One way to look at it is that Blaine Harrington is in the motivation business. He creates travel photographs designed to sell a destination—to make you want to go there, be there...maybe even take some pictures there. They are interpretive and illustrative images that present places in their most beautiful light, literally and figuratively, and they are created with on-scene savvy and a light touch of post-production magic.
The saturated colors that are practically the trademark of Blaine’s images are due to the times the photos are taken, the deep colors of his subjects and the capabilities of postproduction, where his NEF files offer the opportunity of selective color boost. The goal is not to render the scene as seen—”Often I’m not even trying to remember what the scene actually looked like,” he says—but rather to create the most attractive and enticing image.
His favorite times of day to shoot are those that offer what you might call available dark—the hours of dark approaching, dark present and dark persisting as light begins to arrive. Dark means color saturation, deep shadows, sharp contrasts; it means drama and impact.
What it doesn’t mean is a lot of hassle with exposure. Blaine relies mainly on Matrix metering—”It’s excellent, and I get what I’m trying to get”—manual exposure and no fear of upping the ISO ante (it might be an exaggeration to think that 3200 is the new 400, but it wouldn’t be that far off). He rarely uses exposure compensation—”I shoot RAW so I do that in postproduction.” He most often selects the camera’s cloudy white balance setting, in effect starting warm, and then he’ll make changes in post if he wants an image to be cooler, or even warmer.
His decision to shoot mainly in manual exposure mode comes from the days before auto settings. “I’m comfortable with manual,” he says, “and I know it’s going to be right because of the accuracy of the meter.” The ability to review images almost instantly on the LCD will confirm the exposure, and sometimes it’ll prompt the use of a different lens or a change in the composition.
For each location there might not be only one right time of day, but there are certainly only a few right times.
For shooters looking to improve their photos, Blaine agrees that if they’ve taken a particularly successful picture, it’s a good idea to review the file information to see exactly how they got that result. If there’s a series of exposures, they have their own photography lesson for what works and what doesn’t in a particular situation.
Once in a while what works might be beyond what we expect, beyond even what we can see. For example, Blaine’s image of a paddleboarder in the Pacific Ocean. “It appears that I took the photo right after sunset,” he says, “but it was actually shot a half hour after sunset.” What we’re seeing in the photo is more than Blaine saw as he stood on the beach, because his camera captured more detail than he could perceive. And because he knows that his cameras have that capability, he continues to shoot as it gets darker and darker. “There’s still enough information in the dark,” Blaine says, “and that means there’s no time for me not to be carrying a camera.”
Shooting early and late means the light is rapidly changing, and that means he has to work his scenes quickly. “There’s a good discipline that comes from preconceiving the image and then letting nature play out while you’re working,” he says. He calls that “mindful photography”—controlling the situation as much as you can and then working with what you can’t control, like changing light. “I think the average tourist may see a great composition but not think about light. He might not be willing to wait around, or the importance that good light plays in making a great picture doesn’t occur to him. For each location there might not be only one right time of day, but there are certainly only a few right times. For many people travel and tours are built around mealtimes, not around the great times to see something. Great light at the Great Wall of China at sunrise with no one else around is better than coming with 20,000 people after breakfast.”
So If you’re leaving when others are arriving and staying when they’re going, you’re onto something.