Which Brand Hard Drive Should I Buy?

Here’s another question I get a-lot. Some people here they should buy Seagate drives because the competitors are junk. Others think they should buy Western Digital drives, because, you know, the other companies are junk and their brothers cousin’s friend had one die on them and lost all their baby pictures, and their other friend works in IT and said so.

So what’s my answer? What should you buy?

Why not BOTH!

That may seem too easy, but it’s the truth. Now you may be thinking there are more than two drive manufacturers out there, and you are correct. But only Seagate and Western Digital offer consumer priced external drives.

I don’t see any real benefit to buying external drives in more expensive housings as the aesthetics of an aluminum enclosure just don’t matter to me, and my experience says I don’t need the extra cooling they offer. Run of the mill external drives will do the job just as well, so for most photographers, Seagate and Western Digital are our two choices.

Drive Failure Rates

Current Seagate and Western Digital drives have similar failure rates based on the data from Backblaze. Most sizes and models of 8TB and larger have annual failure rates of 1% or less. That means if you had one hundred drives, about one of them would fail every year over the normal 4-5 year life of a drive. A difference of a percent or two either way are not going to be meaningful for you. Rough handling, dropping, and transport I suspect will have more effect on that rate than drive manufacturer. So put the brand issue aside. They are both “good enough.”

Most photographers problem isn’t a half percent difference in failure rates, it’s that they aren’t running a proper backup. And some only have one copy of their data. With a proper backup, even a couple percent difference in failure rate isn’t going to be a big issue for you.

Redundancy

In my backup plan, I like to alternate between brands for a little extra insurance. Every once in a while, a brand will have issues with a particular model. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket. It’s a safer approach to have your photos on both brands and on different models of those brands. (Hard drive models change all the time, so unless you bought all your drives at the same time, you’ll have enough redundancy of different models.)

Beware Bare Drives

I used to use a lot of bare drives for backup at West Coast Imaging because we had a never ending supply of them from server upgrades. Bare drives are fragile, and need to be stored and handled with care, and I customized a Pelican Case just to transport them safely. You’re not supposed to stack them, and even small shocks can damage them. It’s so much easier to just buy an external drive that is always in a case that offers a little more protection from shocks and other hazards.

RAID

RAID has a place, but few single user/single workstation still photographers need them, and they are a hassle unless you are a “computer person.” With the advent of 10TB drives and larger, the need to use a RAID to create a larger volume from several smaller volumes is gone for most users. 16TB consumer externals are shipping now, and 18-20TB are available in more expensive external lines. Roadmaps say we’ll have 30TB drives sometime in 2024. And RAIDs have their own issues. If you are on one, you should assess if you need to be and look at transitioning.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve reached a point where hard drives are reliable enough that we don’t have to worry about what brand is best. What most photographers need to solve is the issue of creating a good backup plan, with lots of drives, and maintaining that backup. Buying inexpensive external drives is ok. Being cheap and not buying enough of them for backup isn’t.

Buy a New Hard Drive Every Year

The folks at Backblaze have a really good blog post on hard drive life titled “How Long Do Disk Drives Last?” that is worth a read.

I’ll give you the TL;DR, it’s about four to six years according to their data.

Backblaze is the most reliable source for drive life data as they have been releasing drive life stats for their cloud backup system for over a decade, and given us the best real world look at how long drives last.

Their experience mirrors mine, albeit on a much smaller scale. In the West Coast Imaging days, I designed and maintained our storage system of forty drives to store all our client’s files and make them accessible to the staff. I’ve tracked over 100 drives through that system and in my own personal use, and I see something pretty close to what Backblaze is seeing.

While drives can die at any time, even new drives, it’s more typical to see a drive last 3-5 years in a home or office setting. After that, the failure rate starts to go up fast, as I’m experiencing right now with my backup consolidation project.

The Backblaze data combined with my own experience is leading me to a new storage approach. I plan to replace my main data drive after 365 days of use. At that point, it will be depreciated to use for onsite backup.

