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 Sunday, May 1, 2022

When other serious photographers are photographing you instead of the amazing scene in your viewfinder, your sanity feels questioned.

Despite appearing big in this image, Lathe Arch is relatively small. Making it appear large in the frame requires getting close to it relative to the background. Getting close from the best side of this arch offers very few options, and gaining this vantage point required getting into a small opening between the large, abrasive granite rocks.

The tripod legs were spread straight out, straddling the crevice, and I was thankful for sturdy boots that were not crushing my feet despite being wedged between the rocks. I was mostly hidden from people walking by but was apparently photo-worthy to a couple of photographers that noticed me.

The widest focal length available on the mounted lens was 15mm, and that angle of view was not nearly wide enough to capture the entire arch and the supporting rocks beside it. Thus, a panorama was called for.

I suspected that this scenario was coming and often have a Really Right Stuff MPR-CL Rail with Integral Clamp in the bag. The rail mounted on the vertical side of the L-plate allowed the lens to pivot over its nodal point, ensuring that the foreground details aligned when stitched together. While nodal alignment is not essential when the foreground is distant, this foreground was very close.

There was a lot of blue sky above the arch, but much of that was framed (and cropped) out of this image. The 22mm focal length provided a sufficient vertical angle of view. The finished horizontal angle of view was determined by the sum of the camera angles used for the pano.

The next issue to resolve was the inadequate depth of field. The closest foreground rock was immediately in front of the lens, while Lone Peak and the mountains beside it were far away. This scenario calls for focus bracketing, an easy strategy with the Canon EOS R5.

I considered adding HDR bracketing to the already complicated capture and processing but didn't — and didn't regret that decision. The R5's dynamic range easily handled this scene.

After dialing in a manual exposure that barely avoided red channel overexposure, the camera was rotated to the left-most side of the capture, autofocus was acquired on the nearest point of the rock, and the set of focus bracketed images was captured. The ball head base was not close to level, so the panning base could not be used for the lateral movement. The ball was loosened, and the camera moved using the thirds gridline to locate the next position. Moving the bottom-left thirds gridline intersection to the former position of the bottom-right thirds line intersection provided a considerable 2/3 frame overlap between image sets, with the electronic level ensuring the camera remained level.

A 1/3 overlap is usually adequate, so moving the bottom-left thirds gridline intersection to the former position of the bottom-right line leaving the frame would have been more efficient.

Additional sets of images were captured until the complete width of the pano was finished. The result was five images per focus stack and four focus-stacked image sets for the panorama.

Creation of the final image involved processing the stacks and then creating the panorama from the four stacked images. While this process may sound complicated, it was simple. The computer did all of the work.

Capturing this image was high on the awkwardness scale, but as usual, I barely remember the discomfort, and the image will bring back the great memories of this morning long into the future.


A larger version of this image is available Here.

Post Date: 5/1/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 24, 2022

This morning's sunrise delivered the highly desired pink sky to the west as I was overlooking the incredible landscape from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park. That is a perfect combination, right?

What if the colorful sunrise sky color does not match the tone of the landscape? Warming the sky reduced its purpleness, bringing the color tones into closer alignment, but does the pink sky complement the yellow and brown landscape in this example? Or, does that combination clash?

Attractive distant details abound at Zabriskie, making foreground details easy to overlook. This composition takes advantage of the lines and texture in a nearby rolling hill just off the point.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 4/24/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, April 18, 2022

Most often, a wildlife silhouette opportunity comes unexpectantly and is fleeting.

Because the sky is typically very bright relative to the subject, the camera's meter usually selects silhouette exposure settings that lead to underexposed images, and correcting the underexposed images during post-processing yields increased noise.

To quickly acquire the right camera settings this opportunity, rules are ideal. For example, with a blue sky in the background, instruct the camera to create exposures X number of stops higher than it thinks is necessary.

Unfortunately, too many rules are needed to accommodate all scenarios. The primary reason that auto exposure + EV rules do not work is that the percentage of the frame filled with the subject and foreground changes dramatically, possibly during the same opportunity if varying exposures with a zoom lens. Also affecting the exposure rule is the sky color, ranging from bright white to deep blue or even the darkness of storm clouds.

