Location photography workshop Spring 2019.

Join A Location Photography Workshop In Spring 2019

Join professional magazine photographer Chuck Place for 5 fun location photo shoots on consecutive Saturday mornings starting March 23 in the Santa Ynez Valley wine country and Santa Barbara area. With input from Chuck, fine tune your photographic skills and develop a personal style while exploring towns, locations and events like Los Olivos, Solvang, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Figueroa Mountain and the Summer Solstice Parade or the Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival. 

Each photo shoot will be at a different location, depending on events and season. Get feedback on your images each week from Chuck and your fellow students and learn how a professional photographer approaches various subjects and lighting environments. Class size will be capped at 10 so that Chuck has plenty of time to spend with each student. See Class and Workshop Recommendations.

Tuition is $300. for all five weeks of the workshop payable at least three weeks in advance.

Cancellations two weeks or more before the start date will receive a full refund. Cancellations between one and two weeks before the start date will receive a 50% refund and there will be no refunds for cancellations the week before the start date. For more details, please e-mail Chuck at chuckplace@cox.net.


Traditional Native American dancers sidelit by the setting sun

Magic Hour Photography: Get Creative And Capture The Drama

Photography and Text by Chuck Place

Few photographers can resist shooting a beautiful sunset. Clouds build up, color starts to develop, you have a perfect ocean or lake surface for great reflections or you found some fascinating trees or buildings to silhouette against the colorful sky. It’s impossible to resist, isn’t it?

More often than not, however, at this time of day, I find myself turning my back on the sun as it goes down and watching for what it lights up instead.

Mesa Verde ruins sidelit

Mesa Verde ruins sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

That warm color of the low sun skimming across a landscape or buildings is pure magic. The soft, low-contrast sunlight at the end of the day is perfect for lifestyle images or dramatic portraits. It creates an ambiance to which everyone can relate. It’s the time of day we associate with relaxing and gathering with friends, enjoying a meal with others or just sipping a glass of wine. There is something truly magical about photographs created during the golden hour at the end of the day when the fleeting warm light mixes with cool-toned shadows to heighten drama and mystery in an image.

Native American Fancy Dancers sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Native American Fancy Dancers sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

There is more to producing photos with impact at magic hour than just turning your back on the sun, of course.

Death Valley sand dunes sidelit by the setting sun

Death Valley sand dunes sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

If you are shooting in JPEG format, make sure you turn off Auto White Balance and set your camera white balance to Daylight or Overcast. Auto White Balance, or AWB, works great in a lot of lighting environments because it neutralizes color in an image, but it will also neutralize all that warm light at sunset. There goes all your atmosphere and saturated color. The Daylight or Overcast setting will capture the warm color balance that you typically see at sunset.

Woman practicing yoga is backlit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Woman practicing yoga is backlit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Even better, shoot in RAW format if your camera has that feature. The RAW format ignores the camera’s white balance setting while capturing the maximum amount of image data. This extra data makes it possible to correct or change your image to a much larger degree, giving you more creative freedom than can be achieved with a smaller JPEG file.

One of my favorite techniques is using warm sunlight to side light my subjects, creating an exaggerated sense of volume and contrast. Side lighting also separates the warm, lit side of your subject with the cool, shadow side, producing a more dramatic image.

Mission San Xavier del Bac sidelit by the setting sun

Mission San Xavier del Bac sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Front lighting at magic hour produces rather flat lighting, but can be effective if the warmly lit subject is contrasted against a cool blue sky. Quarter back lighting is also effective at this time of day, especially for lifestyle and portrait photography. The soft, even lighting on the shadow side of your subject can be quite beautiful as long as the subject is not underexposed. Flair can be a bit of a problem when the sun is out in front of the lens, but flair can also create a strong ambience if it is controlled properly.

Aerial of the Alabama Hills front lit at Magic Hour

Aerial of the Alabama Hills front lit with sunset light at Magic Hour

Next time you are out shooting late in the day, break the sunset habit and turn your back on the sun. You may be surprised by the images you can create using sunset light, rather than photographing the actual sunset. It’s a magic time, after all.


