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Landscape Photography

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Michael Zide is a Landscape Photographer who has chosen to depict most of his work in black and white. For the past 30 years, he has dedicated himself to perfecting his vision for landscape photography. During this period, he spent time in Martha’s Vineyard and other parts of the East Coast capturing his most iconic photographs. He now dedicates a grand majority of his time to running workshops, mentoring, and speaking about the art of landscape photography.
To see more of his work visit:

I came to photography in my early twenties, one of those course changes that took me by surprise. My interests suddenly changed from pursuing a career in the medical sciences to a growing interest in the arts. For someone without an aptitude to draw or paint, photography offered me the perfect path to developing my creativity and artistic self-expression. Drawn to landscape photography from the very beginning, I moved to Martha’s Vineyard when I was in my early twenties and began a 12-year project to create my own visual interpretation of this well photographed East Coast icon.


In time I became the staff photographer for a weekly newspaper and developed many of the skills necessary to eek out a living in the world of freelance. Moving to Amherst, Massachusetts in the early 1980s, I specialized in marketing photography for educational, healthcare, senior living, and business institutions. From my time on the Vineyard to the present, I have taught photography both full-time and in workshop settings.


Q: How would you describe the aesthetic of your website in three words?

MZ: Attractive, Professional, Useful

Q: How often do you typically update your website?

MZ: I change the site as my photographic galleries need updating or my current “happenings” need to be announced. I would say that happens every few weeks.


Q: How do you choose the photos that you display on your homepage?

MZ: The photographs on my homepage serve as a portal into my vision of the landscape. I choose them as representatives of the surprising moments I have found and photographed over time, hoping they keep the viewer’s attention and spark their imaginations.


Q: What is your favorite new feature of liveBooks8?

MZ: With SEO capability being so important, the new design was created to create a more user-friendly method of enhancing your internet visibility.


Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to someone designing their website?

MZ: Know what purpose you want your website to serve. Keep its appearance elegant and informative. Keep it easy to navigate through, allowing the viewer to take in whatever message you are hoping to communicate.

Have a website you’d like us to feature? Email us at

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New Year’s Eve Fireworks - Baltimore Inner Harbor

New Year’s Eve Fireworks – Baltimore Inner Harbor

Summer is officially in full swing, and the Fourth of July is just days away. After a day of celebrating in the sun, be sure to grab your camera for the evening’s main event: fireworks. Whether you’ve photographed fireworks before or are just starting out, this year, we want to challenge you to expand your creativity by taking your Fourth of July images to the next level. Charge your cameras and dig out your tripods! Get prepared and inspired, using this behind-the-scenes look at how these images from photographer Greg Pease came to life.

Guest blogger, Greg Pease, is a photographer, located in Baltimore, MD. Specializing in location photography, he uses his expertise to capture images of people in the workplace, aerials, and landscapes. Find him online at 


Fourth of July Fireworks – Washington DC

Fireworks displays have always sparked my imagination with their light, colors and patterns. Early in my career as a professional photographer, I began documenting my hometown of Baltimore’s revitalization in the mid 1970’s. I photographed the developing skyline, using the fireworks displays to illuminate the city and its marinas that ring around the Inner Harbor and the hundreds of boats gathered to view the fireworks above.

Fireworks provide a creative opportunity to use the quality and massive volume of light to illuminate and provide color and drama to large-scale subjects and scenes, such as landmarks, monuments and skylines at night.


Monument Lighting Holiday Celebration, first monument to George Washington – Baltimore

In 2011, I was hired by Visit Baltimore to photograph the reenactment of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry for their kick-off ad campaign for the Star-Spangled 200 Bicentennial Celebrations commemorating the War of 1812.

 Reenactment of Bombardment of Fort McHenry Photo Notes: This photo was produced using seven reenactors and one cannon moved to multiple locations while shooting from a scissor lift fully extended 50 ft. high. The image was created in Photoshop by assembling the multiple components including the flag, cannon fire and fireworks into a single image.

