A great way to find inspiration, is to see what other photographers are doing. Part of learning to take great pictures is seeing great pictures, and seeing many styles of work by many photographers helps give you an idea of what you like, and what you want to shoot. I am starting a new series on Photomonium, highlighting the work of photographers that enjoy shooting nature and landscape photos, and asking them some questions so that I, and you, can learn from them, and hopefully find some inspiration for our own work.
This is a composite profile self portrait of Mark Myhaver
The first photographer I am highlighting in this series is Mark Myhaver. Mark is currently from Arizona, and has a number of nature and landscape images from the desert. His online gallery can be found at myhaverphotography.com, and Mark generously agreed to answer some questions about his work.
Q. (Bob Simmons – Photomonium): What’s in your camera bag?
A.(Mark Myhaver): Presently I am primarily shooting with a Nikon D7100 with a vertical battery grip. All of my lenses are now Tamron ranging from 18mm to 600mm. The majority of my work is done with an 18-270mm and 70-200mm 2.8 Macro. I first picked up the 18-270mm in the interest of traveling light. At the time I was hiking in the Catalina Mountains quite a bit with a full pack of gear including several Nikon lenses and the Tamron 70-200mm which could quickly become exhausting. I made the purchase based on great reviews and thought it would be okay for many of those shots in the mountains. I was greatly pleased with the quality of images produced with it and it has become my go to lens of choice. I always have circular polarizer and neutral density filters and a 2x Tele Extender. Shutter release cables and two wireless remote triggers are a must. My preference is to use the wireless trigger for total hands off exposure when shooting on a tripod. My tripod of choice for many years has been a heavy but very sturdy and dependable Manfrotto however that was stolen recently and I am still shopping for a replacement that will suit my needs. My monopod is also a Manfrotto. Other support items in my bag include items such as a wad of gaffers tape, quick release plates for my tripod and monopod ball heads, a Nikon SB-600 flash, an Orion 10×42 monocular, usually a small knife and multifunction tool. Of course I always have back up charged batteries and SDHC cards. In most cases I have 32gb SDHC card in one slot of the D7100 and an Eye-Fi Pro 16gb in the other.
Q: How often do you go out and shoot?
A: As often as possible. Truthfully I don’t often go out specifically to shoot but always have a camera with me even if it is just an iPhone camera, and yes I have sold images from what I’ve made with it. Most often I at least have the D7100 and 18-270mm lens with me. Unless it is a specific event or adventure, I do not find setting out specifically to photograph something to be very inspiring. Being there and being ready when the image presents itself to me is what works best for me. Nature being the primary focus of my photography these days, I get out at least once a day for a walk or short hike and produce many images from them. My endurance is somewhat limited now from what it used to be due to health issues but I fight it and push myself all the time. I suffered a traumatic health issue and subsequently near death experience in 2012 which left me severely limited. I was in coma for weeks in which my family was told I could not and would not survive. After fighting my way back that full year, in and out of the hospital and physical rehab facilities, I am doing things doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to. I am not able to hike in the mountains as I was previously yet, but getting out in nature, and photography continue to be my greatest therapy.
Q: Are your abstract shots in your gallery taken when you are out shooting landscapes, or do you set those up elsewhere? Some look like they may be of flowers based on the colors, and one possibly of a sunset?
A: Great question. I am always playing and learning new things in processing and experimenting with my creativity. My Perpetual Luminance series as I call these abstracts are a result of that. They are based on photos that I make, mostly nature images but not always, that I then manipulate by pixel bending and blending in Photoshop. I have created action presets that I very depending on the colors and information in the images. The more I do them the more I learn what may need to be added to the original image or perhaps taken away to achieve the uniquely desired effect. They are fun to create and instantly became popular so you will continue to see more. There are some great presets and actions out there and I encourage folks to experiment with them and make them their own rather than just applying what someone else has done. I think this segues nicely into your next question.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your post processing workflow?
