Tag Archives: traveling

Understanding the Scene – Colorado Fall Foliage Part 2

9 Oct

Yesterday we ended the first part of this post by talking about the exposure values of the left and right hand side of the scene. For this scene, I simply used a .6 graduated neutral density filter and bracketed my exposures. Because the intensity of the light was changing so fast, my camera was having difficulty accurately metering the scene. The meter was constantly jumping around. 

Eventually, I underexposed the scene resulting in a slightly less than ideal exposure for the darkest values of conifers on the right hand side. Fortunately, this wasn’t a major factor. I still was able to retain very good detail and resolution in the darkest parts of the image although ideally, I would have liked to pull an additional + 1/3 stop out of those values.

Processing

I used two different exposures and processed them the same way in Adobe Camera Raw. I ended up using my lightest exposure because remember, I underexposed the scene, so with the bracketing. this exposure ended up being just about correct anyway.

This is the 100% crop of the darkest shadow values within the scene. You can see I've retained the detail in the conifers fairly well with just a slight drop off in light along the very edge of the frame.

This is the 100% crop of the darkest shadow values within the scene. You can see I've retained the detail in the conifers fairly well with just a slight drop off in light along the very edge of the frame.

When I process multiple raw files, I normally try to keep them as consistent as possible, so I kept the temperature and tone the same for both files here. For this scene, I employed a very cool temperature to help offset the amount of yellow. Following that, I open both images in Photoshop and copy the  dark exposure on top of the correct exposure. I then used a layer mask to blend the exposure, specifically the “hot” aspens on the right side of the frame. Once the blend was completed, I saved the file and started with general contrast adjustments to the entire scene. This was a basic levels adjustment.

For this scene,  I wanted to open up the shadows a bit more to accentuate the reflection of the conifers. I used the shadow/highlights feature to complete that. I normally don’t use this  feature, simply because it can be very destructive and give your images an unwanted “HDR” look where everything gets dimples so to speak. I created a copy of my background layer and then carefully scrutinized the results before moving on.

Once I was satisfied with that, I started working on selectively adjusting the contrast within the scene. The largest area of contrast that needed adjusting was the foreground, which was much too light. Once that was completed, I moved onto the reflection in the lake, specifically in the middle of scene.Following that, I moved onto a few other areas within the scene,  most notably the yellow highlights and dark greens far up on the mountain.

Once I finished the contrast,  I started selectively adjusting the color. The one thing I normally like to do is to pull cyan out of the image. Here, I performed that in the yellows channel. What that did was give the yellows in the aspens just a bit of an orange tinge to them, making them in my opinion,  more appealing. Finally I saved the master image, and reduced and sharpened for the web.

Web Sharpening

This image was fairly tedious to sharpen for the web. The greatest obstacle here was the peak, which almost continually was showing haloing, probably from sharp shadows on its edges. It took several attempts before I was satisfied with my results.  I used several adjustment layers of sharpening, turning them all off for the sky and peak. Generally speaking, foliage doesn’t sharpen well for the web. So be very careful when sharpening items like pine and aspen trees. Less is normally more here. That is pretty much it!  I hope this tutorial is helpful to you and if it is,             please let me know. Also,  feel free to email me if you have any other questions. Have a wonderful weekend.

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.

A Sure Fire Way to Improve Your Landscape Photography….

21 Aug

I am feeling compelled to share this tip with you before the weekend and my hope is that you’ll find this advice solid, useful, and rewarding. Before we start, I’ll admit I am guilty of skipping around on my blog posts and this one is no exception. As a result, I will continue my last series about sharing your photographs online next week.  Allow me to briefly provide you some context  for this post and where the inspiration came from. Lately, I have returned to many images already in the archives or previously posted to reprocess in hopes of a better result.  So far, I am very pleased with the results.  This has been a season of less travel for me, and  I haven’t taken what I consider to be a major trip (more than a week in the wilderness) pretty much all year. 

Being grounded in society like this really helps provide perspective on my time outdoors;  it is something that I cherish, relish, and value very much. Sometimes, when you out there so long (at least for me) one can get a little desensitized to the special meaning of their surroundings. While reworking some of these older images and through feedback from posting them online, I’ve seen once again how incredibly spectacular some of the places are that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. 