Basically I’m turning it into an oil change which just makes more sense, and will help me avoid headaches. It will make it easier to keep up to date than the “replace when something fills up or fails” plan I had been using.

My backup plan looks something like this:

Main Data Drive
Onsite Backup A
Onsite Backup B
Offsite Backup A
Offsite Backup B

I have five hard drive based copies of my data plus a copy in the cloud with Backblaze, which is an insurance layer every photographer should have in place.

As drives age, I’ll move them down the list of backups, so that their age will look like this:

Main Data Drive – less than 1 year old
Onsite Backup A – less than 2 years old
Onsite Backup B – less than 3 years old
Offsite Backup A – less than 4 years old
Offsite Backup B – less than 5 years old

And with this many copies and ages, I am well protected agains data loss IF I keep the backups up to date.

So buying a new drive every year will be my new strategy. (And don’t forget to mark your drives with the month and year of purchase to make it easy to know their age.)

Now where is that credit card…

Photoshop Upgrade Issues – Adobe Camera Raw

If you’ve upgraded to Photoshop 2022, make sure Adobe didn’t wack your Adobe Camera Raw preferences or you could be wasting hours of work.

Adobe is allowing a critical problem to occur when you upgrade Photoshop by defaulting the Adobe Camera Raw settings from the user’s custom settings to their default “Adobe RGB” in 8-bit.

This is one of those things that is very easy to overlook and can lead to hours of lost work if not corrected immediately.

Here’s what my recent install of Photoshop 2022 did to my Adobe Camera RAW settings:

Yuck! Adobe RGB in 8-bit is the last settings I’d want to use. What it should have done is import my settings from Photoshop 2021 to what’s shown below:

ProPhoto and 16bits/channel is my recommended setting to get the most out of your RAW files. It’s the default for experienced users, and should be Adobe’s default too.

AdobeRGB was a bad choice in 1998 and it is a bad choice now. In the embryonic days of color management when we were all figuring it out, I did a lot of work in SMPTE 240, a very similar space to AdobeRGB. That is until I learned it’s problems and found better colorspaces. Adobe should keep up with the times and ditch the vanity nameplate colorspace.

One of the hassles of updating mission critical software is making sure all your preferences and presets are configured correctly. It’s why I find upgrades painful even if they offer new features as they create downtime. I get joy from working up new photos, not solving software issues. So these things really frustrate me.

Classic Black and White Digital Processing Class

Are you ready to start processing your black and white photographs like a master?

In the last year, I’ve helped hundreds of photographers improve their B&W processing through my talks and workshops, and I’d like to help you, too. Wednesday, January 12, I’ll be starting another round of my popular four-session Zoom class, Classic Black and White Digital Processing.

My talk at the B&H Photo Event Space provides a great (and free!) introduction to the workshop. It touches on many of the subjects this class will explore in greater depth. 

Every time I teach this class, it’s rewarding to see how the participants improve their photography and processing skills each week. Here’s what my students have to say about the class:

I have found the class to be outstanding, not only for learning techniques that are new to me in creating a B&W image, but also the creative ideas to draw the viewer into the scene.
– Brad K.


I want to thank you for your classes and all the extra effort you’re devoting to your students. The information is worth far more than than the price of admission.
– Al H.


This class has introduced me to new tools for vastly improving my images.
– Dennis W.

We’ll meet for four online sessions, each Tuesday through February 2. Each session lasts two hours. The first hour is live instruction, where I teach the techniques I use. During the second hour, I show how I apply those techniques to YOUR photographs, providing insight and critique that will help you learn and grow. 

Each session will be available to re-watch online for two weeks after the class, allowing you to go over the content again, or watch at a different time if you have a schedule conflict. 

Sign up today, then keep chasing the light!

FREE File Evaluation! – Limited Time!

As a sneak peek into my upcoming Mastering Manual Exposure Workshop, I’m offering a free file evaluation to my readers. Send me three of your favorite files by January 5, and I’ll tell you how well they are exposed.

You’d feel cheated if you opened a bottle of fine wine and found it was only half full, right? Well the same type of thing may be happening to your photos. You might be cheating yourself out on detail that would make your processing easier and your photos look better. 

