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
Moraine Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park
One of my primary goals for my time at Moraine Lake was to capture the warm light from the rising sun hitting just the top of the mountains with the amazing blue lake reflecting the same. The scene I was visualizing required a very clear sky to the east, allowing the sunlight to reach the mountain unimpeded/undiffused. The other important factor was wind – I needed there to be none of it. I had three mornings for everything to come together.
Capturing this scene of course meant being in place and ready to go before the sun rose. On the first morning, having never been there before, I not only needed to find the lake, but needed to hike to (find) and climb up the Rockpile (via a trail) followed by scouting – all in the dark. Well, in the dark but with the help of a super-bright SureFire Maximus Headlamp. As incredibly bright as that light is, I was not going to be lighting the distant mountains and it was a guess as to where the sunlit mountain peak reflections were going to fall in the lake.
I picked what seemed like a great position, with a distant glacier framed between the trees, some nice boulders in the foreground and the overall scene nicely framed and bookmarked with a pair of large evergreen trees. After setting up a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens on my primary tripod, I set up a second 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted on my travel tripod a short distance away. The plan was to go back and forth between the cameras, rapidly capturing multiple compositions with immediate redundancy available if a problem was encountered (it is called the Rockpile for a good reason and I had one very close call).
The weather proved ideal and everything was looking great until ... I realized that the mountain peak reflection was being cut off by the foreground. I immediately abandoned the carefully selected locations, running across the rocks with the primary camera setup to quickly find a better position. There was no time to waste because the sun line moves down the mountain very rapidly.
While I have a large number of images I like from my three mornings at Lake Moraine, this one, one of the first ones I captured on the first day, remains a favorite. The sun line had moved down the mountains slightly farther than I originally visualized, but ... I may actually prefer this version better. While simply having that preference adds to the satisfaction of achieving the goal, I really do think that I like this scene better. With more of the mountain in the still-very-warm sunlight, there is more desired color in the frame and more of the peaks are being lit than when the first light hit only a couple of the peaks.
This is an HDR image. Because, as I mentioned, the line of sunlight moves quickly down the mountain, it is important to capture the HDR frames in very quick succession in this situation. My preference is to use AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) with the camera in high speed burst mode. I used Live View to gain mirror lockup and used a locking remote release to complete to capture. Lock the release down and quickly go to the second camera. Quickly check the results, fine tune if needed and repeat.
For processing the HDR image, I used a combination of Photomatix (the best HDR software I've used) and manual blending in Photoshop.
While 4-5 hours of sleep three nights in a row is not a good habit from a physical or mental health standpoint, I'm sometimes willing to make that sacrifice for a good image. While that effort is not always rewarded with a great photograph, the disappointing efforts serve to make the successful ones even more special. Fortunately, disappointment didn't happen in this location.
18mm f/8.0 1/5s 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
Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay, Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos
Storms on the horizon and mostly cloudy overhead. That is what I saw when I stepped out of the Middle Caicos villa well before sunrise. While I admit that going back to bed seemed like a good (and justifiable) option, I knew that storms could bring desired drama and resisted that urge. While a sky completely covered in rainstorm was not of interest to me on this morning, I saw enough breaks in the clouds to give hope for some dramatic skies and I stayed with the plan.
Mudjin Harbor is my favorite location in the causeway-connected North and Middle Caicos islands (Turks and Caicos Islands are just north of Haiti and Dominican Republic). The cliffs and beaches in this location are stunning and the color of the water is among the best anywhere. The close-to-shore reef system brings entertainment in terms of waves and many small ironshore formation limestone rock islands dot the landscape, including Dragon Cay (Dragon Island) as seen here.
At this resolution, it is not especially easy to recognize the dragon lying in the water, but the rightmost large rock is shaped like a horn-nosed dragon head with its body (including shoulders and hips) flowing to the left and followed by its tail. A goal for this trip was to capture some images that included this fun land formation in them and having a nearby villa was part of the plan implementation.
A big attraction of Mudjun Harbor is a pair of caves and one of the caves faces the beast. A great and popular compositional technique is to frame a subject within its surroundings and one of my favorite natural frames is the opening of a cave. In addition to making a good frame, this particular cave offered a couple of additional benefits on this morning.
First, the sustained wind speed was just over 30 mph and gusts were reaching 50+ mph. That is fierce enough to blow a camera and tripod over and strong enough to make it difficult to even stand up, let alone frame and capture a sharp image. It is strong enough to make a painful whistle across one's ears and strong enough to blow salt water deep inland (causing, minimally, front lens element clarity issues). I was able to get deep enough into this cave to essentially eliminate the wind factor.
You can see the other issue approaching in this image. A small-but-significant rainstorm is close and on direct course for my position. The cave offered shelter from the rain and allowed me to photograph continuously as it approached and hit.
The word "cave" is often used to describe a dark venue and though these cave walls were brighter than many, they were quite dark and the backlit clouds were much brighter. This scenario means that an HDR technique was required. Two images with different exposures were manually (painstakingly in this case) blended in Photoshop to achieve the result seen here.
Obviously, this rainstorm was back-lit by the sun and direct sunlight on rain holds promise for another highly valued, loved-by-everyone landscape photography element that I'll share later.
16mm f/8.0 1s 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
Curved Aspen Trees of Ophir, Colorado
Upon locating these intriguingly-curved aspen trees in the San Juan Mountains near Ophir, CO (south of Telluride), I had hours of entertainment before me. Aspen tree trunks are beautiful and their fall leaf color is amazing. With the numerous curving trunk shapes (likely caused by an avalanche when the trees were younger), there were seemingly endless angles and perspectives to use for images here. Helping was that the lighting/weather was constantly changing, ranging from snowing to sun shining bright enough to create shadows with subsequent images appearing different without even moving the camera. It was perfect.
I have many hundreds of images to choose from (I'll likely share more). Many of them were captured with a wide angle zoom lens, but this particular perspective seemed ideal for 50mm and I happened to have the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens in the MindShift Gear FirstLight 30L backpack I was carrying. I originally thought this image was captured with that lens, but ... this happened to be the last image taken with the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens prior to mounting the RF 50.
