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Saturday, 02 January 2010


Great photography by one of the masters ... It makes me sick with jealousy :)

This is what I love about this site. Mike actually refers to another blog. This makes him one of the rather rare people who have figured out that sharing knowledge will actually make you more unique and thus irreplaceable then those that choose to keep themselves in the center of interest.

Thank you Mike for another great link. I hope you can keep them coming in 2010

If I may ask a technical question:

What was this shot with? The photo jumped at me from the page.

I mean, the format of the photo suggests a 35mm sensor. But it must have been both masterfully shot and masterfully post-processed because it simply looks better than the usual run of full frame photos. The contrast, tonality... and the terrific light, of course. :)

Actually I was a bit disappointed with eh photos in the article. Having taken so many pictures at each location I would expect something more spectacular.
PS. I live in the Outer Hebrides

I'm sorry but does it not stike you that this is highly processed. The Sky and the foreground do not match the exposure range of the normal camera given the direction of the light. I am not against after image processing but I do prefer the image to look as if it could have been non processed.For me this does not look natural by any means. Am I so wrong?

Love the difference in the opinions about the photo. :-)

I doubt that this image is not "photoshopped". Sureal.

Erlik - "What was this shot with?"

If you go to Jim Richardson blog. Find the picture, right click on it, and select properties. The exif data is all there. Though, if you can't be bothered, it was a D700 and processed in Capture NX2.

14,976 pictures? ...for one article!! You'll need a well-managed workflow to deal with that lot. Might pass that number of pictures by the end of 2010 - for 25+ years of shooting. Digital has accelerated my rate in recent years... slightly.

Simon Jones - I'm with you on the un-natural look of some of the processing. I don't recognise the foreground shades of green from that part of Skye... or anywhere else in Scotland! Very National Geographic look though, IMHO.

Maybe it was a combination of the location and the photography - spectacular is an understatement - but this article in National Geographic makes it well worth a look. Such a beautiful and remote location.


In looking at Richardson's images I'm reminded of the differences between an Eliot Porter and a Galen Rowell print. Porter, using the now discontinued Kodachrome film and the dye-transfer process, achieved beautiful images with a subtle color palette. Rowell's images are purposely not subtle. One might say even garish; and they, unfortunately, appear to be the norm in color photography. Photographers now can create surreal images with only a few clicks of the mouse, and they are being accepted as the new reality. I miss Porter's subtlety.

Very nice photo, allbeit a little over processed to a degree.
However I can't help but wonder about the number of shots taken....hundreds in what must have been a relatively short period of time. In contrast with a large format photographer who agonizingly awaits and inwardly becomes a part of the time and place for that right special moment to render the one special image in his/her mind's eye...
From reading the full article I gleaned that over 300 shots were taken to get this one in a period of a little over 30 some minutes. Then the next morning at sunrise, over 500 shots were taken during that sunrise.
To some, it may seem like spray and pray perhaps.
I'm not saying that's wrong, everyone has their style of course.

Regardless, I'm sure the collection of images are powerful.

According to the article, the photographer took over 800 photos at that location on the day that it was shot. In all he took nearly 15,000 shots in his coverage of the islands. So the question isn't how you take photos such as these, but how in the world do you find them once they have been captured. And I don't mean the sorting, which is easy enough to do with software, but the actual evaluation and selection process. Can picking a handful from such an inventory be much better than a blind draw?

BTW, ignore my question. The articles are under "Nikon" tag on the link... :-)

Editing from lots of shooting has always been National Geographic's M.O. Even in the film days they wanted their shooters to come home with up to 25,000 exposures on Kodachrome or Ektachrome for a single assignment. Ten to twelve thousand shots was routine. I don't imagine the shooters had much choice in the matter; shooting the amount they were told to was part of the job.

If I recall, Sam Abell talks somewhere about having a hard time doing so much shooting, because his natural shooting style is so much more spare.


