Close Perspective Horse Jumping
When looking through the viewfinder and in-the-zone after the ultimate picture, it is easy to lose our normal cautions and place ourselves in harm's way. While I would have liked to get even closer for this shot, I kept my sanity and shot from a low position behind the jump standard not seen in this frame. This virtually assured that I would not have a 1,000 animal land in my lap.
The 1D X's 12 fps burst rate made getting the perfect subject position easy - and it's even more amazing AF system made most frames from this very-fast-focusing lens sharp options to select from.
24mm f/2.8 1/2500s ISO 100
I Don't Shoot Black and White, Except
While I love black and white in interior and graphic design, I am about as interested in creating black and white images as I am in watching black and white movies. I view black and white photography as a last resort for not being able to find good color. If a scene does not lend itself to a color photo, I usually move on, looking for one that does.
I need to emphasize the "I view" part of that sentence. I am only referencing my personal interest level in black and white photography. Everyone has their own photographic interests and if B&W photography is your thing, I say "Go for it!" If everyone was exactly like me, this would be a boring world.
Photography has very few "laws" and my black and white aversion is not one of them. One exception I make to my no-monochromatic rule is when a found scene is monochromatic and winter landscapes often qualify as that. For example and as illustrated in this image, a blanket of snow over a hardwood forest under a cloudy sky is a common monochromatic winter scene. You are looking at a full color image and in this case, I'm into black and white.
When shooting a monochromatic scene, there are two colors to work with. Thus, contrast, lines and focus take on an elevated importance in composition. With the entire scene in sharp focus, my eye is drawn directly to the area of strongest contrast which in this case is the cluster of front-most tree trunks. The balance of these trees aid in leading the viewer's eyes to this location or to the similar trunks diminishing in size in the background.
Trees laden with snow pull the image toward the white side of black and white and capturing such requires a sense of urgency as often the snow does not remain on tree branches for long. A light wind clears the branches as does some direct sunlight warming the branches enough to cause the snow to become slippery, inducing its fall. Sometimes the best time to photograph a snowstorm is while it is happening and the falling snow also pulls the image even further toward white. Protection for your camera during the snow storm can be as simple as the umbrella used for this image capture.
Summary: Use this winter to increase the depth of your black and white (or monochromatic) portfolio.
24mm f/11.0 1/20s ISO 100
Fern-Covered Rock and Waterfalls
Going off of the falls trails in The Glens Natural Area in Ricketts Glen State Park should only be done cautiously due to the steep and slippery terrain, but sometimes different-than-usual images can be made by doing just that - getting off of the trail.
24mm f/16.0 2s ISO 100
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II Lens Captures Senior Track Picture
Brianna, my high school senior, has had a very successful high school track career from multiple perspectives including having her name on three school records. This success did not come without a huge effort on her part, and we had discussed shooting a more-formal senior picture highlighting her passion for mid-distance running. Track season became busy and I shot many images of her competing, but time got away from us and suddenly we had only one evening remaining before she had to turn in her uniform.
The weather forecast for that evening called for scattered showers and we were watching the radar very closely. I was packed and ready, and we decided to go for it. After determining the ideal location on the track to shoot at, I began unpacking.
I had three Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites and a Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter to control them with. Two Speedlites were mounted on background light stands (small, light and simple) with Justin Clamps used to hold the Speedlites to the poles at any height I wanted. The third Speedlite was mounted to a weighted light stand with a 60" reversed/shoot-through umbrella mounted to a Manfrotto umbrella adapter.
I first mounted the umbrella to the stand and almost immediately a light rain began to fall. I quickly put Brianna, who feared that her hair and makeup would be ruined, under the Photogenic "umbrella". The rain mostly passed within 10 minutes or so and we went to work.
The two flashes on background light stands were set to group B and used as rim lights, placed to the side or slightly behind the subject as composition allowed. The shoot-through umbrella's flash was set to group A and used as the main light. Ambient light (for the entire background) was controlled through a manually-set camera exposure. The flashes were in E-TTL mode and +/- exposure for the two groups was controlled by the ST-E3-RT's Group mode.
While this may all sound complicated, it was not. Setup was very simple and I was able to quickly and easily adjust/balance the ambient, main and background light levels from the camera. While the rain stayed away for much of the two hours we were shooting, it did not fully stay away. Fortunately, this entire kit, including the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens, was weather-sealed and we were able to make many great images in this time.
