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Inspired by Artists in Zion National Park

In early November of each year, Zion National Park hosts a plein air festival.  This year, 24 invited painters, using watercolor, pastels, acrylics and oils set up their pochade boxes and french easels.  What a treat to see these artists working en plein air to capture the intimate and the grand of Zion.  Here’s a link to the Zion Natural History Association with many examples of artists at work.

This year I scheduled my Chase the Light Photography Workshop in Zion the week before the plein air festival.  This allowed me to hang out, camp, make art and attend the many free demonstrations by the Invitational artists. And I painted a bit too.

I have a list of favorite, inspiring painters.  Here are a few.

Suze Woolf has been drawing all her life. After an undergraduate degree at McGill University, she pursued fifth-year studies in art at the University of Washington.

An early adopter of computer graphics, her professional career included graphic design of printed materials and interface designs for commercial and prototype software.

In the last few years she has devoted herself to the watercolor medium. From traditional landscape sketches –she calls them her love letters to the planet — to large scale industrial subjects and the numbering systems on utility poles; she loves to bring attention to what people don’t usually notice.

She finds intense visual experience to capture everywhere she looks. Much of her subject matter shares a theme of human impact on the environment.

Suze says, “I’ve met my goal when I’ve transported the viewer into the world of the painting but that viewer remains aware my hand wielded the brush. The painting walks a line between invoking reality and a collection of brush strokes.”

More of her work can be seen at http://suzewoolf-fineart.com/

©Suze Woolf

©Suze Woolf

I really enjoy learning about art and artists, their inspiration and thoughts in the field and in the studio.  Here’s a blog entry by Suze Woolf, who was the 2013 Artist in Residence at North Cascades National Park (Stehekin). In the linked blog post she discusses and shows the reference photo and the painting.  It’s often about personal interpretation of the scene.  Not literal. Check it OUT.  And here is a link to Suze’s slide presentation while the Artist in Residence at Zion National Park in September of 2012.

Links to the Artists who participated in the Zion Invitational Plein Air Festival.

Roland Lee

Cody DeLong, also participated in the September 2014 Grand Canyon Plein Air Festival. 

Rachel Pettit, she did an inspiring demonstration of painting on-site in Zion.

Colors of Big Bend 18x24. Winner of a Purchase Award from Zion Lodge.

Colors of Big Bend 18×24. Winner of a Purchase Award from Zion Lodge.

Below the Narrows (Zion) 18x24. Cody DeLong

Below the Narrows (Zion) 18×24. Cody DeLong

Rachel Pettit is a favorite of mine.  She set up her canvas and demonstrated painting at the plein air festival in Zion National Park.

Rachel Pettit is a favorite of mine. She set up her canvas and demonstrated painting at the plein air festival in Zion National Park.

Rachel Pettit paints at Zion, November 2014.

Rachel Pettit paints at Zion, November 2014.

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I made the cover of RV West Magazine

Wow, how thrilling to receive the link for the Fall 2014 Edition of RV West Magazine and see they chose my life and art/photography workshops as the cover story.

Wow, that's my sweet ride on the cover of RV West Magazine.  Chasing Light and Adventure.  Click on photo to read the magazine online.

Wow, that’s my sweet ride on the cover of RV West Magazine. Chasing Light and Adventure. Click on photo to read the magazine online.

Last year RV West Magazine did a story about Chase the Light Adventures as part of their online issue, now the print edition features a story about my search for “unpeopled” landscape.  Thanks Jessica for a great article, I’m honored.

RV West Magazine link to article about Kit Frost.

 

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Learn to Edit your RAW files

Capture the best information

When I capture an image, at the location, I pre-visualize the post production.  I learned when studying Ansel Adams, the Weston Family and John Sexton.  In the camera, we capture the detail needed to create an interpretation of it later.  In the past, using film, I used the mantra “expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights”.

Digital cameras do a great job of recording a broader range of tones than black and white and color film, but it’s still important to remember that if you are lacking detail in the file, although not impossible, it’s harder to “get it” later.

My thinking process in the field runs something like this:

On location, in the camera

  1. Seduced by the light, I choose the proper lens for the composition.
  2. Many times my hot spot on the lens is somewhere around f16-22.  I like deep depth of field when the subject calls for it.
  3. Evaluate the highlights and see how much underexposure they will need. Clouds in particular need quite a bit of underexposure to hold detail.
  4. Let the shadows fall where they will.  Oftentimes the LCD view of the images will show and image that looks too dark and lacks shadow detail, but this is where digital captures really shine.

Upload and Process the RAW files.

In the LIGHTROOM, I still use the important technique of proper edit, exposure, development.  Mike Yamashita, a National Geo Photographer once told me that if I get any more than 4 good images on a roll of 36 exposures, my standards are too low.

