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Technical Notes: After Dark

Lesson 22 from: Photographing America's National Parks

Ian Shive

Technical Notes: After Dark

Lesson 22 from: Photographing America's National Parks

Ian Shive

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Lesson Info

22. Technical Notes: After Dark

Lesson Info

Technical Notes: After Dark

The one thing I really wantto talk about is and I kind of touched on it which is the after dark and the technical notes on my process a little bit um one thing you've probably all noticed was how much I love color in my images they're all very vibrant very saturated and a big part of how that's achieved is obviously a bit in the post processing but not very much you saw pretty much what my standard settings are we gonna go detail with that in the landscape section tomorrow especially with rainier in that incredible sunset that we had but for me the technical notes also about shooting in the shade and really recognizing how when light is uniform and even especially after sunset and before sunrise that you are able to capture some of the most incredible colors that just augment the landscape um this is an antelope canyon and looks like a wave of water and there's no direct light actually hitting on any particular area in a lot of my photos and canyons and said it's all subtle like that e...

nds up just sort of falling on the landscape this is in petrified forest national park in arizona and I had one of the most difficult times photographing this place everything that's your subject matter is at the knees or lower which means every time you get close to anything with the sunlight your own shadow gets in the way and so every time I got close to my subject and I wanted that I really shoot directly into the light if I shoot into the sun it's usually in the middle of the day it's my way of sort of just embracing the warm sort of glowy imaginary magical feeling of midday like I never did not even know so one o'clock and after nearly three o'clock in the afternoon but in the evening when the sun is getting close to the horizon I wouldn't actually shoot at the sun a lot of people make the mistake of thinking photographing sunset is photographing the sun at sunset when really photographing sunset for me is photographing the light the sun casts when looking the other direction so one easy way to increase your photography if you do nothing else if it's on ly simply with a a smart phone is to put the sun at your back and find that angle where you can when the sun is low at the horizon and just find a shot with that warm light on it immediately you're going to get a high contrast and high range and just a richness of color that comes through and that's what I was looking for in the petrified forest but every time I did that everything was down here on the ground and you got to see my legs in my tripod and everything else in the shot it was very difficult so and the other problem that I had was the light when it would come in was so directional and so hot and because the landscape was also the same color as the sun so the sun's red and or orangish color and it's hitting the same petrified trees two hundred fifty million year old tree which by the way looks like it just cracked in half yesterday pretty amazing and that was part of the composition where I'm using sort of a rule of thirds but again drawing the eye up there have a subject here using the center area of the frame to break my subject literally in in a way in half and then sort of showing the landscape in the background again also difficult to do so I looked for an object that was somewhat elevated in the scene so that way I could see the background elements but when I tried to photograph with the sun up it was so contrast e that all of the detail on the sides and in the back in here was lost but the second the sun went down and this was all white in the foreground just like the best I notice how the colors are very, very similar there's a reason for it it's because that is the color of light after the sun goes down you've got all of this stuff and all these rocks the sun goes down twenty minutes maybe fifteen, twenty minutes or so before they kick you out of the park is they don't keep the park open past I think about forty five minutes or an hour after sunset so it's a good tip on petrified forest but I was there was a last shot of the day and the sun is off of it and that light goes down and instantly the sky just becomes like a giant studio soft box it's like the lights that we have in here it's not singled direction it's not a spotlight anymore instead is just his gentle flood and you can tell with the clouds and the colors of the sunset you know anytime you have clouds and where should I get more pinks and pastels? The landscape simply reflects it and the lights balanced it's nice it's easy and I'm able to sit get real low to the ground now don't worry about my shadow the sun is at my back as you can tell there's no sun in the shot and I'm able to capture the composition so shooting after dark has been a very important step. This is a similar shot we've seen earlier we had the guy running through the field and channel islands this is the same place I had a rip van thinkit's rip van winkle was one who's wanted fell asleep in the middle of the forest right rip van winkle moment right too much caffeine think rip van winkle moment and I fell asleep actually on the fields they'll photograph it was the middle of the day, like four o'clock three four o'clock sunsets like seven or eight and in the summer and the grass was least hi great cameras on the tripod at the backpack been up all day photographing and aside on this is channel islands national park, you could see the actual blue channel in the mainland in the background towards los angeles and I decided to take a nap and I literally laid out in the field and just fell asleep in the middle of the grass and it's actually funny, because that's, when people walk by, all they see is the tripod because I'm laying in the grass camera was higher than the grass and I feel like someone left their camera here but fell asleep wake up in the sun went down, I missed the sunset entirely and I look around, I'm like I don't I don't care! This is perfect, the grass it was yellow and contrast e and the channel in the haze and everything that came with it didn't work