Sunset With My Daughter

It’s not often that my 14-year old daughter volunteers to join me when photographing sunsets or other landscapes. As a teenager, she wants to do her own thing and often keeps her distance from Dad. That’s not to say we don’t have a good relationship, but you know how teenaged girls can be.

So on a recent Saturday night when we were visiting my uncle at the Jersey shore, I looked across the street to the bay and saw the sky setting up for a nice sunset. I excused myself and said I was going across the street to take some pictures and I’d be back shortly. My daughter stood up and said she was coming with me. It was a pleasant surprise.

Nothing of any import was discussed, no major issues brought to light. Just a father and daughter, standing on the dock, watching the sun set and the clouds go by, joking about whatever. It was one of those special moments, that makes this image all the more special for me.

Lavallette-NJ
Sunset on the Dock, Lavallette, NJ

 

The North Fork

The Bug Light
Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, the Bug Light, as seen from Orient Beach State Park

I suspect I’m not unique in this, but I often find myself lamenting that I can’t get somewhere truly exotic to photograph every time I want to.  I’m several hours from any of the more grandiose national parks, with Acadia nine hours and change away, and Shenandoah about 8 hours away. So there are some days, when I have the itch to make a picture, that I have to look closer to home. And like many others, I sometimes take local locations for granted.

This past week, I found myself with the time to go exploring, so I hit up some spots that are within about an hour of my home. On Monday, I went to Orient Beach State Park. I’d never been there, and wasn’t sure if I was missing anything or not. Honestly, at first glance, it’s not much to look at. It’s a beach on the North Fork of Long Island, that pokes into Gardiners Bay.  But if you’re willing, and strong enough, you can walk down the beach about two and a half miles, to the very tip of the park, which sticks into Gardiners Bay where it meets the Peconic River. There, you will find the Bug Light, a lighthouse built on a caisson about 50 yards out in Gardiners Bay.

The Bug Light at dusk.
The Bug Light at dusk.

Generally, the bay is pretty calm, but this day, the wind was churning the water pretty good, creating some nice choppy waves. I had some nice puffy clouds in the sky, and the sun was creating some nice color off in the west. While I was still feeling the hike several days later, the images I captured were well worth the effort.

The next day, I still had the itch, and I found another spot close by I need to explore some more. Wildwood State Park is also on the north shore of Long Island, featuring a beach on Long Island Sound.  The first time I went there was July. The warmer weather and the later sunset kept the beach crowded late, and it was difficult to get shots without people in the background. This time, being early March, I had the entire beach to myself.

Wildwood Beach State Park
Wildwood Beach State Park

The sound was as peaceful as I’d ever seen it, almost glass like. The beach is dotted with huge boulders left behind from the ice age when Long Island was under a glacier. These boulders create a lot of visual interest, making it worth several visits to really work the various options. Since wave action was nonexistent, I decided to use a Vü Filters ND10 filter. This 10-stop ND filter allows me to get super long exposures, allowing me to smooth out the water and blur the movement of clouds. It was so peaceful, that using the long exposure accentuated the calm, allowing me to create images that really communicated the peace and solitude I was feeling at that moment.

If you’re interested in joining me for some photography, visit Worldwide Photo Tours to see what we have coming up.  Next September, we’ll be visiting some of my other favorite places on the east end of Long Island. Hope to see you there!

Wildwood State Park at dusk.
Wildwood State Park at dusk.

Using Filters In Photographing Water

Rodeo Beach at Sunset
Rodeo Beach at Sunset. A 3-stop, soft edged graduated neutral density filter was used to reduce the exposure for the sky and bring it more into range with the foreground exposure.

Several weeks ago, Vü Filters named me a Vü Visionary, one of the photographers who use Vü Filters in their work and whose work exemplifies what Vü hopes to bring to all photographers. I’m honored to have been named and am thrilled to help spread the word about these high quality filters.