Using a "standard" or "normal" focal length makes keeping both very close and very distant subjects in sharp focus a challenge, even at f/16. For this image, I focused on the foreground trees for one frame and on the background trees for a second frame. For a simple focus stacking technique, I loaded the two images as layers in Photoshop and used a layer mask to determine which image the foreground trees were showing from.
50mm f/16.0 1/5s 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
Turquoise Clouds, Wild Cow Run, Middle Caicos, Turks and Caicos
When the clouds become turquoise, you are probably in a great place.
The day started out with no clouds in the sky. After having photographed for 6 days straight prior with good results, I was looking for more than what a clear sky would deliver, so some scouting was the task at hand. The selected location for the day was Wild Cow Run, at the end of Middle Caicos. From my base location in Whitby Beach, North Caicos, this meant a drive through most of North Caicos, across the causeway and through most of Middle Caicos. Then, at the end of the road, a 4x4 road was traversed until going further becomes impossible.
Your reward for this drive is one of the most beautiful beach locations in the world with seldom another person seen. I had hiked about a mile out when some nice clouds began forming on the horizon. Seeing great images beginning to materialize, I ran and swam back to the vehicle, grabbed a Canon EOS 5Ds R with an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS Lens mounted, threaded a circular polarizer filter onto the lens and put the setup in an EWA marine underwater housing.
I know, an underwater housing does not make sense for capturing an above-water image of beach, water and clouds, but ... you may have noted the "swam" part when returning to the vehicle. I had to swim (fins, snorkel and mask) through a channel with a swift tidal current to reach the island with the beach I was targeting. I was not using the camera underwater, but the housing was perfect for the water transportation to the scene.
Once across the water, I removed the camera from the housing, stowed the housing (and snorkel gear) high on shore and hiked over sand and shallow water to reach the desired location. The huge expanse of sand and shallow water had my greatest attention. I was looking for angles and heights that would work best while keeping the clouds in pleasing locations within the frame. The clouds were moving in rapidly and I was shooting quickly, monitoring mostly my manually-set exposures from time to time, keeping the brightest parts of the clouds nearly blown.
What I wasn't noticing was that, as the clouds came closer, they began reflecting the amazing fluorescent turquoise colored water behind the reef, which was located a distant 1.4 mi (2.25 km) from shore at this location. Upon uploading my images for the day, I realized that the clouds, as they came in closer than the reef, had picked up a very strong color reflection from the water below. The result was something I had not captured before, turquoise-colored clouds.
Photography (usually) rewards effort – effort pays off. It was definitely worth the effort of a round trip to the vehicle to add this (and many other similar) images to the collection. I'll leave the "foresight to take the camera with me the first time" topic for another day.
16mm f/9.0 1/125s 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
Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
My pre-trip research placed Peyto Lake, along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, high on my to-photograph list. With a strong glacial flour flow in the summer, this lake takes on an amazing turquoise color, with Caldron Peak and Mt Patterson providing exclamation marks behind it.
To get the high sun position required to light up the lake color, a late morning or early afternoon-timed shoot was determined to be best. Of course, summer is the peak tourist season for this location and tourists come here in droves (and buses) ... and this time of day seems to be best for many non-photographers as well.
Combine this common timing with a relatively small viewing area at Bow Summit and, even though a hike is required, the place was packed. Upon working my way to the front corner of the platform, I took some photos but soon determined that somewhere below deck would work better. Even down there was challenging with people sometimes walking up and sitting right in front of the camera. Patience paid off when a thunderstorm rolled in and created some great drama in the sky and contrast on the lake. No, even the approaching thunderstorm did not chase the crowds away, but patience and my position worked out for the capture of an image that I was happy with. Then, I ran back to the safety of the SUV.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this location. The Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod (now GT1545T) and Acratech GP-s Ball Head were my choice for their light weight, small size and rigid support. As usual for middle-of-the-day landscape photography, I was using a circular polarizer filter for this capture.
16mm f/11.0 1/80s 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
Sunset at Three Mary Cays, Turks and Caicos
Mixing brilliant turquoise-colored water with a dramatic sunset is not so easy. The ideal light to bring out the water color is from a high overhead sun and that is of course not available at sunset. However, the water in some locations is amazingly colored enough to still show turquoise even at sunset. Three Mary Cays in North Caicos is one such location.
Most of the west side of North and Middle Caicos islands is inaccessible without a boat, leaving few good locations for mid-winter sunset photography (with the sun setting farther north mid-summer, more northern locations can work well at this time of the year). Of those remaining locations, the shoreline by Three Mary Cays presents very nice winter sunset views. And, the shoreline and islands all have the character I was looking for.
Three Mary Cays is amazingly beautiful and also amazing is how seldom it is photographed by serious photographers. Online scouting revealed very few images and I spent two evenings watching the blazing ball drop into the Atlantic Ocean at this location with no one else as far as the eye could see.
While the cloud moving over the sun helped significantly with the brightness balance in this image, I still opted to use an HDR technique to balance the overall exposure.
It has become rare for me to photograph landscapes without the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens in the pack. This lens delivers amazing results every time. Well, at least every time I do my part of the job correctly. It is hard to believe that my other primary piece of landscape kit, the 5Ds R, is now over 1-year-old. #lovingthiscamera.
16mm f/11.0 1/40s 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
One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth: Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
I have long admired images of Lake Moraine in The Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada), especially those taken from the Rockpile. While huge numbers of great images have been captured here, none of them were captured by me. That is, none until recently.
The Rockpile (ascended via the Rockpile Trail) is a foreground-rich location overlooking an amazing turquoise glacier-fed lake that, when the wind is not blowing, reflects the close, steep, craggy, with-character mountains beyond it. I was blessed to spend 3 very early mornings at this location (and would return in a heartbeat). One quickly forgets the 3:00-4:15 AM alarms (followed by 11:30 PM bedtimes) when reviewing Moraine Lake images.
