Excerpts from the Vol. 12, Issue 3 BT Journal

B News – All Dressed for Winter

It was snowing as we pulled out of the driveway, the kind of snowfall that seduces you to sit in your easy chair by the fire and just watch the snow effortlessly float to earth. We hadn’t even gotten down the hill when the snow stopped and the blue skies opened up before us. We were heading in a NE direction, our truck stuffed full of gear and our son Jake blazing the highway in front of us, going back to college after winter break. The Garmin on the dash faithfully pointed the way but had no way of forecasting that the destination we had typed in would be so magical, so wondrous and so full of snow.

The first day of travel took us on an unexplored route across Nevada, driving from border to border by dinner. We saw perhaps a dozen cars all day and while they were scarce, the amount of snow we saw was anything but scarce. We’re pretty darn dry here in the West so seeing so much white stuff especially in the high desert meant there would be some water come spring. We zipped past a herd of Pronghorn, a lone Rough-legged Hawk and the always fun to watch Ravens as we sped up the road and by nightfall we were in Salt Lake City, which had a couple of feet of snow. Morning found us on the road again with the compass pointing due north. The Garmin registered a gradual but continual increase in altitude. By the time we hit Pocatello we could only see about a car length in front of us as the blowing snow was closing in on us. Jake was burning up the highway so I could call and get weather information, confirming it was good to continue up the road. Soon it was time to get off the main highway and start climbing the Rockies. The road got icier, the snow heavier and the wind more blustery as we continued heading north.

Living in snow country, driving in these conditions for us isn’t too traumatic because it’s a way of life we’re accustomed to. You tend to worry about the other guy more than the road itself and since the road was basically empty we just kept on going but conditions had deteriorated enough that we were now caravanning. We hit the Continental Divide just about the same time the sign barely appeared in the snow, “Welcome to Montana!” We were just thirty miles from our objective. We pulled into town an hour later, slipped into the gas station and when Jake got out he said, “Ah home, and it’s warm, -1!” Just then a pair of snowmobiles pulled up to the pumps next to us to fill up. And so began our magical time in Yellowstone!

A year earlier when I agreed to hold a winter DLWS in Yellowstone, I did so with great trepidation. I knew Yellowstone would be gorgeous in winter, that wasn’t my concern. Getting there with thirty folks and being stuck inside by a blizzard for three days wasn’t it either (though that one crossed my mind more than once). No, it was the impact humans are having on Yellowstone, to its wildlife and landscape during winter visits that had me concerned. I had heard many things and finally I had been convinced to see for myself firsthand what was what. After ten days, I was very pleased to see how life goes on during the winter with the whine of snowmobiles and rumble of snow coaches on the roads. In a nutshell, I was so pleased with what I experienced we booked another Yellowstone winter DLWS before leaving the first one.

This piece is as much about the winter biology of Yellowstone as photographing in Yellowstone in wintertime, or anywhere that’s really cold and white. We have new tools and technology that permit us to venture even further in greater extremes, bringing back grandeur beyond our imagination in each click.  If you had told me there are horseshoe shaped icicles that sound like wind chimes, I would have said you were in the steam vents too long. But it’s true, I saw them. So grab a hot chocolate, put on your slippers because we’re going to venture to where zero degrees is a heat spell!

The Groomed Path

Stepping out the door of the Holiday Inn, even mountain veterans like ourselves hesitate for a heartbeat as we’re greeted with the minus temp that smacks us in the cheeks (it’s -3 outside of our office as I write this). Even though you’re stepping into heated snow coaches (which is not always a good thing), you can’t lose sight that you and your camera gear are about to experience incredibly severe weather and temperatures. Before you get to this point in your journey, you and your gear have got to be prepared for these conditions. We spent one morning in the Grand Canyon with the official temperature registering at minus 31 degrees. Even with them darn cold conditions, everyone was out shooting with big smiles, bright red cheeks and hoar frost forming on eyelashes and mustaches. So here’s the deal.

There are two things that must, must be kept warm and those are your feet and hands. I’m not inferring you go naked with just gloves and boots on, that’s truly shooting in the Raw! But you’d be amazed that when your feet and hands are snug and warm, you can shoot for a long time in bitter cold. At the same time you’ve got to be able to function as a photographer, which really dictates the gloves you use.

