Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park
Schwabacher Landing is without a doubt one of my favorite places in Grand Teton National Park. This picture was taken just as the rising sun lit up the mountain tops. This location is an easy, short walk from a small parking lot. It was recommended to me that I arrive very early to beat the crowd - to get a prime shooting location before sunrise. Getting there early enough to see the sunrise was the only requirement I found this mid-August weekend day as there were only a couple of other friendly photographers joining me.
24mm f/11.0 1/8s ISO 100
Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Acadia National Park, Maine
There are a lifetime of photo opportunities in Acadia National Park, but the Bass Harbor Lighthouse is one of the best and most-visited locations.
This image is a composite of three shots. A 20 second primary shot includes the water and sky while a second 30 second shot was used to pull detail out of the rocks on shore. A third shot was used to capture the light shining on the trees beside and behind the lighthouse.
These three shots were selected from a huge number I shot at various times during the sunset - with lots of bracketing taking place. The three layers were merged in photoshop.
To keep the long exposure sharp, mirror lockup and the two-second self-timer were used as was a Gitzo GT3530LS tripod with an Arca Swiss Z1 Ballhead mounted to it. A custom white balance and a small amount of saturation were the primary post-processing tweaks aside from compositing the 3 images.
When you are shooting the next sunset, don't leave when the sun sets below the horizon (most photographers I observed in Acadia do). There may be many opportunities yet to come with easier to handle dynamic ranges.
24mm f/11.0 20s ISO 100
10-Rated Glacier National Park Sunrise
When all comes together, the rewards are worth every ounce of effort required to get the shot.
Getting to Glacier National Park is a modest challenge for much of the world - it is at best two flights away from most of the us - and three for many of us. For me, it started with an early bedtime and a 2:30 AM alarm setting. Actually, I set two of alarms for insurance. One was on my phone which was on the nightstand beside the other.
The phone went off first. I shut it off and tried to wake my wife (the family was joining me on this trip). After several attempts over a few minutes, she rolled over and in a somewhat unfriendly tone, said "WHAT?". That should have been my first clue.
I said "How much time do you want to get ready?" (I thought I was giving her the amount of time she requested the evening before). My next clue - She said "It's 12:30 AM!?" That's when I realized that I had an actual call - the alarm had not gone off. And that's when I learned that my trip to Glacier National Park had just become much more complicated.
A voice mail informed me that our first flight of three had been cancelled. I then spent an hour on the phone with someone from half way around the world trying to figure out how I was going to make one of the few daily flights into Kalispell. And one that returned to the same originating airport (don't ask).
A 3.5 hour drive put us on an afternoon flight that put me at the St. Mary Lodge at 1:00 AM PDT (3:00 AM in my EDT time). This of course resulted in a missed evening shoot - and required a sleep-in the next morning, so I missed an AM opportunity also.
It didn't take me long to get over the travel exhaustion. This national park is worth every ounce of effort and cost it takes to get there.
24mm f/11.0 30s ISO 100
Striking Gold: Maroon Bells Peaks Reflecting in Maroon Lake
I'm just back from an intensive 9-day photo trip to Colorado. Overall, the trip was great, though the weather was not cooperative for about half of the daylight hours. Bad weather can create the dramatic skies that are highly desired for landscape photos, but rain, snow and heavy fog can be especially challenging when distant mountains are a primary subject.
At the top of my distant mountains list were the Maroon Bells, a pair of fourteeners (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) located in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area near Aspen. These tree-less, maroon-colored peaks are generally considered the most-photographed mountains in North America. They are most-photographed for good reasons. The mountains are beautiful, the scene in front of them, including Maroon Creek Valley and Maroon Lake, is beautiful and the access is very easy. Getting this picture into the portfolio, however, was definitely not easy.
I mentioned that access to the beautiful Maroon Bells scene is easy. The hike from the relatively-small parking lot to Maroon Lake is a short one. I carried about 50 lbs. of gear to the lake in a Think Tank Photo Airport Accelerator Backpack and a Think Tank Photo StreetWalker worn as a front pack. But, this hike is the easy part of getting this photograph.
There are basically two ideal sections of the Maroon Lake shoreline to shoot from with a limited number of photographers fitting into them. Getting the perfect location requires you to be there before the other photographers wanting the same easy-to-get-to location (just getting a parking space can be a challenge). Factor a 30 minute drive from the nearest hotel to the early arrival time requirement at the parking lot (a limited amount of campsites are available closer to the location) and the result is a very early AM alarm. By the time this photo was taken, there were nearly 100 photographers standing beside Maroon Lake, and I assure you that many did not have optimal shooting positions (just hanging out with this many friendly, enthusiastic landscape photographers makes this trip worth the effort).
Aspen in their brilliant yellow (and red) fall foliage colors were my other primary photography target for this trip. There are only a handful of days each year when the aspen trees are at their peak, so the timing of this trip has to be perfect. Locals can simply watch the foliage reports and make the drive (just over 4 hours from Denver) when the trees are peaking, but the rest of us need to plan ahead with airline ticket purchases, hotel reservations and vehicle rentals. My strategy was simple: plan the trip for peak foliage dates from recent years. In Aspen, this strategy worked perfectly for me. Some trees were beyond peak and some remained green, but most were at or near peak color. Though this is a highly desired location most of the year, the peak foliage definitely factored into the large crowds I encountered.
To get the peaks of the Maroon Bells to glow at sunrise requires a clear sky in the east during sunrise and to get a perfectly clear reflection of the peaks requires no wind. I was not hopeful during my 2 hour lakeside wait. Unlike many of the other mornings on this trip, the sky was perfectly clear. But, there was enough of a breeze blowing to create mirror-reflection-destroying ripples in the water. A moment before this photo was captured, the lake became a giant mirror and remained nearly flat for the next 3-4 hours (this duration is unusual for Maroon Lake) until the sun lit the entire valley floor below.
With the right scene unfolding in front of me, capturing the right framing and exposures became the next challenge. The framing was not hard (it is hard to go wrong at this location), but the exposures required more attention. With direct sunlight hitting the mountain peaks and the light-absorbing evergreens in deep shade, there was a significant amount of dynamic range to be captured. Using a multiple exposure HDR technique was the key to capturing the entire scene and all I had to do in the field was to insure that, for each final image, I had proper exposures captured for the highlights (shorter exposure) and for the shadows (longer exposure).
Back home in the studio, the processing work was much more difficult than capturing the right exposures in the field. Blending the two RAW images into a natural-looking HDR image was a complex process. I'd be embarrassed to say how many revisions I've made to this image, and while I have many variations that I like, I can't say that I am completely satisfied yet. This is my favorite revision today.
The iconic photograph of the Maroon Bells reflecting in Maroon lake with an apron of brilliantly-colored aspen trees lining Maroon Creek Valley was high on my bucket list and checking this line item off was my highest priority for this trip. No, this photo is not going to be unique (at least not completely unique). A lot of other photographers (close to 100 from this day alone) could have this or similar photos in their portfolios (if they executed and processed properly). I enjoy looking at photos taken by others, but this one is mine and there is something special about having iconic images in your own portfolio and having photos you created hanging on your walls. The memories these photos hold are part of their specialness. This particular image does not tell much of a story, but the story behind the image is big. That my father joined me on this particular trip was part of the specialness.
Because this shot was a priority, I allotted the most trip time (two full days and an additional half day if needed) to the Aspen area. The first morning was perfect (I shot from the side of the lake until about 11:00 AM and in the valley most of the day) and the second morning was an exact duplicate of the first until a breeze picked up just after sunrise (I moved to other shooting locations at this time – as planned).
Lakeside, I was simultaneously shooting with two complete tripod-based setups (one under the other when space was tight or to better protect tripod legs from accidents). With all of the effort and timing coming together perfectly and with the short duration of mountain peaks being lit, two rigs allowed me to maximize my take-home. This particular image was captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and one of the best landscape lenses ever made, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. They worked perfectly.
35mm f/11.0 .3s ISO 100
Sunrise at the Portland Lighthouse
While it is painful to get up early enough to photograph the sunrise in early summer (4:20 AM in this case), early summer is the right time of the year to photograph the Portland Lighthouse and the distant Ram Island Lighthouse from this angle with the sun in the frame.
