July 25, 2020

Shot notes: On all 3 of these I used Silver Skin process from my Silver 3 presets collection for C1 and Lr on all three. I did some burn burn and dodge cleanup in Photoshop also. I used a Fuji XT3 with a 90mm f2.

Environmental portraits were a bit part of my training and my late mentor who was one of the finest portraitists in the past 100 years; he crafted environmental images for walls for an entire career.

So  I asked myself as I looked at these. Why do I need to remove set elements for this shot. Which tells a better story? I picked 3 poses but my favorite was the environmental scene and it looks great large. I decided to test it on the world of Facebook photo groups. By the way you can comment below or discuss this here on the Facebook post.

There was no grand plan here. Maybe that’s WHY I like it. The internet is full of confident critics who have no idea what they are talking about. I’ll never forget standing around the image salon at competition with Ken Whitmire and others and having strong opinions to this or that. Ken usually had a more objective view to offer. I guess what make me blog about this shot is that I realized I did’t care if they thought it was “wrong”, I knew it would probably not go loan in competition and that did not matter. I like the image and realized that that was good enough and that we often worry to much about what others say.

This caused some controversy.

More people liked my image that hated it. But I found it interesting that a lot of “experts” came to call and they decided that I sucked and if I would not heed their advice,  I should be disbarred from photography! I didn’t actually post the image asking for critique but I always consider critiques because mentally accepting or rejecting what people say about your image is useful.

I learned it’s fine to post your behind the scenes photo so people can peek on smartphones, but to post that image as art another matter. Digital has made us prone do doing whatever software tells us, small screens have taught us planning for print is less important than cropping for a four inch screen and social media has taught us to argue everything and insist we are right. It makes me feel we should go back and study the painters a bit more because often what’s being said by self proclaimed “experts” flies in the face of art history.

When I started entering international level PPA competitions in 2009 on the road to get my masters, I learned I was NOT as good as I thought. It was very humbling and I’ve been learning it ever since. I teach and study photography and I have for 20 years. So despite being called arrogant at times, I don’t just take every comment from  someone online with no portfolio or reputation and obey; neither should you!

Online, everyone is the smartest instructor in a class where only YOU are the student

Is there a rule that says we can’t have the lighting visible in a portrait? No, not if leads to the subject. So that’s what I told people, but some said they ONLY  see my strobe in this first image, or that the going  back and forth which disqualified this as a proper photo. They said my story was not clear and that I was arrogant for calling this a good shot and not admitting my mistake. Of course I have more traditional closeups also, the wide shot was made for fun and I ended up liking it!

A counterbalance like we see here forces the eye to go back and forth, it’s a powerful tool of composition that we study deeply Photo Perfect master class. Now that’s not to say you always have to have a strong counterbalance, only that it does work. The light value is about equal to the models face. Is there a rule that says it must be less. Of course not! The car is a bit odd, but we’re telling a story of a photo shoot out in the countryside. The car shows that we drove somewhere. The eye goes around, to the model to the light and repeats. To me it’s not that easy to leave this frame and I don’t care what object you see first because I know they will lead you to my subject.

The moral here to is  is not that this image is the award winning environmental shot of the season. There’s things to nitpick and I admit this wider shot was not the specific intent of the shoot. I picked it because it resonated to me. To you maybe  not and that’s OK. Here’s the bottom line.

The internet is not the final word!

In my experience most feedback on photo groups often comes from people with little experience. People that want to sound like experts because they are insecure. Listen for honest well intentioned feedback, but don’t let the insecurity of others be your own.
Sometimes an image sparking discussion is proof to me that I did something right. If someone trashes  it, the first thing I do is look to see if they have a portfolio  and how much actual experience they are speaking from.  I learn more from the accountability of real world competitions and qualified instructors than from ego driven comments where everyone dreams of being smartest instructor in a class where only I am the student. We should always be students, but not everyone is our instructor.

Photographers can be ego driven jerks and we can’t let that define us.