The first trick in staying warm in cold country is layers, which applies to hands and feet as well. Wearing a couple of pairs of socks with the inner layer being a pair that wicks away moisture will keep those tootsies toasty. Many don’t think about wearing layers when it comes to gloves but this can be a great method for many who have cold hands to start with. An inner glove such as Seirus Deluxe Thermax Glove liners (available at REI) are a thin liner that you can still wear if you need to work the finer controls of your camera while still keeping them protected from the cold air (having taken your outer layer, heavier glove off first). You’ll still need to wear an over glove and for that, I recommend the current generation of ice climbing gloves. I personally love the Outdoor Research Alti Gloves (available from REI). You’ll find their four inch cuff keeps the cold from coming up your sleeve very nice. If you look at a picture of these on the web, you’ll say, “You must be nuts, how can you feel the camera let alone the shutter release with those heavy gloves?” These gloves are amazing because you can not only feel the shutter release, but every other button on the camera. I have no problem pushing any button or access any control with these gloves. The only thing you can’t do with these gloves is access and swap out CF cards. They will keep your hands very, very warm and that’s what you need.

When it comes to your feet, well, there are lots of options there and once you’ve got the socks, it comes down to budget as much as anything else. I’ve been using LaCrosse Ice Kings for years now for all my arctic work and they worked smashingly in Yellowstone. Sharon uses the same style and even her normally cold toes stayed very toasty. Ice Kings seem to be getting hard to find so when we needed to outfit our son Jake who joined us in Yellowstone, we found at Cabela’s LaCrosse Iceman 5.0 Pac boots, which are pretty sweet. The big difference between the two boots is how cold they will go, which in turn affects how bulky they are. The Ice Kings are gunboats; there is no doubt, especially compared to the Iceman. The Iceman have a better tread for ice too, which I think is a very important aspect of snow boot selection most don’t take into consideration. Snow boots are not a fashion statement but rather safety mechanism. I got frost bite in my feet once from not having the right boot. You don’t want that. Spend the bucks, do it right.

You own the right gloves and boots, then what? Just as you give your camera gear TLC, you need to do the same for these two essentials. While this seems really obvious, I’m always surprised how some of the simple things that make such a big difference are forgotten. Gloves and boots will only do you good if they start off dry, inside and out. While this seems obvious, especially the outer moisture, it’s the interior moisture coming from perspiration that can be the killer. Boots take the brunt of it, but they are real easy to dry at night. You know those newspapers the hotel puts outside your door to trip on in the morning? Simply wad up a couple of pages and stuff them into your boots at night. The newspaper wicks away the moisture and they’ll dry right out. And your gloves, take time to get them dry by either putting them over the heater vent or turning the hair dryer on them. These little things go a long way to making your shooting a whole lot more comfortable.

When it comes to the rest of your body, I highly recommend layers. I don’t recommend so many layers your thighs never touch, but rather a couple of very effective layers so you can move and function while staying warm. A real simple way of doing this is a good pair of SmartWool long underwear. Designed to keep you dry and warm while being physically pretty darn thin, they do work wonders. Over these you might want a pair of flannel lined pants. If you tend to get down on your knees or lay in the snow (which is only cold if you go into the warm van without brushing off the snow first) then you might want snow or wind pants. Snow doesn’t stick to these and they cut the wind. Wind is the killer you’ve got to watch out for so your outer layer should stop the wind. For your torso it’s the same principle, layers, SmartWool and wind stopping material. You just want to be sure the top layers can be opened up or taken off if you’re working in a warm van (which I highly recommend you try to avoid).

T News – Spit Shine that Pixel

The grandeur and magic of our vast landscapes rarely escapes our imagination. It does at time though, get lost in the single click of our camera. Your imagination goes screaming past the capabilities of your camera. That’s life in the fast lane where creative juices have you pushing the digital envelope. It not only requires that your camera skills are finely tuned, but also your digital darkroom skills are up to the challenge of making your passion come alive with every click. You want to make every pixel scream for mercy! This leads us and our photography on a path that demands we think outside the box. Let’s look at two very common problems that arise from this adventure into the realm of grand vision and make today’s technology work for us.

Screaming Light
The glow of the sunrise is just a hint in the east. The nip of the night is slowly giving way to the warmth of the day as your feet are firmly planted in the snow. You’re in place, camera set up and then the light begins its daily dance. In front of you is El Capitan, a majestic and towering rock landscape perfectly composed in the viewfinder. Click! You get back to your computer only to find you’ve lost either all the shadow detail or all the highlight detail. One thing for sure, what you’re seeing on the monitor is not what you saw with your eyes or with your heart. You didn’t capture the romance of the moment. You didn’t capture the light!

Light is everything in a photograph. With the marvel of our eyes and mind that can see as much as 27 stops of light with a blink, it’s hard to remember that our camera can only see 5 stops with a click. But with today’s technology, we can make our heart and mind’s eye come together in our final image.

Shooting Formula
Step 1: Set up the camera on a tripod, frame the shot exactly how you want it and lock down the tripod head so the camera cannot move (making sure your tripod has a sure footing). Have your Highlight Warning or “Blinkies” active. Make sure your focus is set to manual and not autofocus. If you’re using a zoom, be real sure the lens won’t zoom on its own (use tape if you must). Focus, focal length and aperture cannot change or you’ll cause yourself a lot of unnecessary grief later in post.

