I kinda pride myself on including those elements that help the story telling while eliminating those that don’t. This is all done in the viewfinder. There are times though when I see the smallest detail and I will wait to make that one detail at least in my mind, pop though in the final image, it’s the smallest detail. So it begs the question in my own mind, do small details matter? Case in point, the rainbow at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. By itself, it is so dynamic, so gorgeous and so full of life. What else can really matter in such a moment, a capture? Well to this shooter, the rock in the lower right corner. I waited and worked until that little kiss of light kissed its top. Why? Because to me, it looks exactly like Half Dome but only a fraction of the size. Now I think that, I know that I’m in Yosemite shooting Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite is the home of Half Done. But does any one looking at this photo know it’s “Lower Yosemite Falls” located in Yosemite and know the shape of Half Dome so well they connect all those dots? Honestly, that’s a stretch! So then why work to include some detail that in the final analyzes only you really know it’s there? I think we all SHOULD because the photo has to matter to US before it matters to anyone else! It is just possible that if you care that much about such a small detail, there might just be some bigger, more important ones that matter to you as well. If nothing else, it means you’re putting more heart than perhaps technical into your photo and that is always a good thing. You of course must answer the question for yourself and your own photography. But to me and my photography when all it said and one, small detail do matter.
“What is the subject?” When you’ve greeted the sun at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, your senses are so overwhelmed, you simply might not know that answer to that question. But as the sun starts to creep its way down the face of the wall, it all becomes very clear. The spray is hitting you in the face and coating all your gear. The breeze blows your hair and fills your smell with the sweet aroma of Cedar. And then the color hits and you can barely get out the words….”WOW!” The falls are simply spectacular!
Once you take those couple of overall, “I was here shots,” it’s time to get back to “What’s the subject?” The rainbow which appears for a short time under only the right conditions is simply so cool to watch as it dances with the mist. For the first time, many shot video this morning just to be able to take the experience back home. But when it comes to the single clicks, zooming in tight with the 70-200 and ripping the frames when you saw the highlights your wanted with the D4, the magic of the moment is forever captured. To me, it’s very rewarding to share this valley secret with the folks, even more when coated with spray, all you see are the biggest smiles! Life gets no better in photography!
Ya, back in Yosemite Valley again and you know what, the rocks are all in the same spot. And it’s still as gorgeous as ever! There is water in the falls (Upper Yosemite Falls at night pictured here) and clouds are in the forecast, it will be a great week. The challenge for me is, for some one who has been to a location hundreds of times, how to you approach it photographically to comeback with something new? The trick is there is one is two fold, follow the light and, make every click count! While the rocks are the same ones as on my first visit to the valley 45yrs ago, everything else is new which includes how my heart now responds to them. It does require not falling in the trap of shooting what I’ve shot before which means pushing because some views just don’t change. It means taking a deep breath and feeling more and lastly, remember to move the feet. The tripod has legs, so do you so move and look! Hope you’ll check back to see how I do this week as I approach my 1000 day in the Valley.
So I’m home for a few days, finally. I’ve only been home up till now since the 1st of the year, 8 days. I’ve got this really, really cool tool here, The Photo Trap that I want to use on a project I’m doing with our No Flying Squirrels. Well, to use the Photo Trap, I need to have flying squirrels. While I was gone, Sharon would check on them at night and most nights when she looked, they were there. All was good.
Three weeks ago I was heading out to the airport, heading to Grand Canyon. It was my normal departure time for the airport, 01:00. I was just going up the onramp to the highway and crossing in front of me was a adult Bobcat! I stopped and watched because in my 50yrs in Mammoth, I have never seen a Bobcat. Bears, Mtn Lions, Coyotes, you bet. Bobcat, never! So I watched, texted Sharon and then headed up the highway once it passed. While I was gone, Sharon was talking to our neighbor, a second home owner who told them they saw a Bobcat one night staring in their window at them. Sharon found it hard to believe, figured it was somebodies lost house cat. Well, since I’ve gotten back home from the Grand Canyon, the last few nights, we’ve had no squirrels. I had the Photo Trap, D4, SB-900s and other goodies ready to go, but no subjects. Time is running out, about to be on the road again for three weeks.
