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New Images from Colorado

1 Sep

Wildmoments Update:

I’m back from a three-week adventure to Colorado specifically for additions and updates to my book. The trip was a tremendous success for photography. It rained more this summer than my previous visits, which made for interesting conditions. I witnessed better sunrises, unique cloud formations and prolific waterfalls. However, my feet were constantly wet and I spent more time holed up in my tent, which also incurred some damage. Overall, it was a good year for wildflowers with some spots showing better than before while others not as prolific.

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Cunnigham Gulch was raging this year and a delight to photograph

I also was fortunate to visit some new places and meet some new friends. Currently, I am working on processing images as well as a new book design. My plan is to have the book in print by next spring. It will surely be the best version yet with even more spectacular pictures and places to visit! Stay tuned for more exciting news, updates, and I’ll explore other related topics too!

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It hailed four times on this particular day

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Arizona’s Top 3 National Monuments Part 2

7 Jul

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Arizona is brimming with enchanting places to explore including over a dozen national monuments. This is the second of a three part series on my favorites, including the pros and cons, best times to visit, and other key travel tips.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

A long, winding dirt road pierces the desert floor leading toward a crest of crimson cliffs. While speckles of jubilant yellow dot the hillsides, this is a foreboding place. Chiseled by arroyos and protected by chollas, views fan out beyond the unseen international border. Despite the crusty terrain, the ride is smooth and the warm, dry air is surprisingly fresh.

By mile four, undulating gardens of distinctive cacti animate the landscape. In the fading light of day, these haunting figurines mimic the human form. Normally, the patriarchal saguaro rules the Sonoran but in this lonely pocket of country features a rival. The banana-shaped organ pipe cactus is not as tall as the saguaro but much wider. While common in Mexico, organ pipe are only found in this US park, which is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

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At nearly 331,000 acres Organ Pipe Cactus NM is the largest national monument in AZ with 95% of the land designated wilderness. Park visitors can explore via two scenic loop drives. The Ajo Mountain drive is the most popular and scenic. It is a 21-mile, one-way loop that traces the base of the mountains before circling back toward the visitor center. Across the highway is the Puerto Blanco Loop, a 37-mile drive through mostly open desert and gaping views. Other rough 4WD roads are options for longer stays and seasoned visitors.

The park has several official hiking trails but the premier trek is summiting 4808-foot Mount Ajo, the areas highest peak.  This is a full-day hike, partially off-trail totaling 9 miles with a cumulative elevation gain of 2800 feet. Definitely not for beginners. A shorter and easier option is hiking the trail from the campground to the visitor center. Enjoy pleasant views of the mountains while traversing through copious cholla gardens. There are a few benches along the way.

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The exceptional Twin Peaks Campground, featuring 360-degree views, was fully remodeled less than ten years ago. There is reliable vacancy nearly year round. If interested in hotels, find a few in the town of Ajo about 35 miles away.

Summers at Organ Pipe Cactus NM are hot. The ideal times to visit are between November and early April with pleasant daytime highs and cool nights. Delicate ground flowers such as poppies and owl clover flourish in late February and early March. The strength of annual blooms vary and flowers wither when daytime highs exceed 85 degrees. Saguaros and organ pipe cacti don’t bloom until May.

Dining choices are also limited. There is a convenience store and small diner in Lukeville, a military-border town about seven miles away. Purchase a few snacks and cold water at the visitor center, otherwise, it’s a lengthy drive to a restaurant.

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If you are interested in seeing the best of Organ Pipe Cactus NM consider joining me on a group workshop. Due to high springtime demand of my private tours,  I’m assembling a 3-day group event in March of 2018. If interested, message me for more information.

 

Photographing Ice Lake

16 Jun

In addition to hiking, my book also includes a photography section for each lake. This provides useful information for both the serious shooter and the casual looking to improve his or her (smartphone) shots. While each chapter is unique, topics include instructional, technical and creative advice. Also discussed are nearby points of interest, strategies for finding the best composition and more.

You might learn something that isn’t obvious too. For instance, notice the distance from the water in the picture below. It’s about a half mile and 500 feet of elevation away. In many spacious basins, it is challenging to explore everywhere in one visit. That’s why tips on where to go help.

Below is partial excerpt for a popular location in the San Juan Mountains. July and August are the perfect times to visit. For an amazing experience, consider personal instruction and guidance by yours truly this year! Find more information about this here.

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Ice Lake Basin, Colorado, August

Capturing or witnessing Upper Ice Lake Basin’s signature alpenglow is an exclusive experience available to those willing to spend the night. Golden Horn is the most iconic peak and befittingly shows off the best display of crimson morning light, both before and immediately after sunrise.

During times of peak wildflowers, compositions are plentiful. The most iconic shots feature alpenglow reflections and successful ones accentuate form. Consider shooting at an intimate tarn as opposed to Upper Ice Lake. Sunrise images won’t display the lake’s vivid color, which needs direct midmorning light. Be sure to bracket shots or use a graduated neutral-density filter.

Another alternative is shooting Ice Lake’s hefty outlet stream. Several sections of rippling cascades offer excellent vantage points. These dynamic compositions usually do not include the lake. Use a wide-angle lens and try blending for depth of field.

Perhaps skip the water altogether and fill your foreground with a bouquet of splashy wildflowers. This works best on still mornings and emphasizes spectacle. Whatever you choose, the best plan is staying more than one night to ensure the greatest opportunity for success.

