Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

Behind The Lens

Behind The Lens: Deepen The Mystery

“Mirage” Giraffe reflections in watering hole at sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM @ 64mm, 1/800 second @ f/4, ISO 2500.

“The Job Of The Artist Is Always To Deepen The Mystery”– Francis Bacon

It is not the job of the photographer to make things as clear and direct as possible for the viewing audience – or to present the photograph as to be fully comprehended or understood – it’s to deepen the mystery. The photographer’s job should be creating a sense of wonder, curiosity, bewilderment, even confusion. By withholding or hiding some visual information and clues, it leaves some work for the viewer so they become transformed from passive observers to an active participants while they try to unravel he mystery.

One of the reasons the image above has been so successful is its element of mystery, particularly with regard to the blocked-up shadows where the giraffes ought to be. The temptation for many photographers would be to open up the shadows as much as possible during processing to reveal all the details. But to deepen the mystery with my audience, I’ve purposely obscured a vital part of the image (the subjects) by allowing the shadows go to black and inviting the viewer to explore and solve the visual mystery. And like a good songwriter who refuses to explain the meaning of his or her lyrics, I’ll say no more about it.

Mysteries are incredibly compelling. The job of the photographer is to preserve them.
“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” – Rene Magritte.
“The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you” – Oscar Wilde

Mirage was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR and Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens  and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Mirage can be licensed or purchased as a print here.

Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 


Favorite Images of 2018: A Retrospective

Favorite Images of 2018: A Retrospective

Inspiration

Favorite Images of 2018: A Retrospective

I spent much of December at home with a thought-provoking read titled The Artist’s Journey by author and screen writer, Steven Pressfield. And while I don’t completely agree with everything he espouses, I do recommend the book for artists, writers, musicians, or anyone with a career in a creative field. Among the many views the author posits (you can read some of the more profound excerpts on Tim Ferriss’ blog, How To Undertake the Artist’s Journey) is that the artist’s intent should not necessarily be one of self expression, as you might have heard and believed most of your creative life, but rather a journey of self discovery. 

“Artists discover themselves by the work they produce,” Pressfield asserts.

Those eight words above have haunted me now for weeks. As I pored over this year’s work to make the following selections, I asked… What matters to me most? What is my life’s purpose? What three words describes me best? I had relatively adequate answers to those questions already yet I searched for new meaning in my most recent work, making little to no progress. But since I’m insanely self-critical (there are no framed pictures of my work adorning the walls of my home or office, for example) I did manage to extract the following threads of introspection: Is this really all you’ve accomplished this year? Seriously, what an utter waste of twelve months. You really should spend more time actually doing photography and less time writing and talking about it. Okay, fair enough.

In addition, he implores artists to “put your ass when your heart wants to be” – an inelegant way of phrasing, Do Whatever Inspires You. Great advice, I’d say, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years, including this most recent one. So with regard to Pressfield, his book, and my journey of self-discovery, let’s just say it all evens out and continue to my favorite images of 2018, shall we?

Lilac Wine
Acadia National Park, Maine USA
October 12, 2018

Perhaps subconsciously inspired by Claude Monet’s series of impressionist water lily paintings, I caught the sunset sky reflected in a beaver pond along Duck Brook Pond in Acadia National Park in Maine. I liked the combination of abstract qualities with a touch of the literal found in the lily pads and reeds. Getting the right amount of balance and spacing of literal elements within the image frame was key. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 400mm, 1/125 second @ f/16, ISO 500.

Dark Karma
Praia da Adraga at dusk, Portugal
June 1, 2018

Praia da Adraga is a place of dangerous beauty. The waves are big and powerful, the surf thunderous, and the rocks either too slippery, too sharp, or the lethal union of both. I anticipated an epic fail at every turn but managed to avoid disaster with each visit made. I wanted my images to convey this feeling of impending doom I carried in the pit of my stomach and Dark Karma came as close as any others. But alas, on my final evening at Adraga, while walking out in the dark, I suffered a violent, if not comical fall on the rocks, leaving a hockey puck-sized bruise on my thigh with all the colors of a Mediterranean sunset. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Irix 15mm, 30 seconds @ f/11, ISO 100.

