Hard Life

Hard Life

Sometimes we need to pull ourselves back a bit from our frenetic “modern life”…so it is for me when I am in the White Mountains just south and east of Bishop California.

Known for the famous Bristle Cone Pine trees growing at 11,000′ feet elevation, life is harsh. Surprisingly dry…how it survives in the jagged rocks is in and of itself a wonder of nature. This tree is likely only several hundred years old whereas others in the area have been dated to over 5000 years of age. They may grow only a few needdles a year…maybe….

Yet in the near distance, no rocks, and instead dirt with only scrub brush and a few trees. For me the contrast was amazing.

This scene humbled me…

Note: This image was taken on a bright, sunny, blue sky day. I elected to create it in black & white to fit the mood and beauty in which I envisioned it.



For the last few years I have been using iPhones as my Smartphone and for making images. It started out simple enough, a snap here and there when visiting friends and such…

But then one day I had an idea. I would use it when scouting locations for workshops and private lessons that I conduct. Sure beats lugging my backpack with gear around. Then I found use for showing clients a visual demo of what we were discussing in the field. It didn’t take long before I was using wifi to transmit images from my clients camera to my phone or iPad for real time review and critique. (My clients love that!). So I really starting finding a real use for the camera both for the convenience and certainly Apple’s product quality.

Not only are many images on my website produced with my iPhone but I am furthering my own skills so I can pass them along to clients during their training with their DSLR’s.

Case in point is the photo used in this post. It was captured and edited using only my iPhone 7 plus. I used the native camera “Live” to capture the image as a long exposure and then used the in phone editing software and Lightroom CC to put some final touches on the image. All using the phone!

Now is it as good as I can do with my Canon 1 series camera, desktop computer and Photoshop – probably not, but it’s definitely usable for my purposes.

I believe it won’t be long before technology steers us away from the large DSLR’s to tools such as the smartphone or something like it . It’s already occurring with the mirrorless and other more diminutive cameras. Don’t get me wrong the big guns will be around for awhile but I believe in more specialized circumstances going forward.

What do you think? I’ll appreciate a discussion….

Till next time…Happy Shootin’

On-Site Workflow

On-Site Workflow

On-Site Workflow

A while ago I did an article on Pre-Shoot Workflow…well that’s all fine and dandy….Pretty straight forward.

But what do you do on scene? What do you do and what do you look for?

It’s one thing to research your trip from your nice chair in your office or wherever, but once you’re there maybe it doesn’t look quite like you thought it would.

Here’s what I do.


Usually the first wrench in the monkeyworks is weather…if it’s too bad but worth waiting, have a cup of coffee and hang out. Kind of like fishing…
If its just uncomfortable, well then, put on your best “uncomfortable weather clothes” and get out there!

I first think, ‘well if its gray and gloomy – black & white images might be the order of the day’

Storm clouds can add incredible drama to many images…Quite often you also have wind. So the consideration is shutter speed. Long slow speeds get those dreamy, ethereal images. (Man, I love my 10-stop ND) Otherwise super fast speeds will stop most any action such as trees or grasses, or waves or anything else blowing around. Just remember, the faster stuffs moving the faster your shutter speed needs to be. If 1/8000 sec doesn’t do it – go back and enjoy that coffee you were nursing…
Tip: if it’s really howling wind – maybe there’s something nearby that you can use as a shelter and can still get a nice composition from that place.


Is it just me or are there more tourists messing places up? (and I mean REALLY messing places up – no regard for the environment)
My friend Andy used to say “there’s too many people suckin’ up my air” – well said Andy (R.I.P.)
We’ve all been there, but what do you do? Well, you can ‘try’ and nicely ask them to step 3 feet to the left so they’re not in your shot. That don’t work…

Here’s my suggestion. I know we all have time issues as to when we can get away but I make sure I don’t go out until 2 weeks AFTER Labor Day and 1 Week BEFORE Memorial Day (USA)  That way the crowds (most of ’em) have gone back to wherever they came from and there’s less pressure on the location.
Tip: Check with the local Rangers or coffee shop waitress and see when they say they can catch their breath – wait a couple of days and then go.

Okay here’s where I get a bit serious…

When you’re on site and looking for your composition here are some things to consider.  Aside from what you have researched and why you’re there in the first place…

Look for shapes – not only shapes that might be interesting but how they jive with other shapes.
Look for patterns – check for repetitious patterns. Maybe you find a nice abstract image.
Look for textures – texture brings detail to your images – definitely use them
Look for tonalities – Look for lights and darks and how they relate, particularly to the fore mentioned.
TIP: I like to include a strong element in my foregrounds. I like to anchor my image and then have something else lead the eye to the main subject of the image.

