The entire gang from our Yosemite Adventure wanted the shot of the tree over the rock. I said Olmstead Point was the place to go. Once there, they said, “Where’s the tree?” so i turned and pointed up, up the mountain. And before you could say Half Dome (which we shot at sunrise), up the hill we went. Two folks unknown to me until we got down, had sever fear of heights. But when it comes to getting the photo, even that didn’t stop them from climbing to the top as well. I went up with minimal gear, D4, 18-35AFS & 16Fish knowing two things, I wanted the big vista and was shooting B&W (also, I was going up so less was more!). In the background is Clouds Rest & Half Dome, so this is the lang of big vistas and B&W! The dome behind Olmstead Point itself is a picture rich area so we shot all the way up and all the way down. With the sun just coming over the horizon, it offered us many great opportunities, this is just one of them.
This dome is polished smooth from the same glacier creating Yosemite Valley. The pines that find a crack to germinate and grow all have great character. This is one of the larger ones so the combination of it and granite, well make for a photo. So with the 18-35AFS attached shooting at 18mm, I bent down and took the shot. It’s truly one of those, “I was here shots” at best. Boring! I knew that there was a photo here, had to get it out. What was it lacking? First was the sun, it wasn’t helping. Close the lens down to f/22 and then move so it was just peaking through the tree, we’d get the starburst. OK, with that I can change position and use the shadow as a line for the eye to move through the frame. To do that, I need to go wider so the 16Fish replaced the 18-35. OK, making some improvement but we can do better. OK, gotta nice boulder, small but it works. Lay on the granite face, get close to the boulder in the left corner (knowing I was going to light it in post) and move so the sun was peaking through the tree and wham, a photo was born. There are those times when you know there is a photo but the first click just doesn’t work. Those are the times when you gotta dig down and ask yourself what’s not working and do the dance. Because your heart knows a photo exists, you’re in there somewhere.
When we first arrived in the Tetons, there was quite a bit of fall color even though it seemed we were well past peak. But we kept finding great patches of color up to yesterday. It brings up the question, how much fall color do you need to have in your photo to say fall. We all love the rolling hillsides a blaze with color, this requiring the perfect season and your perfect timing. I don’t know about you, but scheduling my travels a year in advance, making everything line up can be a challenge. So can we say fall without the blazing hillside?
Here are two simple methods of doing it. The first is getting down low and fill the frame with backlit color and include the sun. Shooting with the D4 / 18-35, I got down low, closed down the aperture to f/22 and went click. Than, and this is the important part, I went into ACR and brought up the shadows and brought down the highlights. The color in the middle tree is nearly gone, the tree on the far right of the frame is naked but with that sunburst in the upper right corner, the mind’s eye fills it in and we have great fall color. Another method is to find just the right sprig of color and work with it. The bottom photo is an example of this. In a forest that was mostly stumps, this one little bit of fall color remained alongside an old barn. To optically extract it the business on the right side, the sky in the top right corner, I shot with the 80-400. I used a tripod in this case because I cranked the DOF way up to get the closest leaves in focus as well as the barn side. And than with the resulting low shutter speed, I needed the tripod as the wind tried my patience. But just that hint of color makes the mind think of vast fall color. While our color is slipping away, get out and make the most of what we have left, it will brighten your winter that is just around the corner.
The desert is such a magical place especially when you look, I mean really look. When the monsoons are blowing through, they take on a kaleidoscope of colors as the miracle of water brings new life as summer takes its last bite at heat. Photoshop World is held in Las Vegas in September which is a drive from our home due east and then when coming home, directly due west. The route covers some amazing desert and desert ranges and it never fails to produce memorable images. Of course, they are memorable to us because we love the desert and the drive. The trick, to make the photo to help you fall in love with it.
There are a couple of critical elements needs to make this happen. The first are brakes, that means not that they are working on your vehicle (which is required no matter what) but that you have the time to use them. When traveling, stopping to take a photo takes time and that fact often stops folks from stopping. Next, you need to have your camera in your lap, or really close, so you can shoot out your window fast if need be. On this day, I shot with the D4, 18-35AFS & 80-400VR3, having all three right next to me. Then for me personally, I’m looking at the shadows, the blacks which define the shape, texture and visual depth. Those three elements are what I like to use to get you to fall in love with the desert. When it comes to finishing, I did my usual playbook, CC ACR and than Perfect B&W. With time being the key, the rest is simple, at least I hope it’s simpler with this because, I can’t help you with the time.