Mike, it's not only NatGeo. I've heard that Carl de Keyzer shot thousands and thousands of photos for his gulag series.

A 25k requirement?! Yikes. I can't imagine wading through that much material or having the judgment, after the first few hundred, to do so. It must take a certain kind of talent to shoot and edit that kind of volume. Thankfully, I was blessed with neither.

Greetings all,

This is Jim. Thought I might be able to clarify or illuminate a couple of things.

If you are looking at the visual quality of the image I'd direct you to the version in the magazine layout. The guys at National Geographic processed the one you see in the magazine. They use a variety of RAW converters, but most of their work gets done in Photoshop.

I processed the jpg you see here in Nikon Capture NX 2, as Dave pointed out. (I'm never quite sure how to process images for the web. I'm sure whatever I put on the wall of our gallery will be look different. It always does.) I benefited from a lot of fill light being reflected from the clouds so I didn't have to open up the shadows in the bottom of the very much. It took a little more to open up the shadows on the face cliff in the upper right. I'm not much of one for playing with the saturation sliders.

The light was warm, so for instance the rocks of the Old Man are not their usual gray but almost reddish. But I went there in late light to get the color so there it is. The grass in this jpg on my MacBook Pro screen looks a somewhat yellow. I haven't done any gallery prints yet. I'll see where I go with that. (Might even take some advice from what I get here, who knows.) When you have colored light falling on colored objects it kind of tough to define "right."

Next. Indeed, we shoot a lot of frames. I work hard to get into great locations in the right light and when it happens I shoot the hell out of it. I'm sure I shot more that 300 frames that day, a lot more. 300 wouldn't be that many. But if you looked at the entire take you would not see much pray and spray. In fact you would see just the opposite, a very focused look at a particular situation and frame after frame of sometimes miniscule fine tuning.

But remember that when I am out there for National Geographic I'm a working photographer. I am not an artist sent out to create my portfolio. The layout in the magazine is the final product. The pictures are raw material. I'm there to create as many great images as I can in the time I have. Usually that means 14-16 hour days, seven days a week. I spend enough of my life in front of average situations. When I get to something really good I go after it with a vengeance. (Which is why I usually don't want other people around when I am shooting. They tend to want to eat and sleep.) . I don't want to overly inflate my efforts but if you saw the take you would find a lot of really pretty good images from that afternoon up on the Storr. That's the way it should be. We can throw the merely nearly great ones away later

To answer you Mike (and really to contradict you a bit), as far as I know no one at National Geographic ever dictated that we shoot more pictures. (At least I've never heard of that.) Usually the dictum was to shoot as much as you need to get the job done. No eyebrows were raised when you budgeted for and shot 1,000 rolls. (Maybe a little look of wonder if that were 1,500 rolls.) But if you delivered the goods that was OK. People like William Albert Allard delivered the goods.

True, when Sam Abell was shooting gardens in Japan he was contemplative. But when he was shooting branding on plains with cowboys going every which way, he was in there gunning. In those situations he who contemplates loses.

As far as the "how do you choose" question. Yes, it is a lot of hard work. Back in the days of film it could take two weeks of work to get down to the 80 slides that we showed the editor. Digital speeds that up somewhat and with the ability to see the shoot in the field a lot of the thinking has taken place by the time we get to the editing offices.

Usually this takes several stages of winnowing. Then when you get down to 500 images (and every one of them would be fine in the magazine) you usually go to a cherry-picking mode, where the real choice, fine images seem to pop out at you. Even then you have very similar images to choose between, or images that say much the same thing but in different ways, and you have find a way of distinguishing which really works best. And which really works best FOR THIS STORY!

Often you finally have to get them up on the wall next to each other and see how they impact your emotions and the emotions of others who you draw in to see them. I take great direction from the gut reactions of others to the pictures. Gradually, maybe over a couple of days clarity will emerge. (Or maybe not, unfortunately.)

Going to layout helps a lot because you suddenly are faced clearly with the question of which images are essential for the story and which are merely nice (maybe even great) but must be cast aside.