So I’m taking the dogs out a 23:00 for their last trip of the day. As always, I do a 360 with my maglite to check the trees for owls and the like. I come over to our tree that has all the flying squirrels to see if any appeared and what do I see perched on the branch, a Bobcat! It’s just lying there, watching the dogs and me and not doing a thing! I go to the door and yell in the house to Sharon there’s a Bobcat in tree 3!. I hurry the dogs up, get them in the house and up the stairs I go. And there the Bobcat laid, watching us watch it. It’s a juvenile, pretty small and really cute.Sharon says, “Can’t you get a picture of it?” It’s 23:00, it’s just nine feet from the door. I said I don’t think so. But I still grabbed the D4, 70-200 & SB-900 and while knowing it was a no win situation, made the click. You see the results above. We then continued to watch it for quite a while. I finally slowly open the door trying to get a shot. I take a step forward and it slowly turned and climbed the tree. That was it. The next morning in the fresh snow I went looking for tracks. On the other side of the property I found its tracks. I also found the tracks of what appears to be a bunny family, most likely the reason for it being on our property.
Last night, we were looking every five minutes to see if it returned. Just before 23:00, fresh tracks appeared going right under our deck door and heading to the tree. We never saw it last night, haven’t got a photo of it but we have the vision of that Bobcat nine feet away, looking at us looking at it forever exposed on the thin emulsion of our minds. It was a good night!
Well, when that happens it tend to throw everything into chaos! Why, because taking what the mind’s eye is telling us and cramming that into the viewfinder can simply be sensory overload. When you see those magical, heart warming, soul stirring God beams the panic sets into capture them because we know, we just know how special they really are. No matter who you are or where you were raised, they stir something inside. And that’s what we want our photography to do, stir something inside. So you could say that capturing successfully God beam is an easy way to make that something stir inside. Just how so you do that, capture them God beams?
We were incredible fortunate to have many opportunities on our K&M Adventures Grand Canyon to have a whole bunch of God beam opportunities so discussing them was a hot topic. What I can pass along is what I’ve found works for me hoping it helps you. First, you gotta ask yourself, what’s the subject? It is the God beam so then you have to make sure in the viewfinder, that’s what you see. God beams often are associated with a hole in the clouds which is BRIGHTER than the beams. Since we know that the mind’s eye goes to light and bright first, if you want the viewer to see those God beams, that bright spot can’t be in the final photo. You can do that simply by not including it in the photo when you go click. You must follow through with that same thinking when you finish the photograph! How do you do that? Well, during our digital darkroom session, I demoed at least three different ways to make your finishing clicks compliment your camera clicks. I got a real kick when I showed how, with moving just two sliders in ACR, in a heartbeat I finished the photos and folks saying, “I would have never guessed you could do that!” These are simple D4 / 24-70 clicks. Photography is all about light, it is what makes the photo. It’s our job to find it, caress it, love it and then share it. You do that when you have just a droplet or when blessed with heavens of light!
So, have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? If you have, then what you see here probably looks familiar. Why? Because the rocks haven’t changed for a while, what we’re seeing has been around long before us and our cameras. As a matter of fact, it really begs the question, can we take a photo of the Grand Canyon that hasn’t been taken before? The answer is of course but more importantly, it’s a new photograph to us and that’s what really matters. With then in mind, the Grand Canyon is totally new but we of course want to do better than we’ve seen. This means you gotta simple put yourself in front of something interesting. That’s where light comes in!
Above is a click taken during the one hour prior sunset on our first day of our K&M Adventure – Grand Canyon. You can see the moment as you watch the Time Lapse created using the Time Lapse feature in the D800 and 24f1.4AFS. With the thousands of Grand Canyon images already in my files, just adding makes no real sense. But adding just a few that not only sum up the current visit but the magnificence that is the Grand Canyon, that makes sense. Here’s where that light thing plays such an important role. Because light is never the same, never! It’s this magical force that can turn your world upset down. The trick is to be ready for that moment. That’s why I made the Time Lapse. You can see during this hour that there are times when, the light really wasn’t special. Then you can see that moment when the D4 / 24-70AFS was the perfect tool to capture that moment of light on the down pour. WB is set to Cloudy, image underexposed and the final image, that one special capture that brings home the special moment. When somewhere where I’ve spent a lot of time, I put the challenge to myself that is pretty darn simple. Can one click tell the story?