While spot metering on the focus point can result in a more stable exposure basis for rules to work from, even animal color varies. For example, black bears are considerably darker than mule deer.

Mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders programmed to show the actual image brightness make establishing the ideal silhouette exposure settings considerably faster and easier than doing the same with a DSLR. While I often have the EVF histogram turned off due to interference with my brain's compositional abilities, that tool clearly shows the selected exposure, especially the bright side's available dynamic range. Even without the histogram enabled, the brightness can be discerned by looking at the brightest areas on the EVF.

What is the ideal silhouette exposure? That answer depends on the final look desired. If the animal and foreground are to be pure black, expose the sky to the preferred brightness. If a high key look is desired, expose for a normal animal brightness, letting the sky become blown — pure white and blinking on the LCD.

To gain the most post-processing latitude or if you don't want to decide what the final image should look like while frantically trying to capture the momentary opportunity, use the expose to the right strategy. Create an exposure that pushes the histogram graph lines to the right edge of the chart. There will likely be some small areas of the image showing over-exposed blinkies during image review, but not large areas of blinkies indicating loss of detail. The goal is to retain detail in the highlights while capturing as much detail as possible in the shadows.

If photographing landscape, an HDR technique would be implemented for this scenario. Unfortunately, animals tend to move before the multiple exposures can be recorded. If your animal is motionless and your camera is locked down on a tripod, bracketing exposures is a great option.

The expose to the right option was chosen for this bull moose image capture. The sky is bright but still blue. Using Photoshop, the moose was selected and brightened slightly.

The Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens get the credits for this capture. This combination is perfect for many wildlife photography pursuits.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
270mm  f/5.6  1/200s
ISO 800
8192 x 5464px
Post Date: 4/18/2022 10:21:08 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 10, 2022

The remoteness of the beautiful Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park is a big advantage and a big drawback.

The advantage part is that few people make the effort required to get there, and the Ibex dune field is often untracked.

The drawback is that these dunes are located near ... well, nothing. The drive from Furnace Creek took nearly two hours, with very few services encountered on the way, and the last 10 miles are narrow dirt and sand roads that require differing vehicle classes depending on the current conditions (including at an intermittent stream crossing).

The adventure does not stop upon arrival. The dunes are over a mile from the road, but they are massive and easily visible from the road (a generous term for it by this point — more like a trail), and the hike to the dunes is not difficult. In contrast to the size of the dunes, the vehicle is tiny and may not be visible from the dunes. A small angular mistake on the way out could mean a significantly longer walk and perhaps a night in the desert.

That adventure aspect was avoided with a GPS pin, an old-school compass reading, and a feature on the mountain opposite the dunes noted.

On this afternoon, a solitary set of tracks led through the low area between the untouched northern and southern dune fields. After photographing my way around the dunes, I settled into the selected sunset location to catch the day's last rays.

As I shared in the last dune image, the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

The R5's focus bracketing feature made complete depth of field easily obtained for every image. Four f/11 images were required for this 48mm focus stacked final photo.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 4/10/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, April 8, 2022

While the individual grains of sand in a dune likely have some color variation, those grains blend together at typical landscape photo distances, leaving most dunes a single color. A single color does not alone make an interesting photo. Therefore, shadows rule in the dunes — they are necessary to add intrigue.

Shadows are created by uneven lighting, and the early and late sun angle brings on the desired strong directional lighting (barring clouds).

Taking a dune image to the next step means finding great shadows, and footprint shadows do not fit into my "great" definition (unless the footprints are an intentional part of the composition).

Rarely is wind appreciated for photography, and it is especially unwelcomed when photographing landscapes. However, I celebrated as a significant wind storm blew through during the drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park. The dust and sand were dense enough to severely impact visibility at times, rocking, and properly initiating the brand new Toyota RAV 4 rental SUV.

Why celebrate a wind storm in the desert? The wind erased ALL of the Death Valley dunes' footprints, replacing them with fresh, seemingly unending and highly photogenic ripples in the sand.

