Behind the Image: Creating Emotionally-Evocative Travel Photography with Richard Bernabe

Travel, wildlife and nature photographer Richard Bernabe has contributed to National Geographic, The New York Times, Popular Photography and now, the Adobe Stock Premium collection. His quest to capture the world’s wildest places and convey their moods and character through his photographs has taken him from Africa to the Arctic. We caught up with Richard, who was preparing for a trip to China, to discuss following your passion, integrating the shooting and post-production processes, and the importance of evoking emotions with your photography.

Adobe: How did you discover photography – and how did you become a full-time photographer?

Bernabe: I’m often asked what my passions are, and you’d expect that photography would be the top of the list. Actually, it’s not. My passions lie in nature, the outdoors, and travelling to exotic and wild places. Photography is a means to capture what I see and feel – and to share that with the rest of the world.

I spent a lot of time backpacking, hiking and fly-fishing. I’d take a camera with me, but the photos didn’t usually turn out. So, just being curious, I started looking into how the photographic process worked, how the human visual system worked, and how they’re so different. It wasn’t until I began to bridge the gap between how a camera captures visual data and what the limitations are compared to the very intricate and complex way the human visual system works that I started consistently creating images that captured what I saw and felt.

Adobe: What themes do you explore through your work?

Bernabe: When I boil it all down, my job is to inspire people; that’s it. And it’s actually more simple than that. My job is to be inspired; because I look for the things that inspire me, the things that move me on an emotional level. That’s the essence of photography and the essence of art, for that matter. It’s not necessarily share what I see, but rather what I feel. Every photo editor I’ve worked with would say this – that they’re not looking for images that are necessarily technically good as far as the colors and sharp focus and exposure and composition. People want images that make them feel something.

Adobe: What’s happening in the image?

Bernabe: As you walk on the beach in Iceland, it’s very exotic. Some icebergs are blue; they’re fresh off the glacier. Some of them are crystallized like this one, where it’s been out in the sun, and the sun starts to melt some of it. The stark contrast between the black sand beach and this ice is very compelling; it’s a compelling scene. I was trying to create an image where you can feel that contrast between the ice and the black sand. But I also wanted to get a sense of the power of the waves and the power of the ocean.

Adobe How did you create the sense of motion in the photo?

Bernabe: You have to allow yourself to get wet in order to do this. Find an iceberg that has a shape that really attracts the eye. This one almost looks like a bird. It has to be stable enough so that the water moves around it, as this is a long exposure. Sit behind it with a wide-angle lens and allow the waves to come up around the iceberg, up to your feet and behind you. As the waves start to recede, you start exposure. It’s one second or two seconds, maybe.

The tripod legs and your feet create those lines that you see off to the right. You’ve got all these lines, but they’re bunched together. Right behind the iceberg, you’ve got black and white because the waves are going around my feet and the tripod legs, creating these radial lines that pull you toward the horizon. It’s got a real dynamic feel; and again, the stark contrast between the ice and the black sand.

I took maybe 150 to 200 images. But there was one that just had everything I was looking for. It was important to get all these diagonal lines moving together, because most of the time during composition, you don’t want to center your subject. In this case, I wanted the primary element to be right in the center because it brings everything together. Your eye moves from the corners up to the top towards the horizon, like a vanishing point.

Adobe: Can you walk us through your post-processing?

Bernabe: Too many photographers think of post-processing as a separate activity from the capture. I consider them to be a seamless extension of the photographic process. To me, I use digital tools, Photoshop and Lightroom, to help further communicate the feeling that I want the image to have. In this case, it was to increase contrast between the black sand beach and the iceberg. It didn’t need much post-processing other than to darken the sand and bring up the light in the stone and in the iceberg, so that I really had that strong contrast between the blacks and the whites.

Adobe: What’s your advice to other photographers to take their work to the next level?

Bernabe: Follow your passion. I don’t spend any time photographing things that don’t inspire me. Photographers should focus on the things that move them, that inspire them, so they create images that inspire other people. What is the last thing you think about when you go to bed at night? What’s the first thing you think about in the morning? And it can’t be photography. What I’m trying to get to is, “What is your passion?” That’s something unique that you can share with the rest of the world that other people can’t – the passion that you have for that particular subject.

To learn more about Richard’s work, visit his Adobe Stock contributor page and browse through his images included in the newly launched Premium collection.