For this composition, I moved in close to a carefully-selected large rock. This rock, with plenty of leading lines, appears to fit into the edge of the mountain reflections like a puzzle piece, with even the notches appearing to align with reflected peaks. With the large mountain weighing heavily on the top left of the image, the large foreground rock is positioned proportionally higher on the right to, along with the shaded trees, aid in the overall image balance. Required for this perspective, and not visible in this image, are the tripod feet (and me) precariously positioned on the top edge of several different rocks.
With the mountain peaks being directly hit with sunlight and the dark evergreens being in deep shade, the dynamic range in this scene was extreme. Thus, I was shooting bracketed exposures. A camera's built-in HDR feature is a good way to capture bracketed exposures, but ... I didn't want the in-camera-generated JPG image and didn't want to wait for that composited image to be created.
My favorite method of shooting bracketed exposures is via the camera's AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) feature. Simply select the number of bracketed images desired and the desired exposure difference between them. Each image captured in succession, up to the selected number of bracketed frames, will have a different exposure (ideally for landscapes, the shutter speed is varied), insuring that all parts of the scene are adequately exposed in at least one of the frames.
To speed up the capture, select and use the camera's high frame rate (burst) mode. When the sun is rising, speed matters for HDR captures (this is a manual HDR image). The line between sun and shade moves quickly and ... that line becomes hard to composite if time lapses between captures. With AEB selected, a high speed burst will stop after the selected number of AEB frames.
I usually have MLU (Mirror Lockup) enabled when photographing landscapes, avoiding any possible vibration caused by the mirror raising. However, using MLU adds a short, but undesired, delay between the frames captured in an AEB burst. There is a better way: Live View is another method of achieving MLU. By using a remote release with Live View and high frame rate (burst) mode selected, one press of the remote shutter release (pressing and locking the release button down for long exposure brackets) captures the set number of frames in very fast succession (without the mirror moving).
Depending on the Lake Moraine scene and scenario, I was shooting 5 or 7 frames varied by 2/3 or 1 stop. From most sets, I deleted all except 3 or 4 images with the exposure variations needed remaining available. This image was created from three exposures.
Due to packing restrictions, I nearly left the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens at home. Upon arriving at Moraine Lake, I was SOOO thankful that I had it with me. Aside from using the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a second camera and tripod setup some of the time, the 11-24 was the only lens I needed at this location. And, it performed extremely well as did the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera I used behind it.
11mm f/11.0 1/6s 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
After the Storm, Rainbow Over Mudjin Harbor
I recently shared an image showing an Incoming Storm Over Dragon Cay. That image came with a promise. My promise was to share the loved-by-everyone landscape photography element that a back-lit rainstorm holds promise for. A back-lit storm, once passed, becomes front-lit and that is the recipe for a rainbow, the referred-to strongly-desired element.
As soon as the rain stopped, I left my cave shelter (going out into the high winds) and there was the rainbow, complete with supernumerary bands (a stacker rainbow) and a slight second/double rainbow. I found a vantage point offering a photogenic view looking away from the sun (as that the requirement for the rainbow to be visible). I mounted a circular polarizer filter to the excellent Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens, framed the scene, rotated the filter to get the brightest rainbow and captured a series of images.
It was a great feeling to have confidence that some solid keepers were on the memory card as I drove back to the villa for second breakfast. I saw at least one rainbow on every day of this trip, saw several of them on most days and was able to capture some of them in nice photos.
Of course, seeing many rainbows means that there were many storms. Planning enough days at a location can be the key to successful outdoor photography – just to make sure that you get some storms worth photographing. Of course, one can never spend enough time at some locations.
16mm f/8.0 1s 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
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
COLORado Gold: Maroon Bells Scenic Area
Revisiting a classic: I shared an image similar to this one some time ago, but a publication needed this scene in a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning that a wider-angle capture was required. Since I was making the effort to process another image from that trip (and it is fall), I thought I'd share here as well. I'm also sharing this image because the Maroon Bells Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful locations I've seen.
Maroon Bells has many great landscape image components. Start out with a pair of tightly-positioned fourteener mountain peaks (Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak) with great character. Mix in some of the most-brilliantly-colored trees on the planet along with beautifully color-contrasting and photogenically-shaped spruce trees. Add light from a clear-sky sunrise just reaching the mountain peaks while the namesake maroon rocks remain in the shade with the cooler lighting emphasizing their color. Take all of that and double it with a reflection in the clear, often-still Maroon Lake that also happens to have some bright green algae growing in it.
Capturing the image was easy. The lake is only a short trek from the parking lot. Setup the tripod, focus and switch to manual focus mode, establish final scene framing, lock down the ball head and capture a burst of exposure bracketed images (the burst strategy is helpful because that sun line is moving down the mountain faster than it may seem). That sounds easy (and it was), but capturing the exposure stack was just the final bit of effort required to capture this image.
Getting a position for one's tripod at the side of Maroon Lake during peak leaf color at sunrise is far more challenging. This particular location gets one of the largest crowds of photographers I've seen outside outdoors. An extremely early alarm is required after, for most of us, a long trip to get to the Aspen, Colorado area in the first place. While photographing alone in the wilderness may seem more appealing to you, the folks on the lake shore (most of them at least) are very friendly and fun to hang out with as daybreak unfolds.
Another challenge awaits your arrival home. Manually processing the HDR stack of a scene with brightness ranging from direct sunlight transitioning immediately to shade on into deep shade (such as within the spruce trees) is a remaining challenge required for this image.
As so often is the case with photography, all of the challenges were worth conquering to get the image, many of them in this case.
A reflection can double the beauty of a scene and a second camera setup can often double (or at least significantly increase) the number and variety of images captured at the optimal time of day. When photographing a scene such as this, one that requires significant effort and has a high reward potential, I generally have two cameras on tripods simultaneously capturing the moments. In this case, the lenses mounted were two of my favorites, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens. While the choice of a "wider-angle" image may lead your guess to the model used here, both had the 24mm focal length used here available to them and I didn't have much reason to choose one over the other for this specific image.
24mm f/16.0 .8s 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
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
The weather on much of this day in Banff National Park ranged from poor to terrible (including wind and strong thunderstorms). I knew that, if the rain at least mostly stopped, this was the perfect time to visit Johnston Canyon. The ground would be wet and colors would appear very saturated with a circular polarizer filter cutting reflections. The lighting would be void of hard shadows and ... would (somewhat) reach into this cave.