Forced perspective photograph of Taos Indian Pueblo

Forced Perspective: Add Drama And Depth To Your Photographs

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

Standing in the middle of Taos Pueblo, I was trying to decide how I would photograph the impressive five-story North Building. I knew I would use a technique called Forced Perspective to emphasize the scale of the building and create an exaggerated feeling of depth in the image. Ideally, the photograph would also illustrate the materials used to build this ancient pueblo—mud and straw.

Forced Perspective is a two-step process. First determine your main subject, in this case the North Building of Taos Pueblo. That’s the easy part. The next step involves picking a foreground subject that gives the viewer more information about the main subject and creates a strong sense of depth between the two.

That can take some searching.

Forced perspective photograph of fall aspen grove

Forced perspective photograph of fall aspen grove on San Francisco Peaks, Arizona

I settled on a large outdoor oven, or horno, to provide the foreground. Sunlight lit the oven from the side, emphasizing the texture of the mud and straw adobe used to build the entire pueblo. Placing my camera with a wide angle lens close to the oven made it look larger than it really is and made the North Building look smaller than it does to the naked eye.

Forced perspective photograph of Wukoki Ruins

Forced perspective photograph of Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

This wide angle distortion is at the core of this technique, producing a greater appearance of depth in the scene than actually exists. Stopping down the lens to its smallest aperture guaranteed everything from front to back is sharply focused.

This technique works equally well with landscapes.

Decide what your main subject will be, say a grove of fall aspen trees with the late afternoon sun shining through. Then move around until you find an interesting foreground, in this case a fallen aspen log in a meadow. Position your camera close to the log and stop down your aperture all the way for great depth of field. In this case, in addition to creating a feeling of great depth, the log also produced a leading line that our audience could follow visually back into the scene while backlighting emphasized the glowing colors of the fall aspen leaves.

See earlier posts on Leading LinesBacklighting and the compositional Rule Of Thirds.

 

Forced perspective photograph of brittlebush flowers

Forced perspective photograph of brittlebush flowers and cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park, California

One last tip.

Because your camera is positioned close to your foreground subject, move your plane of focus a little closer to camera position than you normally would. Make sure the foreground is tack sharp. If the distant background is a little soft, it looks like atmosphere. If the foreground is soft, the image should probably be tossed in the trash. Check focus on your camera back when you shoot, just to be sure.

Forced perspective photograph of sand dunes

Forced perspective photograph of sand dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Forced Perspective takes a little practice, but it’s a great technique for creating powerful, dynamic images with an exaggerated sense of depth. Try it next time you’re photographing architecture or landscapes. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.


La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Great Looking Historic Photographs In 4 Easy Steps

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I had just gotten back from a fun photo shoot with my class at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park near Lompoc, California. It was a Living History Day with docents dressed in period costumes demonstrating how people during the Mission Period made most of the things they needed fore their daily lives, from nails and blankets to saddles and candles.

Spanish priest, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Spanish priest, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

I was able to create a lot of great images, but all that color seemed jarring in that historic setting. My students and I post our favorite six images after each location class on a private Facebook Group Page and I decided to sepia tone all of mine. Luckily, I can now do this without a darkroom.

saddle maker's shop, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

saddle maker’s shop, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Sure, sure, I know. Some of you miss the old days of wet labs. Standing in a darkroom with stinky chemicals was never my idea of a great time and creating sepia images without stained fingertips has great appeal. Blasphemy? Not if you get the results you envision.

The first step is to pick out images with a bit of contrast or subjects that will not suffer from an increase of contrast. I have always found black & white or sepia prints with flat contrast to be rather boring. Just my opinion, but I like a little zip in my images. My favorite black & white photographer, Christopher Broughton, creates images with a great feel of life and texture, even in flat lighting.

weaver, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

weaver, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Next I import my images into Lightroom, create a virtual copy of my favorites and convert the color images to Sepia Tone using the Lightroom B&W Toned Presets. Don’t bail on me yet! Certainly this is a shortcut, but it works fairly well.

soldier's quarters, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

soldier’s quarters, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Now for the fun. If you liked burning and dodging under an enlarger in the days of paper prints, you have the same tools in Lightroom, but with much greater precision. I do a little subtle vignetting, as well as burning and dodging in order to guide the viewer’s eye and when everything looks right, I push the Clarity slider to 100 to add some texture to the final image. It gives me that zip that I want in my “old” images.