Evaluating your RAW files gives you important feedback on how you can improve your photographs. It’s so important that it is my first step in processing, and part of the processing workflow I teach. As a part of this free offer, I’ll tell you how well you’ve achieved the goal of exposing to the right. This is important because even small differences in exposure can make a big impact.

You might be thinking, “Oh boy! If I send my files, Rich is going to tell me how I messed up!” I think you know me better than that by now. The goal is to see what you’re doing well, and to be aware of areas where there is room to grow. Afterall, the better we equip ourselves with tools and knowledge, the easier it is to achieve our goals. Even experienced photographers can benefit from this offer–afterall, it’s free, so you have nothing to lose, and information to gain!

Send me three files today, and I’ll help you learn and grow!

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Pick three of your favorite photos, and find the RAW files for them. (My evaluation software only works with RAW, sorry no DNG or JPEG.) Lightroom users, use “export RAW” or “show in finder” to access your RAW camera originals.

2. Use wetransfer.com to send the files to rich@richseiling.com

3. This is a LIMITED TIME OFFER! Be sure to send your files by Wednesday, January 5.

Once I receive your files, I’ll evaluate them using the same process that I’ll teach on my upcoming Mastering Manual Exposure Workshop. Then, I’ll give you a report that tells how well you exposed your images, and how much of your camera’s potential you are using for each exposure.

One more thing: While photography instruction is not covered under HIPAA, I promise your results will be completely confidential!

Too Many Backups! Here is how I consolidated my old archives.

What do you do when you have too many backups? That’s a problem I’ve been working on for the past two years and I thought it might be valuable to put some of this in an article for others who face similar problems. 

First of all, how many backups is too many? For me it was when I started stacking backup hard drives like cord wood. Since I started making 300mb film scans in the late 1990s, I’ve had a series of larger drives holding my files. When I upgraded to a larger hard drive, I always kept the old drive “just in case”. This has led to a lot of drives. Just this week I found four drives I didn’t even remember I had, all from the 2007-2009 time frame. Last week I pulled files from some truly ancient drives that I hadn’t spun up in about 15 years. 

Why did I keep all these drives? I wanted to preserve the ability to go back in time in case I found a file had been corrupted at some point. The only way to fix a corrupted file is to go back in time before it got corrupted and pull that file. That is the purpose these drives served. 

Having ten or fifteen ancient drives taking up space consolidated on one large drive seemed like a better option, and would help me reduce some of my ever growing clutter. 

Adding to my problem of excess backups is how Carbon Copy Cloner (my backup software of choice), backs up files. CCC works in a very simplistic way that is very safe, but in doing so, it is easy to make duplicate files when you move folders around. So on top of my duplicate “archive” drives, I had several terabytes of CCC files to deal with. 

My goal for this project was three fold. First, I wanted to consolidate all my archives on one drive. Second, I wanted to deduplicate (dedupe) those files to remove unnecessary duplicates so that it would take up the least space possible. Third, I needed to do all this in a way that ensured that I precisely copied every file, bit for bit, and that any duplicates were truly duplicates with no differences at the bit level. 

The tool that has made this possible is IntegrityChecker from Lloyd Chambers at https://diglloydtools.com and diglloyd.com. 

IntegrityChecker does a number of very interesting things. Foremost, it will compute a cryptographic hash for every file on a drive. This hash serves as a checksum that can show if a file has been altered in even the slightest way, down to the bit level. This is very useful when copying files to another drive to ensure they copied exactly. It also lets me compare them to the hash at a later date to detect corruption. It does some other cool things too as I’ll explain in a moment. 

Consolidation

So my consolidation process looked like this. 

  1. Use Carbon Copy Cloner to copy from my old drive to a folder on a new drive. 

2. Use IntegrityChecker to compute hashes for both copies

3. Use the “compare” function of IntegrityChecker to compare the copy to the original. 

This process let me make a copy of the old drives with absolute assurance that I had copied every file correctly.  In over 20TB of files copied for this project, I only found one file that did not copy correctly for whatever reason. Not bad for pulling data off vintage hard drives. 