I had planned this shoot for an evening so that the flashes would be able to overpower the ambient light levels, though I had hoped for a bit more light than we had. The aperture was wide and the ISO was moving up by the end of the evening. Still, the shoot was a big success for us.
Even selecting this particular image from the many shots of just this pose was difficult. With lighting dialed in, I had Brianna repetitively start from specific position on the track and take one big stride with her left knee and right arm (with the baton) forward. I timed the shutter release (a short shutter lag is extremely useful in this situation) for a near-top-of-stride subject position that coincided with the lighting setup. The composition was arranged to take advantage of the lines on the track.
With a wireless flash system and a little effort, we created the images we had envisioned.
30mm f/4.0 1/100s ISO 400
Choosing between an image stabilized f/4 lens and a non-IS f/2.8 lens can be challenging. If you are shooting action in low light, the best choice is usually going to be the f/2.8 lens. An f/2.8 aperture lets twice as much light reach the sensor, allowing for a faster aperture and/or lower ISO setting to be used.
24mm f/2.8 1/400s ISO 800
Christmas Lights Reflecting on Piano
While Christmas is a great time to photograph lights, those lights do not always need to be in focus.
70mm f/2.8 1/100s ISO 1250
Upper Dutchman Falls, Worlds End State Park
Dutchman Falls are actually located outside of, but not far from, Worlds End State Park. From a parking lot just off of route 220 north of Laporte, the falls are a short hike down a moderately steep trail near the Loyalsock Creek.
The falls shown in this picture are not as large as the main Dutchman Falls found just below. But, I liked the layer of rock going through the frame at about 1/3 from the top. And the leaves on the ground added life to the composition. And the falls are beautiful.
A circular polarizer filter was used for this capture.
24mm f/11.0 4s 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
Worlds End State Park Reflections of Fall
Fall foliage reflects in the still water of "The Haystacks" on the Loyalsock Creek near Worlds End State Park.
I have frequently carried split neutral density filters with me, but I rarely find myself using them. Primarily because I seldom shoot scenes with a straight line between the portion of the frame I want to darken and the portion I want to lighten. Also, the amount of difference in exposure needed varies greatly. And, the white balance is often different in the two (or more) sections of the frame.
This image is of a typical-for-me scene that needs a portion of the frame darkened.
For this image, I shot two frames - one exposed for the background trees and one for the in-the-shade rocks. The exposed-for-shade image was given a warmer white balance and a small saturation boost. In Photoshop, I overlayed the exposed-for-the-sun frame with the exposed-for-the-shade frame, creating two layers. I then used a very soft eraser brush to removed the overexposed portion of the top layer to expose the bottom layer. This technique is very easy - and the results can look great - and natural.
Do note that, if you have a subject in the frame that is moving, this technique only works well if that motion is fully contained in one of the two layers. A CP filter was used for this image. I'm still debating between cloning out the floating leaves or leaving them in.
24mm f/16.0 1/6s 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
After researching potential Philadelphia photography locations, I decided to make the sunset and blue hour view of center city from the South Street Bridge my priority. After conveniently parking at the Penn Museum parking garage, I carried a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L full of gear a short distance to the bridge to finalize my scouting. As expected, the bridge piers could be photographed from, eliminating the potentially major mid-span issue of bridge movement caused by vehicle traffic. Satisfied with my plan, I went on to explore the great Philadelphia riverfront and some of the inner city.
I came back to my bridge position about an hour before sunset, setup two tripods and cameras and began taking some long exposures using 6 and 10-stop Breakthrough Photography neutral density filters, capturing the setting sun bathing the city in warm color. Warm color turned into orange in the sky for another nice set of images. But, the best was yet to come.
When the lights in the city became sufficiently bright relative to the sky, the images took on significantly more sparkle – exactly what I was looking for. While I have a very good idea of when this time is happening, I shoot images from before the expected time until the color in the sky is gone. I later select the image captured at the most-ideal time as it is most easily discernable in post.
A 30 second exposure was ideal for eliminating moving people from the image (the riverfront walkway was filled with walkers, joggers, bikers, etc.) and for blurring the water. While a far wider aperture would have provided an adequate depth of field for this image, but f/11 and f/16 create larger starburst effects from the lights. An even narrower aperture will create even larger stars, but I find the detail-softening effects of diffraction to become too strong for this purpose beyond f/16. At this capture time, f/16 at 30 seconds needed ISO 200 for the desired brightness. I could have gone to a 1-minute exposure and ISO 100, but with long exposure noise reduction turned on, that means 2 minutes per image and I wanted a faster capture rate.