I'm pleased to be placed somewhere along the spectrum between Eliot Porter and Galen Rowell. Each of them were heroes of mine in their own ways. Rowell did some powerful stories for National Geographic, in part because he developed such a strong sense of authorship. That's a tough thing to do and the magazine values it greatly. (This is a way of saying that just producing beautiful images is not enough.)

Hope this is worthwhile. Remember it's just my perspective. I could be wrong.


Similar, particularly in terms of lighting, to the winner of the 2009 UK Landscape Photographer of the Year:


Jim: Thanks for stopping by with your comments. One of the things I have been realizing more and more is that "judging" an image from a web presentation is somewhat useless. Prints (whether in a magazine or on a wall) are really what should be one's final arbiter, and even then one's appreciation and tastes change over time.

In regards to Wiesmire's comment, I would recommend everyone to have a look at Andrea's photos on flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/schlapp/) ... she is, IMO, quite a wonderful photographer, and her vision and interpretation of Hebrides and its people always inspire me. Quite different (I'd love to know the age of her "newest" camera!) from Jim's, but pure and authentic nonetheless. Though I've never been there. ;)

National Geographic photographers are known for shooting an impressive number of pictures during an assignment. Amongst others this is due to the time their are being given, traditionally about six month, although this might have been shortened somewhat since. There is also a high degree of competition between the photographers, first for having their current assignment published (it is said that not every completed one finds its way into the magazine) and then for getting the next assignment. As Jim says, he who contemplates looses.

This has not always been so. Till the nineteen-fifties it were about a dozen rolls of film a photographer would bring back. The late Tom Abercrombie changed that by swamping his picture editor with 150 rolls of film. He triggered a tsunami.

Many thanks to Jim for his excellent blog and for sharing his experience with us.

Thank you Jim, for your enlightenment. I do like the picture, in spite of reservations expressed about the shades of green. I'll look out for the printed version when it hits these shores. And I appreciate that you were on a mission, and couldn't just nip back over there for another shot of "whatever," when the weather's better. Visiting Skye, or some of the other Inner Hebrides, can be an easy weekend trip from where I am. I'd always take longer for the outer isles.

Five years ago, to near-the-day, I was with two friends amongst those rocks in the mid foreground. We were sheltering from frequent snow showers and a biting wind. Another hill walker appeared on the skyline at the base the Old Man of Storr. Somewhat comically, as if synchronised, the three of us immediately put down thermos flasks, grabbed bags, and hauled out the cameras. Pictures taken beforehand were probably okay. But now, with someone alongside that rock, this was much more interesting, and gave a sense of scale. The moment was made, just as it was with you, when the sunlight came your way. I still like that (my) picture, but it wouldn't make the cut for any publication, let alone National Geographic! Later, whist coming down the hill, we rounded a corner and where struck by "colour!" We'd become used to an almost black and white world up there in the snow. Dropping below the snowline, and greens, browns, and other covered colours re-appeared - noticeably.



What a revelation! My only previous experience with the Hebrides is in a dreadful book, Tir a'Mhurain, by one of my favorite photographers, Paul Strand.
From his book I had presumed that these islands were essentially flat and dreary.
They still don't look like anywhere I'd ever want to visit, but it's certainly interesting to see how visually exciting they can appear to a fine landscape photographer. I'm impressed.

Like many, I subscribe to NG for the photography, and sometimes read the articles. But when I got to Jim Richardson's photography of the Hebrides I gave some kind of involuntary oath of appreciation. I mean I said something out loud to myself - not repeatable online. It wasn't intellectual or thought out, or analyzed to death, but just there, a visceral reaction! Thanks to Jim's footnotes here, too.