With the middle daughter accompanying me, I arrived at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, ME just before sunrise. I selected one specific composition to concentrate on during the prime shooting minutes, timed the rotating lighthouse light, bracketed exposures and, when capturing the foreground rocks being hit with the first light rays of the day, adjusted focus to a closer distance.
This image is composed primarily of three source images run through a complicated manual HDR process with manual focus-stacking. After the big effort made to capture this image (a long drive in addition to the early alarm), I was anxious to see how this photo turned out. It was the first-processed from my recent photo trip to Maine. I'm happy with the result – it was definitely worth my effort.
I'm also very happy with the 5Ds R and 16-35 f/4L IS combination. I can say that they "rock".
16mm f/11.0 1/13s ISO 100
Old Faithful Geyser Erupting Picture
Old Faithful Geyser erupts promptly on schedule. While not the largest geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is very regular and provides a spectacular display. Also spectacular were the clouds on this day. A circular polarizer filter enhances the appearance of this shot.
105mm f/9.0 1/125s ISO 100
Kure Beach, NC Fishing Pier
This picture of the fishing pier in Kure Beach, North Carolina was taken at 5:53 AM. The rising sun provided just the right amount of light on the clouds to balance the warm glow of the lights on the fishing pier shining onto the surf. A long exposure allows the surf to become a smooth blur.
24mm f/11.0 25s ISO 100
Round Rocks and Otter Point Picture
The round rock beach near Otter Point is a classic sunrise location for photographing Acadia National Park. The TS-E lens was tilted forward a slight amount to keep both the foreground and background sharp. A 2-Stop B+W Neutral Density Filter along with ISO 50 was used to lengthen the exposure time - allowing the Atlantic Ocean to blur.
24mm f/11.0 1s ISO 50
Sunset at Mauna Kea Volcano
While Hawaii is not as well known for its snow as it is for its beaches and resorts, it is indeed a land of fire and ice. The 13,796' (4,138m) summit of Mauna Kea Volcano is spectacular at any time of the day, but especially so at sunrise and sunset. And I was treated to the results of a recent snow storm.
My time here was at sunset and my shooting was not of the setting sun itself, but of the landscape being hit with the warm light that was practically shining upward. Lighting as seen in this image does not last very long and the compositions available seemed endless - though in a more horizontal orientation.
I could have used a wide angle focal length and cropped the plain sky and less-attractive foreground from the image, but I instead shot a multi-image panorama that would give me higher resolution for cropping various compositions from later - or for printing large.
This image was shot handheld (relying on image stabilization) as I was moving fast to get as many varied shots as possible.
112mm f/8.0 1/50s ISO 400
Light Beams in Upper Antelope Canyon
Upper Antelope Canyon is a spectacular slot canyon on Navajo land near Page, Arizona. While the image appears serene, my back is against the canyon wall and I am elbow-to-elbow with fellow photographers. And just around the corner is another guide blocking access to the scene.
Upper Antelope Canyon is the most visited and most photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest. A guide is required for this slot canyon. And to get decent photos here, book a photo tour. The native guides will take you where you need to go when you need to be there.
You need to know what you are doing when shooting here - you do not have much time to capture your image.
23mm f/11.0 1s ISO 100
Bar Harbor Sunrise
The sun rises over Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. This shooting location is a short hike from the top of Cadillac Mountain. A note: I rarely shoot at f/14 (especially with a tilt-shift lens) and did not need to go this narrow for this photograph. I was bracketing exposures and mistakenly went to f/14.
24mm f/14.0 1/25s ISO 100
Brilliant Sun Pillar Picture
The sun peeks between the clouds while sending out a beautiful pillar of light reflected from ice crystals in the sky.
220mm f/11.0 1/160s ISO 100
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
The Na Pali Coast of Kauai, Hawaii has one of the most spectacular landscapes you will find anywhere. It is also one of the most inaccessible places you will find.
To get around the inaccessibility issue, I employed a helicopter charter. This shooting platform completely opens up the possibilities for landscape photography compositions.
For this image, I used a circular polarizer filter. The result was deeply-saturated colors that "pop".
Because the subject distance was great and the focal length wide, I could get away with a relatively-wide for grand landscape photography aperture of f/5.6. The 1/640 shutter speed is also unusual for normal landscape photography - the wind in the open-doors helicopter necessitated this.
24mm f/5.6 1/640s ISO 400
Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
Warning: You might want to go here. "Here" is Mudjin Harbor in Middle Caicos (Turks and Caicos, British West Indies), where there are surprisingly few people and the scenery is amazing. Capturing my attention for the large part of a day were the large cliffs and the rugged landscape bordering the brilliant turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean here. And, who is the landscape photographer that can pass up a cave framing the ocean?
By moving deep into this cave and zooming the Canon EOS 5Ds R-mounted Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens out to 16mm, I was able to completely frame some of the most-beautifully-colored water found anywhere.
Caves are (usually) very dark and that was case here. This image is composed of three separate exposures – one for the water and sky (slight blinkies in cresting waves), one for the cave walls and another for the upper right portion of the cave wall as it was even darker and needed some detail brought out. With a handful of exposure variations available, I experimented with differing cave wall brightness during post processing. In the end, I opted for noticeable walls, but not bright enough to distract from the idyllic beach and water scene being framed.
Because the sun is constantly moving, multiple exposures intended for combining via HDR that include a shadow line should be captured in quick succession due to that line moving. The always moving and always different waves determined the primary exposure timing. The other exposures were simply captured very close in time to the primary ones.
A circular polarizer filter played an important role in capturing this image, making the sky and water colors pop.
16mm f/11.0 1/50s ISO 100
From Behind Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park
Anytime is a great time to visit Ricketts Glen State Park, but the fall is my favorite time. With cloudy weather promising to provide a giant softbox over this waterfall-heaven (22 named falls and perhaps hundreds of smaller falls), I packed two of the world's best wide angle lenses on 5D Mark III bodies, a telephoto zoom lens I was reviewing on the 60D, a couple of other lenses, tripod, rain gear and other essentials (including food and water) totaling about 50 lbs. into my Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Backpack and headed to my favorite Pennsylvania state park for a long day of photography.
Not long after hitting the Ganoga Glen trail, I realized that the water flow was very low. Low flow at some waterfalls is a big problem, but the falls at Ricketts Glen simply provide different opportunities.
One such opportunity came at Oneida falls, the second falls encountered on this trail when leaving the Lake Rose trailhead parking lot. The water is typically falling over the entire width of this 13' cliff. On this day, access to the cliff was available, though precarious due to slippery rock with very narrow footholds.
Avoiding dripping water as best I could, I placed one foot on a tiny ledge just above the water and the other foot was preventing me from falling into the cliff (with my elbow assisting some of the time). Similarly, I positioned one fully-retracted tripod leg straight out to the left and fully-extended the other two legs downward to catch in small crevices in the rock face. Note that one reason to buy a strong tripod is that you sometimes need to use it for your own safety support.
This position let me shoot through the back of the falls and incorporate some fall foliage into the frame.
The camera was set to C2 mode – my standard custom landscape mode. I have this mode programmed to enable mirror lockup, the 2-second self-timer and long exposure noise reduction. My ISO defaults to 100 and exposure is set to manual.
A B+W XS-PRO circular polarizer filter was used to cut the glare, especially noticeable on the water. I manually bracketed exposures slightly and used manual HDR to darken the colorful trees slightly.
This image was captured with what I consider to be one of the world's best landscape photography lenses, the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II Lens. It is phenomenally sharp and has little distortion. Another big advantage this lens has is the movements. In this example, I was able to tilt the lens slightly to the left to allow the very close foreground on the left and distant background on the right to both be in sharp focus without resorting to a more-diffraction-impacted narrower aperture.
In the end, a great lens (and camera) along with low water flow yielded my favorite image of the day.
24mm f/11.0 5s ISO 100
Sunset at Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park
The view from high up on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park is awesome even without a sun setting below. To get the star effect from a bright light, use a narrow aperture (such as f/11) and a wide angle lens. This is an HDR image. Photoshop was used to manually create this final image from two differently exposed images.
16mm f/11.0 .5s ISO 100
Sunset Over Devils Garden, Arches NP
One type of sunset photo I like is the silhouette. I found this unique landscape in Devils Garden, Arches National Park to be a great sunset foreground. Sometimes the sky performs so well that getting good shots almost feels like cheating.
73mm f/7.1 1/40s ISO 100
Layers of Blue Waves
I watched and photographed a lot of huge Banzai Pipeline waves on this afternoon in Oahu, but I especially liked what I saw as this one was setting up.