Post processing adjustments to this Philadelphia skyline image were primarily adding saturation along with a minor curves adjustment. Often the case when photographing city lights is that some areas of the photo are illuminated more strongly than others, often the photogenic tops of skyscrapers go pure white first. To counter this issue, I captured bracketed exposures and selected a 2-stop shorter variant to put the color and details back into the triangular-shaped gridded roof-top on the BNY Mellon Center building via an HDR process. I usually remove airplane light trails, but ... the up-curving arc, to my eye, seemed to work in this image, so it remains.
I mentioned using two complete camera and tripod setups. I was using a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on one (capturing a wider image including the west side of the Schuylkill River) and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on the other, capturing a more-tightly framed image emphasizing the city's great architecture with the riverwalk providing a strong leading line into the frame. The two cameras in simultaneous use essentially doubled the take-home from the prime time of this day's shoot.
57mm f/16.0 30s ISO 200
Tuscarora Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park
The 47' Tuscarora Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park is notable for the large split in the path the water takes in the lower section of the falls. For this perspective, I postitioned the camera just above the splashing water of a small falls just below the main falls - with a rock with lines pointing toward the main falls creating some additional interest. A CP filter was used for this shot.
24mm f/11.0 .8s ISO 100
Horse Head Close-Up Picture
Even with a 70mm lens, you can get close enough for perspective distortion to make your subject's noses look big. Especially when they are big to begin with.
70mm f/2.8 1/500s ISO 100
Fern-Covered Rock, Ricketts Glen State Park
I've spent hours at this particular fern-covered rock in Ricketts Glen State Park. It is located below "Falls Meet" and features interesting rock shapes and lines. A CP filter was used for this capture. So was an umbrella as it was raining.
24mm f/8.0 5s ISO 100
Canyon Vista, Worlds End State Park
A very early AM alarm followed by a long drive landed me at Canyon Vista, Worlds End State Park before daylight. I was rewarded with dense fog in the valley with only mountain tops showing. I have lots of pictures from this morning (especially as the fog started to burn off), but one of my favorites is shown here. Only the tops of the mountains colored by fall show through the clouds. The bottom of the clouds are still in the shade of the mountain I was shooting from.
The memory of being tired went away much faster than the memory of the experience. And the photos will keep that memory going long into the future.
70mm f/8.0 1/60s ISO 100
Northern Red Salamander
This Northern Red Salamander was rescued from the swiming pool (the reason it is so clean). In return for the rescue, it agreed to sit still (momentarily) for me (it was actually warming up).
This picture was extremely easy to take. I opened a new Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter and a new Canon 600EX-RT Transmitter, put batteries in both, powered both on, set the flash to slave mode (press a button), put the flash in an XXS Chimera softbox and mounted it to a lightstand and mounted the ST-E3-RT to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
I placed the subject on a mangrove branch on a black back-painted-glass desk and draped a piece of velour fabric over a box behind it.
This is my favorite of the shots captured in the short time it took the salamander to warm up and be ready for release.
70mm f/11.0 1/200s ISO 100
Kitchen Creek, The Glens Natural Area
Kitchen Creek in The Glens Natural Area of Ricketts Glen State Park holds a seemingly endless number of compositions. In the fall, beach leaves cover the rocks and ground around the creek. As is the case with many of my landscape photos, a circular polarizer filter was used to assist the capture this image.
24mm f/16.0 1.6s ISO 100
Gate to the Last Dollar Ranch, Telluride
Colorado is known for its big ranches and a big ranch calls for a grand entrance. The Last Dollar Ranch on Last Dollar Road near Dallas Divide (and RT 62) has one of my favorite such entrances. The huge mountains behind large golden fields fronted by a rustic wooden fence and of course, a grand entrance create a simply beautiful scene.
To make the entrance appear grand in the image, I moved in close and used a wide angle focal length.
Just looking at this photo brings back memories of the large heard of elk in the distance and I can still hear the large bull bugling. That is the power of an image.
24mm f/11.0 1/20s ISO 100
Dutchman Falls, Worlds End State Park
I timed my Dutchman Falls (near Worlds End State Park) photography so that the sun would be completely set at this vantage point - to avoid any hotspots in the frame. Plenty of small streams of water make a wide variety of compositions available at this location.