earlier was okay was good made some stock photos, got cem peace signs out there in the grass and had fun, but ultimately the colors and the saturation that came because the light was uniform and even and the channel in the water and the distance in the sky after the sun went down, just started take on such a nice to feel that was a lto to really kind of really capitalize on the richness of this particular landscape. The one thing I love to dio and photographing the icons of nature, certainly and this is one of them. And this is a shot that really started to venture into a new area for me where I started look at nature very and the best parts of it in a very abstract way. This is ah lake mcdonald in glacier national park. And this is a solid forty five minutes to fifteen minutes after the sun went down. And first thing everyone always says to me is god. So blue had to have been photoshopped. Most of adjusted your color balance to blue, I'd gladly share the raw file with anyone I didn't did I trick is there is a neutral density filter which quite frankly, today I would probably undo but the blue came from two things. One it was was late evening. It was a late summer day. It was very, very warm. This water is glacier water it's very clear, which means the clarity of it. The natural color it tends to be blue but also really reflects the sky because you're talking about some of the cleanest, clearest water ever so that sky as it got so dark turned really, really blue, and this the water's reflecting a nice long exposure as I've covered, and I will definitely cover a lot more of landscape section, but nice long exposure and that's. Why he's, a neutral density filter slows it down, the water becomes classy, but this is a, uh I think the two hundred or four hundred or two hundred millimeter lens in order to compress all of these scene. So I'm actually on a little point on the lake shooting down into these mountains. The late light is very bloom, and if you wait to the end of your day and look out your window, you'll see how it gets very blue that's what it looked like, but even more so, there was a wild fire nearby, and the mountains just held the smoke. And when that's, where you get all this smoky, steamy sort of looking, I just loved the shape and the patterns in the way they came through, and it really played on the idea for me of I saved like icons of nature, I think icon and I think national park, I think, rand magnificent I think of things that a wrapped up out of the earth and you see them on the horizon and they're absolutely amazing and this to me was that sort of composition teo to that point and a half hour later I took this shot and you can really see how when I was composing so this is probably at least an hour later I mean, I was shooting a really really little light at this point you could see how the smoke had gotten caught in the mountains and using a much brighter exposure but I had honed in I was standing probably on the shoreline over here somewhere I remember exactly looking up into there and, you know, had a nd on the tub you could see how blue the mountains are in relation to everything else it's the smoke and the late evening light and everything that sort of this sort of really gave it its its color, its tone so is this just fascinating? And and that is part of what I'm looking for and I look at a scene if I had reversed this which I often would have had a similar experience where maybe this was the first shot I took when I look at my camera, I take a shot in the field, sometimes I stop and don't just look at the scene, but I look at the photo that I captured and then I say, well, what I love about this photo and in this particular case thing I love now this enjoy this composition generally anyway but the thing that I really loved was I was looking at this well facts the thing my eyes being drawn to in my composition that why not also just a fact why would I want to go and photograph this shoreline with this in here unless there's some compelling reason to but from my perspective as a landscape photographer I said this is what I like so this is what I'm going to a narrow it down to it's that same adage I've said as a painter versus a photographer painter adds to the canvas of a ta gra fir should constantly be subtracting from it simplifying your composition and getting farther into it this is a very popular place to photograph er badwater basin death valley national park this is again good thirty minutes after sunset twenty months after sunset something like that not necessarily all that long maybe even five minutes after sunset the light could be great it's assault salt that has been pushed up to the surface through the dry heat out there in death valley the lowest spot in the lower actually low spot in north america um and the cracks and features became my foreground these became my leading lines on how they drifted in and I love this composition I think it's it's great colors or going on a little texture in the sky, which is rare in death valley. Like I said, most of these photos or when everything went absolutely right. So, you know, this is this is good, this is the good stuff in that sense and how how it all came together and, you know, this is not an uncommon place or time for photographers to be. I think we've probably all seen similar images is this but would amaze me, wass by the time the light kept going down and down and down, you know, like I use star photography is almost as an excuse astronaut is an excuse to just hang out and just be there even longer until everything is just so dark. You don't get to see anything else, but the thing about this photograph is I waited and all the other photographers that were left everyone went away, I got lights gone, you know, resolutions that they're good and I'm hanging out and finally I'm working my way back up towards the parking lot. I looked back and the moon rises from the exact same spot I'm able to yet an abstract using and just completely ignoring the fact that badwater basin all those salt flats and formations are out there in the middle and instead using the moonrise what's left of the light using an in neutral density filter to a might have still using those neutral density filters on loving them to control it is the sky was so much brighter than what was reflecting off of this little bit of water and also because the moon was exceptionally bright. So