Each of the three waves in the frame has a noticeably different color and only the backmost wave is breaking. A strong wind put a lot of the breaking wave's spray into the air. Of course, that strong wind made 700mm handheld framing a challenge.
700mm f/8.0 1/800s ISO 250
Sunset over Mount Moran, Grand Teton National Park
The setting sun outlines Mount Moran across Jackson Lake near Jackson Lake Lodge.
84mm f/9.0 1/80s ISO 100
Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
These reflected-light illuminated hoodoos are as-seen from near Sunset Point at sunrise. I used the gently rolling, hoodoo-less ridge as the foreground base in this shot.
200mm f/11.0 1/40s ISO 100
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Kilauea Volcano, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is currently the only active volcano in Hawaii.
I had only one day allocated to Hawaii Volcanoes NP and unfortunately, the day was nearly completely a rainout. The rain was heavy, the fog was thick and the wind was very strong. I didn't even attempt to photograph with the rain protection I had along for both myself and the camera gear.
The plan was to end the day at the Jaggar Museum on Crater Rim Drive. This location provides the best view of the Kilauea Caldera and the glow that rises from it after the sun sets. Actually, I contemplated ending the day completely and heading back to the hotel as my AM flight was a very early one.
While the rain did not end, it did slow down and perhaps more important, the fog lifted. The glow became apparent - and I felt the calling. I put the camera and large lens in a large garbage bag (small hole stretched over the lens hood) and began photographing. I lost a lot of images to blur caused by the wind, but have a very solid collection of "keepers". It was very worth staying for this show.
Note that I would rather have had my Wimberley Tripod Head for this shoot, but I couldn't keep my checked luggage under weight with this piece of kit included. The Arca-Swiss Z1 worked superbly as always. I just had to make sure that I had a good grip on the lens when the head was not locked.
500mm f/5.0 .6s ISO 200
Rocky Brook Falls, North Maine Woods
Welcome to the seen-by-few Rocky Brook Falls in the T15-R9 area of Northern Maine.
I frequently drag the family along to the places I shoot. These trips are always a great experience for them - but not always a "happy" experience, if you know what I'm saying.
Rocky Brook Falls is beautiful and is a very fun place to play in the water (at normal summer water levels). There are deep pot holes and a variety of water depths and current speeds in which to enjoy the clear water (note that care must be taken to insure safety here).
Coming up against the enjoyment part is the water temperature which varies between cold and really cold. Cold water means warm air and direct sunlight are needed for the "happy" part to happen. And I do make the effort to keep "happy" around as life is more pleasurable for all when "happy" is with us.
Rocky Brook Falls are located in the middle of the forest approximately 16 miles from anything (including electricity and paved roads). Direct sunlight happens in the middle of the day - the "happy" time for the girls.
You are of course right in thinking that direct sunlight is not the ideal time to be photographing the falls from a landscape perspective. For the photography goal to be achieved, early-mid-morning and late-afternoon-through-nearly-dark are the best times to shoot this location. Cloudy days will also work well, but these are harder to schedule.
The plan for this clear day was to take the family to play at the falls during the direct sun and warmth of early afternoon. This time provided great scouting info for me and the girls had the great time we all wanted them to have. I then brought the girls back to camp (over an hour away including the round trip hiking and logging road driving) and returned alone for the late day shoot.
I packed about 50 lbs of gear in with me, but primarily used 5 wide angle lenses on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I'll share more examples from this shoot, but this sample image came from the new-at-this-time Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens. I'm really liking this compact lens and its also-new sibling, the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens.
This photo was basically out-of-the-camera with the exception of a custom white balance for which I clicked on the white water just below one of the brightest locations in the frame. The Standard Picture Style with a sharpness of "2" was used (I shoot "Neutral" in-camera for a better histogram). Long exposure noise reduction was used in-camera.
A clear sky was ideal for using a manual exposure setting which I adjusted slowly as the sun set. To get the ideal exposure, I allowed a very small area of the very brightest water to go pure white - blinking on the LCD during image review.
A B+W MRC Circular Polarizer Filter, by far my most frequently used effects filter, was used to cut the reflections including those on the surface of the water. The filter also reduces the light reaching the sensor which allowed a longer exposure - creating more motion-showing blur in the water.
Interesting is that the amount of water coming over the falls fluctuates with some significance. This is normal for waterfalls in general, but more visible in smaller falls such as this one. No two pictures look exactly the same even when taken in quick succession without moving the camera. When I dialed in a composition that I liked, I would take a number of shots to gain some natural variation.
By moving in close (just outside of the strongest mist), this composition emphasizes the closest/largest area of the falls with smaller falls diminishing through the frame. I composed to reduce the details intersecting frame borders including no rocks intersecting the bottom of the frame.
I could have spent days creating new compositions in this place.
28mm f/8.0 2.5s ISO 100
Pretty Marsh, Acadia National Park, Maine
Fall color stands out on the shores of Pretty Marsh, Acadia National Park, Maine. Pretty Marsh is located on the western side of Mount Desert Island. A circular polarizer filter was used for this image.
20mm f/11.0 1/8s ISO 100
Ricketts Glen State Park Picture
Water cascades over the rocks at Ricketts Glen State Park in the fall.
24mm f/10 1/2s ISO 100
Laser Light Beam, Upper Antelope Canyon
A laser-like beam of sunlight reaches 130' below the ground to the floor of Upper Antelope Canyon. I highly recommend a wide angle zoom lens when shooting at this popular location. There is a lot of sand blowing into this slot canyon (and the 4 other slot canyons I was in during this trip), so any lens changing should be done inside a protective bag. A towel or other protection for the camera and lens would also be a good idea.
16mm f/8.0 5s ISO 100
Old Dock Pilings, Barnegat Bay, New Jersey
Time after time, I am in position to photograph the sunset with many other photographers and observers around me. It is (usually) lots of fun talking to those nearby, but ... as soon as the sun goes behind the horizon, most people pack up and leave.
Last week, the same thing was happening as I was bayside in Seaside Park, NJ. Right after the sun disappeared, a friendly photographer came over and asked if I got "it" while showing me his favorite pic of the setting sun. I replied that I did, but indicated that the main show was likely still to come. He said that he liked to see the sun's reflection best. My thought was that his preference is fine, that we are all different, that I too like the sun's reflection and that I was still expecting the best yet to come.
Fortunately, this gentleman had enough question about my opinion vs. his that he stuck around. Fifteen minutes was all that was needed. The color in the sky was very impressive on this evening and Barnegat Bay was very calm. About 25 minutes after the sun set, the other photographer returned very excited. Upon a quick review of his website the next day, I found only one picture from that evening. One captured well after the sun had set.
Unless I am shooting landscape that the setting sun is directly lighting, I am usually more found of my post-sunset images. This image was my favorite from the night (though I have many close runners-up).
This is an HDR image, comprised of three exposures used to balance the overall brightness of the final image.
While an f/2 max aperture lens invites many uses in addition to landscape photography, the focal length range of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art Lens is great for this use. Since the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Lens was what I was evaluating at the time, I put it to use for my sunset session. It performed excellently.
24mm f/11.0 1/8s ISO 100
Coconut on the Beach, Trunk Bay, St john
Shadows play with a coconut in Trunk Bay, St John, US Virgin Islands.
18mm f/13.0 1/125s ISO 100
Bryce Canyon National Park at Sunrise
Bryce Canyon National Park is a photographer's dream location. Once finished shooting the hoodoos (rock spires), streams, and other details, move on to the wildlife including Pronghorn, Mule Deer and Prairie Dogs.
This image was shot at sunrise from Sunset Point. The reflected light creates a great color on the backlit spires.
105mm f/11.0 1/10s ISO 100
Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska
You are looking at one of the first pictures ever taken of "Denali", the highest mountain peak in North America. While that statement is fun to say (and true in a sense), a tremendous number of photographs have been taken of this mountain long prior to my arrival. However, the mountain's name was "Mt McKinley" from June 1896 until about just before I arrived. On August 28, 2015, Sally Jewell, US Secretary of the Interior, announced that the mountain would be renamed "Denali" (Wikipedia). Two weeks later, my opportunity to photograph this mountain came.
