2016 has been quite the busy year for me. If you haven’t heard (or noticed) already, I launched my newest project, The Art of Seeing, in September. It will be the new home of my blog, workshops, contests, pic of the day, and more. You can still look through my galleries on this site, but for any updated content, take a look at The Art of Seeing!
Thanks for tuning in and I hope you’ll check it out.
“This is India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition…” —Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897
India is beautiful. And complicated. And beautiful. Oh, I said that.
My first trip to India yielded an amazing adventure, a handful of photographs I am proud of and some questions. A lot of questions. I’ll be back next year, March 2017, with a small group of photographers looking for answers. Or maybe just asking more questions. I invite you to join us. The dates and itinerary are still being finalized but if you think you might be interested, please contact me and I will make sure to keep you updated. In the meantime, you can see some of my favorite images from this incredible experience in my India gallery
Track and photograph wild mustangs on foot and horseback!
I am very excited announce that I will be the photography instructor for a unique adventure offered by Rock Creek Pack Station (Bishop, CA). For four days this spring, we will hike and ride through the remote and seldom visited Adobe Valley area of the Inyo National Forest seeking opportunities to observe and photograph the wild mustangs that call this rugged territory home. RCPS’ expert tracker/guides will educate us in the natural history and behavior of these icons of the American west. Photography instruction will be a combination of lecture/demonstrations, image critiques and in the field coaching. With any luck our cameras will capture galloping mustangs, battling stallions and mares with their newborn foals!
Nestled between two major mountain ranges, the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains, the Adobe Valley is a unique haven for these magnificent creatures. With such stunning backdrops it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque locale for this exciting experience.
May 13-16, 2016
Cost $875 per person including meals, tent lodging, pack/riding stock, guides and photography instruction.
For more information or to register for this event, please visit the RCPS Mustang Trips page or call 760-872-8331
When watching sunrises and sunsets is part of your job description, it’s easy to forget the fact you are witnessing a minor miracle a couple of times a day. You tend to get, well, jaded might be too strong a word but let’s call it a connoisseur’s disdain for the unexceptional. But Mother Nature has a way of reminding you that you are in the presence of the Master. Case in point, I was walking along the Owens river one fall evening hoping for a ‘decent’ sunset to photograph. It wasn’t looking too promising as a rapidly thickening blanket of clouds threatened to cancel the event altogether. In the race between the gathering clouds and the setting sun, it looked like the clouds were going to claim the prize. “Looks like it’s going to be a bust,” I thought but decided to stick it out anyways. As the sun sank to meet the peaks of the eastern Sierra, a golden glow illuminated the entire valley. There was an amazing quality to the light that I’ve only rarely experienced. It felt like the light wasn’t emanating from the setting sun as much as from the air all around me. Then, the sky exploded.
Although I was alone, I’m pretty sure I said “this is unreal” out loud more than once. Then I bent down over the tripod and got to work. I’ve been to this rodeo enough times to know that staying calm is part of the secret to success so I tried my best to adopt a zen attitude. Breathe. Focus. Breathe. Focus. I ‘worked the scene’ as best as I could trying various compositions and camera settings, only pausing occasionally to let out a quiet “oh wow.” I think I clicked off a few dozen frames before I knew that the moment had passed. As the light faded, I stopped shooting and watched the final act in grateful appreciation. This, I thought, is why I do this.
It happened again. There must be some truth to the saying, “great minds think alike” because so often more than one person submits the best title (in my opinion) for one of my Name This Image contests. This time both Michael Hurley and Courtney Watkins chose “Into the Mystic” as their title for this photo of early morning rays breaking
through patchy fog in the Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area just east of Santa Ynez, CA. Aside from the fact that I have a particular fondness for the Van Morrison tune of the same name, I think it’s the perfect title for this image. It just works – don’t you agree?
As I said, this happens (multiple winning entries) often enough that I normally award the prize of a signed print only to the first winning entry. In this case, however, because of how this contest was conducted (paper entries vs web), I have no idea who submitted their entry first. So I think it’s only fair that both winners receive the prize. So congratulations Michael and Courtney and thanks for a great title!