When you’re scoping out the above don’t forget to get low, get high (you know what I mean – bring a ladder – seriously I have a step ladder in my truck) go left, go right, check your best aspect for your compostion.
And don’t forget to look back over your shoulder from whence you came – it’s amazing sometimes what compostions are laughing behind your back…

So you see? it’s not rocket science…but coming from an “Old Guy” whose made many mistakes, well, this is what I’ve learned…

Hope it helps.

Cheers and Happy Clicks!


“I love you, you old Boat!”  I really do…

“I love you, you old Boat!” I really do…

Out in the little hamlet of Inverness California, behind an old market, sits an old fishing boat aptly named the “Point Reyes”.
When I first laid eyes on her back in early 2001 she showed signs of neglect and to the untrained eye looked like she could actually go to sea once again with a little TLC.

From her layout and rigging style she looked to have been a Salmon trawler/rockfish rig typical of the California coast. Numerous legendary stories surround her mysterious beaching, but one thing was certain, and as time has shown true, it is her final resting place.

If you’re a “Daydreamer” you can imagine her life along with her owner and crew plying the coastal waters and delivering her bounty to restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m sure she has plenty of stories of her own…

When I first came across her I was just starting to “play” with photography. The first image you see here was taken in January of 2001 when at that time, I found her to be a curious object to photograph. I thought it was “cool” that Ravens were
alighting from her signifying what was to become a long slow process of decay.

Over the years every visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore brought me to her and I would photograph her each time, noticing with increased sadness her decline.

However, just as she had brought healthy and fulfilling nourishment to diners her in heyday, she wasn’t done…


She’s still beautiful…

In the following decades she has garnered an incredible amount of attention from visitors all over the world. Google her and you’ll see thousands of images of her – more than many runway models!

As if Mother Nature’s way wasn’t harsh enough on her, ‘ignorants’ have abused and vandalized her and most recently, set her afire. Thus hastening her demise.

She was built to withstand the wild Pacific Ocean and even through all these years beached, still she gives it her best smile. Tough but in a strange way elegant. Maybe that’s why sailor’s love their boats? (maybe photographers too…)



Over the years a lot has changed and nowadays I take my workshop clients to her first thing, to discuss shapes – textures – and tonality.

I will be hard pressed and quite sad when she’s gone.

She has contributed greatly to my evolution as a photographer and to many others as well…and that’s why I love her.

For more information on my photography workshops and training please visit my website at  www.jgunther.com


Pixel Trippin’ on the Lost Coast

Pixel Trippin’ on the Lost Coast

  Yesterday I got out of town and did a bit of “pixel trippin'” along the Lost Coast up in Humbolt County, Northern California. My main objectives were to photograph the “Candelabra Trees” and the abandoned lighthouse at Punta Gorda. One down, one still to do…I’m sure most of you have been there and had your objectives thrown arry. No problem, I’ll be back! For those of you unfamiliar with the Candelabra trees, they are a unique growth of “ancient redwoods shaped into grand candelabras by fire, salty air and coastal winds. Instead of growing into massive straight columns, stressors caused these trees to sprout branches near the ground”. It is truly a mystical area of forest. I let you research the area on you own. It’s pretty easy. By the way, bring a very wide angle lens… Getting there is not quite so easy however. The road is not well maintained (gladly) and I would definitely recommend a high clearance vehicle and 4 wheel drive. I know, you’ll some little Prius there but I’m telling you that area is risky and professional assitance is NOT just around the corner. So being prepared is of high priorty. I digress a bit…the Lost Coast has no cell service, not even much AM radio reception. It gets remote and very fast! After a stint in the Candelabra forest I headed north to my next objective. I harken to the old Super Tramp song “take the long way home” so I happily follwed my TomTom along the dirt, rocky, rutted, washed out, downed trees Humbolt highway for 67 miles. I think I topped out at 6 MPH. It was a mistake time wise and by the time I reached the turnoff for Punta Gorda Lighthouse the day was long in the tooth (like me). I decided it was best to leave it for another time as I didn’t want to trapse back to my truck in a unfamiliar area in the dark. Instead I went up along Ocean Drive and poked along the beaches looking for images to make. I took some long exposures around the rocks (my favorite lately). I was beat from the Humbolt highway experiece so I called it and headed home to the Bay Area. It was just a day trip. The Lost Coast is a pixel fantasy land for sure. It’s also probably one of the best named places around as you do really feel lost very quickly. Its definitely one of the more remote places to be found in California and I’m sure the locals would like to keep it that way. Not far away the Redwoods National Park is host to plenty of tour buses and crazies who have no concept of forest manners. I recently heard Fern Canyon is rediculous now with disrepectful tourists. In fact its pretty much a no go zone for photography workshops (if you apply for the required permit) as per the Forest Service. So although its not a secret I prefer to let more dedicated folks do a little research to find the Candelabras. It’s worth it. ’till next time Cheers! ps: I am thinking of making a Workshop up this way. If you are interested let me know…and maybe I’ll put it together.


