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
Sunrise behind the Alaska Range, Denali National Park
With a very early alarm in the past and the road lottery ticket on the windshield, a friend and I drove the lead vehicle deep into Denali National Park this morning. We were focused on photographing the Denali peak at first light, but with color in the sky and fog in the foreground, I couldn't resist pausing for a few moments to capture this image.
This scene is one of the many reasons the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is part of my standard landscape kit. With the mentioned goal remaining a high priority, this was a jump out of the car, sit, shoot, and jump back in the car scenario. With no time for tripod setup, the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 combination IS was counted on to make the shot sharp, and it did.
When driving by a scene that calls for a photo, I often regret not heeding that call.
The captured image is usually worth far more than the very little time and effort the stop typically requires.
This was one of the latter cases.
Within three minutes of stopping, we were back on the road.
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
Summer Snow, Denali National Park
While most of the world bases the fall season on the calendar, a photographer's fall season starts when the foliage changes color and ends soon after the leaves "fall" from the trees. "Photographer's fall" is generally a subset of everyone else's fall, but ... not always. For example, in Alaska, photographer's fall starts and, in some locations, ends in what everyone else considers summer.
As you may have noticed in my September 11th-captured Denali National Park image, the landscape has some good color in it, but a significant percentage of the leaves are beyond peak and many have fallen already. And, as illustrated in this picture, very few leaves were left on the brush and snow was on the ground this September 12th morning. From a photographer's perspective, this was winter, but per the calendar, "fall" was still over a week away.
Planning the timing of "fall" foliage photography has never been easier. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
First, consult fall foliage maps. These maps will show you when to expect peak leaf color in the location you want to photograph in.
Note that I was intentional with the plural of "maps". If you have one watch, you think you know what time it is. If you have more than one watch, you might not be so sure. But, if you average the times of all of the watches, you are more likely to have the correct time. Not all maps are identical in their forecast timing and granularity. Averaging the forecasts together helps provide a better understanding of what normally happens.
There is good reason that these maps are not identical and that is because the fall foliage colors do not come at exactly the same time each year. Leaf color change can be influenced by a variety of factors including temperatures and ground moisture levels. If you know what the various forecasts say, you can plan your photography for the heart of what is typically fall foliage season for that region.
Want a chance for snow and colorful leaves in the same frame? Go late in the typical peak foliage timeframe.
Another good way to determine the right timing for your fall photography is to look for fall photo tours occurring in your target location. Quality tours will be held during the window of highest likelihood for peak color. Even if not joining such a tour, note the date range for planning purposes.
As I write this tip, photographer's fall is coming to an end across the northern hemisphere. But, there have been a lot of fall landscape photos posted to the web in the last two months and those pictures are a gold mine for trip planning. Find out when the best pictures were taken in your target location and take notes. Also, take notes from your own photos.
At minimum, I photograph the fall foliage around home and usually at Ricketts Glen State Park, an amazing location less than 2 hours from my home. Each year, I record the leaf condition for the dates I photograph in those locations along with others I visit. As the next fall comes around, I have a very good idea of when I should be photographing in those locations.
Start now. Wherever it is that you keep notes, record your fall experience along with the information gleaned from research. Make plans for next fall's photos to be your best ever!
24mm f/11.0 1/25s ISO 100
The Canon EOS R5 Takes on Extreme Dynamic Range During Intense Denali NP Sunset
Direct sun on snow delivers an extremely bright subject. Evergreen trees in the shade are an extremely dark subject. This scene provided both.
While an overhead sun is a bit brighter than a setting sun, this a very intense sunset scene. Bracketing exposures for potential HDR use is the safe way to photograph such a scene, but I was shooting handheld with the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens and relied on the Canon EOS R5's capabilities to capture all of the brightness levels in this scene in a single exposure.
When photographing landscape at sunrise and sunset, the red channel is usually the one to watch. The light is strongly warm-toned, and the directly lit portion of the scene will push the red channel high on the histogram.
In Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), this image's exposure was reduced by 1 stop, bringing the red channel in the brightest pixels to at or just below 255, with detail remaining in this channel. The foreground was then processed at a brighter setting and combined in Photoshop.
The setting sun hitting the tops of the Alaska Range and the clouds whisping over it in Denali National Park was breathtaking.
Or, maybe I was just holding my breath too much while shooting furiously.