Reenactment of Bombardment of Fort McHenry
Photo Notes: This photo was produced using seven re-enactors and one cannon moved to multiple locations while shooting from a scissor lift fully extended 50 ft. high. The image was created in Photoshop by assembling the multiple components including the flag, cannon fire and fireworks into a single image.

At the close of the Star-Spangled 200 Celebrations, I photographed the grand finale at Fort McHenry. I wanted to use the fireworks to create the atmosphere that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that would become our National Anthem: “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”

\Battle of Baltimore Reenactment of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry with Rockets Red Glare Photo Notes: Two cameras were used to shoot this photograph, one for the fireworks and the other for the Fort to create a single image.

Battle of Baltimore Reenactment of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry with Rockets Red Glare
Photo Notes: Two cameras were used to shoot this photograph, one for the fireworks and the other for the Fort to create a single image.

The Prep:
My planning begins with an aerial photo of the general area of the fireworks display. Google Earth Satellite is a pretty good source to determine where to set up cameras.
Pro-tip: Reflections in water are an enhancing feature, so look for water view locations.

The Gear
I set up two cameras, each with its own tripod.
45mm and 90mm are my favorite lenses (with a full frame sensor camera), and both are tilt/shift lenses, which enables me to shift up and down or vary my image format from horizontal to vertical to include more fireworks in the sky or water reflections below.
I use a LADDERKART (3 step) to transport equipment and to get above people standing in front of the camera/

The Details:
Long exposure noise reduction should be enabled.
f5.6 @ 5 seconds @ ISO100 was successful in many of the examples shown here.
Set your color balance. My preference is for a cool colored sky to make the generally warm fireworks visually move forward.
Shoot as the fireworks are ascending and descending, and vary the effect by shooting only the descending fireworks. This technique will prevent the fireworks from obscuring the buildings, etc.
Shoot as rapidly as you can before the smoke builds up.

New Year’s Eve Fireworks - Baltimore Inner Harbor

New Year’s Eve Fireworks – Baltimore Inner Harbor

There you have it! Try out these tips this weekend, and be sure to share the results with us by tagging #bestofLB8 on social media.

October 19th, 2015

Photographer Spotlight – Michael Zide

Posted by liveBooks

Q: Can you tell me about your background? How did you get started in photography?

MZ: My first camera took rolls of black and white film that were developed and printed at the local drug store. The only photo that I can find from that period is a treasure; I must have been six or so. It’s a slightly out of focus image of Rusty, my childhood dog. It’s a memory that represents that wonderful animal and my extremely poor photographic expertise. I also recall standing next to my father in his makeshift darkroom. I remember his patience in explaining each tray in the print-making process, the strong but oddly agreeable smell of stop bath and fixer and the first “magical” appearance of an image. An extremely talented amateur, my dad’s enthusiasm seemed to rub off more on my brother than myself.

Growing up in the Southern California landscape, I was a kid whose eyes were constantly scanning the ground for the next Horn Toad lizard, (they looked like horned dinosaurs) or the large and bizarre looking insect called a Jerusalem Cricket (resembled something from another world entirely). In love with the wonders of nature, the surprising and the mysterious, no event affected me more deeply than the sight outside my bedroom window as the sun rose one particular morning. I was five years old and stood in place questioning the spellbinding scene beyond the glass panes. The event is referred to as Los Angeles’ “first historic snowfall” by the L.A. Times of January 11, 1949. Almost 20 years later I began to realize its lasting impact as a budding landscape photographer. My wife summed it up beautifully, “That first snowfall set in motion both the search for a view of equal enchantment, as well as a visual memory in search of meaning.” More than four decades later, last night to be precise, I found myself walking a familiar path into the Poor Farm Swamp Preserve minutes from my home. With camera and Gitzo tripod in hand I was testing the ISO capability of the Sony A7S with some Zeiss lenses. Pointing up at the sky, the exposures at 2,000 ISO were 20-30 seconds long. Only the tail slap of a beaver amidst the usual evening pond chatter could be heard in the almost total blackness. From that child years ago with eyes downward cast, last night I was looking up at the stars hoping not to run into a bear.