colonnade, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

colonnade, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Admittedly, the portraits don’t have that stiff look produced by long exposures and neck braces, but I can live with that. With the right subjects this approach works wonders. And best of all, you get unique historic photographs and no stained fingers. Try it.


colorful building details

Have Fun Searching For Colorful Photographic Details

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

The colonial towns of Mexico are some of my favorite locations for photographing details. Early and late in the day, I’m often working on capturing the iconic buildings and sites of a town, but during the middle of the day the harsh sunlight is very strong and, like the locals, I try to avoid it. That doesn’t mean I have to stop shooting, however.

colorful windows details

colorful windows details, Oaxaca, Mexico

Many buildings have unique architectural details, while shops and galleries often display their wares outside in the shade. It’s all a bit like a photographic scavenger hunt.
Sometimes the image is perfect just the way I find it and sometimes I have to move things around for a better composition. Maybe a potted plant is in the wrong location or some carved animals need to be grouped together. I always ask permission first before I touch anything and have rarely been turned down.

carved wooden animal folk art

still life of carved wooden animal folk art, Oaxaca, Mexico

For me, these intimate photographic details often say more about the culture of an area than more general shots and they always add a spot of strong color during a drab part of the day.

cactus fence detail

cactus fence detail, Mitla Archeological Zone, Mexico

Sometimes in can be as simple as stumbling on a fence made of living cactus, sometimes it’s a detail of a popular form of folk art.

detail of black pottery

detail of black pottery, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Mexico

Colorful images can be easy to produce at the beginning and end of the day, when warm light is prevalent, but creating fascinating photographs during the rest of the day is definitely more challenging.

hotel archway details

hotel archway details, Oaxaca, Mexico

How many of us like to collect doorways and windows? They represent an entrance into another culture and I photograph them any time I find one that is unique.

old door detail

old door detail, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Developing your ability to find hidden color among the details not only broadens your coverage of a subject, it also fun and helps you see what others miss. And seeing the world with greater clarity is, after all, one of the main reasons we all love creating photographs.

 


Bar in the Union Hotel

The Joy Of Exploring Small Towns With Your Camera

Text and Photos by Chuck Place

I love exploring with my camera and small towns are one of my favorite subjects. Does the town have a colorful history? Does it have a unique culture? Is it located in a photogenic location? The concept of a small town as it’s own little universe just appeals to me. I even live in the large “small” town of Santa Barbara

When I first started shooting for travel magazines, small town assignments were actually a little intimidating. What should I photograph? Who should I photograph? Where in town should I shoot? As it turned out, these were all the wrong questions to start with.

A photographer needs to be clear in their mind about what is important or unusual about the location. What makes that town unique? What makes it worth exploring? That is the most critical first step. Once I answered that one simple question, everything fell into place.

Bar Stools, Union Hotel, Los Alamos

Farm tractor bar stools in the Union Hotel in Los Alamos

The answer to that question supplies the framework for my photo shoots and frees me up to have fun while capturing the images I need for my client. That one step narrows the focus of my shoot to a manageable range of subjects and eliminates the worry that I am missing something.

I often find that students in my class “Location Photo Shoots With A Pro” often go through the same anguishing process. Our first job when we arrive at a location is answering that question of what is unusual about this small town, not what do we shoot. And don’t think this restricts what a photographer can shoot. In my classes, the answer to what do we shoot is merely a framework for each photographer. It’s amazing how many different ways a single theme can be interpreted by talented individuals.

Rusty antique farm machinery

Rusty antique farm machinery in Los Alamos

Last year we visited the Western town of Los Alamos in the Santa Ynez Valley above Santa Barbara. It’s a very small town, but in recent years restaurants and wine tasting rooms have appeared in some of the old false front buildings. The historic Union Hotel and Bar has long been the main attraction for visitors there, along with a selection of antique shops. We quickly decided that we would try to create images that stressed that old Western feel, whether a new restaurant or rusting farm machinery out in front of the towns old railroad freight depot.

Bell Street Farm Restaurant

Bell Street Farm restaurant and server in Los Alamos

This shoot was both an adventure and challenging all at the same time. Some participants concentrated on the old architecture and one produced abstracts of the old farm machinery. I photographed the blending of old and new as tourism slowly transformed the town. Developing our own assignments covering one small location made the process exciting and forced us to become more thoughtful photographers.