The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

Still, the depth of field available (at apertures not impacted by diffraction) from this focal length range was often insufficient. The R5's focus bracketing feature was the solution to that problem. With focus bracketing enabled, the smallest increment specified, and the number of shots set far above what was ever needed (the camera automatically stops at infinity), the R5 proved itself foolproof, automatically delivering the complete required range of sharp focus bracketed images at nearly a 100% rate (and I probably caused the 1 or two insufficient sets). Walk up to a scene, select the composition, position the focus point on the closest subject (the closest sand), and press the shutter release. This strategy takes away the careful attention to the depth of field otherwise required and facilitates images not otherwise possible.

Do you ever struggle to obtain the ideal white balance? I do, and this image challenged me. Unfortunately, adding the needed contrast creates a bright yellow glow that I've been attempting to neutralize. This image is one of those likely to get re-adjusted in the weeks and months to come.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 4/8/2022 8:55:59 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, April 3, 2022

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park is one of those locations that evokes the kid in a candy store emotion for landscape photographers.

Ordering the chaos in a beautiful scene is a frequent landscape photography challenge. While details abound at Zabriskie Point, these details are more easily ordered than most. In addition, there are so many strong shapes and colors here that direct light becomes much less important. While Zabriskie Point's morning and evening light is especially attractive, some of my favorite images were taken before sunrise and after sunset.

Having so many great compositions makes selecting a few favorites to share a mental challenge. Of course, culling many images would have been easier if I had approached the area in an orderly manner. Instead, I opted to revisit subjects for a fresh take, ensuring an open mind to find the best options. Still, I'm certain that a return trip would generate new compositions in this target-rich environment.

A pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies with Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM and Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lenses mounted provided the ideal angle of view range for this location and, of course, outstanding image quality.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 4/3/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, March 31, 2022

A June sunrise image of The Loche in Rocky Mountain National Park requires a 2.7 mi, 1,056 ft elevation gain hike in the middle of the night. Getting location information on a relatively remote lake early in the season is challenging, but there was a report of open water, so my daughter and I set off for an adventure.

Upon arrival, the report proved technically correct. However, ice prevailed in the target location. While the ice would have been an OK foreground (these mountains can make nearly any foreground work), a reflection was the big benefit of hiking to a lake.

Moving to a nearby small area of open water accomplished the reflection goal. Here, a twisted tree and its roots, along with rocks flowing into the scene, provided additional foreground entertainment at this location.

Back to the leading question: Why don't I use graduated neutral density (GND) filters?

I'll start with the answer to a more basic question, what is a graduated neutral density (GND) filter?

Since Wikipedia already created this answer, I'll share it here:

"A graduated neutral-density filter, also known as a graduated ND filter, split neutral-density filter, or just a graduated filter, is an optical filter that has a variable light transmission. Typically half of the filter is of neutral density which transitions, either abruptly or gradually, into the other half which is clear. It is used to bring an overly-bright part of a scene into the dynamic range of film or sensor. For example, it can be used to darken a bright sky so that both the sky and subject can be properly exposed. ND filters can come in a variety of shapes and sizes and densities and can be used in all types of photographic applications from still photography, motion photography and scientific applications."

Here is the big problem. In general, graduated ND filters have straight lines of transition. However, these filters are primarily needed outdoors, and the outdoor landscape transition from dark to bright is seldom a straight line — unless a large body of water or a great plain fills the background. It is unrealistic to create filters for every horizon shape, and especially wide-angle zoom lenses usually have focal lengths with geometric distortion that further complicates the needed transition shape.

While soft transition GND filters better hide the dark to light transition, the final image seldom hides the unnatural brightness change.

Round threaded GND filters are available, and logically using one requires the brightness transition to be placed in the middle of the frame — another big limitation. To vary the location of the brightness change requires rectangular filters sized much larger than the front of the lens. While the density transition is still in the center of these filters, the larger size means they can be positioned off-center, placing the brightness transition anywhere desired.

Rectangular GND filters can be handheld during the shot, though avoiding movement against the lens requires a steady hand, and holding the filter slightly off of the lens permits light leaks (that may or may not matter). A filter holder provides a better solution optically, but the large rectangular filters require even larger filter holders.

Purchasing the complete set of transition types (hard to soft) and densities required to ideally mix the various lighting levels encountered, along with a filter holder, is expensive. In addition, the functional set is somewhat burdensome to carry and time-consuming to set up.