My thanks also go out to everyone else who entered – there were lots of great submissions. The next contest will be announced very soon so you will have more chances to win in the near future. If you want to be sure that you don’t miss the announcement, subscribe to my Updates on the home page of this site
It’s contest time again… with a twist this time. Click here for the entry form and all of the details.
I’m doing something a little different this month to wrap up the year. This image may be less ‘serious’ (whatever that means) than some of my other work but you can’t deny that it’s in keeping with the season! I hope it brings a little smile your face. As an added bonus, the winner of this month’s contest will receive their choice of any one of my limited edition prints.
The 3 amigos from left to right are Spike, Rocky & Midnight. I took this a couple years back at our house in Steamboat Springs, CO. We got tired of tossing out a dead tree after every Christmas so we decided to decorate this spruce in our yard instead. I think it worked out quite nicely!
Jim Kerr of Steamboat Springs, CO is the winner of November’s Name This Image contest. I think Jim’s entry, “Water Colors”, is the perfect title for this photograph. Simple, elegant, artful…I love it! Congratualtions, Jim – you win a signed limited edition print of Water Colors.
Many thanks to everyone who particpated, there were so many great entries! Honorable mentions go out to:
“Rainboats” – Phil Regas
“Rowboat Reflections” – Susan Kienzle
“Dock of the Bay” – Haissel Neira
To those who didn’t win, don’t worry – you will have many more chances. I’ve decided to hold this contest monthly. Keep an eye on your Inbox or this website for the December contest announcement.
Palm trees, wine grapes, a perfect sunset in the making. The only thing missing is Don Henley singing, “welcome to the Hotel California…” in the background. Maybe it’s just me but whenever I look at this picture, I think it epitomizes a certain stereotype of the California lifestyle. Or maybe it’s because I was standing in shorts I took this photograph with November just round the corner. What do you think?
Doesn’t this door just look like an enchanted portal to a magical realm? OK…maybe I just have an active imagination. Well, I discovered this passageway at Rancho Sisquoc winery in northern Santa Barbara county one late afternoon recently and it definitely drew me in. The cobalt blue door, the red and green vines, the warm dappled sunlight. It was obvious that the ingredients for an image were present, it was a matter of arranging the elements. I tried a few different compositions and this is the one that felt the most right. There’s a lot more photographs to be made on the grounds of this picturesque winery. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but a gorgeous drive especially in the Winter and early Spring when the rolling hills on the way are vivid green. If you go, say hi to Becky and Alex in the tasting room and don’t miss their River Red blend. Delicious.
I had to do it. After running across that field of squash & pumpkins I posted last week, I kept thinking how great a a bunch of real Halloween pumpkins would look bathed in that warm sunset light. Well, I finally found my perfect patch just outside of Solvang, CA thanks to Chelsey, the owner of Valley Grind, the best coffee shop in Santa Ynez and my sometimes unofficial office. A wide open field with nothing blocking the western sky but some low hills in the distance. I got there as the sun sank below the horizon. Soft orange sunset light illuminating orange pumpkins, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. There were plenty of keepers but this was my pick of the bunch. Maybe because it’s so close to the picture I had in my head. This is another example of the glowing quality of post sunset light I mentioned about in my last Photo Tip – imagine what this lighting would do for a portrait.
O.K. it’s time for another Image Naming Contest. Help me come up with the perfect title for this image and if your entry is chosen, you a win signed limited edition print of this photograph. Contest details and entry form are on my Facebook Page (don’t forget to “Like” while you’re there:) ). The deadline for entries is Nov 15 and the winner will be announced by Dec 1. This is the fourth time I’ve done this contest and it’s always been a great success. Below are the images and winning titles from the previous contests for inspiration. I’m looking forward to seeing your entry. Good Luck!
Photographers have been shooting sunrises and sunsets since cameras were invented – we can’t help ourselves. This serene scene was my reward for rising early on a Saturday. Cachuma Lake in the heart of the Santa Ynez valley is one of my favorite photo locations in Santa Barbara county. Although I made this image at the east end of the lake near the inlet of the Santa Ynez River, I was actually facing West (technically slightly Northwest) as I clicked my shutter. This is no anomaly. Whenever I am out shooting at sunrise, I tend to focus my attention to the West. Likewise at sunset you will frequently find my camera pointing East. I do this because I usually want to see the details in the foreground of my photograph, not just a silhouette.