With the D4/800 in my lap and Puffin Pad beside me, Sharon & I took off to check out Upper Souris NWR outside Minot, ND. The Upper Souris is a location I’ve long heard about so wanted to see it for myself. I was really hoping our timing would be perfect for the hatch of grebes but such was not the case. We were about 10 days late, the chicks too old to be floating around on their parents backs. But the trip was anything but a bust!
I put the 800mm away and grabbed the 18-35AFS and 24-70AFS and worked the amazing fields of Mustard that seemed to stretch to the horizon. The skies were nearly perfect for landscape photography even though the sun was high in the sky. In fact, I don’t think I would have wanted the sun any other place. The bright, cheery yellow screams for bright and cheery. There is no filters, no post processing, these are simply images out of the D4. The ones I like the best are the ones that show a little topography to the mustard fields. A little creek at a diagonal was something I seeked. To say getting back, earlier to the area is on the calendar. We saw nearly 50 species of birds and that with being technically “late” so I can’t wait to see what we’d find being ontime.
I had a w h o l e bunch of emails asking about star bursts from yesterday’s blog. The questions are two part, how do you create them and how do you know where to place them. The creation is pretty simple, just close your lens down all the way and shoot. Now you want clear skies and a clean front element / filter. You can increase the star burst effect by “squeezing” the sun like just letting it peek around the edge of a limp or rock. But the biggest thing is your lens, or rather its aperture. The best thing to do is simply step out of the home and shoot the sun with your lenses and look at the star burst pattern they create. I saw the star burst created by the Canon 16-35 and it’s schweet! Right now, my favorite in my bag is with the 18-35AFS
When it comes to placement in the frame, I have no formula to really offer you. Keep in mind that being the lightest/brightest in the frame, the mind’s eye will be stuck on the star burst big time. The rest of the elements in the frame will take a back seat to it. Also keep in mind, you’re shooting into the sun, that means everything else in the frame will be for the most part backlit, in silhouette. If that’s the case, how come these Tufas aren’t all black? Shooting with the D4 and its six stop dynamic range, I simply used the Shadow Slider in ACR 8.1 and pulled the shadows back (you can do this with most bodies these days with tons of success). The bottom photo, there were two other photographers with their tripods in the scene when I took it. This image, it’s the cloud in the top right that were important. So I took the prime frame even though the two photographers were in the frame. Once they left I took the second shot just for the parts of the Tufa they blocked. I processed both files in ACR at the same time and then layered the two frames and painted in the Tufa where the photographers stood. Now they’re gone. So the bottomline answer to the question is, just gotta thing a little and the rest is really simple!
When you have that bald sky and strong sun, another subject is available to you at Mono Lake. Getting there takes understanding a little bit about what is Mono Lake. The strange sculptures we love to photograph, the Tufas, are created underwater. If you’re wanting to be able to tell the story of Mono Lake visually, then including this process is part of the storytelling.
The other part is seeing beneath the water to visually tell that story. A polarizer is your standard tool because it removed the reflections of items such as clouds so we can see beneath the surface. But when you have blad skies and strong sun, you don’t need the polarizer, yo’ve just just gotta look down. So with the 18-35AFS on the D4, I pointed down.
Wanting to bring some visual depth to the photo, I try to have three planes to the photograph, the foreground, middleground and background. In this case, the dry, above surface piece of tufa is the foreground, the detail under the water is the middleground and the reflection of the sun the background. Now this is something I’m not really great at so it takes me time to find all the elements and get them to come together in the viewfinder. But when they do like these and they work, I do like them. They help tell the Mono Lake story just a little deeper.