I think this must be true of all photographers. Just think about it for a moment. You go looking for a new camera body or lens and most of the time, you really don’t know what you bought until you’re shooting with it. We set our alarm to get up long before sunrise and standing in place not knowing if what we’ve planned for months will unfold the way we want. Then there is the learning process, the evolution of our photography. It starts with just learning what a f/stop and shutter speed, a mystery that confounds photographers for seemingly a long time. And the list goes on and on, mysteries we go out with our camera in search of answers. So that brings up one very important question in my mind, “Do we ever solve the mystery?”
When you’re in Death Valley, you might make the long trek down the long dirt road to visit the Race Track. This is where large rocks have appeared seemingly from nowhere and then without any assistance, skid across the playas surface creating trails. Just how does that all happen? Now there are theories, working hypothesizes how these rocks skid across the dessert. But do we really want to know the answer? And as photographers, do we want to tell that answer to our viewer or as we operate, leave them with a mystery? I’ve been beatin around for over 30yrs chasing something with my camera. Along the way, I’ve come across a lot of mysteries which to this day, the answer still eludes me. This is why I tell folks I don’t know all the answers and, I don’t want to. That mystery of the unknown is what compels me to go out everyday with a camera. And if I’m really lucky, I convey that mystery in my photographs. And for that reason, I hope I never do find out all the answers because I think life would then be very boring!
On the second night of our Star Trails Workshop, I wanted to created a Time Lapse of the passing heavens as the moon set on the Alabama Hills. What you see are 1920 images taken over 10hrs by a D4, 24f1.4 AFS using “The Box” (pictured below). Key to this is not only the moon phase, stars and the passing clouds, but a big ass Lexar 128GB card and extra D4 batteries. After that, simply told The Box what I wanted, pushed the Start button and then at 23:00 carefully swap out batteries and go to sleep. Assembly of the video was done in Photoshop which, with the Mac Retina was done in a snap!
Now you’ll see a bunch of stuff in the Time Lapse. You’ll see the vehicles of a couple of the students, their little harbor from the cold. You’ll see clouds floating by to the east, planes flying through, the momentary headlights of a lost soul. And if you watch real carefully, you’ll see the Ghost of Moose as he walks to check on the students. Most importantly, you’ll see the moonlight which is lighting The Hills fade as it goes behind the Sierras. Enjoy, had fun creating it for you!
Star Trails, talk about bigtime fun! There is the challenge of making the image, the investment of an entire night for just one final image, and for many, the guess work if any of it will work. We had our first Star Trails Workshop this past weekend in Alabama Hills and the heavens put on a killer show for us to address all of these aspects of Astro photography. There are a number of star photography styles. There is the classic Star Trails that you see above, there is the single click “Heavenly Bodies” style you see below and Time Lapse encompassing an entire night’s sky. These three can easily be accomplished these days with nearly digital camera gear you might have. You just gotta have batteries, time and a desire to embrace a long, cold night. Above is a simple click, 192 of them actually shot over 6hrs using a D4, 18AF and MC-36. It was assembled in a heartbeat on the Mac Retina using StarStax which did a marvelous job!
Now creating star trails is fun, there is NO doubt to it! But like many techniques in photography, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you always do it. The top photo was taken on a nearly moonless night. It’s enough to light the landscape but still permitting Star Trails / Heavenly Body shooting. You can see The Hills in the foreground in the upper photo, that all coming from moonlight. I wanted to do something more than just a Star Trails so went to incorporating the moon in the photo. Even though a sliver of a moon, against the dark sky, it looks like a full moon. The best part was the flare it creates. I had the idea of creating a “syfy” looking Heavenly Body shot and have attempted them before, but none turned out as good as this one. It was a great night of shooting and a ton of fun sharing my passion for the Heavens with others new to this type of photography.
There’s a place in FL where I love spending afternoons, North Pier. You can see it looking east from Fort DeSoto as it hides under the Skyline Bridge. Slowly falling into the bay, the pier still provides fisherman a place to relax and catch fish. And those birds that want to be free loafers, a place to work their trade. And photographers, a place for some easy, fun and rewarding photography. I’ve shot there with the 200-400, 300f4 but most of the time, I’m shooting with the 70-200VR2 which I used to get the top image. Now the majority of the time I’m going after flight shots. The key you want in flight shots is the sun and wind on your back. In the afternoon, that’s all you have at North Pier. But when this Brown Pelican after getting fed a fish from a fisherman went over to this perch, I loved the attitude and had to get the shot.