With an elevation of 20,310' (6,190.5 m), the peak of Denali can be seen be seen from at least 125 miles away – on a clear day. The last part of that sentence is a key one. Getting close to this mountain (for most) requires a shuttle/tour bus ride deep into Denali National Park's 92 mile mostly-stone road. Even those making the effort to get deep into the park stand only a 30% chance of seeing this mountain's peaks due to the clouds that frequently engulf it.
I spent a large amount of time planning and traveling to get to the location for this image and was blessed with a beautiful day for my long-in-advance-scheduled tour (after a morning snowstorm, the sky even cleared enough on my backup day to make the peaks visible once again). With the weather cooperating, taking the actual photograph was easy part.
I selected a manual exposure that would make the sunlit snow at the top of the mountains nearly pure white (barely blinking in the camera LCD) while using an f/8 aperture (for ideal sharpness and depth of field) and ISO 100 (for noise-free images). The resulting shutter speed of 1/160 was adequate for resting the awesome combination of the Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens on my backpack. With the ideal exposure locked in, I was free to quickly capture a variety of compositions of this incredible view during the 15 minute shuttle bus stop, with all being ideally exposed.
In the end, I merged two images to add a couple of hundred pixels to the right and left sides of the base images, giving the side-to-side balance that looked right to me.
I usually have a circular polarizer filter mounted when I'm photographing landscapes and usually note this use in the notes below relevant image posts. But, I want to make special mention of CPL use here because of the significant difference it made in the deep saturation and contrast of the foreground of this image. Like no other, this filter can add WOW! to your images.
100mm f/8.0 1/160s ISO 100
Florida Keys Serenity
This incredibly serene location is found many miles west of Key West, Florida. When using a lens with no image stabilization and shooting from a rocking boat - with moving water, the minimum shutter speed selection becomes a bit more complicated. A circular polarizer filter was used to capture this shot.
25mm f/10.0 1/60s ISO 200
Sunrise at Otter Cliff, Acadia National Park, Maine
A beautiful sunrise at Otter Cliff, Acadia National Park, Maine. Unfortunately, this scene did not last long. The sun quickly rose through the narrow opening under those clouds to produce flat cloud-diffused light.
14mm f/11.0 1/20s ISO 100
Aspen Trunks in Crested Butte, Colorado
A high priority for my fall photo trip to Colorado was to capture the beauty of aspen tree trunks. There is little challenge to finding an aspen grove in Crested Butte. Aspen trees, with their beautiful white (or gray) trunks, are the predominant flora in the 10+ miles west of the small ski town of Crested Butte, through Kebler Pass and beyond. The big challenge is finding the right grove of trees to create ordered complexity in an image.
Of the thousands of trees observed in this area, I found some of the most-photographically-cooperative at a strong curve in the road just east of Kebler Pass. Especially missing at this location were the deadfalls that are so common and interfere with the vertical lines I wanted to emphasize.
For this image, I wanted the viewer to feel like they were part of the scene. I attempt to convey that feeling by moving in close to a large, featured foreground tree and using a moderately wide angle focal length. This location allowed one aspen tree trunk to become large in the frame while a couple of other clumps of trunks staggered into a great mass of trunks filling most of the background. All of this while the camera remained level, keeping even the tree trunks in the border of the frame parallel with the sides of the frame.
The 31mm focal length was wide enough to allow everything in the frame to stay sharp at f/11, yet not so wide that the background trees became tiny. Cloud cover reduced the contrast, evening out the light on this scene. A complete lack of wind (something I'm not used to at high elevations) allowed for sharp foliage even with the .8 second exposure. The yellow-green foliage color requires a late Sep or early Oct-timed visit to this location.
31mm f/11.0 .8s ISO 100
Rainbow Over St Mary, Montana
This was the longest-lasting rain-caused rainbow I've ever seen. It was visible from mid-morning until the sun rose high enough to put it into the ground in the afternoon.
The weather in Glacier National Park, especially at higher altitudes, can be unpredictable. It is wise to have packable rain gear with you when hiking in this park. This storm was hanging over Glacier National Park but dissipating as it moved out the eastern side of the park - allowing full sun to shine through.
The foreground in this picture is a forest fire regrowth area showing fall color.
70mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 100
Brilliant Aspens in front of Sievers Mountain, Maroon Bells
I love mountains, but not all mountains are created equally. Height is great, but a flat or round-top mountain, even if extremely high, is difficult to make photogenic. Give me a craggy, jagged-topped mountain with character and I can entertain myself for days. Add some color for an over-the-top mountain.
The Maroon Bells Scenic Area has mountains with character and Sievers Mountain, just north of Maroon Lake, is one of my favorites. Along with having character in its shape, this mountain has color character including the namesake "Maroon" with bands of light-colored rock running through it. While the top of this mountain alone can make a good photo, I worked a set of colorful aspens into the foreground so that the tops of the trees somewhat matched the craggy-ness of the mountaintop and added strong contrasting color. With some room to significantly change my shooting position, I adjusted the perspective so that the amount of trees showing in the frame was balanced relative to the amount of mountain showing. Said another way, the closer I approached the trees, the higher the percentage of the frame consumed by those trees and the larger the trees would appear relative to the mountain.
With the perspective I wanted, I then made use of a zoom lens to retain only what I wanted in the frame. In this case, that meant zooming to 57mm.
With a partly cloudy sky, good timing (note that the odds of good timing are greatly increased by patiently waiting) was required to get a dark foreground base, bright trees, shade on the mountain directly behind the tree tops and some direct sunlight on the mountain above. Blue skies are beautiful, but I often prefer that they remain a small part of my landscape images. In this case, the blue adds another color to the image and forms a solid, uninterrupted top margin to this scene that keeps the viewer's eye from leaving via the top of the frame.
I made strong use of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on this trip. Nearly every shot I captured with this lens was tack sharp. It is an awesome choice for tripod-mounted landscape photography.
57mm f/11.0 1/40s ISO 125
Cinnamon Bay, St. John
Cinnamon Bay has one of the many spectacular St. John beaches. When shooting on a beach, I spend a lot of time waiting for the right wave action to complete my composition. Great clouds also help.
32mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 160
Rainbow in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Lower Falls puts a lot of moisture in the air - moisture that delivers a beautiful rainbow at the right time of the day under sunny skies. The moisture also enables plant life to live on the harsh rock face of the canyon. A slim circular polarizer filter was used to reduce reflections in this shot. Lower falls and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone are located near Canyon Village. The canyon itself is mostly inaccessible but the park has a handful of viewing locations.
28mm f/10.0 1/80s ISO 100
Lower Antelope Slot Canyon
While Lower Antelope Slot Canyon is not quite as spectacular as Upper Antelope Slot Canyon, it is definitely worth visiting (photographing) - and it offeres some advantages of its own. The first major advantage is the lack of people.
Perhaps the second advantage to this slot canyon is the 4 hours of unattended exploration provided by the photographer pass. Simply drive up to the entrance to the slot canyon and ask for this pass. You will be escorted to the slot entrance and then have up to 4 hours to shoot as desired. The slower pace of shooting in this canyon was especially appreciated. And the landscape down there is incredible.
20mm f/11.0 .3s ISO 100
Sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park
This Sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park was taken from near/below Yavapai Point. This image is a composite of two shots - one exposed for the ground and one exposed for the sky.
This particular May morning was very cold (light snow can be seen in the distance) and windy. Having arrived very early in the morning I was disappointed to find cloud cover. But, as so often happens when the cloud cover is not solid, light rays began to stream through the openings in the clouds - and in this case, into the canyon, creating a constantly and rapidly changing landscape to capture.
55mm f/11.0 1/15s ISO 100
Small Geyser Picture
A small geyser located in the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone National Park puts on a great show under dramatically-clouded skies. A circular polarizer filter was used for this shot. This area of YNP provides a great thermal feature viewing experience. Long and mostly level board and asphalt walkways lead visitors around to the best sites. Of course, you must decide if the walkways and people on them enhance or hurt your images.
24mm f/10.0 1/80s ISO 100
Trunk Bay, St. John
This is the classic view of Trunk Bay, St. John. Classic for two reasons - the beauty and ... the access. This is one of the few locations Trunk Bay is visible from other than on the beach itself.
One of the great things about shooting in the caribean is that the water is so beautiful when the sun is high. An early alarm is not necessary to capture a beautiful scene such as this one. Of course, the beach is filled with people at this time. I wanted an empty beach, so lots of clone stamping was required.
