Rich Herrmann Photography: Blog en-us (C) Rich Herrmann Photography (Rich Herrmann Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:14:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:14:00 GMT Rich Herrmann Photography: Blog 96 120 Night Photography Northern Lights of NorwayNorthern Lights of NorwayOut of the four nights I was in Norway, only one evening had northern lights (mid October). Chasing after these amazing lights is half the fun...and they are very elusive! Lofoten Islands. Personally I think night photography is the most difficult to master (and by no means have I mastered anything about it!).  But here's a few tricks to help get your long exposure shots to a higher standard.

Aperture - To obtain a sharp photo, a smaller aperture is required (which is a larger number on your camera - F/8 is a smaller aperture than F/5.6).  However, during night photography this is problematic.  The smaller the aperture, the less light your lens allows into the sensor, thus a higher ISO (sensitivity to light on the sensor) is required.  So a setting of ISO 1600 might be enough to have an F/8 aperture for 4 seconds, but if it's dark, moving the aperture to a larger setting, like F/5.6 or F/3.2 would be beneficial.  I’ve found it helpful if some natural ambient light remains to fill in colors and details.  Aperture is probably the least important setting for night landscapes, but if set improperly, can affect all the other settings!

Shutter Speed - One requirement for night photography is a tripod since the shutter is open for longer periods.  The rule of thumb for sharp photos is the shutter speed must be greater than your lens focal length.  For example, if you have a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50th of a second.  I usually double that amount since faster shutter speeds almost always give you better photos.  Of course having a tripod will greatly increase your chances of capturing a very sharp photo, and is required for all night photography.

Back to shutter speed…if your camera is set on aperture priority, the shutter speed doesn’t matter…the camera will choose it.  But in night photography, YOU want to control the amount of time your sensor absorbs light for the proper exposure, and it’s necessary to govern how much light reaches your sensor by using shutter speed as the variable.  To begin, set your camera on shutter priority for 5 or 10 seconds, ISO 1600 and the camera will choose the aperture.  If the scene has some amount of ambient light, these settings might be enough to bring out good details and color despite the darkness.  Change your shutter speed accordingly depending on how under or over exposed the photo is.

ISO - This is a tricky setting since each camera has its own limits on how high you can set this.  In general, the higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive the sensor is, however, the tradeoff is that “noise” is introduced as a by-product (dots, discoloration, grain, etc).  Full frame sensors have the least noise in low light situations even with higher ISO settings.  For example, using ISO 3200 on a full frame camera, noise will be slightly visible, but on a crop sensor camera (the most common for lower-range cameras), that same setting would create quite a bit of grain/noise.  For those of you who really want a clean look regardless of what kind of camera you have, try purchasing some noise reduction software to use in post-processing (I use Imagenomic as a plug-in to Photoshop).  It’s amazing what a difference noise reduction software can make.

Tying it all together - In the above photo, it was a dark night except for the Northern Lights, so a higher ISO was required to keep a 15-20 second range for shutter speed (ideally this would be in the 5-10 second range).  Remember, every second of time could introduce noise, movement or glare that gives your photo a subpar look.  The key is to give your sensor enough light to capture what you are seeing, but no more than necessary.  The photo was properly exposed at 20 seconds, F/3.2 at ISO 1000. 

Night photography can be extremely rewarding since it opens up many avenues for your creativity!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) ambient aperture art color creative evening exposure iso landscape lights nature norther norway patterns photoshop rich herrmann shutter technique texture Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:09:50 GMT
Landscape Exposure Black Beaches of VikBlack Beaches of VikNear Vikings in southern Iceland there are black beaches and wonderful rock formations to spark your imagination. Landscapes can be difficult to photograph due to the wide range of light and contrast typical in nature.  I usually expose for the brightest portion of a scene, and lighten the super dark areas in post-processing.  However, depending on what you want the viewer to focus on, it could be the other way around!  

In the photo above, on the southern coast of Iceland, the sun was setting which gave off a little spark of light in the otherwise dreary environment.  I exposed for the brighter area from the sun shining on the sand and was lucky the clouds and water were exposed pretty well.  I tried other exposure settings, but when exposing for the dark sand, the sky and clouds were too bright, loosing all the ambiance of this scene.  

There's definitely is a trick to finding the right exposure for any given situation.  Some photographers use spot exposure to really capture the essence of one specific area of the scene.  I choose to use a blend or matrix setting so that the area focused on has the most exposure weight, but the rest of the scene is also considered. This usually gives the entire scene a chance to be exposed properly without much post-processing.

Landscape photography is an art, and there are tons of techniques to use.  The number one thing you should do is learn your camera settings and experiment!  You'd be surprised how different a photo can look if you under or over expose certain areas of a scene.  It can totally change the mood and colors.  Good luck with your photography and keep trying new things!



(Rich Herrmann Photography) art color creative exposure iceland landscape nature patterns photoshop rich herrmann rotate sand scenes technique texture unique white Fri, 08 Dec 2017 18:10:25 GMT
Abstractical BrickishBrickishThis is one photo believe it or not! One version was turned into black and white, then rotated 180. Painted through to the darker original photo to give it some depth and that M.C. Escher feel.

I'm always experimenting with photography.  It's probably because there are so many creative people doing amazing things out there, it just kind of seeps into your being to be inquisitive and playful.  This photo (yes it's just one photo in two different perspectives and a little Photoshop magic) was created after spending some time wandering around the beautiful campus of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA.  Textures, angles, shadows and colors all float around the buildings, and depending on the light, the campus can transform into some amazing scenes.

So for this abstract, I captured the corner of a building with all the wonderful brick, making sure to keep a small aperture so the brick was in focus all the way to the top.  Once it was being processed at home, the whole MC Escher vibe jumped out and struck a chord.  The original photo was looking up at the corner of a tall building.  That photo was then converted to black and white and rotated 180 degrees so the angles of the lines and brick were running in different directions.  Now there were two photos of the same scene.  I then loaded them both up in Photoshop and "painted" through the black and white layer into the brick layer to bring out the contrasting lines and color.

The rich colors seem to give it depth and perspective, while the black and white keeps everything bleak and harsh.  So if you have a couple of photos you really like, or even one that can be rotated, try painting through one or the other to see if you can get a unique look.  Of course, having the right software is imperative, and that's why early on I invested in a copy of Photoshop.  If you're serious about creating art, it's highly recommended!

Let me know what you think...would be interested in your thoughts on this one!


(Rich Herrmann Photography) abstract and art black blend brick college color cornell creative iowa mount vernon patterns photoshop rich herrmann rotate technique texture unique white Sat, 02 Apr 2016 01:56:33 GMT
Multiple Exposures and Nature triple exposure photo captured in the forestTriple Exposure I v2

There are multiple ways of capturing nature with all its beauty.  One method is multiple exposures.  If your camera allows it, taking two or more shots and having the camera "blend" them automatically can really add some creative perspective to your photography.

In this photo, I was careful to plan out the scene so that it wasn't just a random sampling of the forest.  First, I pointed the camera straight up into the trees on a sunny autumn day.  The plan was to capture some of the blue sky with touches of high canopy leaves.  The second shot was of a small tree with beautiful golden leaves that caught my eye for its clarity and leaf shape, and the third was of the forest floor, which was much darker but had great texture.

The order in which you take multiple exposures can be important, even though the camera will do its best to blend them all the same (with the same opacity).  If you want the overall scene to have a shape or dimension, start with a dark background or object that is easily recognized.  Rock formations, fence lines or other strong shapes work well for this.  Next, think about what you want in the center of your frame.  Focus on that and even think about getting a close up of some kind.  This will add detail and interest to your photo.  Next you could concentrate on texture, such as leaves, water, grass or another richly textured area.

Another method to using multiple exposures is to change your horizontal or vertical positioning of the camera.  If you take three exposures, with the first being in a vertical orientation, the remaining two horizontal shots will be "formed" or fitted into the vertical shot.  If your first shot is horizontal, the remaining photos will also be fit into this format.  This can be useful if you have contrasting shapes or angles that you want to blend, and you can always rotate the photo to give the effect you wanted.