Turning Away
Humpback whale, Johan Petersen Fjord, Eastern Greenland
August 21, 2018

Most of you know that wildlife conservation is a passion of mine, particularly the preservation of endangered species. The humpback whale is one of our rare success stories, with its conservation status upgraded from endangered (1988) to vulnerable (1996) due to the cessation of commercial whaling practices. But now the ocean’s plastics crisis threatens them once again. I like to imagine the displayed gesture as an anthropomorphic middle finger to the most “advanced” primates of the planet. If you look closely above the tail, you can see not only the outline of an iceberg, but also the edge of Greenland’s massive ice sheet. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 158mm, 1/1600 second @ f/5.6, ISO 125.

Daughter of the Sun
Etosha National Park, Namibia
June 25, 2018

This Etosha giraffe appears to be bowing before the sun mere minutes before it dropped below the horizon. The sun is so large in the image from because of the focal length (560mm) and I battled all the usual bugaboos associated with shooting directly into the sun: flare, ghosting, autofocus problems, underexposure, and real possibility of being blinded in the process. All in all, however, it seems to have worked out well enough. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm w/ 1.4x @ 560mm, 1/500 second @ f/10, ISO 250.

Promenade
Lake Clark National Park at Cooke Inlet, Alaska
August 10, 2018

My love-hate relationship with bears continued in 2018 with a visit to Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. The chosen image here teaches a valuable lesson for wildlife photographers who instinctively reach for the longest lens in the bag and zoom in as close as possible. Many just aren’t happy until every detail of fur or feather can be resolved fully in the frame. And let’s face it, this tendency is also an opportunity to show off some of your technical proficiency, am I right?  But the more compelling image is often the wider option. Here we have layers of sky, mountains, water, shoreline, bears, and their reflections. This is much more interesting than the conventional close up. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm w/1.4x @ 560mm, 1/2500 second @ f/5.6, ISO 800.

Steel Rain
The Vestrahorn at Stokksnes, Southeast Iceland
February 24, 2018

Classic landscape layout; sweeping, wide-angle perspective, compelling foreground with patterns creating perspective progression, diagonal shoreline leading the eye to the mountains in the background. This was captured in some of the worst weather you can imagine with the temperature near freezing, rain, sleet, and wind (I did have friends and fellow photographers nearby with whom I could share the agony) but within the hour, the skies opened up and a rainbow appeared over the mountains. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35mm @ 17mm, 4 seconds @ f/14, ISO 100.

Chasing the Light
Etosha National Park, Namibia
June 27, 2018

This is my personal favorite from 2018 and the most difficult image for me to describe with mere words. For one thing, I never remember taking the photo; it’s like a dream. I discovered the photo later that evening while reviewing images in my cabin. No animal is displayed in it’s entirety; the photo is all legs and trunks. The light is exquisite. The combination of backlighting and dust kicked up by the herd of elephants produces some curious visual effects such as the double edges where the light bleeds into the shadows and vice-versa. The composition uses layers to frame the young elephant farthest away from us, which is where our eye comfortably rests. I’m reminded of Robert Hunter’s lyrics, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” The camera and lens were pointed in the right direction at the right time for a reason I can’t explain or properly take credit for. Maybe it was just the light. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 200-400mm @ 280mm, 1/1600 second @ f/9, ISO 640.

Quercus Angelus
Johns Island, South Carolina
November 26, 2018

This is my backyard, not quite literally, but nearly so. I’ve photographed this tree on many dozens of occasions, including this exact composition time and time again. And time is the most conspicuous dimension on display here, as the Angel Oak, as it’s been titled, is the oldest living thing in America found east of the Mississippi River. On this particular morning I had no people to work around, soft diffused light, and a touch of mist in the air which lent a dreamy look and feel to the scene. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm @ 19mm, 5 seconds @ f/16, ISO 160.

