So we arrive at North Beach lagoon at Fort DeSoto to see nothing, zero, nada bird but a lonely GBH way off in the distance. For the start of our 2nd day of our K&M Adventure FL, I was a bit nervous. I mean, the idea is to be shooting cool subjects. Well, I really didn’t pause, walked right over to the beach. And at first, didn’t see much but then after a couple of minutes, the birds started to appear at the wave line and we never looked back! It was a killer morning, I filled 2009 images from two and a half hours of shooting and like you see above, they don’t suck! I love shorebirds! You’ve got here are Willet, Marbled Godwit, American Oystercatcher and Ruddy Turnstone.
I started out with my rig on the tripod but as soon as I got to the shoreline, I knew I had to get down. Here’s the deal, while shooting from a tripod is just fine, the angle of attack to me is too steep, it includes way too much background which is sand. Yes, sand is where they live but it doesn’t really aid in visually making them pop. So I wanna get down on their level. While this really restricts your movement, when you watch their biology, you can find places to get down and make the shot. If you want to learn the entire technique, head to Kelby Training. The whole thing is about backgrounds, my favorite pet peeve.
And if you’re not shy, like asking questions and want to learn from guys who have been doing this stuff for a combined 60yrs, come along on a K&M Adventure. We have an opening next month in South Dakota, a couple this fall and two next winter in Grand Canyon. For more info or to register, call 760.204.1506. Now, back to the sand, there are more birds to photograph!
K&M headed off to the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs when the light went bad. We went because well, I didn’t want to sit inside on a gorgeous day and wanted to challenge myself. Shooting these kinds of images while teaching is most definitely an uncomfortable place for me. My buds at NAPP had brought me here before so I wanted to take the D4 for a spin amongst the color.
I had a great time just goofin starting with some 5 image handheld HDR. The store fronts are just killer this time of day with Nik HDR Efex pro and then finishing with Silver Efex Pro. One trick I taught the folks is how to shoot glass door like this and not see yourself in the picture. Know the trick? No, guess you need to come on adventure with us. And not, it was done in camera and not in post.
Then it was the most important time of the day…ICE CREAM! While I was sitting there enjoying mine, I looked up and this is what I saw. This is a straight shot out of the camera. I love this! In fact, I think this sums up my whole time at Tarpon Springs and how I felt after going into the uncomfortable zone!
K&M Adventures in down in FL with a great bunch of folks and killer subjects. To get everyone on the same page, warmed up and pixels workin, went to a favorite, secret beach that’s great for cool birds. We had a White phase Reddish Egret come in and then this Tricolored. While note rare, the Tricolored is simple a fun bird as they go through their gyration foraging. For wildlife photographers, they are great practice for long lens panning. With the low light levels, there is an even greater challenge to the photography. What a perfect start!
Then the sun popped up. Right then I was focused in on this Laughing Gull. The sun bounced off the puddle in front of the gull really giving it a “weird” light that for some strange reason, I like. So I clicked and after the first click, off the gull flew.
Then there are the shorebirds. I love Willets and this one coming into its breeding plumage is schweet! Whenever I find a shorebird in breeding plumage, I’m like a bulldog, I just can’t let go. I worked it looking for the elegant portrait like you see here and anything interesting biologically. Never got the biology but sure had fun!
Just had a last minute cancelation in our upcoming, as in two weeks away, K&M FL Adventure. If surf, birds, boats, planes and girls grab your attention (this is an all girl adventure, participant wise except 1 guy) and you can make it, give us a call 760.924.8632. I can’t wait to take the D4 to the beach!
It be filled….the girl part got to ‘em
Yesserie…K&M Adventures is heading to the Grand Canyon, South Rim 21-24 Feb, 2013 for my first workshop ever at the Grand Canyon. Permit is in the mail, lodging is getting set up so I couldn’t wait a moment longer to pull the trigger to tell folks. I’m so excited to be doing this!!!! Now the first thing you need to ask is, why February?