I generally use manual exposures when photographing waterfalls. Set the aperture for the depth of field/sharpness needed, set the ISO to 100 (usually) and set the shutter so that a very small area of the brightest water is overexposed (blinking highlights).
35mm f/11.0 3.2s ISO 100
Royal Tailor in Concert
Having a special access pass will give you the opportunity for perspectives not otherwise possible to capture. With the subject high on a stage, a floor level perspectve is not uncomfortable to get. And, since this was the only perspective available at this time, it was fortunately a good one. As always, aligning the subject with a good background is very important.
24mm f/2.8 1/250s ISO 800
Silhouetted Horse, Rider & Dog
To get a silhouette requires a bright background. The sky is typically what I use to create silhouettes, and when using a wide angle lens, a low shooting position is often needed to get enough of the subject surrounded by sky.
24mm f/2.8 1/1600s ISO 100
The Little Red Lighthouse
To get the story behind this image, be sure to read the comments for the image titled The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. As you learned from that page, I had a choice of two great lenses to use for the 28mm focal length this picture was captured at. The question is: why did I choose the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens over the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens?
At the f/11 aperture, the image quality difference between these lenses is unimportant, but ... I did change lenses from one to the other for a specific reason. The 24-70 L II, with its wider max aperture, creates noticeably larger stars from the point light sources in the image, the individual lights. While the results from both lenses would be great, I wanted the extra sparkle that the 24-70 L II would provide.
Compositionally, I moved in as close to the lighthouse as possible (making the "little" lighthouse appear large) while keeping some separation between the lighthouse top and the bridge. I retained the entire leftmost part of the bridge along with some wooded area (Fort Lee Historic Park) in the frame, but excluded a skyscraper located just outside of the frame.
28mm f/11.0 30s ISO 400
Shawnee Falls in the Fall
Shawnee Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park is beautiful at any time of the year, but fall is my favorite time to visit these falls. A sure-thing compsition for these falls is to shoot wide and move in close to the layered rocks while using a circular polarizing filter.
Since I was shooting very late on a very cloudy day, the auto white balance out of the camera was a bit cool. By setting a custom white balance based on a near-white area of the water, a much warmer color tone is easily achieved.
24mm f/11.0 10s ISO 160
Reflections at Independence Pass, Colorado
A great way to make a good scene better is to add a reflection and water is perhaps the most common reflective surface used in landscape photography. At least relatively still water is needed if what is reflecting is to be recognizable and, when shooting in extremely windy locations (this one qualifies), small bodies of water tend to be most still.
Shaded water often provides a better reflective water surface than water under direct sunlight. At the top of Independence Pass, the setting sun shines horizontally across the landscape and casts a shadow evenly across this small alpine meadow pond. The dark water nicely reflects the great clouds overhead
This is a manual HDR processed image with a subtle increase in reflection brightness being the result.
24mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 125
A lot of effort goes into lighting a concert. Be sure to include this lighting in your images - especially if you are shooting for the concert producer.
Unfortunately, large microphones on stands are still used at some these venues. Omitting these from images is much more challenging. Performers are lit from the front and stand behind the microphones. This means that not only do you have the microphone itself getting in the way of your subject, but you also have a dark shadow on their face.
38mm f/2.8 1/320s ISO 800
Beach Tree in the Forest
Shooting deep forest scenes can be very challenging - especially on clear days such as this one. I found this still-green beach tree over a bed of ferns that had succombed to fall pleasing to my eye. I framed the beach tree about 1/3 of the way into the frame and moved forward/backward to get the perspective I wanted. I then adjusted focal length for the framing desired. A B+W XS-PRO CP Filter was used for this shot.
42mm f/11.0 1/5s ISO 100
I don't often place the subject near dead center of the frame, but in this case, I liked how the curve of the horse's neck ran up around the left side of the frame with the right side. The combination of an f/2.8 aperture, 70mm focal length and distant background subject renders the right edge of the frame an undistracting blur of the background.
70mm f/2.8 1/640s ISO 100
Dirt Track Racing
Sprint car racing and other dirt track events provide great photography experiences with easy access. Check out the Dirt Track Racing Photography Tips page to learn much more about this topic. The 1D X Mark II and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II make a great combo for this event.
