Finding Favorites in Color: Blue #2

Nighttime on Independence Creek, by Jerod Foster

It was nighttime. It was windy. It was cold. And I was perched on a cliffside with my legs wrapped around a tripod, camera and lens mounted on top. That’s the set up.

Like the previous shot in this series, Blue #2 was made while leading my annual Junction Intersession Photography course. I’m fortunate to take students to some of the most beautiful spots of Texas, and although students get to see many of them for the first–and sometimes only–time in their lives, I’m always looking for the new in the well-visited. This just happened to be the case at Independence Creek Preserve, a jewel of The Nature Conservancy. If I count right, I have visited the preserve eight times and spent 21 days on the sprawling Chihuahuan desert plateaus and canyons. Needless to say, having visited so often, I’m always looking for something new to shoot and represent a bit of the place.

This night saw the students and I light painting a gazebo against a sky that just wouldn’t let the stars shine through. Not wanting to completely pack up, the students decided to shoot long exposures of the building with the clouds floating overhead, and who am I to keep them from doing so? After getting them set up, I noticed the moon’s reflections shining brightly on Independence Creek, the creek that provides the bulk of the water to the lower Pecos River. So, I walked down the bluff on which the gazebo sits, along with a couple other students, and set up to shoot.

Did I mention earlier it was nighttime? After dialing in exposure and taking a few test shots, I noticed  the color cast on the images was pretty warm. Too warm, in my opinion, for a shot that is supposed to not only convey good content and composition, but also depict the night landscape in a more revealing context.  Therefore, I changed my white balance from Daylight to Tungsten. Under color correcting circumstances, I use Tungsten white balance (somewhat sparingly because of its strong effect on color) to mitigate the orange color cast of incandescent bulbs casting ambient light. However, switching to Tungsten white balance isn’t exactly what we would consider “color correction” in landscape photography. It does, though, come in handy when you want to stress nighttime as a time of day.

Unlike the previous post, where the blue-ness was not caused by changing the white balance and explained a certain emotional appeal to the shot, the shot above mechanically establishes time in which the shot was made. A sense of place is almost always tied to a time, be it a certain hour of the day, year, or era. By shooting this and subsequent shots in Tungsten white balance, where the blue color cast overrides the scene, my hope was to convey the time of day. It feels like nighttime because of the blue. There’s no lying here, no thought manipulation. Rather, a truer sense of the context was provided at the same time an aesthetic benefit was added to the image. I often do this with lightning shots as well, where the blue-ness of a bolt seems more electric than an orange-tinged alternative.

Again, this shot was all about context, and a simple, yet fairly drastic, shift in color did it for me. It might not work for cityscapes, but it did here. Some advice, don’t get too locked in with the camera settings and your mind set. Keep in mind that even before we see the image on our computer in a post-processing scenario, we have a great deal of control over its aesthetic.  Experiment, shoot in raw, and above all, bring that storytelling perspective along with the technology you have in front of you!

Perched Atop

Photo by David Vaughn

TECHNIQUE BONUS: I mentioned it was windy. Well, it was real windy! On these bluffs, gusts could be 30-50 mph! I was shooting straight into the wind as well. Even though the camera was on a tripod, the wind was still too powerful for long exposures (up to 30 seconds). Tack on a telephoto lens (in this case, a 70-200mm f/2.8 L), which is about as wind resistant as a Peterbilt, and you have some stabilization issues. What to do? Sit on the tripod. Yep, you read correctly. Lower your tripod, wrap your two legs around the tripod’s three, and sit down. I’m not sure I would try this with my carbon fibers, but a great set of Manfrotto aluminum sticks work just fine for the…perching. It’s all about adding weight for stabilization. You can see in the image above that I also took the lens hood off of the lens, reducing even more drag and shake. I’m surprised my hat stayed on!

This is #2 of a small series on some of my favorite shots from my latest book, Color, A Photographer’s Guide to Directing the Eye, Creating Visual Depth, and Conveying Emotion. The book is available from many great folks, including PeachpitAmazonBarnes & Noble, and your local book retailer. Check back for more in the series!

Finding Favorites in Color: Blue #1

Blue Tree in Utopia, by Jerod Foster

When it comes to landscapes, I honestly don’t find many blue shots in my portfolio. I noticed this in May when I made a couple of shots in which blue was the primary color (one above on the right, the other coming in a future post). We have very dramatic sunsets in West Texas, and blue is often the least dominant color (as it is when compared to other colors) in a grand show of the sky. Blue, however, is one of my favorite colors, and it says quite a bit when used in large doses.

The pair of images above were shot in a hayfield 50 yards from the beautiful Sabinal River in Utopia, Texas. That’s right, we have a Utopia and Paradise in this state. On this particular stretch of the river, I would usually find myself on or in the water, shooting among the bald cypress trees and calm flow of clear water. However, the current drought conditions of the entire area has left the river low, and the often-angelic light hitting the trees in the evening was shrouded by a dense layer of low cloud cover. So, I made a few shots near the water and made my way up the hill a bit to the rather lush crop of haygrazer.

