I´m Brenda Tharp, ask me anything

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Hello Everyone! am a nature and fine art photographer currently living full time on the road. I make my living full time from teaching, writing, selling prints, and teaching workshops/webinars and leading tours. Life is full of adventure with this lifestyle! I live for experiencing and photographing the beautiful of our planet and even after 33 years of photography, I am still amazed and in awe of things I see and experience in nature. I travel with my life-partner Jed, and the two of us have a love for all things wild so it’s been grand to explore with him.

I have written a few books on nature photography from the creative/vision viewpoint. My photographs are including in private collections around the world, and I’m honored each time someone buys one of my images. I teach mostly about vision and creative expression, emphasizing that over post-production, although that is an important part of the total craft of photography! I love spending time in the southwest USA deserts, including Death Valley, Red Rock Country in Utah, and New Mexico but I also love the mountains!! I guess that’s why I am living on the road mostly - to see it all, and capture photographs that express the beauty of it.

If you have any questions about my photography, my lifestyle, my workshops/tours, or my favorite locations, I’d love to hear from you!

Website: https://www.brendatharp.com/

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What an exciting life and so many adventures! Nature is my passion as well. I started taking photos 20 years ago. We will be going to Big Bend National Park April 18-21. Any suggestions on where you would go.? Thanks, Winnie

Hello Winnie! How exciting that you will be going to Big Bend National Park. Sadly I have yet to go there myself, but it’s on the list. That being said, you could definitely reach out to this NPN community, I am certain others have been there and would have ideas. I do know that it will be a nice time to go, being Spring! I hope you make great photos, and share them here! all the best.

Hi Brenda, first time seeing your photographic work. Love what you do.
My question is regarding starting to sell one’s work for the first time. Do you have any recommendations for what to do for someone who has not done it before? Payment methods, web setup, local selling, or other…?

Thanks, James

Hi Brenda, thanks for being here today! In looking at your website, I am particularly drawn to your intimate landscape images. Beautiful work! That genre is probably one of my favorite ways to capture how I see the natural world. I have a bit of a gap in my lenses between 35mm and 70mm. I shoot intimate landscapes mostly with a 70-300, and shoot all across that range frequently, but sometime wish I had something a little shorter than 70. What would you say is your most used focal length (or a range) for your intimate landscape images?

Hello Paul, thanks for your question and your comments about my images. Yes, intimate landscapes are a favorite approach for me. My ‘go to’ lens is a Sony 24-105mm. I personally find many of these scenes work in the 50-105 range. I love the range of the 24-105mm. It’s a great ‘walk about’ lens when working with intimate scenes, as it affords a perfect working range for most of those types of scenes without having to change lenses. (a 24-120mm is also excellent) Although I also use my 70-200mm for intimate landscapes, it’s bulkier and yes, sometimes just a little too tight. Hope that helps!

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I want to get your opinion on back button focus. I have a Canon R7 and have never used it but am thinking of setting it up on custom bottoms for macro and bird photography but not using it for everything else (landscapes). Just curious.

Hello Lisa - and welcome to the community at NPN! Look forward to seeing your images. I have used back button focus vs shutter button for years, and love it. As long as the light/exposure wasn’t changing, I could set up my metering to my liking and then just focus using the rear button without having the exposure shift at all. It also allowed me to ‘lock in’ the focus on subjects that were not moving in/out of the focus plane, and just press the shutter button when the moment was just right. For subjects that are moving, you just have to remember to keep that button pressed so it will keep refocusing when in continuous focus mode. In single-focus mode, you have to remember to let up and press the button again to refocus. It just takes some getting used to, that’s all, and with some of our more advanced cameras, pre-focusing and subject tracking make some of this easier. I still use the back button focus for landscapes, but only while in single-shot focus, not continuous focus. For bird photography, I use back button and continuous focus, with subject tracking and eye detect. For macro, I tend to manually focus. I know many photographers that use this back button setup. Having said all that, I recently was chatting with a well known wildlife photographer who photographs with the front shutter button exclusively! He found he would forget to re-press the focus button at times, and when the action began, he’d just press the shutter, only to find out he hadn’t fine-tuned the focus if the animal or bird had moved slightly!I would suggest trying it out, and seeing how you like it. Everyone finds their comfort zone which is why they offer the two options. Hope this helps!

