If an artist's soul be unaware...

At the heart of ‘essence photography’ is knowing there’s a deeper spirit or meaning to be seen or get across.   And believing you can show it, express it with a photographic image.  It’s a challenge. 

It’s more than simply snapping scenes with a camera.  It’s listening to the scene, absorbing the sounds and the feelings of the breeze, sunshine, moon glow…it’s putting yourself in the same attitude as the boulder or roots in the soil, the bird's grip on the limb or the wind beneath its wings..."the thing itself", to use Edward Weston's term.  Same goes for scenarios, I suppose…what are the real, deeper meanings behind conversations or arguments or persuasions?   

E.W. thought; ...an abstract idea can be expressed by liberal or exact representation, but not without the [artist's] "soul" be very much aware of it. "...If a soul be unaware, and a camera be used to copy an apple, the result can be no more than a record of an apple: but give the camera and apple to one who sees more than said apple's surface and edible qualities, who understands the apple's significance, __then, the result will be __ more than an Apple!"

The challenge is to find ways to bring out the essence of the scene or situation.  

Will different compositions, adding a different light on the subject, filtering/diffusing, leading lines or inquisitions draw attention to the deeper meaning?   How shall I create, present and share images that my soul perceives?
This fellow slept and peeked for over an hour here.  I had time for different compositions and deliberately chose this weed in the eye point of view.  The Owl is seeing me and I him in a special way around, through, with, that weed straw.  It’s as integral as the Owl to the setting, perhaps more?

Here the conspicuous weed across the eye of this Owl, is uncomfortable to some viewers.   It’s a deliberate angst I’ve created to call attention to what my "soul" found as the essence of this scene.

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              
for more information drop me a line
"See you out there"


Essence of the subject

I find myself thinking first about the essence of the subject.  Then I challenge myself to capture that in an image.
And a higher goal is to inspire someone to do the same, dig deeper, discover more than a snapshot of the scene.

In my images, I like when you move in closer you see details I've deliberately included.
I'll move and compose and recompose.  And I'll wait for a shadow to move or paint with a light or reflector.
And from further away you see the scene more realistically.  Perhaps feeling the same as I did at the time.
Noticing or feeling that "essence" calling to have its story told.
A single image may take weeks to complete. I'll revisit the image, or even the scene itself, to reexamine what captivated me in the first place.  I'll wait, and listen.
I'll recompose, yes again.  Or readjust the exposure or white balance looking to better portray the real story.   It's a deliberate way of approaching scenes.
A way of getting closer to the meaning of it all.... 

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              

for more information drop me a line

"See you out there"



Aurora Borealis and White Dome Geyser of Yellowstone


After a full autumn day of driving, walking, 'chasing color' with a good friend, I journeyed to a favorite Yellowstone geyser and just sat still for a while.  I knew a full moon would be lighting the scene and a recent Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from an Earth-facing sunspot might even produce an Aurora.  Would it reach latitudes as far down as Montana and Wyoming?   Would the clouds be too thick?  The moon too bright?  I set up the cameras, dusted frost off the lenses, checked that the settings were correct and the batteries charged…And time seemed to slow down...  This capture of the pinnacle height of the Aurora and geyser's eruption is an exposure blend of two shots made in the middle of more than seventy consecutive 30-second exposures.  

(Image to come: Seventy consecutive exposures producing a Polaris circle of star trails.  Really cool!)  I watched the night sky for about three hours before the clouds rolled in to stay. 
During that time cars drove by without stopping, their headlights briefly overexposing the night.  Low clouds appeared, and the lower stars started fading  because the full moon was rising.  Bull elks bugled and coyotes cheered.   The main show was about to begin.  Minutes passed. 

The clouds continued sliding from one horizon to the next.  I could barely see the brightest stars.  Hours passed.    Maybe that was it?
I began thinking, what a good show it was, The movement of the thin moving clouds, the peeking stars, erupting geyser, the full moon, and the illuminated landscape.  THAT's when I noticed the cloud on the horizon was actually a faint yellow/green.  Had I missed that earlier?  Then I saw another....and another.  

The landscape became brighter and the geyser turned white in the moonlight.  When I looked, really looked, I could see the stars were peeking out from behind thinning clouds.   Higher vertical bands of yellow were overhead and reds seemed to be dancing from east to west… Silently, quickly, up and down, bright and dim, right to left.  I could hardly pull myself away to turn on the cameras.  