When the camera blends these photos together, you'll be surprised at the amazing transformations that just took place.  Truly a technical marvel modern cameras are!  Make sure you read your manual so you can easily change back and forth while out shooting.  Have fun and get that creative mojo out there using these techniques!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) abstract art autumn blend color experimental forest iowa leaves methods multiple exposure natural nature palisades techniques Fri, 06 Nov 2015 02:18:34 GMT
Capturing Motion in Nature Waves of SoyWaves of SoyWind blown soy beans on a hot August day south of Lisbon, IA.

Who needs the ocean when you can watch soy bean fields swaying in the wind on a hot August day?  That was my first impression as I drove by field after field of soy beans and corn being tossed around by the wind.  But how to capture such beauty on a bright sunny day?

Luckily I had brought along a tripod, otherwise the techniques explained below would not work.  When it comes to motion, sometimes it can be captured successfully by using implied movement...branches, leaves, grass or flowers "bending" in the wind...or rain drops "streaking" across the frame at a steep angle.  Within the context of the scene, motion is implied and understood even with a faster shutter speed.

But I wanted to capture the actual movement of the soy beans as they flowed and swirled from the wind, and to do that required a slow shutter speed.  So I set my camera on the tripod and composed the scene...roughly one third sky, two thirds beans...making sure there was some anchor point in the background that would not be moving (the trees).  

I then asked the camera what it could do as far as a shutter speed.  Making sure the Mode was in Aperture Priority, I set the ISO to its lowest setting and cranked up the aperture to f/22, which resulted in a 1/3 of a second shutter speed, more than enough to capture movement.  By decreasing the sensitivity of the sensor (ISO) and using an extremely small aperture (letting less light in the lens), the camera chose a shutter speed to properly expose everything.

For post-processing, the contrast was bumped up and the sky darkened a bit in Photoshop, but otherwise didn't need to do anything else.  You can actually see the movement of the beans in the forefront and the swirly wind patterns on the right side.  

This was a fun experiment, and one that I hope you can try next time you want to portray movement in nature.



(Rich Herrmann Photography) beans blur farm iowa iso motion movement nature shutter soy summer techniques tripod wind Mon, 07 Sep 2015 02:31:17 GMT
Artificial Light and Nature Ominous SnowOminous SnowThe night before a snow storm on the campus of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA.

Ideally, natural light transforms your photo from a mundane snapshot into something spectacular.  However, when the light isn't quite right or doesn't exist for the shot you want, adding a little artificial light can make the difference.  In this photo, there was a beautiful white dusting of snow that had accumulated on the bushes and branches that I wanted to capture, but the light didn't highlight the whiteness.   It was dusk and a snow storm was approaching.  

I tried using the camera's built-in flash, but it blanketed the entire scene in a white-wash of brightness.  The only other available light source was the headlights of my car, which when pointed in the proper direction, illuminated the bottom portion of the scene, bringing out the purity of white that my eyes had noticed.

As you can imagine, using headlights as a lighting source was a little over-kill, and I had to use a graduated filter in post-processing (Adobe Camera Raw) to tone down the extreme white, but the end result was close to what I had envisioned for this shot.  The foreground gives a nice contrast to the darkness and lets the eye settle on something close and clear.  This was captured on the campus of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA.

Other artificial light sources to consider when you're outdoors are flashlights, laser pointers, anything with a headlight (even bikes) and diffused camera flashes (using your hand or other object to deflect the light).  When using that kind of light, you may also have to compensate the exposure to tone down the brightness, or do so in post-processing.  One good way to accomplish that in-camera is to set your camera on center-weighted exposure, making sure the brightest part of the photo is properly exposed.  For me, it's easier to lighten up a dark area than darkening a bright area.  Using artificial light when needed just might give you the creative shot you've been looking for!




(Rich Herrmann Photography) adobe artificial camera contrast dusk landscape light lighting natural nature photography rich herrmann technique trees Sun, 15 Feb 2015 17:59:54 GMT
Landscape Long Exposures Camera sensors can usually capture rich saturated colors and fine detail if you give them a chance.  The issue is the amount of time the sensor has to record that information.  Long exposures can sometimes help you capture a moment that otherwise would be lost.  Here are some essential steps that help make this type of photography fun and satisfying:

Sturdy Tripod - there's nothing better than a sturdy tripod to mount your camera for any exposure longer than 1/60th of a second (some would argue 1/125 is the minimum shutter speed, but with vibration and movement reduction lenses, it becomes less of an issue).  I've tried holding the camera on a fence post or against a car door or tree, but inevitably, even the slightest movement will ruin your sharpness.  Best to get a decent tripod and let it do your work.

Low ISO Settings - most modern cameras handle this very well in that a high ISO setting on your camera (beyond 1600) doesn't reveal too much noise in the photo, but the lower the ISO the better for long exposures.  This is especially true for exposures longer than 30 seconds.  There is a balance that must be reached between ISO and exposure time.  In the photo below, an ISO setting of 100 was used for 30 seconds.  This really helped in the post processing as the noise clean-up was minimal.

Exposure Time - this is very difficult to estimate, and requires trial and error, but luckily there are some tools to help.  Many modern cameras have an exposure meter that will actually tell you if your photo will be under or over exposed based on your current settings.  Set your camera to shutter priority and dial in 5 or 10 seconds to begin with.  Take a look at the exposure meter in the viewfinder to see how far off you might be.  Review the photo and look at the histogram if you can, and adjust the shutter in 3-5 second increments.  The end result should be a photo that is still a little dark, but that's what you want, since over exposing will wipe out much of the color and detail you're striving for.

During post-processing, you may need to lighten the photo a bit or increase the exposure to make it brighter, but ultimately, the dark rich beauty of saturated colors from a long exposure will prevail once you get the hang of it.  

Dusk on Smyth RoadDusk on Smyth RoadThe stillness and soft glow of a summer sunset near Mount Vernon really rejuvinates your spirit.




(Rich Herrmann Photography) ISO barn camera color darkness dusk exposure herrmann iowa landscape nature rich technique tripod tutorial Sun, 14 Sep 2014 14:57:13 GMT
Diverse Iowa Landscapes Every state has diverse landscapes, but did you know that among Iowa's 99 counties you can find glacial kettles, long flowing rock formations called Palisades, and wind-blown hills made from loess (river silt)?  The cool thing about landscapes is what may appear to be a flat, boring pond in the middle of a bunch of growth, may actually turn out to have a unique history.

For example, one of my favorite places to roam around close to home is the Ciha Fen preserve south of Sutliff, Iowa.  This 80 acre preserve has what appears to be a pond, but upon closer inspection is really a Fen, or type of bog, that is very rare in Iowa.

Fens form when water and bubbles seep to the surface through buried sand and gravel left behind by glaciers. Natural landscapes formed over the eons bring a diverse look and feel to your photography if you allow light to be your guide in developing this beauty, and to accept the unique properties of the area regardless of how mundane it may look.  The photo below was taken at this wonderful preserve.

Darkness of AutumnDarkness of AutumnThere were still colors, but they were darker and more defined on this late November day south of Lisbon, IA.

There are times when light is dreary and flat, and those are especially difficult times to capture a great photo, but even then, look for the diverse patterns, shapes or unusual growth patterns surrounding you that may evoke a special glimpse into nature's amazing world.


(Rich Herrmann Photography) art autumn color fen iowa landscape light mount vernon nature photography pond preserve rich herrmann Sat, 08 Mar 2014 03:47:43 GMT
Surreal Nature Shots Tree AurasTree AurasHere's proof that trees have auras! Actually a little movement with a long shutter speed can create the illusion, but it's fun to believe they do. Camera movement is the best way to get that unusual shot you’ve been looking for.  There are times when either the light or subject you’re shooting needs a little something different, and for that I use movement to create a surreal landscape, potentially turning a mundane scene into an abstract of color and motion.