That brings me to the topic of this post:  Want to be a better landscape photographer? Well, besides enrolling in a photography workshop (another post at a later time, improve your research skills.  It dawned on me that I rarely just show up and luck into a great photograph. For me, it is much more than that – it takes time and efficient planning.  For your convenience, I am including a list on the steps I go through when planning a trip, and the questions that cross my mind and that I need to answer in order to move forward. (Not all steps will be applicable to everyone) 

1. Dates: When are you going to go? How much time can you spend on this trip?  This is pretty much my first step in planning a trip. I’ve got to decide when and for how long. We all have extenuating circumstances that help dictate or shape the dates of our trip – so I normally don’t precede any farther until I can confidently answer both these questions. 

2. Location:  For me, the location is always determined by the date and the amount of time I can spend on the trip.  Most of the time, I drive. For instance,  if the trip is less than three days, I won’t go out of state. If it is for a week, I’ll drive further to parts of a neighboring state like California, Utah, Nevada, or Colorado. If it is two or more weeks, I’ll consider driving somewhere like Northern California or Wyoming. The second part of this equation is the time of year: Obviously, we aren’t taking any backpacking trips in the Sonoran Desert in July and I am not planning on driving to Wyoming in January either. I generally try to maximize the season. That means go where the going is best….     

3.  Specifics:  The first two steps are pretty obvious. This step is where the rubber meets the road. It’s good to get a little dirty here.  I start with maps. Normally, AAA state road maps work best as the wilderness areas are well-marked in green. For instance, if I am going to Yosemite, I might look also at the areas around Yosemite to see if there is any interesting worth checking out. For some parks, like Yosemite, a lot of your options are decided by which way you’ll be driving so I like to determine that first so it gives me a clearer path of direction. (Excuse the pun) 

Along with all my maps my hiking book collection is an indisposable resource for my photography. This is just part of the collection...

 

 

So now you now where you want to go, when you want to go, for how long you are going, and which way you are going to be driving. Now the hard part; what are you going to do when you get there? For the sake of time, here’s a list of recommendations, advice and questions to think when planning this important leg of your journey. 

1. What are my physical limitations and what do I feel comfortable doing? 

2. If backpacking, do I need a permit and should I reserve one? Where do I get the permits? What are the best campsites?  What are the camping restrictions? 

3. What dangers do I need to be aware of and educated on?  (Wild animals,  flash floods, creek or river fording, unmaintained trails,  precarious climbs) 

3.  Which camera equipment should I bring?   

4. Where are the best places to stay should I need a hotel? 

5.  What is the elevation gain/loss of the hike? How many miles will I be traveling? 

1. Buy and study the guide books – the more research you do the better. 

2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – don’t be too ambitious in your planning, allow for layover days and for days just to explore the area (just make sure you have the right area) 

3. Monitor the weather reports 

4. Spending time learning the topography of the land and learn or read about when are the best times to shoot. 

5. Get there early and stay late if possible. 

6. Schedule layover days for scouting expeditions 

7. Make safety a priority & have fun!!

What Would John Muir Think of Yosemite Now? Part 1

16 Jul

Anyone who has ever visited Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park knows how crowded and potentially dangerous it can be during peak tourism season. Today I am starting a series of essays chronicling my personal experiences in Yosemite National Park as they relate to the iconic naturalist and conservationist, John Muir.

Most of you probably are cognizant of who Muir was and what he represented, and you probably already know that he was literally the person responsible for putting this classic park on the map.  Often times I wonder what he would think about Yosemite in its current state; a place much different from the one he knew and loved. This especially pertains to Yosemite Valley, the thoroughfare and commercial hub of the park, and for that matter, just about any park. After recently viewing a fine art photograph of the area, I was inspired to begin these essays, which are for everyone, whether you’ve been there once, never visited, or know it like the back of your hand.

Most visitors to Yosemite enter either through the South or West entrances. Both can be accessed from the California city of Fresno. Both entrances are fairly similar in scenery and length…In terms of this essay, either one of these entrances could apply.