Johnston Canyon is typically packed during the short summer tourist season, but a late-in-the-day arrival timed just after a heavy thunderstorm (waited in the SUV for it to pass) meant that the trail was nearly void of people. Also, few people venture down the steep, slippery (at least when wet) slope to this cave and very unique land formation at the bottom of the canyon. A downside of the late day start meant that I had to run most of the trail, stopping only long enough to grab the occasional photo.
My initial plan (if I could find the cave in the first place) was to include the top of the interesting chunk of land in the frame, but that view included a bit of sky in the background. I went ahead and captured that set of images, but was undecided about the extreme difference in brightness the sky created. To eliminate the sky from the frame, I moved back/up into the large but shallow cave until the top of the cave blocked the sky.
As I find so often to be the case, the Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens were the perfect combination for this landscape situation.
19mm f/8.0 5s 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
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
The Story from Square Top Mountain, Guanella Pass, CO
It started out innocently. After verifying firsthand that Mount Evans was closed due to snow and ice, despite it being summer, we decided to explore Guenella Pass. Traveling the entire previous day gave Brittany a strong desire to go for a hike and she didn't have to expend much energy convincing me to take that option.
The plan was to explore the nearby alpine tundra from trails leading from a parking area near the top of the pass. We grabbed a backpack, some water, snacks, and rain shells and set off on what we thought would be a mini-adventure. Carrying the Canon EOS 5Ds R with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens mounted (primarily for wildlife) and a Nikon Z 7 with a Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S Lens mounted (primarily for landscape) seemed to be an ideal set of gear for the planned short hike.
While hiking, Brittany continuously wanted to see what was over the next ridge. In this location, deception reigned and the answer to the what is over the next ridge question is always another ridge. Still, we kept asking the question until having climbed mostly rock and snowfield over 2,400' (730m) up in roughly 3.5 mi (5.6km). Unintentionally, we found ourselves on top of a very high mountain.
The view at the top of the 13,800' Table Top Mountain was spectacular. What Brit was feeling from the altitude ... was not nearly as pleasant.
Unfortunately, we needed to promptly go back down and couldn't spend much time on top. Fortunately, Brit found the mental fortitude to get some great photos despite the altitude sickness but she didn't feel good until after a nap back in town.
While I was not as strongly affected by the high elevation, I definitely should have left the 100-400 in the SUV as it gained a lot of weight on this hike.
See the distant thunderhead cloud looming over Brittany's head in the image? That was another reason to go down quickly. That storm brought us near white-out snow conditions for a short period of time during our descent, adding to the day's story.
While photography is great for storytelling, going on photo adventures is a great option for creating stories.
24mm f/11.0 1/200s ISO 100
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
The Right Light in Owl Creek Pass
Stories are great. Sometimes a picture tells a story and sometimes a story comes from getting the picture. One afternoon during a fall photo trip to Colorado, we headed to Owl Creek Pass. This area is very scenic, especially with fall colors.
The dirt road over the top of this pass can be questionable after a rain (at least without an off-road-capable vehicle) and we had plenty of rain but opted to give it a go with the small Ford Edge AWD SUV we had rented. At a relatively high elevation, we discovered that the road was being worked on and by the time we reached the top, we were bottoming out on loose gravel being dumped (tailgated) onto the road. By maintaining forward momentum, we made it over this rather long obstacle but were then greeted by a thick mud road surface until finally reaching the top of the pass.
As we went over the top, the serious question was whether or not we should risk going down the other side. That answer was quickly provided in the form of a 6-wheel-drive grader coming up the other side. It was mostly sideways and consuming the entire width of the relatively narrow road. The large machine had its rear scarifier down and was tearing up the road surface, preparing it for a fresh layer of stone similar to what we had just driven through. The decision to turn back was easy and immediate with a strong sense of that get-out-while-you-can feeling.
While on our way back down the mountain (it is easier to plow stone when going down hill), beyond the active road construction area, the sun broke through the clouds and we stopped to take pictures at the next clearing. Very few people were around this rather remote area, but a couple was at this spot taking a selfie. My daughter asked them if they would like us to take their picture, volunteering me to do so. They were quite happy about that and I quickly obliged while very anxious to get my shot before the small hole the clouds passed and the sunlight again was again shut off.
Looking at my hat, purchased in Hawaii over 5 years prior, the young guy asked if I had been to Hawaii. Turns out that he was a crew member for the boat company I had sailed with during the Canon Hawaii product announcement event only a few weeks prior. He showed me pictures on his phone of the boat I had been on. What are the odds that?
We chatted for a while and I of course captured a large number of images of this spectacular scene while doing so.
Direct sunlight shining under heavy clouds is at the top of my favorite lighting scenarios list. When the light is this good, the image results can be striking without much processing. The standard picture style was used to process this image and no additional contrast adjustments were made. The biggest processing challenge was to determine which image to share with you.
50mm f/9.0 1/180s 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
Milky Way and Perseid Meteor, Island Pond, T15-R9, Maine
Welcome to Island Pond, located by Red River Camps in Deboullie Public Reserved Land of T15-R9 in the North Maine Woods. That this location is a nearly 1-hour drive from the grid and paved roads should help set the scene. Along with natural beauty, what you get here is a dark sky and at this time in August, a beautiful view of the Milky Way and the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.
Aside from the effort required to get to this location, this was a very easy image to create.
After setting up the first camera, you have plenty of time, so set up a second camera the same as the first, capturing a different composition.
On this night I had three camera setups with four of what I consider the best night sky lenses available. One of the cameras was a Nikon model and the only Nikon-mount star-capable lens I had along (not a Nikon model) showed a serious image quality problem, leaving two cameras in operation.
I mentioned that the 30-second exposure was a stretch and that is what happens to the stars at this focal length, exposure duration, and imaging sensor pixel density combination. They get stretched.
A blur is created when details in an image move across pixels on the imaging sensor, regardless of the reason why that happens. As we all know, due to the earth's rotation, stars are moving across the frame when the camera is in a fixed position. The longer the exposure, the more they are magnified (longer focal length lens) and the higher pixel density the imaging sensor has, the more that star blur will be visible at the pixel level.
