Guest Blogger Rob Dweck Shares His Creative Vision

Today's guest blogger is Rob Dweck, a wonderful photographer (and person) who assisted me at the California Photo Festival.

Take it away Rob.

Every one of us has something that inspired us to pick up a camera and get into photography. For me it was a natural extension of my love for nature and the outdoors. There was no better way to spend my free time than to lace up my hiking boots and spend a day on the trail where I could turn off the phone, forget about the day job and relax as I took in the view from the top of a mountain or a long stretch of sandy beach. Wanting to bring some of that experience home with me, I bought a little point and shoot camera and snapped photo after photo as I hiked through some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth. I returned home and downloaded my photos expecting them to look like what my eye saw and…disappointment.

The truth was I had no clue what I was doing. The dial on top had several modes for different types of shooting, but I couldn’t find the Ansel Adams mode. It quickly dawned on me that I needed to learn what I’m doing if I wanted to bring home more than just snapshots. So I read books, watched videos, practiced, practiced and practiced some more. In the ongoing process of shooting, learning and making lots of mistakes, (a big part of my learning process), I found a new creative outlet that has brought me more joy and gratification than I ever imagined possible. What started as a way to bring home a bit of nature’s beauty, is now an ongoing process of artistic expression. 

Like so many photographers, I started out by going to many of the iconic locations that have been photographed gazillions of times. I was happy to get my “me too” shots, but after shooting enough of those, I wanted to do more than re-create someone else’s photo. On a recent trip to Glacier National Park, I got the classic sunrise shot from the Wild Goose Island overlook, and after the golden light faded from the peaks and the hoards of other photographers packed up and left, I saw some other possibilities.

Seeing the movement of the clouds, I knew that a long exposure would capture that movement as streaks fanning out across the sky. With the sun already fairly high in the sky, I knew that the only way to get a slow enough shutter speed was with my 10-stop neutral density filter, which I attached it to my lens to get a 5 minute exposure. I converted the file to black and white and created an image that was much more compelling than the classic golden hour shot I made 25 minutes earlier.


One of the reasons I love doing long exposures is that it allows me to capture movement in a way that otherwise goes unseen by the naked eye. I used my trusty neutral density filter in this photograph of Maligne Canyon to get a 141 second exposure that blurred the water into a silky smooth flow that wouldn’t be possible with a shutter speed of just a few seconds.

Not being a photojournalist, I’m less interested in faithfully recreating a scene than capturing the essence of a scene or how I felt when I was there. Getting creative with filters and camera settings is one way to accomplish that, experimenting in post processing is another way. I shot this photo in Vernazza, Italy during twilight to capture a more ambient and peaceful perspective on this small town. During peak season, the town is overrun with tourists and the partying continues into all hours of the night. I wasn’t interested in capturing that aspect, so I chose this vantage point from a hillside, and then added a subtle glow effect using the Glamour Glow filter in Nik Color Efex pro. This gave the image a slightly ethereal look that more closely matched what I was feeling at the time.

But there are times when everything comes together and I want to capture a scene exactly as it appeared. That was the case in this photo when the outlet stream of Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands was unusually still and provided a perfect mirror for the cloudy sunset sky.

With the extreme dynamic range of the scene, I knew I’d need to bracket several exposures and use HDR to capture it all. I composed the shot and placed the camera on the tripod, but something seemed to be missing. The shot needed one more element. A little patience paid off and as soon as the surfer walked by, I quickly fired off three bracketed exposures. Even though the surfer is a small part of the frame, it made the shot. I processed the three exposures in Nik HDR Efex Pro to re-create the scene as my eye saw it that night.

What started out as a way for me to document my journeys has evolved into a continuous process of seeing light and capturing it in an artistic way. I learn something new every time I shoot and would like to leave you with five things to consider the next time you pick up your camera.

1.    The camera doesn’t see what you see. Know what it can and can’t do so you can use it to re-create your vision.

2.     Patience, perseverance and persistence are the keys to many successful images. You may need to visit a location several times to get the shot you want. 
3.    Only include what’s necessary. If something in the frame doesn’t enhance the image, it will probably be a distraction. Eliminate it by zooming in, shooting from a different position or cloning it out in post processing if necessary.
4.    Don’t let reality limit your imagination. Unless you’re a photojournalist or on a specific assignment, you do not have to faithfully re-create what you see. Let your imagination run wild with the camera and with post-processing.
5.    Be safe. I’ve seen photographers get in some very dangerous situations to get a shot. No photograph is worth your life.


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Thank you Rob for sharing your vision. You have a wonderful eye - and spirit. I hope to see you at the 2012 California Photo Festival.

Explore the light,