I just used a little bit of a filter on this, but I gave up the middle ground. I didn't care, it was in there. I'm going after the abstract, I'm composing for shape, for line, thinking about art, but also thinking about the fact that this is called badwater basin. And how often do you see a lot of water in it? Andi this really just emphasize that idea, and to me, it just was the epitome of why you hang out until you just can't phone you got any more? I love that side light reflected light. This is a really good example. Reflected light and it's pretty intense on here. It's a little less so on a computer monitor. But it's, this is not necessary. The end of the day. So actually the middle of the day and antelope canyon now navajo land. Awesome. Incredible place to photograph on again looking at the layers, looking at layers, not a silly and foreground. Like the traditional sense, but almost like layers of curtains that you would go through that kind of draping down and I love that the light was ultimately the brightest of the back and then the rest is a shade in shadow and the color of the rock using a tripod nice long slow exposure again working in that shade um, in an attempt to plagiarize myself over the course of this course, I replicated similar scene look awfully familiar when I guess, um, I want to show this this actually became the background of of every phone manufactured by a very large phone manufacturer for a number of years on dh on it was pretty cool because this wasn't the end of the day this was simply in the shade, just like what we started with their sunrise in the beginning of this course, if you haven't seen it by all means you got to check it out, but it basically show you exactly how this shot was executed and it was using a couple filters in low light had appear there kept it moving. And so this was you know, this is again just not a silly end of day, not pre sunrise in those mostly their end today I've never been a morning person in general, but you could do all of the same thing, but this was the execution of it neutral density filter slow shutter speeds so slow you still see some texture in the water but that even nice balanced light allowed the boat in the details and everything to really open up so is you could tell the images that mean the most to me and and in my opinion the images that really are the ones that shine the most are those that have been photographed and very little light really working off of the natural color of the sky whether it's clouds and storms or the color of the rock or waters or any smoke or wildfires so any of the natural elements you know, the rare moments I mean I just showed you in this particular case years of my work and visiting the same places over and over and over to get these few frames and it's really cool to go and see them all up against each other and lined up on a wall and I look at that and I said, well, there's five years of photography it's slow it's a slow process it's not walk out and make instant iconic landscapes every chance every time you go out um it's it's a slow process that you have to build upon that one day you reflect on that work and you say yeah I finally started to get that work so it's pretty pretty cool process in my opinion I'm going to start on to another direction for assignments if that may be a good opportunity take a question and wet my whistle that would be a great first of all do we have any in the studio audience and then go to the internet folks so g two had asked a question and we had some votes on it as well when you were showing us the image that you then told us that it was smoky and there have been the walkers the all blue to get that kind of smoky unusual shot for that location do you suggest one goes again and again to the iconic places or pre plan to be that at certain times or both both? I mean I think it's both that's a great question there's no road map teo extraordinary moments you know it really takes perseverance patients you know I never would have expected there to be smoke I was I was here for almost a month in glacier national park. Andi I was there with a friend and I happened to just I have like he went off with his father on a hike for a couple of days and I decided to do a couple solo photography days and hung out by the lake and finding this scene I didn't plan that necessarily so many, many points it's actually just a lot of luck but it's also you know, I think you could try and analyze it see there's webcams for different places, and, like rainier national park, we certainly use the web cam to see if there were clouds and smoke and everything else not smoke, but clouds certainly, and and fog and rain and see what the situation is. So I think the answer is ultimately it's a little bit of both. There's not really anyone waited to planet good answer, good question, there's, no road map to extraordinary tweet that one I wanted, teo, I just like that word extraordinary, and especially when we're talking about the national parks, because we have been, which are places that sony people visit, and that that really is the challenge and that's what we're doing sing it it's true, and, you know, I can't take credit for it was, you know, for me, it's been all of my advice, and all of my career has really been a zay said in when I actually published my first book, I said, I am the sum of my parts and that's, the people that I meet along the way, the professionals who no more than I do of who have studied, and I've just made a really good job of writing, remembering and employing the techniques that they have showed me, and I know that one of the one of the things that really stuck with me was the idea that you know, to become a professional photographer, especially in landscapes, in nature national parks he couldn't you go and do something good good enough or well enough actually to answer your question earlier with a question in the audience right before we started about how do I begin to cool down when I've got a quarter million images? How do I begin to cool down? Pick it, you know, pick the best wardo I begin my editing process has been about not just picking my best photos but picking my photos against the best photos of those places that have ever been taken, and that is a great place for any photographer I think to begin and that's where brutal honesty really comes in. I started by emulating people and people