59mm f/4.5 1/250s ISO 3200
When shooting a concert or similar event, a 70mm focal length on a full frame body is going to frame nearly the entire stage unless you are very close. But, shooting the entire stage is not all bad.
70mm f/2.8 1/200s ISO 1250
Trout Surfacing in Alta Lakes, Telluride, CO
The drive to the abandoned mining camp at Alta Lakes in the Uncompahgre National Forest just south of Telluride is a treat – if you have a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle and you know how to drive off-road. The AWD crossover SUV I had rented was marginal in meeting that first qualification, but I'm apparently at least somewhat qualified for the second requirement as I managed to navigate the vehicle to Alta Lakes. Unquestionable is that the drive to this amazing scenery was worth taking.
When at a high elevation, strong wind is generally what you find. OK, more like always what you find. Even at about 11,000' of elevation, there was no wind on this day and the Alta Lakes (3 of them, Upper is shown here) were absolutely calm.
Give me a mirror-smooth lake with something attractive behind it and I can be entertained for hours. OK, more like days. The snow-covered Wilson Mountain easily qualified as "attractive".
There was one exception to the mirror-smooth water surface and that was the occasional trout feeding on the surface, sending rings of ripples across the lake surface. When this happened, I would pause my shooting until the lake was again smooth. Then the nicely-time trout rise happened.
I was shooting HDR images to insure that I had lots of flexibility in final image brightness. One frame was exposed to hold the highlights, preventing the brightest clouds from becoming blown (pure white with no detail). The second frame was exposed to maintain the shadow details including those in the evergreen trees. The third frame included a trout's jump that synched perfectly with my 2 second self-timer release. I find the trout, though small in the frame, to add a positive element to an image that I already liked.
I generally share images because I like them. It seems that images with clean frame borders very frequently bubble up in my selection process and this image again has this trait. From a compositional perspective, placing the horizon in the middle of the frame with a reflective lake in the foreground virtually guarantees a perfect vertical balance to the image.
24mm f/11.0 1/25s ISO 100
In the Spotlight
A performer works the stage extending into the crowd. Just because you have an access pass doesn't mean the action will remain in front of you. Be ready to work with what you can get.
In this image, two large spotlights half-rim-light the performer. Including those spotlights in the frame tells much more of the story. And including the fans' arms tells even more of the story and adds balance to the image.
24mm f/2.8 1/400s ISO 1250
Hookena Beach Sunset
The sun sets over the Pacific ocean near Hookena Beach, Big Island, Hawaii.
The dynamic range of this scene, increased by the extremely dark volcanic rock, required an HDR technique. Separate exposures were used for the sky and the foreground.
Hawaii, aided by the many clouds of the rainy season (winter), regularly delivers very impressive sunsets.
24mm f/16.0 .8s ISO 100
Fall Aspens in Sunlight at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
Wildlife photographers can spend many days or weeks working with the same subject at the same location and, due to ever-changing behaviors of their subjects, they can continuously capture unique images. Sports photographers have unique action at every game/meet/match/race/etc. at the same field/track/event location. Street photographer are always finding new entertainment at the same locations. Wedding, event and portrait photographers have a steady stream of new subjects coming through the same locations. But you, landscape (and cityscape) photographer, usually find the same subjects in the same positions each time you go back. However, you still have reasons for going back.
Basically, you most often go back in hopes that something might be different this time.
Perhaps you didn't get it right the first time. You didn't provide adequate depth of field or didn't focus to the right distance to keep everything in the image sharp. Or, perhaps you want to use a wider aperture lens to better define the primary subject. Perhaps the focal choice was not ideal and part of the scene was cropped too tightly. Maybe you were too close or too far away and didn't get the ideal perspective. You want to move up/down, left/right or closer/farther to get it right the next time.
You now have better skills. Closely aligned with getting it right this time are your improved photography skills. You are now better at reading a scene and better able to select the composition, perhaps including a foreground element or better aligning the background within the foreground framing.
You go back to work on your creativity. The more bored you become with photographing a scene, the more likely you are going to find a creative new way to photograph it.
You go back because you have better gear. While we sometimes think that camera and lens technology is not moving forward fast enough, what is available today is far better than what was available not long ago. Taking your new camera(s) and lens(es) to a past-visited favorite location is an easy recipe for bettering your portfolio. Your higher resolution, lower noise camera and sharper lens will create results that look better, especially at high resolution. Taking a circular polarizer filter, a neutral density filter, etc. that you did not originally have can make a huge difference in your repeat visit results.
