My image on the cover of "Running on Empty"

Finally received my copy of Running On Empty by ultramarathoner Marshall Ulrich- can’t wait to read it.  

For the cover, they used an image I captured of Marshall running in Death Valley National Park– a slow exposure with flash at dusk as the full moon rose over the sweltering California desert in mid July, temperatures well over 115°F.  When I shot this image, Marshall was roughly 20-25 miles into his epic record-setting pace of running 151 miles in 33 hours.

I photographed Marshall three times running in the Badwater 146, an amazing ultramarathon race from the lowest point in the 48 states (-282 feet below sea level, Badwater, Death Valley National Park) to the highest point in the lower 48 (14,505 feet above sea level, Mt Whitney, Sequoia National Park).  The race is run in mid-July when temperatures are at their hottest – the three years I covered the event, at 6pm, the start of the race, temperatures were recorded at 118°F, 121°F, and 126°F (note- temperatures are measured in shade or underground).  I didn’t think the human body was capable of completing a race like this, but a few dozen men and women proved it was possible.  

The year I shot this image, Marshall had a near death experience mid way through the race, and in talking to him as we hiked up the last 12 mile section toward the summit of Mt. Whitney, he described some of the hallucinations he was having as in came in and out of reality.  Most people think these athletes are out to kill themselves, but that is far from their goal – from my understanding, it’s about pushing their own limits, and finding a peace in that challenge.

I got to know Marshall over the years, covering him again in a few adventure races such as the Eco-Challenge.  I can truly say he’s a kind, caring, humble person who’s performed some of the most amazing feats of running by any human being – someone who should be a household name but isn’t – at least not yet.  This book covers the 52 days he ran across the United States – over 3000 miles, at the age of 57 – 52 days in a row that is- unbelievable.

Marshall live in Colorado and continues to run at the age of 62.  If you are into running or just looking for a good read, check his book out:

On a side note, another great running book to consider is Martin Dugard’s To Be a Runner  I traveled with Marty around the world a number of times covering some adventure races- he wrote about the events and I photographed them.  Another good guy as well as an experienced author.


Engadget Primed Article #2

Just wrote another feature article for Engadget Primed entitled “What is Aperture and How Does it Affect My Photos?“: 

Check it out- lots of solid info, links, diagrams, photos, and more – covers apertures, depth-of-field, hyper focal distance, how it relates to exposure, and so on.  Now I’m working on my third piece for Engadget- one of many to come.

Happy Shooting!


My article for Engadget Primed

Check out my 1st feature article on image sensors for Engadget Primed:

Tons of info on the history of an image sensor, what it is, how cameras have evolved, and where they are today.  You’ll be an expert by the time you’re done reading the piece.  🙂

I’ll be writing more big pieces for Engadget- it’s a great web magazine/ tech blog that receives anywhere from a million to ten million hits a day.  I’m glad to be a part of their team!


My new book, The Complete Guide to Nature Photography

My latest book came out today – online and in US bookstores.

The Complete Guide to Nature PhotographyProfessional Techniques for Capturing Digital Images of Nature and Wildlife

It’s available in paperback (10.8 x 8.5 inches) and electronic versions (iPad, Kindle, Nook, ebook, iPhone).  It will be in many countries as early as February 2012 as well- China, Denmark, France, Russia, the UK, and so on.

Published by Amphoto/ Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, the book is 240 pages long (~50,000 words), packed with roughly 240 images in 10 chapters covering the gamut of nature and outdoor photography. As I did with my last book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure, I followed a step-by-step approach to the art in order to help readers move easily through the process, with a lot of freedom to create.  I have also included an ‘assignment’ in each chapter to give readers a task to follow, helping them improve through the book.

I am very proud of the book and feel there’s a ton of content, ideas, tips, and tricks on how to improve your nature, landscape, wildlife, outdoor photography.  You can’t go wrong picking up a copy.  My last book received five star reviews on Amazon, as well as many great reviews on photo blogs, magazines, etc.  Many use it as a reference for exposure, and with this new book, it’s a great reference for nature photography- for preparation, exposure, composition, lighting, macro, wildlife, creative techniques, and more.