And while it is true that the most dramatic part of the sky is often near the rising/setting sun, the sky in the opposite direction can be even more complex and subtle in its color palette, if a bit less intense. It is also true that techniques such as using split neutral density filters or combining multiple exposures in Photoshop can produce an image with foreground detail looking right into the rising/setting sun. There are many examples of these techniques accomplished with stunning effect. Other times, it can appear a bit forced or unnatural. Another advantage of ‘looking the other way’ is the gorgeous warm glowing quality of light that illuminates your foreground when you are facing away from the brightest part of the sky (i.e. the direction of the rising/setting sun). I’m really not trying to say one method or direction is better than another. As we know, every sunrise and sunset is unique. The important thing, as always is to really see the scene and then decide how to make your photograph. But you can’t see if you don’t even look. So next time you’re out for a sunrise or sunset photoshoot, resist the urge to automatically point your camera in the direction of the sun. Take time to look the other way…really, it’s o.k.
Since we are in the middle of harvest season, I thought I would share this recent image. This field of squash and pumpkins caught my eye as I was leaving Bridlewood winery in the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara. I had been taking photos of their vineyards…o.k. I was doing a little wine tasting too, great Syrahs by the way. The very last rays of sunlight were raking across the field and the warm light made the yellow and red gourds glow with an almost electric intensity. I pulled over and jumped out in time to make a handful of photographs. Just another example of the minor miracles that occur around us everyday.
Did you catch the YouTube video making the rounds this week of a moose that decided to take a dip in someone’s backyard swimming pool? It reminded me of my own moose & swimming pool encounter. I was finishing up an architectural photoshoot of a luxury home in Steamboat Springs, CO a couple years ago. I had picked out a nice spot for an exterior dusk shot and was waiting for the light to get just right. I looked down for a few moments to adjust some camera settings and when I looked back up there was this big bull moose drinking from the swimming pool. After getting over the initial shock of seeing what I was seeing, I started clicking off frames. The noise of the shutter attracted his attention and he lifted his head and looked right at me. A moose may be nothing more than an overgrown deer but up close they are plenty intimidating. Thankfully he decided I was harmless and continued about his business.
According to the homeowner, moose are pretty regular visitors. He thinks they are attracted to the saltwater in the pool. Spotting a moose anywhere in Colorado isn’t all that uncommon these days, but at one time moose were hunted to virtual extinction throughout the state. Today’s thriving population is a result of a reintroduction program begun in the late 1970’s. Welcome back, boys.
It’s pretty much an automatic reflex with most photographers to press the shutter button halfway to activate the autofocus as soon as they put their eye to the viewfinder. And why not, what’s the value of looking at a blurry image? Well, there’s a lot of value I think. In fact, I would say that at this point I do the majority of my composing looking at an out of focus image. As counterintuitive as it might seem this practice really helps me ‘see’ compositions much more clearly. When you look at a blurry image all you can really make out are the major shapes and tones in the frame, which are exactly the elements you want to work with when composing a picture.This technique confounds your left brain’s pesky tendency to suck you into the details and lose sight of the big picture.
In my next post I’ll be writing in depth about the workings of our left and right brain hemispheres. Suffice it to say for now that our left-brain is in love with details, instantly naming and categorizing everything it ‘sees’. Unfortunately, this gets in the way of actually seeing the things we are looking at. You need to be in right brain mode when composing images and looking at a fuzzy scene helps you make that switch. That’s because an out of focus image makes no sense to the left brain – it can’t deal with it. It can’t name its components, there’s nothing to categorize. I like to imagine that the left brain looks at the blurry picture, throws up its hands and walks away.
So next time you are composing a shot, keep your finger off that shutter button. You may even have to manually throw the image more out of focus. Then look at the amorphous shapes and tones in your frame and start making adjustments– there are no rules for this, you just have to try things until it starts to feel right. I know that’s really vague but all I can say is that a good composition feels pleasing visually and balanced while a poor composition does not. Using a tripod is a huge help when you are working this way because it allows you to make small adjustments, then evaluate, then adjust until it ‘works’.
This method is really a corollary to my previous photo tip about looking at small images when shooting or editing to get a better sense of the overall composition, what I call the ‘shape’ of the picture. It’s just another way of tricking the left brain into stepping aside and letting the right brain do its thing.