Real simple, the GIANT possibility of storms! Clouds make the Canyon come to life like nothing else and the white stuff sets off the colors better then any digital darkroom technique. It’s simply gorgeous! I’ve shot at the Grand Canyon dozens of times over the decades but waited until now to take a small group to a favorite location of mine. The price is $1995 which includes instruction and transportation once you arrive in Flagstaff. You feel adventerous and wanna push your photography, camera & digital darkroom skills while having a ton of fun at the expense of sleep, then this is the place for you. Call today 760.924.8632 and register for your own slice of Grand Canyon Fun!
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 must understand, this is an incredibly gorgeous, inspirational landscape! I could pull up a chair and sit and stare at the Mitten ALL day long all year long and be very happy! That’s not the same as saying I could sit in the same spot and take photographs of the same view all day long and be happy. The difference? Sitting there you feel the breeze, the bite of the air, the smell of frybread (a real weakness) and the sounds of life. You get NONE of that from a photograph. That’s when the creative, the romantic needs to step in and turn the photo into a feeling that someone not sitting on the edge can feel from the photograph. That’s a huge task!
The top photo is what I saw. While it’s a gorgeous view and I love it, the photograph is….ho hum. I mean, does it really make you want to get out to Monument Valley and stand in the cold to get the same photo? If you’re a romantic, perhaps but it’s a stretch. What’s missing to pull you in, to grab your heartstrings? If you look at any Navajo art, you’d see rich reds and dark blues. Why, because those colors tug big time at the romantic in any person. What two colors are missing from this original capture? Blue and red…ouch! What you see above is the original image processed in just ACR. Using the Luminance panel, the blues are brought down and the reds brought up and while better then the straight capture, it’s still not that romantic capture. That sounds over simpliflied but that romance is so important. (Really, see my Romancing the Landscape 3pt class at Kelby Training if you think I’m kidding)
Looking at the out of the camera view, you might now think HDR was needed. Most think of HDR for times when the light range is beyond the five stop range of our HDSLR. There are two aspects to light I’m always personally thinking about when shooting, quality and quantity. Under the quality category comes color and that’s what we’re missing here in the out of the camera image. We get a little back when processed in ACR but look what comes from a simple 5 image HDR…amazing! Where I start with -1 to -2 dialed in for my normal HDR, in this case I started at Zero because I wasn’t going after Quantity of light but rather Quality, the color aspect. What is here is straight out of Photomatix Pro, no PS added. We now have that Navajo blue and red in our photo. I wanted to show how using realistic HDR for color rather then compacting exposure can bring romance to a photograph. If there is any place on this planet where you should have your love standing next to you to watch the sun set, this is top on the list. That’s what you want in your photograph!
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!
Horseshoe Bend, AZ just outside Page is a pretty popular place. I’d never been there so we decided to take K&M Adventures over there and give it a gander. After the short walk up and over the hill down to the edge, you see it, a big bend in the river that looks like a horseshoe from a plane. Oh, I get it, that’s how it got its name! Any who, the skies were my favorite, bald. The light, nice and hard…yummie! I walked up the edge to the north from where the trail stops (it’s just a 1000 foot drop) to an outcropping where I could comfortably sit, have no rocks on the edge sticking out in the frame and enjoyed the view.
With the 14-24AF, I set the camera to a 5 image bracket starting with a -1 and shot five frames to create this image. Really a pretty simple image to make at this point. This is what the eye saw sitting on the edge
We spent quite some time on that ledge shooting, watching, talking and then after a couple of hours we hiked back over the hill, got in the van and headed down the road. That’s when I asked, “What’s the subject” and with no answer per say I asked “So, how are you going to finish that photograph?” In my mind when shooting you’ve got to know the subject and if you’re going to finish it in post, you most definitely have to know, what’s the subject. So the van talk began.
We’re shooting Horseshoe Bend, that alone provides information on how we need to finish the image. To me, the first big problem is the major shadow on the left side of the frame. If you look at the “eye” view, it’s pretty massive. Ya, we shot HDR but that shadow is still pretty massive. On the flip side, that big piece of rock jutting out at you that makes the “bend” is lit pretty darn flat. That rock is anything but flat but the light doesn’t support reality. With that knowledge, we know the light is pretty contrasty, harsh, nasty, ugly and colorless all adding up to sucks! But here it is, you’re traveling on vacation and you’ve allotted just this one afternoon to see and photograph Horseshoe Bend. You get there and find what we found, very unromantic light and no real photograph. Do you turn around and go home without the photo or like us, click and make lemonade? How do you make lemonade out of this?