No book signings are set up at the moment- the industry is changing and it seems like bookstores aren’t as interested (of course unless you are J.K. Rowling, James Patternson, or Stephen King – and I ain’t there yet!).  Lots of interviews however and solid press – a New York Times interview, promotion on Red Room, interview on Scott Kelby’s iPad magazine Light It, Think Tank Photo, Nik software, and more- good stuff.


SIGNED COPIES: Call us at nine-two-five-855-8060, or email: studio(at)seanarbabi(dot)com


ISBN-10: 0817400109     ISBN-13: 978-0817400101

Amazon (USA):

Barnes & Noble

Random House


Google eBook (for iPad, Android, iPhone, Nook, Sony, etc):

Kindle version (Amazon):

Amazon (UK):

Amazon (Japan):

Amazon (China):

Amazon (France):

Powell’s Books:

Books a Million:

Telegraph (UK):


Fall Outdoor Photography Tips

I just loaded this tip on the Perfect Picture School of Photography (PPSOP), and wanted to share it with all of you as well…enjoy!


As we move through October, depending on where you live, the weather has begun to cool and dry out, leaves are slowing drifting off the trees, and the colors are changing into wonderful hues of yellow, orange, and red – whether in pumpkins or maple leaves- fall is everywhere. Here are a few tips toward better autumn photography:
#1) Easier or quicker usually doesn’t mean better
When you happen upon a nice fall landscape, don’t just settle for a photo from the spot you first noticed it. Move around to find a great foreground, search for that best angle, locate that optimal place to set your tripod down, wait for better light – as we say in the industry, work the scene. Subtle changes with light and location in your colorful compositions can make a huge difference.
#2) Exposure and Flash creates saturated color
If you underexpose red, it will become a deep maroon red – overexpose red and it will become pink. The same goes for colors like orange and yellow. If you don’t understand your meter and miss exposures on these colors, you will lose a big part of your autumn scene. Learn how to expose scenes like this and your autumn landscapes will improve. Another trick is using your strobe in shady situations. Light adds color, so if you capture wonderful warm autumn hues in the cool light of shade, these colors tend to cancel each other out – add flash to these scenes and the direct specular light brings that color back. My book, The BetterPhoto Guide to Exposure can help with this tip:
without flash (above)
with flash (above)

#3) Make those colors pop
If you’ve ever seen a color wheel, you begin to understand the relationship of various hues and why they may or may not pop off an image. Red is close to being the opposite of green, yellow is the opposite of blue, and orange sits somewhere between – closer to cyan. If you are able to find subject matter to emphasize these differences, you can produce a fall image where the color jumps off the screen – it’s why a red tree among a row of evergreens, or a mix of fall colored-leaves lying in a puddle with the reflection of the blue sky has so much impact.
#4) Use the weather and the season to your advantage
When the season changes, so does the weather, and consequently the environment as well. As leaves fall from trees, they begin to thin out and new views emerge, nonexistent when the tree was full during summer months. New scenery opening up like this can create window-light framing for backgrounds. If the wrong weather rolls in covering a blue sky, consider shooting scenes that don’t include it. Snow-fed rivers once raging during spring and early summer months have less water passing through them, allowing you to capture still water moments or crisp reflections. When working with translucent subjects like leaves, consider backlighting them in order for the light to shine through – this brings out those wonderful tones and intricate shapes and details.
But the best tip I could give is to simply make the effort to get out there with your camera – the beauty of nature is powerful, and the changing of a season is magical.

My new book, The Complete Guide to Nature Photography, comes out in less than two months (December 6th)- I received an advance copy last week and it looks amazing. Pre-orders are available online at a number of stores including Amazon:
If you are interested in taking an online workshop with me, you can be anywhere in the world, read the lessons at your leisure, shoot what you want when you want, and receive solid feedback. Join me on PPSOP sometime for four weeks of fun! Nature and Landscape Photography online course:


Aperture vs. Lightroom – a quick response

Had a friend ask me today about Lightroom vs. Aperture- here was my response:

When it comes to digital workflow, you can’t go wrong with either.

Apple makes a solid program that works great, and as they are with everything, Aperture will continue to be integrated into more and more of their products most likely (not that you need it, but it’s nice to know).

