It’s my favorite time of the year in the Eastern Sierra, monsoon season! Monsoon moisture down in the Gull of California brings the moisture and the heat of the Owens Valley makes the afternoon clouds. In the mid afternoon, we can have down pours that literally create creeks where hours before was dirt. Other than the lightning hitting a very dry forest possibly causing fires, this summer event is something I always look forward to. Why? The clouds have such drama that you can almost shoot anything with them and you have a great photo. It takes no talent, just some time.
There are many ways to photograph these massive towers of moisture but chasing them at sunset it one of the most rewarding. The challenge is finding the spot to make your stand. That’s because as the sun sets, the thunderheads loose their main power source and as such, loose their energy and dissipate. They also loose their energy as they drop their moisture (known as rain). These factors make the clouds fall apart really fast. I’ve chased these giants many times only to have them turn into nothing in minutes. See the peaks in the foreground in there photos? They are there not only because of scale but also because they keep sending up jets of energy which keeps the clouds around as long as possible. If you look at my big cloud photos, you almost will always see peaks in the foreground, that’s my trick.
Photographically, remember two things, you need a split grad and need to switch WB to Cloudy. The tops of the thunderheads can be thousands of feet above their base which means they still have sun when the bases do not. You don’t want that white at the top taking the eye up and away. Use the split grad to pull them tops back down. Switch to Cloudy WB not because you’re shooting clouds but for the reds. AWB just never captures the reds like Cloudy and your want the reds. After that, just have fun and enjoy the show. It’s one of Mother Nature’s best!
I’ve been up to my eyeballs with office work, yuck, so treated myself to some time off finishing images from this past weekend at Mono Lake. I wanted to finish the images to enhance the storm more so went into OnOne Software new Perfect Suite 6.1 for some fun. This really have done a really nice job with this update with more filters, layers and opacity on the preview. Being able to add filters together doesn’t hurt either! So what we have here, the top image I used Daily Vitamin, a filter I’m getting to really like. The next image is a combination of Magic Ocean (50%) and Texture Booster. The bottom image is simply Magic City. All of them are finished off with Borders > Black Key Frame.
One of the hardest things about landscape photography I think is learning the post so when you go click, you already know what you can do and how your want to finish an image in post. On those really great shoots, everything falls into place so you don’t have to do a single thing to finish the photograph. Often, especially when you only have one shot at an image, you have to finish some aspect of the photo. Knowing the possibilities of post give you a broader vision when you go click. If you’ve not tried OneOne Perfect Suite 6.1, download it and try it free for 30days. But here’s the warning, once you try it, you’ll buy it. Have fun with your photography and you will be rewarded!
This past weekend was our first Mono Lake Weekend and the luck was with us! We had a freak winter storm come through the Sierra on Memorial Weekend leaving not only snow on the ground but great clouds floating past. To say Mono Lake has been photographed a few times is an understatement. The goal is to make the uncommon of the common and when you have nasty weather, you have an opportunity to do just that. If nothing else with such weather, you sure not going to be bored! Typical Moose style, we were at the lake at 04:30 to greet the day. It was a mighty dark and gray day at the beginning with a wind putting the waves to work on Mono Lake. With that mix, early morning, clouds and wind, I dialed in some settings into the camera. On the hope we’d have some sun for color at sunrise, I set the WB to Cloudy. With the dramatic clouds, I put the 18AF on the D4 and with the wind, I closed the lens down to f/22 and ISO to L1 for the slowest possibly shutter speed. The sun never appeared so the Cloudy WB was a bust. The 18AF definitely brought a drama to the dynamics of the scene and the slow shutter speed captured a flow to the lake’s surface that I like.
With everything working so well except for WB, processing was pretty clear cut. One thing I do in processing a file is follow the same logic that I made the photo by. The subject was the storm, a rather all encompassing subject but has certain elements heightening it. Opening the file in ACR, the first thing I did was remove the blue color cast caused by no sun. Simply grabbed the White Balance tool in ACR and clicked on a white. Then while in ACR, I used the Graduated tool to bring the drama in the clouds to the forefront so the eye is pushed down in the frame. Then in PS CS-6 I ran Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 > Tonal Contrast and Detail Extractor. It was cold, it was windy, it was windy and it was spectacular!