I have the experience and confidence to say this works. Of course, you can disagree and you can like the others better, or hate them all. I can even change my mind next week. But that’s not my point. The legendary Ken Whitmire. Ken taught me to use space and to print it unashamed as we fill-walls with the story we want to tell.

The main “crop” in image #1 is not it’s visual edge. The stops are the shadows and the objects to lead the eyes where I wanted. Sometimes these environmental shots get picked apart on small screens, while in wall prints their majesty shines and and people are amazed. Many “experts” in photo groups have never printed a wall print.  We we need to have enough vision to see the goal as well as hear the noise around us. Some images are meant to be seen larger and that’s a good thing. Light itself is rarely our subject, it’s merely our paint! Consider Arnold Newman’s iconic 1949 portrait of Danny Kaye, cluttered with elements of the set and glaring light yet so balanced.

Do you choose wide, thoughtful, safe; or trash them all?

#1 is a useful example of leading tones and counter balance.

The other images are nice portraits and perhaps more logical to some. But I would print the environmental, because it tells a story that I want to know more about rather than just showing a pretty model. Think about it.
If your objects. light and lines hold the eye in the frame and lead it back to the subject, there is no escape from the viewer seeing what you want them too see. I like this because it says something more and your eye gets to roam. It’s both the beauty and the challenge of an environmental portrait and I think most shoots should include one if nothing else for perspective and practice.

#2 feels thoughtful.

It’s not the safest but the pensive look and the hand lead me to the eyes. The pose is not the most sensual or classic, but I can’t stop coming back to those eyes.

#3 feels safe.

It’s got decent lighting, a nice smile and a pretty fair pose with good mends in fingers elbows and a wrist that’s maybe a tad too straight. It’s a nice client portrait and you will probably forget it soon.
People believe their eyes have a choice. In most cases, I don’t believe that’s true. When we use counter balances with tone and line, we can force the viewers eye go where we intend. Not everyone needs to know the story for the story to exist. The use here of the set environment gives us the chance to show a glimpse of the story that most never see and leave them asking questions.

The more experience I get, the less absolute I become about whether a photo is WRONG!!

I can always spot a ego driven feedback because its’ from people who think they know everything and the rule they read about once applies to your image 100% and if you don’t honor it, you are a bad photographer. I can always critique an image, and while there are “rules”  (guidelines) like lines, lighting or an image needing a main subject,I’be found the more I learn the less know.

If you reject feedback because you know all your images are amazing you will hurt myself. But If you filter feedback because it seems ego driven, some someone with something to prove, someone with little demonstrated credibility or experience, that just means you have enough confidence and experience to also critique yourself. Just be careful with confidence because it’s a sharp sword!

A perfectly lit portrait that has no soul, no question in it’s eyes, it’s photo of the light, not a portrait of a person. I think sometimes we need to be reminded of that.  — Gav
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March 6, 2013

Lost Oasis - Texas
The Lost Oasis – Near the Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park, Texas 2012 – 4×5 film, Linhoff T IV

Warm memories, adventure and hints of times gone past. It took me awhile to finish this one because I liked it too much to do it quickly. This old store sits in the middle of the desert a few minutes walk from the Rio Grande, Mexico on the other side. Down the path a ten minute hike is the ruins of the old Hot Springs, self proclaimed healing waters that made this old resort an attraction.

Now it’s just a dusty path leading to the warm hot tub like foundation that still remains from the old bathhouse and is filled by naturally hot water. The whole family and I went down and we soaked together in the warm spring as a tiny Mexican village lumbered through the day across the river. There a lot of history in this old place and it’s memories are just a little haunting, especially when the tourists disappear for the day and the solitude of morning or evening take over the silent stones.

Release details: Prints Available.. Order Open Edition originals above.. Master prints and Signature Limited Editions are listed below and can be ordered by contacting gallery.

Released prints….