An over active imagination? Ya, I have one of those! My love affair with rocks is pretty well known and that’s due in part to my imagination. For example this one at Lake Tahoe, it looks like a fish monster rising its head from the depth to spit out some chewing tabaco on us dumb photographers getting up early on a bald sky morning to shoot rocks. Perhaps a little more nuts is not only seeing this but then shooting to bring it out. Getting down near water level with D800 (ya, even wanted extra detail in the head) with the spooky sharp 18-35 and then processing it in Perfect Suit 7 B&W. Of course, when I say out loud what I was seeing, I was perceived as nuts and that is probably very correct. But then getting up early on a bald sky morning, is nuts!
There are many reasons and uses for B&W photography just as there are for color. In understanding some of these, you can expand your use of this very romantic medium. One that I’ve not talked about (at least I couldn’t find it on the blog) that I use a lot is detailed texture. No, this is not some official photographic term, just the simple term I keep in the back of my mind when it comes to B&W photography. While in Yosemite a week ago, I was fortunate to have a number of opportunities to practice this concept. It starts with “flat light,” light where there is no real shadows. Why is that important? Because you can then use the contrast of B&W to bring out detailed textured rather then fighting shadows. Next, spring hadn’t spring so there were lots of bare trees and bare branches work great for this. After that, just had to let the magic of The Valley in and go click!
What I have here are two different foreground but the same basic everything else, trees. Now the one thing you might think is a requirement in capturing detailed texture is a D800E. Well lots of megapixels aren’t required! This was shot with the D4 with 18-35AFS. What is required is lots of DOF (shot at f/22 / f/29) and since shooting in a forest, a tripod. Then a personal thing, I underexposed a little more than normal so I have tons of highlights to pull out in post. Then it was simple a little ACR processing and then my favorite, onOne perfect 7 B&W shooting the Detail slider up to around 35. The one drawback to B&W detailed texture is that this image size you see here really doesn’t show off the detail. I’ve already made a 24×30 of the top image and at that size, there is oodles of texture and just sucks you in. Just thought I would pass along the thought.
As per my normal MO, I looked at the weather radar and weather forecast before heading out. Now when I saw small craft advisory and Gale Warning, I thought I’d best have my shell handy and white towel from my room along. As we drove the island, we couldn’t help but notice that the calm waters of the day before replaced with white caps. We stopped at The Reef to see the outdoor lounge chairs and tables being blown about the deck and folks scrambling to secure them. When I looked up, I couldn’t believe the speed in which I saw the lower level clouds rip past us! We didn’t stop, we just kept on going. We get to Glass Beach and I looked out to see this wall of black. I said to the gang, “Best get moving, we have minutes!” Two minutes later the rains from the gale combined with its winds hit us and I mean, hit us! Within seconds I was soaked except under my shell where I had tucked the D4 / 18-35AFS when I felt the first drop on my head. I’ve been in a lot of rains in my day, but never one like this with the wind speed rain felt like rocks. And just as fast as it hit, it was gone! In fact, it was gone so fast I found myself wanting it back to experience again. It was cool!
Have you ever noticed how moths can find even the smallest drop of light in the night? Ever wonder how they do that (or why?)? I do especially when they are buzzing about bugging me. But I don’t really think we’re much different, other than we don’t have wings. We seem to gravitate to light just like moths, but I think at times we miss the smallest, simplest light in favor of the big, bright light. This past week in Grand Canyon, I once again thought about how much light we really need?
I’m not talking exposure here, don’t want to step on that land mind. Rather, I’m talking about in the overall scheme of our image, how much of the scene, subject, story needs to have light on it? Can we make do with the smallest possible amount and still have a successful photograph? I want to propose that ya, we can be successful with the smallest amount of area lit. Why?
With the mind’s eye going to light and bright first, does it take much to trigger this response? I think when the overall scene is dark, then no, the smallest amount will do. And when you add to that color, texture, sharpness and some other elements, how can the mind’s eye help but latch onto that spot, instantly? Then if all of is true, how much light do YOU need?
Read a good book lately, a mystery perhaps? Was the book really good because the author didn’t put everything on the table at once? You had to continue to read to get all the pieces so you could get to the light at the end of the tunnel. What if you incorporated this same communication technique in your photograph?
