Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First Day In Iceland, End of the Day

In my blog last week, I talked about my first day in Iceland and left the story when we arrived at Hraunfossar water falls. But that was by no means the end of our first day in Iceland.

Just up stream from Hraunfossar is a really cool area called Barnafoss. The width of the river is narrower, deeper and swifter than at Hraunfossar. After shooting Hraunfossar I wandered up stream and found this little gem. My only regret is that I did not climb down the bank you see in the shot above and get a better composition with the water coming into the gorge. Just below this area the water moves swiftly and has carved out some very interesting contours.

By the time I had finished with this shot it was getting pretty late and we had a long way to go to get back to Reykjavik, though none of us actually knew how far or which way to go exactly.

The Storm Arrives

We headed west knowing we should be able to find our way to highway one, the ring road that goes all the way around Iceland. But night was upon us and it began to rain. Then the wind began to blow hard and in gusts. And it was now a two lane paved road, in the dark, rainy, windy with big trucks coming at us that created all kinds of havoc. The one good thing was we were now on the ring road heading toward Rekjavik. We had been up almost all of the night before, had been traveling and photographing nonstop all day and now we were gifted with this amazingly exciting challenge: get back to Reykjavik as quickly as possible. . . because we are starving!

When we reached the Hvalfjordor Tunnel we knew we were pretty much home, and I must say the calm in the tunnel (well lit with no wind or rain) was very comforting. We got back to Reykjavik around 10 pm, parked the car and headed for the nearest restaurants. Guess what, they all close at 10 pm. After getting two or three refusals to let us in we found this little café that took mercy on us.

We sat gratefully on stools at a counter. I ordered the salmon dinner and it was, hands down, without a doubt, the very best salmon dinner I have ever had. You could wonder if perhaps it tasted so good because we had not eaten all day and we were exhausted and famished. But there is a flavor that very 
fresh, properly cooked salmon has and this salmon dinner had it! In fact, I was so good I kept ordering salmon all over the south of Iceland. But none compared to the dinner I had on this night. When I return next year I will be sure this time to write down the name of the restaurant and share it with you so you can try it out yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Photographing Iceland, Day One

If you take a flight to Iceland, chances are it will arrive around 6:30 am. Two friends and I met up there last year, one from Florida, one from Denver and me from San Francisco. We all arrived within 20 minutes of each other, right around 6:30 am. This meant we flew all night and had a full day ahead of us, so we decided we would stay up, make the most of that day and then get a good night’s sleep before embarking on our planned travels.

Area Adjacent to Blue Lagoon Pools

We wanted to photograph Hraunfossar, a beautiful set of waterfalls northeast of Reykjavik, so rented a 4x4 Jeep from Blue Car, took a quick trip over to the Blue Lagoon to photograph there.  Afer a couple of hours at the Blue Lagoon, we set off for Hraunfossar, not completely sure of which way to go, we decided to go northeast to Pingvellir and from there north on highway 52 to 550.

Wide Open Spaces

Image Taken with Tripod in the Wind.

 We had no idea how desolate these roads were nor how devoid they would be of other travelers. Yet there was beauty everywhere. It was a different kind of beauty than I am used to, a baren, stark, open, middle of no where beauty.

iPhone Image

Continuing north I noticed a scene in the distance to our right. It needed to be shot! The problem was the wind. I was the only one willing to get out of the car, and the use of a tripod was out of the question – way too windy. So with iphone in hand I used the car to block the wind and grabbed the above image.

Beautiful Clouds

iPhone Image
And then the sky began to develop.  Oh, my.  But once again iPhone images, this time from inside the car.

Storm Coming, iPhone Image

Driving in this part of Iceland is like driving on a giant geode. The surface is stark, desolate and although it has its own beauty it is mostly pretty boring. Then you find a crack in the surface, in the form of a canyon or valley, and you find this amazing familiar beauty. Just like finding crystals inside a geode. At the end of our several hours drive through wide open spaces we dropped down into a canyon and found this little gem.