Custer is such an amazing place! Long ago a dear friend shared a secret with me, a place to greet the new day. It’s a place I share with all I bring to Custer because as you can see, it is a glorious spot. There are a couple of key ingredients required to make this happen. The first is getting up early and as you’ll see, we had a great group who had NO problem with this first one. Next was knowing the place to go. Check. Finally, set your WB to Cloudy to capture the color. After that, the rest are in the hand of the photo Gods. The arrangment of elements then just worked the clouds to bring the up up, around down and over to the sun over and over again. One thing I learned this week in regards to the D4 is it does a GREAT job with this kind of scene with one click. With the D3, I would have gone to HDR to bring this image to life. These are single clicks out of the with the 24-70AFS attached with images just processed in ACR.
We had driven past it a couple of hours earlier, but it was in full sun with bald skies. Yuck. When we came back by, the thunderstorm was building and the aperture in the clouds let enough light in to bring drama while providing a great background. So was required was an illegal U turn as we were shooting.
The only real question was, what lens to use? There was actually no right or wrong answer because everyone could make up and tell their own story. I went with the 18AF for a couple of reasons. One was its angle of view, the other is because it’s rectilinear (that’s not a PC). With that, it was simply a question of getting in the right place to relate the three buildings the way I like in concert with the clouds. So, I danced a little as the clouds and the aperture in them moved about.
The bottom image is the one I like the best, then the color version and finally the top image. When I stopped, I saw this at a B&W image but the clouds were changing and that made me move changing how I wanted to actually arrange the three buildings. Then a burst of sunlight came out when made me think color. All of these images are a handheld, 7 image HDR finished with Photomatix Pro and Photoshop.
Photographers love the moon! More then histograms or new lenses, photographers see a moon and it has to be incorporated in the photograph. No matter if it’s a micro dot, no matter if you can’t see the “man on the moon.” If there’s a moon in the sky, it’s in the photograph. This weekends “Super Moon” had photographers around the globe pointing there lenses up shooting the bigger, brighter moon. Our group from Photoshop of Shooter this weekend had photographing the moon as an assignment. How could any photographer pass it up? I’ve seen lots and lots of Super Moon photos on the web and in class and most them miss the point. What’s the subject? If the subject is the moon then can it be alone in the sky with total darkness surrounding? If the Super Moon is the subject, then can it be in the dark sky by itself or does it have to have something in the frame with it for reference?
This photo is kinda a spoof on the whole idea while trying to visually answer all of these questions. If the photo itself is of the moon, you don’t need a Super Moon to go out and photograph the moon. And if the moon is the subject, don’t you need to see the man on the moon otherwise it’s just the sun? And I would think if you’re trying to say visually it’s a Super Moon, there has to be a visual reference to show size. And if you do that, isn’t the exposure range such that, you’re either going to have exposure for the moon or the landscape but not both in one click? I pose all of these questions to simply get photographers to think about what is the subject, what is the story, and how do you communicate that in your photograph whether it’s a Super Moon or a rock in the front yard? The photo here is a double exposure of B-25s on Grimes Field prior to sunrise and the Super Moon. Double exposure which is possible in like the D3 and D4 is the way I would solve all the problems I just mentioned. I would shoot the moon 400mm exposing for it and then switch lenses and shoot the landscape exposing for it. It’s a real old film trick which hasn’t translated to digital much. Anytime you see a moon you like, give it a try. You might just create your own Super Moon!
We started a new tradition at our K&M Adventure Monument Valley of going to some place new neither Kevin or I have been to before. It’s a way to see not only how we deal with a new location, but share visual ideas as they come to us. So this morning on word from some birders (which turned out irronious) we headed to Myakka River State Park. It’s really a gorgeous place, when it’s not hot and there is moody light. We arrived when the ground fog was amazingly thick so we slammed on the brakes and stopped in this great forest area.
I remembered this photo of Jay Maisel’s of light streaming through the redwoods and his joke that he used a smoke machine to get the image. I thought of that because we could smell a fire and see the tint of it in the light streaming through the trees. So that’s what I went after with the camera. My composition was based on a couple of factors. The first was the sun itself, whether I used it as a star burst or hid it behind a trunk. Then there were the God Beams and finally the forest. So I did a dance working those elements into the frame.
Then there was the shooting. These are all 5 image handheld HDR starting at -1exp comp. Shooting with the 18mm, I could “cheat” DOF by shooting at f/8 which gave me a relatively “fast” slow shutter speed. Then the images were assembled with Nik HDR Efex Pro and then finishing with Nik Color Efex Pro > Glamour Glow. When it comes to my favorite, it’s the bottom image and that’s probably because the light is subtle and not in your face. That might change with time though. I do know it was a gorgeous morning and a lot of fun!