A circular polarizer filter is extremely helpful for mid-day landscape photography.
40mm f/11.0 1/40s ISO 100
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park 2
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is located in southern Utah, 12 miles southwest of U.S. Hwy 89 near Kanab. It features large coral-colored sand dunes amidst green evergreens and sage along with red sandstone.
A circular polarizer filter was used to increase saturation and a short telephoto focal length was used to compress the scene slightly. The sand dune and blue sky provide a clean canvas.
70mm f/13.0 1/50s ISO 100
Rainbow Over Atlantic Ocean
A small but strong storm moves off the coast of Acadia National Park / Mt Dessert Island, Maine, USA producing a rainbow for all to see.
100mm f/8.0 1/80s ISO 100
Driftwood in Sheep's Head Slot Canyon
Though not nearly as dramatic as Upper Antelope canyon, Sheep's Head Slot Canyon is far less visited. Along with the guide, we had the canyon to ourselves this morning. Reflected light from the red canyon walls create a very warm light on this piece of driftwood and the worn rock around it.
When shooting in dark slot canyons, it is important to avoid getting directly-sunlit areas in the frame as they will result in unattractive blown highlights.
24mm f/11.0 .3s ISO 100
Rays of Sunlight on the Ocean
This vantage point is at the top of Cadillac Mountain. And this scene was as fun to watch as it was to photograph.
Champlain Mountain forms the base for this photo. Heavy but not solid clouds passing over the ocean allowed rays of sunlight to move across the ocean.
85mm f/11.0 1/400s ISO 100
Canoe on Island Pond Picture
A canoe invites a ride on calm Island Pond in the North Maine Woods.
16mm f/13 1/40s ISO 100
Two Medicine Telephoto Sunset
Long focal length lenses can make great sunset photos from even mediocre sunsets. This sunset at Two Medicine in Glacier National Park was above average and offered these interesting wavy cloud patterns.
300mm f/8.0 1/10s ISO 100
Photographing Flowering Trees
It is early spring here in the northern hemisphere and flowering trees, if not already in full bloom, will be so very soon.
While the spring flowering trees are incredibly beautiful, I find them a challenge to compose into an image I like. Part of the problem is that, when the trees flower, most other trees remain leaf-less and low in their color-rating. Lack of leaves reveal highly detracting power lines in many of the landscapes where these trees are planted. This leaves sky, green grass and man-made objects to provide the other good colors to compose with.
So, how does one create a good photo of this subject? A solution that often works well is to fill the frame with only the flowering tree or trees. In this case, I found a very large, densely-flowered tree, moved back to create a compressed perspective and zoomed in to frame only the flowers with a narrow aperture keeping the entire frame remaining in focus. The result is a pattern of complexity that fills the frame. I positioned the larger limbs visible in the picture so that their lines lead the viewer's eye into the frame. The bright color of the flowers becomes the predominant color of the final image.
Working with the same concept of filling the frame with the color of the tree, a close perspective with a wide aperture can be used to blur the background flowers as illustrated here.
If working with a wider angle focal length, the background is more likely to become part of the image. In this case, consider getting above the tree to use the often-bright-green spring grass as the background. Bright green often complements the color of the tree(s). Another advantage that getting higher sometimes affords is a better angle on the flowers in the image. Dogwood tree flowers, as illustrated in the just-referenced image, typically face upward. Looking downward from a ladder allowed me to see the full flower being isolated with shallow depth of field.
Incorporating flowering trees into portrait images is a strategy loved by many. My advice is to make sure that the tree colors do not steel the viewer's focus from the primary subject, your person. Using the fill-the-frame and blur-the-background strategies again work well for portraits. Use a telephoto focal length and wide aperture to isolate the subject against a completely blurred background of flowers.
Winter is past and the winter-like landscape is about to awaken, bursting into vibrant color. Go capture it!
203mm f/11.0 1/6s ISO 200
Sand Fence at Island Beach State Park, NJ
Even though beautiful, it sometimes takes effort and creativity to find interesting photo compositions at a beach. At Island Beach State Park (near Seaside Park, New Jersey), I was exploring when I discovered this sand fence creating great late-day shadows in the nearly undisturbed sand. The undisturbed sand on the unrestricted side of the fence is not easy to find. The late day sun is of course often available.
I captured many compositions of this scene, but for this shot, I angled the camera and aligned the sun so that the fence was blocking most of it. This in combination with a narrow f/16 aperture allowed a bright starburst effect that helps set off an already attractive image.
Always be looking for one more way to improve your image.
17mm f/16.0 1/40s ISO 200
Bahia Honda Railroad Bridge at Sunset
Few lenses have grown so important to me in such a short amount of time as the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. Wildlife has been my first-choice use for this lens, but landscape photography is a very close second on the list (sports will compete with these other two uses as soon as the snow melts and more athletes go outside).
I love the great outdoors and landscape photography ties in very well with that love. Landscape photos allow me to take my favorite scenes with me and many hang in my house and studio. Many of these prints are very large (up to 40x60") and I'm always looking for the ultimate image quality. While I'm often using wide angle lenses to capture landscapes, I love using telephoto lenses nearly as much. Narrow angles of view are easy to compose with and, even mediocre sunrises and sunsets can fill the frame with color. The 100-400 L II provides a great focal length range and very impressive image quality, making it the perfect choice for landscape uses.
The historic Bahia Honda Rail Bridge (the bridge story) spans the channel between Bahia Honda State Park (Bahia Honda Key, mile marker 37 U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway) and Spanish Harbor Key (Florida). After the new highway was constructed, sections of the old bridge were cut away to accommodate boat traffic. The remaining portion of the steel truss construction bridge provides a great silhouette for sunset photos captured at the western end of the state park and the missing portion of the bridge definitely adds a uniqueness to the images captured here.
This is a single-frame HDR image. I simply processed the same raw image at two different brightness levels to bring up the ocean brightness slightly.
100mm f/8.0 1/250s ISO 100
Lower Antelope Canyon
A rock structure resembling some kind of bird or other animal looms out over the slot in Lower Antelope Canyon. Shooting upward can be a good method of avoiding people in your frame.
17mm f/11.0 1/4s ISO 100
Harrison Wright Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park
There is a lot of advice to be found regarding photography during the autumn season, but the primary visual difference of fall is the color of the foliage and to capture that color, one must go outside.
While that tip might sound simple, it is easy to sit in front of a computer or TV instead of making the effort to go out. You can DVR the football game to be watched later. Darkness comes earlier in the fall, so you have some time to catch up on the game or what is going on in the photography world after the light is gone. You can catch up on your post-processing backlog in the winter (what I'm telling myself).
A great fall location is Ricketts Glen State Park, near Benton, PA. With 22 named waterfalls in this park, along with many other photogenic woods and stream scenes, it is not hard to find wall-grade compositions. Located just below Waters Meet on the Falls Trails, Harrison Wright Falls, shown here, is one of my favorites.
Don't let the weather keep you inside. My favorite weather condition for shooting in RGSP is a light rain or immediately after any rain. The rain provides more flow in the stream, but it serves a couple of other important purposes. It keeps the other hikers and less-serious photographers out of the image (they stay home). It also makes everything in the scene wet, giving the surroundings a deep, rich color when photographed through a circular polarizer filters.
You will not capture images like this one indoors. Get out and find the colorful fall foliage. Get some exercise and breathe in the crisp air while doing so. Your body and mind will be rewarded along with your portfolio.
24mm f/8.0 1s ISO 100
Sandstone, sand, sage, blue sky and interesting clouds compose this Arizona landscape picture. This location is near Page, Arizona.
24mm f/11.0 1/50s ISO 100
Wave Crashing in Cinnamon Bay, St. John
More like "splashing" I suppose - waves are typically small in St. John, but timing them just right adds to the shot. Cinnamon Bay in St. John has one of the nicest beaches you can find anywhere along with some volcanic rock to add interest to photos.
24mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 100
Backlit Forest Picture
A strong backlight illuminates this evergreen forest scene. Bright green moss colors the forest floor.
15mm f/11.0 1.3s ISO 100
Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon
Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon was one of the top photography locations on my Grand Tour list. This shot was taken in late morning - when the sun lights the Colorado River in the canyon below.