You go back in hopes for better weather conditions. You hope for better skies, a better sunrise, a better sunset, better clouds, more/less fog, less (or possibly more) wind, warmer light, etc. Everyone loves a fiery sunrise or sunset and those don't happen every day – you might need to go back repeatedly to find these. Fog? Some locations have it with some regularity, but many others have it only occasionally.
You go back because the timing is different or better. You may have better water flow, creating better waterfalls that give images a completely different look, one well worth the effort of a revisit. The seasons of the year provide a very different look to many locations. Spring brings bright green foliage and (usually) good water flow. Summer brings darker foliage and warmer weather (required for the snow to melt enough to access some areas). Late summer and fall brings amazing color to the trees in many areas. Winter brings snow, completely redecorating the landscape.
The timing of the visit also dictates the position of the celestial bodies. Go back when the sun, moon and/or stars (the milky way) are better aligned. Perhaps the sun shines between two mountain peaks at a certain time of the year. Perhaps you want to go back when the milky way is best aligned over a scene. The same applies to the moon with a specific desired phase and position.
Perhaps the scene has indeed changed and is no longer physically the same. While there are not usually macro changes occurring to landscape without a significant environmental disaster (such as a tornado, hurricane, fire, etc.), micro changes frequently happen. Trees fall, erosion occurs, sediment moves in streams during strong flows and fields have a different crop in rotation. If the scene is significantly altered, new images will be more current than those taken before the alteration. Before and after photos may be valued in this case.
Sometimes, you go back just because things can happen. Wildlife showing up can add a prize-winning element to any image.
If you are considering going back, the location is probably amazing and somewhere you love to be. That alone is a great reason to go back as just being there is awesome. There is no reason why the same location cannot be enjoyed time and time again. If you like the location that much, perhaps you want to share it with a friend or friends.
You go back because the location is a known entity. You know that it is repeatedly good for a quality image – an image worth sharing is sure to come out of the effort.
You go back for practice. If the location is relatively close to home, visiting the location to practice skills and technique prior to a big photo trip is a great idea. Unlike riding a bike, more like distance running, photography requires practice to stay in top shape. It also affords the opportunity to test the camera gear that will accompany you on the trip.
Again, a primary reason to go back is that something might be different this time and the reason that different is desirable is for, minimally, variation and, ideally, for bettering. Photographers are constantly striving to better what we have already done, to raise the bar, to take another step forward in our passion/profession.
The previous time I visited Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, was convenient, but not so well-timed for photography. It was mid-summer (not bad in itself). The sun was high and the leaves were green. The sky was forest fire-hazy. While my cameras and lenses were the best-available at the time, they were not as good as those I'm using today. While I was happy with my results at the time, they do not hold nearly as much value to me from a photographical perspective now.
Late this past year, I was blessed with a revisit to this very photogenic location. And, the results from my revisit were much higher grade in many accounts. Though I'm missing the moose that was in my first set of images (it was so small in the frame that I didn't know it was even there until reviewing the images back at home), but my late summer (photographer's fall in this location), early morning timing for the second visit to Oxbow Bend combined with my now-current camera gear and 9-year-upgraded skillset turned in much better results this time around. I'm sharing one of my favorites with you today.
70mm f/8.0 1/100s ISO 100
Lightning Photography Tips
Let me first say that photographers (myself included) tend to overlook safety too frequently when attempting to capture the perfect shots. Lightning is extremely dangerous and strong caution is advised when attempting to photograph it. That said: Summer is the season for lightning.
A couple of days ago, my wife came in from walking the dog at nearly midnight and said that I had to go out and see the lightning in the distance. A quick check of the weather radar showed that a strong thunderstorm was going to graze us and even though my body said "No! It's time for bed!", my brain knew that this was a great opportunity and that the potential photos, if realized, would last far longer than my tiredness.
I quickly assessed the focal length needs and mounted a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on a Canon EOS 5Ds R. Lightning strikes tend to be random in location and, with the extreme resolution of the 5Ds R, I could afford to shoot with a wider focal length and crop into the frame for the shorter and more-distant lightning bolts. Lightning bolts also vary greatly in brightness and the f/2.8 lens gave me plenty of latitude for exposure settings.
I grabbed a tripod, remote release and a tiny flashlight. I went out the door and spent the next hour capturing lightning strikes.