There are different techniques involved in this, but I’d like to introduce hand-held camera movement as one effective way to get that unique landscape shot.  In this image, I focused on the trees immediately in front of me, used a long shutter speed (greater than 1 second), a small aperture (f/8 or smaller) and a low ISO (200 or less).  The combination of a lower ISO and smaller aperture usually gives you a nice long shutter speed to work with, assuming you have your camera set on Aperture Priority.  If the shutter speed is still not long enough, consider using a filter or move to a location that has less light.

The trick to getting a good blend of movement yet keeping a fair amount of details depends on how much you move the camera while the shutter is open.  For example, if you move the camera the whole time the shutter is open, you'll most likely get a very blurry photo since light was streaming onto your sensor in a continuous fashion.

To keep some level of detail in the shot, move your camera for the first part of the shutter opening, but keep it as steady as possible for the last remaining time.  This will “burn in” some of the subject you have focused on, but will still render a good blend of movement.

The photo here was taken with the lens pointed skyward toward the sunset first, then brought down vertically quickly, and remained at rest for some portion of the shutter opening (maybe a half second), so that some detail of the trees was captured in the frame.

Camera movement doesn’t produce good results in all situations, but if you’re in the mood for an abstract nature shot, give it a try.  And remember, the more color and/or interesting shapes you're focused on the better!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) abstract art experimental forest images iowa landscape long exposure mount vernon movement nature photography rich herrmann sunset technique trees Mon, 06 Jan 2014 20:12:59 GMT
Let Photos Simmer After the HarvestAfter the HarvestCaptured on a November day west of Mount Vernon, IA.

There are times when a photograph just doesn't "speak" to me or seems to be missing an element of light, texture, color or composition.  Those photos are the ones to put away for another day.  I think what may happen is that my expectation of what the photograph should be doesn't match what it really is.  The memory of real life is too fresh and too influential.

Expectations tend to fade or change with time, so in those cases where a photo just didn't seem right for processing soon after it was captured, it's always a good idea to revisit it at later time.  Sometimes even just a few hours can make a difference, while other photos may need weeks or months to simmer.

This photo was processed almost a year after it was created.  Why?  At the time, I thought it didn't have the qualities of that magic light this particular afternoon displayed.  Or perhaps there was another photo that was "better" from the dozens created that afternoon.  Regardless, it was a pleasant surprise to look through this folder and find a gem.  

What caught my eye was the rich candy-colored sky and unusual cloud formation looming over the bales of corn stocks.  It brought back memories of that afternoon, and the photo seemed to beg for its proper place in the hierarchy of photos!  So after processing, (adding a little lightness to the ground and bumping up the contrast), the key elements of the photo seemed to be just as I had remembered.  Strange how that transpires.

Of course the great majority of time there are many more photos when viewed later are still not quite there...and most likely will never be...but it's worth simmering photos for a time just to see if your perspective has changed or your skills have improved on the processing side.  Perhaps you've acquired a new editing tool, or just have a different outlook on life, and finding that photo from a few months ago could reignite or spark your creativity again.

Here's to simmering photos my friends!


(Rich Herrmann Photography) art autumn bales clouds color corn corn bales farm harvest iowa landscape mount vernon nature photography rich herrmann simmer sunset technique Sun, 27 Oct 2013 02:40:40 GMT
Enhancing Nature's Colors First of all, I doubt that anyone can "enhance" the colors of nature, but what I meant by the title was how to enhance colors in your camera or with an editing program after the fact!  Nature is perfect.  No argument there.  But you can get closer to sharing your vision of what your eye sees by using a couple of techniques.  

The first is using a circular polarizing filter.  These have been around for a long time, and do a great job of enriching colors, removing glare, and adding a bit of contrast to the whole scene.  Polarizing filters work best when the sun is at roughly 45-90 degrees from your subject area.  Typically, the outside of the filter can rotate 360 degrees so you can "dial in" the desired colors of sky, fields or water.  

In this photo, I used a polarizing filter on a 70-200mm lens in late afternoon light.  The sun was setting to my right which was perfect for the filter to do its job of transforming the colors, bringing out the vibrancy of the soy beans and sky.

The Turning Landscape

The second technique I use to bring out nature's colors is to add contrast to a photo in Photoshop, Lightroom or any other editing tool.  Many times our camera's sensors tend to "wash out" particular areas of the image, especially when the light is strong, so that an overall hazy glow seems to hide some of the colors of a scene.

Adding a little contrast darkens the overall image, thus bringing out colors a little more and defining the shapes and objects in your image.  Adding contrast is probably the single most used technique I use consistently.  Almost every image I've ever created improved a bit by adding a touch of contrast.  Contrast is definitely something to think about when editing!

And of course, all this doesn't matter if you're not out there exploring!



(Rich Herrmann Photography) colors filter iowa landscape light nature photography polarizer rich herrmann technique Tue, 24 Sep 2013 01:59:00 GMT
Flash Photography in Nature iowa, nature, landscape, flash, shadow, sunset, corn, bale, sunsetStillness Using flash outside doesn't normally come to mind since the majority of time there's plenty of light, but at times it helps fill in shadows and can add a touch of color to your foreground.  This photo had a wide range of light (dynamic range) that needed something to bring out the foreground, so I used a touch of the camera's flash to highlight the corn bale and surrounding area.

If your subject is within 10 feet or so, and it could benefit from a little boost of light, use your camera's built-in flash to get that added effect.  Normally, I'll set the flash to be roughly 1/3 of its power so it doesn't "look" like a flash was used, but you will want to experiment with that setting.  The darker the shadows the more flash will benefit, however, there's a trade-off...using flash will look like you used flash by saturating the foreground with that artificial use it sparingly.  The trick is to use just enough to fill in shadows but not overwhelm the ambient light.

Professional portrait photographers have used flash for ages to fill in the jaw line, add extra sparkle to the eyes or highlight hair texture.  In nature, flash has the same purpose and should be used whenever you feel extra light is needed.  An alternative method for filling in shadows is to use a reflector, but that sometimes requires someone or something to hold it.  Flash also works very well for macro (close-up) photos so get out there an experiment a little with your flash!




(Rich Herrmann Photography) color flash iowa landscape mount vernon nature photography sunset technique Thu, 29 Aug 2013 01:01:47 GMT
Film to Digital Now that the latest digital cameras (including phone cameras) have more resolution, clarity and detail than 35mm film, it's amazing that film is making somewhat of a comeback.  Perhaps it's the nostalgia of days gone by using older cameras, or the surprise one experiences opening prints from film exposed two weeks ago.  But I think film has a variability and artistic influence that digital photos can't least for now...that gives film its unique niche in the world of photography.

Having used film for many years, it was difficult to make the transition to digital, but once the workflow was mastered with digital, I found the ease of use, flexibility and sheer artistic options available using digital cameras totally worth the effort.  However, why can't we use both?  Recently a friend gave me his Nikon FM camera (manufactured in the late 70's and early 80's), and I was fascinated by using film again after a decade of using digital cameras.  Could this be the artistic spark I needed to view the world in different ways?

After purchasing a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 film, I proceeded to take the journey to experiment with this "new" camera.  With no auto focus and a limited range of exposure settings, it also felt very strange in the hands (no contours or rubber grips that I've taken for granted).  But after some time, it was second nature to focus manually and let the camera do its thing.  The sound of the shutter, the feel of the film winder, and the heft of the camera had a certain real-world feel that was pretty cool.

The photo below is one of my favorites from that first session because it has raw elements of nature built into the film...the lens flare, slightly tinged color spectrum, and over exposed sky/sun.  But it also has a visual quality that can't be reproduced by a digital camera without some serious post-processing.

iowa, film, 35mm, light, nikon, analog, reeds, nature, "digital conversion"Sun is Life The work flow to create this is simple as long as you have a reliable film processor.  I asked the local photo processing store to develop the negatives and scan them with a high-res scanner.  They put all 36 exposures on a CD and included the negatives as one package.  From there it was a simple matter of choosing the best photos to copy to the computer and process normally using a digital workflow.  The one draw back to this method is that you can't change some of the basic characteristics of the photo before processing like you can with digital.  What that means is that you must strive to get that "look" in the camera so little or no tweaking is required.  That's the beauty of film - if you've captured a great photo in camera, it's going to look great in a digital format as well. 