Lightroom is fantastic. Having both programs, I probably use it more because of the seamless flow with Photoshop. I say that, but Aperture has enough plug-ins (i.e. Nik software, Photomatix, etc) and menus, and can link up to Photoshop if necessary (you just have to set that up in Preferences with Aperture, choosing your external editing program like Photoshop).

Again, oranges vs oranges. Lay outs are a bit different, but both are extremely user friendly- I tend to jump between the two depending on the project I’m working on. Both have tons of menus, sliders, etc. to correct color shifts, adjust a number of images through batch processing, fix exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.

If possible, download both trail versions (not sure if Aperture has one) and test ’em to see what you like- if Apple doesn’t have one, I’m sure you can review it at a store.

Here’s two screenshots of both programs in one of my Facebook albums (similar to the ones I loaded in this blog):

BTW, I should have a Digital Workflow workshop coming up sometime later this year where I cover both of these programs, and how I handle my image workflow and cataloging- I’ll update you all when that happens (whether at Camera West, Calumet, Point Reyes, online with, or another workshop company).

Wish I could answer everyone’s personal email questions, but this might be an easier way to spread the word.

Have a great weekend all!


Twenty years in Photography

This month marks the 20th year as a professional photographer. In 1991, at the age of 23, I graduated Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, receiving my Bachelor of Arts in Commercial Photography, eager to set the world on fire…at least I hoped to. A month later, after sending out 150 resumés around California with no job offers in return, I figured I might as well start my own business. I pounded the payment, I did self-assignments and got them published, and through it all my business slowly grew. There were many months where I wondered how I’d cover my expenses, pay my bills, yet somehow I was able to.

Many over glamorize professional photography, especially travel, assuming you trek the globe simply clicking away with ease while clients pay you….with ease. Far from the truth. You suffer, you sacrifice, you struggle, you have successes, disappointments, moments of amazement, moments of loneliness, all the while wondering where your next paycheck will come from….for twenty years.

Through all of this, I still can’t see myself doing anything else. My hopes was always to lead an extraordinary life – and this goal continues to drive me today. I can’t wait to capture the next image, yet I’m willing to take breaks between shooting to keep myself fresh and hungry. I’m extremely proud of the collection of images I have – to be able to look back at my career in a tangible way is pretty rare – yet I hope to build on this collection and create some of my best images in the years to come. To use my knowledge and experience to be more creative and to grow as an artist.

I wonder what the next twenty years will bring. I’m sure there’ll be some suffering, some sacrifice, some struggles, and some success…hopefully that success will come in the form of a lotto ticket.


Contracts, ugh….I miss the days of hand shakes

After reviewing a very cool photo contest (sponsored by a leading camera company and a top producer/director), I was disappointed to see a statement in their rules – one I’ve seen so many times in client contracts and contest rules:

“…grant of permission to Sponsor and its parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, promotional partners, contractors, agents, …. to use the entrant’s name, likeness, voice and biographical information, and the Photograph submitted … for purposes of trade, publicity or promotion and any other purpose, in all media and formats whether now known or later developed, throughout the world in perpetuity, without any notice, permission or compensation”.

So they can use your photograph in any way, as many times as they wish, now and in the future, forever and forever (throughout the world in perpetuity) without paying you in any way – well, maybe you’ll get a prize valued worth a few hundred bucks. Unfortunately this personifies some much of art in the past, present, and maybe the future- and that is that others make more money off of the art than the artist does.

All I can say is contracts should be beneficial for both sides. Don’t sign one if you don’t think you are getting a fair shake. I know it’s hard to do, it’s just as tough for me, but I try to cross out as much as I can get away with, use my contracts (which are fair and easy to understand), and educate my clients (and their counsel) about the contracts they are presenting. Stand strong and value your work and others will too.

And btw, these type of contract rules are why I rarely enter a contest.


Easier doesn’t always mean better

I recently read an online article discussing HDR imagery- one statement stood out. “My poor results are probably due to my lack of experience or unwillingness to develop sufficient expertise more than any flaw in the …. software.”

And this is where you separate the men (or woman) from the boys (or girls).

I wrote this article a few years ago, never posted it on my blog, but it’s the history of, so it’s still current….if that makes sense 🙂I have always felt if you want to accomplish true greatness in any field or endeavor you cannot do so without understanding and appreciating the history of it. With that said, knowledge of how photography evolved over its history can add yet another brick toward building a house of photographic experience.

