Tag Archives: tips

5 Insider Tips on Renting Cars for Your Next Adventure

11 Oct

Autumn is the perfect time for road trips and renting a vehicle can save gas and prevent needless wear-and-tear. For those of us with wanderlust this can be invaluable. Here are five tips to save money, time, and headaches the next time you need a rental car.

autumn-drive-2

  1. Aim for the Sweet Spots – Rule #1 when renting vehicles – not all days cost the same. Week-long rentals generally offer the best bang for your buck. For instance, if you are renting for four or five days a week-long rental could be the same price or just a few dollars more. Likewise, many rental agencies offer specials on weekends. However, expect to pay more on holidays or during local events like concerts or festivals. Similarly, most locations have “peak” seasons for charging premium prices. For instance, rates spike in Phoenix in March for spring training. Having flexibility when planing your next adventure can save you cash.
  2. Use Costco Travel – This one is not free as a membership costs $60/yr. However, if you are renting four or five cars annually this can pay for itself. Costco Travel aggregates all the coupons for Enterprise, Avis, Budget,  and Alamo and automatically applies them to your reservation. This saves you countless hours searching the web for the latest coupon codes or deals. While some “discount” companies like National, Fox, and Dollar are not covered – these prices provide a benchmark if you want to search elsewhere for better prices. Hertz is the only major company not covered that has locations away from the airports.
  3. Reserve Early and Double Check Later – To secure the best rates try reserving at least three weeks in advance. In fact, I recommend making the reservation as soon as your trip plans are solidified. Earlier is usually better as prices tend to rise as more demand for that date occurs. However, prices also occasionally drop. It may be worth investing 5 to 10 minutes of time to double check prices as your next trip approaches. You could end up saving 50 bucks or more!
  4. Coverage Choices – I use American Express when renting cars because it covers my insurance. Make sure you have proper coverage in place without paying the extraordinary prices rental agencies charge. If necessary, call your insurance agent to find out what your policy covers. If you need to purchase coverage have the clerk explain everything as there are multiple levels of coverage including some that you may not need.
  5. Watch for Bait-n-Switch – This usually pertains to the class of cars. Because there are so many: economy, compact, intermediate, standard, and full size the differences can be vague. Some cars and SUV’s seem too fit into two categories. Rental companies will occasionally put you in a lower class of vehicle and then try selling you on an upgrade. This “upgrade” is actually what you are paying for in the first place! If necessary, be prepared to pull up the company website which shows and describes the class of vehicles. Additionally, companies will try selling “fake” upgrades. For instance, when renting a Jeep from the airport in Hawaii I was asked by the clerk if I’d like to upgrade to two-door model for $60. I let him explain the benefits and politely refused. When I got my vehicle I was able to choose a two-door one anyways!

If you have any other tips, stories, or if this post was helpful to you I’d love to read them in the comments section below.

Endless Journey

The technical art of capturing alpine wildflowers

26 Aug

Wildflowers are a joy to photograph. The colors, shapes, and sizes can add so much personal expression and emotion to an image. There is a multitude of creative approaches to employ while developing a vision for the subject.  Today, we explore some of the most effective techniques used to capture wildflowers. It is part one of my new series and I hope that you find it useful.

Composition

Fields of wildflowers offer the opportunity for show stopping photographs of epic proportions.  However, the margin for error is even smaller than normal and proper attention to detail must be precise in order to execute a stunning picture.

My first method of approach is to determine a point of view. How low or high do I want to get with my camera? Obviously the lower the perspective, the more prominent your foreground. This technique increases drama and brings your viewer into the picture. However, there are potential hindrances as well.

For instance, what about the flowers directly behind your foreground? Are they colorful and do they add or detract from your image? Would an overview of the area work better than getting low to the ground? Remember, a moving your camera just a few inches up or down or to either side can truly affect your composition,  so be aware of everything you are photographing. Take your time, look around, and experiment.

A stunning floral display accentuated by a glimpse of rare alpine light. The angle of the field of flowers and the varying lengths of growth worked wonderfully for this photograph.

The heighth, width, and overall size of the wildflowers plays a huge part in composition as well. Smaller and stocky wildflowers are generally  easier to capture than taller, lanky ones because they don’t catch as much wind and they don’t obscure other flowers.  On the flip side, the large ones take up more space in your composition and the differences in height can add texture and variety to your pictures as well.