From here we began moving westward and found ourselves at Hraunfossar within a short while. Hraunfossar is a series of waterfalls spanning several hundred yards. While it looked to me from viewing images of it prior that the water flowed over the upper surface and spilled into the river I discovered that it doesn’t do that at all. It is coming straight out of the side of the river bank.

(This is only a portion of Hraunfossar)

Driving Tips In Iceland

When driving in Iceland there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, if you want some latitude to choose where to go, a 4x4 is very handy. Second, get wind insurance. Wind is seemingly ever present and when it gets really strong it creates sand storms and your usual insurance will not likely cover it. And finally, when opening the door of your car, hold on tightly. The wind can grab the door, swing it violently open and damage the car.  Better yet contact Nature Explorer in Iceland or Andy Cook with Rocky Mountain Reflections in Colorado and join one of their photographic workshops, you won't be disappointed!

If you enjoyed these photographs you can see more of Bob's fine art landscape photography at

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How To Get The Sharpest Image Possible

What follows pertains getting sharp images in landscape photography not sports or action photography. These steps will apply any time you are shooting on a tripod, and from my view that applies to almost every time you are shooting a landscape.

Coulter Bay, Jackson Lake                  

Use a Tripod

The first guideline is to use a tripod. Not just any tripod, but one that is sturdy enough to hold your camera steady in whatever conditions you plan to shoot. If you will have the legs of your tripod in moving water, or if it is windy, the sturdiness of the tripod becomes very important. Also, if you are using a long lens (powerful magnification) the need for a steady tripod increases. To test this out, put your camera with a long lens in live view and zoom in as far as you can and watch the screen. Now reach up and press the shutter release button.  Watch to see if there is movement. I was amazed at how sensitive my 400mm lens was to the slightest disturbance. With a sturdy tripod you minimize the shake but you may also want to use a cable release or your camera's timer to take shots.

Mormon Row

Turn Off Image Stabilization

I used to wonder why my fairly expensive wide angle lenses didn’t have image stabilization (IS) built in. Then one afternoon I tested my lenses that did have image stabilization by taking shots with IS active and with it inactive. I used a tripod and and took a series of comparative shots, the only difference was IS on and IS off. Sure enough, the images without IS active were sharper. After discovering this it finally made sense to me why my wide angle lenses don’t have IS. It is because they are mostly intended for use with a tripod and in that case the image stabilization does not improve the sharpness of the image.

Use Mirror Lock-Up

In the same way that IS causes vibration so does the mirror. When you press the shutter the mirror flips up and out of the way so your sensor can take the shot. That movement is the culprit. To avoid this motion, your camera should have a menu setting that allows you to use mirror lock-up. When activated the first time you press the shutter release the mirror is moved up and the second time you press it the shot is taken. A way to get around this, and I prefer this method, is to shoot in live view. In this case the mirror is already out of the way so that when the shutter is released no shake is introduced, allowing for a steady shot.

Grand Tetons

Use the Optimum Aperture Setting for Your Lens

The aperture setting will affect sharpness.  For my canon lenses f/8 to f/11 are my sharpest settings.  But this will vary between lenses and if you want really sharp images find out (google it) what the sharpest setting is for your specific lens.  Sometimes you will have to sacrifice sharpness to get the depth of field you want or to get the shutter speed you need.

Use a Cable Release

Pressing the shutter button raises the likelihood of moving the camera. One of the reasons for using a tripod is to get away from manually pressing the shutter release. This is why we have remote shutter releases as they will release the shutter without moving the camera. Another method is to use the timer on your camera. The 2-second timer is especially handy in this regard. Just set the timer and when you press the shutter release the camera will have 2 seconds to settle down before taking the shot.