Rather than going and lighting everything, perhaps try adding more shadows, mystery to your photograph using just a dabble of light strategically placed. This is an example of what I’m talking about. The morning sun just peeked through a hole in the morning clouds. It was raining so the beam of light was displayed in the falling rain until it smacked into the temple and lit it up. Making the photo took no more than realizing that this was all the light the photograph needed. Anymore light and the beam would disappear and the small degree of detail lost in a sea of information. So next time you’re out shooting, be it with ambient light or flash, ask yourself as you peer through the viewfinder, “How much light do you need?”
Jake & I made another what we call a “suicide run” where we hit the road at 3am (on a snowy morning) and drive to SoCal to do a shoot and then drive back home. Twelve hours of driving for a couple of hours of shooting. Like this one, the majority to turn out to be more than worth the time invested driving. And the drive up and down the Owen’s Valley is always gorgeous! We’d just come past Owens Lake where a Air Guard F-16 had crashed 30min earlier when we saw this unique snow flurry on the eastside of the valley. Being so cold, the weight caused this cool little snow storm which for us photographers, was a great shot. So we stopped and shot a couple of frames. After making the couple of shots, we got back in the truck and merged will all the skier traffic heading to our town and proceeded north.
I’d left the D4 / 24-70 out because, well, you just never know what Mother Nature is going to do. We were watching the clouds when all of a sudden what seems to be an updraft took this cloud and gave it a very bad hair day! Loved the shape, loved the light and loved the “bad hair” look to the top of the cloud. The thing that always amazes me is that the really cool shots just take a minute to happen. Then a minute later they are gone. It’s your being there that minute that counts! It was a great road trip with a great ending. Oh, and that plane crash, it was reported the pilot was seen ejecting and then later walking across the lakebed carrying his parachute.
Have you ever had a day when, you’re on a photo expedition but you simply wake up not in the photographic mood? You’ve traveled somewhere special, you have new toys with you and the photography up to that point has been excellent and your hard drives are full. And yet, that morning things in your head just weren’t clicking. I have days like that and I hate them! They are a two edge sword, you don’t feel like shooting and you feel guilty for not feeling like shooting. Staying in bed in not an option, gotta push through it.
A minor case of this happens at certain locations when I simply don’t feel the love. That happened to you? Be it the weather, your mood, the light or the company (or lack there of), you get out of the car and you simply don’t see a photograph to save your soul. I hate times like that but they happen and they happen more times than not. But you’ve traveled some distance and taken some time to be at this place. You can’t just crawl back under the covers!
I ran into this problem A LOT when I first started out. We traveled somewhere and the mental road block would smack me right between the eyes. It was expensive but I found totally by accident a solution for the photography blues. I remember the morning on the California Coast with the F3 in my hand. By accident I hit the firing release button (never found a cure for that screw up) and I ripped off a bunch of frames. It finished the roll so then I had to rewind it which the motordrive did for me. And all of a sudden, with that sound of the motordrive the mind snapped and I saw a photo. It sounds so lame but for me, it works.
So we were in New Hampshire no to long ago and it was one of those mornings when, there wasn’t a pixel to burn on nothin! There wasn’t even a stupid image to put up on twitter…how bad is that?! We had tickets for the Conway Scenic Railroad so I knew that if nothing else, I would have a cool ride. But I knew I wouldn’t be doing this again anytime soon so the guilt started to weigh in. I went into my mode to bust out, a great thing abut HDR. Why HDR? How many frames do ya gotta take to do a HDR? Even though I was shooting with the D600 which only takes 3 frames (18AF attached), I started to screw around. While I ended up deleting those photos that night back in my room, the sound of the motordrive triggered the Pavlov’s Dog in my head and I got back to shooting.
Now the top photo is not one I would recommend you doing. The train on the right is off on a siding and not moving. The train on the left if what we’re on and I’m obviously handing out the window further then I should be. The shutter speed was 1/3 @ f/22 (ISO100), the camera strap wrapped around my wrist and elbows pulled in tight against the outside of the train. And now with my photo mojo workin again, we went chasing back up the tracks after the ride to find this boxcar we’d seen during out ride. This is a 7 frame HDR, handheld shot with the D4 and 18AF. Not too bad of images for a day starting off with the photo blues. Now I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but next time you’re feeling this way, just hold down the shutter release and let the sound of the slamming snap you out of it. You follow my train of thought?