What is the alternative? Capture the scene in two or more exposures (if necessary, as processing a single image to differing brightness may be adequate), and blend the results using an HDR technique. A straight transition line is no longer important, and the adjusted areas do not need to be contiguous. Any brightness transition rate can be used (hard to soft), and the rate can vary in a single image.

Additionally, all focal lengths and lens sizes are supported, from a circular fisheye to the longest telephoto lens available.

I can often tell when a GND filter was used for an image, and usually, the result is not my favorite. Not everyone shares my view, and that is OK.

There are a lot of graduated ND filters sold, and sometimes only a graduated ND filter can get the job done properly. A primary advantage of graduated neutral density filters is that action transcending the density change (waves on an ocean, for example) remains perfectly aligned. Another big filter advantage is that post-processing is greatly reduced or eliminated, and those recording video or JPG format still images need to capture the final brightness.

Circling back to the image shared here. There are no graduated neutral density filters in the shape of the shadow line. Also, the perfect filter to match the digital graduated neutral density processing needed to darken the sky, excluding the tree. That filter, of course, does not exist. Thus, I don't carry it — or any other variant.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 3/31/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 27, 2022

This background story and the low-level lighting information post became too long to share here, so please visit the Low-Level Lighting Mobius Arch, Milky Way at Alabama Hills, CA page for the full details.

A larger version of this image is available on here.

Post Date: 3/27/2022 7:10:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, March 20, 2022

I was in Lone Pine, CA and the Alabama Hills facing the prospect of a clear sky at sunset. While blue is one of my favorite colors, some clouds in the sky with a fiery glow are an even better end-of-the-day option.

The sun setting in a clear sky casts a beautiful warm light, ideal for landscape imagery. However, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, including 14,505' Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous USA, blocks the warm color temperature of the late-day sunlight long before it reaches most of this valley and its formations.

There is one reliable way to get a colorful sky during a clear sunset. The Belt of Venus will rise opposite the sun with the earth's shadow following it, and reflecting the Belt of Venus in a body of water doubles the available color.

Mono Lake is over 2,600' higher than Lone Pine, CA, home of the Alabama Hills. This location has a less-obstructed west view and lacks the close tall mountains to the east. That combination provides early visibility of the Belt of Venus, where it appears strong in color

Photographing the tufa tower limestone formations at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve had long been on my to-do list, so the second round of adventures for this day began.

Upon arriving at the lake, the car thermometer said it was cold out — upper 40s or low 50s? However, it was too hot in the sun to dress warmly.

I opted to go light, grabbing a tripod, two cameras and lenses in Lowepro toploader cases, and no extra clothes. The plan was to scout for the optimal sunset shot, return to the car for everything else, and then capture the selected sunset scene.

After finding a location that worked for the reflection plan roughly a mile into the adventure, I no longer had the energy to make the rather difficult two-mile round trip to retrieve the warm clothes (and flashlight).

The pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies mounted to Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS and Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS Lenses were perfect for the opportunities presented, and the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head held them solidly.

The expected temperature drop was a concern, but I was still very warm. The neutral density filters were still in the SUV, but the smooth water left nothing moving to blur.

Eventually, the sun went low in the sky, the tufas had warm light on them, and many photos were captured. However, the real show began when the Belt of Venus and the earth's shadow moved into view. The Belt of Venus and its reflection nicely framed the tufa formations and their dark blue earth shadow background. This show was over in minutes, but working fast with two cameras provided many image variations within this timeframe.

The show would have been over fast regardless of the sky progression because the temperature plummeted into the 20s as soon as the sun set, and shivering made tripod use mandatory. As the dirt road was closer than the car (and the flashlight was in the car), I opted for a direct path to the road, expecting that the opportunity for getting lost would be reduced and hoping that firmer footing would be gained. It didn't take long for this decision to be deemed questionable, and the "Would anyone ever find me if I went down in the massive, over-my-head sagebrush that I was climbing over?" question entered my mind.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending, and the Belt of Venus provided the desired sunset color on this evening. Keep this sky color option in mind for your next clear day sunset — or sunrise — shoot.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 3/20/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, March 7, 2022

What should an outdoor photographer photograph in the winter? Rocks keep their same great appearance year-round, making them a great option.