One piece of advice - once you copy the scanned .jpg photo file to your computer, make sure you save it as a .tif image so that you can later edit the photo without loosing any quality.  Re-saving .jpg files repeatedly degrades the quality, so make a master .tif image first.

Film has been around a long time, and with the new technologies of scanning and post-processing, the artistic nature of film can be used to create beautiful photos. 

(Rich Herrmann Photography) 35mm analog art conversion digital film iowa mount vernon nature photo photography technique Mon, 19 Aug 2013 03:36:15 GMT
Using Time Time is the same for everyone, so how can you use time to your advantage when creating photographic art?  The answer is to let the camera capture time in longer increments, so that a scene or situation plays out. Obviously you can't do this in all situations, but try using this technique for clouds, water, storms, moving grass or anything that tells a story over time.

One classic approach is to set your shutter to "bulb" and press the shutter when something is about to happen, then release it to capture the scene.  This works great with fireworks, lightning, ocean surf or anything else that has movement with variable lighting. A good aperture to use is f/8, and make sure your auto focus is turned off.  

In this photo, the cloud lightning was intensely beautiful, but it was difficult to gather all the light in a few seconds. I tried holding the shutter open when it was relatively quiet, then right after a batch of lightning struck, released the shutter.  The last bit of lightning that moved through the clouds seemed to make a good impression on the camera's sensor, thus enabling it to be more pronounced. 

Iowa, clouds, lightning, storm, landscape, natureLightning Clouds

Stretching time out to capture multiple events can have some great results. This photo had about a 48 second exposure time, so depending on your lighting situation, tons of things can elapse and be captured on your sensor.  It's hard to believe that holding the shutter open for so long could yield good results, but it does! Make sure you set your ISO in the lower ranges (100-800) to keep sensor noise to a minimum. Most modern cameras do just fine at those ranges even if the exposure is for several minutes.  

So many good things can be captured and shared using this time technique.  But remember to use your tripod, since it's humanly impossible to hold your camera steady for more than a split second!  

(Rich Herrmann Photography) Iowa camera clouds exposure landscape lightning long exposure nature technique time Fri, 26 Jul 2013 02:38:56 GMT
Different Perspectives This has probably been said many times before, and in many cases it's true...change your perspective to capture a unique subject or lighting situation, and your photography will improve.  We tend to look at everything from a standing or sitting position, which is perfect most of the time, but every once in a while changing your camera's perspective gives your photograph something different for the viewer and is so much more interesting.

These flowers were gently blowing in a soft spring breeze, and I wanted to capture the swaying motion without having too much distracting blur.  The answer was to lower the camera to about 6 inches off the ground, point it up slightly, and time the shot so that part of the flower was in focus. 

This technique requires much trial and error since you can't actually see what the camera is capturing, but it's fun to guess where the focus will be and click away! 

purple haze motion capturePurple Haze When the light is right, this technique can be very effective and pleasing to the eye.  But be prepared to have many captures that are throwaways, since it truly is a hit or miss scenario.  The other advantage to this technique is that you can capture some amazing natural features that only small animals and bugs usually see!  Try holding your camera at different levels next time to see what great results you can get.


(Rich Herrmann Photography) flower herrmann iowa macro motion nature perspective photography purple technique tips Fri, 21 Jun 2013 09:20:41 GMT
Reflecting on Reflections Why are we drawn to reflections?  Be they from water, windows, fast cars or the smooth texture of a well-polished table, reflections seem to validate our reality, but in a different way.  They are upside down, sometimes distorted, but always there and always dependable.  We expect to see a reflection in a mirror or a window, but do we think about it and reflect on it?

When we see a reflection, there's a subconscious acknowledgement that it you walk by a store window and see the movement of yourself, or when you pass through a shadow cast against a see a reflection, a shape, a movement.  But do you really study it and "see" what it has to offer?

Cedar River in MarchCedar River in MarchEven cold, snowy days in March can have its beauty. Near Palisades State Park in Linn County, Iowa.

Obviously we cannot do that consistently since we have lives to lead and things to do.  But as a photographer, I sometimes search for  reflections just to study their patterns, colors, shapes and above all, their portrayal of reality, which can be quite fascinating.  In the photo here, the reflection was very life-like and detailed, but had an other-worldly, strange quality to it that was vaguely familiar at the same time.

Reflections mirror our reality, but they also twist, turn and mock our world in unique ways.  When the sun shines on a river or lake during the day it's almost impossible to look directly at the reflection, but wait until dawn or dusk, when they take on colors and shapes that transform the entire scene.  I like to think of reflections as the ever-changing artistic aspect of nature that brings delightful variance and inspiration to us.

Water has got to be one of the most amazing reflective surfaces in the world, but what about smooth rocks, shells or the hundreds of man-made objects that reflect?  Those are all worth exploring for sure.  

One thing to remember about photographing attention to your focus area, and if there is movement (like the surface of water), be sure to increase your shutter speed a little unless you want some blur.  Reflections are notoriously hard to capture in some instances, especially when the light is constantly changing.  But that's what makes them such a wonderful part of the world! 


(Rich Herrmann Photography) b&w black and white cedar river iowa landscape nature reflections river somposition symmetry water Sun, 07 Apr 2013 03:03:45 GMT
Lensbaby! Every once in while an innovation comes along that changes the way photos are captured or displayed.  One such innovation is the Lensbaby product line of lenses.  You've probably heard of them in ads or magazine reviews.  The Lensbaby I received as a Christmas gift was entirely not what I expected!  I knew the lens was bendable and flexible, but for some reason I thought this bending and twisting would stay put once you got the right focus.

That's not how this thing works!  To capture an image with the Lensbaby 'Spark', one must twist and bend the lens with fingers of both hands while adjusting the shutter speed dial and tripping the shutter with a thumb!  It's a crazy feeling, but one that's fun to master.  Since there is no data flowing from the lens (no autofocus or exposure readings), the camera is on full manual, with a fixed f/5.6 aperture.

lensbaby, spark, creek, landscape, iowa, sunset, snow, nature, sutliff, photography, artSnowy Creek Dreams

The cool thing about this lens is the way it distorts everything except the sweet spot of the area being focused on.  It's hard to explain how this works, but not only does the lens move in and out, it also moves in a circular motion.  This gives you an unlimited amount of options for focusing on a particular subject.

In this photo, I was on a bridge overlooking Clear Creek near Sutliff, Iowa, and placed the camera on the guard rail for stability.  I worked the Lensbaby up and down, in and out and twisted and contorted it many different ways before taking this photo.  It seems that the more light there is, the easier it is to see what you're focusing on, and the better your photos will turn out.  Since it's a fixed aperture lens, adjusting ISO or shutter speed are the options for getting the right exposure.

More practice is needed with this for landscape and nature photography, but I think the results can be unusual and entertaining.  Lensbaby has filled a niche for the specialized lenses that give the photographer an artistic option to explore.  At $80 for this lens, it's a great low risk investment that you may really enjoy!  More information can be found at


(Rich Herrmann Photography) art creek iowa landscape lens lensbaby nature photography rich herrmann snow spark sunset Fri, 01 Feb 2013 03:59:31 GMT
Winter in Iowa Winter in Iowa is similar to other Midwest states in that there is always a wide range of weather...from rain and sleet, to full blown a light dusting of snow or an occasional ice storm.  What I really like about winter is the diversity of light.  Recently, during blizzard conditions in Eastern Iowa, I ventured out to Ennis nature preserve west of Mount Vernon, IA to explore the area and record what was happening that day.