Here’s where you’ve gotta make a decision because the Pelican is on a section of pier separated from where I stand by a big expanse of water. What you see below is the final photo that I really like. Did I get there by putting a teleconverter on the 70-200, use High Speed Crop, Crop the image, use a 600mm? Being on a public pier where you really stick out, keeping a low profile is kinda of a good idea. The thing is, you gotta move quickly because at any moment the Pelican can be off to grab his next free lunch. I went with my favorite and best option, grabbing the 600mm but I didn’t take time to set up a tripod, just handhled it and shot. I took my handful of images, switched lens and went right back to shooting. I realize that everyone does not have a 600mm so that is not an option for all. I’m fortunate, it has been an option for me for a longtime and I make use of it whenever I can. You’ve got take advantage of the tools you own to get the shot at the moment. But keep an open mind that there might be other, better options in your future you need to explore. I think photography takes an attitude.
Photography is a mixture of so many elements, most can easily site off the technical. While important, my mind when the eye is to the viewfinder goes to the subtle. Little details which get overshadowed by the technical I find more challenging and the little elements that separate a photo from a keeper to a favorite to one I want to share. When you consider that you often have less than a second to grap someone’s visual attention with your photograph, favoring towards the mind’s eye often gains you a longer glance and time with your photo. I’m greedy, I want all the time I can earn which is just one of many reasons I shoot with the D4.
This series of an American Osytercatcher photographed down at Fort DeSoto a few weeks ago is an example of what I’m talking about. Using a panning plate, attach a D4 with 600VR2 with TC-14e attached, I laid on the sand waiting. The Oystercatcher doesn’t really like to be approached by will approach you. With that, you don’t have complete control, the Oystercatcher picking the place for its portrait. When this Oystercatcher strolled up for its session, I waited for the pose and then laid on the hammer.
What am I mumbling about? If you look closely at the 3 images, you will see a very slight difference in the background any body gesture. It is very slight but I was able to capture it by letting the motordrive rip. The difference in the wave, leg and head though is what I seek but seeing it and hitting the button at times just isn’t possible so I let the motordrive make it happen. Then, back at the Mac Retina I look for that moment as I go through the images. In the end, it’s just the one, single image that goes out. In this case, it’s the bottom image that I like the best. It’s a really small detail, very subtle but that’s what I’m lookin for to grab just a few more moments of your visual attention.
“Where’s the blog, you OK?” has been a common email the last month. This has been in response to many days where there simply was no blog. You might remember a while back (nearly 2 yrs ago) I said I was going to challenge myself by posting five days a week, multiple posts a day to see how that would effect my basic daily activities. I can tell you honestly, it greatly impacts it since blog posts take time, especially since the majority of the time, it’s new image content. Well when the year flipped over to 2013, I looked at my goals and the blog which was at the top, went to the bottom. The reason is many the biggest being I’ve decided to shoot more than ever (filed over 3TB in 2013 so far). I’ve also taken on other projects that simply are more important to me than blogging like a madman. Now I’m not going to stop blogging and those days when I can do what I’ve been doing, multiple posts will go up. But there will simply be days when there is no new post and you’ll have to satisfy yourself with the nearly 3500 pages already present. I want to thank you loyal few who keep dropping by and write and will continue to help you the best I can through the blog.
What you see here is the eastern view from Dante’s View this morning in Death Valley. Just concluded a great week with some great photographers! They were up for any challenge including this morning with below freezing temps a giant breeze to make some gorgeous images. This is a simple click taken with the D4 and 24-70AFS with +.3 exp comp to pull the detail. The light is doing all the heavy lifting for me, I just had to frame it and go click. I like that kind of photography.
Which came first, the pixel or the chicken? Personally, I think it was the heart! I’m of the opinion that when you follow your heart and not your head in photography, things tend to turn out better more often. No, the photograph will not always be perfect but often, that’s not really the point. Perserving the memory is often all that’s required, and that’s all about heart. At the same time, we photographers want to put our best foot forward in the process. It’s just what makes us tick. And this is often where things collide!
The top photo is a single click made with the D4 and 18AF. To get there from the bottom picture which is the image straight from the camera, all I had to do was a couple of things. First, stand as tall as possible at a distance so the lighthouse isn’t tipping over. Next, wait for the clouds to partially obscure the sun. I know I’m not going to hold the detail and that’s just fine. Lastly, I had to know what I could do in post. The majority of the finishing was done in ACR which, after running my basic preset, I took the Shadow slider right, highlight slider left and clicked Open. I then selected just the sky and ran Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 Detail Extractor on the sky. And with that, I was done so all I had to do was go click and then hit the digital darkroom and finish. Na, not the greatest but then not bad for shooting in the sun as we ran to the car. All of this and more is possible with heart!