Deduplication

Goal two was to dedupe the drive where I had consolidated all my archives and backups. IntegrityChecker helped with this too. IC can use the hashes it creates to look for duplicates. If a pair of hashes matches, you can be sure with a extremely high level of confidence that these two files are exactly the same. This is a much better way to identify duplicates than other methods that rely on file size, name, and date, because those values will not detect bit level differences from file corruption. IC can, so if IC says two files are duplicates, they really are. 

IntegrityChecker lets you deal with dupes in two ways. First, you can use a unique feature of drives formatted with APFS on Macs to create a clone. When a close is made, the two files will be reduced to one at the disk level but you will still see two files in the finder. If you open one of these files and modify it, it will become a separate copy again. Cloning files allows you do reclaim disk space from duplicates without messing up your directory structure. This is very safe, but would not help me with some of my other goals as you will see. 

I decided to go a more aggressive route. I wanted to remove every duplicate file, so I used the  “- – emit rm” command to create a list of duplicate files with the command line code  to erase them. This would remove them from the hard drive permanently, leaving only one copy.

Distillation

As part of this process, I realized I could delete any of the consolidated files that were part of my current, up to date, working drive and backups. After all, I didn’t need copies of files in my master working archive, so why not get read of those too?

To do that, I made a copy of the files from my current “master” drive (the drive where I access my photos when I’m working on them) and copy them to the drive I was using for consolidation. I put this them in a folder labeled “a” and put the old backup copies into a folder named “z” because I learned that IntegrityChecker will use the top most directory to decide which duplicate to keep. By doing this, I could make IntegrityChecker delete the old files that matched my current files. And at the end of the process, I could delete folder “a”, and be left with only the files that did not exist on my current master drive. 

This project let me distill terabytes of files down to about 300GB, which is a very manageable size to keep and maintain.  I consider it a success to be able to get a dozen or so hard drives out of my life and my space for the effort while ensuring that I have an absolutely exact copy of every one of my files. 

This process has worked for me but be forewarned. IntegrityChecker is very powerful, and it is very easy to delete files you don’t intend to. You need to take the time to learn how it works and understand its behavior. I did a lot of testing to practice and understand it, and I am careful to think through the plan every time I use it, in addition to working when I have a clear mind (always a good idea when doing big things with your data!) 

If you have the same problems I do, I hope this gives you some ideas for how to solve it. Courteous questions always welcome. 

Printing Issues After Software Update

When your prints come out looking completely different than last time, it makes for a frustrating morning. 

This morning I tried to print with my MacBook Pro fresh of an update to Catalina, the latest software it can run. The first print came out looking odd. So I compared it to a previous print, and my color memory was correct, it did not print properly. 

Time to start troubleshooting. I picked a second photo and printing it, triple checking that I chose all the correct settings.  Same problem. So I print it again with a different profile to see if the profile is the problem. Still wrong. SO I try it on a completely different paper and profile. Still wrong. Possible root causes are going through my mind this whole time. 

Maybe it’s the ink starvation issue I had when this printer was new that caused one of the colors to drop out? So I pulled out the special test sheet made specifically for this purpose. The colors didn’t match, but they all printed. So probably not that. Another sheet of paper burned with no fix. 

I’m about six sheets of paper in at this point, and that is always frustrating because I hate wasting paper and money. But burning paper is part of troubleshooting a printer so I fordge ahead. And my heart rate is going up as I think about at best spending the next day or so remaking profiles, or at worst dropping $800+ on a new print head and the ink needed to install it. 

With this latest piece of data, I realize I’m chasing my tail, and before I go down the road of more involved solutions, I need to try printing from a different computer to isolate if this is software or hardware related. Time to fire up the mac mini that I had validated last week as “working.”

Eureka! That fixed it. My heart rate goes down, no need to buy an expensive print head to fix it, or reprofile all my papers.

