Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rediscovering Sonoma County, Part I

Silent Witness

Last October I ended a 45 years career in counseling. I closed the door to my office and three days later jumped in an airplane and went to Eastern Utah for two weeks. It was a rush, a total high. When I came back to Santa Rosa, I was only just beginning to get with the new program of being retired. It has some major differences as you might guess. Like on Sunday afternoon you don’t have to be thinking of the week ahead, you can actually relax and coast into Monday.

For the first time ever I do not have obligations first thing in the morning. So I have been spending early morning hours out and about in Sonoma County, rediscovering it’s beauty and charm, and discovering for the first time places I had never seen before, at least not in this early morning light.

First Light

This was taken along Highway One at the beginning of civil twilight twilight. This is an area of farmland. Lots of dairies, green pastures and farm houses. I was captivated by the lights of the solitary ranch house on the hill, imagining it marked the beginning of someone’s day. 

Saint Teresa of Avila

I have seen the Church in Bodega innumerable times but never in the kind of light on this morning. Because it was illuminated almost entirely by the light of the moon, it required a long exposure of 10 seconds, a wide aperture of 4.5 and an ISO setting of 800. This captured the light on the Church and also brought out the color in the clouds and sky which were almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

Sunrise to the East

The sky before sunrise does puts on an amazing color show. This is looking East from a ridge near Dillon Beach.

Sunrise Over Dillon Beach

This is looking West from the same ridge about ten minutes after the previous image. I fell in love with this ranch house with its white fence, pond and green pastures. Tomales Bay, the northern tip of Point Reyes and the Pacific Ocean as backdrop create quite a setting.


The sun is just beginning to wash over the farm as the day begins.

If you enjoyed these images and would like to see more of Bob's fine art landscape photography click here to visit his web site.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Best Time To Shoot Landscapes

The best time to shoot landscapes is not necessarily the most convenient time. Of course you can shoot a landscape any time you want to but the question is: “Is there really a difference between what you shoot in the middle of the day and what you shoot at some other time of day?” Many people are satisfied with the daytime shot, but I think it is because they don’t realize what they would get at what I consider a more picturesque time of day. I am convinced of the advantages of early morning shooting. Otherwise I would not do what I did yesterday morning:

Up Early

It was 5:20 am and my eyes popped open just before the alarm sounded. I jumped out of bed, put on my long johns and layers of warm clothes. The coffee was on a timer and I could hear it chugging away in the kitchen. I grabbed my camera gear, all piled next to the front door and threw it into the car, checking to make sure I had extra charged batteries (“charged” is critical, I ended up with three spent batteries the day before) and extra memory cards. I got the car started and let it warm up while I finished getting ready. Filled the thermos, grabbed a cup, and my buddy and I jumped in the car and we were off by 6 am. It was just then about a half hour before the beginning of nautical twilight: still too dark to see if there were clouds. We arrived at the shooting site at 6:45, forty-five minutes before sunrise and it was time to shoot, the light just beginning to illuminate the sky. We jumped out of the car, set up in the dark and started shooting.

First Light

The first thing I saw was this tree. Now I had been to this exact location in the middle of the day the day before and did not even notice the tree. This morning it stands out as a welcoming sentinel to the coming light.  This image was taken with an f/8 aperture, ISO 100, for 15 seconds. A camera taking a 15 second shot will pick up considerably more light than the naked eye. So that first image taken always provides a surprise. While I could see there were some clouds in the sky, the first real indication of what was in store for this morning’s shoot was revealed with that first frame. On this morning I was thoroughly excited by what was showing up.

As the light came on and our eyes adjusted we could see well enough to venture down the hill to the next planned location. The terrain was steep and rough with nothing more than wildlife trails to follow yet we moved quickly down the hill as the last thing we wanted was to waste this precious light. At this time of day, every moment is showing up differently from the moment before.

As the sun began to emerge over the horizon it was time to hurry back up the hill, jump in the car and head to the final location about a quarter of a mile away. This was also scouted the day before and we were hoping it would catch the first golden rays of the morning sun.

Morning Light Versus Mid-day light
Now to the point of this blog. Is one time of day better than another?  Lets do a little comparison. Looking at the silhouette image of the tree, that shot was not even taken on the previous scouting day as the tree had no particular appeal. But put some colorful light into the scene and the tree as a silhouette and you have a picture worth sharing.