I experienced my own creative Renaissance in the late sixties. Picking up a 35mm camera, I began down the road so many photographers have followed. I was living proof of the rule of 500,000 which says that every photographer has at least 500,000 bad photographs inside themselves and it’s their job to get them out of their cameras as soon as possible. Making “successful” photographs is full of challenges. The camera does much more than record what is in front of the lens. It also translates that reality into a 2-dimension color or gray tone interpretation that communicates in its own particular language. It’s no small task to render a subject photographically successful regardless of how enticing and dramatic the scene. As Elliott Erwitt, one of my favorite photographers said, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

The longer I make photographs, the more I find the process still keeps my interest because it is more art than science. Always surprising, so many photographs fail to measure up to expectation. Successes may be few in number, but they make all the others worth the disappointment.

Every success or failure is opportunity to study the workings of the decision-making process, pointing you further down the road towards the next image. To paraphrase the authors of “Art and Fear,” “…the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections are your guides, to matters you need to reconsider.”

Q: What is your definition of fine art photography?

MZ: In 1917, Marcel Duchamp entered a porcelain urinal, titled “Fountain” into the Society of Independent Artists exhibition. Thought to be a vulgar joke by some and quite disgusting, it was rejected. However, it definitely stirred the passions of the committee and gave them an opportunity to see reality in a new light, an opportunity they obviously didn’t take. To many people, myself included, this is part of art’s role.

The focus and intention of photographers are as varied as the number of people who hold cameras in their hands. Subjective and interpretive or objective and detached from human emotion, it provides a tool for infinite creative possibility as well as archiving the appearance of things down to the smallest detail.

Fine art photography is about making introspective, intuitive and conscious decisions that interpret the photographic subject through the mind and heart of the image maker. Each new attempt confronts the photographer as well as the subject. At its heart, all art represents studies in “self-reflection.” As Oscar Wilde said of another medium, “Every portrait that is painted with feelings is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

The word “gesture” describes what I look for in the landscape. It is the evocative shape of things, the play of light on form, the weather and the emotional tone that attracts my eye. Everything in the landscape can serve as a metaphor for the camera and act as idea or e motion, much like an actor standing in for the concerns of the playwright. I seem to be retelling the stories of my life that occurred in past dreams and in memory through the evocative shapes of nature.

Q: How does fine art photography differ from other types of photography?

MZ: Fine art and commercial photography differ in intention. Fine art demands the photographer’s personal interpretation of the subject while commercial photographers interpret the client’ s message through adroit technical competence. Photographers that create fine art have no client other than themselves. They sell their work online or through galleries or other venues, but they are fully in charge of how they apply their creative impulse and in what form it ultimately may take. Commercial photographers, on the other hand, take direction from the needs of the client. Conveying the client’s message in the most eye-catching and compelling images possible, they are expert at shaping stunning photographs that communicate the virtues of that product. Generally considered work for hire and compensated financially, they may or may not have their name associated with their efforts. ]

Q: What drew you to fine art photography specifically? 

MZ: I was drawn to photography in stages. I remember seeing the beautifully reproduced work of Eliot Porter’s “The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado” published by the Sierra Club. It was eye opening. I was taken in by the highly detailed images, done with a 4X5 view camera and printed in rich color. Unlike other landscape images I had seen in magazines such as “Arizona Highways,” Porter’s work seemed to be on another creative level, more reaction to the scene than a record of the beautiful moment. Eventually I found my way to the black and white work of Minor White, interpretive and mysterious, his work opened my eyes even more to an artistic vein that continues to shape my efforts.

Q: Do you always use black and white?