A: Except for the rare occasion (such as the iPhone captures), I always shoot raw. This enables me to get the most out of that raw data to produce the image best as I saw it when it was presented to me. That being said I believe firmly in using the best exposure, focusing and composition at the time of capture that will yield the previsualized result that I plan to achieve. Most pro and even so called prosumer cameras by the major manufacturers have some tremendous, customizable processing tools within them. I encourage folks to learn these tools that through conversations, I’ve learned many are not even aware of. Even shooting raw, I will most often use a custom in camera preset while shooting that I know will give me the most accurate look on the camera LCD that I plan to achieve in processing.
All images are initially imported and raw processed in Adobe Lightroom. I have been using Lightroom since version one as soon as it was released. In addition to the processing tools it has a great file and cataloguing system. Today I go much further in my processing right there in Lightroom as it continues to get better all the time. I think the average photographer can complete everything right there if they choose to. However average has never been my aspiration. So probably 60 to 80 percent of my work is still done in Adobe Photoshop. The tools are still much better in Photoshop to finesse everything that I want to out of an image. I bring the original raw file into Photoshop as a Smart Object so that I can quickly make a raw adjustment if I want just by double clicking on the Smart Object so I’m still keeping it non-destructive. Noise reduction is done on that Smart Object layer before any other work is done in Photoshop. Noise reduction is a vital part of a professional workflow. Lightroom noise reduction is very good but there are other tools that are more powerful, offering better control. My personal preference is Noiseware Professional by Imagenomic. I have been using it for several years. It too facilitates saving custom presets to quickly match repeat situations. I am always evaluating other tools and there are other very good ones available.
I have been using Photoshop since version one and create my own presets and actions to speed up the processing as well as hopefully lend my personal, recognizable, style to my images. I’ve used a lot of plugins over the years but my favorite is still the Nik Collection, now Google Nik Collection, which I also have been using since its inception. One of the things I like about it is the ability to create my own custom recipes combining various filters in that tool set. Some of the heavy hitters in Photoshop that make it so powerful are the use of ‘layers’, ‘layer blending modes’ and ‘blend if’ technics, as well as ‘masks’ and ‘selection tools’. Tonal Contrasts can make or break an image in my opinion. By applying them judiciously one can direct the viewer’s eye exactly where you want it and add that pop that makes the photo stand out. Just like in sharpening this can be overdone too. Two of the things I see that prevent a good photo from becoming an excellent image are; poor contrast that leave an image very week and flat, and over sharpening. Used judiciously and selectively though creative sharpening and contrast control can make a huge difference. For instance, if I have an image with some great bokeh, I don’t want to add any sharpening or strong contrasts to those areas and kill that soft beauty of it. Almost every image is going to get some sort of ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’ work done to it, just as it used to back in my darkroom days. Sharpening is always a final step in my workflow.
Oh, I should probably add as it is very important to my workflow, whether intended as a black and white or not I will look at almost every image as black and white at least once in Lightroom. I love black and white photography and see most images that way at first unless color is a strong factor when it is presented to me. I’ll almost always make some black and white luminosity adjustments in Lightroom to previsualize how I might adjust those tones in the color edition in Photoshop. I began in photography working in black and white before color film was readily available to me to shoot and process. So possibly as a result I see an image first as shape, form, light and tones. Someone once posted on Twitter that I was the only person they know that does color photography like black and white. That comes from being trained in the zone system, seeing the various tones in an image presented to me and processing to preserve and exploit those tones to render the image as I see it. In most cases I will process a black and white edition from the working Tiff file while it is still open in Photoshop. I’ll complete the black and white processing after making some initial color tonality adjustments before completing the color edition. I will export a composite black and white layer as a separate Tiff file and keep all of the work in the ‘Master Edit’ file, grouped separately from the color work or in a Smart Object.