Many are not aware the first temporary images were created over a thousand years ago by Ibn al-Haytham, a Muslim Persian scientist born in southern Iraq in 965. Al-Haytham invented the camera obscura, also known as the pinhole camera, where inverted images were cast onto a dark wall through a small opening. Even though the recordings could not be archived until certain chemical processes and technologies were later invented, it was the first known method of photography.

Described in the 19th century as ‘mirrors with a memory’, the original definition of “photography” comes from the French word photographie, the combined Greek words of phos (“light”) and graphis (“stylus” or “paintbrush”)- also defined as “drawing with light”. The camera’s ‘memory’ may have progressed from film to digital image sensors, with technology and the vernacular of the art changing rapidly, but the basic concept of photography remains much the same today.

By the mid 1820s a French man by the name of Nicéphore Niépce captured an eight-hour exposure, View from the Window at Le Gras, with a rudimentary yet remarkably innovative set up resembling a pinhole camera, using chemicals to process the image permanently. The world was visually changed from that moment on (although there has been some recent dispute with a claim Thomas Wedgwood captured the first photo in the 1790s- another states Niépce produced an image of his son one year before his Le Gras image).

In 1832 Hércules Florence a French-Brazilian inventor and painter created a process for permanently fixing camera obscura images onto silver nitrate and named it Photographie or Photographia. William Fox Talbot, an early photographic pioneer, also discovered other means to fix a silver process image but kept his process secret. In 1839 Louis Daguerre, who collaborating with Niépce before he died, continued his work and subsequently created the daguerreotype, a new process where a negative image was exposed directly onto a mirror-polished surface, reversing it to a positive image when held in certain light. This process not only had a luminous quality to it, it also resulted in shorter exposure times. After reading about Daguerre’s invention, Talbot refined his process cutting exposure times as well, giving it the ability to take photographs of people (long exposure times were often the cause of blank facial expressions in 19th century portraits). By 1840 he invented negatives through process called calotype. John Herschel also made many contributions to the new methods thus inventing the cyanotype process, otherwise known as the “blueprint”. He was the first to use the terms “photography”, “negative” and “positive”. Herschel informed Talbot and Daguerre of his discovery in 1839, that it could be used to “fix” pictures and make them permanent, then produced the first glass negative later that same year.

The first permanent color photo was captured by James Maxwell in 1861, and the next major step forward came ten years later when Dr. Richard Maddox discovered a way of using Gelatin (a material recently discovered) instead of glass as a basis for the photographic plate. This led to the creation of the dry plate process marking a turning point in the industry. Dry plates had a variety of advantages including quicker development, the possibility of being mass-produced, were less cumbersome with less knowledge required.

Although there was a mix of inventions and inspiration throughout the 19th century, the dry plate process, in combination with John Carbutt’s idea of adding thin celluloid as a backing for sensitive material, lead to several revolutionary changes. Soon after George Eastman introduced flexible film in 1884, as well as the Kodak box camera in 1888 and now photography could reach the masses (Kodak, by the way, was a name created by Eastman and his mother, and not the name of a supposed partner).


As manufacturers like Kodak began to build smaller cameras (such as the Kodak Brownie in 1901) along with higher quality film at affordable prices, the mobile aspect of photography changed the way families documented their lives, yet part of the art was also lost in the transfer (the digital age has repeated this). In fact one of Kodak’s slogan’s “You press the button, we do the rest” doesn’t seem so far off the “fix it in Photoshop” phrase we all hear today. People assumed their techniques combined with the quality of the new product would match the processes and talent of the photographers they were use to, but this wasn’t the case. Even though the process of photography evolved through various inventors over its history, the progression of the medium was just as affected, influenced, and changed directly by the artists. So many paved the way for how photography is used and perceived today, and being unaware of these people means missing a huge part of the art.


Some of the original pioneers of photography were first commissioned to the battlefields, whether by publishers or their government, as a way of documenting war. Roger Fenton (1819-1869) is known as the first war photographer recording the Crimea in the 1850s. Timothy O’Sullivan (1840-1882), a protégée of Matthew Brady, became famous for his stark depictions of the Civil War as well as his grand landscapes of the American West, using the wet plate process of the mid 1800s.