MZ: Beginning photography back in the days of 4X5 sheet film, black and white was the only process I could control from capture to print. It was as much a practical as aesthetic decision. I was fortunate to find a mentor in Max Yavno, famous for his work in both commercial and fine art photography, I was inspired to push my work further as I witnessed his mastery in the darkroom. Responsible for demystifying much about the process, his friendship and knowledge were motivating forces in my early work. Now that photographs can be made digitally, color capture and “processing” are accessible to everyone. Deciding to work in black and white requires another way of seeing the world of light and form. Although I do make some photographs in color, I enjoy trying to solve the challenges of interpreting the world through the timeless beauty of black and white.

Wood Pile

Wood Pile

West Tisbury, MA. Sony A7R digital camera.

A heavy plank of wood destined to heat the Vineyard home of my friends had caught my eye. Rescued, this tree sprite traveled back home with me, a gift from my two artist friends.


Whirlpool | Aquinnah, MA

Whirlpool Aquinnah

Aquinnah, MA. Toyo 4X5 field camera.

Backlight is my favorite lighting. The closer the direction of light to the lens axis, the better. Len’s flare is always the challenge. For this perspective I had to walk out into the water off Aquinnah and plant my Gitzo tripod into the ocean bottom.

Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills

Lone Pine, CA. Toyo 4X5 field camera. Outside Death Valley, the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine is known for its distinctive rock formations and the location’s use for many of the early Hollywood cowboy movie chase scenes.

Frost and Orchard

Frost and Orchard

South Amherst, MA. Mamiya 645 with Aptus digital black.

My front yard was the setting for this image. I love the slightly asymmetrical placement of apple trees and the two diagonal frost lines adding more textural interest.

Moody Bridge | Hadley, MA

Off Moody Bridge

Hadley, MA. Mamiya 645 with Aptus digital black.

An image right out of my childhood dreams, I saw this tree off Moody Bridge Road and I thought I was back in the Haunted Forest of Oz. The tree was in a difficult lighting, either in speckled light or shade. I needed to accent the tree trunk and tree “arms” by positioning two location strobes and blending ambient and strobe exposures. During the 30 second exposure, I discharged each strobe head 12 times.

Aurora Over Music Street

Aurora Over Music Street

West Tisbury, MA. Nikon 35mm film camera with 35mm, f1.4 lens.

This moment could have been a simple document of the spectacular Aurora. I was extremely fortunate to find the curtain of light positioned directly above the Byrd family’s home in what seemed an almost spiritual gesture. I had to thank my canine companions for needing to walked outdoors at 2 a.m.

Suspended Tree and Fungus

Suspended Tree and Fungus

Shutesbury, MA. Nikon D800E and 20mm lens.

The fungus that is illuminated on this suspended log was large and brilliant orange. It was challenging to translate that eye-popping color into shades of gray that came close to equaling its luminous glow. The lens’ short focal length helped maintain a sense of the fungus’ relatively large sie yet show a wide enough expanse of the rushing water below.

Reflection and Fog

Reflection and Fog

Damariscotta, ME. Canon 5D Mark 111 digital camera.

This photograph benefited from micro-composing. I was very careful to position the end of the floating form against the light tone of the reflecting water. The image would have been weakened significantly if the dark hanging forms had overlapped the dark area of the image. The approach to the subject was through ankle deep tidal water. Having firemans’ boots with me was a big help.

Quarry | Rockport, ME

Quarry and Mask

Rockport, ME. Mamiya 645 with Aptus digital black.

Teaching at Maine Media Workshops a few summers ago, we took a field trip to this abandoned stone quarry. The rock wall and its reflection seemed to peer right into my camera lens.

Dunes | White Sands, NM

Shadow and Form

White Sands National Monument, NM. Toyo 4X5 field camera.

Of all my dune experiences, White Sands National Monument is the most memorable. Its brilliantly white gypsum dunes are breathtaking. It was also the setting for a misadventure I won’t forget.

Pier and Ice

Pier and Ice

Oak Bluffs, MA. Toyo 4X5 field camera.