Note that when final images are viewed and compared, the imaging sensor's pixel density-caused blur becomes equalized. For example, if you are printing at 8" x 12", the pixel density factor no longer matters in regards to the star trail blur created by two different resolution, equal-sensor-sized cameras.
Also, note that not all stars move at the same rate relative to the camera position. For example, the North Star (Polaris) does not move at all. If you are primarily including the northern sky in the frame, you might be able to use longer exposures than if your camera was directed west, east or up. There are star blur rules that can be helpful, but photography skills rule. Analyze your results as soon as they are captured and make adjustments as needed.
I mentioned having 4 of my favorite star lenses along with me. They are my favorites, but the perfect star lens, at least from a lens in the realm of affordability for most individuals, does not exist. All lenses have at least some issue keeping them from reaching perfection and corner performance is typically their biggest limiting factor.
This image was captured with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. It is a great choice for this purpose.
For star photography, ultra-wide angles are helpful for taking in a greater area of the sky and allowing longer exposures before star trails become visible, though ultra-wide angles produce rather small stars. Ultra-wide apertures (that produce sharp enough image quality to be used) create a brighter image in less time or at a lower ISO setting. The Sigma 14mm Art lens has those two features.
The worst case: even if the entire night's shoot was a failure, just hanging out under a starry sky would be totally worth the time and effort.
14mm f/1.8 30s ISO 6400
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
On the Ledge at R. B. Ricketts Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park
The timing was perfect for a visit to Ricketts Glen State Park. The new beech tree leaves were coming out with their light spring green color looking great. It had rained a significant amount the prior day and the forecast was for rain all of this day.
Waterfalls, of course, thrive on rain, rain saturates the landscape, rain requires clouds and clouds ensure even lighting, and also helpful is that rain keeps the (smarter?) potential park visitors at home and out of images. On this day, I had the Falls Trails completely to myself until I was hiking out near dark.
Rain also makes photography a bit more challenging. I was wearing Gore-Tex clothing (boots, pants, and jacket) that kept me completely dry. At least dry until I overheated a bit while hiking up out of the canyon at a fast pace with quick-drying clothing resolving that problem quickly after I was back in the car. I carried a large umbrella to work under (awkward but very helpful) and had a microfiber cloth readily available to wipe water drops from the front of the lens. When shooting waterfalls, a microfiber cloth is often needed regardless of the rain situation. Note that nano-coated filters are easy to keep clean and easily worth their additional cost on days like these. The camera and lens were in an inexpensive rain cover that I was evaluating and that is now on the to-replace list as it was not "waterproof", leaving the camera and lens wet enough that a towel was needed (get a LensCoat RainCoat). This is an example of when weather sealing can save the day.
The Canon EOS 5Ds R and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens were the only camera and lens that came out of my BackLight 26L on this day. It was the perfect combination for this image and all of the others I wanted. Also in the backpack was an EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. The BackLight's rear access meant that cameras could be swapped without setting the backpack down on the very wet ground and without taking the rain cover off.
I've mentioned that I rely on my tripod for personal support at times and this was one of those. Working up onto this ledge over wet rocks was not easy and a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Carbon Fiber Tripod saved me from a serious fall when my footing broke loose. The ledge position meant that the lower tripod legs were planted rather far below me, making every inch of the "Long" length of this tripod very useful. Saving my images by cutting reflections and increasing saturation was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter. Had I forgotten this filter, I would probably have just turned around and gone home.
Overall, it was a great day in Ricketts Glenn SP. I'll likely be sharing more of the images captured on this day at some point.
With 24 named waterfalls, including some of the most photogenic falls around, Ricketts Glen State Park is waterfall photography heaven. I spent over 45 minutes capturing a variety of compositions of this falls alone and finally forced myself to move on, leaving some options for another day. If you are interested in photographing with me here, I need to know. This will likely be the destination for an upcoming waterfall photography workshop!
16mm f/11.0 5s ISO 100
Sunset on the East Coast Beach, Island Beach State Park
East coast beaches are usually better situated for sunrises than sunsets and Island Beach State Park, just south of Seaside Park in New Jersey, is usual in this regard.
A habit I have while photographing at the edges of the day, is to make regular glances to the east, "watching my back". While that habit may apply to safety in some locations, I'm referring to the lighting and color in the sky. It is natural for us to watch and photograph the sun rising or setting, but often great images are found behind you at these times of the day.
While photographing the colorful post-sunset sky to the west on this evening, I took that glance to the east. What I saw was that the color in the sky was visible toward the north while the rest of the easterly scene was very evenly lit. The ultra-wide 14mm focal length lens' angle of view was sufficient to capture that color along with the Atlantic Ocean and lots of sand in the foreground. To add some foreground interest, I moved in close to the sand fence post, placing it approximately 1/3 into the frame with the beach fishing party framed between it and the dunes to the left.
While the lighting was rather even, I still used a combination of three 1-stop-different exposures combined via a manual HDR process to darken the brightest portion of the sky relative to the rest of the beach scene.
Capturing a colorful sky is just one of the many reasons that your kit should have 14mm covered.
14mm f/11.0 3.2s ISO 100
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
Wilcox Peak, Jasper National Park, Alberta
The Wilcox Pass Trail is one of the highest-rated trails in Jasper National Park (Alberta, Canada). While I have not hiked most of the trails in this park, I have hiked a lot of trails and can say that this is one of my favorites.
The 6.8 mile round trip hike (we stretched it closer to 10 miles) starts just below the tree line and quickly ascends above it into the alpine meadows. From that point on, the views are continuously excellent. The Athabasca Glacier, a significant toe of the Columbia Icefield, is always visible to the west and a multitude of mountain peaks surround the entire area.
For this hike, I opted to go light on the gear. I packed a single Canon EOS 5Ds R and a pair of lenses (Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens) into a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (I'm loving this pack – it goes everywhere with me) along with other essentials including food, water and additional clothing (always recommended when hiking at high altitudes – and needed on this hike).
