While most photographers capture a specific moment in time, Toby Harriman prefers to capture many, many moments of time, resulting in an image that better conveys the ambience of a place. Instead of fractions of a second, think minutes or longer—plenty of time for a landscape to reveal its character, not just its presence.
Now my last shot inspires my next shot. I've begun thinking about shots as a series. As I evolve my own style, it inspires me to create new methods and separate myself from others because there are so many photographers out there.
Gruenwedel: How much do you do in-camera?
Harriman: I never do anything straight out of the camera. I use the camera just as a tool to get me started. Cameras don't see what our eyes see. When people ask if they can get copies of pictures, I say, "Not until I process them." I'm a post-processor all the way.
My shots are not done until I run them through Photoshop Lightroom 5. I live out of it. I'll apply basic edits just to see how I like them. I'm always tweaking stuff. I try to keep a lot of it as natural as I can.
I use Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro to process my black and white, taking [my work] to a whole new level. Then I bring it back into Lightroom to add some of the radial filters to focus more on the center or wherever I want the eye to go.
Lightroom has almost everything I need, but I use Photoshop to stitch panoramas and get rid of heavy water spots. I'll also tweak other things, like blending and masking together the sky with the foreground.
Gruenwedel: How much do you interact with the community of photographers?
Harriman: When I started out, there weren't as many photographers my age. Now that I've connected with people through social media, I'm inspiring a younger crowd to get into photography. They ask me questions all the time, and I try to help as much as I can.
It's interesting to see how people can learn everything through social media sites by asking people questions or picking their brains online. I watched an HDR tutorial from Trey Ratcliff. Once I joined Google+, a lot of people were really helpful. People will help you and tell you their process.
I also started going on photo walks and meeting local photographers and picking their brains to learn techniques. I'd go just to meet other like-minded people.
Gruenwedel: Do you prefer shooting solo or with a group?
Harriman: I like being with two or three buddies. I'd much rather go out in the middle of the night with somebody because you just sit there for two to three hours, listening—and every sound you hear is probably the bogeyman. But there are definitely times when I like going alone because then I know my buddy's not getting the same shot.
Gruenwedel: Tell me more about your time-lapse photography.
Harriman: Time-lapse photography is like video, taking a picture in one-second intervals: it's picture, picture, picture—240 times. When I play that back at 24 pictures per second, that's 10 seconds of video. I don't know if you saw Adrift, the fog time-lapse video shot [by Simon Christen] in San Francisco that went viral recently. It's just a series of pictures, played back in video form. That's pretty much the gist of time-lapse photography.
When I started doing time-lapse photography, I'd shoot a steady time-lapse on a tripod—without movement or anything. Sometimes you're out there for three hours doing nothing, just waiting for the camera to finish. But once you're done, it's just really exciting to see what you've got and how you can play three hours back in 10 seconds. Now I have an eight-foot, motion-controlled track with a three-axis motor.
Time-lapse reel (2011–2013).
Gruenwedel: Is the track for moving the camera in a very slow, orderly way?
Harriman: Yes, the track allows you to capture really smooth parallax movement. For example, when shooting the Maroon Bells in Colorado, you can start the shot behind a bush in the foreground and then you have the mountain in the background. So the video starts behind the bush, and it's moving, it's moving—and then all of a sudden, there's this huge mountain. The track lets you do all these cool, hide-reveal moves.
If there's something I don't like, I'm going to try to create something out of it and make it into something that is interesting. I don't think, "Oh, I got bad weather."
Gruenwedel: So if you encounter bad weather, you just come back and try again?
Harriman: It depends on what you call bad weather. Bad weather could be lightning and thunder—and that's very cool to shoot.
I've been shooting the Golden Gate Bridge for three years. I've been trying to get a specific shot. I have taken thousands of pictures that people may think are awesome pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge. But there are certain levels of fog I try to get: high clouds and the city in view. I keep going back and shooting this bridge, trying to get that perfect weather situation. I'll go back, and back, and back until I get what I want.
Gruenwedel: Do you have any favorite shots?
Harriman: There's a difference between my favorite shot and my favorite moment. Sometimes my favorite shots are also capturing my favorite moments—those times when you remember the day more than you remember taking the photo, and the photo was just a bonus.
Don't Look Back is one of my favorites. I like how dramatic and silhouetted it is. I was in Hawaii this past June and rented a waterproof housing for my camera. But I didn't realize that being in huge swells in Hawaii is like being in an avalanche. I'm not an ocean person, so I just stayed onshore and took thousands of shots.
They didn't really excite me at first. Then I started processing them in black and white and making them really dark. I used the new radial filter in Lightroom 5 to bring in more focus on the surfer and right in the barrel. It looked like I was lighting the shot at night. It was one of those things where I tried processing one shot with a style I've used in the past. I never thought of using that kind of dark black-and-white style for surf photography.
I shot Gray Whale Cove Sunset in a small cove between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay. It's a 250-second shot with all my [optical] filters on. The water looks really milky, kind of surreal. You feel like you could skate across the whole ocean. There are no waves in the shot, no texture. I got lucky with the sun peeking through the clouds. I used my usual methods in Lightroom and then went into Nik Software's Color Efex Pro and back into Lightroom. In Photoshop, I got rid of one texture in the sky as well as a spot in the sky that the eye was too drawn to. I motion-blurred the sky to put the focus on that rock and the sun.