Archive for the 'Nature' Category

Five Essential Elements to Mastering Photography:

This is an article I was originally asked to write for Professional Photographer Magazine, a good read – The problem was that editing department hacked it up so badly that it was barley even my words anymore. Such is life, but I opted to not have it published. Below is the full version of the article with a few extras since I didn’t have a word limit here. Enjoy – Gavin Seim


I’m going to share a few things that can fundamentally change how we make images. NONE of them are new –  Sometimes it seems we arrived at digital and left behind a hundred and fifty years of photographic knowledge. I spend a lot of time studying classic techniques. Why? Because it’s not new – It’s time tested. It works. In this digital age we can get so caught up in gadgets, software and tools that we neglect how to make images beautiful from the start. I’m from the digital generation – So while I fully relate, I’ve learned to stop looking for buttons and start looking for light.

1. The Tones:

Ken Whitmire once taught me that “Tone” may be the least understood and least utilized factor in composing and finishing images.” He was right. With digital it’s easy to think “that’s easy”. But as a lover of film and digital, I’ve learned they’re not so different. A great photograph is light and shadows – We must see in terms of tone and how it relates to what we want to capture. Exposure, burning, dodging, finishing  – Proper use of tone can literally take the viewer anywhere we want them to go. Now that’s power.

Ken Whitmire on the Oregon coast – I photographed this portrait of him while he was photographing a family. The Tone is essential here. Control of the dynamic range while retaining rich blacks gives balance to the scene.

2. The Zones:

The Zone Scale – A representation from black to white in one stop increments. The language of light.

I’ve been trying to decide how to discuss Ansel Adam’s Zone System in few words. Zones may be the most neglected tool in photography today. They offer a core to how we communicate and photograph light. Zones are not just for film or black and white. Once you truly understand them you never see the same again. The Zone System is broad reaching. But it’s core is the beautify simple Zone Scale, a representation from black to white. Combine Zones with a simple understanding of metering and there is no over, or under exposure. There’s only your exposure. Your intent. I can’t explain it all here, but there’s a free video covering the basics that I posted over at It’s an excerpt from my EXposed series and will get you started. Don’t ignore Zones because they will change your photography. You can also read my article on using Zones here.

Lost Oasis – I was using large format film here and took advantage of camera movements. Line, tone, space and position were all critical and while in retrospect there’s things I could have improved, taking my time paid off. I took in the full tonal range from black (Zone 0) to just shy of clipping (Zone 10). More on this image here.

The Zone System – Here is an exposure sequence metered on the highlights from Zone 1 to Zone 9. More on this in the Zone System discussions on my site.

3. Space, Position, Line:

Ken Whitemire, the pioneer and master of the wall portrait, showed me the value of tones in relation to space, position and line. He has an amazing lecture he gives about this at the Wall Portrait Conference each year – Essentially we need to think about the aesthetics of our image. For this reason I love studying masters like Bierstadt, Sargent and others. We must start by truly seeing our scenes. Think about the subject. How lines lead. Where are they positioned? Why? Is anything distracting? Should it be lighter, darker? Really – Truly – See!

Morgan’s Song – I had a lot of things happening in this riverside portrait. Controlling the aspects of the scene, the position and the tone allowed me to show a beautiful scene while still keeping the viewers eyes on Morgan.

4. Visualize – Again:

Are you really “seeing” in the minds eye? It’s easy to let this slide in an age of instant previews and post production fixes. But nothing replaces visualizing. Ansel reminds us that “The whole key lies very specifically in seeing it in the mind’s eye”. Regardless of our subject, we must stop, if only for a moment. See what’s in front the lens and decide what the subject needs. Then use space, position, line and tone to make that happen.

This was my turning point in visualizing. I used 4×5 film for this wall portrait that we printed at 40 inches. I needed to keep away the distractions in the space. I only used one frame of color film, but I took a breath first. I truly saw the portrait in my mind before I released the shutter. I’ve added a zone scale for the purpose of tone study.

 5. Finishing:

The image is captured. Win lose or draw we’ve done it. I’ve learned that slowing down throughout the entire process makes me a far better craftsman. That includes finishing. It’s easy to raise the bar in post if we stop worrying about making countless “decent” images and start thinking about how to take the “best” and make them sing. Fulfill that visualization, right up until the print is on the wall. That is mastering the photograph.

Until next time… Gavin Seim

This image was a PPA Loan Collection print in 2011. It’s actually a tone-mapped piece, but more importantly, it had careful attention to detail. Focus on line, tone values and finishing made it work. Planning and execution.

Pro Photo Podcast #89 – Christmas 2012 & The 33 Tips of Christmas

Gavin is hitting the road again for an early 2013 tour. Visit his website for details. More travel talk in the after show.

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Direct Podcast FeediTunesPodcast Alley

Today’s Panel... Gavin Seim Nina BeheimKerry GarrisonBrady DillsworthMark TeskeyJohn Cornforth

We wrap up 2012 with our annual Christmas roundtable featuring loads of photography tips and gear favorite gear and gadgets of the season. Join the discussion on the PPS forums.

Brought to you by the Seim Effects. And the EXposed Photography Workshop.

Use code: PPSCHRISTMAS to save $30.00 on EXposed before Dec 31st.

PPS #89 Forum Discussion HERE. Share Your Opinions.

Main Time Indexes:

  • 000:00 Introductions.
  • 005:30 – News Highlights
  • 023:45 – The 33 Tips of Christmas
  • 01:12:05 – A Visit with John Cornforth
  • 1:23:55 –  Picks of the Year
  • 1:59:30 – After Show. Sailing & More.