And while standing for a moment taking in all the meaning and history, the folks do leave and the photo does present itself. Peace is a good thing.
“Why do you feel you a need finish your landscape images?” I was asked this question today and it’s really a valid one. Because first and foremost, because I do anything doesn’t mean you need to do the same. To answer the question though, I feel I need to finish my landscape images because my camera has no heart. There are for sure some instances when the camera just can’t capture what the mind’s eye or more importantly the heart saw at that moment of click. There are the technical issues like light range, color and the like which can be dealt with for the most part in post. But then there is the romantic impression of that moment, something a metal beast can’t feel, capture or communicate. I can’t stress enough that I need my landscape images to say, “You need to be here” and not say “I was here.” My landscape photography is a direct off shoot of my wildlife photography. The critters I so love and fight to preserve will only do so if their homes aren’t bulldozed. I get you to love their homes, the landscape they call home, then I get you to preserve the critters. It’s really that simple for me, save the land, save the critters ergo, I need you to fall in love with the landscape. So my landscape images must grab your heartstrings and tug…alot!
In this case, the finishing was real simple. I started with ACR, the same version you’re now enjoying in LR4 and soon to enjoy in CS6 (it’s the same math, different UI). With that, I then used Nik’s CEP4 Tonal Contrast, Split Gradual and then Viveza to pump up the sand in the foreground and I was done. What you see at the top is the after, and the bottom the original image. You might be saying there is nothing wrong with the bottom image. And you’re be right to be honest with you, if there was I wouldn’t have gone click in the first place. Gotta start with the best capture possible to even think about finishing. I finished the image as described because of the reasons I described above. And you don’t have to do any of it. It’s just my preference for the goals I have for my photography.
The view from The View is simply amazing! One of the BEST aspects is you don’t have to get up bloody early, drive somewhere for a great sunrise! This is literally taken right from my room (#324, my favorite!). I simply open the slider and not even stepping out into the cold breeze, can make this photograph. To bring the color out, I shot a 5 image handheld HDR and then just let Photomatix Pro assemble it. While luck plays a big part in making such images, prior planning helps that luck along. As they say, location, location, location!
You might have been wondering why we sat at Horseshoe Bend for so long. Well, you’d be surprised the photographic opportunities that can come your way when you stop to smell the roses. I heard the boats before I first saw them, then I saw them over in the shadows picking up their clients who were fishing. I wondered if I sat long enough if I could get some aerial clicks of there passing. That’s just what we did, we waited and then every so often a boat would go up stream or down stream, sometimes the same instance. What I had in my mind is an old image taken of a boat with a big wake and while I like what I captured, it’s not what I remembered in that old photo.
What are the elements that work and don’t work in this image? The boat itself isn’t that really visually cool, it doesn’t look like a fast racing boat. The wake though, that is everything! I cocked the camera, framed it all up and finished the photos based on the graphic highlight in the dark green water. Then there was the bank of the river which at times worked and other times didn’t. These are what we had to work with to make the photo.
The bottom photo is my favorite. It combines all the good, ignores the bad and as an “attitude” to the direction of the boat and its wake that works the best. That hint of shore in the top right corner is what works best for me, it gives the whole photo a sense of place. It was fun to sit there, legs hanging over the edge clicking away as the boats shot by down below. It was a great adventure!
(both galleries are the same, a mobile device friendly and a web big image size)
There were two reasons I set the dates for our K&M Adventures Monument Valley trip for this weekend, the phase of the moon (for star trails) and the balloon festival. Now just because you plan it doesn’t mean it will all work out. Two of the three mornings, there was no launch at all but the one morning they did launch and that’s all we needed. Here was my thinking, I want the color of the balloons to pop against the rock. If, and that’s a big if, you can have the balloons backlit, they glow bigtime. The problem is, the balloons keep moving so you might get that one or two cool frame, not the hundreds we came away with shooting front lit.
I filled 2040 images from the 90min of flight time. I went through and selected some of the one that are my favorites for this gallery. I’ve not mentally processed the shooting though. There were some things I learned to repeat and not repeat. And the most magical moment I still have to share. We are simply jumping here so this is all the blog I have time to post but hope you enjoy this small gallery of images. To say it was a gorgeous and inspiring morning of shooting is an understatement. There is more to come and share with you!
