I'm Alex Noriega, ask me anything!

Hi NPN! I’m a pro nature photographer, traveling and living the nomadic life full time all across the US with my partner Taylor in our travel trailer.

I aim to convey a sense of mystery with my photographs. I want to spark the viewer’s imagination. In recent years I’ve mostly avoided grand scenics and shot more intimate compositions.

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Hi Alex, thank you for taking the time for this AMA session. When you’re working in a new location, what is your process in the field of finding something to say? Or, rather, do you look for light and shapes first and then find the story when reviewing them?

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Hi Alex, I keep hearing about you from Nick Page! Thanks for doing this. I’m wondering what your workflow is for researching a location. Are there specific websites and tools you use?

Thank you!

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Hello Alex, thank you for taking the time! My question is more on the business side of things. While I understand you wouldn’t necessarily want to give away too much, what have you found to be the most effective way of reaching potential buyers for prints specifically?

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Hi Alex, I appreciate your taking the time to offer advice with some of our photographic challenges.

My situation and question, I photograph primarily at a nearby wetlands, the problem I am faced with is bright light. There are relatively few trees and no matter what aperture I set my camera at, the light still overpowers the image,. The only light changes come from either the clouds or maybe at sunset. What can you recommend I do?

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Hi Alex

Thank you for contributing your time to help us aspiring landscape photographers.

From all of the workshop attendees that you have worked with; what are the top couple of most frequently seen issues that are holding them back from being a better photographer. And how would you suggest fixing these issues? TIA

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Your first image on the page fascinates me. What techniques in post-processing did you use to achieve the colors and look?

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Hey Alex,
I wish I could ask all kinds of questions, but I’ll just stick to one…for now :wink:

I do a lot of hiking, and my knees are starting to throw a fit every time I throw on my pack. If you were looking to eliminate as much pack weight as possible, what would be the camera/lens combo you couldn’t live without? I have a D810…if you were wondering.

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Hi Alex, thank you for taking the time for this AMA session. When you’re working in a new location, what is your process in the field of finding something to say? Or, rather, do you look for light and shapes first and then find the story when reviewing them?

Hi Wes! I find that when I’m in a new location, it’s more about listening to what the landscape is saying to me–and that means being open to any composition or subject that presents itself. I do find that typically the “story” of the image comes to me later after studying it for an extended period of time, and this helps me with titling as well. Conversely, in the case of a location I’m familiar with, I may have a story or idea in mind, rather than those I would find by happenstance in a new location. Regardless of whether I’m familiar with a location, I’m always looking for interesting light and balanced compositions. Part of the beauty of art is that a given piece may tell a different story for each person that views it, so that’s not always my primary concern as the photographer.

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Hi Marc, Although Alex may answer your question in more detail here, he has a tutorial covering the very same image called Three Trees.
https://www.alexnoriega.com/tutorials

Hi Alyssa, welcome to NPN! I’ll have to thank Nick for mentioning me so often. I haven’t really employed a research workflow in recent years, because my overall approach to photography has become less about specific planned shots/ideas, and more about wandering around and seeing what light, subjects, and compositions I find (a method @Sarah_Marino has written quite a bit about).

That said, logistically it’s still nice to know when the sun rises and sets and at what angle, so I use TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) for that.

For mountain photography, I use an app called PeakFinder to see what the lay of the land is from any given position, even without internet access.

Google Maps/Earth Satellite view can be helpful to get a general idea of where certain features of a landscape might be, such as groves of trees.

I sometimes refer to a plain Google image search to get an idea of what a place looks like in “normal” light through the eyes of tourists. I don’t really want to taint my mind with preconceived compositions or ideas, so I try not to look at too much fine art nature photography of a new place, but sometimes within tourists’ snapshots I can get an idea of what possibilities and compositions might lie within a given area/landscape.

And last but not least, I use an app called Gaia extensively to mark locations and track my hikes in the field, as well as to study up on the topography and trails before going on those hikes.

I hope this helps!