Note that rain protection for both you and the gear is a very good idea as rain typically accompanies thunderstorms. In this case, my shirt became the gear protection and I simply got wet.
When it is very dark out, lightning photography is not too difficult. Frame the scene in the direction of the storm (consider incorporating some foreground) with a level camera. Turn off image stabilization (if available) and switch to manual focus. Establishing accurate manual focus in the dark can be challenging, but a street light, a light on a distant tower or even a star (if visible) can work.
Attach the remote switch (needs to be able to lock the shutter open) to the camera and set the camera's mode to "B" (Bulb). The shutter speed will be established by the duration of the remote release press. With the dark sky contributing very little light to the exposure, the image brightness will be determined by the lightning and its illumination of the clouds in combination with the selected ISO and aperture settings. Lightning bolts are very bright, but because of the varying distance and intensity of the light output, some trial and error may be necessary to dial in the most-optimal settings. I'll throw out a starter setting of f/4 and ISO 400.
You may decide that turning off the camera's long exposure noise reduction is advisable as dark frame capture is time consuming.
Once the camera is setup, open the shutter using the remote release and wait for lightning to strike. After a strike, release the shutter and immediately open it again.
Bryan's Law of Lightning Photography: The best lightning bolts are guaranteed to occur in the brief period of time that the shutter is closed between exposures.
You may find that you want to start a new photo after a period of inactivity to reduce long exposure noise in the images. Leaving the shutter open for multiple strikes is an option, though a risk is that parts of the image, generally clouds near an area of recurring lightning activity, become overexposed. You may find it more optimal to combine specific images later during post processing.
I captured more lightning strikes in this 1 hour storm than I have in any storm I previously photographed. The results were definitely worth an hour of lost sleep. This image, my favorite of the take, is a single exposure practically straight out of the camera (slight cropping and Picture Style change).
While the nighttime lightning photography technique is relatively easy, daytime lightning photography is much more challenging. Daylight lightning photography procedures are not dissimilar from normal daylight photography, but the problem is that relatively short exposures are required to achieve proper image brightness and short exposures are hard to time with a lightning strike. To catch a bolt of lightning in daylight requires FAST reflexes (or better, a lightning trigger) and a camera with a short shutter lag.
Give lightning photography a try – the results will be ... "striking."
28mm f/6.3 3.6s ISO 100
Summer Snow, Denali National Park
While most of the world bases the fall season on the calendar, a photographer's fall season starts when the foliage changes color and ends soon after the leaves "fall" from the trees. "Photographer's fall" is generally a subset of everyone else's fall, but ... not always. For example, in Alaska, photographer's fall starts and, in some locations, ends in what everyone else considers summer.
As you may have noticed in my September 11th-captured Denali National Park image, the landscape has some good color in it, but a significant percentage of the leaves are beyond peak and many have fallen already. And, as illustrated in this picture, very few leaves were left on the brush and snow was on the ground this September 12th morning. From a photographer's perspective, this was winter, but per the calendar, "fall" was still over a week away.
Planning the timing of "fall" foliage photography has never been easier. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
First, consult fall foliage maps. These maps will show you when to expect peak leaf color in the location you want to photograph in.
Note that I was intentional with the plural of "maps". If you have one watch, you think you know what time it is. If you have more than one watch, you might not be so sure. But, if you average the times of all of the watches, you are more likely to have the correct time. Not all maps are identical in their forecast timing and granularity. Averaging the forecasts together helps provide a better understanding of what normally happens.
There is good reason that these maps are not identical and that is because the fall foliage colors do not come at exactly the same time each year. Leaf color change can be influenced by a variety of factors including temperatures and ground moisture levels. If you know what the various forecasts say, you can plan your photography for the heart of what is typically fall foliage season for that region.
Want a chance for snow and colorful leaves in the same frame? Go late in the typical peak foliage timeframe.
Another good way to determine the right timing for your fall photography is to look for fall photo tours occurring in your target location. Quality tours will be held during the window of highest likelihood for peak color. Even if not joining such a tour, note the date range for planning purposes.
As I write this tip, photographer's fall is coming to an end across the northern hemisphere. But, there have been a lot of fall landscape photos posted to the web in the last two months and those pictures are a gold mine for trip planning. Find out when the best pictures were taken in your target location and take notes. Also, take notes from your own photos.