Here you can compare the next two images above, to the very same scenes taken on the previous day. The only difference between the two pairs is the light, early morning versus midday. When photographers say it is all about the light these are examples of what they are most likely referring to, the differences in the qualities of the light you see here.

I believe every individual has his or her own preferences regarding what they consider beautiful. It isn’t a right or wrong kind of thing, but for me, I would not get up at 5:20 am to take these last two pictures. I would and did for the previous four and I likely will again when the next set of clouds roll in.

Other Reasons 

Aside from the differences you see here, there are some other reasons I prefer the beginning and ending hours of the day. An image like the last one above will change with the seasons but day to day it will produce pretty much the same result. In contrast, when you go out in the early morning or late evening every moment and every day will be different as you get different cloud formations, more or less fog, different temperatures of light, and varying amounts of particulates in the air, all of which affect the end result.
So for me the answer is an easy yes, there is a best time to shoot landscapes and it is early morning 45 minutes before sunrise until a half hour to an hour after sunrise, and then late evening an hour before sunset until you can’t see anything any more because of darkness and you stumble back to the car exhausted and smiling.

If you enjoyed these images you might also enjoy seeing more of Bob's fine art landscape photography visiting Bob's website by clicking here.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tips For Shooting Panoramas

Lagoon at
Sandy Beach, Acadia. Five images wide

When you have a scene you would like to photograph that is wider than you can capture in one image it may be an opportunity to do a panorama. Once you start shooting pano’s you may begin seeing opportunities to shoot them that would have passed right by you. The image above is of Sandy Beach in Acadia National Park. On this particular day it was raining and I have my camera covered with a rain sleeve. I am standing with the ocean to my back.

Lagoon & Glacier, Iceland. 7 images wide

Tip Number One: Overshoot the Scene
The first thing to determine is what part of the scene do you want to include. You need to decide where the image will start and stop on the left and the right. Along with this you want to decide where the upper and lower limits will be. Once decided, overshoot. In other words, start farther to the left and end farther to the right than the area that will be in your final image. Likewise, capture more above and below.  After you stitch the images together the overshooting will allow you to crop the image to he size you envisioned.

Tip Number Two:  Level the Tripod First, Then The Camera
Now that you know what you want your final image to look like, position your camera to capture the perspective you want and then level the tripod. Most tripods have a bulb level on them and you can use that to adjust. If you don’t have a level on the tripod, use a level on your center post. If you get your center post level, both right and left and front and back, then it will be straight up and down and the tripod will be level.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Iceland. 5 images

Next, level the camera. If you don’t have a built in level, get one of those little plastic levels that fits into you hot shoe. They cost about $35 and are worth it because you can use it to level your tripod center post as well as your camera.

Tip Number Three:  Take Off Your Polarizing Filter
Now, consider taking off your polarizing filter, especially if you are going to have blue sky in your image. The polarizer will often make the sky look blotchy and it is a bear to repair later – although it can be done.  You will save yourself a lot of trouble when shooting pano's with sky by leaving the polarizer off.

Grand Tetons From Signal Mountain, 7 images

Tip Number Four:  Meter For The Brightest Part Of The Scene
Now meter the scene for the lightest part. Switch your camera to Manual and set those meter readings. Make sure you have focused where you want your focus to be.  By metering for the brightest part you will avoid having blown out portions of your image.  If the scene has a really high dynamic range (real brights and real darks) you may want to bracket, but that is a who subject in itself.

Tip Number Five:  Shoot In Manual Mode
By shooting in manual, the camera settings do not change with each capture.  If you are in aperture priority, for instance, the camera will reset the metering with each shot and your images will not go together well.  Shoot panoramas in manual and you avoid those in-camera variations.

Ox Bow, Jackson Hole

Tip Number Six: Shoot From Left To Right & Overlap
If you shoot from left to right every time you will never get confused about which image is next, or where your panorama begins and ends.  Be sure to overlap your images when you are shooting.  I like  doing pano's in live view as I use the grid on the screen to reposition the camera with each shot.  The grid makes it easy to find the 1/3 overlap point for the next shot.  Shooting in live view is not essential and some prefer not to, but overlapping is essential.

Stitching the images together is fairly straightforward.  I use Photomerge in Photoshop CS6.  I always check the "cylindrical" mode as it seems to do the best job of putting the images together.

If you liked this blog you might also like How To Get The Sharpest Images. Just click here.

If you would like to see more of Bob's work you may view it at bobhartphotography.