Horseshoe Bend begs for a 17mm or wider focal length (full frame equivalent) lens - unless shooting a panorama. In this example, the Canon TS-E 17mm lens allowed me to capture a much-wider-than-17mm view - in high resolution. Two vertically-oriented, oppositely-shifted shots were combined in Photoshop to create this ultra-wide view of Horseshoe Bend. One foot of my tripod was precariously positioned on the very edge of the cliff - and has been cloned out of the final picture.
17mm f/11.0 1/125s ISO 100
Crypt Lake Trail, Waterton Lakes National Park
I hiked about 50 miles of trails on this trip to Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park. And the Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park was the most memorable.
The Crypt Lake Trail is ranked at or near the top of all hiking trails in Canada.
This hike begins with a ferry ride across Upper Waterton Lake to a dock at the trailhead. This lake happens to be in one of the windiest locations in Canada - meaning that the boat encounters rough water on this trip (waves were breaking over the top of the smaller boat that returned us to the marina).
Once on land, the 10.8 mile, 2,300' elevation gain trail starts in a pretty forest. Over time, the landscape opens up with great views. The trail narrows and the edges of the trail become steeper. And then you reach the cliff - and adrenaline releases.
People mentioned the narrow trail at the top, but "sidewalk" widths were referenced to us. That would not be even close to accurate.
I didn't have the strength left in me (having hiked about 40 miles before this trail) to carry more than one lens on this hike and 24mm was not wide enough to take in this absolutely spectacular view. The panorama seen here was my solution to that problem.
If you look carefully at the cliff on the left side of this photo, you can see a tiny line that is called the trail at this point. If might be 2 shoes wide, but it is sloped, not smooth and is covered with scree (small loose stones). As you can see, down appears to be a 1,000' step.
It gets better. See the dark spot on the rock just above where the trail ends? There is a narrow (one shoe+ wide) steel ladder bolted into the rock that leads to a cramped, mostly natural tunnel. And it gets even better at the other side of the tunnel.
You have to step down over rocks to the trail - which makes the trail on the other side of the tunnel look like the sidewalk it was referenced to be. The trail is barely a shoe width wide (being generous with my memory) and again filled with scree. But, you have a heavy cable bolted to the side of the mountain to hold onto. But, this cable is bolted at trail level - forcing you to walk bent far over. And, the cable is floppy - not tight.
The trail ends at a beautiful lake, but the view seen above from the face of the cliff is my biggest memory.
I should mention that, at this time of the year, there is one ferry to and one ferry from the dock each day. We had to be back before that second ferry left the dock to avoid an overnight in the wilderness. There was only one other person in this entire wilderness area on the day we hiked Crypt Trail.
The Crypt Lake Trail hike is an unforgetable, amazing experience.
24mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 125
You will not find Hidden Falls listed on the Ricketts Glen State Park map, but with the large moss and fern-covered rock, it is worth the short off-trail hike to find. Unfortunately, what you now find in this compact setting is a huge fallen tree. The fallen tree significantly effects working space, but with a 15mm lens in the pack, I was still able to capture the entire scene.
15mm f/11.0 5s ISO 100
Black Sand Beach, Waianapanapa State Park
Hawaii has a wide variety of beach sand, but Black Sand Beach in Waianapanapa State Park had one of my favorites. The sand size varied from tiny grains up to round pebbles as shown in this photo.
It was in this location that I proved that Gore-Tex trail running shoes hold water very well - and might not be the best footwear for photographing this subject.
Because the pebble size I was photographing was still below the water line at times, I needed to move into place and get my shots before getting out of the way of the next incoming wave. Most of the time, this tactic worked.
I rarely regret shooting landscape details along with the grand scenes. Having macro capabilities built into this lens is a real bonus.
26mm f/11.0 1/50s ISO 200
Snowcapped Mountains in Denali National Park
There is no shortage of mountains in Denali National Park. However, a layer of snow adds greatly to how they look. Snow especially contrasts against the darkest-colored mountains.
Bright white snow and very dark rock can potentially be an exposure challenge. When photographing landscape under full sunlight with snow in the frame, setting the ideal exposure usually involves bringing the image brightness level up to the point where the brightest snow has a tiny area of blinkies showing on the LCD (be sure that these are enabled). This insures that detail remains in the snow while shadow/dark areas have as much color information as possible.
You may have noticed that this image is not showing as full-dimensioned for the Canon EOS 5Ds R used to capture it. This image was not cropped (the 100-400mm lens was not set to its longest available focal length), but as is often the problem with long distance photography, heat waves caused enough degradation that I opted to reduce the image size by 66%, using downsampling to improve image sharpness.
Note that I did not use a tripod for this capture. This lens' image stabilization system combined with a solid three-point sitting position (elbows on knees and forehead pressed into eye cup) were very adequate for sharpness in this regard, and a B+W HTC circular polarizer filter blocking less light than a standard filter also contributed to this run-and-gun shot.
349mm f/8.0 1/160s ISO 100
Crescent Moon Sunset
In my mind, there is only one thing to do when a cresent moon and a great sunset coincide. Take pictures of course. Where to place the moon in the frame becomes the big question. I liked how the brighter red clouds running through the bottom of the frame balanced the more-left positioned moon.
This picture shows how big you should expect the moon to be in your 250mm APS-C sensor format images. Full frame DSLR owners would need a 400mm focal length for the moon to be reproduced at this size.
250mm f/8.0 1/6s ISO 100
Maroon Bells Reflection
When presented with clear blue skies, I often avoid having significant sky coverage in my frame. But sometimes, blue is beautiful.
With a bright, evenly-colored background, the top of the mountains being hit by the morning sunlight creates a strong, eye-catching line. The strong contrast of the mountain shadow creates a second strong line. Take a great scene and reflect it to get symmetry with the result often being greater than twice as good as the image without a reflection.
The choice of focal length is always very important for composing an image. In this case, the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells were of primary interest to me. A focal length that makes these peaks large in the frame will best emphasize their over 14,000' size. I captured many frames using longer focal lengths, but I also liked seeing the bigger picture. With a mirror-calm water surface large enough to reflect the entire scene, I took advantage of the wider angle focal lengths available in the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on this morning.
When not to use a circular polarizer filter: at sunrise or sunset, with a wide angle focal length being used and large amounts of blue sky in the frame, it is unlikely that I have a CPL filter mounted on my lens. A CPL filter used with a low sun angle and lots of evenly-toned blue sky in the frame is a perfect recipe for very uneven darkening of the sky, a look that is generally not appreciated.
This is a complicated HDR image based on three differently-exposed source images. Removed from this image was a line of other like-minded photographers.
22mm f/11.0 1/8s ISO 100
Walking by the Bay
The bay at Pretty Marsh, Acadia National Park, Maine, that is. A little girl explores for treasures along the beautiful Maine coast. This is an HDR image. An exposure for the sky was manually combined with a longer exposure for the shore using Photoshop.
10mm f/11.0 1/13s ISO 100
Pennsylvania Maple Tree in the Fall
I have to confess. I'm a fall leaf color addict. If the leaves have changed to their fall colors, I'm struggling to resist being outdoors 100% of the daylight hours with a camera in my hands. Fortunately, I don't have to go far from home to find some of the best color available anywhere.
Even with colorful trees being easy to find, photographing the fall color can be very challenging and one of those challenges is to create a compelling composition. Many of the most-brilliantly colored local trees, primarily old maples, are found in town, where houses and other buildings, power lines, signs, etc. interfere with the natural look I'm typically seeking. A picture of a complete tree may capture the color, but the likelihood of something undesirable being in the frame is quite high. Even in the countryside, the ideal trees can be difficult to work into great compositions for a variety of reasons including a lack of supporting elements.
One fall foliage technique I like to use is isolation of the colorful leaves of one tree with other parts of the same tree or another tree filling the rest of the frame. Find an attractive leaf or set of leaves that are in good condition and then determine what could be a good background for the composition.
Determine the focal length of your lens based on how large the foreground leaves should be in relation to the selected background. The focal length decision will also be affected by how large the selected background is and the space you have to work in with a longer focal length requiring less background area needed. The longer the focal length selected, the easier it will be to make the background blurred and of course, the vice versa is also true.
Determine the aperture used based on how much depth of field is desired with a very wide aperture capable of putting the background into a primary-subject-isolating blur. Also note that a wider aperture makes a faster shutter speed easier to obtain (at a lower ISO setting) and a faster shutter speed may be necessary to stop any wind-imparted motion of the primary subject leaf or leaves.
Don't stop with your first setup. Continue to refine the shot until you have it perfected. Then find another composition to work on.