The haygrazer in May was about waist-high, and its rich green was inviting. However, the cloud cover kept an abundance of green from reaching the eye, and instead, I was intrigued by the blue-ness of the scene. Blue, as opposed to some popular insight, is a pretty weak color. Weak in that it is one of the least advancing colors on the eye–it doesn’t attack the eye and brain like red does–and it is often associated emotionally and symbolically with the passive or intellectual instead of the bravado and aggressive. It is also a rather melancholy color–the blues genre of music wasn’t named so for no reason–and the blue I was seeing as a result of the cloud cover in what is usually a fairly bright, glowing, hot part of the Texas Hill Country was fairly fitting at the moment.

So, I started out hand-holding a 17-35mm f/2.8L on a Canon 5D Mk III, shooting vertically and using the long blades of haygrazer lead the eye to the lone pecan tree. I loved the color and the lines, and they sky was right on the money without any filtration. I was shooting at 1/13 of a second, about as slow as I can go with the lens at 17mm. The wind, however, would move the blades of grass around violently every 20 seconds or so, and every other shot I was making exhibited a bit of that movement. Needing to capitalize on that movement, I ran to get a tripod. The next several shots were made at shutter speeds ranging from one (1) second to five (5) seconds. The image on the right above was shot at 2.5 seconds. I like the swaying of the blades in this shot compared to the still blades of the one on the left. The color blue does its job of setting the mood, and the movement of the crop provides a bit of dynamic and immersion in the environment.

All in all, I made about 20 shots and then packed it up. I was pleasantly surprised by unexpected weather conditions and made a blue shot for the portfolio. Feeling the environment out is key to finding shots like this, and many times, feeling is about the combination of many things, of them weather, environmental conditions, and subtle (and not so subtle) coloration.

This is #1 of a small series on some of my favorite shots from my latest book, Color, A Photographer’s Guide to Directing the Eye, Creating Visual Depth, and Conveying Emotion. The book is available from many great folks, including Peachpit, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local book retailer. Check back for more in the series!

New Book on Seeing and Shooting Great Color


It’s out! My newest book with the great folks at Peachpit is now shipping! Color, A Photographer’s Guide to Directing the Eye, Creating Visual Depth, and Conveying Emotion (a good mouthful) is all about seeing and shooting great color that helps express mood, atmosphere, and story. The book is chock full of colorful images (over 200 of them) to help illustrate not only physical characteristics of color, but also how color touches us emotionally and culturally. The overall emphasis is color for photographers, and a great deal of the book is also spent discussing how we as photographers also affect and create color to make our images emotionally powerful and engaging.

This book started as my previous two did: as part of a conversation I had with Ted Waitt, one of the great editors at Peachpit. In fact, the beginnings of this book came over a breakfast chat at Photoshop World last fall when we first discussed the Sony NEX-6 book. We both wanted to create a book that combined the intellectual discussion on color with the photographer’s practical use for it. After visiting later a few more times about it, and bringing in my awesome and ever-patient editor Susan Rimerman, we ironed out a concept that touches upon color in three different areas for the beginning and avid photographer.

The first section of the book discusses color as a powerful way telling story and seeing the world around us. Like music, color is a universal language that both binds societies and cultures, but also is nuances along many objective and subjective lines. This section highlights the importance of recognizing the power in color, as well the importance of understanding how we actually, physically see color–the importance of the science (and physiology) behind it.

Moonrise over Pastel Sky, by Jerod Foster

The second section practically discusses color theory and how photographers can put to use the physically engaging qualities of color. One of my concerns with writing about color theory was regurgitating dense and nebulous discussion (it is theory, after all) about the color wheel, and while it is certainly covered, my goal with this section was to identify how information in color theory can be smartly used in our photographs. I am a strong believer that a firm and practical understanding of some theory comes in handy, especially when developing the photographer’s eye.

Independence Creek Under Full Moon, by Jerod Foster

The third section focuses on the subjective meaning of color and how to technically achieve great color in our actions as photographers. A rather large chapter in the book highlights several popular, foundational colors that what they typically mean on a grand scale, followed by a chapter on culture and color. So much of what color is is emotion and identification, and these two chapters look at both areas from the perspective of someone that needs to tell a story with their images.

Music and Ice Cream, by Jerod Foster

This third section also includes several chapters on shooting color and creating, or at least noticing, its emotional appeal and storytelling value. The last four chapters of the book highlight environmental and photographic conditions for great color, affecting color while shooting (think camera adjustments, artificial light, etc.), best practices before and after the shutter clicks to garner the most color possible, and finally, the significance of black and white photography in a colorful world (I couldn’t just let black and white be unmentioned).

Tia and Church, by Jerod Foster

As opposed to other books on color (some of which are great texts on color theory and aesthetic criticism), this book screams photography, photography, photography! I wanted to make a book that was immediately useful for the learning and learned photographer. It runs the gamut of photography, from landscapes and nature imagery, to photojournalistically being aware of color whilst documenting activity, to working in a more posed, studio-like environment. In the end, the book is about seeing great color before the snap, making sure the capture is completed with a mind for maintaining color, and seeing it through to the final visual.

