Hi! I'm Charlotte Gibb. Go ahead. Ask me anything!

Greetings NPN! I’m Charlotte Gibb, and I’m super excited to answer any questions you have today. You can see my work on my website, www.charlottegibb.com, to get a sense of my approach to landscape photography. You can also check out my blog, where I blather on about photography and nature — www.charlottegibbblog.com. A bit about me — I was a graphic designer for many years before turning my full attention to my passion for photographing nature and the landscape around eight years ago. My darkroom is long gone now, and I enjoy what the digital darkroom offers. I attempt to deliver images with a light hand and sensitive eye. I spend a lot of time in Yosemite National Park and California Sierra Nevada mountains, places that are dear to me. Did I leave anything out? Go ahead. Ask me anything!

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I know that everyone’s learning curve is different, and may even jump from one curve to another in the process of becoming “good, even great” at photographic art … my question for you is, how did you learn to see through the vista into the intimate. It certainly cant be as simple as getting closer.

Hi Charlotte,
Thanks for your generosity of time and willingness to talk to us.
What are your goals in photography for the next 1 year and 5 years?
Matt

Hi Ann, Thanks for breaking the ice and being the first to ask a question. Here we go! How did I get past the vista and into the intimate? That’s a very good question. I don’t think I ever got past the vista. Right out of the gate, I started looking at nature and the landscape with a telephoto eye. I think about composition first and foremost. Subject is almost secondary. When you break a scene down to its most simple components — lines, shapes, colors, and textures — you start to see things maybe you didn’t notice before. So, a pine tree is just a triangle. A rock is a circle. A path is a line. Water is a blue shape. Then you arrange these objects in a pleasing way within the frame. I hope this makes sense!

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Yay!
The thing I am most curious about is your approach to post-processing. Your images all seem to have a similar feel which I appreciate… so I’m wondering if you can expand upon your basic approach to editing.

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Hi Charlotte,
I love your style, and I think I could identify one of your photos as yours because of it. It’s not just the intimate look at the beauty of the Sierras (mostly), but it is also your processing. I would say it is often light, bright, with perhaps less contrast than often seen. I know you don’t have a formula for processing each photo, as no one does. Aside from your presets, could you please tell us what Photoshop layers are most frequently in your PS history? I’m not sure you can really answer that since it is such a generalization.
Thanks very much and I’ll see you this Saturday! Kathy

Good morning Charlotte! I love your new image, Along Rush Creek. I would have never “seen” that composition. How did you first see that scene and what was your approach to finally capturing that comp?

Hi Charlotte,
I do visit your website periodically and think you do very fine work. I wonder if there is, or are, questions you ask yourself before going out on assignment to prepare for your shoot? No matter what the location, is there something basic you are after?

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Hi Matt, I’m very happy to be here. I learn from your questions too, so hopefully we’ll all come away with something good today. Regarding my goals, oh my gosh, that is such an interesting question. Figuring out what I want to do in the near term and far seems to be a daily thought experiment and a moving target. I have so many interests. For example, I just spent four days back in the darkroom learning how to make platinum prints, just to see if I wanted to go in that direction. (It turns out that while it was fun, I don’t think platinum printing is in my future.) I have been saying “yes” to practically every invitation that comes my way just to try it on and see if I’m any good at it or if I enjoy it. For instance, I was surprised to learn that I actually enjoy speaking in front of large groups of photographers about my passion for the craft. Who knew? I never would have guessed that about myself unless I had tried. So, in the near term, I will be speaking out at conferences on the topic of photography and helping other photographers along their own artistic journeys. There’s a book in my head that needs to find its way to paper at some point in the next year or so. And, I want to continue to explore new ways of expressing my art and pushing the bounds of my own creativity. That means I will be seeking out new ways to play, such as my recent venture into platinum printing.

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Hey Matt! It’s great to hear from you! I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person at the Out of Yosemite conference in February. Anyway, I was recently asked exactly this question about my approach to processing. I struggled to come up with an answer, but this is where I landed. There’s an aesthetic for each image that I have in my head when I press the shutter. I try to hold onto that idea when I get back to my computer and download the image. I usually do light processing in the field for that very reason. I need to connect my vision in the field with the resulting image and print, so time is of the essence. If I wait too long to process, I find it difficult to stay connected to my vision. Regarding actual processing, if you looked at the histogram of my images, you would notice that they tend to be fat in the middle. It’s not that I aim for that perfect histogram, but it’s an aesthetic that pleases me. Most of my edits are simply dodging and burning and controlled saturation/desaturation. I’m a big fan of masks. I guess that makes me a bit of a control freak.

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Hi Kathy, I’m super exited to see you this weekend at our Open Studio event. You won’t believe what Gary has done to the place, lol! As my very first student, you were the lucky recipient of my early clumsy attempts to teach my processing techniques. Since then, I think I’ve improved how I explain my approach to processing, and my technique has also evolved. In addition to what I responded to Matt Payne’s question about processing, I can add that my PS layers always has a clone layer. I’m fastidious about cleaning up any dark or light bits close to the edge of the frame. So, first I make the basic exposure and white balance adjustments in Lightroom. At that point, the photo looks rather dull. Then, I bring the image into Photoshop and add my clone layer to clean up any sensor dust or small, distracting elements. After that is done to my complete satisfaction, I start adding adjustment layers to tweak contrast. I almost always use masks to control which part of the image is getting the adjustment. I might flatten all the adjustment layers to a single layer and start “painting” with the dodge/burn tool, directing the eye through the composition. I use a Wacom tablet, which allows me to use the mouse like a paintbrush. As a left-handed person, I find this tool extremely helpful.