In the Bag
The sun, I try to have it in every image I take. Sometimes directly but mostly indirectly. Our first stop this morning (and I want it on the record this morning, K&M started at 07:30!) was Elephant Mesa in Monument Valley. I have no doubt folks were wondering just what the hey I was seeing and thinking as I headed up the wash. Just looking at the scene with your eyes, there was no photograph. But with camera eyes, I say a very cool star burst to be made on a cool formation. Because the sun is a star after all, a star burst just makes perfect sense! What you see here is exactly what I saw with my imagination and bugged over to photograph.
Now how did I know where to walk to in order to get this star burst? Glad you asked, great question! There are a couple of things you need to make a star burst. First is the sun, then closing your lens down and in this case to f/22 and lastly clear skies. I had everything but the clear skies. So I shot over to where by looking on the ground, I could see the shadow from the mesa on the ground with the V from the sun coming through the slot. I went there because with the clouds, I wouldn’t have a clean star burst but rather, a big bright smudge. By carefully moving so the sun was just peaking over the edge of the cut in the mesa, I forced a star burst even with the clouds. The rest was done with a 5 image, hand held HDR (all this was taught to the folks with us so they could all know what I was seeing and confirming, I am nuts).
As I moved away from the mesa, you can see what the clouds do to the star burst. No setting changes were made, I just didn’t have the edge of the rock to make the sun a small light source causing it to flare. It simply doesn’t have the same impact. And this bottom image? Well that’s my favorite. This was the last shot taken when I walked way left because the earth had moved placing the sun further to the west. This permitted me to incorporate a foreground and background much more interesting. So while you’re using a technique to make a star burst, using software to combine exposures, you still have to incorporate the basics of photography to make the final image sing. This is simply just great, fun photography when the light would normally be considered, yuck. Never loose site, it is a star after all!
In the Bag
I’m the son of a rock hound. I grew up with a museum quality collection in my own home that caught my imagination from the very start. Rocks a gazillion years old, fragile ones, hard as rock ones, expensive ones, out of this world as in meteorite ones, fossil ones and even uncut gem ones, (even played with a moon rock). To this day I can still remember going through the drawers of rocks bug-eyed! The one thing that really fascinated me is looking at the collection under different light sources, seeing a whole new world revealed by simply changing the light. Is it any wonder, I shoot rocks?!
While the geology lessons I learned in the process are long forgotten, the light on the rock lessons seems to have stuck. I mean, a rock is a rock is a rock until you light it and then, it can be just about anything your imagination says it is in your photograph! Rocks have a couple of properties I like to exploit in my photographs. There is place, time, shape and texture. These concepts are not unique to just rock photography. But what’s cool about practicing on rocks is they have all the time in the world for you to get it right!
Rocks come in lots of sizes, from those you can place on your desk and light with a flashlight to big ass ones. My favorite Big Ass Rock is Mt McKinley up in AK. We have sat on the slope ten miles away just watching it and the weather it creates for hours at a time. When it comes to photographing it, my favorite lenses are long ones, 600VR or 200-400VR2. Why so long? I want to give that big ass rock place, I want to say in one click without any caption, it’s big! The trick then is not just the lens, but light and atmosphere. If you’ve ever been to Denali Nat’l Park, then you know that just seeing McKinley can be a real trick so you click when you see it because, you can see it. Getting picky might not be an option but that’s just rock photography for you!
On the flip side is a favorite rock of mine I call Split Ass Rock. When I first blogged this photo back in 2001 it got attention more because I was photographed with the brand new, nobody had D1x. Then the laughter about my name for it made it pretty well known. I still get emails asking where is Split Ass Rock in Acadia Nat’l Park on the shore of Jordan Pond? When we took DLWS participants to shoot at the pond, I was asked where the rock was and when I pointed at it, you should have seen the disappointment in folk’s faces. That’s because the rock is so damn small. By getting down in the pond, shooting with a 14-24AFS just a few inches away though, you’d never know it was small. This is just one method of setting place and time in a photo.
One thing I remember so vividly from the drawers of rocks in my mom’s collection was the texture. Each rock / mineral was unique in its texture and weight. When we’d move the black light around, you’d see not only those features but different colors as well. That’s probably why when I’m out rock shooting, I walk around rocks looking. As you walk around, the first thing you’ll notice the pattern of light changes and that either brings our or hides texture and shape (a play of highlights and shadows). A real simple exercise, find a rock and light it with a flashlight and then do a 360 around it. What makes that rock unique will come out at some point and be hidden at another. It’s all a matter of light.