For many, the City of Fresno represents the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, you normally can’t see the mountains from there because the area is so hazy. I imagine it’s probably a combination of the pesticides and chemicals used on the farms in the area along with the California smog that seems to permeate everywhere. The journey to the park begins here, past the fruit and vegetable stands of the rural surroundings. Eventually the city gives way to the Sierra’s rolling foothills. Slowly, subtly, and steadily you begin to climb, passing small towns along the way. The trees get bigger and the road gets steeper as you venture further into the mountains. Soon, you are in a full-fledged, unmistakable mountain forest with rushing streams and larger than life-sized trees.  After several more miles of driving you round another blind, sharp turn and out of the corner of your eye you catch the glistening highlight of a whitewater of gushing steam. What the heck..you think…its worth a couple of minutes of your time and pull off to check it out.

Immediately it’s the sound that catches your attention. This stream is no joke. As a matter of fact, its more like a rushing torrent and upon closer inspection, you realize that one false slip into that and its certain death. You also realize that the stop was well worth your time.

As you continue up the mountain your natural appetite for scenery magnifies as the journey continues. After a short time, you reach the park entrance, a nondescript area in the forest where they take your money, give you a brochure, and let you in. The idyllic drive continues and you eventually you start to descend weaving your way down the mountain towards the valley below. Soon you begin to catch glimpses of what you’ve been longing for all along. As you continue your descent, the views get better and better.

After going through a tunnel, the scene completely unfolds before your very eyes. Massive waterfalls, monolithic towers of granite, sweeping vistas, and an absolutely pristine river meandering through a tranquil meadow surrounded by trees literally takes your breath away. God willing, it’s only a matter of minutes now before you enter this fairytale landscape. The road continues downward and soon you reach an intersection…

It is now onto the valley and its record-breaking spectacles of nature. All at once, the traffic picks up significantly. You notice this curiosity immediately at your first stop, the elegant Bridalveil Falls. Here the whipping, free-flowing, waters of Yosemite Creek gracefully plunge over 600 feet to the valley floor, making it one of the largest waterfalls in the park. The mist is everywhere and the rainbow it creates is a pleasant, natural surprise. The sound is unmistakable, like an oversized snake hissing and beckoning in the distance.

Never mind the scenery though, it’s the traffic that gets your attention first. The parking lot is packed with people running around as busy as bees. Meanwhile there are vehicles coming and going, pulling out, pulling in, backing up, turning and parking. This all reminds you of some sort of strange mating ritual of man and machine here on the concrete and black top, with a gargantuan waterfall as a backdrop. They act like they are the only ones there. Oblivious to any kind of danger, they walk out in front of moving vehicles while shouting and yelling to their friends and family.

Suddenly, you find yourself making a hasty exit from the oversized parking lot of craziness thinking you’ll catch the next one instead.

To be continued………….

In the Field for the Next Week

19 Jun

I just wanted to give you all in cyber world a quick update to let you know I’ll be out-of-town for the next week in the field. We are taking a relatively quick trip to Great Basin National Park and then another short stop over in Zion to spend sometime in the Narrows. I should be back in about a week or so with even more new images to share with you. Have a wonderful week, God Bless, and we will talk to you soon!

Michael

Top 10 Parks for Summer Travel #8

18 Jun

8. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Pros: Breathtaking Views,  Abundant Wildlife, Centralized Location,  State of the Art Visitor Center, Easy Access, Family Friendly

Cons: Small in Size, Sometimes Overcrowded, Very little natural water

Dates of Visit: August ’06, August/September ’09,  May ’10

Bryce Canyon is probably the hottest park on this list right now as I continue to enjoy myself more and more every time I visit. In fact, this park has gone from a middle of the road contender to one of my favorites in the country. Although it is smallest in size on this list, it packs quite a punch. If you have never visited, the scenery here is second to none. Jaw dropping at first sight and continually beckoning the interpid sole.

Unbelievable scenery awaits you at Bryce Canyon

The base elevation of this park is over 8,000 ft. making it the coolest national park in Utah during the summer. There are two rather large campgrounds inside the park and several more just on its outskirts.

Furthermore, summer also means monsoon season and  Bryce Canyon is certainly known for its spectacular skies. Sunset and sunrise views here are both fantastic, arguably some of the best views in the world. I give a slight edge to sunrise for photography as most of the park’s vistas are facing East and the color is slightly better.

