Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking Back With Gratitude

This past year has been full of adventure for me, seeing new and exciting places like Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, the island of Kauai, Europe from Amsterdam to Budapest on the Rhine and Danube rivers, the Oregon Coast and finally Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands national parks along with a first time visit to Monument Valley. I felt like my plate had been filled to overflowing. These were all wonderful topnotch places to visit and photograph. But the one that stands out in my mind and that I would like to get back to as soon as I can is Bandon, Oregon. The beach here is a very special place.

Photographer's Paradise

It wasn’t just the location of lodging across the street from the beach, although that was definitely an attractive convenience. What I liked about Bandon, or Face Rock Beach, was the gentle slope of the beach. A wave would come in and simply glide forever over the sand, at times providing a glass like surface to reflect the rocks and the clouds and the color in the sky. Combine those qualities with the very interesting and abundant rock structures on the beach and you have a photographer’s paradise.

Most of the time I was in Bandon, about 3 ½ days over a two week period, there were no clouds, or only very distant close to the horizon clouds. Then on my last night they appeared. It is an ecstatic experience to watch the clouds in the sky as the sun recedes to and below the horizon.

End Of The Day

If you enjoyed these images you can see more of Bob's work on his web site by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Never Ever Do This

I am going to give you some advice and if you are like me you will hear the advice, know that it is good advice and then you will find ample opportunity to ignore it. I knew at the time that what I am about to tell you was a good practice to follow and I ignored it and learned from real life that yes, indeed, it really is good advice.

The Green River

I was on my way to Moab, Utah, driving in from Grand Junction along the Green River. It was early October and the cottonwoods were in color and since I was looking for color you might say I was in photographer’s heaven. A bit west of Fisher Towers to the south of the highway I saw a line of trees against a silhouetted background. To shoot it I had to pull off the road and hike up a hill, maybe a half mile, not far. It was late afternoon and the sun was getting low casting backlighting on the trees. The scene held promise.

Green River Valley

I reached the top of the hill and began shooting and looking for good perspectives to improve my composition. I was standing there and I thought, “I wonder how it would look from right over there?” Over there being about 15 feet to my right. Leaving my camera in place, firmly attached to my tripod, I walked over to the possibly better spot and as I walked I heard a dull thud behind me. Turning, I saw that my tripod had tipped over, camera attached, and the lens was face down in the soft soil, half buried in dirt.

Need I say more? The dirt had entered the lens and I could hear and feel it in the focus mechanism. So much for that lens on this trip it would have to be professionally cleaned. I am sorry to say it was one of my very best lenses, a Canon 24-70 mm f/2.8L II lens.

I knew better. Never leave your lens unattended on your tripod. (That’s the advice part.) Ah, but there is more to the story. Wouldn’t you just know.  Now I was driving around Moab, into Arches and Canyonlands and I was thinking this would be a great subject to blog about, warn folks of the perils of leaving your camera on the tripod – because you never know what will happen: could be wind, could be soft soil, maybe an earthquake….

fiery Furnace

Fast forward three days. The sky has been pretty much cloudless until this day and now a lovely storm is brewing. I got a nice shot of the Fiery Furnace and then drove out to the end of the road and was photographing Sand Dunes Arch when the storm began. Thunder, lightening, rain. I jumped in my car and headed for Panorama Point thinking I would have more choices of things to shoot from there. As I drove into the Panorama Point parking area, the sun broke through the clouds and the scene was so gorgeous I didn’t know which way to point my camera. It was beautiful and dramatic everywhere, and wet, and cold. I was shooting away and noticed my shoe lace was untied. No time to tie it, I kept shooting while the light is good. I’ll tie the shoe later.

Panorama Point

After about 45 minutes of this pure joy I was back to the car, which was parked in the parking lot on asphalt. Smooth, firm asphalt. So I figured this was a good time to tie my shoe. My camera was attached to my tripod and my tripod was on firm, smooth, level asphalt (can you see it coming?). I turned away from the tripod and bent down to tie my shoe and I hear this “thud”. (That all too, by now, familiar thud.) I turned and looked and my tripod and camera had tipped over and there were two of them: my camera over there to my left, face up with loose wires sticking up out of it and a few feet away on my right, my lens. Or to be precise, half of my lens. When the camera hit the ground the lens casing broke and the part of the lens that houses the heavy glass, that part broke away ending up a couple of feet from the other part of the lens that was still attached to the camera, wires dangling. It was an awful sight and unfortunately I can still see it. Vividly. 

It wasn’t an earthquake, or the wind, or soft ground. One of the tripod legs collapsed because it wasn’t tightened all the way, even though I thought it was. Now this event was worse than the first because now the embarrassment was almost as heavy as the loss of my favorite wide angle lens. A lens can be replaced or repaired, but the embarrassment. What do I do about that?. And all I could think was, “I did what? I did what? . . . .Twice?!”