Down past the old buildings and to the ruins of the old hot springs building. It's remaining foundation makes it like a hot tub in the middle of the desert. The family and I enjoyed it - This is Cyrus, Asher, Ana and my wife, Sondra.
Notes Snapshot: Down past the old buildings lie the ruins of the old hot springs building. It’s remaining foundation makes it like a hot tub in the middle of the desert. The family and I enjoyed it – This is Cyrus, Asher, Ana and my wife, Sondra.


For Photographers. How it was made…

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February 2, 2013

Gavin-Seim-Family-Portrait-2012-880x476Once upon a time there was a guy, his family, a bunch of cameras, a Super Camper and lots of passionate ideas. No sponsors. No backup team – Just the open road, a sense of adventure and three months to take full advantage of.

I’m Gavin Seim. We’re out to explore as we attempt to make images and film that do justice to the beauty America. There’s lots of projects on the menu so we can pay bills and keep gas in the tank. We live mostly by the seat of our pants and enjoy the ride.

On Feb 2nd 2013 we set out for the road trip of 2013 – It’s a tad intimidating but quite amazing. We don’t hang out in RV parks or campgrounds. Months on the road in the Super Camper with my wife Sondra and our kids, Cyrus (5) Ariana (3) and Asher (1). There’s new products to test, new images to make, new stories to tell. Last year the big project was the EXposed Light Workshop. This year we’re working on a brand new film called Photographics. By the way,  you can learn more about our rig and tips on how we camp in this article.

With Facebook pages becoming less effective and the fact that I can’t send out the Light Letter every day, I wanted to share our journey with you in more detail than ever before. So rather than clutter up the journal with endless micro posts, I’ve decided to try something new – A Road Trip Journal.

This journal details our adventures by reverse date. The stuff you normally don’t see. The snapshots, clips, odd happenings and craziness. The things I’m sometimes reluctant to share, being such a perfectionist. That’s what you’ll find here. I hope you join in this adventure. Bookmark this page and come back because we’ll keep updating as long as we can still pound the keys. You can also join my Light Letter below for more updates and stories. Lets roll.

[xyz-ihs snippet=”newsletter”]

FINAL UPDATE: What it’s Like Coming Home Day 89-91 05/01/13 – 05/03/13

Cyrus at Cabelas
Cy likes the shooting gallery at Cabela’s. Teach them early.

It’s bittersweet as I drive down the hill towards familiar grassy slopes and familiar cities on the map. We watch a Spring sunset and flowers spattering green hills. Three full months on the road we’ve been. An adventure of that won’t be forgotten. Yet a part of me feels somehow less for it coming to an end. Like my spirit of adventure is fading because I long for that slow hot shower, a bed where my toes do not hang over the edge and where my wonderful wife’s elbows do not hit me in the side every time she rolls over.

The last few days lacked the grand adventure you look for at the end of a long trip. The kids got a stomach bug and did what you do when you have that. Sometimes we had two going at once – The miles were long and we needed to get home soon for Wall Portrait Conference. We drove hard that final day. Perhaps longer than we’ve ever done. Over five hundred miles from Twin Idaho to Ephrata WA. It took us about twelve hours between breaks, gas and pauses to clean up the mess from sick kids in the back seat.

“What a lousy way to end such a grand adventure” I thought – But somewhere along the road I stepped into the sunlight and realized it was not. Sometimes we get sick, but it passes. Sometimes things go wrong, we have to make repairs, or we come in late. All of those things happened on this trip. More than once. But they’re part of the memories, part of the adventure. They’re surrounded by moments of laughs and wide eyes glistening at the wounder of creation.

The moment I pull in I’m starting a new vacation. We worked hard on this trip. We played hard. It was a gamble too, but our new film PHOTOGRAPHICS is already showing in the black and the trip is all but profitable both emotionally and fiscally. All that time on the road, but so happy to have a place to call home.