The thing that struck me the most was the overcast, yet subtle brightness of the sky, since so much snow was falling, but there was also moisture and fog in the mix, so everything had a certain glow to it.  As I walked through the forest near the Cedar River admiring snow patterns stuck on the north side of trees, I noticed this tree that seemed to stand out from all the rest.  It's bark was richly colorful compared to the stark white surrounding it.

The light was such that pulling out the details was a little difficult, but after several shots using bracketed exposure settings, I think it's true colors were captured.  This isn't one of those "wow" photos that jumps off the screen, but rather it's a subtle reminder of how beautiful nature can be in even the most subdued light.

Light is everything to a photographer, and even the slightest changes can bring fantastic opportunities for capturing Iowa's landscape.  The fun is to be out in it and enjoy every drop of light that comes your way! 


(Rich Herrmann Photography) blizzard ennis forest iowa landscape mount vernon nature rich herrmann snow tree Sat, 19 Jan 2013 16:58:42 GMT
55 Bales of Corn iowa, bales, corn, field, landscape, photography, nature, "round bales", 55 Bales A good photograph should convey a story, provoke an emotion or interact with the viewer in some way.  In this photo, I tried to bring out the interactive nature of people by tapping into our inherent nature to count and organize things.  The photo was captured on an overcast afternoon as my son and I were searching for classic barns in the area.  When the photo was processed later that evening, my mind naturally wondered how many bales were in the photo, so after counting them at least three times and getting three different results, I decided to give it a title that would potentially invite others to do the same.

From the comments received on this photo after posting to several different outlets, it was evident that others wanted to count the bales, but nobody seemed to have the same answer!  Some said 58, or 59, while others said 60 or more.  The fun thing about this was it invites the viewer to explore and ponder the results.

Is there a "right" answer?  Probably not, since there are one or two objects on the horizon that may or may not be bales, so it could throw off your count...but the point is that interacting with a photo is good for the photographer and viewer, and being creative with any method that promotes that is the way to go!



(Rich Herrmann Photography) autumn bales corn eastern iowa farming field iowa landscape nature Sun, 25 Nov 2012 15:18:22 GMT
Deep Focus When doing macro or close-up work, there's a focus technique that can bring some excellent results.  I call it "deep focus", and it can be a fun way of exploring your subject.  Start by finding an interesting plant, bush, pond or anything that has some depth, or that contains various patterns within it.  There are plants and weeds out there that have intricate layers of stems, leaves, flowers and parts that form some pretty complex structures.  You'll need a camera that can be switched to manual focus and a tripod for best results.

Casper Mountain Seed Pod

Set your camera and lens to manual focus, and really concentrate on the first layer of focus closest to you.  As you explore this first layer, look for patterns, colors or small details that bring out something unique or different.  Sometimes you'll find this layer is good enough and can reveal a wonderful photo.  If not, look deeper...focus deeper...onto the next layer by slightly adjusting the focus of the lens to the next layer of the subject.

At this point you are now looking through the subject to the very bottom to find its hidden shapes, patterns and secrets.  Keep focusing from top to bottom to find something that strikes you as unique, beautiful, interesting or strange.  Some plants are nothing like their tops when you focus half way down a stem.  As the photos below illustrate, the first photo was the top layer, and below it, about half way down the plant, revealed a wonderful star-like structure that just wasn't visible from above.  Both photos were captured within a few minutes of each other of the same plant (Goats Beard plant on Casper Mountain, WY).  


Same plant deeply focused...


What's fascinating about this technique, is that no matter how well you think you know a subject, deeply focusing within and through a subject can be very revealing and interesting.  Our eyes tend to capture all detail very quickly in the 3D world, thus we see the detail further down the subject, but it's not selective, so it tends to blend into the surroundings and we don't always "see" the smaller details.

Deep focus also applies to landscapes and medium distance shots, although they may not be as dramatic as the close-ups of plants or smaller subjects.  It's always a fascinating journey to explore nature, and this is one way of discovering your own world to share with others!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) deep focus focus goats beard iowa nature photography rich herrmann technique wyoming Sun, 04 Nov 2012 15:16:12 GMT
Embrace the Light After a recent day-long very welcome rain, the light was on the gloomy side, with a soft, grey flatness streaming from the overcast sky.  But a rain can bring out many subtle autumn colors normally hidden, and it doesn't take much light to see the pop of reds, yellows and greens.  However, it didn't look like a promising photo day because it was so grey, but I decided to grab the gear and head off to a favorite spot anyway.  Ennis nature preserve just west and south of Mount Vernon, Iowa has an array of interesting places to explore, from a traditional forest to a little prairie to the Cedar River with its fascinating bluffs and changing water levels.  Being fairly close to Palisades State Park, much of the same topology is present at Ennis.

When I arrived, the light was still flat and grey, but something about the rain brought out the colors in almost everything.  In addition, the trees were soaked and had a wonderful darkness to their bark, which made the yellow/gold leaves really stand out.  The challenge was how to capture this beauty without an ounce of direct sunlight.

leaves, autumn, colors, fall, forest, macro, diversity, nature, diffusedDiversity

As I was walking through the forest, leaves carpeted the floor and they all seemed to be unusually bright today.  This phenomenon was due to the way light was diffused by the cloud cover, which tends to let the eye catch more of the entire frequency of colors, thus giving the impression of brightness or saturation.  After studying different areas of the forest floor, I chose this area where it seemed like a diverse array of leaves and colors had presented themselves.  

This image has very little post-processing, with just a bit of color enhancement and contrast.  The photo is very close to how it looked in real life, so I was pleased with the outcome.  Even in a soft light, there are opportunities to bring out the beauty of nature.  In this case, the rain helped immensely by saturating the leaves which really brings out the colors, and using diffused light to your advantage is an important tool.   So the next time there's a rainy gloomy day, don't be afraid to explore to see if colors have changed for you to capture the wonder of nature!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) autumn color diffused ennis forest iowa leaves light mount vernon nature palisades park rain rich herrmann Sun, 21 Oct 2012 15:09:10 GMT
Dreamscapes Photography is not all about depicting the world in a perfectly recorded state.  Dreamscapes, motion blur, ICM, blending, double-exposures and Photoshop techniques all help portray our inner visions through technology.   The beauty of these techniques and methods is that they are not science, but rather art, so that unexpected (sometimes better than expected) results occur.  

In this case, the sun was setting in Mount Vernon, IA and we were just getting home from having dinner at a local restaurant.  The clouds were lit up and glowing, the light was mesmerizing, and I knew that without a camera, this beauty would be lost forever.  Grabbing my camera and tripod from inside, and knowing that a higher vantage point was needed, I quickly grabbed the extension ladder from the garage and was on the roof in less than 2 minutes.

Since the sun was already below the horizon, I quickly setup the tripod and began to capture the beauty of the scene.  After reviewing some of the shots, it felt that something was missing.

dreamscape, ICM, sunset, iowa, landscape, nature, photography, colorsThe Dream I decided to create something different, and started to experiment with holding the camera by hand to introduce a little movement.  Out of the 3 or 4 photos taken in that mode, this one had the best blend of horizon details, cloud color and that little extra something called "what the heck was that and how did that happen?"

Many of you won't like this photo due to its lack of sharpness or interesting detail.  But to me it's a dream that was created in a split second and carries with it memories and evidence that the world can be real and a dream all at once!

The camera movement created an alternative landscape, or dreamscape, that has elements of reality (the water tower and part of King Chapel on the horizon), but also elements of fantasy and surrealism (the multiple stair-stepped horizon and cloud motion with a foggy feel to it). 

The colors were real and very little was done to this photo.  It's basically out of the camera with a little contrast enhancement.  The beauty of this type of photo is that it depicts a combination of real and unreal, and for some of us, that's what we look for in every photo!

I hope you enjoy the wide variety of photography out there and can appreciate all the methods used to bring art and beauty to the world.  Dream on!