So now I am hoping for you that you are not like me and that you will take this advice seriously, "Don’t Leave Your Camera Unattended On Your Tripod”. You never know what unexpected thing might happen, even though you think it wont.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Photographic Composition, Personal Expression

There are a lot of things that go into making a great photograph. Among these are the light, weather conditions, perspective, proper focus, and of course great foreground, background and subject to name a few. And yet given all of those things the image will fall short if the overall composition isn’t a good one. I think composition is the most challenging and the most rewarding of all of the aspects of photography. More than anything else, composition is where the personality or personal expression of the photographer comes into play. It is through their choice of composition that you begin to discover how they see their world.

A good composition can turn an ordinary scene into a photogenic one. I am reminded of the lighthouse in Bandon, Oregon. To me it was a less than ordinary lighthouse, nothing particularly photogenic about it. I had seen it from a restaurant window and had decided it was not worth the trouble to drive over to photograph it  A week later on my return from the north coast of Oregon, Andy Cook (Rocky Mountain decided he wanted to shoot this lighthouse, never having been to it before. Watching him was a lesson in composition. He immediately found the rocks down below the lighthouse, scrambled over them until he got to the farthest corner of the rocks away from the lighthouse and positioned himself to be able to include the leading line of the surf breaking against the rocks. All of a sudden this drab little lighthouse came to life.

Here is another shot taken of the same lighthouse.  This image is taken pretty much from the same perspective as the first one, but from a higher plane and with more spaciousness or breathing room around the lighthouse, as well as it being presented in landscape mode rather than portrait.  Can you feel the difference between the two?

And finally, this image, which I like, but for me it has a completely different feel to it with the rocks taking a prominent role in the foreground.  There are other differences between these images besides their compositions, like the temperature of the light and their brightness.  Is there one of the images you prefer?  Can you identify what it is about it?  Do you see something you might want to have done differently?   These are all personal preferences and personal choices both for the photographer and for the viewer.  For me it is a big part of the challenge and the joy of landscape photography. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nighttime Shooting: How To Take This Shot

Balance Rock & Orion

Shooting at night opens up a completely different world to photograph. And it is loads of fun. But it requires some advance planning to make the experience fun and enjoyable. Here are some of the things I needed to take into consideration in order to get this image of Balance Rock and the constellation Orion in Arches National Park in November.

Equipment You Will Need

You will need a wide angle lens, the widest you have. For this shot I used a Rokinon 14mm fixed lens. This is a fairly inexpensive lens but it is very sharp and a good value for the price. I shot with a full frame camera on a tripod. You will need a tripod for sure. A cable release is nice to have but it is optional. Take your widest angle lens and your tripod. And warm clothes as you may be standing around for considerable amounts of time.

Before You Go Out To Shoot

How long to expose? There are some things you should know before you go. First, if you want sharp images of the stars there is a formula to follow called the rule of 600. Some photographers follow the rule of 400. It will be up to you which rule to apply. Basically, the rule states if you want images that do not have obvious star trails, divide the focal length of your lens into 600 and the result is the number of seconds you can expose an image. A 20mm lens could expose for 30 seconds without obvious star trails. 24mm for about 25 sec. My Rokinon 14mm about 40 seconds.  If you use the rule of 400 you just divide into 400 instead of 600.

What aperture to use? f/4 is a good starting point. If you have a wider aperture, say a f/2.8, you have the option to use it but you may be sacrificing Image sharpness at the wider aperture. So you can start with f/4 and adjust from there.

What ISO to use? The ISO you choose is going to depend a lot on your camera’s ability to handle high ISO settings. The higher the number the more light you are letting in but you may sacrifice quality. Start at ISO 3200 and see what you are getting, then adjust accordingly. If it is too noisy try lowering the ISO and open up the aperture (if you can).  I find it is not unusual to work up to 5000 ISO.

What to focus on? Set your focus at infinity and leave it there. Do this before you go out at night. If you forget to do this you can focus on the moon if it is up, but often night shooting is done when there is no moon. Or you can focus on a distant light or use live view and magnify on the stars and then set the focus manually. But these methods are fraught with difficulty so set your focus before you leave for the shoot. Then turn off automatic focus on the lens and set it to manual focus. Next tape the focus ring to the body of the lens so it won’t move. And if you want to do it really right, place a piece of tape on the focus ring, one on the lens body, and draw a line from one to the other. Then if the focus ring does get moved, you have a reference to set the focus back at infinity.

At The Shoot

If your focus and other settings are set up ahead of time then you are almost ready to shoot. Place you camera on the tripod, compose, plug in your remote shutter release (or use your 2 sec timer) and take some shots. Check to see what you are getting and make adjustments accordingly. My own preference is to know my camera so I never have to turn on my light to make camera adjustments. Light from your flashlight, even if you have a red lens on it, will mess up your and/or your neighbor’s shot. So learn your adjustment buttons well enough that you can use them blindfolded. It will make for a much more enjoyable shoot for both you and your shooting buddies.

A Couple More Night Shots

This is a single shot taken in the White Mountains of California at f/2.8, 16mm, 25 seconds at ISO 3200.  This image and the one below were both taken in the month of August which is a good month to photograph the Milky Way.

This is a vertical panorama with the first shot being the lower half of the image. Then another shot was taken to capture more of the Milky Way and that image was stitched to the lower image to make the single image above. Settings were at f/2.8, 16mm, 25 seconds, ISO 3200.