One of the challenges of landscape photography is creating visual depth in our photograph. When we have a wide sweeping vista, to communicate to the mind’s eye that it is sweeping, we have to trick it. This is because we are presenting the vista in a very one dimensional manner, computer monitor, iPad, printed page. This is a very flat medium for a very three dimensional scene. How do we trick the eye into seeing depth?
One of the easiest ways to do this is with an anchor point. The anchor point is an item in the foreground that is in focus that the eye can lock on to and then wonder out into the photograph. You have to be selective, just anything in the foreground doesn’t fill the bill.
A beer can in the foreground is not an anchor point. The foreground anchor point has to be of interest as well, part of the story yet not so interesting the eye doesn’t go into the frame.
In this series, you can see the scene as I saw it that evening. With the D4 / 18AF, I walked down to the shore at Mono Lake with the top scene being the first image. No anchor point, not real visual depth. The second photo has an anchor point but it’s too busy. The bottom photo is the best anchor point I could find at that moment. It’s a little too massive for me but it was the best option at the time. You can see though how with that element in the foreground we start to introduce visual depth in the photo. It helps create three planes, foreground, middle ground and background which brings depth to our otherwise one dimensional photo.
Ever seen those photos of the landscape with a sky full of stars rather than sunshine? I have and when I can, I take them. The problem is, they often don’t turn out all the great. This is the first ones I’ve done with the D4 and I was really impressed by what it was producing. Along with that was just the right combination of lunar and sun light. Pointing the camera northwest from the South Tufa parking lot, you could get a little bit of Mono Lake, Sierra Crest and the heavens.
The 24f1.4AFS was still attached, lens set to infinity with gaffers tape holding the focus, ISO to 1600 at f/2.8. I kept lookin around as the shutter was open because the clouds were constantly moving. Seeing a cool scattering, I turned to the southwest and shot. I like htis one because the outhouse airstacks in the photo look like some old western cabin chimney. Opps…did I ruin the illusion for you? These top two photos are moon light influenced.
This bottom photo is sun influenced. Now if you were standing with us and looking to the east, you would have barely, barely seen the glow on the horizon. But an 8sec exposure, it can see it no problem and that’s part of the trick. It’s kind of a balancing act between stars, sun and landscape. This turned out though really cool as fas as I’m concerned because we can see Mono Lake, stars and Area 51 in the east. The perfect way to start the day! If you want to learn this and more about photographing the stars, be sure to join us for our Star Trails Workshop in 2013!
I’m not sure what I enjoy more, photographing flowing water or, listening to the water as I’m photographing it. Whatever the case, I do enjoy it. The process of capturing flowing water, I illustrated a few weeks ago and it hasn’t been modified so far since then. And when it comes to time spent at a location, the reason why I park at times in one location for so long I expressed in this post. And while what I want to talk about now, I’ve taked about before, I wanted to elaborate on a bit more by telling the story of one afernoon. Much of what I want to talk about is summed up in this photo.
This is Flume Gorge in the White Mountains, NH. During our K&M Adventures a couple of weeks ago, we ventured to the Gorge the first time in the mid afternoon. The light was OK at best but the crowds, oh my lord! There wasn’t a place to wedge a pixel into! We didn’t stop, we just kept on driving to another gorgeous locale.
The next day, all bundled up to embrace the cold, we headed over to the Cog Railroad to get a ride to the top of Mt Washington. A great ride, we were really looking forward to it. We got there to see the cloud ceiling getting lower, the winds higher, snow blustering and the railroad only running 3/4 up the mountain. After shooting around the railroad for an hour, we packed it in and went back down the mountain. The light was dark, it was raining by the time we got down the mountain. The choice was either head back to the lodge or….I said let’s go back to the Flume. Off we went. We arrived 30min later about an hour before sunset (though we couldn’t see the sun) to a basically empty parking lot. Up the hill we went. It was raining, foggy, empty and gorgeous in the gorge! The story doesn’t lie here either
The higher we climbed into the gorge, the more we got into the clouds and the more gorgeous it all became. With that rain, there wasn’t a dry rock to be found anywhere (dry rocks suck) and the color in them was spectacular! We got up to the Flume proper and the magic was happening everywhere we turned. It just goes to show, the worst weather can produce the best photography. That’s still not the point.