I’ve been using drop-in filters for several years in my landscape photography, to help manage difficult exposure situations such as bright skies and dark foregrounds, or to help reduce exposure so I can achieve long exposures, even in bright daylight. I find the creative freedom that filters enable vital in capturing my vision in camera.  When I began using Vü Filters, I was impressed with quality of the system, and the color consistency from one filter to the next. I know exactly what I’m going to get and I don’t have to do any correction in post for a color cast created by the filters.

I’ve heard the various arguments against filters, from simulating effects in Photoshop, to blending multiple exposures, to using HDR in cases where the dynamic range of a scene is too broad. I’d rather not spend the time in post processing on blending images to fix exposure problems, and I’m simply not a fan of HDR. My current workflow from start to finish is generally only a few minutes per image, and for me, if an image takes much more than that, I’ll usually put it aside and rarely do I come back to it.

One of the first things I was asked to do for Vü Filters was to produce a series of webinars for their YouTube channel. The first of those is now available, and covers the ins and outs of photographing water, and how the use of filters can assist you in creating great images. I hope you’ll find them helpful, and look forward to producing more soon. Let me know what you think, and more importantly, what you’d like to learn!

Yosemite

Half Dome at sunset.
Half Dome at sunset as seen from Tunnel View through a long lens.

Since I first became interested in photography, Yosemite has been on my list of places to visit. I’ve now been there three times, for a total of about 10 days, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this incredible place.

My last time there, I had only a day and a half, as it was an unscheduled trip I made when I found I had some extra time on a business trip. Most people, when visiting, never get out of the Valley, the main area where many of the iconic features of Yosemite, such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls can be seen. It truly is breathtaking there. But on this last trip, while I didn’t get to locations outside the valley, such as Tuolumne Meadows, I did manage to visit some lesser known locations and get some amazing images.

I arrived in the afternoon on a Saturday and found myself a spot to photograph Half Dome over the Merced River. It’s a bit of a different angle than the more commonly seen ones and I was happy with the images. The next morning though, for sunsrise, I wanted to try and find a place I hadn’t been before.  I’d photographed sunrise from Valley View along the Merced River, from Cook’s Meadow, and from Glacier Point. This time, I decided I would make the mile hike in the dark to the top of Sentinel Dome and photograph from there.  While the hike in the dark was a bit unsettling since I’d never been there, I managed to find my way to the summit in a reasonable amount of time.  I was not disappointed.

View from the top of Sentinel Dome at sunrise.
View from the top of Sentinel Dome at Sunrise.

The sun rising over the Sierras is an incredible sight, and from Sentinel Dome, one of the highest elevations in Yosemite, it becomes even more incredible. The rocky top of Senitnel Dome features few trees, along with the withering husk of the jeffrey pine made famous by Ansel Adams long ago. I made several excellent images I was very happy with.

El Capitan viewed from Taft Point.
Half Dome at sunset as seen from Tunnel View through a long lens.

After that, I decided to hike the mile to Taft Point, another new location for me. It features an elevated view of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. A little nerve wracking due to the height of the point and the lack of any restraining wall or railings, but an incredible sight well worth photographing. I feel like it might make an excellent location at sunset also.

I finished the day with the classic location Tunnel View. While it’s often photographed, it is always stunning and worth a visit from any photographer. On this day we were treated to a show as a storm moved across the far end of the valley giving dramatic skies and colors.

If you’d like to join me on my next trip to Yosemite, I am leading the excursion for Worldwide Photo Tours in May. More information is available here.

Tunnel View
A storm moves across the far end of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.
El Capitan
El Capitan from along the Merced River, just after sunrise.
The Merced River
A view of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls

The Beauty of Acadia

Bass Harbor Head
Bass Harbor Head during a spring storm.

Ever since my first visit to Maine in 1999, I have been in love with the rugged coast. Acadia National Park is the embodiment of everything there is to love about New England, and I try to get there to photograph every few years. I always seem to find something new and never cease to be amazed by the show that nature puts on every day.  Whether it’s a gorgeous sunrise, a sunset that explodes with color, or storm that sets the Atlantic churning and pounding the rocky coast, exploding with sound at Thunder Hole.