There are about 40 miles of hiking trails in the park, which is substantial considering its size. Hiking is relatively difficult here because of three reasons:  1) all the trails descend into the canyon 2) the air is thinner 3) there is no water in the canyon. There are backpacking opportunities as well and getting a backcountry permit is relatively easy because this park is more geared for tourists rather than hardcore hikers.

There are two items of interest that have specifically captured my attention that I want to talk about. First off, the trees in this park are absolutely beautiful. I could spend days here wandering around looking at the distinguishing character of the trees. The way they are set apart and scattered amongst the red rock makes it seem like a natural chess board. In my opinion, this is a very underrated aspect of the park.

The trees are fascinating at Bryce Canyon

The second suprising tidbit about this park is the abundance of wildlife. Now, I haven’t seen a lot of diversity, but cruise the main road in the park at sunset and you’re sure to see some deer and or antelope grazing in the meadows. There are quite a few birds in the parks as well…..

Because of its location, there are plenty of opportunities for other forms of recreation in and around the park. Whether it be ATV’s (certainly not my thing), fishing, swimming, rodeos, horseback riding, rock climbing, bicycling, etc., it is all here. For a first time visit, I’d suggest spending a solid week in the general area devoting about 1/3 of your time specifically to Bryce Canyon. At any point in time, two to three nights seems like the perfect stay there. It’s just simply not that big of a park to spend a week or longer there.

A visit to Bryce Canyon wouldn’t be complete without the mandatory stop at Ruby’s. The folks at Ruby’s basically discovered Bryce Canyon and put it on the map so they are the only game in town. Ruby’s is like the grand central station of Bryce Canyon. It has everything you need, want, or forgot from high-end souvenirs to groceries and sporting goods. Of course, don’t forget to try the buffet. I’ve personally sampled it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your dining options are pretty limited in these parts and for that fact alone – I do endorse this buffet.

At $11.99, lunch is a dollar more than breakfast I believe and much better quality. It’s not the greatest selection in the world, but it is hearty, decent quality, standard american fare:  salad bar, soup, chicken, pork, corn, carrots, beans,and a pretty killer desert bar that features some scrumptious brownies and soft serve ice cream. (The desert bar is not available for breakfast) It also runs until 5pm before it switches to dinner and the prices goes way up. If you get there at 4:30 you’ll pay for lunch and get to eat dinner, which basically involves adding some fish and maybe beef. Between shopping and eating plan on spending at least a couple of hours there. It is actually a pretty cool place and most of the employees are helpful and friendly.

So there you have it, Bryce Canyon in a nutshell:  indescribable views, amazing colors, special wildlife, the best buffet around, and literally bus loads of Europeans everywhere. This park is awesome. Please don’t make the mistake of just driving through. Get our your vehicle and explore! That is a fantastic place and highly recommend a summertime visit.

Roots (aka Hang On)

14 Jun

Without further ado….here is the first release from my latest trip to the four corners region and this one comes from Garfield County, Utah – the home of Bryce Canyon.
 

A solitaire tree somehow grows on the pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon's backcountry walls.

Bryce Canyon National Park is fast becoming one of my favorite parks in the country. Although it is relatively small in size; the rocks, trees, and views in the park are world-class. Certainly one of the most colorful parks in the country, I’ve always been particularly fascinated with its trees. 

One of my photographic goals on this trip was to capture the essence of trees and how they related to the multi-colored rocks in the park. This image represents one vision of that relationship. The character of the tree is what is especially intriguing to me. Its roots are almost completely exposed, yet its branches seem to sway with the cliff. Without sounding too fruity or new agey, the trees seems to have a harmonious place within its environment. 

The colors of the area are particularly intriguing, and this image was taken before sunset when most of the canyon was in shadow. I used my 70-200mm lens at almost 200mm to capture this shot.  Editing was straight forward and the only small issue I had – was a slightly blueish tint to the tree’s bark in the original image (for some reason). I desaturated the blues in the bark to render it a more natural looking brownish-grey. The clarity in this image is second to none. It is certainly one of the sharper images I have ever produced.   