If I hike this trail again, I will have a second camera body along as I spent too much time changing lenses. The primary driver for the lens changes were frequent wildlife encounters and telephoto landscape photo ops interspersed with wide angle landscape opportunities. To take advantage of all situations, I was constantly changing between the two lenses I brought.
Yes, another camera body would have added a bit of weight to my kit (the reason I didn't take it), but I probably exerted more energy changing lenses than I would have simply carrying the additional camera body. And, changing lenses at a high altitude often means wind, which often means risk of dust finding its way onto the sensor, leaving spots in the images. Fortunately, the 5Ds R did a great job of avoiding the dust and I had no cloning tasks to add to the post processing of this hike's take home.
I selected this image to share with you because I like how the lines in rock and the clouds point (lead the eye) to Wilcox Peak. As you likely already guessed, the 16-35mm f/4L IS was used to capture it.
Absent from my short gear list above is a tripod and for weight reasons, I was sans tripod on this hike. While the 1/80 second shutter speed may seem easily hand-holdable at 16mm even on a 5Ds R, that was not the case as the wind was very strong. Image stabilization proved quite valuable to me in this situation.
16mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 100
Hitting the High Note, Whistler, British Columbia
The girls were my support staff on this trip and we rolled into Whistler late in the afternoon after a challenging 10 hour drive through western Canada. We checked into the hotel, unloaded, drove to the other end of the village to park in the free lot and began walking back through the village to find dinner. The girls were a bit vague about what we were doing on this end of our trip ("Whistler" wasn't a location they knew much about) and they were quite awestruck as we came into the beautiful and impressively-designed Olympic village. Fitting were the Olympics rings being one of the first sights seen in the village as the 2016 summer Olympics were scheduled to begin a few days later. To be at one of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics venues was very fun to them.
I knew that our schedule was tight (and I was really tired and hungry), so I tried to keep moving them along (vs. stopping at every shop we were walking past). We finally found a restaurant (with reasonable prices and still open), ate and went back to the hotel. It was nearly midnight until we got to bed and that meant the morning was not going to be an early one as I needed enough sleep to drive to Vancouver the next night.
By the time we packed in the AM, finished breakfast and waited in line for lift tickets, it was afternoon and we arrived near the top of Whistler at about 2:00 PM. As we got off of the gondola, we noticed a sign stating that the last lift ride down was at 5:00 PM. While it would have been nice to know that piece of information before heading up the mountain (and even better to know it the night before), the 6 mile (9.5km) High Note Trail was a high priority and we were determined to make loop trail hike happen. We had another line and chair lift to go before hitting the trail head and we proceeded. So, we were left with about 2.5 hours to do the moderately difficult hike with photos of course being the primary goal.
Although I had the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L loaded with several lens options, I mounted the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS and left the pack on my back for the duration of the hike, due to the time constraints. That lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5Ds R worked great for the scenery encountered on this hike. I hadn't brought a tripod along and, with image stabilization doing its job, I didn't need one.
If photographing landscapes during the middle of a sunny day, I nearly always have a circular polarizer filter installed and did on this day. By cutting reflections, these filters significantly increase saturation, making colors "pop".
The hike ended up being mostly a run with stops for photos while trying to resist some of the constant photo temptations along the way (for time reasons). At about 7,000' (2,133m) in elevation, the view over the valley 5,000' (1,524m) below (including the turquoise-colored Cheakamus Lake seen in this image) was continuously spectacular. The timing of this trip, to coincide with wildflower season, was also perfect. I captured numerous images I liked and, though exhausted, made it back to the lift in time to ride down. That was a very good thing as hiking the 3 mi (5 km) down the steep mountain would have been rough at this point.
24mm f/11.0 1/50s ISO 100
How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique
How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique Like scores of others, you (probably) and I photographed the solar eclipse this year. While partial solar eclipse images are easy to process (simply make them bright without blowing the red channel), the total eclipse images when bracketed, are in a different league in terms of complexity. So, like me, you are probably now asking, "How do I process the exposure-bracketed total eclipse pictures?" While there were many articles teaching us how to photograph the eclipse, those telling us how to process the images we captured during totality are scarce.
A great solar eclipse photography strategy is to extensively bracket exposures during totality, when the corona becomes visible. While the corona is relatively bright just outside the edges of the moon, it becomes very dim far away from the sun. Of course, with the sun being 93 million miles away, the word "far" takes on a significant meaning.
While I hoped I could simply load a set of bracketed-exposure images into my favorite HDR software (Photomatix or Photoshop) and be finished, the results returned were not acceptable to me for a couple of reasons. The primary problem was that the software did not properly align the moon (it moves across the frame in subsequent images), creating ghosting and still did so even if I pre-aligned the moon in each image. I could have overlaid the moon from a single frame, but ... I still wasn't satisfied with the overall look of the results.
In the end, after numerous trial and error attempts, I settled on an easy, relatively fast way to merge the results in Photoshop as my solution. Note that there are many techniques that can be used to process a stack of bracketed total solar eclipse images, so don't think this is the only option. But, this technique is easy and it produces a nice result.
Hopefully you captured your images in RAW format for the highest quality and in that case, processing those RAW files into 16-bit TIFF format is the first step needed.
Next, the images need to be loaded into layers in Photoshop. I use Adobe Bridge for this task, browsing to the folder the files are located in, clicking on the first of the series and shift-clicking on the last to select them all. Then select the "Tools" menu, "Photoshop", "Load files into Photoshop Layers ..." and a new Photoshop document will open with all of the images stacked in layers.
Unless you were using a tracking mount, the moon disk will need to be aligned in the layers. I simply moved each layer into identical position. Click on the layer and move it using the move tool. Toggle layer visibility of the image containing the targeted moon position for use as a guide and use the arrow keys to slide the layer being adjusted into position.
Once the images are properly aligned, crop the image as desired. Trimming away the missing edges and centering the sun was my decision.
Next, Order the layers from top down in darkest to brightest sequence. Because I set up the camera to shoot brackets from darkest to brightest (using three custom modes), this sequencing happened automatically for me.
Select the first/top layer and shift-click on the second-to-last layer. With all except one layer selected, reduce the layer opacity using the "Opacity" box at the top of the layers palette. Try starting at 20% and adjust to taste from there. I suggest keeping the image on the bright side at this point.