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Hey Alex,

First I’ll have to congratulate you for your body of work, it’s simply amazing.
My question is a question I hear Adam Gibbs (if i’m not wrong) asking at Out of Oregon. If you had to choose between the image or the experience you had taking that said image, what would you choose?
Cheers

Many photographers try to keep their images “real” as they say. Yet they clone items out and dodge and burn or mask to enhance the image. I also hear some of the same photographers say others images are not processed correctly according to their methods they would of chosen. As photographers we all need to develop our own style or run the risk of becoming clones of somebody else and never have a style.

I feel most photography is subjective and try to be open to all methods of presentation and artistic intent yet I see so many that present their methods as the best. Do you make images for yourself or would you try and meet the expectations of peers and what they would like?

Hi William, welcome to NPN!

I honestly hardly ever market prints, and most of my income is selling tutorial videos and leading workshops. I do get print orders from time to time, anything from a small loose paper print to several high-end 60-plus-inch acrylics. I also license my images when a business or organization comes to me looking to do so.

It’s nice to sell images directly, but it’s become difficult to do so in this age of devalued imagery being so readily available online. I don’t wish to photograph anything I know will be popular solely for that sake, so my print business has mostly been relegated to selling the couple dozen images of mine that do happen to have high popularity and wide appeal.

I don’t do a lot of the business things I should be doing - targeting to specific audiences, advertising, etc. I have luckily been able to make a living photographing exactly what it is I want to photograph, and simply posting those images and making learning materials/workshops/prints available for those who want them, with very little advertising.

I can say that my mailing list is by far my most effective tool for selling anything. Instagram is in 2nd place, selling about half the volume the mailing list does, despite the following there being orders of magnitude larger than the list. Facebook comes 3rd in my experience, and I’m not sure if that’s because people have moved on from it or because I’ve neglected my page there in recent years. I’m sure a percentage of my sales also come from straight Google searches, but like I said, I don’t do the business tracking/analytics I should. I just want to spend my time making photographs and teaching people how I do so!

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Hi Laura!

With harsh light, my first instinct would usually be to find shade, or somewhere that harsh light is reflected to become softer (such as a narrow canyon). In your case, you’re in presumably wide-open wetlands, so one way you could use that strong light is in a more “graphic” way, isolating shapes and patterns formed by the contrasty light and shadows rather than shooting the whole scene. Or maybe the water is creating interesting patterns when its ripples reflect their surroundings?

That’s also a perfect situation to try black and white, since the color may be detracting from the image by making it look too “ordinary”–with B&W, the image is a step removed from reality and thus you have more room to get creative with your representation without it appearing strange.

Another thing you can try to do in such light is silhouette your subject against a bright backdrop (such as the sky or water). You can also position yourself so foliage is backlit and appearing to glow, and try to place it against a dark backdrop (such as a shaded hill or rock wall, though I’m sure those are few and far between in the wetlands).

You might also try thinking small - maybe a tree casts a small shadow and there’s a tiny subject or pattern that would work for macro in that shadow? Or you could make your own shadow by standing in front of it or using a shade, if the subject is small enough.

If you can’t find a way to use the harsh light or create your own shadow, my best advice would be to shoot at dawn and dusk, when the soft glow of pre-sunrise and post-sunset twilight is cast about the land, and previously overly-complex subjects are simplified.

Or, as you allude to, use the clouds when they’re present! My favorite type of light is when bright, golden light pokes through a hole in the storm clouds, illuminating certain subjects or features of the landscape. This may take quite a bit of patience, watching the light change all afternoon for example.

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Hi Pat,

The number one thing I see is that people have preconceived notions of what “the” shot “should” be for a given subject or location. I encourage people to focus on what specifically interests them in the landscape, and try to make an image about that. For example: they may set up a standard near-far wide-angle composition, a classic landscape with leading lines and a foreground element, and the sky in the upper third of the frame. But in this example, what made them set up the camera in the first place, what grabs their attention, is the way the light is playing off a single tree in the midground. So why not go make an image about that tree, a tighter composition focused on what they specifically found interesting? I find that students are often surprised to see how powerful an image can become when extraneous elements are removed. Sometimes, all the elements of a scene are working together to form a compelling wide-angle composition, but often it’s simply employed as the default, being forced even when it’s not the strongest or most interesting arrangement available.