Wine Tasting Rooms

Wine tasting rooms in Los Alamos

As I mentioned in a previous post, give yourself assignments that require you to grow as a photographer. And don’t forget the most important aspect of photography. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it all wrong!

Let us know in the Leave A Reply section below if you have a favorite small town that you have enjoyed photographing. Thanks.


Barrels of wine and perspective

Create Great Depth In Your Photographs Using Perspective

Text & Photos By Chuck Place

Perspective is magic! Not as in fairy tale magic, but as in a magician’s magic. It’s an illusion. We take the two-dimensional medium of a photograph and create the illusion of a third dimension by applying perspective.

The technique of perspective has been used effectively by painters for centuries and has proven to be equally effective in photography.

Perspective is all about the relationship of similar size subjects and their position relative to each. Rows of wine barrels in a wine cave are a perfect example. Although all the wine barrels are the same size, as they get farther from the camera they appear to shrink in size, producing the illusion of depth. Shooting with a wide-angle lens enhances this effect as a wide lens enlarges close subjects and shrinks distant subjects.

Steam engines, Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory, Utah

Placing a camera close to one of two historic steam engines creates an image with great depth using perspective.

The effect can also be created using only two similar objects. A very flat image is produced with the two steam engines at Golden Spike National Historic Site shot from the side with both engines the same distance from the camera. Move the camera close to one of the engine tenders, however, and shoot down its side toward the other engine and suddenly the scene has a great sense of depth.

Swimmers racing in a pool

The swimmers racing in a pool and the floating lane markers create a sense of depth using perspective.

Shooting across lanes of swimmers creates some depth as the competitors decrease in size as they get farther from the camera, but the real force of perspective here is actually created by the floating lane markers. The lines of colorful floats appear to be getting closer together as they get farther from the camera. Because the floats are more noticeable than the slightly blurred swimmers, their convergence in the distance creates the strong feeling of depth. Rows of grape vines photographed from a high angle with a drone produces this same effect.

Rows of vines in a vineyard

An aerial photograph of rows of vines in a vineyard create an exaggerated sense of depth as a result of perspective.

None of this is magic, of course, just optics. You don’t have to be a magician to create the illusion of great depth in your photographs. You merely have to position your camera in the optimum spot to make use of the effect of perspective. Just like magic!


architecture photograph of cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

3 Steps To Creating Monumental Architecture Photography

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes “monumental” as “serving as or resembling a monument, massive, highly significant, outstanding”.

Often, during travel assignments, I have been called on to photograph iconic building and structures that define a particular area. They are not always large, but they are always important in that they often denote the culture of that area. Because of their importance I always try to make these buildings seem monumental in my photographs.

Photograph of Victorian architecture in Cape May, New Jersey

The Abbey Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey

Although photography, at this point, is a two-dimensional medium, there are many ways to create a sense of volume in an image. My first step in photographing most buildings is to find an angle that covers two sides of the structure. Ideally one side is lit while the other is in shadow. This play of light against dark creates a very three dimensional effect, creating volume in this photograph of a bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey.

architecture photograph of cathedral in Mexico

Gothic architecture of the main cathedral in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

My second step has often been planned out before I left on my assignment. I determine which direction the building is oriented using maps and Google Earth so that I know whether this location is a sunrise or sunset shot. The warm, directional light at either end of the day adds a beautiful glow to the cathedral in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Details are strongly enhanced and the location becomes much more welcoming.

Photograph of Taos Indian Pueblo architecture

Taos Indian Pueblo adobe architecture, Taos, New Mexico

In order to give the scene an even greater sense of depth, my third step is to find something interesting in the foreground that gives the viewer a greater sense of the location. A highly textured adobe oven in front of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico provides visual depth as well as highlighting the material from which the entire pueblo is constructed. The round shape also works well to balance the very square lines of the pueblo itself.

This approach will not work with all buildings, of course, but whenever possible, I try for the “monumental” look in order to pay homage to the areas history and culture.


Cambria coast

Give Yourself A Photography Assignment

Early in my career I often found myself wandering around various towns, frustrated, looking for something to photograph. I came to realize that there are always lots of subjects to shoot in any location. All I really needed was a framework, or storyline, about the subject or location. I needed to have something to say before I picked up my camera. I needed an assignment!