(Rich Herrmann Photography) ICM clouds color dreamscape iowa landscape motion mount vernon sunset Sun, 16 Sep 2012 03:46:03 GMT
Blending Man-Made Objects With Nature So much of our world has been modified by the human race.  We see man-made objects in some of the remotest parts of the world, clearly encroaching on the natural landscape.  That's a reality that won't go away, so it would seem natural to incorporate those structures and objects into our nature photography when and where it's appropriate.

Step One: What do you want to portray?  This is a hard question, but one that needs answered.  Is the man-made object something that enhances rather than degrades nature?  Does it blend with its surroundings or blatantly stand out?  In the case of these rocks on North Beach in Port Townsend, Washington, the rocks were obviously placed there by people, but it also seemed possible that a natural force assembled these into this cool structure.  Of course that didn't happen, but it's fun to let the mind wander at times like that!  

I've been near other structures or objects that were real eye-sores, but don't count those out too quickly.  Sometimes a very strong statement can be made by capturing the contrast between natural beauty and the scars man-made objects have left.  I've often encountered garbage, old tires, bed mattresses and the like while wondering through the woods, and always stop to think if there's an opportunity to showcase that in a positive way.  All too often the answer is no, mainly because it's ugly, revolting, shocking, but also because I'm ashamed at how we treat the Earth.  

washington, "port townsend", beach, rocks, sunset, nature, herrmann, pattern, signs, Secret Life of Rocks Step Two: How should it be captured?  With many objects, it's easy to see a relationship with nature.  We see examples everywhere...a fence leading to a spectacular patch of trees, or a once-majestic barn that still has fascinating architecture which blends with the overgrown bushes or weeds nearby.  But other objects are more difficult to define.  One way of looking at it would be to pretend the object was purely natural and frame it as such.  I tried to do that in this photo.  The rocks could have easily been a small bush, tree, or drift wood that was waiting for someone to admire it.  But in this case, the formation of the rocks made it easy to follow to the top of the frame and out to the wonderful sunset beyond the horizon.

Step Three: Process and enjoy!  If you've given your composition some thought, you'll probably have a "nature" photo, but with a little man-made influence thrown in for good measure.  After all, everything we know of came from the natural world to begin with, so why not include it in your next shot?

(Rich Herrmann Photography) beach color herrmann nature objects photography rocks shapes sunset washington Mon, 20 Aug 2012 02:47:03 GMT
Iowa's Barns There are many wonderful things that catch the eye in Iowa.  In this case it was a barn not far from Mount Vernon.  One afternoon in late summer when the sun was setting, I stumbled upon this once-majestic structure and decided to attempt to capture it in a way that was as unique as the architecture itself.  The soy beans were starting to turn color, the sun had just set beyond the horizon, and the scene was ripe for capturing some magic.

iowa, hdr, barn, landscape, nature, Smyth Road Barn After taking a few test shots, I realized the only way all the details, colors and subtle parts of this barn were going to be visible was through HDR (High Dynamic Range) techniques.  This entailed making three photos, one underexposed, one overexposed and one just right, then blending all three using post-processing tools such as Photomatix and Adobe Photoshop.

As hard as I tried to bring out the true beauty of this barn with a single shot, it just wasn't going to happen.  Camera sensors are great at picking up a lot of detail and color, but in landscape shots, many important details can get lost in either highlighted areas or shadow areas that are beyond the sensor's range for a particular exposure setting.  If done properly, HDR brings out the best of all three (or more) exposures so the photographer can experiment with various levels of tone, detail and color saturation.

The finished result has a hint of "this is an HDR" photo, but overall I tried to tone it down to bring the realism out as much as possible.  And the icing on the cake was when the big bird on the top of the barn started to flap its wings, I was able to capture a moment in time that gives the entire scene a timeless feel.

This photo was also selected by Chicago artist Sonata who was commissioned to create a ceramic mural for the Linn County Community Services building in Cedar Rapids, IA.  She used my photo as a small part of the mural which stands over 20 feet high.  She's done some awesome work in other public places as well. 

Unfortunately, many of the older barns are slowly disappearing.  They are an inherent part of the Iowa landscape, so I will continue to find and record their beauty whenever I can.

(Rich Herrmann Photography) HDR barn farm fields iowa landscape mount vernon nature rich herrmann Sun, 08 Apr 2012 03:53:18 GMT
Depth of Field In the photography world, Depth of Field (DoF) is a term used to describe how much of a photo is in focus.  From an artistic point of view, focusing the viewer's eyes on an important subject or an area of the photo is key to successfully getting your message across.  When DoF works, it's an amazing thing.  

iowa, flower, sunset, spring, nature, photography, herrmann, Sun Sparkles Our minds seem to fill in a lot of things, and even if the background is out of focus, blurry or shaded, we can still infer what's back there based on colors, foreground subject or other clues within the photo.  It's a pretty cool process if you think about it.  What is really amazing is that we don't actually see that way in real life!  We see everything all at once, with no fuzzy backgrounds or blurry shapes.  So why is DoF so vitally important to a photo?  Because it's only 2D.  In the 3D world, we judge and see that objects are closer or further, even if they are both in focus, we know they are not on the same distance plane, thus have an easier time focusing on one or the other.

With a 2D photo, if the DoF was all the same for a subject, the eye gets caught in the details, seeing too many things that look like they are on the same plane, without distance or perspective.  This is confusing to us, so we tend to look away from photos that are "too busy".  Landscape photos are exceptions of course, since we want everything to be in focus when looking out into the distance. 

For this photo, a large aperture on the lens was used so that only the flower was in focus.  The sun was setting and as I positioned around the flower looking for the best angle, the sparkles and soft reflections changed shape and intensity.  I think the reason this photo works is because the eye immediately recognizes sunlight and foliage in the background, thus the context is determined, and viewing the flower is a natural extension of that context.  There were one or two shots that didn't have that nice background, and believe me, they were ugly!  We really crave a defined focus area it seems in photos, especially close-ups of flowers or other objects. 

It's fun to play with DoF because just a slight change in focus can totally change the mood of a photo!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) color flower iowa mount vernon nature photography sunset Mon, 19 Mar 2012 04:04:25 GMT
Exploring Superstitious Mountain by Rich HerrmannSuperstition Mountain #1 I was fortunate enough to spend time in Phoenix recently with my brother John, who is an excellent musician and explorer in his own right, and was able to capture this photo on our last day in the area.  We decided to explore the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix to see what they had to offer.  John had been to the area before and knew roughly what to expect.  We searched for a gully with flowing water that John remembered seeing on his last trip to the area, and finally found it, but it was dry, so off we went wandering across the beautiful landscape of cholla, saguaro and barrel cactus.  The Sonoran desert is a very interesting place.  It has so many varieties of living things that it's amazing to think it all survives on less than 10 inches of rain a year. 

Sometimes having no agenda, plan or goal is what exploring is all about.  After a great day of hiking and looking at interesting plants, rock formations and the occasional lizard, we decided to start looking for a place that most represented the area as the sun was beginning to set.  The light in the west can be amazing, especially as it reflects off mountains, rocks, and subtle desert plants.  This photo was captured just before the sun hit the horizon, and for about 5 minutes it was pure magic.  Using a blending technique to capture the best of two differently exposed photos seemed to render the beauty most accurately. 

I'm glad we didn't have a plan that day.  It was just a day to explore, view, wonder, accept what nature brings, and be humbled by the awesome beauty of it all.  Cheers to all the explorers out there, searching and finding their own way regardless of where or what they do...because it's the spirit of exploration that is so powerful within us and should be embraced whenever it can.

(Rich Herrmann Photography) Landscape arizona cactus desert nature photography! Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:49:57 GMT
What is it About Sunsets? iowa, sunset, "mount vernon", "king chapel", evening, clouds, colorMount Vernon Sunset For some reason I've been attracted to sunsets for a long time (mainly because I've honestly not seen that many sunrises!), but either way, the sun does something to my senses.  Yes, the sun sheds its golden light on all things we know of, and casts some magnificent shadows, but there's something more to it I think. 

