Archive | September, 2010

Day Five – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

21 Sep

Today we’ll examine the creative insights behind a different kind of image, this one called “A Subtle Acquaintance”. The title comes from the location of this scene, which was in neighborhood where I go walking with my fiancee, Joyce. One house in particular has a large cactus garden in the front yard and I noticed one day it had an incredible bloom going on. Around sunset the following evening, I came back and captured this image. (One side not about this image is it received the photo of the week (earth, sea, and sky gallery) award from Nature Photographer’s Network, a prestigious online showcase for some of the top contemporary landscape and nature photographers today. Check out the website, and if you join, please let them know that I referred you.)

A wonderful late Spring bloom caught my attention during a walk through our neighborhood. The combination of horizontal and vertical lines on this cactus with prolific colors captivated my attention to this scene.

 Location:  Phoenix, Arizona 

Technical Info: Canon 5D MK2, 70-200F/2.8, F/20, ISO 160, 140 mm focal length, 1.6 second exposure 

Filters: none 

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4 

Creative Process: While walking by the scene I was immediately struck by the strong, repeating patterns and colors of the cactus. When I returned the next evening I had a good idea of how I was going to approach the subject. I wanted to capture the “tiers” of cacti layers along with the patterns of flowers. One issue with image capture I was concerned with was the depth of field. Originally, my plan was to blend images to create a better depth of field, but in the end, I was satisfied with the depth of  just one image. 

To maximize depth of field I chose an aperture setting of F/20. My goal was to create the best blend of depth and clarity and I was shooting from about three feet away. I originally started closer and kept backing up until I achieved a depth of field I was comfortable with. Compostion was fairly straightforward, I knew I was going to cut offf some of the flowers; I just didn’t want that to occur in the front of the frame. The only other issue I had to deal with during capture was vibration from passing cars because I was shooting in the street.  Post processing was straight forward and that’s pretty much the entire creative process behind this image. I hope you found it useful! Please let me know if you did. Thanks – Michael

Day Four – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

20 Sep

Today we will talk about one my more recent images, taken at Bryce Canyon this past May called, “Bad Moon Rising”.

Ambient sunset light glows on the hoodoos, spires, and pinnacles in Bryce Canyon UT while an incredibly orangish-yellow full moon rises in the opposite direction.

 

 Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Technical Info: Canon 5D MK2, 70 – 200 F/2.8, F/10, ISO 100, 1 second exposure

Filters: .6 Lee GND (Hard)

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

 Creative Process: This image is really about being at the right place at the right time. When visiting Bryce Canyon make sure you take a full arsenal of lenses because you never know what is going to inspire you next. I was shooting in the other direction when my fiancée informed me the moon was coming up.

I quickly scrambled to this view-point, composed the image, added a grad to reduce the light in the sky, and began taking pictures. During that time, one thing I kept in mind was the amount of exposure time. I knew I needed to have a relatively short exposure because the moon was rising over the horizon very quickly. I didn’t want it to be blurred during capture.

Most of the time, I have a default aperture I use when taking pictures. This varies from lens to lens and according to the focal length of the scene. For standard shots such as this with my 70-200 F/2.8 lens, I like to use an F/10 aperture. I believe this gives me the clearest image at any aperture setting on the lens. Using the higher aperture allows me to take quicker photos with less exposure times. I kept the ISO at 100 and was still able to have just a one second exposure. I was also bracketing my shots.

 I used two exposures to blend this image. For my base image, I used the image correctly exposed for the moon and sky. I then blended in the brighter exposure – accurately depicting the colors of the hoodoos, rocks, and trees. Initially, I began processing in the opposite direction, trying to use the base image as the one for the rocks and blend back in the moon. However, the moon was moving during capture and from frame to frame, so I was unable to successfully blend that way  – leaving me with a halo around the moon from where it had moved.

Like many landscape images, this was a spontaneous one. There wasn’t any real location scouting or planning. It is important to be flexible and keep an open mind for opportunities and be ready to take advantage of them when they do arise. Also, I am in the initial stages of offering a 3 day workshop to Bryce Canyon in the summer of 2011. Check back on my website  later this week for more details. I hope you found this article informative.  helps. Please contact me  if you have any other questions.

Day Three – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

19 Sep

Today, we are going to examine the creation of one of my favorite images of last year called “The Master of Light”.  This is certainly not a personal reference, but a divine one.

Fading sunlight illuminates the huge meadows surrounding the Bechler River in Yellowstone National Park.

Location:  Yellowstone National Park, WY

Technical Info:  Canon 5D Mk2, 24 – 105 F/4,  F/22,  ISO 50, 4 second exposure

Filters:  Hoya Warming Polarizer, .9 Singh-Ray GND (Soft), .6 Lee GND (Hard)

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

Creative Process: I arrived to view this scene shortly before sunset after a day of backpacking through Bechler River Canyon. It was a virtually cloudless day until I saw a storm developing in the distance around the Grand Tetons. We had crossed this meadow on the way into the canyon so I was familiar with the area. I knew I wanted to condense the size of the massive meadow and try to  make the mountains an integral part of the composition. I framed the back side of the Grand Teton between the trees and used the cattail as the foreground to frame the river. I maxed out the focal length on my lens and loaded on several filters.

I used the polarizer to reduce the glare of the water and bring extra contrast to the sky. I then used several graduated neutral density filters to reduce the brightness in the sky into a manageable dynamic range. Because the light was the best almost immediately when I arrived upon the scene; I didn’t have much time to work. I was able to capture two different frames before the meadow fell completely into shadow.