Not only is this image available as a fine art print I am also adding it to my note card collection, which should be available within 3 months. Please contact me  for more information. I have gone back and forth between names for this image either “Roots” or “Hang On”. I’d love to hear your opinion, please let me know….The full gallery of images will be released this Wednesday June 16th on my website – so look for it then. I don’t know that this represents my favorite image on the trip, but it certainly is a meaningful one. Thanks for stopping by and we’ll continue my top 10 summer parks on the next post later this week. See you then!!

A New Trip Report

8 Jun

It was an incredible experience once again returning  to the fascinating and bizarre region of Southwestern Utah and Northern Arizona. There is so much to see and do in the area that it takes diligent research and plenty of time and effort to explore it. Because of the weather and crowds, we modified the second leg of our original itinerary and swapped out iconic locations for one another.  Specifically, the last week of the trip the weather report in the entire region was calling for clear, blue skies and escalating temperatures. Considering this, we opted to explore the slot canyons near Page instead of focusing on wide-angle landscapes at the Grand Canyon.

We started out  just before Memorial Day Weekend at Bryce Canyon NP where it was cold and windy resulting in smaller than average crowds and above average skies. It was fantastic! Next, we drove east to Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument, followed that up with a short trip to Zion NP and afterwards back to the Grand Staircase and the Coyote Buttes/Vermillion Cliffs. In fact, about 90% of the places we visited were for the first time, so we have some awesome new images & experiences to share with you. By the end of our trip, the weather had turned unbearably hot with near record highs in Page,  Arizona and Kanab, Utah.

We spent most of our time backpacking or car camping and for this trip, I believe,  yielded some exceptionally diverse results – photographically speaking. This was the first trip where I did not rely on my wide-angle lens, but instead focused on intimate compositions and abstracts with a longer focal length lens  (my new 70-200 F/2.8). I am looking forward to sharing those images & experiences with you soon.

I will also continue my series on the Top 10 parks to visit in the summertime. Please look for another update before this weekend and I expect to have the new images ready for viewing within the next week or so. Thanks so much for stopping by and I look forward to sharing with you soon.

Top 10 Parks to Visit During the Summer

11 May

Today, we are going to start with our first ever Top 10 List, the best parks to visit during summer travel. My goal is to make these posts as fun and informative as possible. Starting today, with number 10  – we’ll count down in our blog to the number one national park in the lower 48 to visit during summer travel.

 Please keep in mind, I define summer as the period of days starting on June 21st and ending on September 21st.  Before we start, one thing I’d like to make clear is that I have not visited all the national parks – so for the sake of this list I am only including the parks I have visited during the summer. Also, I am unable to access some of my computer files right now so I will update each park on this list with a picture sometime in the near future.  I hope that makes sense! Without further a due…

10. North Cascades National Park, Washington    http://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm

pros:  small crowds/solitude, pleasant temperatures, world-class scenery & adventure

cons:  inconsistent weather, poorly maintained roads, unusually dangerous terrain, limited amenities and services

date(s) visited:  August 2007

I have only had the privilege to visit this park one time and it was at the end of August a few years ago. I was there to do a charity climb for the non-profit group Big City Mountaineers. I spent about 4 days there and the weather was extremely erratic. The first day and half it was beautiful – sunny skies, highs in the 80’s…let me give you a picture. Snow capped mountains, dramatic vistas, glacial fed lakes, incredible waterfalls, lush greenery, endless beauty. The night after our climb of Mount Shuksan, I was awakened to the sound of snow cascading off a 1000 foot cliff. It was amazing. 

Then it started to rain. And it rained, and rained, and rained. It actually never stopped. And it rained hard. It wasn’t a drizzle that you can go out and walk about in.  I actually had to leave early because I just couldn’t anything it was raining so hard.

Despite all the spectacular scenery, the one thing that left the most lasting impact during my visit was the lack of crowds. I visited the main visitor at 4pm on a Saturday and it was practically dead. I couldn’t believe it. What a surprise!

One other thing that really got my attention was the topography of the land. It is extremely rugged and dangerous. You really can’t hike off trail. It is just too overgrown with thicket hiding unexpected drop offs. The rocks around the water here are extremely slippery. Just writing this conjures up so many incredible memories of this place.  Because its been a few years and I have only visited it once, I think this park would move up the list before it moved off.  It is certainly that special.

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