Sunrise at Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills was at the top of my subject list for a recent California landscape photography trip. With weather being unpredictable, three mornings were allocated on the schedule to check off this line item.

A scouting run the evening before set up the first-morning shoot, ensuring that I wouldn't get lost in the dark. Some images featuring a cool sunburst within the arch made the scouting time especially productive.

On the morning, the sky was clear. A clear sky can usually be counted on to produce a nice alpenglow on the highest peaks, and Lone Pine Peak lit up nicely under the arch this morning. The blue sky provided an attractive, undistracting background for the arch, and as the sun rose higher and the alpenglow faded, the entire snow-capped mountain glowed nicely within the frame of the arch. Eventually, the entire arch was in direct morning sunlight for another pleasing variation.

Overall, day 1 was good, but the forecast for day 2 included 40% cloud cover. The higher the cloud cover percentage, the lower the chances of the sunrise light making it to the western sky. That means lower chances of good sky color and reduced potential of the alpenglow lighting.

However, the higher the cloud cover percentage, the greater the potential for sky drama when the light makes it through. Overall, a 30-60% cloud cover forecast is optimal for high odds of a colorful sunrise (or sunset). So, the day 1 plan was repeated on day 2, anticipating the potential for a color other than blue in the sky.

As seen here, the results of that decision proved quite nice. Intriguing is that all of the work of a good morning can be relegated to the archives when a better image capture comes along.

For this composition, the strategy was to move away from the arch as far as possible make the distant Lone Pine Mountain peak appear large relative to the arch framing it. However, this goal was limited by a relatively small area of rock to work from. A Canon EOS R5 and RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens were mounted to a Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head on a TVC-24L Mk2Tripod. The tripod legs were spread outward, straddling a large crevice between boulders. With a 10 or 12' (3 or 4m) drop-off immediately behind the tripod, aligning the frame was somewhat challenging, and determining the perfect focus distance to keep everything in the frame sharp at 31mm was more so.

Trial and error prior to sunrise dialed in the first challenge, and the R5's focus bracketing set to the lowest distance adjustment between shots provided a completely sharp image every time the shutter release was pressed. When longer focal lengths resulted in an insufficient depth of field, the multiple images in the stack ensured that all features, from nearest to farthest, were in sharp in at least one of the frames, with the depth compositing tool in DPP standing ready to merge those results.

While I may not get around to sharing any images from the first morning at this location, day 3 resulted in variation that I'll likely share soon.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 3/7/2022 9:19:58 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, February 20, 2022

Recently, I shared another weasel image from Rocky Mountain National Park. Today, I share what it was looking for. More specifically, the weasel was looking for this ground squirrel's young to take back to its own young.

Wildlife encounters often provide the opportunity to capture multiple images. While capturing multiple images of the same pose is a good idea, ensuring that minimally one is sharp, with ideal focus and lack of motion blur, there is little value in having more than one image of the same pose and subject framing in the keepers folder. However, photographing a different pose (or scene framing) has great merit. Different is good, and better is ... even better. Therefore, constantly look for ways to improve upon your images already on the card.

While ground squirrels are not too difficult to photograph, they are not always posed on a rock with a distant green background as nicely as this one. After aligning the subject against a distant background while maintaining a favorable body position (angled slightly toward the camera) and capturing the insurance (or memory) shots, improving upon what was already captured became the goal.

The ground squirrel was sounding an urgent alarm to the rest of the family, and its mouth briefly opened very wide with each warning chirp. Simply timing the shot for the toothy chirp added that extra something I was looking for, evoking emotion, at least in context with the weasel story.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 2/20/2022 7:19:40 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 16, 2022

I shared a pair of weasel images (Curious Weasel, Weasel Carrying Ground Squirrel) captured while hanging out with (mostly waiting for) a pair of weasels in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my favorite aspects of these images is the strong background blur that makes the subject boldly stand out.

While many of you following this site might find this advice basic, the basics are important, especially for those starting out, so let's talk about some background blur basics today.