In addition to size, the spacing of flowers is critical. Are the flowers evenly spaced  or do they occur in clumps? Is the color evenly distributed across your image or is it unbalanced?  Finally, are you looking to photograph an entire field or  prominently capture one clump?

My approach:  Find the biggest and best fields of flowers and work around that. I prefer as many flowers in my images as possible.

Best advice:  Experiment with both vertical and horizontal compositions of the same scene. More often than not, I find my first hunch for presentation is wrong when photographing scenes with wildflowers.

Techniques

Wind is the biggest natural obstacle in successfully executing wildflowers shots. It doesn’t take much, just a little breeze to really mess things up. Fortunately, in today’s digital age we can overcome many natural limitations by exercising a little bit of patience and creativity.  Let’s go over some techniques that can help.

Wind played a major factor in the capture of this shot. Multiple blends were necessary to keep the flowers from moving and to blend for depth of field. The differences in color from the previous image are mostly a result of a much warmer white balance or higher color temperature used as the basis for editing this picture.

1) Take off the polarizer – In one of my all time favorite photography books I learned that a polarizer should not be used within an hour of either sunrise or sunset. While this filter can be very useful in reducing glare while photographing wildflowers – if wind is an issue and it is a sunrise or sunset – take it off and spare yourself the extra exposure time.

2) Utilize your ISO speed – Depending on the quality of your camera and the size of your print, ISO speed can be raised considerably without any noticeable decrease in quality.  That is,  if exposure and focus are correct coupled with the right aperture settings.  For example, I recently compared a 16 x 24 print shot at ISO 400 with another shot with the same camera and lens at ISO 100 and I literally could not tell any difference in quality.

Getting back to the flowers – unless it is deathly still – try to keep your exposure times to less than one half of a second to prevent any kind of motion blur in your flowers.

My approach: Take lots of pictures of the same composition and blend out the blurry flowers if necessary.

Best advice:  Be patient – wait for the wind to die down. Even if the light changes – you still have a chance of pulling off a successful blend.

We’ll stop here for today and pick up this topic next week with more tips and techniques for capturing wildflowers. If you like post or have any tips of your own – I’d love to hear from you!

Find Your Creative Vision Part 4 – Abstract Images

10 Jun

This week’s blog is on how to to craft successful abstract images in landscape photography. We will talk about what to look for, how to express yourself, and also discuss technical tips in the field. I also want to give you a brief professional update as a lot is going on. We recently returned from a wonderful eight day trip to Oregon. More on that in a later blog. Next week we are preparing for our first trip to San Diego to participate in the renowned La Jolla Festival of Fine Arts.

Today our focus is on abstracts. Abstracts offer a lot of opportunity for a number of reasons and make a fine addition to any landscape photographer’s portfolio. To begin, abstract images are less contingent upon spectacular light. In many cases soft, diffused light works best. This is usually true for abstracts involving plants and trees. Depending on the size of your subject and the photographer, wily shooters can use their bodies, jackets, reflectors or anything else capable of casting a shadow on their subject matter. So sometimes you don’t even have to wait for the light!

In other instances, photographers use the reflected glow of the sun to help add drama and color to their images. This works best while shooting in slot canyons or while shooting intimate scenes of water that capture the varied colors of reflected light. Below is a demonstration of how different kinds of direct light can affect the color quality of abstract images.

Taken in the morning

Taken in the afternoon

Taken in the afternoon

Abstract photos normally normally rely on repetition or pattern. This can be expressed in colors, lines, shapes and accentuated by depth. This type of image best allows the photographer a means to express him or herself creatively in ways that will set them apart from others in the field.

I used a high contrast interpretation of this mescal agave plant to accentuate its dominant features and colors.

Another critical consideration is the photographer’s technical execution in the field. This can be the make or break difference in determining the dramatic impact of the image. Considerations such as what aperture to use to showcase depth of field, what kind of exposure works best to capture the subject matter and it colors, will using a filter, like a polarizer, help improve the scene? These are all personal choices left up to each photographer. The best advice I can give is just to experiment with local subject matter. My best abstracts have all been local. There is something about familiarity when it comes to abstracts that has really helped me find my style. It difficult to put into words, I guess it is more of an instinct than it is a tangible quality.