The brilliantly colored maple tree in this picture was on the corner of an in-town street intersection with power lines and houses directly behind it. I moved in close to the foreground leaves and aligned the angle of view with the lines created by the trunks and limbs. The backlit leaves on the other side of the tree and some green grass across the street complete the composition. The result is a brilliantly colored fall photo that is, at least somewhat, unique.
While photo trips to grand landscapes with brilliantly colored trees are awesome, knowing the isolation technique can land great fall foliage images much closer to home (for many of us) and in many more locations (for all of us).
200mm f/2.8 1/15s ISO 200
Perseid Meteor Shower
In this picture, the Milky Way is reflected in Island Pond in the North Maine Woods as a pair of Perseids streak through the night sky.
Island Pond is in the Deboullie public area of T15-R9 in northern Maine. This location is a 1 hour drive from the grid and from paved roads. Along with natural beauty, what you get here is a dark sky.
The Milkway itself is beautiful and with the right gear and settings, it is easy to capture a beautiful picture of the Milky Way. Taking this simple picture to the next step means adding foreground. For this example, a silhouetted tree line provides a very nice and not-too-hard-to-find foreground. The reflection of the Milky Way and tree line in the completely calm Island Pond takes the image to the next level.
By coinciding the trip schedule with the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, streaking Perseids became another detail that adds (strongly) to this image (and to a significant percentage of shots I captured this night).
Adding all of these pieces together results in one of my favorite images from the trip. Here are some considerations from the making of this image:
One of the biggest issues with shooting stars at night is that it needs to be very dark. Obviously, the sun must be set - that's easy to schedule around. The moon phase and its location in the sky (no moon is best) can also be scheduled around. I had about an about-2 hour window to capture my star photos prior to the moon lightening the sky on this night.
Because it is dark out, a wide aperture lens is strongly prefered. I recommend an at-least f/2.8 lens and the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM Lens is typically with me when I travel to dark sky locations. Wide angle focal lengths work best for this type of shot.
Even when using a wide aperture lens, long exposure times are needed. While the night sky appears very motionless when looked upon, stars are a subject in motion (from our perspective - due to a rotating earth - the earth is really doing the moving) and subject motion blur becomes apparent at the exposure times needed to generate a bright-enough night image. While an equatorial mount solves that problem, this solution does not work as well with a foreground included in the frame. These mounts are also a significant added cost.
High ISO settings are what I use. You need to select an ISO setting high enough to allow an exposure short enough to control the star trails. At 24mm, I prefer to keep exposures at 15 seconds (though I can accept 20-25 second images). Wider angle lenses will tolerate longer exposures - Longer focal lengths will show star trails more strongly at 15 seconds. Longer exposures also make a meteorite more likely to become part of your image. Or an airplane (I cloned one out of this image)
I used ISO 3200 for this image, but pushed the sky exposure an additional stop and the foreground an additional 2 stops during post processing. An f/2 aperture was used for this image. The lens used has an f/1.4 max aperture, but I was experimenting with the reduced vignetting at f/2. I liked the f/1.4 results better, but this particular exposure has better meteorites in it.
I highly recommend enabling long exposure noise reduction (an in-camera setting) when shooting the night sky. For each image captured, the camera takes a second, same length, exposure without the shutter open. The dark frame is then used to mask noise out of the first frame.
Long exposure noise reduction, when used in conjunction with very long exposures, means that there is a lot of time spent waiting. Getting to this particular location had a relatively high cost - especially including time and energy. So, having two cameras simultaneously in use nearly doubled my take home from this night shoot.
The Canon EOS 1D X, with its incredible low light performance, was my primary DSLR for this shoot. Again, you are looking at an ISO 3200 long exposure picture that was pushed by 1 and 2 stops. I used the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM Lens on this camera.
On my second tripod was a Canon EOS 5D Mark III - another excellent-performing camera. The 5D III had a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens on it much of the time.
The two camera setups gave me more compositions and more meteorite captures per hour. Both performed spectacularly. The viewfinder horizon level feature found in these two cameras was especially useful when framing the extremely dark scene.
I use Live View manual focus (find a bright star at 10x) and the 2-second self-timer with mirror lockup for shoots such as this one.
Shooting the night sky is a lot of fun - both from a results perspective and from the simple experience of watching the beautiful starry sky.
24mm f/2.0 15s ISO 3200
Hurricane Sandy-Damaged Pier
While the incredible sunset over Barnegat Bay captures your attention first, it is the pier that tells the story. Hurricane Sandy ravaged the New Jersey coast and this pier going out into Barnegat Bay remains witness to the event.
This is an HDR image. Read the HDR article in the tips section of the site for the full story on this one.
16mm f/11.0 20s ISO 100
Polihale State Park, Kauai, Hawaii
The secluded beach at Polihale State Park in Kauai, Hawaii is one of my favorites. This location is great for photographing the sand and cliffs in the warm light of the setting sun.
While the sand on a beach may all appear the same, you can often find something different to work into your composition. Here, I found little channels created by erosion. The channels were straight, but by shooting the contour from a close angle, they become oft-desired curves in my composition. The curves separate this photo from many others I didn't find very interesting.
This location also has full view of the setting sun, but I needed more time to explore the area to find a foreground other than the basic (though still beautiful) sun-into-water composition.
24mm f/16.0 1/60s ISO 200
Arch and Dead Tree, Arches National Park
It is not hard to find rock and arches at Arches National Park, but finding interesting foreground subjects requires more exploring. I liked this dead tree and worked it against the blue sky over the arch in this picture.
I shot this picture with and without the circular polarizer filter - the difference is dramatic - I didn't keep the light-colored sky shot taken sans filter.
32mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 100
Fire Over Shawnee Falls, Ricketts Glenn State Park
Beach trees in their fall colors appear to blaze over the dark, rain-soaked rocks around Shawnee Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park, near Benton, PA. This was a perfect situation for the B+W 82mm XS-Pro MRC Nano Kaeseman CP Filter I was reviewing.
24mm f/11.0 5s ISO 100
Sunset on Na Pali Coast, Kauai
You can't tell from this picture, but it was shot in the rain. The light rain came on suddenly - just as the sunset was reaching peak color. I was not too concerned about my gear as both the camera and lens were sealed against such rain, but keeping the front element dry (for optical reasons) was a bit of a challenge. Always keep a microfiber cloth handy.
Rain comes from clouds and clouds are needed for dramatic sunsets. In this case, I'll take the rain.
I was shooting with two cameras at this time. I was capturing (handheld) waves hitting the cliffs with a telephoto zoom (70-300 L) and was capturing the sunset with a normal zoom on a tripod. This image is an HDR that utilized three exposures to get a little detail in the shaded rock and cliffs.
24mm f/11.0 1/6s ISO 100
Paria Rimrocks Toadstool Hoodoos in Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, Utah was not high on my Grand Tour to-do list, but it was one of my favorite locations on this trip. My only regret was not spending more time there. White and red sandstone - and rock hats on rock columns - characterize this location.
24mm f/10.0 1/50s ISO 100
Maine Coast Picture
The Maine coast by the bay at Pretty Marsh in Acadia National Park at low tide.
10mm f/11.0 .3s ISO 100
Clouds and Rock Formations on Crypt Trail
The clouds seem to match the rock formations under it in this picture taken from the Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park.
55mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 100
Pennsylvania Beech Tree
As trees are usually much taller than us, it is common is for us to look upward at leaves or minimally view them from a side perspective. Also typical is for the leaves to be facing, at least to some degree, upward and for the light to be reaching the leaves most strongly from above. While photographing glowing backlit leaves from underneath is commonly recommended (and a good tactic), the top of leaves generally have the strongest color with that color facing the light. Thus, capturing the best leaf color in the best light often means photographing the top of leaves.
Because most leaves (on trees at least) are higher than us, moving in close to the tree can diminish the amount of color seen. Moving farther away, unless that distance means a lower elevation, can provide a more colorful view of a tree by simply lowering the angle of view. Better is to get a higher vantage point. This means going up on a hill, up on a deck, up in a building (shooting from an open window for example), up on a ladder, etc.
A photo accessory that I've long considered acquiring, one that would help greatly in this regard, is a Bucket Truck. I know, you think I'm kidding, right? Not so. I think having such a truck would be a competitive advantage and I am always seeing locations where I could make use of one.