I really hope you enjoy the book! I had a great team with me on its production, and I can’t thank the very fine folks over at Peachpit enough for letting me work with them so much over the past couple of years. I’m honored to be among their authors and and a part of many folks’ libraries.

Speaking of which, seeing as we’re closing in on the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States, I must mention that Peachpit is holding a huge Black Friday Sale, and you can find Color and other great titles at a discount (just click on Photography)! On top of that, I’m giving away two signed copies of Color to two folks who spread the good word about its release! Share this link on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ (mention me in your post or use #colorbook in your tweet or FB message, otherwise I won’t know who to enter), and at the end of the week, my two-year-old randomly will draw two winning names from her winter beanie.


EXTRA, EXTRA! If you’re a regular to my blog, you’ve noticed that I haven’t been posting as much as I used to in the past. I’m happy to explain why in another post, but that’s all about to change. For starters, over the next month, I’m going to be posting a series of some of my favorite images from the book with a detailed explanation of their origination and their colorful significance! Check back for more!

September Desktop Calendar: Moon and Color

I can’t believe it’s been nearly three weeks since my last post, but the absence has certainly been warranted. Work is steady, the visual subject matter certainly hasn’t lacked any interest, and I’ve been staring at a computer screen so much over the past three months that I’m probably going to need to visit an optometrist (dealer of bad information for photographers)!

Nevertheless, the new month must push on, and with it comes a new look. I made this image in January, but to me, it says more about the color in the sky during the autumn months. I love the graduated shift in color as you move from the bottom of the frame to the top. The moon gives it a “cherry on top” appeal. I’m not normally one for shooting just the sky and no ground, but these colors were pleasantly appealing and certainly acknowledging of the natural beauty we’re blessed with quite a bit in West Texas.

Feel free to download as many as you need. Right click the link, and open it up in a new browser for a more efficient way of saving the file to your computer:

Large: 2400 X 1600 pixels

Laptop: 1440 X 960 pixels

iPad: 1024 X 1024 pixels

iPhone: 960 X 640 pixels

September Desktop Calendar: A Rocky Mountain Sunset

In West Texas, we get several nice (visually explosive) sunsets a year. We have A LOT of flat land and plenty of sky to put in a frame. I cut my serious photographic teeth chasing down evening storms and morning clouds in West Texas, and I’ve heard many photographers speak of how this part of the country offers some of the best light and atmospheric color in the world. I’ll have to agree…

I get equally excited to see such prominence in the sky elsewhere, such as this shot from Rocky Mountain National Park. It was actually my first visit to the park, and while the weather was quite inclement for a lot of early evening shooting, when that sun got below the clouds on the horizon, the sky lit up! This nice shower turned into a behemoth of structure above the peaks!

Feel free to download the appropriate calendar size below!

Large: 2400 X 1600

Laptop: 1440 X 960

iPad: 1024 X 768

iPhone: 960 X 640

Impressionism Influenced and West Texas Skies

Rolando Gomez from Lens Diaries wrote at the beginning of this month about the significance Rembrandt lighting for portraits, from the classics all the way up to today’s digitally rendered photographs. His post reminded me of my recent trip to the Denver Art Museum and its collection of impressionist art from the likes of Picasso and Monet (I didn’t see any van Gogh in the museum). I would like to echo Mr. Gomez in saying that paying close attention to how other art forms, classic forms of visual creation in particular, can lead to a very acute eye for form, light, and character in the photographic world.

Take for example the two images provided in this post. West Texas skies are often compared to paintings from a day gone by, and while I have talked to artists that are inspired by the skies, others can relate the skies themselves to other works. The two images included here reminded me of those impressionist-era paintings I saw in Denver. The camera cannot physically provide the rise and pits of the brush strokes you see in this type of painting, however, the colors and the texture provided by depth and contrast are likened to the tangibility offered through the earlier artists’ creations.

Then again, the camera was never designed (at least at conception) to produce the type of three-dimensional feel that Monet did with his harsh strokes and extremely visible globs of paint on the canvases. What the camera does do, however, is allow us to capture those environments and experiences that often remind us of such artistic feel. The broad-brush clouds and the faint grasslands and the pastel-like colors both images reckon toward a 19th-century oil painting in said style. You can even imagine the distant town in the first image as small dots of white raised from the visual plane.

Recognizing and embracing historical art and art styles raises your awareness of similar occurrences in your own work. While a camera can’t quite offer what early impressionists did in the way of actual, physical touch, there are certain things that impressionism did not do in an equally artistically limiting way that our modern-day digital cameras bring to the table. However, there is a visual foundation that transcends all forms of art, and this foundation, whatever it is, is left up to the creator to find and draw from.

Free Desktop Calendar for April – Spring-time!

I’m a little early with this one (just to make up for how late I have been with the past three). Just click on the shot, and download it to your desktop for your day-keeping pleasure!

It’s been a treat walking to the Texas Tech office during the mornings and seeing all the Bradford Pears blooming. I don’t know about any of you, but I’m pretty tired of what has been this winter (up and down, up and down). Here’s to a happy April, and a pleasant and photographically productive Spring!