For instance, I live in the desert. So when I am out and about I am looking at desert landscaping and watching the plants for patterns or shapes that interest me. I might find one that I like and maybe the scene doesn’t work or I don’t have my camera gear, but it gives me an idea of something that interests me that I continue to look for in the future. That’s my suggestion to you. When you are around mundane subject matter, pay attention to the little things – even if you don’t get shots it can inspire you for the future.

Saguaro Bulbs

Speaking of which, I hope you find this article inspiring. Please let me know if you do!

Lost in the Desert Part Three – The Rescue

15 Feb

Sometime during the day, one hearty traveler ventured into the camp while I was attempting to summit Mica Mountain starting from the campground. I don’t recall the individual’s name, but he traveled alone and did not use any kind of shelter – he just slept in his bag. I thought this was unusual because it was quite cold and windy. He also told me that winds the preceding evening were strong enough to knock over one of the oldest and largest saguaros in the area.  We spent some time talking and getting to know one other that night and discussed traveling out together the following morning.

I can’t remember exactly how the events  unfolded, but I believe the following morning this individual decided to break camp earlier than we had planned. Unfortunately, I was still in the process of breaking down my camp and wasn’t able to accompany him. I think I left approximately an hour after he did. That’s really when the trouble started.  In and around the campground, there are a number of use trails, and it is difficult to discern which is the main trail leading out of the camp. I am not exactly sure where I got lost, but I think it happened pretty quickly.

One of the  interesting things about Saguaro NP East is  housing developments abutt the park boundaries. So when traveling in and out of the mountains,  many of the distant views are of residential areas. I think this gives the traveler a false sense of security because everything looks closer than it is, and it is impossible to tell the lay of the land.  At times, it almost looks like you can reach out and touch the houses, but they are much further off than they appear. Another major mistake I made was using these homes as a guide point to determine which way I should be traveling.  I’ll try to describe to you what happened next….

Instead of following the ridgeline down and off the mountain at approximately a 45 degree angle, I descended straight down a 90 degree angle.  Needless to say, before I realized  I was traveling in the wrong direction, I had already passed the point where it made sense for me to try to turn around and retrace my steps. I wasn’t even sure if I could find my way back if I tried. Part of the problem was there were a considerable amount of game trails in the wilderness and I was deceived into believing that I was traveling on an actual hiking trail. I saw an astonishing amount of deer during this adventure.  At one point, I must have spooked a herd of nearly 50, right in the middle of day, just galloping through the groves of giant saguaros. It was really quite a site.

Once I realized that I was lost, my game plan was to follow the washes down and out of the wilderness. Often times, the washes represent the path of least resistance. Occasionally, they cliff out and you are forced to circumvent around. That happened a couple of times, and I basically resorted to bushwhacking through some nasty desert terrain. By this time, my water supply was quickly dwindling. I had a couple different plans for my water. One strategy that I’ll sometimes use is to hold the water in my mouth for as long as I can without swallowing, which keeps your breathing passages hydrated and moist. If had completely run out of water, I knew that I could probably find some stored in the park’s many barrel cacti and would not hesitate to cut one open if my life depended on it.

That ended up not being the case, but I was a complete mess by the time I wandered off the mountain. I never saw a single soul during the entire length of my descent, which took about twice as long was what it should have taken. My thighs to my ankles were completely covered in scratches ranging from one to five inches in length. It literally looked like I had been attacked by a wild animal. By the time I reached the base of the mountains, I ended up in a remote section that had just a single trail. That trail eventually led out and I ended up soliciting a neighbor for some water and the use of their phone.  As it turned out, I was a good 15 mile drive from my car when I should have been able to walk right off the trail and throw my gear into my trunk. I called the park for assistance, and they sent a ranger out to drive me back. After searching all my stuff for “petroglyphs,” he returned me to my car. It was the only time I had to be “rescued” and I was thankful  I made it out in one piece. It was quite the adventure!

Wild Moments #3 Lost in the Desert – The Expedition Pt. 1

3 Feb

In December  2004, I ventured into the Rincon Mountains of Saguaro National Park East for my first solo backpacking trip. It was a trip that I’ll never forget. For those of you that don’t know, the Rincon Mountains are part of the “sky islands,”   a group of mountain chains in the Coronado National Forest of southeastern Arizona that draw their name from the extreme biodiversity found within the topography.  The largest of the sky islands is Mt. Graham. At 10,720 ft, it is also the third highest peak in the state.