One of the best parts of capturing Night Sky Landscapes is making the deliberate effort to listen...  
And the scene seems always to be saying, Slow down, relax ...I have something to show, if you honor me with your patience.” 


return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              

for more information drop me a line

"See you out there"



Zoot Exhibition through December

A really nice gathering at the Zoot Art Gallery for the Opening Reception.    I’m  honored to have so many friends, 
members from the Zoot Art Committee, F-11 Photo Supply Staff and Camera Club of Bozeman members come to celebrate the night.  And happy to have a new photographer friend, Jelani, whose “Skin of Place” images were a hit!   

Great eclectic music mix,(thank-you Tiffany) snacks, drinks and lots of talk. Thanks to you all. 
My voice was a bit hoarse at the end. 

I was reminded, more than a few times, that the cold weather is coming and asked if I ready for more crazy cold nights shooting.  Yes.  It’s just magical to be enveloped by the stars, and the high altitude & cold just adds to the adventure.   
Open invitation;  You are welcome to join me to share-the-wonder anytime.  (I’ll bring extra hand warmers)

My 'Metal Prints' turned heads and sparked conversations. The Night Skies look like they’re floating on glass.   
I too, continually spot something new in these photos.  Finding M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, in the images is like rediscovering an old friend.  

The Zoot Art Gallery is a wonderful space.  Over forty beautiful wall prints are hanging in this exhibit.  
-------- Jelani's  "Skin of Place" from Hungary and Bozeman, MT.  And my Night Sky Landscapes --------  

Oh, and of course, the lucky captures of fun loving LuminBeings™ add a lite "whimsical" addition to the exhibit. 

I hope you have the chance to hitch your wagon to a star and ride to this “Galactic Center” - Zoot Headquarters 
located just off --North Star Lane  and  Milky Way Drive-- (No kidding, check-out the map)  

The Exhibition will be up through December. 


Zoot Art Gallery, Bozeman, MT

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              

for more information drop me a line

"See you out there"






The 600 Rule

How-to have  'points of light' stars,
                           photos with very little star movement. 

"Night Sky Landscapes" images with both the stars and the earth kept sharp requires the length of the exposure to be short enough that the stars do not appear to ‘trail’ due to the earth's rotation.

It mostly depends upon the focal length of your lenses.
For an 8x10 inch or smaller image the old 600 Rule works just fine.
It allows for the most seconds of exposure with the least amount of noticeable star movement.  For larger prints using a number of 500 or 450 is even better – less time to notice the Earth is rotating during the time you expose your image.
Divide the focal length of your lens into 600 and write it down.  Then do the same with the numbers 450 and 500.
24 into 600 = 25 seconds maximum to have little star movement show on 8x10 inch print 
24 into 500 = 21 seconds maximum to have little star movement 8x10 inch print or larger
24 into 450 = 19 seconds maximum to have almost no star movement large prints
That 6 second difference means you may need to increase the light on your landscape by  increasing the ISO or aperture settings…or adding ambient light.
Lenses with a longer (telephoto) focal length is like a magnifying glass --- showing more star movement than with wider angle lenses.
So, if you want a few extra seconds of exposure time, for images at 8x10 inches or less (like smaller online images) "the ol' 600 Rule" works...
Using the 600 Rule for astrophotography and Night Sky Landscapes:  Before you go out at night, calculate the maximum exposure time your lenses will allow you to shoot before the stars begin to make trails in your photos.


divide the number 600 by the focal length of your lens

Remember to calculate for the crop factor if your camera has an APS-C sized (crop) sensor.  
Canons with APS-C sensors ‘crop factor’ is 1.6x,
Nikon and Sony are 1.5x. 

So, if your camera has a APS-C sized sensor, divide 600 by your ?? mm lens (times) the crop factor.

examples here:

                                         Cameras with crop factor                  600 ÷(divided by) your lens = max # of seconds

Canon with APS-C  sensor  50mm lens x 1.6 = 80mm focal length                600 ÷ 80mm     =           7.5 secs

Nikon   with APS-C  sensor  50mm lens x 1.5 = 75mm focal length                600 ÷ 75mm     =           8.0 secs