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Hi Charlotte. Thank you for taking the time to share you thoughts with us today at NPN. Trees and forest interiors play a central role in many of the images in your portfolio that I admire the most. I’m very impressed with your ability to see and extract compelling compositions out of the inherent complexity and chaos of woodlands. Would you be willing to share your thoughts on how you approach creating order and simplification in these type of scenes?

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Hi Charlotte! Thanks for taking time for the AMA. It seems that Graphic Design is a corner of art that has a lot of rules, boundaries, gridlines etc. (physically and metaphorically). Can you draw any similarities in the current state of discourse around nature photography and what is deemed right or wrong, creative or re-hash? I am of the mind that art is all around us and there are as many ways to go about is as there are ways to compose a melody or arrange words to make a story or a poem. Isn’t there room for all of it, from the photographic equivalent of abstract expressionism to realism?

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Hi Michael, I’m glad to hear that Along Rush Creek pleases you! It is a very peaceful location that draws me back again and again. Rush Creek is a popular place for fisherman, and as such there are lots of little social trails that lead you to quiet spots along the creek. That particular image was made in the early morning. It was freezing cold, so that’s why there is a light mist on the water.


As for finding that particular composition, I find that Aspen trees make wonderful compositional elements because of the graphic nature of their trunks. If you think of the trunks as just white lines, then you can start arranging them within the four edges of the frame by moving your body. I use a framing card to help spot compositions. Working with a tripod can be cumbersome when first arriving on a scene. If you begin with a framing card, you can work more quickly to identify where you want to set up your camera. Here’s a photo of my husband demonstrating how to use a framing card.

Cut a piece of mat board to the same proportion as your camera’s sensor. Hold it up at an arm’s length and close one eye to view the scene. That is about the equivalent of 120mm on a 35mm camera. Five inches from your face is equivalent to about 24mm, and 10 inches away is equivalent to about 50mm. This will allow you to move around freely as you visualize your composition before you even get your camera out of the bag. It really does help train the eye to see in 2D. I still use my faming card from time to time.

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Hi Charlotte. You mentioned moving from the vista and into the intimate and I wanted to expand on this a little bit.

It would seem that there is a common trend to look for the more intimate shot rather than shoot the big vista. I think both have their place in landscape photography (I enjoy shooting both) but personally tend towards bigger vistas than intimate scenes. That said why do you think the trend to focus on the intimate more exists at the moment? (Why has it reared its head again in recent times).

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Hi Charlotte! You’re an amazing artist and human being! Thanks for doing this AMA so we can get a peek behind the curtain. I’m curious to know, Why do you photograph? What is it about using photography as a medium for your self-expression that excites you? (I realize that’s two questions, but hey, they’re related, right?!) Thanks!

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Hi Harvey, Thanks for looking at my work and for taking time to pose your question. It has given me pause to think about what goes through my mind previous to going out in the field. First and foremost, I make sure that my mind is open and ready. I try not to have a lot of preconceived notions about what nature is going to deliver. That often leads to frustration when things don’t turn out as I’d envisioned, which is often the case. Instead, I notice what is on the visual menu that day. Did nature give me clear, blue skies? Then I notice how lovely the trees look when back lit. Is it cloudy or overcast? Then I look for the soft details in the shadows. Is is foggy? Yay, time for celebration! Fog is my favorite condition for tree photography, and definitely worth seeking out. Windy? Maybe try a slow shutter speed to blur the details, as in this photo.


As a nature photographer, I find the most joy in the process, not necessarily in the end result. I am happiest when I’m out exploring with my camera. The minute I start to think about an end result, I open the way for disappointment. I want to keep doing this for a long time because it makes me happy. I would make photographs whether or not anyone ever saw the resulting art. So, I keep an open mind and a grateful heart for being able to do the thing I love.

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Hi Ed, thanks for your question! Photographing trees can certainly be messy business. I’ve learned a few tricks that can really help create order from all that chaos.

  1. I mentioned using a framing card in my response to a question posed by Michael Torkildsen.
  2. In addition to practicing with the frame card technique, sometimes it helps to step back from a grove of trees in order to make a clean composition. Roads and rivers create wonderful opportunities for space when positioned between you and your subject. Or, get up on a hill where you can look down on the forest. Pick out interesting patterns from your perch.
  3. Photographing trees cannot be done in a hurry, so allow time to wander and give the task your full concentration. Patience and curiosity are necessary ingredients to make the best tree images. Trees are loaded with individual character. Take the time to get better acquainted with them and your images will be more impactful and engaging.
  4. There are wonderful opportunities to photograph trees in all kinds of light — back light, side light, shade, overcast, moonlight and starlight. But the only kind of light that comes to mind that is not particularly interesting is front light. Front light is when your subject is directly in front of you and the sun is at your back. To add drama, position the sun behind the foliage or to the side of the trees.

Here are some backlit trees in Yosemite Valley I photographed the other day. Not much processing here, other than adjusting contrast. I let nature do all the heavy lifting for me!

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Hi Eugene, thank you for your question and the opportunity to expand on the ideas around “Intimate Landscapes.” So, I guess I never really moved away from the vista because the grand landscape style was never a focus of my work. My work has always leaned towards the smaller scenes. I think the question posed earlier assumed I had “moved” from the vista. My apologies for not being more clear. I still enjoy the grand vista from time to time, but my heart has always been in photographing the smaller details of nature since the very beginning.

As for why the sudden increased interest in Intimates, I can only speculate. I have noticed the trend as well, and I’m very glad to see it. I have been writing articles and speaking about the virtues of the Intimate for a number of years, and I’m not the only one. Several influential photographers have turned their attention to the Intimate. Maybe it has just hit some sort of critical mass.

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