I’d love to know what you think about this photo tip. If you found it helpful, you can subscribe to future tips & posts about the Art of Seeing on my homepage.
The best bargains on the planet aren’t found on Groupon or Yelp. They are at your local animal shelter or Humane Society facility. Here in Santa Barbara it costs about $65 to adopt a dog or cat which includes spaying/neutering, vaccinations and even some basic obedience training (for dogs). That’s a very small price to pay for years of happiness, devotion and unconditional love. Right now Jake, Addy, Maggie, Toby and nearly 100 other lovable pooches are waiting at the Santa Barbara Humane Society to bring immeasurable joy and fulfillment into your life. I started volunteering at the SBHS a few months back, taking photos of some of the dogs up for adoption. Unfortunately since then the numbers have gone the wrong way and there are now more dogs than ever available for adoption. Recently we took some of the pictures and created a large (5′ X 12′) banner which will hang at the Goleta branch library for the month of August to raise awareness of the situation. Ready to find your new best friend? Here is a gallery of photos I’ve taken for the shelter or go the the SBHS website to see all of the dogs and cats currently available. If you’re not in the neighborhood, try Petfinder.com to locate animals or shelters in your area. Now, bargain hunting may not be the right reason to visit an animal shelter but I guarantee you this: adopting a dog or cat will be the best deal you make in this life.
Ch-ch-ch-changes. David Bowie’s classic tune feels like the theme song to my life lately. No more gallery (for now). Lot’s more photo workshops and traveling. And writing. Something I’ve been meaning to do more of for a long time. Oh, did I mention that I’ve relocated to Santa Barbara? Steamboat Springs was an incredible chapter in my life and I will miss so many things about it, most of all the friends I leave behind. But sunny SB seems to be calling my name now and I’m heeding the siren’s song. Steamboat to Santa Barbara. I know. Don’t cry for me, Argentina.
Maybe the most obvious outward sign of my new direction is this new website. What do you think? “Blog-centric” is the term I like best. That’s right, from now on I’m going to be a blogging, twittering, facebooking, flickring fool. I can’t believe I just said that. But seriously, folks… Almost as much as photography itself, I’ve been fascinated with the whole artistic creative process. How does it work? Can we work it? And after twenty-some years of chasing the Muse, I feel like I have some things to say about her wily ways. Hence the blog-centric website. I want to share my insights but I also hope to start a discussion about the nature of art and creativity particularly as it applies to photography. I think we all stand to benefit and I hope you will join me.
And last but not least, the purpose of all this nonsense, new photos! I hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail last summer with a group from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association as part of their Annual Thru Hike. Backpacking 165 miles in 15 days . Baby steps in the thru hiking world but plenty of challenge for me. I can describe it in two words. Gruelling. Rewarding. Here are a few of my favorite images from the trip.
I made another trip to Cambodia in preparation for a photo workshop that I am leading there next year.
Revisiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples was no less mind blowing than the first time, but I also got to explore quite a bit more of the country including the tranquil coastline. Click here to see the photos.
The mountains and valleys surrounding Santa Barbara are always gorgeous in Spring but this year was especially vibrant as a result of this Winter’s epic rainfalls. I spent quite a bit of time in the Santa Ynez valley just north of Santa Barbara. Here are a few of my favorite images.
I’ve been quiet, but I’ve been busy.
A thousand years ago the god-kings of the ancient Khmer empire organized stupendous feats of architectural engineering. Enormous reservoirs measured in miles and equally impressive monuments in stone honoring themselves and the mythical deities they worshipped. We know these structures today as the Temples of Angkor in the country of Cambodia and they remain simply mind blowing in their immensity and complexity. Many are amazingly well preserved, others only partially reclaimed from centuries of jungle growth. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the centerpiece of an 8 day photography workshop I will be leading in January 2012 entitled Angkor Wat & Beyond. As the title suggests, temple ruins are but one of the highlights of this amazing adventure. Cambodia is a photographer’s paradise from lush jungles, abundant wildlife and unique people
Interested? Get more details in the Workshops section of this site or you can find additional images in my Cambodia photo gallery
If Steve Coleman is good looking, then life just isn’t fair. Amazing photographer, inspiring writer, accomplished designer. When they were passing out talent, this guy didn’t just come back for seconds, he stole the whole damn buffet. See for yourself. To top it off, he doesn’t do it for the money (the photography, that is). It’s purely his passion, his gift to the world. Now that’s just plain disgusting.