In the 1880s, Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) was the first to use his camera to study motion too fast for the naked eye to see- motion pictures became a by product of this exercise. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, aka Nadar (1820-1910), was mostly known for his portraits including people such as Victor Hugo, Jules Vern, and Sarah Bernhardt, although he was also the first to take aerial photographs using a hot air balloon.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, although color photographic processes began being mass-produced, black and white image-makers such as Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and Edward Steichen (1879-1973) came to be widely known as fine-art photographers. Largely affected by European modern art, Steichen slowly moved toward fashion and advertising photography, while Stieglitz (who married Georgia O’Keeffe) stuck to a more photojournalistic and fine art approach. In 2008, Steichen’s The Pond-Moonlight captured in 1904 sold for $2.9 million, the highest price ever paid for a photo at auction. Edward Weston (1886-1958) came on the scene soon after, known for is fine art images of the human figure, shells, vegetables, and landscapes often documented with an 8×10 view camera. As Weston was realist in his works, Man Ray (1890-1976) used imagination and surrealism for his photographic canvas.

In 1935, Kodachrome was introduced and became the standard in color photography- probably the most successful and well-known film still on the market today. Regardless, the 30s and 40s still ushered in the black-and-white masters in the likes of Ansel Adams (1902-1984) and Brett Weston (1911-1993), who not only perfected their skills through methods such as the Zone System, but also advanced in the perception of photography as an art.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) and Walker Evans (1903-1975) cared more about capturing moments in their cameras instead of what they were able to produce in the darkroom printing process. Small town life and city scenes fascinated both although Cartier-Bresson’s style was through a sense of shapes, lines, and spatial relationships, while Evans took a more straightforward literal approach.
In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s story tellers like Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, and Diane Arbus emerged, all with their own documentary style whether through graphic images of war or an intimate look into the American family. Photography was becoming more instant with the introduction of Edwin Land’s Polaroid camera in 1948. In fact the first digital image ever produced by a computer occurred nine years after in 1957; a 5×5 centimeter grainy image of a baby scanned in by computer pioneer Russell Kirsch at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards. By 1963, Kodak unveiled their Instamatic camera, launching an age of more affordable ways to capture life.

The 1970s and 80s took a mix of past and present through the appreciation of works from artists such as Josef Koudelka’s images of Exile, Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial and sexually explicit imagery, and Irving Penn’s high-end portrait and fashion work. In 1981 the Mavica made by Sony was the first consumer camera to use CCD (charge-coupled device) eliminating the need for film, and nine years later, Kodak produced the DCS 100, a 1.3 Megapixel digital camera back that would attach to a Nikon F3 body.
Through the 2005 bankruptcy of Agfa Photo and 2006 discontinuation of Polaroid instant film, the digital age may have closed a few doors, yet it opened many more creative ones with the advent of Photoshop, RAW image files, as well as new functions such as White Balance and High Dynamic Range imagery. I used my first digital SLR in 1995 when Nikon introduced their E2s, loaning me the camera to test out on an adventure race. To capture filmless images and transmit the files over phone lines only to see them appear on the cover of the Salt Lake City Tribune was truly a wild concept – and this was only 13 years ago. Nowadays, technology has gone upward of 111 Megapixel systems, well beyond film, yet commercial digital systems are still in their infancy albeit advancing at a rapid pace.

After 180 years of photography, many of our world views and personal memories are often connected to images from the past, whether being Yosuf Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill, Kim Phuc’s image of the napalm bombing in Vietnam, or the eyes of the Afghan girl documented by Steve McCurry. Besides the wonderful image-makers we have at (not only online photo instructors – like myself- but many who are well-known in the photo community), there are too many current working photographers to mention in a short article – Sebastiao Salgado, Richard Avedon, James Nachtwey, Annie Lebowitz, and Art Wolfe. But research or Google them and you may find great inspiration in a photographer’s work for which you never knew existed.

The medium may have changed from a dark wall to film to a digital file, but the need for a visual eye and an ability to capture fleeting moments with beauty and style will always remain.

(copyrighted Ansel Adams portrait courtesy of Jim Alinder, all other historic photos are public domain)