Using Adobe Lightroom:

  • Import from SD or CF Card, add keywords, copyright, organize.
  • Run through the first edit for out of focus, overexposures, boring images. (x-mark for rejection). Be honest but not brutal.
  • Create Collections of my favorites from that photo adventure.
  • Begin using the Develop Mode.
  • In Develop Mode I open the panel (Command/Control D)and usually begin with exposure, white balance and contrast adjustments, saturation and clarity are also important.
  • These days I like the fine tuning available to me in the HSL Panel.  Sometimes when warming up and image the sky turns a bit aqua so HUE is the adjustment. Specific saturation is then applied to hues in the image, and I really like the ability to adjust LUMINANCE at will on individual colors.
  • Compare these adjustments to those we used to employ in the DARKROOM, like dodging, burning, edge burning, contrast filters, etc.
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Before edits, RAW. 1/8 second at f22, -1/3 EV

Canyon hiking, Zion National Park

After editing in Adobe Lightroom. I underexposed the image in the camera to hold detail in the highlighted sandy floor of the canyon. ©Kit Frost

As you can see from this example, the RAW file looks bad, boring, and dark in the shadows while overblown in the highlights.  But since I underexposed by 1/3 EV, the highlights maintained detail as I had planned.  I knew it “felt” like a warm subject, so I interpreted it with a bit of saturation, clarity, highlight recovery and added a vignette. I often use a vignette to create a subtle or not so subtle darkness at the top of the photo.

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Before Lightroom, 1/8 sec at f22, ISO 100, 1/3 Exposure Bias

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After Lightroom adjustments, warmed up the sky, Contrast, Opened up the shadows at the bottom, added a vignette.

In the case of stormy weather, the white balance tilts closer to cool.  And I tend to respond to warm tones better so I often adjust the white balance and tint accordingly.  Interpreting landscape to “feel” like it did to me at the capture is my constant challenge, and when I achieve it, my great joy.

Camera Settings:

  • Most of my photos are either under or overexposed to hold shadow or highlight detail. I use Aperture priority mode and the exposure bias button.
  • I use AUTO White Balance and if I need more warming or cooling, I use Lightroom’s develop mode.
  • In the camera menu I set the picture control to VIVID, this gives me a tad more saturation and contrast in my jpegs (choose high quality jpeg if you don’t care for post-production)
  • I prefer ISO 100 for large prints, but will sometimes photograph using higher ISO when I’m not pre-visualizing a print.
  • I photograph using RAW and normal jpeg
  • I edit the RAW capture using Adobe Lightroom

 

 

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Photography locations in the Southwest USA

This year I retired from my day job.  Don’t get me wrong, I work, it’s just no longer for “da man”.  Instead I continue to be the Director of Chase the Light Photography in Durango. I teach private and group photography lessons in my studio as well as on location. In the studio I teach digital camera instruction as well as Adobe Lightroom post production and digital video.  In the field, we have been out to photograph Fall Colors, Grand and Intimate Landscapes, Zion National Park.  I have made some personal excursions to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico and to the Valley of the Gods, Utah.

Inspiration is everywhere. Locations in the Southwest USA

Every fall I get the internal tug to “get out and stay out”.  During September you can find me teaching Aspen Photography lessons in the Mountains of Colorado. Here are a few examples of location photography near Ouray and Ridgway.

We stayed at Silver Jack Reservoir long enough for the storm to clear.  As the sun began to get lower in the sky it revealed moments of fall loved across the lake. ©Kit Frost

We stayed at Silver Jack Reservoir long enough for the storm to clear. As the sun began to get lower in the sky it revealed moments of fall loved across the lake. ©Kit Frost

Telluride. We all photographed while lunch was being prepared on our Fall Photography Workshop.  This image was taken while protecting the camera gear from the drizzle. ©Kit Frost

Telluride. We all photographed while lunch was being prepared on our Fall Photography Workshop. This image was taken while protecting the camera gear from the drizzle. ©Kit Frost

It rained so hard during the night that waterfalls I've never seen were flowing in Ouray.  Slow Shutter speeds and an umbrella make these images possible. ©Kit Frost

It rained so hard during the night that waterfalls I’ve never seen were flowing in Ouray. Slow Shutter speeds and an umbrella make these images possible. ©Kit Frost

In this lesson, students practiced looking through the warm aspen leaves into the cool landscape of the distant ridge. ©Kit Frost

In this lesson, students practiced looking through the warm aspen leaves into the cool landscape of the distant ridge. ©Kit Frost

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The assignment here is to experiment with including the forest floor for texture and color. ©Kit Frost

 

Location: Ghost Ranch

Abiquiu, New Mexico is home to amazing landscape, and known as the location for many of Georgia O’keeffe paintings and her home at Ghost Ranch.  While at

Ghost Ranch I felt like I was in an O’Keeffe painting.  I was gifted with a week of oil painting lessons, and while I explored the genre of painting, I also hiked, biked, and photographed.  Inspired by the land, seduced by the color and light, I can see why artists flock to New Mexico.