On 15-17 Feb, 2013 we’re pulling a couple of all nighters as we stare at the heavens and photograph the stars. We’ll be doing every sort of heavenly photography we can from trails to portraits, time lapse to stills. Set in the amazing and historic Alabama Hills, we have a great setting for the weekend. We’ll meet in Lone Pine, CA on Friday evening to go over strategies, gear check and howdies and then head to the Alabama Hills for our first all nighter. The next day we’ll meet up long after the sun is up and go through our images, look at the different methods of assembling our previous nights work and get ready for Saturday night shooting. After grabbing an early dinner, we’ll go out for sunset and getting into position for a fun night of shooting and ghost stories. We’ll finish up after breakfast on Sunday morning. The price is $495 which includes preclass materials, instruction and guiding only. Some have asked what if we have clouds? Then we suffer through with landscape photography in the hills. Either way, we’re going to have a great time! This is one workshop where bringing a sleeping bag might just be a must. Look forward to shooting the stars with you! 760.924.8632 / 661.204.1506 9-5 M-F.
In the spring in FL, there is a species I seek out, the Double-crested Cormorant. A species that normally is about as ugly as the bird world has to offer up, comes to life in the breeding season. It’s plumage and especially the flesh around the male’s eye just ballistic with great colors even if just in the shades of black and blue. At the same time, it’s a Double-crested Cormorant! When you have though a basic color overall with a splash of color contrast and you use focus to select it, you can have your cake and eat it too. Shooting still with the D4 with 600VR2 with TC-20e3, this male on a lone perch could be optically selected and then it’s start of breeding plumage to the rest. Then with a dabble of light kissed it, well, it was a good afternoon to stand and watch the rookery.
Birds on a wire, it’s just never been my thing. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s just as you know, I’m picky about perches and wire just doesn’t cut it. With that said, when you have an opportunity, do you pass it up just because you’re picky? In this case, this sweet Broad-winged Hawk was having a great time harassing the ibis at a rookery. No way it would take one, it just seemed like it was flying about making them flush just because it could. I watched it with a huge smile. Then it landed on this wire. I’d not photographed a Broad-winged for a long time, since film days! So when I have an opportunity to update my digital files with a new species, I’m off to the races!
Sadly, the hawk loved wires for perches so that was my only option. Using the D4 with 600VR2 with TC-20e3 I walked around so the light was on my back to get a shot. The little guy was funny as hell as it tried to keep it balance. I shot a video I need to post as I expected any moment for it to do a 360 spinning on the wire. But then it flew only to land on another perch. This one at least had a background better than gray skies. While not a killer shot and while on a wire, I have digital files now of the Broad-winged Hawk. Even better is a have a video that on a slow day in the office I can watch that will make me smile. What else can you ask for in life!
Another way to win the uncommon challenge is knowing a little bit about your subject and waiting for the uncommon to appear in your viewfinder. Here a Royal Tern is busy preening and in that process will eventual get to the last two shots. To make this happen, you first get the physical distance you need to get to get the image size you want. Next, you look at the position of the subject in the frame leaving room for the hoped behavior to occur and not get clipped by the frame. Finally, watch for the behavior and when you see it coming, lay on the hammer and file some frames. The love the last two frames and that’s what I was after. The soft light, the white, black and orange and the shape of that bill all make what I love about Royal Terns. So another way to win the uncommon challenge is not only knowing your subject, but having a passion for it.
The Snowy Egret is a great bird, gorgeous and thankfully for new wildlife photographers, the perfect patient subject. It is also a dirt common bird across North America. These factors all add up to making this gorgeous bird very common seen in photographs by the thousands. Does this mean you stop shooting it? Quite the contrary, you shoot it more! Why? It’s a challenge, an exercise a reward to get the shot of the common in an uncommon way. Do you always win this challenge? Hell no! Does it take much to win this challenge? Hell no! A couple of ripples reflecting the morning sun, a drip of water off the bill hitting the reflection of the bill in the water and you’re on your way. No, not a winner in the overall sense of the word, it is in the challenge of taking the common and making it uncommon. It’s essential training in the wildlife photography pursuit.