Sunsets seem to help me explore the mystical transition time, the time when things start to change...between the hustle-bustle of daylight and the more laid-back evening hours, where all sorts of things can happen.  A sunset has that certain aura that helps one transition between the two.  But it also holds secrets that are very difficult to capture and share.  There are so many variables when shooting a sunset.  The challenge for me is to bring out the color of the sky as accurately as possible.  Have you ever had your breath taken away or stared in awe at a sunset?  It's that moment of beauty and wonderment that is so elusive to capture.

Typically, one or two stops below normal exposure seems to really bring out the rich, deep colors of a sunset.  Unfortunately, underexposing that much tends to make everything but the sky a silhouette, which is fine in some cases, but terrible in others.  The photo here did exactly that.  King Chapel in the distance is dark and outlined while the sky has all the dreamy colors one would expect from a sunset - pretty much everything in the spectrum to some extent.  In this case it works, but if there's something interesting in the foreground, what then?

That's a difficult situation.  I handle it by blending two photos with a properly exposed sky and one with a properly exposed foreground.  In the film days that was not possible, so what did the masters do?  I don't know.  That will take some research.  But in the digital world, blending two or more photos together, taking the best of each, seems to be the easiest for me. 

Sunsets are truly a gift.  Depending on where you are, who you're with, what you're doing or what your state of mind is, a sunset can  totally mesmerize, inspire, infuse, or energize you, or, turn you introspective, contemplative, appreciative or otherwise tap into your inner being.  The challenge is capturing that moment for all to see!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) color iowa king chapel mount vernon nature photography sunset Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:48:23 GMT
A Word on Abstracts It's difficult to find a clear definition of abstract photography.  Many agree that photos falling into that category convey a non-literal representation of the subject matter, expressing forms, colors, shapes or shadows that represent something.  I like to think of abstract photography as anything that could be interpreted in multiple ways.  That may sound too broad, but consider the ice structure below, taken on the banks of the Cedar River near Palisades State Park in Eastern Iowa.

The thin layers of ice were formed by gentle waves from the river and froze in interesting patterns over time.  At first glance, this photo could be interpreted as a painting, a rock formation, or any number of things.  But as you key into the patterns and color, it becomes clear it's ice.  Some viewers will see shapes or objects embedded in the patterns, while others will see nothing but the photo forming on the cedar river rich herrmann photographyCedar River Ice

So is this an abstract photo?  Yes and no.  Taken from a single shot, it's an exact duplicate of what really existed, but the way it's cropped may lead the viewer to other avenues since there's no context.

What I like about these photos is the different way people are wired visually, thus the interpretive aspect of viewing comes into play.  To me, the photo has a little bit of science fiction in the upper right where the ice looks more marbled and crystallized, it reminds me of a head with some kind of clear space helmet on, with the the body laying across the frame with the left arm along the bottom.  Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but I'll bet others see something different. 

An argument could be made that every photo has the potential for multiple interpretations, and indeed, most good photos have that characteristic, so one could argue that everything is abstract.  But in the end, most would probably agree that there's a line somewhere in our brain that screams "abstract" vs. "awesome landscape" or "beautiful flower".

The other cool thing about abstracts is that there are a bunch of different kinds...impressionistic, literal images out of context, extreme colors, shapes or forms, and just about anything else that has a pattern or shape to it.  Nature has produced the most amazing shapes and patterns we've ever seen, and if you add the cosmos in the mix, abstracts are quite breathtaking and essentially everywhere.

The next time you see an interesting pattern, shape or set of colors, explore it and try to capture the essence of the scene.  You may find that capturing our world in a different way can be inspiring and fun!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) blue ice iowa mount vernon nature photography winter Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:46:26 GMT
Breaking the Rules iowa, sutliff, lake, water, trees, reflections, composition, nature, landscape, herrmann, "rich herrmann", photography,Reflections There are basic rules (guidelines) of photography that are time tested and true...rule of thirds, leading lines, symmetry and patterns, cropping, perspective, background, etc.  Many of those guidelines were developed by painters and artists who had an uncanny knack for telling a story through visual means.  Our minds seem to work flawlessly within those boundaries.

For example, when viewing a landscape, the eye wants to naturally "lock" onto something in the foreground for reference, gradually moving out and up toward the horizon, and resting someplace far away since that's exactly how the world is perceived in real life.  Most successful photographs have at least two or more of those guidelines, ultimately rendering something that we can understand, relate to or enjoy.

But what happens when the guidelines are not followed, are too obscure or hidden?  We make instant judgment calls on photos that don't have that natural-human-eye-flow to it.  Those photos may be hard to look at since they may have out of balance objects, illogical focal points or distractions, chaotic subjects or confusing points of interest.  I've taken my fair share of those photos for sure!  But every once in a while, breaking the rules can be liberating, fun and may produce some interesting, unique results.

There are many things about this photo that people may not like...too much to look space to rest the eyes...subject right in the middle of the frame, confusing subject matter...etc.  Yes, that's all true, but it's also true that there's symmetry with the trees and water, patterns of nature are evident, consistent color exists and the perspective is interesting.  Plus it could be a great photo split up into multiple sections spread across a wall!

It seems that even if a photo doesn't have all the elements of a classic composition, if it's created with heart, emotion, passion or interest, it will work for the viewer and shine through.  As is true with anything in life, diversity and flexibility are valuable aspects in our lives, and bending the rules to make a statement or explore the world is exactly what we're meant to do!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) HDR autumn iowa lake mount vernon nature photography Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:45:11 GMT
The Beauty of Black and White Many years ago, B&W photos were the norm, and the entire world became very comfortable viewing everything in gray-scale tones. Film in those days gave each photo a special mark of uniqueness since film manufacturing and retail processing had some variability (in most cases that was a good thing!).  Today, color is king, and most photographers use B&W very sparingly in their portfolios (including me!).

iowa, b&w, snow, thistles, landscape, macro, herrmann, "rich herrmann", photographySnow Thistles But creating a B&W photo is not as easy as one would think.  In fact, many photos rendered or converted into B&W look absolutely terrible in that format due to the closeness in tones between objects, which cause depth of field loss, or the photo has too many elements blending together, giving it a washed out, confusing look.  But there are photos and subjects that are ideal for B&W.  Those photos tend to have defined shapes, tones or subjects that really stand out or are easy to determine.

This snow thistle photo was created on an overcast, cold, winter day near the Cedar River in Eastern Iowa.  The thistles had little white caps of snow from the previous night's snowfall and there wasn't much color to be found anywhere.  Since there was a wide range of tones between the snow, river and thistles, it seemed a natural fit for B&W.  All I needed to do was increase the contrast a little and crop the photo slightly to get the final result.  In some ways, B&W photography is perfect for contrasting tones, since the eye tends to immediately recognize shapes and outlines regardless of color.

The master of B&W was Ansel Adams.  One of his quotes was "Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer - and often the supreme disappointment".  How true!  All it takes is a little less light, standing in the wrong position, using the wrong lens or choosing the wrong shutter speed or aperture for a photo to be dull and uninteresting.  When viewing a scene that could potentially be rendered in B&W, it's equally important to remember that shapes, patterns, and subtle color differences are key elements.  But the results can be spectacular when everything comes together.  Some of the most dramatic photos in my memory from childhood were B&W because of that definition and clarity, as I'm sure many of you can also relate to.    

So the next time you compose a scene, think about what it would look like without color - is there enough definition between the subject and background, do you have interesting patterns, shapes or color differences in the scene?  If so, it may be a good candidate for B&W that could really bring out the drama, emotion or personal statement within your photo.

(Rich Herrmann Photography) black and white herrmann iowa monochrome mount vernon nature photography thistles Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:43:46 GMT
When in Doubt, Shoot it Out! One weekend afternoon I was feeling like a moth to the flame as the fading sunset light gave everything a golden, glowing sparkle of goodness, and I was desperately on the lookout for something interesting to capture.  It's in those moments of the "golden hour" that the senses are heightened because the light is so powerful and magnificent, almost everything looks good (of course that's not true, but the mind plays tricks on you at times!).  As I drove down a gravel road west of Mount Vernon, Iowa, I passed by some railroad tracks and just happened to glance over at them as the car passed by.  What I saw made me hit the brakes hard and pile out of the car!