At minimum, I photograph the fall foliage around home and usually at Ricketts Glen State Park, an amazing location less than 2 hours from my home. Each year, I record the leaf condition for the dates I photograph in those locations along with others I visit. As the next fall comes around, I have a very good idea of when I should be photographing in those locations.
Start now. Wherever it is that you keep notes, record your fall experience along with the information gleaned from research. Make plans for next fall's photos to be your best ever!
24mm f/11.0 1/25s ISO 100
Fall Morning at Schwabachers Landing, Grand Teton National Park
Schwabachers Landing in Grand Teton National Park is a huge favorite location for photographers, especially in the fall. There is good reason for this of course. The Grand Teton range is incredible from many vantage points, but with several beaver ponds making reflections possible, Schwabachers Landing offers twice as many mountain peaks in images captured here.
I captured many composition variations here, but in this simple example, I wanted to emphasize the distant mountains and the 53mm focal length was effective at keeping them large in the frame. Though wide angle focal lengths also created nice compositions here, the mountain peaks were rendered small and much less significant.
The angle of the mid-September morning light is rather flat on this mountain range, but I think that the color of the trees more than offsets this time-of-the-year deficiency.
53mm f/8.0 1/160s ISO 100
Sprint Car Racing
Looking for great access to photograph a car race? Your local dirt track may hold that key for you. Sprint car racing and other dirt track events provide great photography experiences with typically easy access and lots of freedom. Check out the Dirt Track Racing Photography Tips page to learn much more about this topic.
70mm f/4.5 1/250s ISO 2000
Remote Shelikof Strait Coast of Katmai National Park
Plane rides are often a means to an end, but this one was so much more. Flying in a float plane over the Shelikof Strait and along the remote southeast coast of Katmai National Park was ... breathtaking. And those breathtaking sights were very photo-worthy, but not without complications.
Airplane windows are not designed with photography in mind and there is some non-optical glass between the camera and the subject. Reflections, uneven contrast reduction and color toning (mostly in the sky in this frame) were among the complications. After an initial attempt at cleaning up the image, I revisited it a number of times over the nearly 1 year that has passed since this flight. The incredible scene was worth the extra effort that went into post processing, but ... I'm still not sure I have this right.
70mm f/8.0 1/1600s ISO 500
Ben Franklin Bridge as Seen from Camden, NJ
Earlier this year, I posted a Ben Franklin Bridge image and talked about running back and forth between two camera setups during the shoot. At that time, it was requested that I share an image captured by the second camera and ... I am crossing that request off of my to-do list with today's post.
As is often ideal for cityscapes, the timing for this image was such that just a touch of color remained in the sky and the sky brightness balanced nicely with the city lights. With this camera's closer-to-the-bridge perspective, the closest bridge support was emphasized and the broad dark line from the underside of the bridge leads deep into the frame. The river keeps the bottom of the frame somewhat clean (giving the image a foundation) and many of the city's best-known tall buildings are framed between the two in-the-river supports, adding interest to the frame. (full disclosure in case you go here: I removed a small conduit from the center of the bridge support for a cleaner look.)
With good gear and basic skills, this image is not that challenging to capture and as is often the case, being there is the biggest key to success.
45mm f/16.0 30s ISO 200
Oxbow Bend in the Fall, Grand Teton National Park
There are few landscape photography locations more popular than Oxbow Bend, near Moran in Grand Teton National Park. This location is especially favored during the week or two in late summer when the aspen trees take on their brilliant fall colors. However, on a calm morning with interesting clouds in the sky, those colors are just icing on the cake.
When the wind dies down, most often early and late in the day, the Oxbow Bend area of the Snake River becomes glassy and only the jumping fish and feeding ducks remain to mar the mirror-like surface of the water. The highlight of this location is Mount Moran along with the other nearby mountain peaks and a telephoto lens best emphasizes distant mountains. I took a few telephoto pics here, but ... I couldn't resist framing the scene wider, including the reflections of the photogenic clouds present on this great morning.
I always say that a great landscape scene can be made greater by reflecting it and I think this theory holds true at Oxbow Bend. Within this theory, vertically centering the top edge of a large reflecting surface (such as a body of water) usually works very well.
Even though there are many dozens of photographers targeting Oxbow Bend at sunrise, there is plenty of room for everyone to find a good shooting location. Schedule your presence here for mid-late September (this image was captured on the 19th) if you want the yellow aspens in your frame.
41mm f/8.0 1/30s ISO 100
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