Making the opacity adjustment (likely) immediately produced an image that looks decent, but one ready for some contrast adjustment. Click on the top layer and create a new adjustment layer. The adjustment layer type you should select depends on your Photoshop skill level, but it needs to be a contrast-adjusting layer type that you are comfortable with, curves being the most powerful and levels being very easy. Use the adjustments the selected tool offers to bring life into the image. If using curves, try selecting two points to create an S-curve that darkens the darks colors and brightens the light (though likely only slight brightening is needed if the layer opacities were set low enough). If using levels, try reducing the mid adjustment slider. You may find that adding multiple adjustment layers is helpful. The beauty of adjustment layers is that they are non-destructive and can be created or deleted at any time.
Because the edges of the moon become brighter as the exposure becomes increases, the edges of my moon were not as crisp as I liked. Also, Baily's Beads were one of my favorite aspects for the solar eclipse and they were only found in the images captured just before C2 and just before C3. So, I incorporated an additional layer into the top of my layer stack and used a layer mask to make only the lunar disk and Baily's Beads visible. This means a black mask (use CTRL-I with a newly-created mask selected), with the desired visible attributes painted white (I used the paint brush). Another option for sharpening the moon is to duplicate one of the existing layers (CTRL-J), likely a darker one, giving it a 100% opacity and a layer mask with only the lunar disk made visible.
A technique that can be used to bring out some contrast in the corona is via Photoshop's High Pass filter. There are a number of ways to do this, but here is one of them:
Select and combine all layers by clicking on the topmost layer, shift-clicking on the last and pressing CTRL-E. Then copy the combined layers to the clipboard by press CTRL-A to select the entire image and then pressing CTRL-C to copy it. Next, undo changes until one step back past the layer-combining step. Select the top layer and press CTRL-V to paste in the copied combined layer.
With the new layer selected, desaturate it by pressing CTRL-SHFT-U. Implement the High Pass filter selecting from the menu: "Filter" > "Other" > "High Pass...". From the High Pass filter dialog, adjust the radius until it seems like the results will work well, with a low value being good for sharpening hard edges such as the border of the moon and a high value being good for adjusting overall image contrast, such as the corona.
The next step is to change the blending mode of the High Pass layer to "Overlay" by using the blending mode drop-down list founds at the top of the layer palette. The opacity of the High Pass layer can be adjusted to reduce the amount of effect and a mask can be used to hide undesirable portions of that layer. You can create a second or even third High Pass layer if you think it will help.
Adjust individual or smaller groups of layer opacities is another step that can be taken to optimize the final appearance.
For the total solar eclipse HDR image shown here, I combined eight 1-stop-bracketed exposures (out of 14 captured) using opacity values of 100% on the bottom (the brightest frame), 25% for the next three up, 20% for the next three up and 30% for the darkest layer on top. The top layer has a layer mask that allows only the center of this frame to show with a strongly-feathered border creating a natural transition to the layer below (one click in the center with a very large, totally-soft paint brush tool selected).
With so many options available, you may decide it worthwhile to create multiple versions of your HDR image and that is a great idea. You worked hard to prepare for and capture the solar eclipse, so having multiple images processed differently simply increases the reward.
1200mm f/8.0 1/1250s ISO 100
Cavern Cascade and Spiral Tunnel, Watkins Glen State Park
I had a backpack full of new gear that needed an in-the-field workout and the right timing for waterfall photography happened – a forecast for very cloudy skies with a strong percentage chance of rain combined with recently prior rains (to provide waterflow). So, I took advantage of the opportunity, photographing in Watkins Glen State Park.
While I knew this could be a busy park, I thought that going on a mid-spring weekday with a weather forecast that most would consider dismal would solve that problem. I was wrong. While I don't know what a normal day is like in this park, the gorge trail had plenty of people on it.
Watkins Glen is a beautiful park but being limited to the trail (mostly stone and concrete) makes it especially challenging to photograph the best scenes without random people in the composition. I spent well over an hour trying to capture this Cavern Cascade and Spiral Tunnel image. Apparently tour bus groups were being dropped off at the gorge trail's upper parking lot and being picked up at the lower lot as hundreds of people were going in the downhill direction.
At one point, I decided to leave and come back later. That approach worked especially well because, in the evening, the path light in the tunnel (very dark) better-balanced with the ambient daylight. I noticed that the tunnel walls were dark in some areas and opted to use my phone light to paint the walls slightly brighter.
I bracketed this exposure to ensure that I had the right brightness options available for HDR processing. The final image is mostly two captures with the longer exposure providing the brighter tunnel.
24mm f/11.0 30s ISO 200
Super Wolf Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse 2019 Progression Composite Image
My apologies if I missed an important keyword in that title.
Regardless of what the event was named, the show was spectacular. I hope that you were able to take it in and, even better yet, photograph it.
The sky visibility forecast for everywhere within a long drive provided little hope of this eclipse being viewable. Unexpectantly, the problem, remnants of a significant winter storm, began to move out just in time and the sky started to clear about an hour before the eclipse began. With the full moon peeking out of breaks in the clouds, the hope became strong enough to warrant the effort to photograph the event and I scrambled to put a plan into place.
Also seeming to meet the definition of spectacular were the near-zero-degree (-18° C) temperatures accompanied by very strong winds those of us in much of the east/northeast US were required to endure for 5 hours (some short indoor warm-up breaks were taken). Admittedly, the temperature made shooting through skylights from inside the house a very attractive option, but donning many layers and going outdoors became the plan. While the skies cleared beautifully for the full eclipse, the wind remained an issue and wind is an especially big stability problem when photographing with a large, long focal length lens. Setting up next to a solid fence significantly aided with this issue and also took some of the bite out of the wind chill.
The composition plan was easy. The moon was going to be high overhead and that meant incorporating foreground elements in the frame was going to be very challenging, so making the moon as large in the frame as possible was the choice. That meant 1200mm, a combination of a 600mm f/4 lens and a 2x teleconverter.