I don't know if that idea will ever come to fruition for me, but more popular is the use of drones. While the rules and regulations book for use of these devices is still being written, drones can get to many locations that would previously have required a bucket truck, crane or helicopter. Getting above the leaves is no problem for a drone.
If moving up means moving back, a longer focal length lens may be desired to keep the same framing and that the perspective will change should not be overlooked.
I was evaluating the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens and while looking down the steep hill from our house, a beech tree with various shades of yellow and salmon-colored leaves caught my eye. At 35mm, the tree was tiny in the frame, so I went down to it. The closer I got, the less I was noticing the color patterns that initially caught my attention and the more I was looking across the side of the leaves, leaving the bare woods showing through the color. While still beautiful, this was not the image I had envisioned from the top of the hill.
I took some photos that I liked at 35mm, but then went back to the house to mount the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. With the narrower angle of view, I could easily fill the frame with color and the downward view on the leaves left few holes into the background.
The next time you are looking at beautiful fall foliage, consider moving to a position that affords a downward view to maximize the color available to you.
300mm f/8.0 .5s ISO 100
A strong snow storm left tree trunks vertically lined with snow. A downward-angled camera position causes the essentially-straight tree trunks to angle outward in this picture. I wanted to keep the bottom and most of the sides of the frame free of intersecting lines (other than the shadows).
10mm f/8.0 1/125s ISO 100
Sunset and Moonrise Over Monument Valley
The view of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park from near the visitor's center (very easily accessible) begs for a panorama shot. This nearly-80-megapixel panorama is composed of 7 images stitched together in Photoshop. The western sky is still brightened from the setting sun while a full moon rises over the east.
67mm f/4.0 4s ISO 200
Grand Teton Mountain Peak
This shot was taken from a mountain peak across Amphitheatre Lake from Grand Teton. A circular polarizer was used for this shot.
105mm f/9.0 1/50s ISO 100
North Window Arch, Arches National Park
The North Window Arch, Arches National Park provides a unique frame of some similarly unique rock structures behind it. A circular polarizer filter was used to darken the sky and saturate the rock color.
24mm f/10.0 1/30s ISO 100
Snow-Laden Blue Spruce Tree
Morning light creates a three-dimensional look to this snow-covered Blue Spruce Tree.
75mm f/11 1/160s ISO 100
Na Pali Coast
The Na Pali Coast of Kauai, with its massive sea cliffs, is a simply spectacular sight.
While the new-at-the-time Canon EF 24-70 f/4 L IS Lens was my primary standard zoom lens for this trip, I used the 24-105 L IS from the helicopter. I made this choice primarily for the longer focal length, but in the end I decided that either lens would have worked very well.
I used a B+W circular polarizer filter in 100% of my helicopter aerial photos on this day - an XS-PRO Nano version in this case.
24mm f/8.0 1/800s ISO 2000
Salomon Bay, St. John Picture
Salomon Bay is a very popular location for boats to moor. And Honeymoon Beach is a great reason for this location's popularity.
24mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 160
Pennsylvania Snow Storm
Pennsylvania does not often get the Colorado variety snow storms, but what Pennsylvania gets can be very beautiful. When the cloud cover is heavy, it doesn't matter what time of the day you are shooting in – images taken throughout the day will look the same.
Here I was shooting mid-day during the storm from under the protection of an umbrella. Since you never know when a wind will kick up and blow the snow off of the branches, I was making sure that I got the shot I wanted. The blurred falling snowflakes (hard to see at this reduced image size) also add a different dimension to this image.
16mm f/11.0 1/25s ISO 100
Couple Walking on the Beach at Hawksnest Bay
A couple walks on the beautiful beach at Hawksnest Bay, Virgin Islands National Park, St. John. Lines of clouds, trees, sand, water and rocks flow through the composition.
24mm f/11.0 1/50s ISO 100
Sunset at Trunk Bay
The lone Palm tree on Trunk Cay caught my attention. I also like how the clouds are shaped similarly to the rocks extending into Trunk Bay from the cay.
105mm f/8.0 1/13s ISO 250
Parkman Mountain, Acadia National Park
A late-day Acadia National Park landscape that includes the Parkman Mountain peak as seen from Bald Peak. Warm light from the setting sun touches the mountaintops while dramatic clouds take care of the top portion of this frame.
24mm f/11.0 1/60s ISO 160
Rows of Clouds Over Acadia
Rows of clouds let rays of light through, causing small areas of brightness in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Acadia National Park.
17mm f/11.0 1/200s ISO 100
Old Boat on Bambarra Beach, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
While exploring Middle Caicos, I came across this great little old boat on Bambarra Beach. I opted to go wide and move in close, emphasizing the boat relative to the rest of the landscape. As I worked the scene, I continued to move in closer and lower until ... cue the pelican ... I settled on this shot.
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens is a great beach and seascape lens option, with or without a tripod.
Whether or not to use a circular polarizer filter when using the widest angles of this lens on a full frame body (and similar angle-of-view-equivalent focal lengths on APS-C format bodies) is a question that one must ask themselves. At very wide angles, a CPL filter can create an unevenly-darkened sky and tastes for such vary widely. One strategy is to shoot in the middle of the day. A high sun places the most-darkened portion of the sky evenly over the horizon. This provides a more-evenly darkened sky within the frame, as seen in this image.
While there is some gradient in this sky, I much prefer the CPL look and the high sky-to-boat contrast over the lighter sky (which naturally has some gradient even without the filter).
16mm f/11.0 1/100s ISO 100
Clouds are Important for not only the Sky, Sievers Mountain, Maroon Bells
Aspen trees do not all change color at the same time in the fall. This can be good or bad news. Good is that there is some flexibility in the timing of fall photo trips to aspen areas. Potentially bad is that there will likely be green or bare aspen trees in your targeted area.
In addition to leaf color, sky cover is a concern for aspen tree photography. While blue skies are beautiful, I much prefer to have photogenic clouds decorating a blue sky (with abundant amounts of sunshine coming through). My reasoning for this preference is probably obvious for images that include those clouds and the sky. But, clouds cast shadows and shadows can greatly contribute to imagery.
On the return hike from Crater Lake on this day, clouds blocked the sun just enough to shade Sievers Mountain while the foreground aspen trees glowed brightly in the sunlight. In the mid-ground was a patch of aspens with only their top-most leaves remaining (these are the last to fall). Also in the sun, these leaves appear as a flame over the trees. While it is not in the limelight, Sievers Mountain, full of character and framed in blue sky with white clouds further separating the sharpest peaks, makes this shot for me.
While a telephoto lens may not have been your first choice for a hike primarily focused on landscape photography, telephoto focal lengths are an integral part of my landscape kit. I often find composing landscape images with a telephoto zoom lens to be easier than a wide angle lens. The next time you head out to photograph the great outdoors, especially in big mountain areas, make sure that a telephoto zoom lens is in your bag.
300mm f/9.0 1/125s ISO 200
Red Mountain, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Why am I posting a fall foliage photo for a summer photography tip? Good question – Let me explain.
Anticipation is one of life's greatest feelings.
Strive to create anticipation for your clients and also in your own life. One of my favorite anticipations is for a photo trip and, while many lament the end of summer approaching, my favorite time of the year to photograph is when the leaves change color. This time of the year is primarily in the fall season, but ... the leaves in some of the most-scenic areas are reaching peak color just as the summer season comes to an end.
Many landscape photographers share my affinity for fall and photographers with interests other than landscape photography can also benefit from the brilliant colors. For example, portrait, sports, car and many other photographers can find the colorful fall backgrounds advantageous. If it is summer and your fall trip(s) is(are) not planned, don't wait any longer.
If colorful leaves are the desired subject, a location experiencing that color during your time there is important. While that timing can change from year-to-year, influenced by water and temperature, trip planning should use historical averages for decision making. There are many fall foliage maps available to help with destination and date planning.
My last fall foliage photography trip was to Colorado, including the San Juan Mountains, a location sure to be found on all USA fall foliage maps. For this image, I used a telephoto lens to bring the snow-capped mountains in close, making them appear large in the frame. A break in the heavy cloud cover provided beautiful lighting and the low-hanging cloud added the extra element I am always searching for.
While your fall foliage photo trip may be best planned even earlier than summer, if summer is here, wait no longer. My big fall trip is planned, but ... I'll let the destination be a small anticipation for you.
112mm f/11.0 1/250s ISO 100