Ox Bow

Keep Your Hands Off the Tripod and Camera

I had gotten into the habit of placing my hand on my camera as I was taking images. It didn’t occur to me that I could be inadvertently moving the camera. I thought I was steadying it. But without realizing it every once in a while I would shift my body or arm and the camera moved, even though very slightly. I paid the price in the shot above which is a landscape made of five images stitched together. Each of the five images was bracketed with seven shots. All was fine until I got to the last frame on the right when inadvertently I moved the camera. It is not particularly obvious from this small rendition, but if I were to enlarge it for print it would be unacceptable.

Use Your Hands - Strong Winds


The one time I recommend placing you hands on the equipment is when you are shooting in strong wind. When I was in Iceland we had some days that were quite windy and the only way to get a decent shot was to grab the tripod legs with both hands and press down firmly. Other than conditions like that I am monitoring myself to keep my hands to myself.

Pay Attention to Depth of Field

Depth of field relates to the amount of your scene, from the closest object to the most distant that is in focus. Small apertures and short focal lengths increase depth of field. With any given focal length, combined with a chosen aperture size there will be a formula that lets you know where to place your focus point in the scene in order to maximize you depth of field. That focus point is called the hyperfocal distance and there are charts and calculators on line that you can use to figure out where the optimal focus point is. It can get a bit complicated but is worth the trouble of figuring it out if you want really sharp images from front to back or within a particular range.  The image of Coulter Bay above was taken by maximizing depth of field with a small aperture setting, 16mm focal length on a  full frame camera, 2 sec. timer, live view, hyper focal focusing, and using a tripod.

To see more of Bob's fine art landscape photography visit his web page by clicking

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How To Photograph God Rays

If you haven’t heard the term, “god rays”, it refers to those streams of light that emanate from the location of the sun and stream in all directions into and through the scene in front of you. Mostly we see these rays streaming down, but you will find situations where they are streaming in all directions. It all depends on the conditions present in the scene.

Kapaa Beach

In the image above taken on Kapaa Beach in Kauai, you can see that the rays are shooting up as well as down. The rays are visible because they are lighting up particles in the atmosphere. The light is filtered, that is, the light is interrupted by clouds in portions of the image and that is what gives the rays definition. 

Take away the clouds and leave the particles in the sky and you would see what would look like a hazy glow. For an image like this one I recommend you use a tripod, turn off image stabilization, use mirror lockup or shoot in live view, use a hand held remote or your 2 second timer.  Meter the scene and take the picture. You will also need to decide whether or not the dynamic range of the scene warrants your bracketing the image.

Central Oregon Coast

I will shoot god rays just about any time I see them.  But if I am going to go looking for them the time I like best is mid morning.  The forest scene above was taken at 9:30 am.  There was still mist in the air and the light was filtered by the trees so it was a great time to be photographing.  If you can find a setting with a dark background it will help to make the light rays stand out.  On this particular morning we had spent a couple of hours shooting sunrise and when we were all finished we ventured into a wooded area in search of the light.  Photographing these rays can extend your morning shoot while leaving the golden hour for other subjects.

Hug Point, Oregon

The image above is of Hug Point on the coast of Oregon. As you can see it is just after sunrise and the light is filtered by the ridge of trees. There is a slight mist in the air making the visibility of the rays possible. What you cannot see is that these rays were not visible from other areas on the beach. 30 feet to my right, which is where I was standing just before taking this shot, I could not see the rays. What I did see was the speckled light on the sand so I moved toward the light and horizontally to the scene until the rays  showed up. If you are in the right conditions, namely, filtered light with mist in the air and you don’t see god rays, look for speckled light on the ground and then move around going toward or away from the scene and left and right. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park

On my way home from Oregon I passed through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It was morning and I glanced to my left, saw god rays galor in the trees and came to a screeching stop. I was in luck, as there was a path leading from the pullout into the forest. There were lovely scenes all around me. If you can it is a good idea to find some foreground interest to include in you image.  Here the path lends some mystery and intrigue to the image and helps pull the viewer into the scene.

If you enjoyed these images you might want to visit Bob's website to see more of his fine art landscape photography.