So do you have a photography “Pre-Shoot” workflow?

So do you have a photography “Pre-Shoot” workflow?

How do you do it? How do you approach an outdoor photography shoot.?

Lately I’ve seen a few articles on photo shoot workflow and it made me think…not much seems to be discussed on workflow except after the fact and in the digital darkroom.

There are two ways to make photographs in the outdoors. One is to have a serendipitous approach which quite honestly works great sometimes or a serious pre-planning approach which if “Mother Nature” allows…well, works sometimes too. Although I like and will use both, the second option usually works better in the end. Caveat – NEVER turn down OPPORTUNITY!!!!

The first option – relying on serendipity is easy just go out with your camera and keep your eyes open. The second takes some planning. If you’re serious about your photography, a LOT of planning. Even for a day shoot.

Example:  Day trip to Bowling Ball Beach

  • Weather – includes consideration for time of year (season)
  • Local conditions – any reported hazards or impediments (access closures, other problems)
  • Sunrise/Sunset times and compass heading info (The Photographer’s Ephemeris)
  • Tides – never turn your back on the ocean.
  • Gear – I generally bring it all but consider carrying only what I need when at the location
  • Gear prep – make sure everythings is clean and ready for use. Charge batteries!

Recently I did a shoot at “Bowling Ball Beach” along the Mendocino coast in northern California. I’ve known about this place for many years and finally checked it off my bucket list (I will have to go back – I always do…)  This is what I would term a rather simple shoot.

Knowing this is a beach type shot with unusual stones showing in the surfline I surmised the tide should be taken into consideration. Some web research told me a low tide, not a minus tide, would be advantageous. Why? I wanted to do a long exposure of the water swirling around the rocks. I like ethereal images and this would be a good subject. So checking the tide is noteworthy. Next I was thinking at sunset would be good. Sunset times then became important. Could the Sun’s angle (latitude) be important? Yep…note to self. Any access restrictions or info? I’m an old guy, it’s important to me. I found the stairs are washed out – in this case wing it….but not always. Weather forecast? What to bring gear wise? These are just some of the things that go into your planning. These vary according to your shoot location. There’s always something more to and you learn to cover those as time goes on and your experience grows. And of course there’s always Mother Nature who just loves to mess things up – I can see her smiling now…

So when the stars, sun & moon all line up properly and your coffee doesn’t get too cold too soon, you might get what you came for.

We’ll get into “On-Site” workflow next time…



Sandstone worn by ocean waves

The pathway to Gojira’s lair


Here’s lookin’ at you Baldy!

Here’s lookin’ at you Baldy!

So yesterday I was driving my wife to work and noticed an Osprey carrying about a 5 pound Bass to a nest atop a telephone pole near where I live. Of course no camera and no time to stop…

So later in the afternoon when we got home I ran back out to the same location. Both Osprey’s were at the nest but the male took off headed toward the water, I assume looking for dinner. So I hung out for a while watching the female who was tending the nest. She soon flew around a bit before going back to the nest. It was at that time I got this shot. It’s obvious my shiny bald head attracted her…

Technically for me this was a VERY lucky image. I was using my 100-400 telephoto lens with two tele-converters (1.4 & 2.0) handheld manual focus of an in-flight bird coming towards me. I’m keeping this one.

File under “lucky shot”

Using the tools you have handy…

Using the tools you have handy…

Answer: A Smart Phone or Tablet !

The “before image” above…

Not long ago I was with a client on a photography workshop out at one of my favorite locations, Point Reyes National Seashore. One of the first places I take folks is to this old boat, aptly named the “Point Reyes”.