Sunrise is not the only time for mesmerizing photography. Midmornings on partly cloudy days also yield outstanding results. Remember to use a polarizer and shoot when the groundcover is in partial shadow. Even in harsh midday light, the lake photographs well with a smartphone.

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Capturing Alpine Wildflowers Part Two

7 Sep

Today we are concluding my two-part series on the technical art of capturing alpine wildflowers.  Let’s jump right into it and talk about some advanced techniques for creating dynamic pictures.

Focus Blending to Create Depth of Field – There are many varieties of this technique available for landscape photographers and I found this one works best for me.  My default area for focusing on an image is centered about one-third of the way into the frame. I’ll refocus and take the same image focused on the extreme foreground and then a third focus point and picture on the background subject matter as well.

After adjusting the exposure, tone, and white balance in RAW, I’ll open my primary image in Photoshop.  I do the same thing for the second image I captured, keeping the settings the same.  I then copy and paste the second image into the same frame as the first one.  Next, I make sure the images are properly aligned by selecting both and using the auto align tool.  Keep in mind, sometimes the tool doesn’t do a perfect job on the first attempt. Zoom in close and double-check the results and rerun the tool if you aren’t satisfied. Once your images are properly aligned,  use an inverse mask on the second image and brush in the parts of the image that are sharper in the foreground.  Please keep in mind this can get kind of tricky when dealing with wildflowers because just the slightest breeze can cause movement in the flowers.  Once you are happy with your results save the file. It is important not do any cropping yet.

Next I flatten the image file into one and repeat the steps using the third image captured for the background.  Normally this step is a little bit easier because there usually isn’t as much detail in the background as there is in a foreground.  Once you are happy with the results you can then begin your regular editing.  I prefer to save the cropping for last during my workflow.

Micro Blending – Micro blending is sub category of blending for depth of field. The technique is pretty much the same as the one I just described, except you are specifically blending for one small part of the image.  Let me give you an example.  Suppose you completed the steps above and your wildflowers look good. You then notice a couple of errant flowers that show movement from a slight breeze. You go back and review all of your shots of the scene and because you bracketed,  you find a shorter exposure that has those flowers rendered more in focus.  What you can do is adjust the settings in ACR to match your current picture setting and open that image up, follow the above steps and blend in just the flowers you need.

I hope this explanation of my depth of field blending techniques is useful to you. If so, or if you have any other comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Have a wonderful Labor Day Holiday.

Finding Your Creative Vision Part 3 – The Black and White

5 May

“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”
— Ansel Adams

Contemporary landscape photography is dominated by digital images of saturated and vibrant color. The popularity of this style is obvious and it oftentimes overshadows the traditional and subtle effectiveness of just using black and white. However, by no means is black and white photography passe. Today, we’ll discuss some of the most important processes involved in capturing and presenting your images in black and white.

Having a Vision

One of the most critical steps for the photographer to think in terms of black and white. What I mean is at the time of capture you should be envisioning a black and white finished product for your photograph. While this doesn’t always have to be the case, it certainly does help. You may be wondering, how does one go about developing this type of mindset?

One key is for the photographer to focus on finding black and white compositions when they are in the field. A prime way of accomplishing this is through the careful examination of subject matter and light. Black and white photography is most effective when there is a full spectrum of tone between white and black with many different shades of grey. Two common means of illustration are the primary colors of the subject and/or the light during the time of capture.

This is an image of Yellowstone Lake taken at the beginning of October as the area’s lovely fall weather was deteriorating into the freezing grip of winter. The water level here was low thus exposing many of the rocks in the lake. During capture, it was very cold and windy and a huge snow storm was moving in. The colors were fairly mute and because it was in the late afternoon and extremely overcast I knew this would lend well to black and white.

Once again, the key with black and white is to offer the viewer the full spectrum of tones so the eye can easily differentiate between the shades. Form is also accentuated in black and white. The effective use of contrast to emphasize form is often a key to the aesthetic success of your image. Here I like the forms of the rocks in the water. I also like the powerful U-shape formed by the exposed bank in the lake.

Styles

Stylistically, several types of prominent landscapes translate well into black and white photography. Here is a short list to keep in mind next time your are in the field: aspen trees, dead trees, raging creeks, sand dunes, barns, and snow capped peaks.

Processing

While this blog post was not designed to get into the specific technical aspects behind black and white processing, I will briefly discuss a couple important factors. How and when you convert your image to black and white is a subjective call. I’ve experimented with it several ways and I don’t particularly have a preference. It can be done at the beginning or end of your work flow and by a number of different ways in the same programs. (There are also third party plug ins that effectively facilitate the conversion too). If you are looking to have a finished product in both color and black and white I suggest just convert and tweak at the end of your work flow, unless you want to completely edit the picture twice.

Finally, the white balance you choose will also affect your image’s final appearance. What color tone do you want? A neutral grey? Blue? Or maybe slightly yellow? Those are subjective calls and a lot depends on personal preference and what you are trying to communicate…
For example, look closely at the image below and then compare to the one above. Notice the difference in the tone? The Yellowstone Lake shot is bluer, while the image beneath is more of a neutral grey.

Hopefully this post provided you with a little creative inspiration and approach to capturing and presenting your images in black and white, until next time have a great weekend!

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