This is what we talked about in the van, how to make lemonade. We started with the HDR capture, a means of opening up the shadows a little while protecting highlights. But that wasn’t enough in my book. Using HDR to bust open that shadow will make the photo look like HDR and I don’t want that. So a simple Curve Adj Layer to lighten that left side was the first thing to do. Then, another Curve Adj Layer but this time to darken the right side of that jutting rock to give it some curve. Then I used Nik’s CEP4 Tonal Contrast to bring out the color. After all of this, we don’t have the photograph of a lifetime because when the light sucks, the light sucks. But we also don’t have garbage. We have a photo we can share the wonder of Horseshoe Bend and the viewer of our photograph doesn’t need sunglasses to view it. It’s a clean image which is the best we could do with what we were provided. Now you know what we talked about in the van as we headed down the road. Oh ya, that’s a photo of my fearless coheart Kevin sticking his camera over the edge to get the shot. That too is HDR
One of the many games I play in Monument Valley is “Find the Object” in its rock walls. I guess it caught on some how because after shooting the North Window, Bob simply yells out, “SR-71!” I got whip lash spinning to see this cloud up in the sky. It’s was better but had to change lenses. I still Like!
Visual depth, there are many ways to obtain it in our photographs. The way I typically do it is with a strong foreground, middleground and background. I’ve talked about this a lot over the years. The other method I use which for some reason I’ve not seemed to mention is optical visual depth. While in Monument Valley this past week with our K&M Adventures, it dawned on me while we were photographing North Window that this was a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
The top photo was taken with a 70-200VR2 at 200mm. This is more or less the classic shot of North Window. You have way off in the distance a couple of mesas and by clipping a little bit of the window on the right and left, the eye can stop there while the imagination goes off into the distance to see those mesas. The reference point in the foreground permits the mind’s eye to slip into the background and creates the illusion of visual depth. Why illusion? What are you using to look at these photos? A computer monitor. It don’t get no flatter!
The bottom image was taken with a 16Fish and part of a lesson of fisheye panos. Here, we used the road to lead the eye back into the frame. We use the tree on the left to “hide” a little bit of rock so the eye continues down that road. While you see the North Window way off in the background, it is no longer the subject. Both images have visual depth and while both pointed at the same formation, they both have a different subject (we had a long discussion in the van about What’s the Subject). They both have very different visual depth even though they both have visual depth.
This lead to a conversation whether just because you have visual depth, do you have a photography? Does including that mean you have a good or great photograph? In all realities, there is no answer to these questions. I saw photos with visual depth that sucked. I saw photos with no visual depth that were stunning. I know personally when working a landscape, I find it very important for the viewer to be able to “fall into the landscape” in my photograph. I want them to feel as if there were standing next to me taking in that grand view. That requires a strong visual depth at the very least as a starting point in the photographic experience.
(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
Many moons ago, on our very first visit to Monument Valley we were befriended by Albert Jackson. At the time, he was just a person at Ford Point selling jewelry but after a couple of hours of conversing, we’d become friends. We’ve been friends every since! His family owns Ford Point and Albert is a tribal elder with a very rich family history and sense of tradition. Albert is not one of Monument Valley’s guides but being dear friends, he was happy to take our merry band on a backcountry tour like I’ve never had before. His knowledge of the Valley, past and present and willingness to share made our day simply amazing! We went to places I’m not really sure if I should talk about, they are sacred and there were tire or foot tracks so no one else had been there for a long time. I just want to publicly thank Albert for all he did, and for being my friend!
The view behind us and the view in front of us. This is such a gorgeous land, you can’t help but fall in love with it! Great end to a great day!
Purty simple, the after & befores. My B&W recipe is all over the site. The location though is what sells it!
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