So what happened? Likely a software issue when I updated my MacBook Pro, probably the print driver. A reinstall of the print driver with the latest version should fix it. But that can wait for another day when I’m not trying to make Christmas presents. 

Today’s difficulties are one of the reasons I am very cautious about major updates to my computers. Updates cause issues and deviations from the carefully controlled environment needed to make consistent, accurate prints. 

Furthermore, my printer and monitor rely on third party apps to work correctly, and it’s common  for vendors to take months after a major software update to write new ones that are compatible. NEC had to write the Spectraview app I use to calibrate my monitor, and IIRC it was months after OS 11 came out. Not good…I couldn’t go without my calibrated monitor for even a few days. 

So some takeaways from this. 

1. Software changes and or updates can cause changes to how your printer prints color, so only update when you have time to troubleshoot the problems it can cause. Expect problems and the need to revalidate your printing setup after updating system software or print drivers. In general, it is best to wait at least six months after a major system software update to upgrade to give time for the bugs to be worked out. Identify all mission critical software and ensure it works properly with the OS you are updating to. And it helps to have a way to be able to “roll back” to your old system software if the new version doesn’t work. 

2. Diagnosing problems is much easier if you have test prints that validate previous printer settings so you can compare your new setup to your previous approved setup. I find few people do this, but it’s a vital part of my workflow. And a reminder that I need to finish the curriculum for my color management workshop. 

3.It’s helpful to have two different computers you can print from to test if a problem is printer or computer related. This also helps during software updates because it gives you a way to continue printing from a known setup while troubleshooting issues. This helped save my bacon today. 

Had I not had a second computer to print from, I might have started more invasive fixes that still wouldn’t have worked because I’m working from a fault tree that is in my head. So maybe my next step is to create a printed fault tree to help me solve these problems instead of having to tease out the answer every time and risk missing a critical fault finding step.

New Workshop! Mastering Manual Exposure

How would you feel if every time you ordered at a restaurant, they only gave you half the portion you paid for?  Believe it or not, that’s what’s happening with most of your photos. That’s because if you are like most people, you are underexposing whether you realize it or not.

With as little as 1/2 stop of underexposure, you’re only capturing about 58% of your sensor’s full potential. And at one stop under, you’re only getting about 36% of its potential.  If I’m spending thousands on my camera and lenses, not to mention travel, I don’t want to get cheated out of half  (or more!) of my camera’s potential, and neither do you. And I can help. 

Ok, now that I’ve got your attention, let’s get into the details. Even small amounts of underexposure have a big impact on our photos. And despite all the technology built into our cameras, even if you are reading the histogram, they still don’t make a “perfect” exposure every the time.  Fortunately there is a better way.  I’ve come up with a process that will let you manually expose to within 1/3 stop of optimum in most situations, and I want to show you how to do it. With my process you’ll make better exposures, and do it with speed and confidence so you won’t miss  those “once-in-a-lifetime” pictures. 

I’ve spent the last three years digging into the issue of exposure obsessively, and I can honestly say what I’ve discovered has changed my photography like few things have in my 30+ years of making pictures. It’s knowledge I use every time I click the shutter.

Most importantly, I’m getting better results, and my photos have a quality or “glow” that better reflects what I saw and felt, the things that made me want to take a photo in the first place. But it’s also made photographing easier and quicker when I’m in the field. Instead of the uncertainty I used to experience, and the time consuming multi-frame bracketed exposures I used to make, I can quickly determine the exact exposure for optimum results AND take my photo knowing that I nailed the shot. Instead of walking away thinking “I hope I got it,” I know with confidence that I did. That certainty and confidence has made me more creative as I work a subject or location, and helped me make more “good” photos. 

But what surprised me most is how all this affected my processing. If I’m in “good” light that works with the latitude of my sensor, my processing is easier than every. I’m not fighting the photo just to get it to look the way I remember it. Instead I’m able to spend more time making the small, refined moves that bring out more of the photograph instead of trying to correct my errors.

