Friday, October 25, 2013

Geological Photography Field Trip

Today I'm at the Geological Society of America annual meeting, and attended the short course/field trip on Geophotography.  It was led by +Ellen Bishop , +Marli Miller , and +Stephen Weaver , all of whom are talented photographers specializing in geological work.  Look them up, their work is really fantastic.

I first got interested in photographing geologic subjects when I began teaching a decade ago and found it was really difficult to find good quality photographs of the various features I was trying to teach my students.  Most upper-level geoscience textbooks only provide black & white images, and of course they don't provide multiple images of all the various features one might want to view.  Finding good photos of all the geology things is really, really challenging, and students need to see lots of examples.  Lots!  Fortunately there are websites like the Earth Science World Image Bank, the Earth Science Picture of the Day, and the EGU Imageo site, but there are still lots of holes to fill for good quality photos of geologic subjects.  So my passion for geoscience education has led me to try to contribute.

I've put out a number of Geology Field Photos on my Google+ page (search Carrigan #geopic) in the past couple of years.  It's been rewarding to share these with my followers.  I've also blogged about that effort in the past, so no need to say more here.  I will continue to primarily share my geophotos in that manner.  Don't get me wrong - I don't have some overinflated ego about the quality of my photographs.  I enjoy doing it, but I've got a lot to learn and a lot of room for improvement.  

Geological Photography essentially blends aspects of the art of photography with the science of geology - how do we make visually appealing, high-quality photographs of geological features.  Although I've been interested in this for a few years now, it's only been in the past year that I've wanted to push my photography skills beyond shooting with automatic settings and little to no editing.  The fact is that with a good camera and a decent eye, you can take a lot of decent shots that will be beneficial for student learning.  That will only get you so far, so this past year I've been learning how to take photographs manually, to control all the various settings - aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, etc.  OK, I take that back - I still let my camera control the focus.  My few attempts at manual focus have been disastrous.

I'll tell you one truth: when you go from fully automatic to fully manual, the quality of your photos will decline at first!  My wife can attest to this, as the pictures of our kids from this past year were sometimes, well, not so good.  It takes time and practice to learn new skills, and I'm definitely still on that journey.  I've taken a lot of shots over the past year where the exposure was just all wrong.  Sure, you can adjust some of those things in software afterward, but the best thing is to get it right when you first take the shot.  Today I was in full manual mode; no more training wheels.  We left in the morning and headed out to Roxborough State Park, the geology of which is a lot like other areas of the CO Front Range - upended Pennsylvanian Red Sandstone Fountain Fm., followed by various other units until you get to the Dakota hogback.  Lots of good scenery to photograph, and I purposefully did a lot of experimenting with various settings.  Definitely some real buggers, like the times when I adjusted the aperture but not the shutter speed - oops.  I still need to look through the bunch and pick out the good ones and do some editing, but it feels obligatory to include some photos in a blog post about geophotography, so here are a couple of shots from today that aren't too bad:  

Tomorrow we head to the convention center with laptops and our RAW files and are learning about post-processing of digital photos.  Here's an area where I know next to nothing, so I'm really excited about this.  Hopefully I'll have more & better photos to share in the future.

Anyone out there care to share their experience photographing geologic subjects?