whose work I like, and then eventually I figured out my own style along the way, but when I go out to a place like about to show you organ pipe cactus national monument, which we've talked about for that star trail photograph, but when I went out there and I tried to think of how to photograph an organ pipe national monument, I didn't just go out and say, I'm going to do the best I can, I'm going to do the best that anyone has ever done in this place now it's an ambitious and bold statement by all means, but set, you know, what's the saying reach for the stars setup for the moon sort of idea I knew that I I could certainly probably get a photo that now on the idea of shooting your best comparatively has become a practice so much so that I'm always very competitive in that sense, but it's, the idea of that, especially in the business of photography, you're going to be up against all of the best pros who you admire, they're going to be up against me, you're going to be up against the people that I learned from your truly you're in business, I mean, in the end of the day, you know, you have to hone in on what is what you love and make that part of your creative process, but you're also up against everyone else that you have achieved you've admired and that you've tried to achieve some sort of a similar state and you're of your of your own career. And so when I go out, I look at every photo everyone has ever taken and then try and think, okay, well, that was pretty cool how can I convey that message better? And what composition can I do that really just changes the way people see this place, and that is ultimately what I think defines the iconic imagery of a person's career and the idea of not just photographing a cactus and cool white but for having cactus and finding the north star and then waiting two hours for them to spin out of control in the well earth's been out of control but like the stars look like they're spinning out of control to get a composition that really just takes you to the sense of that place in a way that makes it feel iconic, you know, using the the sum of the room wrong way using the organ pipe you know this place is the only place in the world I believe that working pipe and actually grows this here in this monument and using it as a framing element using it as something that will show me the landscape as it peaks out through it or finding a way to get everything reaching towards the sky because everything just feels so big when you're out there but from a distance it looks so small like a little cactus garden on your porch, but when you're out there and the moon happens to just pop up, I couldn't plan that but I'm going to use it and I'm going to find that light and find that color and and it was amazing how it all just really is able tto come together so I think that's that's the biggest challenge and certainly I think it really helps you ultimately long way of answering how do I get two hundred fifty thousand dollars two hundred thousand dollars and I wish to hundred fifty thousand images how do I get to fifty thousand images down into a manageable number and it's it's be brutally honest and compare yourself to those that you admire look at those images and say do they holed up and if you feel like they hold up, keep him in and you know I'm not saying you have to be as good or better than but set the bar high and use it as a reference see how people are what what are people taking teo there's? So many websites now where images they're also ranked get some feedback their internet is a brutally honest place I've seen the chat room you know, like you really want to you want to use that as a reference point? I think that that's a you know it's great that kind of feedback you can't you're not gonna get anywhere else, you have to have honest feedback and I think that whether it be the internet or friends or other professionals, I think it's very important to the process any questions coming in like a great comment from scuba one forty three because I like the attitude attitude how can I make it the best picture ever? So yeah really set the bar high yeah, exactly but I'm showing you lot out takes these actually out takes that didn't make the cut believe it or not, the cactus with the stars made the cut I think one or one of these meet the cop that these were out takes that I really liked, you know and showing you again talking about we're talking the editing process from the story that national parks magazine I ran so organ pipe and and you know, again these were just great like the biggest struggle I had was this is the most cloud I ever had while I was there you're looking at right here so the struggle I had was there are an awful lot of cactus and there are not many clouds, so I don't have the texture in the sky and things that we normally work with but also again looking at how can I, you know, change the compositions and and the one thing also to I think is a common mistake and this photo and they're becoming the table of contents photo on the story no, I'm sorry it didn't actually using and I think in another story but this photo I like because it's not a pretty cactus now everything you go out and photograph has to be absolutely beautiful in the sense that this cactus looks green has no holes in it and whatever it was a dying sort of rotting cactus out there and to me, it was more in this than a beam, actually, one of my favorite images from the shooter's. Well, with lone moon, it just felt kind of almost a little bit of lonely in the sense of what was that, you know, it was conveying. It was actually a warm feeling. It was just sort of like, you know, the cycle of life sort of idea, and I like that kind of stuff. I like to try and imagine different stories behind each image, whether they have married or not. It gives me something to talk about in the sense of, you know, our something, teo illustrate rather there the story to think about when I'm making the making images, you know, I plan to play these stories out in my head so that I can think of compositions along the way.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Field Guide to Photographing the American Wilderness
Icons of Nature Keynote
National Park Photography Intro and Setup
Photo Editing Keynote
10 Steps to Processing Perfect Star Trail Images
Business of Photography Keynote
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews


