Creative Eye

Professional photographers offer their tips ahead of inaugural Oregon Outdoors Photo Contest
Cape Kiwanda, shown here, is part of the Three Capes Scenic Route on the Oregon Coast near Pacific City. Kiwanda is the smallest of the three capes the others are Cape Meares and Cape Lookout but it is one of the best places to experience spectacular wave action.Photo courtesy Sean Bagshaw

It's the season for exploring Oregon's great outdoors. If that prospect isn't enticing enough, our first Oregon Outdoors Photo Contest gives shutterbugs some incentive to capture and share their favorite landscapes, as well as images of wildlife and people in nature.

"Exploring is most of the fun for me," says Ashland outdoors photographer Sean Bagshaw. "If I find a good photograph in the process, then that's a bonus."

The owner of Outdoor Exposure Photography lectures and hosts workshops several times annually for professionals and amateurs hoping to emulate his expertise. Since Bagshaw quit teaching science and math at Ashland Middle School almost a decade ago, his work has been reproduced in magazines, calendars and stock-photo services and adorns venues from galleries to corporate boardrooms.

Colonial architecture of Latin America and Buddhist temples in the Himalayas are featured in some of Bagshaw's most celebrated shots. But Southern Oregon, with its varied landscapes, says Bagshaw, is awash in subject matter.

"We have mountains and valleys, rivers and streams," he says. "Even in your own backyard, there are all kinds of interesting things.

"You certainly don't have to travel big distances or go to the real iconic landscapes."

Yet the region presents photographic challenges, says Bagshaw, because the focal point — apart from Crater Lake, perhaps — isn't always so obvious. And surprising the viewer with a fresh perspective, he says, usually requires some finesse, advice echoed by other local outdoors photographers.

"Just because a landscape looks good to your eye doesn't mean it will necessarily translate well in a photograph," says Bagshaw.

He and Ashland photographer Jim Kurtz counsel colleagues to simplify the frame, composing it so distracting objects around the edges aren't visible. Distill the scene to a few main elements — including a single, strong foreground — without placing the subject in the center or splitting the photo with the horizon line. Landscapes, says Bagshaw, commonly relate too much visual information, so photographers should show only enough to give a hint of the larger scene.

"No camera can create an image that completely encompasses the experience that the photographer had."

Enhancing the visual experience often comes by placing the camera up high or down on the ground, say Bagshaw and Kurtz.

"That will prompt the judges often to stop and think about how you took the photo," says Kurtz, who judged photography competitions while living in Southern California.

From a judge's perspective, says Kurtz, only technically sound photos have a shot at winning. Focus should be sharp with good depth of field. A tripod, says Bagshaw, is a photographer's second most important piece of equipment, providing a level of sharpness that a hand-held camera can't achieve, even with faster shutter speeds. A tripod maintains the camera position while the photographer waits for just the right light.

Traditionally, that means shooting landscapes during the "golden hours," says Medford photographer Jim Craven. Low, dramatic light around dawn or dusk bathes outdoor scenes in a warm glow, he says.

But don't stay home because it's not sunny, says Craven, formerly a photographer for the Mail Tribune. Gray days can be prime opportunities for photographers, he says.

"Look for approaching storms, mist, fog, dramatic clouds, rainbows," he says. "Bright colors, such as flowers, really glow on an overcast day."

While color and contrast create intrigue, oversaturating is obvious to the trained eye, says Kurtz. Editing digital images, however, are a photographer's prerogative, says Bagshaw, explaining that there's every reason, from an artistic vantage, to create composite photos — totally original landscapes that don't exist in nature.

"For me, photography is just as open for expression as any art form."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or

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