Eternal Blue
Iceberg, Angmagssalik Fjord, Eastern Greenland
August 22, 2018

Here’s a perfect example of an intimate scenic; no foreground, no sky, no “sense of place” – just color, patterns, shapes, and lines. Intimate scenics always say much more about the personal vision of the photographer than it does about the place, however if one had to guess, Greenland would have been a good one. Grand scenics, conversely, usually rely more on the specific location to carry the image. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 100-400mm @ 200mm, 1/640 second @ f/11, ISO 2000.

Take a Bow
Diamond Beach at Jökulsárlón, Southeast Iceland
February 4, 2018

Due to the extremely changeable weather in Iceland, rainbows are not an uncommon phenomenon. Despite this fact, however, they never fail to bring a smile since they always seem to be preceded by the foulest of weather. This 180 degree rainbow perfectly frames this lone iceberg on Diamond Beach at Jökulsárlón. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm @ 17mm, 1/200 second @ f/14, ISO 500.

In 2019 I’ll be traveling to Iceland, Greenland, China, Patagonia (Argentina and Chile), Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Gabon, diving with gray whales off Mexico’s Baja California, returning to Antarctica, and more. Follow my adventures by signing up for my monthly newsletter

Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion in 2019 –  Richard

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.


Essential Photography: The Creative Principle

Essential Photography: The Creative Principle

Creativity

Essential Photography: The Creative Principle

The Creative Principle

Creativity is the process of making, or creating, something new and useful – in context, that would be a photograph. So in order for a photograph to be creative it must involve a scene, technique, or composition that’s new and unique – never been done before. But making something new isn’t nearly enough. There are an infinite number of ways to make new or novel images with your camera – including tripping the shutter as your tripod accidentally falls to the ground or firing it remotely after attaching the camera to your dog’s tail as it runs through the yard. The results would be new or unique, to be sure, but they wouldn’t necessarily be creative. Almost all of the photos would be failures, unless you “created” a random, happy accident. The photograph needs to be both new and useful, meaning it has to make a meaningful connection with the viewer. Art can never be the product of an accident, it must be purposeful. Composing a scene through your camera’s viewfinder is just one conscious, purposeful thing you can do as a photographic artist.

Following the compositional “rules” will surely lead to visually appealing images that are “useful” but they might lack the creativity you’re striving for since there’s nothing new in any composition recipes. You must learn to break the rules in order to achieve true creative results but you also must know the rules in order to break them. Actors and actresses are instructed to learn their lines so they can later forget them and improvise lines in the moment. The good ones do just that. Call it counter-intuitive if you wish, but I prefer to call it the Creative Principle. Feel free to break this one too since there are, in fact, no rules here.

It’s also crucial to understand that breaking the rules just for the sake of breaking them is not being creative either. What’s most important about knowing the rules is understanding why they work most of the time. Knowing why the rules work will lead to something akin to a higher state of compositional enlightenment: knowing when your photo is successful when not using the rules, or better yet, purposely breaking them. Once you get to that happy place, you will be on the path to true creative synthesis.

The last step on this journey to creative expression is actually putting The Creative Principle into action. The French artist, Henri Matisse once famously declared, “creativity takes courage.” It takes considerable courage to deviate from the safe confines of conventional compositional rules because trying something different could lead to failure. Your art should be an intimate expression of yourself so it’s easy to take failure personally. It’s important to remember, however, that artistic growth requires experimenting and trying new things. Failures will occur along the way but they’re a small price to pay for the creative breakthroughs you’re going to make by venturing outside your comfort zone. Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, said, “an essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” Don’t be afraid to try something new.

So consider the rules merely as guidelines or suggestions with which to take generous liberties. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,” Pablo Picasso offered as advice to fellow creatives. When I’m behind the camera, I am not thinking about compositional rules, guidelines, or suggestions but instead I’m working on more of an intuitive level. I don’t think too much about composition. I simply defer to what feels right. Later on, I often discover that I did, in fact, use one of the rules presented here (or I’ve discovered that I ignored all of them) but I’m never thinking that way while creating.

Remember, no one is born an accomplished photographer and master of composition. It’s not an innate talent. It’s not a gift. There are no child prodigies in the field of photography. Every great photographer has had to learn the rules, intentionally break the rules, then ignore them altogether. If you’re just starting out, rest assured that you are in the same place that I once was, as well as every other professional photographer. Learn the rules, adopt the Creative Principle, then follow your heart and intuition to a life of creative expression. Enjoy the journey.