And along those lines but more in the technical realm, the number two issue is the removal of distractions. Often these are along the edges of the frame, but sometimes it’s just entire areas of the composition that are detracting from the viewer’s ability to focus on the subject. My number one suggested critique is a crop, either to remove a distraction or extraneous element, or to better balance a composition.

Hi Marc! As @wes mentioned, I do have a tutorial that shows the important steps of processing that particular image start to finish. But I will try to describe it here briefly: I went for a brighter, lower-contrast pastel look. This meant raising the shadows significantly, and brightening those ultra-dark tones so that the contrasty shadows weren’t a distraction from the soft pastels I wanted to showcase.

Most of the work on the image is focused on the highlights. The light on the tree was there, but I did a fair bit of dodging in post on the trunk and larger branches to emphasize the directionality of that soft light, using luminosity masks for precision. I also did some color dodging (painting bright colors on a soft light layer in PS) on all the brush to further emphasize and brighten the colors down there, again through luminosity masks for precision. The color was there in person, but in the raw the differences between colors were not as pronounced and the colors looked kind of “dead”, so the color dodging brought them to life. The white balance was also key in raw processing, as the colors didn’t “separate” very well until I found the proper WB. And while I wanted a brighter feel to the image, it was also essential to keep the highlights dark enough that these colors would really come out–if you study the histogram you’ll see that it’s actually mostly midtones, without deep shadows or extremely bright highlights.

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Hey Ryan! If we’re talking about a single lens, I would probably look for a superzoom that covers midrange into telephoto, for my own work–something like a 28-300mm. I personally only use two lenses for my own kit (on a Canon 5D4): 24-105mm and 100-400mm, but they’re still kind of heavy because they’re full-frame professional glass.

On your D810, you could look into a combo like the 24-85mm (which I used to make the snowy tree image in this post on a D600 years ago) and the new Nikon 70-300mm E (which my friend and fellow NPNer @TJ_Thorne uses to great effect).

If I was extremely concerned about weight, I’d get a crop body, because then the lenses would be much lighter. Something like a D7500 paired with 16-80mm and 70-300mm lenses, both of which are pretty light, would get you an overall 24-450mm equivalent range, and 20-24MP is still plenty of resolution for most purposes. I’d also go with a smaller 1-series carbon fiber tripod, smaller ballhead, and a smaller pack (the pack itself can be pretty heavy!)

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Hi Alex - Thanks so much for your generosity as you offer your time and talent to us. Your photography is truly compelling and many “experts” in the field value your skill and artistic vision. I wonder if you’ve ever had any training in the creative arts, or are you more self taught? One of the things I’ve noticed among some of the great photographers is that they develop a clarity of vision on what they wish to creatively express the image. I must admit, that while I have a desire to convey with clarity, I’m not always sure I know what I want to say…even after resting the image for weeks to months! Any advice on this process of internal discovery or is it unique to the person and not really “teachable”? Thanks again!

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Hi Joao, thanks for the kind words about my work!

The answer really depends on the image. For example, there are some images I’ve made by the side of the road that I really love a lot more than the experience of standing by my truck along the highway. It’s not always necessarily a magical experience when I witness great conditions or great light, and often roads go right through some amazing forests or canyons and I just have to stop when I see a potential photograph. Roadkill, as some call it! For those, I’d choose the image over the experience.

But then there are also some images that are merely mementos of amazing experiences. For example, “Kindred Spirits” (viewable in this gallery) is a favorite image of mine, but the experience of backpacking here in the mountains with my girlfriend and a couple of our close friends was something I wouldn’t trade for any image. Luckily, I get to keep both the memory of the experience and the photo!

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