post on that.

Guy’s post is a bit of a warranted rant on the misuse of the term “previsualization” to describe the act of  ”anticipating a finished image before making the exposure”.  (Thanks, Ansel!)  In reality this is visualization, not previsualization.  I recommend that you read Guy’s post to understand the difference.  While you’re there, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee and surf through his entire blog/journal.  You’ll find it to be an amazing literary adventure.

For two years I had an image in mind that I wanted so badly to make but it required a combination of elements that don’t exactly coincide on a daily basis.  Candlestick Tower in Canyonlands NP is a prominent sandstone tower that soars several hundred feet above the desert floor.  The image that haunted me was that of Candlestick Tower looming large above a sea of low lying clouds.  Perhaps now you can see why one can not just show up at any given time and make this image.

So, I kept it there in my tiny little mind consuming memory that likely should have been used for something else.  My wife constantly reminds me that I am forgetful.  I think it’s because I have so many future images stored in memory that other, less important things, are automatically purged.  I cycle through these images occasionally, usually at night when I’m struck with a bout of insomnia.

On Dec. 31, 2009 I awoke early and looked out the window and saw…nothing.  A beautiful, white nothing.  Thick fog encircled the building to the south and I could barely make out its outline.  I had a gut feeling that today was the day.

I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera gear, kissed my wife and son good-bye and headed out the door.  I drove through fog in the darkness as I ascended to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands.  Once on top of the mesa the fog slowly dissipated until finally, stars shone brightly above.  Oh yes, today was in fact the day I had been waiting for.

I made it to the small, unmarked pull-out from which my favorite view of Candlestick Tower is accessed.  The temperature was 4 degrees.  I had been here before and I knew the image I wanted to create would require a long lens.  I swapped my 16-35mm lens for the 100-400mm monster, threw on my down coat, fleece hat and…gloves, where are my gloves?  Ah yes, they are at home sitting on the printer, right where I left them.  Undeterred, I opened a package of chemical hand warmers and started walking through crunchy snow to the edge of a cliff where I would set up my tripod and wait in the waning darkness.

As the sun began to rise I watched wisps of fog slip over the canyon rim, encircling me, and then disappear back into the canyon.  The handwarmers kept my fingers toasty in my pockets until the time came to trip the shutter.  Sunlight diffused through thin clouds warmed Candlestick Tower and it cast a long shadow onto the surrounding clouds.  Click.  Click, click, click.  I made several images in no more than a couple of minutes.  Some with a neutral density filter attached for a long-ish shutter speed that would smooth the slow moving fog and some without.  I knew before even seeing my images that at long last my vision had been realized, and I smiled.

I packed up my camera gear and stood in place for 15 minutes, watching the clouds ebb and flow.  Despite the cold it was a very relaxing and fulfilling moment.  I heard a car door shut and looked back to see another photographer exit his car.  It was time for me to go.

I walked back to my truck, climbed inside and started the engine.  Warm air issued from the heater.  I took a swig of tea, put the truck in drive and headed home with one less image nagging in the back of my memory.

I know I’m not the only one who has been thrilled to fulfill a creative vision through photography.  Let’s hear your story.  Be sure to post a link to the image that dogged you for weeks, months or years.