My favorite spots are the cobblestone beaches.  There’s so much foreground interest, and when you catch it at the right time of day, the light on the rocks just glows. The waves from the water add a ton of interest, and the high cliffs create such drama. It’s an amazing place to photograph.

Below is a selection of images I’ve made over the past several visits to Acadia. This June, I will be leading a photo workshop to Acadia. I’ll be taking you to some of my favorite places, and together maybe we’ll find a few new ones. I’ll also be teaching some of my tried and true landscape photo techniques.  For more information, visit Worldwide Photo Tours Acadia Page.

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Little Hunters Beach at Sunrise
Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond at Dusk
Cadillac Mountain at Sunrise
Cadillac Mountain at sunrise.
Monument Cove
Monument Cove at sunrise.
Schoodic Point at Sunset
Schoodic Point at Sunset

Why I Shoot RAW

LIPG_RAW_ClassAs a photographer involved in not only selling my images, but also educating other photographers, I’ve often heard other photographers state unequivocally that their images are “straight out of the camera.” They generally follow this up with a statement that what the camera records is “the true image”, or it’s a “more realistic image”.  This is said for one of a few reasons. It could be that these photographers don’t understand exactly what it is the camera is doing, or they don’t understand how to process their images. Or it could just be that they don’t want to put the work in on the post processing side of things. Now, I don’t have a problem with that last reason. As the artist, it is your choice as to when you consider your work complete. I do, however, take issue with the insinuation that processing a RAW file is somehow untruthful, especially if there is no understanding of what the camera does to a file recorded as a JPEG- i.e. “straight out of the camera.”

Montauk Point Sunrise
Montauk Point Sunrise, December 2015

Without getting overly technical, when you set your camera to record JPEG files, you are telling the camera to make decisions about brightness, contrast, and color saturation, that are then baked into the final image. JPEGs are 8-bit files. What this means in practical purposes is that your camera will record 256 shades of grey for each color in the image, from bright white, to deep black. All tones in the image get squeezed into this range. By comparison, a 14-bit RAW file can support over 16,000 shades of grey for each color, making the tonality smoother and richer. For web display, you’ll end up at an 8-bit file anyway, because for display on the web you’ll be using JPEGs. But if you intend to print at all, you want to be able to start working with as much information as possible, which means working with the RAW file.

When you’re shooting JPEG files, you generally will select a picture style for your camera to use on the photos. These can include Standard, Landscape, Portrait, Neutral, Faithful, Flat, or some variation of those, depending on the brand of camera you’re using. When you select a certain picture style, you are telling the camera how to process the image. For instance, Landscape picture style will use more vibrant color and add more contrast to an image, while neutral will have more muted colors and less contrast. Standard is somewhere in between, with good vibrant color and contrast without being overblown. But the camera is making the decisions as to which colors to saturate and what tones are recorded. Generally speaking, the camera won’t record the scene as you saw it, because it simply cannot record enough tones (remember, only 256 shades) to adequately capture a sunset.

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Sunset Over the Icy Shores of Fire Island

Now all of that brings me to the RAW file. A RAW file, in the simplest explanation, is actually a pair of files. One file is a recording of each pixel’s brightness (one of over 16,000 shades).  The other part of the file is a data file that tells the RAW processing program, such as Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW, what color each pixel was, what the contrast should be (based on the camera’s picture style setting) and more. The beautiful thing about the RAW file is that all of the settings can be adjusted. You can adjust the white balance, either to correct your mistake, or for creative reasons. You can adjust contrast, individually adjust highlights, shadows, and individual colors to be more how you would like them to appear.  The brightness of the file can be adjusted. For instance, if for some reason you underexpose the file, you have the ability to increase the exposure by 4 to 5 stops in Lightroom. By the same token, if you slightly overexpose, you can pull back the exposure by the same 4 to 5 stops. And the beauty of all of these adjustments is that they can all be undone if you decide you want to start over. All editing on a RAW file is non-destructive. You can’t save over a RAW file unless you actively find the file and delete it from your computer. Think of it as a digital negative, if you recall what it’s like to shoot film. This kind of control allows me to get the image to look EXACTLY as I want it, whether I am trying to achieve an exact match of what I saw, or convey the feeling of what I saw, rather than a literal interpretation.