But what about program exposure modes?The class is titled Mastering Manual Exposure, what about when I need to shoot in Aperture or Shutter Priority? The truth is that mastering manual exposure is the key to getting the most out of program modes, so mastering manual is the key to getting more out of those modes as well.

The good news is that it’s easier than you think. On workshop after workshop, students have been surprised by how simple my process is, and how it frees them to think more creatively and achieve better results. 

This class is for photographers of any skill level who want a tested-and-proven approach. We’ll cover a lot of ground, and you’ll gain real world, tested, practical knowledge that will grow your skill set. 

This four lessons class will meet at 7:00 PM Central Time, on January 10th, 17th, 24th, and 31st. Recordings will be available for four weeks after each class. So if you miss a class, need to time shift, or want to watch it again, you can. 

This is knowledge you will use every time you click the shutter! If you are ready to transform your photograpy, then this is the workshop for you!

Sign up today, and get ready to change the way you photograph!

Keep chasing the light!

– Rich Seiling

Color Processing Fundamentals – Online Workshop

Looking forward to my next online class with Paul’s Photo and Better Photo Academy. Sign up for the free introduction talk on October 25, then join me for four sessions where I’ll share the tools that I use to create color processing success!

Color Processing Fundamentals

Introduction to Color Processing – FREE

October 25, 2021 @ 5PM

Is your color processing a hit-and-miss guessing game that leaves you frustrated and wanting for more?

Beautiful color photos come from understanding and controlling the fundamentals. Join Creative Photo Academy and Rich Seiling for this inspiring evening that will show you the techniques and thought processes Rich uses to create museum quality color photographs.

Good Color Part 1 – Exposure, RAW Processing, and Contrast

November 1, 2021 @ 5PM

Every adjustment affects color. Rich will teach you how to build a solid foundation for your processing that solves, and doesn’t create problems.

Good Color Part 2 – Refining Your Vision and Color Correction

November 8, 2021 @ 5PM

Learning to see the difference between “good” and “bad” color will make it easier to process your photos and get better results. Rich will show you how to evaluate and correct the most common problems.

Local Control & Brushing

November 15, 2021 @ 5PM

Brushing can sometimes create problems as quickly as it can solve them. Learn how to apply the principles of good color to solve problems and better capture the viewer’s eye.

Printing & Color Management

November 22, 2021 @ 5PM

Getting a print that looks like your screen can be challenging. We’ll give you a set of tools that will improve your results and create confidence in your process.

My Experiences at Blackwater Falls

Elakala Fall, Blackwater Falls State Park

One of the great rewards of nature photography is finding a new and unexpectedly beautiful place to photograph and explore. Imagine my surprise to discover one of these treasures at Blackwater Falls State Park, tucked away in the often-overlooked wilds of West Virginia. I made some of my favorite photographs of 2020 there, and I’m excited to share this spectacular location with a new group of students through my Visionary Wild Workshop, which takes place September 27 to October 1, 2021. 

I hope you can join me as we explore, photograph, and enjoy this beautiful autumn wilderness, just a three hour drive from Washington DC. It is a perfect workshop location, with its accessibility and a wide variety of inspiring photographic opportunities. Our workshop is timed to take place during peak fall color, which happens earlier than some other autumn foliage locations. Register now to join us, and we’ll help you discover this spectacular place for yourself.

Blackwater Falls has the size and freedom a nature photographer needs to wander and explore, as they discover both the landscape and themselves. Its details, intricacy, and textures keep the mind and spirit engaged and stimulated. It’s the kind of location that will draw me in, again and again, and I think you’ll feel the same.

In 2020, when I signed on to teach with Visionary Wild at Blackwater Falls State Park, I thought I knew what to expect…and I couldn’t have been more wrong. From my research, parts of it looked like the western slope of the Appalachians, which I explored during my college days as I was honing my craft. I saw some similar scenes and photographic opportunities, and a chance to help the class make some very solid work in a beautiful location. But I wasn’t prepared for just how unique and stunning the Blackwater Falls / Dolly Sods region is. 

Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness

On a high plateau in the Allegheny, with elevations reaching 4,000 feet, I entered an ecosystem unique from what I expected. Temperature, climate, and flora conspired to make it feel like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In fact, it’s called “Little Canada,” because it has species that are not found outside of the near-arctic tundra of Canada. Standing in the quiet wilderness, you would never suspect this place was within a half-day drive of several major Eastern U.S. cities. 

After checking into the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park that first night, I discovered it was perched on the edge of a deep river gorge, with spectacular views across and down the canyon, its walls peppered with fall color from the dominant red maples as well as the yellow of other trees. I’ll admit that I can be a bit hard to impress, after living 20+ years on the edge of the Yosemite wilderness, but I was truly awed, and I couldn’t wait to explore more. 

Moss Hummock, Canaan Valley State Park

If I had been on my own, it would have taken a lot of work to discover the many treasures of this area, but with Justin Black as my guide, I was able to enjoy the crash course. Justin has been visiting this location since his childhood, and explored it on backpacking trips and photo assignments–you may even recognize the area from some of the work he’s done for FujiFilm. It’s clear why the location continues to inspire him to return, again and again.

We started our scouting day by heading to Bear Rocks in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, near the highest elevation in the area. Details of the landscape change with altitude–you’ll find different plants, trees, and birds. Entering a new elevation range is often like visiting an entirely different place. You may have never experienced this, if you live in the flatlands of the midwest, but for those who have spent time in the mountains, it’s something we look forward to. Even a 1000-foot difference in elevation can tremendously alter the photographic possibilities. 

Wild Cranberries, Canaan Valley State Park

The changes elevation brought at Bear Rocks were immediately evident. As we approached, we discovered a vista of hundreds of acres of wild blueberry bushes with flaming red foliage, contrasting against the evergreens and exposed light-colored rocks of the region. I had seen this kind of ecosystem countless times, as I worked on client photos of Alaska over the years, but I had never traveled far enough north to see it myself, and I never expected to find it in West Virginia. 

Grabbing our gear, we hopped out to further scout the many trails through the red foliage and white rocks, leading to the cliffs of Bear Rocks, which look east into a deep valley with 180-degree panoramic vistas of distant peaks and valleys. We were there during late morning, and in average light, but it was still spectacular. Picturing what it would look like at sunrise, with the warm sun bringing out even more in the white rocks and red foliage, set my heart pounding with excitement. It was a great location!

Next, we headed back towards the lodge to explore some fire roads that promised tundra-like bogs to explore. Here I found a whole ecosystem unto itself, with many beautiful plants, mosses, and flowers, all with intricate textures and colors. Every square meter of this environment offered a completely different macro vista, and I felt like I had been let loose in an Elliot Porter book.

Even after extensive scouting, new discoveries happened every day as the workshop progressed. The amazing cottongrass (which I neglected to photograph last year, a mistake I don’t intend to repeat!), to bigtooth aspens (yes, aspens in West Virginia!) that I didn’t even know could grow this far south, and many more pleasant surprises.

I can’t emphasize how much easier it was to discover the intricacies of this place, thanks to Justin’s knowledge. From my years working with many of America’s top landscape photographers, I can confidently say Justin is a world-class instructor and photographer. Fuji named him one of their X-Photographers, so I guess they agree with me. 

It’s priceless to have the opportunity to see how a working professional and master photographer approaches the many challenges involved with making strong, inspiring photographs. Justin is generous with his knowledge and experience, both in the field where he identifies great photographic possibilities, and in the critique sessions where he brings to the table his extensive professional experience as a international workshop leader, stock photographer, and as the gallery manager for Galen Rowell.

Though it’s easier to brag on Justin’s abilities, I’ll be there too, sharing how I see and approach the landscape, helping to build your craft as well as your vision, and offering straightforward and simple tools that will give you greater confidence in your skills as you master the all-important fundamentals of the craft. If you’ve been helped by my online workshops, this is like one of those on steroids, with day after day of instruction and learning, in real-world settings that let you practice, learn, and grow under our guidance.

Experience the beauty for yourself this fall. To sign up, or learn more, click here or visit visionarywild.com.