I actually met Steve when he dropped into my gallery in Steamboat Springs, CO. He was kind enough to drop me a complimentary note afterwards (a nice guy too, arrgh). Out of curiosity, I clicked the link to his website. Wow. His stunning images and the beautiful understated design of the site blew me away. Recently I visited his site again and clicked the link to his blog. His latest post on “Life & the Business of Photography” really hit home for me. And you MUST read “my thoughts and feelings about photography and life”. I think my favorite quote from Steve is “I’m in awe of how beautiful the world is, which is why I love to photograph it.” Says it all, in my book. O.K., I’m officially stealing that one. Oh, and “Close your eyes…What do you see?” How artfully said and he’s got lots more. So much talent. Please, tell me he’s ugly. But he’s an Aussie, what are the chances? Well, maybe he kicks dogs… One can hope.
2010 Aug 28 – 29 – The Art of Seeing Weekend Workshop – How can I improve my photography is a question I often hear. The short answer is practice, practice, practice. But practice what exactly and how? What is “The Art of Seeing”? Can I develop my photographic eye or is it a talent you are just born with (or without)? These are the questions we will tackle in this intensive two day workshop. Through a combination of lectures and field sessions, I will demonstrate that everyone can learn to see ‘correctly’ and (more…)
Okay, we’re doing it again. Come up with the winning name for this untitled new release and win a matted 12X18 print of this image. You can see the winning entries for previous contests in the posts below. Click the photo to see a larger version on my website or go to www.kenleephoto.com and select Galleries>Nature/FineArt>New Releases. Select the thumbnail and click Zoom to see an enlarged version. To enter, click here or go to my website and select Name This Image Contest. Deadline is March 10. Good luck!
I recently got a new camera that has a beautiful large high resolution LCD screen for previewing images. I can see much more detail in this new display than the one in my old camera, but in some ways I miss the “postage stamp” size screen of my previous system. That’s because looking at a very small image often helps you better see the overall composition of a photograph. Since you can’t see much detail, what you are left with is the overall ‘shape’ of the picture. What I mean is that the pattern of highlights & shadows, dominant colors, and shapes becomes much more obvious when you look at smaller versions of images. You can use this fact to fine tune your compositions in the field. Simply shoot one frame and bring up the image on your camera’s screen (this works best when using a tripod). Now try to evaluate the composition from a global perspective. Trust your first impressions. Does the composition feel balanced? Is there a clear subject or does it get lost in the background? Are there any unintentionally distracting bright areas in the frame? If you are having a hard time seeing the overall composition, try stepping back from the screen or bring up the histogram display which will further shrink the size of your image on screen.
Looking at small images is also particularly useful when you are trying to select your best images from a photoshoot. When I was shooting film, I would scan the slide pages on a lightbox before breaking out the loupe. Now that most of us have gone digital, I suggest using your software to view your images as ‘thumbnails’ during the initial edits.
The pictures that jump out at you at this size will almost always be your strongest compositions. You can also use a variation of this technique when you are working on individual images. It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees after spending some time burning, dodging, color correcting and making contrast adjustments. To regain perspective, try shrinking the image on screen and stepping away from the monitor. Better yet, take a break and leave the room. When you return, quickly glance at the screen. Your initial impression will give you a good idea if you are on the right path or if you took a wrong turn somewhere.
“To look at a thing is very different from seeing it” – Oscar Wilde
Maybe the best way to start off this discussion is to relate how I came to see the light, so to speak. I was in my last year of photography school and a bit annoyed that the instructor of this particular class (Advanced Illustration Photography as I recall) had included “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards in the syllabus. After all, we were there to learn photography, not how to draw. (more…)
Two of my images, “Winter Fenceline” and “Humphrey’s Basin at Dusk” were chosen to be included in the Best of Nature exhibition at the San Diego Natural History Museum. A total of 72 images were selected from over 2300 entries for this exhibit. The exhibit will be on display at the museum from June 27th thru Sept 13 this year. Click here for more information.