I spent part of my childhood in Edinburgh and my grandmother would take me around the art galleries there where numerous, mostly Victorian and Edwardian, studies of Highland and Island scenes can be found. The light in these pictures struck me as strange at the time and I thought the artists were "making it up" but when I finally visited Mull, Iona and Skye in my mid teens and early twenties I saw that light, they weren't making it up, it really can look like that.
I don't have enough experience to tell if these pictures have been 'shopped but don't underestimate the areas ability to produce some marvelous light and a lot of rain!


Dave, I've been up there in the rain myself and I envy you your day and your memories. You're a lucky person to be able to live out there and I know it's not always an easy place to make a living. Thanks for your input.



BTW, Andrea does have a lot of really nice images of the islands. I'm a sucker for any nice images of the islands and so I loved seeing all of them. And she has used more processes than I have ever imagined. Toned one in free trade coffee???? Wow. Thanks for the link.


As an advanced amateur, I've had numerous thoughts about the taking of iconic photos.

I'm wondering if this composition really takes any skill to photograph. The winning photo of the Landscape Photographer of the Year (on view in London's National Theatre) is taken from the same exact place. Perhaps the argument could be made that the winner trekked up and down the site for weeks, maybe months waiting for the perfect sky and light... or maybe he got lucky.


I was amazed to see that another photo from the same spot also made it into the very same exhibition. It uses much the same composition, sans the more moody sky


I think this is simply a breathtaking sight which pretty much has done all the hard work of looking beautiful. I've never been to this spot, but I'm guessing there must be a well-traveled trail that leads up to this scenic view. Anybody with a camera who makes the wander up is guaranteed a great photo. So how much of this type of landscape is down to skill, really? I believe the environment is doing more than its fair share.

I'm sure these photographers (of course the National Geo photog) are incredibly talented, but I'm assessing things on one image of the same scenic taken by different photographers. I think with this type of great scenic view, the room for the photographer to leave much of any personal imprint is overshadowed.

Here's another photographer's shot:


For me, if I took the image, I think its specialness would diminish greatly if I were to find out about these other versions afterward. This happened to me recently when I saw a very similarly composed shot taken of the La Defense building in Paris. After I saw it, I didn't give a flip about my version anymore. I guess this is why I have such a hard time taking pics of iconic views and showing them to others. That is, unless I feel I can add something unique and more personal to the composition.

I think you've put your finger on one reason why it's important to be somewhat aware of the history of photography in your genre when you're photographing. Some subjects become almost deliberate clichés: For a while after Daniel Burnham's Flatiron Building went up in 1902, it was conventional for ambitious photographers to do "their" photograph of it. (Steichen "won.") Same thing with the church of San Francisco de Asis in Rancho Taos, NM, which was painted by O'Keefe and photographed by Steiglitz, Adams, Strand, and a host of others, each of them making "their" version of the famous theme.

It helps you make the decision whether to play it straight or be ironic about it. Sometimes the irony takes over, as in John Pfahl's "Moonrise Over Pie Pan," which is either an homage or a spoof of Adams's "Moonrise, Hernandez NM."

In a more general sense, it's important to know what people have already done so you can go your own way and not just re-do what somebody else has already done better. Sometimes, photography (and art, for that matter) that mystifies the public makes sense in terms of how it reacts to and refers to earlier work.


"For me, if I took the image, I think its specialness would diminish greatly if I were to find out about these other versions afterward."

Jason, everyone went through that experience. But I am afraid the comment misses the point for two reasons.

First, although the pictures were taken from almost the same point, each of them is different, and not just by little. Jim's framing and composition is totally different from the other views. He definitively put his own stamp on the scene.

Secondly, although Jim is an artist he was not out there to create artwork, but to provide illustrations for an article in a magazine. The Sound of Raasay is an incredible place and his task was to show it to millions of readers, most of them being totally unaware of its existence. In that case the existence of more or less similar pictures which are known to relatively few people doesn't really matter.

If you are more interested in doing artwork than illustration and busy pondering upon skills and specialness I would recommend reading Landscape Beyond by David Ward. A very fine book. It should provide a number of answers to your questions.

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