I was obsessed with making an image of these trees high up on the base of this sandstone cliff. ©Kit Frost

I was obsessed with making an image of these trees high up on the base of this sandstone cliff. ©Kit Frost

Pedernal dominates the background while cottonwoods reflect in a pond. ©Kit Frost

Pedernal dominates the background while cottonwoods reflect in a pond. ©Kit Frost

Juicy Cottonwood in Bloom along the Box Canyon Trail. ©Kit Frost

Juicy Cottonwood in Bloom along the Box Canyon Trail. ©Kit Frost

Another version of my passion for this light, subject and composition.  Along the Box Canyon Trail, Ghost Ranch. ©Kit Frost

Another version of my passion for this light, subject and composition. Along the Box Canyon Trail, Ghost Ranch. ©Kit Frost

Location: Zion National Park

From October 26 through November 8, I was in Zion National Park.  I love Zion.  Artistically as muse for me, the park is accessible, stunning and grand.  There are opportunities for easy, moderate and strenuous hikes.  The shuttle system is wonderful and as a tourist as well as artist, being able to hop off and on at will is great.  My only complaint is that during my visit I had to change campsites three times.  Their online reservation system is used by lots of folks and it takes time and effort to move that many times in one visit.  I will try to book my fall Zion travel early and get a single campground (there’s a 6 month reservation window).

As I was headed back to camp on the shuttle, I spied this clearing storm over the Patriarchs.  I underexposed dramatically to hold cloud detail and opened up the shadows in Lightroom

As I was headed back to camp on the shuttle, I spied this clearing storm over the Patriarchs. I jumped off the shuttle and made a bunch of images. I underexposed dramatically to hold cloud detail and opened up the shadows in Lightroom ©Kit Frost

Some of my favorite locations were challenging to photograph this year.  I prefer stormy skies to boring bluebird skies.  Changeable light is my favorite as is the intimacy of hiking and biking along the trails, stopping for image making.

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm. ©Kit Frost

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm. ©Kit Frost

While hiking in a off the beaten road location at Zion, we walked along a creek that had some "stuck" tree trunks.  Wow, what storms must have brought those through this wash. ©Kit Frost

While hiking off the beaten path at Zion, we walked along a creek that had some “stuck” tree trunks. Wow, what big storms must have brought those through this wash. ©Kit Frost

I like to work with quiet subjects like fall trees and leaves against sandstone. ©Kit Frost

I like to work with quiet subjects like fall trees and leaves against sandstone. While many of the trees in Zion did not display peak fall colors, a few had finished dropping their leaves. ©Kit Frost

Here’s a video sequence of some of my photos from Zion National Park, 2014.

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Our Zion Photography Workshop Images

This YouTube Video is a stellar view of the kind of imagery, landscapes and lessons we worked on while in Zion.  Tom Fulton, one of our Chase the Light Workshop participants and the creator of Memory Minder Productions posted this video.  WOW Tom, well done.

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A lone cloud captured at just the right moment. ©Tom Fulton

A lone cloud captured at just the right moment. ©Tom Fulton

Our Chase the Light Photography Workshop in Zion produced some really powerful images.  Participants practiced their skills in composition, exposure, and camera skills while photographing the Virgin River, the Towers of the Virgin, along the River Trail and reflections too.

I love the quiet moment of this image.  We working working with shutter speed priority and magical light on the Virgin River. ©Tom Fulton

I love the quiet moment of this image. We working working with shutter speed priority and magical light on the Virgin River. ©Tom Fulton

Using a panoramic setting, automatically pieces together this image taken along the Virgin River. ©Bob Rhea

Using a panoramic setting, automatically pieces together this image taken along the Virgin River. ©Bob Rhea

One of the lessons along the river was to choose the proper shutter speed and exposure to hold in the highlights in the scene.  In some cases it’s best to limit the amount of sky so the light meter in the camera doesn’t make the scene too dark.  I like to teach participants to under expose (-+) for the highlights and open up the shadows in post-production software like Adobe Lightroom.

Isolating the subject.  By selecting a few important elements of the scene for inclusion, clutter is limited, and the photo feels "painterly". ©Bob Rhea

Isolating the subject. By selecting a few important elements of the scene for inclusion, clutter is limited, and the photo feels “painterly”. ©Bob Rhea

As we walked along the Riverwalk, we were able to enjoy some quiet moments.  Here, the composition and color is stunning.  I like to teach to eliminate parts of the composition as a painter would do while composing on the canvas.

The day we drove up to the Kolob Terrace, the sky was hazy, so we stopped and made some images along the road.

Using a vertical panoramic setting allows us to follow the sharp turn in the road. ©Bob Rhea

Using a vertical panoramic setting allows us to follow the sharp turn in the road. ©Bob Rhea

Join us next year, late October 2015, for another round of Grand, Intimate and Colorful Zion Landscape Photography lessons.  Stay tuned.