Instead of wandering aimlessly, I began to give myself self-assignments, something I continue to do to this day. This forced me to see what was really important about a particular subject and work on creating images that illustrated my viewpoint. My photography quickly got better and I found I was enjoying photography even more.

What do you like to photograph? Do you like to explore small towns, wineries or farmers markets or photograph orchids, sailboats, historic sites or portraits of people? What’s your passion?

Town of Cambria

Quaint tourist destination Cambria, on California’s Central Coast.

Self-assigned photography assignments often fall into three main categories—locations, series and events. Locations can be anything from a National Park to a city or town. What is unique about that location? Is it the physical beauty, the culture, food and wine or maybe even the weather? What makes it interesting to you personally? I had a talented student go to Oaxaca in Mexico to photograph the brightly painted building in the Colonial Center of the city. When he returned, he showed me a beautiful portfolio of colorful buildings, but each had a brightly painted, jewel-toned VW Beatle in front of it. It seems Oaxaca has a tradition of restoring old VWs. He had taken a location assignment and turned it into a series, or collection, of Volkswagen portraits.

Southwest Indian Ruins

Selection of Indian Ruins in the American Southwest.

A series assignment can be anything, from a group of portraits of local chefs to a series on lighthouses, antique cars, California Missions—anything with multiple versions of the same subject. This often requires a greater commitment of time and a larger amount of research before beginning the shoots. This also forces you to create a variety of images while shooting similar subjects multiple times. As a bonus, you get to immerse yourself in the subject during a long-term photography project.

Summer Solstice Parade

Summer Solstice Parade characters in Santa Barbara, California

Event assignments usually require the shortest amount of time, but can be quite an intense experience and often physically demanding. Parades, celebrations, competitions—these can run from a few hours to a week or so. Again, doing some research in advance guarantees you will be in the right place at the right time to capture those powerful images that define an event.

Sit down now and list half a dozen projects that would be fun to photograph. Fill in each with shoot notes—subjects, locations, dates, special equipment—anything that will help you capture great images and expand your coverage. Then go do it!

Stop the aimless wandering looking for something to photograph. Give yourself the framework of an assignment and shoot what really defines the subject. The quality of your photography will improve dramatically and you will have fully developed photo essays to share with those around you. And please use the Reply Box below to share your favorite subjects with other photographers following this blog. Everyone needs ideas.Thanks.


Nurse log among Coast Redwood trees, Redwood National Park, California

Create A Sense Of Depth In Your Photographs Using Leading Lines

One of the age-old dilemmas of photography has always been the desire of photographers to create a three dimensional feel in their images using a two dimensional medium. A number of compositional techniques have evolved to create this sense of visual depth, with leading lines being one of my favorites.

aerial view of vineyard at sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California

aerial view of vineyard at sunrise, Santa Ynez Valley, California

Essentially, a photographer includes diagonal elements in an image that create visual lines leading back into the image. These lines can be objects, such as rows of grape vines in a vineyard or they can be composed of just light and shadow, which I used to focus the viewers attention on two racing sailboats on San Francisco Bay.

sailboat race, Big Boat Series, San Francisco, California

sailboat race, Big Boat Series, San Francisco, California

Almost anything can be used to create leading lines. even the simple tracks of a lawnmower leading to Opus One Winery in the Napa Valley.

Opus One Winery, Napa Valley, California

Opus One Winery, Napa Valley, California

Leading lines often have a destination. The curved walls at Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins in Chaco Canyon National Historic Park in New Mexico draw you back to another part of the ruins. Just as often, however, they merely draw the viewer back into a scene, creating that sense of depth, as does a large log lying in a redwood grove in Redwood National Park in Northern California, seen at the top of this page.

Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park

Pueblo Del Arroyo Ruins, Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, New Mexico

Have you ever shot a landscape and felt it was a little flat, just two-dimensional? Sometimes a flat composition can be very graphic, but often it is just plain flat. Look for those objects or shadow patterns in the foreground that will give your audience that visual path that creates a sense of depth. After a while leading lines will become part of your compositional approach to creating imagery, eliminating those dull, flat photographs of the past.