1.6 crop sensor
14 mm 27 seconds
24 mm 16 seconds
50 mm 8 seconds

1.5 crop sensor
14 mm 29 seconds
24 mm 17 seconds
50 mm 8 seconds

Cameras with Full Frame (FF) sensors, simply divide 600 by the ?? mm lens

                                                     Cameras without crop factor

14 mm 43 seconds
24 mm 25 seconds
50 mm 12 seconds

                                                         50mm lens = 50mm focal length              600 ÷ 50mm        =       12 secs


600 Rule 
"calculating for star point images,
                photos with very little star movement"

for this photo, APS-C camera, 50mm focal length,
600 ÷ 50 x 1.5 = 8 seconds is the longest exposure for a 50mm lens in order to have “Star Points” with very little movement

for this photo, FFcamera, 50mm focal length,
600 ÷ 50 x 1.5 = 12 seconds is the longest exposure for a 50mm lens in order to have “Star Points” with very little movement

~~~Keep Looking UP

return to:    Robert Howell Photography.com 



“Everything you can imagine is real.”
~~~ Pablo Picasso

LuminBeings™ on the playground

There’s something mystical about Night Sky Landscapes. 
Appreciating the space above, its connection with us, and time itself...

In Night Photography workshops I share how photography opens up the world
in a whole new light and thought.  Allowing yourself to be framed by the night,
embrace its essence and reawaken your ability to receive images and sensations
that are not typically perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses... 

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              

for more information drop me a line

"Keep Looking UP"





GOT Ice Tea ?

When you look at a photo what specifically do you notice?
Do you know what caused you to pause, smile, or grimace?
Be specific about what you've noticed.

"The way we look at photos is the first step towards the way
we recognize scenes in-the-field with camera in-hand.
...and should influence us when we make future images."

Here's an easy acronym to remember; 

"ice tea" [ I-C-T ]   IMPACT -------- COMPOSITION -------- TECHNIQUE

Did you notice any of these?

-------- IMPACT --------
Does the image “grab” you, the viewer, and demand attention?
• Is attention drawn to the intended subject making it the center of Interest?
• A this a unique/creative way of looking at a subject or object?
• Does this, or would another viewpoint/perspective add impact?
• Does the image stand out, is it more 'original' than others?

-------- COMPOSITION --------
Is the Placement or Posing of subject well executed / interesting?
What elements were used (or are needed) to make it a strong image?
• Is it clear what the main subject or story is?
• Intentional Arrangement • Rule of thirds (no "bulls eye/centered subject")
• Golden Mean
• Lead-in line   • ‘S’ Curve for depth
• Cropping
• A Foil (block) on right side (ie., tree, building, etc)
• A Low or High Horizon
• Light-to-dark   • Shadows
• Specific Details
• A Person to add scale and depth
• Framing (ie., tree branches) [sharp/not blurred]
• Space in front of moving subjects
• Harmony Complimentary colors or other interesting combinations

What elements should be avoided?
middle horizon, bull’s eye, background sunspots, blown-out hot spots,
tops of heads with horizon, unsharp framing, unbalanced weight on one side,
merging subject with frame edge, heavy/dark object across foreground...

-------- TECHNIQUE --------
Proper contrast, clarity, exposure for the subject or mood of the image.
What elements are used, or needed to make it a stronger image?
• Focus? • Exposure (over? under?)
• DOF (depth-of-field)?
• White Balance?
• Sharpness? • Lighting?
• Straight Horizon? (does not mean centered in the middle of the image)
• Filter use? • Polarizer? • Catch light?
• Detail seen in highlights and shadows? • Reflector usage?
• Post Processing techniques?
• Nice contrast?
• Natural colors? • Saturation? Tint? • Quality white and true blacks? 

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              

for more information drop me a line

"See you out there"






Photographing Fireworks

Quick tips:
-- Use a tripod and a bubble level for even horizons 
--  Use a cable release or a wireless remote to eliminate wiggles
--  Bring an extra camera battery
-- Manual focus on a distant light

-- Start with f / 8, ISO 200, shutter-speeds of 3, 5, 10 sec
-- Then use f/11 and f/16 to create darker skies
-- Open shutter when you see the launch trail
-- Close it after the burst trails off

-- Start with a wide angle lens
-- Switch to a zoom lens for close-ups
-- Watch for patterns and height to anticipate the next bursts
-- Then use higher ISO’s 400 & 800 if it’s windy 

to freeze bursts before they drift

--  To add special effects tap your tripod or 
--  Move your focus-to-unfocus during exposure
--  Don't take time to delete images while you are out there

--  Include foreground for a sense of scale, location and mood 
--  Silhouettes are cool. Kneel down and catch some hats and pointing arms
 --  Use a dim flash (or cover it with a thin napkin) to add to your story

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              

for more information drop me a line

"See you out there"






Eclipse / the "sun eating dragon"

Astrophysicist David Dearborn notes, "In many ways it makes sense that eclipses would be seen as bad omens. For most early cultures, the sun was seen as a life-giver, something that was there every day, so something that blots out the sun was a terribly bad event, filled with foreboding.