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Thank you James! Oooh, a tough question - I love these! Selling your work these days is quite a challenge, honestly. There are so many people photographing, and for example, everyone who has a Smugmug account/site can set up selling prints they have there quite easily. That said, I believe it’s still possible to sell your work! If you have opportunities to sell ‘locally’ - be it in art fairs outdoors, or local galleries, those are a great way to begin to get your work out there and make a name for yourself. These take physical effort, and require inventory, typically, but can be a way to meet people and make connections. The next option in parallel to local selling is to have an online presence - very important as so many people are looking at images online. With that, you have several options. 1) a website already designed to sell your work for you, or offer selling options. Smugmug, Fine Art America, and Artists Storefronts are two such options. Some take a cut of the profit from sales, but you name your price/markup so you can still get what you want from the deal. That said, you still have to draw people over to your page/site on those. These sites don’t do the personal marketing for you. They are huge sites with so many artists, that it’s challenging to get noticed. It’s a kin to being a small fish in a very large pond. To counter that, you must do regular promotions on social media that link back to your archive of photographs. 2) If you can build your own website with ecommerce capability, it’s a great way to maintain more control, yet you will still have to promote heavily to get people to find you and your images. No way around this! :slight_smile: If you do your own website, you need to decide whether you are going to self-fulfill the print orders, or have the file sent to a lab and shipped to the client automatically. There are plugins for self-created websites that allow you to do this, or you can send the file manually once an order comes in. As for payment options, these can be taken through Stripe, PayPal, Venmo, or a secure credit card method; these are the safer ways to get paid, and you just have to factor in the fees when pricing your images on your own site. My Smugmug site is set up to be fulfilled through their labs. My own website is a state of progress for selling, using WooCommerce currently. Maintaining your own site can be a huge amount of work, so you ultimately have to decide whether you have the time or want to spend the time with that, or have another organization manage all the orders for you. I hope this helps and I hope you begin to make sales of your work!


Hi Winnie

I saw your question to Ms. Tharp and want to share that we are also headed to Big Bend this year - about six weeks before you. So - later in March I should be able to share some thoughts. I’ve started watching YouTube videos to help get more acquainted with the area. There are a couple good ones - and as I watch them I keep saying to myself - there’s a shot, there’s another. And yet I have seen relatively few solid images posted from the area - so it feels like a wide open opportunity.

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Hi Brenda, I like your photographic style and also enjoyed following your trip to Alaska and back this year in your van. A trip we hope to do in the next few years.
My question to you is about processing your images. This is an area that I continue to struggle with and find it overwhelming with all the buttons and options you have. For someone who is trying to get the basics down first and to become more comfortable processing their images are there certain areas within the development process you would suggest I focus on first. Which would give me a reasonable good photograph. I am currently focused on learning how to use Lightroom. Thanks

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Brenda could you give a brief over view of how you source your location. I’m particularly interested in apps you may use such as Google earth etc. For me finding the right location at the right time is a very big challenge.