I have been photographing this old boat for almost 20 years now and in the last year it has been disintegrating rapidly. I fear it won’t be long before it is no longer photogenic nor a good teaching tool. I will sincerely miss this “The Old Girl” when the time comes.

The reason I take folks to this location is to discuss various techniques such as composition and looking for textures, shapes, and tonalities. All integral parts of making an image.

As I was talking about this my client was having a somewhat difficult time “seeing” what I was talking about. Which is to say exactly why we were here!

Recently I discovered the usefulness of my iPhone as a learning tool in the field. In fact now I WIFI my client’s images to either my phone of iPad to instantly critique images in the field real time….

In an attempt to “show” what I was talking about, I made an image using my iPhone 6. I did a quick edit in the phones app and showed it to him and “Boom!” he saw what I was talking about. Literally within seconds the concept was delivered.

The rest of the day was fantastic! I watched him make incredible images and gained a faithful client whom I happily consider more a “Friend”

You can use your Smartphone or Tablet as a great in the field tool to not only help you envision a scene but capture a damn fine image too!

Here’s what he was shown…. Note all the objects of the lesson: Shapes, textures and tonality…

PT Reyes Wreck_bowBW















Oh Man! We back at the Zoo – AGAIN!

Oh Man! We back at the Zoo – AGAIN!

Well in fact yes we are….

Last week I hosted a group at the San Francisco Zoo on behalf of the North American Nature Photography Association and their Meetup program. I also offer this as a free “meet and greet” as part of my own field workshop program.

As I have written in past articles, the Zoo is a wonderful place to practice your photography skills for wildlife as well as observing animal behavior. Mind you, I realize these are not the same behaviors you’d find in the “wild” but its a great place to start.

Additionally it offers the opportunity to explore many other photographic skills. When I first meet with a group I explain that we all know what a Giraffe, Hippo or Lion looks like. You can find one in any magazine or text book, or gee, even the internet!

So why not steer yourself into another direction? Have you ever taken the time to really look closely at an animal’s fur? Or a bird’s plumage? It can be amazing in its intricacies! The photo ops for this are unlimited, particularly if you’re into abstracts…

Take this (above) Marabou Stork for example…only a face a “mother could love”…

But what if you look at little closer. “Dial in” with a longer lens…see the picture within the picture.

Look at the intricate detail! The layering, patterns, textures, tonality. I called this one “Nature’s piano keys” because that’s what I saw in my “creative mind” when looking at this wonderful creature.










Here are some other examples.



The afternoon light on a tiger’s face… what is she thinking?














Or this feather pattern of a White Pelican…










And some of my favorite close-ups…a Flamingo preening it’s feathers  (This print is on my wall)


















The zoo offers many other benefits to a photographer, beginner or advanced. It can open your creative mind, particularly if you’re in a creative slump. Just dial in…put that long lens on and go for it.

If this appeals to you and you’re in the area, check out my dates at the Zoo and please join me. More info here

What do you do when the weather goes bad…Well you take pictures of course!

What do you do when the weather goes bad…Well you take pictures of course!

I just wrapped up a custom photography workshop with a great group of gentlemen down in Carmel on California’s central coast.  Of course we’ve been back in drought conditions all of January (no rain at all), except during the workshop – the “Pineapple Express” decided to express itself! Go figure…well fortunately the guys were great and weren’t going to let “a little” rain stop them… In fact some of my best photographic experiences have been during inclement weather. Being there, just as clouds break for that special moment of light. For me that’s what its all about!

During these trips I don’t actively take my own photos while conducting the workshop. I do however have my iPhone which I use constantly as an instructional tool as well as my trusty old Canon. Between them I can give visual instruction to my clientele and it really works out well.

On the way home back to San Francisco, I decided to hit a couple of old haunts. First stop was Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Now this looks like a lighthouse! What better time to take a picture of a lighthouse than when its doing its job?

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Pescadero Taken with Canon 1Ds Mk II

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Taken with Canon 1Ds Mk II

   Another one of my favorites is Bean  Hollow Beach.  It was relatively low tide and this rock jetty was exposed. I have been loving my 10 stop ND filter  and decided this was a good  candidate.

Bean Hollow Beach Taken with Canon 1Ds Mk II and 10 stop ND filter

Bean Hollow Beach
Taken with Canon 1Ds Mk II and 10 stop ND filter

So don’t let a little rain bother you…hang out, be patient and be ready for that momentary break of fantastic light!

Oh, and have fun…!