I did a workshop a few years back with my good friend RC. We were at a local lake shooting when I noticed some folks shooting rocks sticking out of the water at edge of the shore. In my typical style, I just made one comment about the photograph. Dry Rocks Suck and walked away. The photographer took their foot and splashed water on the rocks and low and behold, they didn’t suck no more! This is why I often have a bucket with me, to bring life to them rocks when they are in water with water. The colors, shape, texture that pops is better than any Photoshop pluggin can produce!
Now admitting in public I shoot rocks does sound, bad. Teaching folks to shoot rocks, sounds like I’ve lost my marbles (a form of rock humor). But I have seen many a shooter of rocks totally baffled by something that never moves and is older than dirt. I think it is because we are visually trying to bring life to something that doesn’t live. What does move is the light and that’s where the challenge lies. Next comes the fact that rocks aren’t often alone, they tend to keep company with other rocks. Most photographers not wanting to hurt the rocks feelings so they include them all in the photo. But you know what they say about company, too many rocks is a crowd! I mean, how many rocks do you need in a photograph to say, it’s a rock?!
Whether alone or in a pile, rocks talk about our earth probably better than any other element because they are something everyone can relate to. The trick then photographically, is to make the uncommon photograph out of the common subject. Perhaps if you tackle this problem with this one element thinking of place, time, shape and texture using just light to speak of these attributes, you might not only come up with some cool rock photos, but improve your overall photography just by understanding light a little bit better. Don’t feel silly giving this a try either. Just remember who suggested it to you. My name is Moose, I shoot rocks!
In the Bag
Ya Hooooo! While it might be just a one day wonder, right now I’ll take ANY storm that brings moisture and mood to the Sierra. Sharon, the dogs & I loaded up the truck and headed north in search of some atmosphere.
We didn’t have to go far, just over the ridge to find the clouds coming down into Mono Basin. I pulled over and made the click just in case the wind kicked up and took what clouds we had and either stacked them up so there was no light or, they scattered to the east falling apart. Thankfully, the evening just got better and the chasing more productive. Oh, the star burst, that’s just shooting with the lens closed down all the way. What you see here is what I saw from the highway and what I saw in my mind as the finished image. This is a 5 image, HDR hand held finished in Photomatix Pro, ACR & then Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.
When multiple storms blow through the Sierra, winds plays a big part of the whole process. We typically know a storm is coming because winds proceed it. When we have multiple storms, the wind still comes but as it goes over the Sierra crest, it tends to create windows in the clouds. And these are just great subjects for B&W photography. I’m incredibly fortunate that I can, just like I did here, watch out the windows and when I see the light happening, step out and shoot. How do I know when to step out and shoot?
I look first for some blue sky and then a pattern between that blue and the clouds. I do this because I know this pattern when I do to B&W is what brings the eye into the frame. The Structure slider in Silver Efex Pro pulls out amazing texture and I’ve come to rely on that in these types of images. I first use the blue slider under the Luminance Tab in ACR to darken the blue sky which sets up the contrast with the white. This brings the drama to the B&W. It’s pretty much that simple.
I’m so wishing for the white stuff because right now, our front yard meadow is just brown. Argh! So I went skiing through the files to find some of the white stuff from days past. I didn’t have to go far, Feb in Yosemite. I found these two images which I hadn’t processed yet. I know why they weren’t processed, they are a reminder that I still haven’t got this one shot I’ve always wanted from Yosemite.
When you walk into the Mountain Room on the far wall is this sweet photo of cedars in the fog. I’ve always admired and wanted that photo but have never been presented with the opportunity to create my own version. But I’m always looking and when I see the fog mixing with the trees, my lens points in that direction. Now there are three elements in that photo in the Mountain Room I like. First is obviously the fog. Next are the trees and lastly is the color contrast of the trunks of the trees in the fog. Now the top photo is a total looser in my book. While it has the three elements, they just aren’t working. I like the bottom image better but it’s missing that color contrast which I’m looking for. So, if it ever starts to snow again, I’ll be out looking.
Now when it comes to the camera capture end of this process, exposure is the first thing. This is one instance where I overexpose in the camera and then yank back the blacks in post. This is the first time I finished images using the improved Graduated Fog in CEP4. It did a really nice job enhancing the fog that was present without increasing the noise or blur. So while I don’t have the image, I a camera and finishing battle plan. But dang, where’s the snow?!