Hello David, welcome to the community! Thank you for your comments about my work and my trip to Alaska/BC - it was a campy approach on youtube, still learning how to video ourselves and present but it was for certain ‘real’. You will love it up there! OK, processing. Yikes, that’s a rabbit hole we could go down deep. I will make an attempt to be brief here yet thorough. First, processing your images is not only just about it being technically correct as per the histogram, etc., but also so much about ‘FEEL’ - the feeling or mood you want to create - or recreate from the scene. Lightroom has set up its develop panels in a rather logical order for good reason. You want to start by choosing a profile that gives you something close to what you want. Profiles such as Camera Standard, or Adobe Color, are good ones, if you are not creating custom profiles (another deep topic!) If I don’t have a profile built for my camera (or even if I do) I run down the list of my favorites and see which one gets me closer to the starting point for then rest of development. Then there’s the BASIC panel. First up, White balance. I often find I am making adjustments to that. I tend to photograph using Daylight so I get what the colors were of the light, and go from there. Auto WB is fine, but sometimes it removes some of the cooler or super-warm cast that I wanted…old film shooter, I am. :slight_smile: Next up the basic sliders exposure, contrast, etc. I tend to expose to the right in the field so I get the most detail out of the shadow areas, so I always bring my exposure back down to where it looks right in the histogram. Then it’s a matter of moving through the slides to get the look I want on the image, while paying close attention to not clip highlights or blacks, unless very very small details. It’s all about how the image looks, so it’s a great idea to be on a calibrated monitor that is giving you realistic tones/contrast and not some punched up monitor for gaming…

I almost always use some clarity, and some vibrance. Texture depends on the scene/subject, and dehaze, while great at doing its job, can be overdone so I use that sparingly, again depending on the scene/subject. I don’t do much with addinging saturation, sometimes I am desaturating some things, to bring a better balance to the hues in the scene. But nothing is hard/fast - I go by look and feel for that, too! Then there is the tonal curve, and that one is trickier to explain here, but usually it ends up being a gentle S curve, with darks brought down a teensy bit and mid tones and/or highlights pushed up a tad.

The rest of the develop tools are a deeper dive than I can write about here. Color mixer sliders can help you bring our different hues, by saturating, or luminance; color grading, a new tool, can do wonders, too, but they require more understanding of how they all work. David Kingham (owner of NPN) has some webinars for sale on their site Exploringexposure.com that may be helpful for those deeper areas of control, and Michael Frye has some excellent books and webinars on processing in Lightroom as well. There are dozens of resources out there that can take you further!

One thing I will mention is that I created a Develop Preset that I use when importing my images, a “nature default” preset, that sets the exposure down 1 stop, reduces contrast slider about 23-30 points, adds about +20 in the black slider, and has about 10 in clarity. I find that it gives me a better start to making adjustments, but that is based on the way I photograph with exposing to the right in most cases. If you make those adjustments on any image, then create a preset using those, you can apply that every time you import and it’s been helpful for me.

I hope this helps! Of course you could also hit the auto button in the Basic Panel, it will make what it thinks are good adjustments and you can evaluate those and make tweaks according to visual taste. I admit I haven’t done that, but I know others have and it gives them a good starting point. Best of luck to you and use this community for input - many critiques include suggestions on adjustments for this or that to improve the image.

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Hello Doug, great question! I use a whole combination of things. I use Google earth and Photographers Ephemeris often, to get aerial views, and sometimes street level views of a location, along with the tracking of the sun’s path so I can get a sense of what the potential is. That is however only when I am planning to get a specific photo - such as one of an arch in Utah, and I want to know whether Spring or winter might give me the angle of the light I want, etc., or morning/evening light. When on site, I use PhotoPills, as it has similar to ephemeris tools built in to it and with its augmented reality, I can determine the path of the sun or moon and when the scene/subject will have light, or where I might want to be to use the moon, let’s say, in my shot. More often than not, I plan to go to an area with enough time to scout my locations a day ahead, even in the middle of the day, and use the Photocells augmented reality to see what might be possible when I find a subject/scene I like.

It is difficult if you can’t take the time to go ahead and scout in person. That’s when Google earth can be quite useful, but a lot of places I go don’t have streets with street views so I am still left guessing what it looks like from the ground, unless I have found other photographs of the area.

While it’s not possible for all of us to spend enough time in the field, the best potential is discovered when you have the time to hike/walk around and get to know a place and see it under different lighting conditions.