The group sets up their tripods, we dialed in our exposures (these are 5sec blurs) and we had just settled down to shoot this unbelievable scene before us when…the hords show up! Seriously, I felt like I was in Africa when the Water Buffalo are crossing the river as the hords of people just kept going by! The tripods were vibrating off the bridge! Where in the hell did they come from? The light levels were falling, we didn’t have the luxury of time, what do you do? I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. I knew some images would be soft, even deleted some in camera knowing when I pushed the shutter release they would be soft. Heck, in the top image, you can see ghosts of the folks walking right through the exposure. And still I kept shooting and loving every moment of it! Photographic opportunities like the one we were experiencing don’t happen everyday. I was shooting with my best friend making some rather crud but poignant jokes about our situations and listening to the roar of the Flume shooting some images I loved.
And that’s the point! When it’s raining, your shoot goes down the drains and you’re having to make lemonade, even after finding success at that you still find yourself in less that ideal shooting conditions, you still find joy in that moment behind the camera. It’s hard at times when you’ve invested so much in finding that moment behind the camera only to have something “spoil” it. But you’ve still gotta enjoy that moment. Because not everyone gets to do it, we are fortunate we can scratch out that moment. And while I couldn’t believe the misfortune of that hord descending upon us, it did make me smile to watch them in the rain, enjoy being out in our wild heritage. I’m a firm believer the photos will happen when they are meant to happen and not before. It’s our mission to be there when they do and then celebrate that moment with others in the images we do capture! That’s shooting the flume!
I’m coming off simply an amazing 8 days of shooting in some great places with great folks and have so much to share, I honestly don’t know where to start! Sharon & I are now at our friends home in NJ and the blessings simply just keep on going. What I simply wanted to do for your Tuesday, is remind you of just how fortunate we are to be able to get out and shoot the wonders we have around us, thanks to all those who make it possible for me to do what I love to do, and give you a hint of some of the stories to come. Of course, I’ve gotta have a moment to sit down and write them and since I’m on the road for another week (and then only home for 2 days), I’ll do my best to tie a thread through all the photos you see here and a lot more. I’m a very lucky photographer to have such problems!
Why do we wait? Why do some not wait? Life as we all know is fast paced, time seems to slip away even though we wish otherwise. So I often wonder as I watch photography, why they seem to want to make life and time go faster than it already does. It is not like if we do wait it guarantees success and often it’s quite the opposite. But when we do wait, even if we do get skunked, we still come away with the sweetness of that time we did stop, smell the roses and wait. I treasure those moment when I can do just that, stop and simply let life blow by me knowing, that’s what life should be doing at that moment
And such was this morning. We got up early and hit the road as usual on K&M Adventures to chase the light. We headed to a favorite Pemiquad Lighthouse, a very unique and moody lighthouse on the ME coast. When we arrived, the light was hidden behind clouds. But we knew with time, it would appear. We just didn’t know how it would appear. So we positioned ourselves for when that moment, if it happened, we could make the photo. What you see is 30min of sweet time just smelling the sea breeze with the sound of the crashing waves waiting. As it happened, the sun broke for just a heartbeat to make this scwheeeet image. This is a single click made with a split grad on the lens and nothing more. Oh, there is that one special ingredient that you can’t buy. Time and a love for just watching life go by.
We continued west and when we came down from Westgard Pass and looked towards home, we saw the eastside in gorgeous light with God Beams showing us the direction. Of course we stopped, got out and enjoyed the view and preserved it for all time with our clicks. John Muir called this the Range of Light for a very good reason. It is nearly a daily occurrence, this gorgeous light on an spectacular landscape making photography really quite simple. To make the shot, I made a 5 image handheld HDR that was finished in Nik HDR Pro.
Sharon & I are very fortunate to have two incredible sons who not only like hanging with mom and dad, but are also shooters themselves. We have been doing this photography thing as a family from the very beginning but we never really thought it would turn into a family affair. With that being said, you have to be careful, especially when you hear the request to “hold still.” In this case, Jake was kind to dad making a cool capture. But there are times when my very Photoshop wise sons take creative license with their photos of mom and dad. We are very fortunate!