To create the misty effect on some but not all of the rocks, 20 or so exposures were made on one sheet of 4X5 film. How misty or distinct the rocks appear was controlled by the timing of the cable release and shutter.

Woods in Snow

Woods in Snow

West Tisbury, MA. Nikon film camera.

A beautiful line of snow decorated the trees on this April 1st snowfall in Martha’s Vineyard a number of years ago.

Birch and Pine

Birch and Pine

Turners Falls, MA. Mamiya 645 with Aptus digital black.

Passing this stand of birch trees, I noticed the human-like gesture expressed by this particular scene and made this photograph.

Frost at Sunrise

Frost at Sunrise

Chilmark, MA.

There were many interesting compositions within the frosted pane. Aware that the photography that may work the best may not even be one you remember having taken, I try to exhaust the possibilities of “seeing” each subject and photographing it every possible way.

Heron in Motion

Heron in Motion

Rockport, ME. Canon 5 D Mark 111.

An early morning in Rockport, I was photographing this magnificent throwback to the dinosaurs as he/she was exploring the river bottom for breakfast. It took to the air and luckily I was ready to pan during the exposure and create this image.

See Michael’s full site and more of his images: 


How does one become a better photographer? To find the answer I decided to ask industry veteran Gerald Ratto. For over half a century Gerald has used film photography to capture the world. Gerald is a former student of Ansel Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston; the list of industry legends he has worked with is extensive. His work has been displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and his client list includes some of the largest architectural firms in the world.

Gerald has worked with film since he was 12 and began photographing with a 15-cent box camera. Many of his most celebrated images (See his Children of the Fillmore and Vintage Collections) were shot traditionally. I began by inquiring about what differences exists between photographing with film and digital.

“Photography is really about seeing. We are in an age where people confuse photography with image capturing. When you hold up your phone or high megapixel camera are you really being a photographer? I don’t know. That depends on how intentional you are in the process. It’s easy to capture a huge amount of space today and then use Photoshop to retroactively tell a story, but something is lost in that process. You can make adjustments in Photoshop but you lose some of the expression because you didn’t really consider the content and the story that is being told.”

Is there any correlation between the physical developing process and the creation of an authentic photograph?

“Developing isn’t really a huge part of the process because of previsualization; seeing the story in your mind before you capture it with a camera. If you are doing it right you already know what the story is once you capture it. Then, it’s about going through a process to bring it from a small format to something people can see and display. Each camera is really the same. Each is simply a different instrument. If your process is the same then you can use different instruments to more accurately tell the story.”

Herein I realized the error of my initial question. The question is really not of whether we gain or lose something using film or digital methods, the question is how we remain intentional in an age where technology removes our limits. What are we doing as photographers to keep our content intentional and relevant?

I ask what advice Gerald can provide for how to stay relevant as a photographer.

“Photography is like discovery; every time you look in the viewfinder you’re closing in on an image that is part of something bigger—a little vignette of the greater world. You don’t want to go into any project with preconceived notions of what you are going to capture because by doing that you impose yourself upon the subject. Authenticity is the key to staying relevant. Allow the subject to tell the story and use your mastery of the instrument to capture it.”

Gerald’s work over the last 50 years showcases many different thematic elements; a testament to the depth of his abilities as photographer. I encourage you to take a look at Gerald’s portfolios and pay special attention to his mastery of light. From architecture models to portraiture, Gerald’s work showcases the breadth of his abilities as a photographer. As we finish up I ask Gerald what his favorite photo is. He smiles and replies, “The one I’m taking tomorrow.”

Gerald Ratto and his wife Marla manage a studio and reside in San Francisco, CA. You can view more of his work on his liveBooks site;

liveBooks wants to know: how do you view your work as a photographer? What tools/best practices do you use to stay relevant? Share a comment on our blog and start a conversation. “Like” us on our facebook page and be the first to receive exciting liveBooks news and content.


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