Hope this helps! It does take work to be in the right place at the ‘right time’ and we can never plan what the weather will do anyway, but if you at least have some idea that afternoon or morning is best for the location, you can just hope Mother Nature will cooperate with some interesting light.

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HI Brenda - thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise with us. This is a great opportunity for us members. :slight_smile:

I have a question on your processing between Lightroom and Photoshop. From your description of your Lightroom workflow, it sounds like you may not be saving much for Photoshop. Can you share how you use each - relative to each other and what you don’t do in Lightroom if/when you intend to do a bit more in Photoshop.

I have gone back and forth in my processing, and currently doing relatively little in Lightroom other than basic “neutralizing” to prepare the image for Photoshop. But there are some Lightroom tools that just aren’t as available in Photoshop - Clarity and Texture in particular - along with intersecting masks.

So - curious a bit more about your process and when you decide for one over the other.

Thanks again!

You are welcome, Bill! As for expertise in processing, I am one of those people who likes to keep it as simple as possible, while still achieving the results I want. While I do use Photoshop, for example I like its Content Aware fill better than LR version. Admittedly, I was just learning Photoshop when Lightroom came on the scene, and found it easier for some reason, so I stuck with that direction. If I need to scale, warp, transform, etc…, I tend to use Photoshop. I use Photoshop to layer textures over images for abstract work; while I have all the Tony Kuyper presets, I don’t find myself using them all that much. I also like to create canvas around my images, like a mat, planning to update all my website galleries with those matted pics. I used to use Photoshop for sharpening, using a High Pass technique, but now I will use either Topaz AI Sharpen, or simply Lightroom, depending on the image.

In summary, LR is my go to for developing my images, as I am still most comfortable using it, and PS will be secondary if I need more indepth masking/layering. It’s such a personal preference. Hope that helps!

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Thanks Brenda. That definitely helps.:slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks Brenda I really appreciate your detailed response and suggestions, they are very helpful.

Hi Brenda - I am interested in getting your thoughts on cameras for serious amateur photographers these days. For years, I have used a Nikon D700 and have wide assortment of Nikon lens.

I have been considering upgrading but have also been finding I’m taking landscape photos I am really happy with my iPhone when traveling. I’m just more inclined to take the iPhone (along with a Gitzo travel tripod) than I am my full kit. As a result, I am on the fence about upgrading.

I am interested in your experiences (as I seen you posting iPhone photos as well) and recommendations.

Hope to see you at one of your workshops again one day. Thanks!


Hi Doug - nice to ‘hear’ from you! The iPhone is sure grabbing a lot of attention - and likely other brands are too, with these new abilities to get out to around 120mm (iPhone 15 pro). But I would still find I want flexibility to go further than that and not by cropping, as the pixel count is still a lot lower in those phones. I hear you about wanting to go ‘lighter’ and easier, though. One of the main considerations you have is the end goal of your photography. Is it to share on the internet only? Or publish in a personal book from one of the popular sites? Is it to make large-ish prints for the wall? If just the web/sharing, or even ‘just’ a personal book, the phone can do a great job, especially if you photograph in RAW setting so you get more information in processing. It will still limit you however on the lack of telephoto ‘reach’.

That’s why I could not give up my other camera and go with just a phone. Be aware that if you do upgrade, you’d have to stick with the DSLR to use those lenses or get an adapter to use on a Nikon mirrorless camera. I know that the D700 is not a very beefy camera when it comes to megapixels, yet it was supposedly very good with noise management; and again, it depends on what your end goal(s) are in terms of how you will use the pictures you make. So decide on that first, as it may help you decide whether to upgrade or not! We so often get caught up in the ‘bigger or newer is better’ syndrome, when often the camera we have is ‘enough’. Although I will say that one of the things I like with larger megapixel cameras is that I can crop a bit more to get the reach I may not have been able to get with my current lenses and that allows me to travel a little lighter on the lens side of things. :slight_smile: Hope this helps! oh and one last thing - welcome to the NPN community! I look forward to seeing your photos here!