So, the point I am making, at the end of all of that, is that I shoot RAW because it gives me greater control over my final image. I don’t allow the camera to make the final decision on anything in the image. It can all be adjusted later when I process the file. Just my opinion, but if you really want to make the most of your images, you should be shooting RAW files and learning what’s possible in processing a RAW file.

If you’d like to learn how I work with RAW files, I will be teaching a class on Saturday, March 26th at 10am at the Long Island Photo Gallery in Islip, NY.  For more information, visit the Long Island Photo Gallery.

Taking A Second Look

Boston Skyline
This image of Boston viewed from Longfellow Bridge languished on a hard drive for three years while other images from that day garnered more attention from me. I finally edited and posted it this past weekend, and a print sold within three days.

Recently I had a free day to myself, and I found myself looking at images from past photo shoots.  I look through old images for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I may want to rework an image with a new processing technique I’ve learned. Sometimes I find that the processing I originally liked is no longer to my liking. Sometimes I just go back to see if there’s anything I may have missed.  That was the case last week.

Since I’ve started selling my images online (www.rickberk.com), I’ve found it’s hard to know what images will resonate with people, so I try to just judge my images on technical merits, and leave my personal feelings out of it.  Often, immediately after a shoot, I get so emotionally attached to one image or series of images that I fail to see other winning shots from other points during the session. That was the case with two shots from last week.

I was going through shots from August of 2009.  I traveled extensively back then for work, and often used the downtime to photograph the area I was in.  So in August 2009, I found myself in Boston and headed to Longfellow Bridge at sunset.  I got several great images that day, and was immediately drawn to several.  The image shown here was not one of them. For three years it languished on a hard drive, unseen by anyone except me the first time I went through them.  However, over the past year, my most sold images have been images I have taken of Boston.  So last week when I dove into the older files, I did so with the intent of finding more images of Boston that might sell.

Sand Harbor II
This image of Sand Harbor sat unseen on a hard drive for three years before I edited it and posted it on my website. Within 3 hours of posting it, it sold to a buyer from Ireland.

A few weeks after that Boston trip, I took a vacation to Northern California to visit a friend.  We traveled around NorCal (San Fran, Monterey, Yosemite), and also hit Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. One evening at sunset we went to Sand Harbor, which features some beautiful rock formations. I got quite attached to some images taken later at sunset, and immediately processed those.  Those images were problematic due to the high contrast of the scene, and took a bit of time in Photoshop to get to look right. Earlier in the evening I took an image of Sand Harbor from a slightly different angle. At the time, it didn’t strike me, for whatever reason. As I went back into the unedited files,  this image jumped out at me.  It didn’t take much editing- a quick contrast adjustment and color adjustment in Photoshop and I was done.  This “new” image really spoke to me.

I immediately uploaded the new images (along with some others) to my website and publicized them.  Within 3 hours, Sand Harbor sold a 20×30 on acrylic.  Three days later, a buyer ordered an 8×12 of the Boston Skyline, matted and framed.

Moral of the story:  It pays to go back and look at old images with a fresh eye, and more emotional separation between the artist and the heat of the moment of creation.  What resonates with you as the artist may not resonate with buyers, and vice versa.  By all means post the images you love.  But don’t hesitate to post images that, while there may be no emotional attachment, are certainly salable images.  Someone else may find an emotional attachment there.

A selection of my images is featured on this page as well: clouds photos