Once an image is complete I’ll save it as a Tiff and export copies of it through Lightroom, optimized for social media and web viewing, print production or whatever else may be required to suit a particular purpose. I always keep the original work file with imperative layers intact as a ‘Master Edit’ file in the Tiff format. I know many folks do their work on PSD files and that is fine too. I just prefer to work with Tiffs for maximum compatibility sake. As long as this answer is, it just describes my basic workflow without going into a lot of details that will very according to the image.
I do on occasion use some of the popular tools such as Topaz and OnOne which are very good and contain some cool presets. I encourage folks to go beyond those presets if you are using those tools though, to find your own look. I think OnOne has missed the mark with their “your image our look’ marketing campaign. Don’t photographers want their images to have their own look? That is what will separate your work from that of others.
Q: You moved to Arizona from the east coast, and you were obviously inspired by the landscape. What were the most striking features of the southwest for you?
A: Yes, I moved to Arizona for two reasons really. One was that I had enough of the cold winters in Maine. The other is because two of my children and their families consisting of three grandchildren moved there. The combination of the Sonoran Desert surrounded by mountains is breathtaking. Pusch Ridge in the Santa Catalina Mountains is the first thing I see when I step out my door and it looks different every day. There are so many layers in the mountains that depending on how the light is hitting it, based on time of day and weather they can take on many different dimensions. I love the old west feel and the abundance of raw nature. It truly feels like an ancient and quite spiritual land. I live in a desert but it is the wettest desert in the world and contains a large variety of vegetation and wildlife. The whole of Arizona contains an enormously diverse landscape and I have not begun to explore it all. It is a nature photographer’s paradise. But then I have just described the entire United States really so I truly want to do some more traveling and visit as much of it as I am able to.
Q: What advice would you give someone who is learning to shoot landscapes?
A: Most importantly, get out and experience it. Spend as much time as possible out in nature, feeling it seeing it exploring it. Once you let yourself become immersed in nature, images will present themselves to you. I get into a zone that I call the Zen of photography. It happens all the time. I may be shooting in one direction and all of a sudden feel the pull to turn around or go down this path and something new and wondrous will be presented to me. Feel the energy force that is of us and all around us, be there and be ready. Part of being ready is in knowing your equipment. I don’t care what equipment you are using, learn it inside out so that you are best able to capture what you are feeling.
Granted certain cameras and lenses are better suited for landscape photography then others but the most important thing is to know how to exploit the tools you have, to serve you best. Wide angle lenses are the stock and trade of any professional landscape photographer but sometimes the compression of a long lens is just what you need to separate what is presented to you from its less important and perhaps distracting surroundings.
Learn all you can about composition and then don’t become trapped by those things. For me, I guess I was just a natural like many people told me because I would just compose based on what I was feeling and learned later that they fit into certain compositional rules. If you think about it the rule of thirds and golden spiral are designed to draw the eye of the viewer into the image. If you truly allow yourself to feel that becomes how you see. I know it is helpful for many people to suggest they stop and think about what it is they like, about what they are seeing. They may know they like what they see in a scene but may not actually know or think about why.
Q: What inspires you? Are there any particular things, or other photographers that provide inspiration when you are deciding what you want to shoot?
A: Nature. The miraculous beauty of nature is what inspires me the most. I have been inspired by old world master painters to a great deal. Many photographers have inspired me over the years. In over fifty years I have worked in many different genres of photography. I’ve been a photojournalist, documentary photographer, aerial photographer, product photographer and operated a portrait photography studio for many years. I have always wanted to learn all aspects of photography, so I have become quite versatile. I absolutely loved portraiture. Nature and landscape photography have always been my greatest passion though. I was inspired greatly by Ansel Adams black and white work. My greatest influences in color nature photography have been Eliot Porter and later Galen Rowell.
I would like to thank Mark for his time, and for some great information. Head on over to myhaverphotography.com, and check out his work. Leave a comment, and tell me what YOU find inspiring!!