Step 2: This first exposure is our shadow detail shot (bright image). Take your first, normal exposure just as always and then preview your image on the LCD (with highlight warning active). Note the areas of the image that are “blinking” at you, indicating where you’ve captured no (as in zero) information. The blinking areas are highlights, “burnt up”, rendering no information in the photograph. In these burnt up areas, the areas of the photo with no info, if you want info in those areas so your image tells its entire story, then you need to go to the next step. This is where being a photographer is so important. It’s your image, your story, what elements are required to accomplish that task is up to YOU!

Step 3: We’re now going to capture our highlight detail shot (dark image). This image is concerned with capturing detail in those areas lost in our first exposure, the blinkies. To accomplish this we’re going to dial in minus compensation and make another image. Click. Check for blinkies to see if they have been eliminated. If not, keep dialing in additional compensation, taking additional images until there are no “blinking” areas in your image (starting point is -1 stop). You want to end up with just two images, one for shadow detail and one for highlight detail.

You want to affect exposure, using Exposure Compensation only to underexpose your image. Changing the aperture to accomplish decreased exposure, shifts your focus point/depth of field, which you do not want. When done correctly, you end up with two images with elements perfectly aligned but not exposure: the original exposure (bright image) which has your shadow detail and the second image (dark image) which has just your highlight detail. (Personally, I delete in camera all the images other than the two images I want to use, which makes the workflow a whole lot easier.) Now head to the digital darkroom.

Digital Darkroom Formula
Step 1: Process your Raw files as normal and open them in Photoshop CS3 Extended (I process my Raw files in Capture NX where I do the majority of my image finishing). You’re now going to combine these two images in the digital darkroom to retain both the highlight and shadow detail. There are many ways to accomplish this same thing in Photoshop, this is just my preference. Why do I prefer this method? It’s my photograph and I want to be in control of what used and not used in the two photographs so my message is communicated.

The Josh Bradley

This question was posed to me a little over a year ago, one that pushes my photography forward still. I was at a private tutoring session with Moose and as you might guess, he’s the one who asked the question.  It is a question that echoed through the last year.  It echoed in my head when I decided to sign up for the Master Light Program, and it echoed even louder when I got an email from Moose saying, “I have an assistant position open. You want to try out for it?”  So where did my photography take me in the last year?  I can honestly say it has taken me to places I have never been.  Places that I only saw in other people’s photos and dreamt of going there myself some day.  Now, as I sit and look back on the last year, I wonder about the same question. 

The funny thing is that I know for a fact that I will never be able to fully answer that question.  And if you have ever asked yourself this same question, I guarantee that you will never fully have an answer either.  Do you know why? Because just like me, you learn something new every day, and that simple fact will always prevent you from having the answer.  I have said many times that I will never fully understand everything about photography. If I did, I think the passion that I have, to keep learning new techniques and striving to create even more moving images, would fade away.  I know that will never happen though.  Now that I have picked up the camera and seen where this journey can take me I am on this path for a lifetime.

A Light Journey
My formal journey into the world of wildlife photography began last January.  The first lesson I learned was that light was everything.  Understanding light and its effects on a photograph can cause a viewer to experience a wide assortment of emotions.  These emotional bonds to an image are what keep people staring at it for more than a split second.  Light seems to be the great equalizer in photography.  If you don’t have enough you can always make your own by using flash, and if you have too much you can always block it out.  But there is a delicate balance between having light and not having light, which is where you truly start to learn about it.  The journey over this past year has opened up my eyes to this wondrous power of light, and more and more my eyes have developed a sense for light in a scene.  The effects of the morning sun on a subject can be drastically changed by just a single small cloud in the sky.  Sunsets can provide a dance of colors that streak across the sky, or set it on fire.  As the years progress, my study of light will continue, and I will keep learning how to create memorable images with it.

Tech vs. Art
When I first started to learn about photography it was all from books and magazines.  I was self-taught, which to this day still amazes some people.  When I purchased my first camera, everything was technical about all of my shots.  I would worry about the technically correct exposure, histograms, and blinkies.  My whole world revolved around these three technical aspects of photography.    I lived and died by those rules. Then one day something happened.  I was out shooting with Moose, I asked him about histograms.  His response, “Don’t ask me. I don’t use them.”  Suffice it to say, my world got turned upside down and the technical side went out the window.  Sure, I still use blinkies, but everything else is from an artistic stand point and not technical.  I looked through my images when I got home from that trip and realized how many of them would have been stronger if I had just listened to what my heart was saying instead of listening to my brain telling me that my histogram was slightly to the right and I needed to compensate for it.

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