The rails were lit-up like hot electric steel, almost glowing from the reflected sunlight.  As I stood and pondered the scene, it occurred to me there was some extreme contrast here, with the sun fading to the west and the darkness all around.  But I was determined that this had to be a photo in the making, so started shooting.  I was very doubtful anything would turn out, but went for it anyway.  The first few photos were terrible - the wrong shutter speed was used so everything was slightly blurred.  I didn't want to use flash because that would ruin the overall mood and colors, so I increased the ISO settings to 400, which enabled a quicker shutter speed, and presto, things started to take shape.  

Holding the camera as still as possible (no tripod due to sun fading so fast), I continued to adjust the aperture (thus affecting shutter speed), and the exposure compensation (to get the sunset exposed just right), until a decent photo appeared on the camera's display.  In the film days, this would have been a total trial and error situation, where trusting the camera's sensor and film was paramount to getting the right color balance and exposure, and waiting a week to get the film back was the only option.

But in today's digital world, instant feedback is your best friend, so why not use it?  Out of the 7 or 8 shots taken over a period of a few minutes that afternoon, this one seemed to portray the beauty of the scene most accurately.  Although it may be a bit dark for some, I think the glowing tracks, darkness and awesome light of the sunset compliment each other for a pleasant nature photo.  Very little post-processing was required since the exposure and colors were very close to what the end result was in my mind.  

So when you're out and about and have some doubts about a photo or scene, the best thing you can do is shoot it out!  Let it fly, and make adjustments on the run.  Let your mind wonder and explore.  There's a reason they call photography an art - nobody has the formula - but you do have the ability to capture some amazing things with your camera, so get to it!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) iowa mount vernon nature photography rail tracks Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:41:42 GMT
The Art of Patience Patience can be an important part of your strategy when capturing the world through a lens.  I don't have a lot of patience, but have learned that even demonstrating a "bit-more-than-you-think-you-have" goes a long way in helping find that unique perspective or interesting photo.
Hello World! One afternoon near Reinbeck, Iowa, I had my gear setup in a flower garden, with the sun to my back, carefully exploring the delicate flowers and insects in hopes of an interesting shot.  I had taken a few photos of this beautiful yellow flower, but wasn't happy with the lighting (it was too dull), so forced myself to really study the flower, to look at it from different angles, and to be patient as the light hopefully changed for the

While studying the flower through the viewfinder and experimenting with different focal lengths, two things happened almost
simultaneously...sunlight drenched the flower in its powerful rays AND a little grasshopper crawled up on top of the flower to see what was going on!  It was a moment of "wow" for me as I clicked the shutter and hoped it was all captured.  The result was surprising in that there must have been flowers or a reflection adjacent to the grasshopper that made it appear blue.  However it happened, I was most appreciative, and think it adds a nice touch to the photo.

I've been in similar situations where my patience level was low, and can't help wondering how many opportunities were missed due to restlessness, impatience or "feeling hurried".  But at least in this one instance, the reward for patience was a decent photo that brings a smile each time it's viewed!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) color flower iowa nature photography Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:40:05 GMT
Nasty Weather Photography I've read several articles from famous photographers over the years about the importance of being "out there" when the weather turns bad.  The reason?  That's when light can be the most dramatic, mesmerizing, polarized or whatever words you want to describe "awesome light".  However, there are drawbacks to being in that environment.  First there is the stress it puts on your gear...batteries don't last as long in cold weather, cold temperatures make everything work in slow motion (including your fingers!), and extreme heat or moisture can put condensation on lenses or cause problems with camera electronics.  

But the trade-offs are worth it in my opinion.  Being in a bad weather situation can be rewarding because it gives you a unique perspective on a scene or subject that otherwise looks tame or mundane.  As an example, after a winter storm in 2010, when ice, snow and hoarfrost covered the entire area around Mount Vernon and Lisbon, I knew there was a special moment waiting to happen somewhere.  The fog and clouds were keeping the sun from peeking through that morning, but any shimmer of light seemed to be magnified by the bright white ice that covered everything.  There was something special about the light that was difficult to describe that morning.    

iowa, hoarfrost, frost, landscape, "mount vernon", herrmann, photographyHoarfrost on Mount Vernon Road After walking around for a couple of hours looking for photo opportunities, I decided to drive to another area, stopping on a gravel road near the Abbe Creek school.  There I experienced a scene unfolding that was both beautiful and inspiring.  The wind was blowing just a little, it was probably 5 or 10 degrees outside, and my fingers were going numb from setting up the camera controls on the tripod while waiting to see what was going to happen.  Finally, streaks of sunlight broke through the grayness and revealed this classic Iowa landscape.  In person, it was one of the most beautiful landscapes I had witnessed.  

As I drove home wet and cold from the ice and snow, there was a certain satisfaction that I was able to share a rare occurrence in nature with others, and it was totally worth it!  The shot was captured using exposure bracketing to include the wide dynamic range of light, and later processed to bring out the subtle changes in light near the creek and in the trees. Nasty weather photography can be the most rewarding time to express yourself and find those unique photos that set you apart from other photographers.

(Rich Herrmann Photography) HDR frost hoarfrost ice iowa mount vernon nature photography snow weather winter Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:38:37 GMT
Cedar River HDR One cold winter afternoon last year, I was exploring the trails leading to the river at the Ennis Nature Preserve west of Mount Vernon, and noticed the sky was starting to clear.  It had been overcast most of the day, and I was mentally prepared for no sunset with a long walk back to the car.  But as the sun was setting, I stood on the bank of the Cedar River and watched geese fly by looking for their nightly resting spots, and noticed some wonderful color developing in the sky.

Cedar River HDR by Rich Herrmann PhotographyCedar River Snow

I decided to try High Dynamic Range (HDR), a technique that blends three differently exposed photos into one, so that the entire visual range is captured.  Setting up on a tripod, I composed the photo so that the most intense part of the sky was in view as well as the beautiful reflections of the clouds and sun.  Three exposures later, the foundation was laid for this unique and colorful version of the river. 


In post-processing, I tried to bring out the intense colors and hues that seemed to be floating around that evening.  Even though the HDR process may have tinted the snow a little blue, this photo to me represents a close likeness of what it was like to be there enjoying a quiet winter evening in Iowa!  Magic!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) HDR cedar river iowa nature photography sunset Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:36:53 GMT
How Foggy Valley Was Created After chasing the sun along the Cedar River south of Hwy 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon, I was driving home and noticed this break in the trees with the valley and fog creeping in ever so slowly.  It was getting dark, so I had to work quickly.  I walked out into the field just enough to get a sense of what was going on and where a good perspective might be.

After setting up the tripod and getting a few test shots, I started to really focus on the fog and different colors of the sunset.  I was really hoping for the sunset light to brush the fog, but alas, the sun was going to sleep, so the fog was just FOG!

I decided this might be a good HDR shot, so bracketed 3 shots (-2 EV, 0, +2 EV).  The sky was so bright compared to the lower valley, it would have been very difficult to get the exposure right without the help of HDR or some post-processing.  However, there are photographers out there that could probably pull it off - but I'm not one of them yet! 

During processing, I didn't like the way the HDR process over-saturated the sky and gave the foreground an artificial look.  So using Photoshop CS5, I decided to load all three images up and use layer masking to bring out the best part of each exposure.  The sky is mostly from the underexposed photo, while the foreground is from the normally exposed photo, and the fog has touches of the overexposed photo to bring out the whiteness.

It was fun processing and playing with the possibilities since the original images were good enough to manipulate.  Sometimes sunset shots become too this or that and aren't useful for much of anything, but in this case I got lucky! 

Hope you enjoy this photo of an open field and gentle valley in Eastern Iowa.  It was fun being there!

(Rich Herrmann Photography) fog iowa nature photography sunset Sat, 18 Feb 2012 04:04:34 GMT