I used the low aperture and ISO to lengthen the shutter speed as much as possible, wanting to smooth out, yet show movement in the water. Because the storm was gathering quickly, you can also see movement in some of the clouds as well. Overall, it was one of the better scenes I captured in 6 weeks in the park and I am looking forward to spending more time in this area in the future. If you have any questions regarding this image or any others please feel free to contact me anytime.

Day Two – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

18 Sep

Today we are going to examine the details behind possibly my best shot of last year called, Celestial Alignment. The title comes from the fact the Lord literally hooked it up that morning and elements all fell into place perfectly for a stunning image.

Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Technical Info: Canon 5D mark 2, 16 – 35 L/2.8, F/22, .8 exposure, ISO 160

Filters:  .9 Singh-Ray GND (Soft), .6 Lee GND (Hard)

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4

Creative Process:  I captured this image during the one night I spent at Bryce Canyon NP last year. Talk about a blessing! We arrived at the park the day before as storms were moving through the area. The shooting was good during the afternoon as well as for sunset. The following morning we arrived at Sunset Point (better for sunrises IMO) and I began walking and composing images. Because there were no clouds obscuring the horizon, the pre-dawn light was pretty intense, so I stacked a couple of grads on my camera. I knew from my test shots that a single graduated neutral density filter would not be enough to capture the full dynamic range of light, even while bracketing. (For the most, using graduated neutral density filters at Bryce Canyon is straight forward because of the even horizon).  As the light began to change, we continued to move along the rim of the canyon. I generally knew where I wanted to shoot because I had scouted the location the day before. I also had a pretty good idea of where the sun was going to come up at because of the light in the sky. As the sun appeared, I found myself in the right place at the right time well prepared to capture the fleeting scene. All in all, the light lasted maybe 5 minutes and I was able to create plenty of images in that time.

I used an aperture of F/22 to create the sunburst effect as the sun moved over the horizon. I also bracketed my exposures by 1 1/3 stops allowing me plenty of “wiggle room” so when editing I had the full dynamic range of light to properly replicate what I saw in the sky. The hardest part about editing images of Bryce is balancing out the contrast in the red rocks with the contrast in the trees.  Also, not clipping the red channels in the rocks can be problematic. Overall, this image came out extremely and I am fortunate to share this story with you.  I hope you found it useful. If so, please let me know!

5 Photos in 5 Days – Tips, Techniques, and Insight into Making Stunning Photos

17 Sep

Today is the first of an exciting new series revealing  the technical details, creative thought processes, and other relevant information behind five of my personal favorite images. My goal is to make this series extremely informative – so please come back every day and tell your friends too! Today we’ll start with my newest image from my most recent trip to the Sierra Nevada’s entitled “Land of Enchantment”. 

Dappled sunlight shows off the morning colors of a high alpine drainage near the Great Western Divide.

Location:  Sequoia National Park, CA 

Technical Info:   Canon 5D Mark 2, 16 -35 L/2.8, F/16, 1 Second, ISO 160 

Filters:  Tiffen 1.2 ND, Lee .9 GND (Hard) 

Processing: Adobe Camera Raw and CS4 

Creative process:  This image was captured during a 6 day/5 night backpacking trip along the High Sierra Trail while camping at Hamilton Lake. Truth be told, I find it very difficult to consistently capture good images when I am backpacking.  First off, it is physically and mentally exhausting. Secondly, you are constantly on the move, which leaves little time for location scouting or layover days.  Here was my approach to this image:  The lakes in the High Sierra normally have tributaries. For many of them, there is water running in on one end and running out on the other. These tributaries tend to be dramatic and this was no exception. Following the creek downstream from our camp,  I found this perch after locating the view that captivated me  on the way in the day before. 

I love shooting water if possible. For this image, I used the top of the fall as my foreground element which also opened up the first third of the image. I want to have a clear, unobstructed view of the domes without any distracting foreground elements.  The spacing of the trees and bushes work out well here, there is enough to provide interest but not any noticeable overlapping colors, shapes, or patterns.  

This image was captured at approximately 8:30 in the morning. Fast moving clouds created exciting, minute by minute changes in the light. I still needed to use a neutral density filter to slow the shutter speed to one second to capture the water in a silky state. Because of weight limitations, I only packed one graduated neutral density filter on the trip and it was .9 or 3 stop filter. (I actually packed the wrong one). Using a filter holder, I placed the filter at approximately 3 o’clock  darkening the sky and the top of the peaks. I also exposure bracketed and blended back in some of the clipped highlights most notably in the middle of the fall and rocks on the right side of the middle part of  image.   I was very fortunate to be blessed with the kind of light necessary to pull off a shot like this. (The version on my website is slightly better with modified shadows/highlights – see if you can tell the difference) 

Hopefully this was a big help to you. I will be posting all weekend with more information about some of my best photos!

Back and Out Again

1 Sep

The Grand Canyon North Rim trip was a smashing success. We saw rain, sun, a storm, and lots of clouds – the only thing we didn’t see was a rainbow. Overall, my friend Stephanos and I had a great time. It was an incredible seven and a half hour drive to a remote viewpoint where we camped for two nights. At almost 8,000 ft – temperatures were in the 70’s during the day and the 40’s at night. There was a decent amount of wildflowers too. However, with wind gusts in the 60 mph range it was very difficult to photograph any kind of flower, tree, or brush with movement. So you’ll notice I did include any foreground elements in many of my shots.  We only saw one other person during our entire stay, although there was an abundance of helicopters flying through the canyon. They sound like flying lawnmowers. I’ve already posted some of the images from the trip . Please check them out in my new release gallery.

I  am now preparing for a longer backpacking trip coming up this weekend and next. So I will not be updating the blog, posting new images, and generally will be unavailable to contact. I hope everyone has an incredible Labor Day weekend, wherever that may be, and I’ll write to you again in a couple of weeks.

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