Nikon D5200 looks good. Also the Nikon D600.

The wall portrait article.


Lytro Light Field Camera

Sony NEX Series

Sigmas 35mm 1.4.

Zone System
Gavin’s articleFree videos.
Crash Plan Backup

Film is Coming Back.

Gavin’s article on signature and branding usage.


Sticky Filters Lighting Gels
Tripad Laptop Tripod Tether TableDojo Review

Continue reading ‘Pro Photo Podcast #89 – Christmas 2012 & The 33 Tips of Christmas’

Mobile Cameras vs Real Cameras & Why it’s Not Even Close – w/Examples


Winter’s End – Taken a few minutes apart. The mobile image  lacks any fine detail up close and fine detail is totally lost in that pasty look that is common of low end cameras and lenses. The film scan however holds up well. See complete image details here on Gavin’s journal. More examples below.

by Gavin Seim: When I was starting out you we’re not even regarded as a respectable portrait photographer unless you used at least medium format. How things have changed. But this mobile photography for the sake of it is a passing fad.

The camera in your iPhone costs about ten dollars to make – Now I was browsing Facebook the other day I found the above reference photo I posted while on our Spring 2012 tour. I remembered that morning, the light on the trees and how my 4 year old son rode with me to greet the sunrise. It was a good memory. But next I compared it as a photographer to the final print version of Winter’s End. That promoted me to compare others, from both film and digital, comparing them to their mobile counterparts.

A great image is more than the sum of it’s tech specs – But when those details are far below the sum of it’s artistic merit, it brings down the entire work.

What was really illustrated was the vast difference between a point and shoot image and a quality photograph. Even I had not realized how poor the quality was. The phone photo is a good reference and helped me plan and log I wanted to produce. It was also fun travel memory and some might say it was “good enough”. But I’ve learned that “good enough” is not how we produce great images to stand out in today’s market.

I see more and more people acting as if phones are serious cameras. Sometimes even touting it as something special. This bothers me because a low grade camera is not a feature of your art (and make no mistake, your phone camera is low grade). It’s true that gear does not make a photographer. But low image quality can make even the most accomplished photographer look like an amateur. Comparing a phone snap to a professional level camera is a bit like comparing a Prius to a dragster.

Continue reading ‘Mobile Cameras vs Real Cameras & Why it’s Not Even Close – w/Examples’


by Ansel Adams – Tom Kobayashi at Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar, California, 1943. Follow the image link for more and some nice direct scans vs print scans.

by Gavin Seim: Ansel is one of my favorite pictorialists, though he did some beautiful portraits as well (check out this link for some cool ones you may not have seen before). I go on binges of searching, perusing books and trying to find overlooked snippets that offer ideas to refine my work. I was up around 2AM recently doing this and I stumbled across a little gem I had not seen before. The final interview of Ansel Adams by Milton Estrerow.
<<<<< >>>>>
“Two months ago, I spent two afternoons interviewing Ansel Adams at his home in Carmel, California. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. He was warm, brilliant, imaginative, sensitive, funny. We talked about everything from music to Georgia O’Keeffe to the glories of Point Lobos to how to unload my camera. I had planned to return to Carmel for further sessions, but he died on April 22. Following are excerpts from his last interview.
Summer 1984

Who among contemporary photographers do you admire?

I like Joel Meyerowitz for color. I think he has superior color sense. Mary Ellen Mark is tremendous. The trouble is that a great deal of new photography seems sort of experimental, without any great motive. I feel very bleak about a lot of it. So many don’t care about craft. I like Olivia Parker. Don Worth is good, and Nicholas Nixon. George Tice is very subtle. Bill Clift, yes, he’s something. Roy DeCarava is very important…

Continue reading here…

EXposed Videos Will Having You Seeing Light Like Never Before.

It seems the months of work were worth it. It’s finished and the new EXPosed series is  now available as a download or a DVD. It’s like no workshop you’ve seen and it can take your photography to a whole new level. But rather than listen to us chatter on, just take a peek at the trailer. EXposed is as good as it looks and it’s finally available. Don’t forget to use code PPS when you pick up your copy. It will save you 15%.

EXposed – The Light Workshop

Pro Photo Podcast #83 – History & Essentials.

First flight, 120 feet in 12 seconds – 1903. Link to high res scan details from LOC.

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Direct Podcast FeediTunesPodcast Alley

Today’s Panel... Gavin Seim (G Pixel).

Today Gavin leads us through a brief look at photographic history. He talks a bit about how classical art can help us as photographers and finishes with a look at essential concepts that will make us better at our work.

Podcast #83 forum discussions:

Main Time Indexes:

  • 00:00. News and project updates.
  • 11:30. Art and a Photographic History.
  • 43:26. Essential photo ingredients.
  •  1:04:10. In practice. A study example.
  • 1:14:52. Picks of the show.

46x34, Portrait of Nicolas Ruts. Rembrandt, 1631. It seems that even 300+ years ago, a wall portrait was a thing of note. Look at the quality of this work. Click for a larger version. Even the catch lights look perfect.


Links to things we mentioned…


Getting beyond the digital file.

Nikon D800 36MP. Big step.

Canon 5D MK3 is no longer a rumor.

EXposed video workshop coming soon.

Lights and Shadows Photo Workshop coming Fall in Central WA.

Continue reading ‘Pro Photo Podcast #83 – History & Essentials.’