For a solid base, the UniqBall IQuick3Pod 40.4 Carbon Fiber Tripod with spiked feet installed (for use in snow) was perfect. Simply stick the spikes into the ground and use the IQuick3Pod's leveling base feature to quickly level the tripod head platform. A gimbal head makes using big, long lenses easy and the Really Right Stuff FG-02 Fluid-Gimbal Head is awesome (the RRS PG-02 is also excellent). With a level base, the gimbal-mounted lens will always be level with only tilt and pan adjustments, both very simple to make, requiring attention while tracking the moon. It is much easier to keep a tightly-framed moon centered in the frame with a gimbal head than with a ball head. Shooting at a strong upward angle can be a challenge with a gimbal mount as the camera body can impact the tripod before a high-enough angle is reached. I'll talk more about that issue soon.
Looking through a viewfinder with the camera directed at such a hard-upward angle is tough, but the D850's tilt LCD made subject framing easy in this situation. An angle finder is another great option for shooting upward.
What is the best exposure for photographing a lunar eclipse? That depends mostly on the varying brightness of the moon and that changes by season and it also changes during the eclipse. When the moon had direct sunlight reaching it, f/8 (my max aperture with this setup), 1/200 and ISO 200 with a -1 EV adjustment in post worked well. During this time, I opted to capture brackets of up to 9-stops to use for adding as much detail as desired to the dark portion of the moon during post processing. A Vello ShutterBoss II Timer Remote Switch made vibration-free capture easy.
Once the moon was completely in the earth's shadow, it became very dark and 1200mm exposures became very challenging. The blood moon image in the center of this frame was captured at f/8, .6 seconds and ISO 6400. Getting tack sharp details from a subject that is over 221,000 mi (356,000 km) away does not happen and these settings do not help.
Photographing the lunar eclipse brought back great memories of the 2017 solar eclipse (a bit ironic is that event occurred in extreme heat for many of us). A similar post-eclipse scenario now faces those of us who photographed it. We have a large number of images capturing the entire eclipse progression and want do something with them. While each individual eclipse image may be great, likely none of your friends want to see all 300 (OK, 800) of them. The friends will be interested in a partial eclipse image or two and perhaps one from totality, but then eyes glaze over and they start checking their Instagram account. Creating a lunar eclipse progression composite is a very logical way to tell the full eclipse story in a single, interesting image.
The method for creating the lunar eclipse progression composite is the same as that shared in the How to Create a Solar Eclipse Phase Composite Image article (skip the HDR part). The arrangement options for such a composite vary greatly. The left-to-right option shared here works well, but this unique ultra-wide aspect ratio is a bit awkward to share online and will not typically be as easily viewable/displayable as closer-to-square arrangements.
Also ultra is the resolution able to be created from such a composite. This one measures 52000 x 5500 pixels for a 286 MP (over SmugMug's max file dimensions limit I learned) final image (the .PSD weighs in at 3.19 GB) looking for a long hallway wall to be displayed on. Those not able to frame the moon tightly in-camera can crop heavily and still have a high resolution result from the composite technique.
Sure, getting images requires some effort. Getting to bed well after 2:00 AM means being tired the next day and it took about an hour under the covers to get my core temperature back up. But, at least a day or two later, only the rewards remain. The memories of this lunar eclipse, with the images to buoy them, will remain a lifetime.
What is the subject calling you right now? Get motivated and go for it!
1200mm f/8.0 0.8s ISO 6400
Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise, referred to as the "Jewel of Banff National Park" is high on most of the park visitors' must-see lists. Fortunately, for many at least, is that it is easily accessible including large parking lots just a short walk away. Unfortunately, it is so popular that these lots fill up early and the easy-to-access side of the lake becomes very crowded even early in the day.
Photographing this lake wasn't my highest priority, but I did want some decent photos of it. After spending the early morning at Moraine Lake, I headed over to Lake Louise at roughly 8:30 AM. While there were plenty of people here already, the crowd was considerably thinner than later times of the day (the icy boardwalk also helped thin the summer crowd). The crowd was thin enough that I was able to capture a clear view of the foreground rocks and the glacier-fed lake still looked like glass (prior to the lake filling with canoes and the wind picking up). The beautiful mountains reflected where the lake was shaded and a glowing turquoise color showed where the lake was directly illuminated by the sun.
While I captured a variety of images, I found the round rocks at the edge of the lake to make a nice foreground and selected a red-toned rock as the standout. Once again, the 11mm field of view proved very useful.
Note that this is an HDR image.
11mm f/8.0 1/250s ISO 100
Cascade in Ricketts Glen State Park
It was just another typical rainy weekday in Ricketts Glen State Park. It was the perfect time to take my favorite ultra-wide-angle zoom lens and landscape camera body, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens and Canon EOS 5Ds R, for a hike.
I am not aware of this cascade having a name, but I always find it photo-worthy. It is hard to go wrong with a series of lines leading into the bottom of the frame and the leading lines in the rock are the big draw to this location.
Camera height is something a photographer usually has some control over, at least within their physical reach ability or the height of their tripod if such is being used. When photographing flat water (pond, lake, ocean, slow-moving river, etc.), a higher camera position will often provide a higher percentage of the frame being filled with water than a lower camera position IF a similar overall scene framing is used. For example, photographing an ocean from a standing position with a level camera will result in far more water percentage in the frame than doing the same while lying down at the edge of the water due to the angle of view across a flat surface. Often, supporting that big IF requires that the camera angle be changed and camera angle also plays a role in determining how much of the frame is filled with water. A downward-tilted camera can include more water than a level camera.
The key is to find the right balance for the scene you are photographing and there may be multiple right answers. Work with a scene until you can find no more camera positions that work well. Then move on.
The small waterfalls seen here do not qualify as flat water, but there is still a lot of near-flat water in this scene. The right balance for this image was using an ultra-wide-angle focal length positioned with enough downward angle to show a significant amount of water and low enough to gain the right perspective to emphasize the foreground rock lines.
I don't always take the time to photograph this cascade, but especially with the wet rock bringing out strong color (saturation aided by a circular polarizer filter), I couldn't resist stopping on this day.
16mm f/11.0 1.3s ISO 100