I have taken quite a few courses with createlive and this was by far one of the best. Ian is a fantastic teacher and remarkable at describing what he is doing and his thought process clearly. There is so much good information in this course, I definitely plan on buying this class. Not only is Ian a great teacher, but he also seems to genuinely want to help other photographers and see them succeed. You can tell he cares more about seeing good pictures of nature than anything else. I cannot recommend this course enough. Whether you are a beginner who shoots landscape photography as a hobby or a professional who already specializes in landscape photography, this class has something to offer and will expand your skill set. Can't thank Ian enough and I hope he does another course soon.


Ian is a great teacher and it is great when some one who "can do", can also explain how he does it. Clearly, his experience and commitment are why he is good at what he does. There is a lot more to a great photo than getting the camera settings and filters right. Ian did his best to help us understand what to look for when "working the scene" and finding a good composition without distractions. A great course. Thank you, Creative Live and Ian Shive.


Amazing course. Ian Shive is a wonderful teacher, as well as photographer, and it all comes across. I was glued to my computer for the entire 3 days when the class was live, and just had to purchase it so I don't lose any of it. The bonus materials alone are worth the purchase price. I've got a trip coming up soon and will have the opportunity to put some of what Ian said into practice; and love that I can have it with me on my portable devices so I can refresh my memory and reinforce it all. Great to have on a long plane ride. If you are on the fence, get off that fence and go purchase this great course!!! You won't be sorry. My thanks to CreativeLive, and Ian Shive for giving us this wonderful opportunity to not only learn, but to actually be in the field with Ian.

Student Work