The Rincon Mountains top out at 8,664 feet, but draw distinction as being some of the roughest mountains in the state. A few years back, I read a book about hiking the Arizona Trail and the author claimed the Rincons, which traverse the state from north to south, were the most difficult part of the 772 mile hike.  Although there are over 100 miles of trails in the Rincons, there is one trail that serves as the artery into the park. It’s called the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail and it’s the one most backpackers use. It is an 18 mile trail (roundtrip) that journeys on the spine of the Rincons into the heart of the mountains. From its terminant, it is a manageable day hike to reach the top of the mountains.

I started out in mid morning on a typical December day. Temperatures were in the high 60s and it was sunny and relatively warm. At the trailhead, the topography is lower Sonoran desert. You’ll see a veritable display of plants such as saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, and barrel cacti as well as mesquite and palo verde trees amongst others. As the trail begins to climb, the topography soon changes.  Lower Sonoran desert gives way to high Sonoran desert and the larger cacti soon disappear. They are replaced with large boulders, wild grasses, and more trees. (If you are interested in the different biotic zones of this hike, you’ll find more information here)

By the time I reached camp near the seven mile mark, the temperature had dropped about  15 degrees. There were patches of snow at the campsite. When night began to fall, the wind picked up considerably and  the temperatures plummeted. Backpacking in the Rincon Mountains is not for the faint of heart. This was just the beginning of my adventure…(I’ve got my pictures from this hike on another hard drive and I will update this post with a few shots before my next post.)

Tucson Barrio

27 Jan

Joyce and I are back from an awesome weekend in Tucson. I have to say that here  in Phoenix, the city of Tucson sometimes is portrayed negatively and unfairly (in my opinion) by many of the local print publications. It is unfortunate because Tucson has a ton of character on its streets that  really isn’t as evident here in the valley. Although it has grown dramatically in the past ten years, it still maintains the feel of its Spanish roots. Tucson has also down a good job of preserving historic sites. The Mission at San Xavier del Bac just south of the City is a shining example painstaking preservation efforts. In addition, Tucson has some killer mountains on all four sides and probably the best saguaro forests in the country. Saguaro National Park is a must do trip on any visit to the Tucson area.

Today I want to talk about the Tucson barrio.  As many of you may know, I volunteer for Friends of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. It was through the Friends organization that I first learned about this  amazing place. They do a workshop there in the spring and reading about this place captured my imagination.  I’ve always been interested in photographing doors and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The brilliant colors and unique architectural features in the barrio are mesmerizing.

With a weather forecast of clear, blue skies all weekend long I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to capture some urban art in the heart of the “Old Pueblo.”  Joyce and I spent several sunrises there capturing the colors and atmosphere of the unique barrio. Below is one of my favorite images from the trip….

I prefer the distressed look on the abandoned properties as opposed to the cleaner presentation of many of the remodeled homes in the area

Joyce captured some fantastic shots too. Even though this home is remodeled, I think the light shining in the middle of it really makes this shot for me. It is definitely one of my favorites…

The barrio is a really cool place if you are interested in this type of photography. We felt the best location was in the vicinity of Stone and Cushing streets in downtown Tucson. If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth a look. My next post will most likely be on Monday, until then, have a fantastic weekend!

5 Photography Tips & Bryce Sunrise 24 x 36 Print

1 Dec

Before we get into the photography tips,  here’s a quick personal update on the latest happenings in my photography world. The first big festival of the winter is upon us and we are making final preparations for a successful show. Our inventory is fully stocked, show pricing is in place, and we have several options of styles including framed and matted prints, notecards as well as canvas giclees.  For this show, we also made a couple of large prints including my bryce canyon sunrise shot entitled, “Celestial Alignment” at 24 x 36. That’s my largest print to date, we just got it home this afternoon and here’s a quick snap shot with me in it to give you a sense of size. Including the matting and frame – the image is 49 inches wide.

One of my showstoppers for Tempe this year. This is a 24 x 36 Lightjet print on FujiFlex paper with distressed gold trim, suede matting, museum glass, and a Southwestern wood frame. For more information on purchasing this piece...please contact me.

Now onto my photo tips. Ron, my contact at Induro Gear,  asked me to submit my top five photography tips and he published that article on the Induro blog earlier this week. You can read it here.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I apologize for not updating my blog for frequently. This has been an incredibly busy time. You can expect me to update the blog at least once per week from now until the new year.

Michael

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 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.

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