Creative Vision Newsletter




Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer in the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. 

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

Inspiration

The Best of 2017: A Retrospective

The end of each year is always a good time to look back at the year that was. In my case, it’s been mostly a blur. I traveled to 15 different countries plus Antarctica during 2017 and its only now that I’ve been able to relax and reflect on my travels. Here are my favorite moments of 2017, through the lens of my personal bias and tastes of course. My personal comments are in italics. I hope you enjoy!

“High Noon” Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (June 7, 2017).

RB: A wildlife image taken with a wide-angle lens! I love these types of photos: the minimalist feel, the billowing clouds against that blue sky, the interaction between the giraffes – I fell in love with this image the moment I pressed the shutter.

“Keeper” Deadvlei, Namibia-Naukluft National Park, Namibia (May 17, 2017).

RB: I’ve been to Deadvlei many times and I was determined to come away with something new. I purposely stayed away from trees and compositions that had yielded good results in the past in order to see something different. As it turns out, Keeper is now one of my all-time favorite images from this area of Namibia.

“Adelie Waddle” Adelie penguins at Brown Bluff, East Coast of Tabarin Peninsula, Antarctica (December 11, 2017).

RB: I spent a lot of time watching and observing before capturing any images from this location. I noticed the penguins leaning forward meant that they were attempting to jump. Sometimes they chickened out and didn’t but usually they did. When I saw this congregation and the body language, I was ready. I purposely left space to the left and the bottom for what i was hoping would be an airborne penguin. I got my wish. I also reminds me of another one of my favorite photos.

Patterns in the lava lake in the caldera of Mount Nyiragongo volcano, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (February 7, 2015).

RB: The experience of spending the night on the rim of an active volcano was exhilarating. The 6-hour, uphill hike to get there was grueling. The glowing spider web patterns in the volcano’s lava lake were utterly mesmerizing. 

“Zen Monkies” Gray langur monkeys at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (September 26, 2017).

RB: I could not have set up this wildlife scene any better if I had actual monkey telepathy.

“Almirante Nieto” Cerro Almirante Nieto and layers of lenticular clouds at sunrise, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (April 11, 2017).

RB: An intimate telephoto vignette of a grand sunrise scene, replete with stacked lenticular clouds and intense scarlet light.

“Laughing Gorillas” A group of mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda (February 5, 2017).

RB: Mountain gorilla love a good joke as much as anyone.

“Crystal Ice Cave” Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier in Vatnajökull National Park, Southern Iceland (January 28, 2017).

RB: The volcanic soot imbedded in the glacier ice created a conspicuous line that leads right to the trekker. Ice caves are just one good reason to love Iceland in winter.

“Terra Incognita” Iceberg and foggy mountains in the Gerlache Straight, Antarctica (December 9, 2017).

RB: More than any other image of mine from Antarctica, this one captures the enormous scale of the coastal mountains, glaciers and ice of the continent. Handheld from a moving boat, I used a high ISO to ensure a sharp image.

“Fire on High” Sunrise on the high peaks of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (November 15, 2017).

RB: Ridiculously dramatic sunrise over the Paine massif. This is an often-photographed scene but what I liked the most about this morning is the intense colors reflected in Nordenskjöld Lake. For more images from Torres del Paine and Patagonia, you can download my free e-book, Patagonia: Our Amazing Planet. 

Thanks for taking a look at some of my photography highlights from 2017. Here’s to an awesome 2018! Here’s to Truth, Adventure, and Passion –  Richard

Richard Bernabe is a professional photographer specializing in travel, wildlife, and nature as well as an author of books, magazine articles, and travel essays published world-wide. Richard is a global influencer is the fields of photography, travel, and wildlife conservation with more than one million followers on social media platforms. He leads several photography tours and workshops all over the world and is invited to speak to photography and conservation groups all across the globe. For more great information on new images, gear reviews, book projects, and photography workshops and tours, Sign Up For Our Newsletter.