…a recurring and pervasive embodiment of the eclipse was a dragon,
or a demon, who devours the sun.

The ancient Chinese would produce great noise and commotion during an eclipse, banging on pots and drums to frighten away the dragon. The Incas, too, tried to intimidate the creatures who were eating the sun. In India they took a different tack — people would immerse themselves up to the neck in water, an act of worship they believed helped the sun fight off the dragon.”

For a look at some literary reactions to eclipses,
and a look at the feelings of modern scientists themselves

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              
for more information drop me a line
"See you out there"


Visualization | Annular Eclipse & Old Faithful

 Click here for a quick timelapse of the eclipse, taken just before the clouds returned...  

Annular Eclipse over Yellowstone National Park on May 20th, 2012

The goal was to make a single image of the Eclipse AND the Geyser eruption occurring at the same time.

A scene with a sense of awe --- bright day, blue sky, white geyser steam and movement or gestures of the onlookers straining to see the flow or connection of these two phenomenons.

The challenge was shooting 'into' the direction of the bright sun.

This image is a composite with two frames
1. A filter-less shot of the eclipse/geyser/onlookers and
2. A shot with a .9 ND filter capturing the bright sun being eclipsed,
using the steam as an additional filter.

Old Faithful erupts nearly 130 feet high (40 m) every 90 minutes.  The previous eruption was at 4:50pm.  The eclipse would begin at 6:12pm and peak (71%) at 7:22pm, ending with the moon passing out of the sun's way around 8:25pm.  The eruptions last only 2 minutes and stay at peak height for less than a minute. This means my exposure timing would be crucial.  So, I practiced the shot(s) a day earlier.

The day before the eclipse I scouted the area around Old Faithful and watched the path of the sun from 5pm until it set.  It was windy and the same was predicted for Sunday’s weather.  I found a spot to set up with the side of Old Faithful Lodge as a wind block.  I setup the tripods and cameras, framed the scene and practiced shooting. Shutter speeds and ISO’s were adjusted to compensate for the bright sun and neutral density (ND) & circular polarizing filters.

Visitors watch Old Faithful Geyser erupt
as the moon partially eclipses the sun.

On Sunday, I found my mark and setup the tripods in the same place around the corner of the Lodge out of the breeze…and watched the cloud filled sky begin to dissipate.   (I’d patiently saved up all my cloud busting thoughts for this particular hour.)  The clouds continued to disappear, the breeze died down…

The Shoot
I setup two cameras and tripods.
It was a way to have both a close-up of the eclipse and a wider ‘story’ shot of the geyser eruption with the eclipse.

The D300 w/ focal length of 1200mm on board was shot every 5 minutes through a 4” mirror-front Orion Solar Filter.  Using ‘live view’ I easily followed the sun and readjusted the composition for each shot.

The D700 w/ focal length of 200mm was composed to catch the sun & moon above the geyser and the onlookers.
Fitted with a .9 ND filter, it was not strong enough to hold back the sun by itself.  The eclipsed sun was still too bright. The top of the scene was still overexposed.  With a circular polarizer attached to the ND, the filters were too strong.  The sun and the silhouette of the passing moon could be captured but everything else in the scene was darkened.

As the geyser peaked and the thick steam rose to cover the sun you could see the silhouette of the passing moon, but the sun was still very bright.  I quickly bracketed exposures with the ND filter on & off and shot through the geyser steam.  The composite of a good exposure of  the Eclipse (with bottom of the scene dark) and a good exposure of the Geyser eruption with onlookers (with top of the scene light) was made. 

A 'shout-out' to everyone who stopped by to have a chat & look at the live view while I shot two cameras.

Hi to Steven at the campground, chopping & riding  x-country on his Harley.  And a special shout to new friends, Freya & Claus.  
The best part of the event was sharing the moment, the conversation, the Guinness and the mosquito chasing with you...

return to:  Robert Howell Photography.com              
for more information drop me a line
"Keep Looking UP"