We walk in after 91 days on the road and switch on the lights. The house is still here, warm, waiting. Nearly as we left it but for a few extra cobwebs. A bed, a shower, a late night movie with my wife after the kids are finally asleep. We really are home. Next it’s time to process the film, repair the gear, make the prints and get organized.

On Sunday we’re off for a week again to learn and teach at Wall Portrait Conference. But really we’re home right now. It’s only a couple hours away and among people we know. That home feeling is back. It’s odd. Truly surreal to walk down the isle at the store and for once in so long see people you know. Get a hug from your mom when you walk thru a door, or see neighbors wave as you drive down the street. I honestly feel strange not being the stranger here. But that passes and fades into tales of the adventure and silent longing for more.

As the sun shines on our first day home, a breeze blowing, spring flowers popping out, I realize that the world is still alive and that both home and away are something grand. Appreciating your adventure is how you look at it. There’s nothing like a place to call home, but there’s also nothing like the open road, your wife riding shotgun and kids kicking the back of your seat as the road rolls by. This is living, all of it.

Until the next trip, Gavin Seim.

Coming down from the Death Road new Zion. Amazing views.
Coming down from the Death Road new Zion. Amazing views.
Picked up a hitchhiker from France named Tebu who's roaming America. He's headed for Moab. No room in the truck cab, but he fits in the back and his gear in the camper. This guy is hauling way too much weight.
Picked up a hitchhiker from France named Tebu who’s roaming America. He’s headed for Moab. No room in the truck cab, but he fits in the back and his gear in the camper. This guy is hauling way too much weight.


An evening at the Salt Flats. It's a stark place. but grand none the less.
An evening at the Salt Flats. It’s a stark place. but grand none the less.


The kids are hams. Just like dad.
The kids are hams. Just like dad.
The last sunset, overlooking the hills neat Pendleton Oregon.
The last sunset, overlooking the hills neat Pendleton Oregon.
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December 16, 2012

I drove up that morning alone. My first time at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. My wounder and my sense of adventure on fire. I wandered as the sun rose higher, looking for a way to convey what I was seeing. The vast starkness of Mammoth is deceptively complex and easier to hike than to show on a the two dimensional image. It’s steam clouds and flowing mud made me wounder what it would feel like under my bare feet. But of course I stayed on the path, wondering at it’s starkness and looking for something in the glaring light to convey it’s unique beauty.

I made this image in 2010, over two years before I finished it. It spoke loudly and I knew it was what I needed – But not being quite as experienced at then pre-visualizing a scene, I suppose had to wait for my skill in the finished image to catch up. I just kept coming back. Considering how it should best be presented.

These days I generally plan an image in fine detail before I release the shutter. Visualizing works and once mastered it changes how you see. But that another story. Check out my EXposed workshop.

In the end, this gentle platinum showing the stoic drama of this barren copse of trees, still standing proud on it’s steaming mud flow. It was what I needed. This is their story. Finally finished.

Release details: Prints Available.. Order Open Edition originals above.. Master prints and Signature Limited Editions are listed below and can be ordered by contacting gallery.

Released prints….


For Photographers. How it was made…

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May 22, 2012

Memory Lane. Southern CA forest, Corral Canyon, Spring 2012.

It’s that peaceful time just before sunset in the hill country. Warm breezes and insects flying in the evening air. That gentle flair of the sun peeking thru the trees before it recedes into night.

I can almost taste the peaceful feeling we had that evening, my four year old standing next to me with his little camera and a cool mountain breeze drifting over the valley. It was in a remote forest near one of our favorite camp spots of the winter 2012 trip.

I’m finding the simple scenes often have more impact to people than the grand iconic landscapes. Say Arches or the Grand Canyon. Don’t get me wrong, I love the grand landscapes of America. But sometimes the simple idealistic scenes evoke something more. Each person adding their own experiences and emotions into a scene, triggering memories, sights and sounds.

Release details: Prints available. Contact the studio. Learn more about prices. Available prints…

For Photographers. How it was made…

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