1. Get Closer to the Subject

Moving closer requires a shorter focus distance. The shorter focus distance takes the background out of focus, increasing the blur.

2. Position Against a More Distant Background

Positioning the camera and lens so that the background is farther from the plane of sharp focus increases the blur. Orienting the shooting position to avoid the closer background trees, rocks, buildings, etc., makes a more significant blur happen.

3. Use a Longer Focal Length Lens

A longer focal length increases the magnification of the background details, which increases the blur.

4. Use a Wider Aperture

A wider aperture creates a shallower depth of field. That effect increases the background (and foreground) blur.

5. Use a Camera with a Larger Imaging Sensor

A full-frame camera takes in a wider angle of view than an APS-C model using the same focal length lens. A wider angle of view requires a 1.5x (Sony) or 1.6x (Canon) longer focal length or a position considerably closer for the subject to remain the equivalent size in the frame. Both of those options are already on this list.

Today, the interchangeable lens most adept at blurring the background is the Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG Lens set to 500mm f/2.8. However, a reality check after looking at that behemoth's price and specs (B&H | Adorama | Amazon) leads us to consider the second most background blurring capable lens. The next best choice is one of the 600mm f/4 options.

While not small or inexpensive, the 600mm f/4 lenses reward the owner (or renter) for their expense and carrying effort by creating differentiation in their photos. A 600mm f/4 lens on a full-frame camera, such as the outstanding Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and Sony Alpha 1 Camera combination used for this example can melt the background into a pleasant color blur. That blur can make a subject pop from even a busy, distracting environment.

Keeping small subjects such as the weasels relatively large in the frame makes the getting close blur aspect happen by default. Of course, keeping these hyper little creatures in the frame at this distance is quite challenging. Fortunately, I guessed right at this time, being in the ideal position when the weasel paused to look around.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 2/16/2022 10:21:58 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, February 14, 2022

A late May snowstorm left a dusting of snow at lower elevations in Rocky Mountain National Park. The ponderosa pines filtered the snow, leaving an interesting pattern of white among the trunks, which called for a photo. I always look for excuses to include these red-colored trunks in the frame, and the snow opportunity seemed a good one.

Thick clouds provided even lighting, but the bright white sky seemed to detract from this composition. Thus, keeping the sky out of the frame was a goal, and achieving that goal meant selecting a long enough focal length to exclude the white.

The three tree trunks positioned 1/3 into the frame worked well for the foreground, and the camera position was adjusted to optimize juxtaposition of the remaining trunks in the frame. A fully leveled camera kept the trunks as straight in the frame as possible.

With the desired composition established and locked down on a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head, the remaining issue was achieving the desired depth of field. For this image, I wanted everything in the frame to be sharp. Unfortunately, at 35mm, that was not happening at the still-sharp apertures (I seldom use an EOS R5 aperture narrower than f/11).

Fortunately, the Canon EOS R5's focus bracketing feature made capturing the motionless scene in sharp focus easy. Focused on the closest foreground in the frame with Focus Bracketing enabled, the camera automatically captured the set of photos necessary to cumulatively have the entire depth of the scene in sharp focus.

Selecting the stack of images and then the Depth Compositing Tools menu option in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) created the all-in-focus 16-bit TIFF file that was further edited in Photoshop. Primarily, spot sharpening some of the merged image seams in the image finalized the stacking task.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 2/14/2022 11:15:14 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, February 3, 2022

I tend to overshoot. While taking too many photos ensures that the optimal shot is on the card, that practice adds to the mental and time challenges of culling the results. The performance of the Canon EOS R5 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens combination increases that challenge.

In addition to getting the optimal shot, the extra images are sometimes useful for additional purposes. One of those purposes is illustrated here, making panorama processing possible.

After selecting the favorite animal position, I decided that including more background would improve the composition. The two selected images were manually merged in Photoshop.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 2/3/2022 12:47:36 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, February 2, 2022

We were at the gold mine to photograph picas, but the picas were not especially cooperative. However, a willow ptarmigan, a far less common subject for me, came by to show off his incredible camouflage, posing for a few photos.

As is often the case, the Canon EOS R5 with the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens mounted was an ideal combination for this opportunity.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
500mm  f/7.1  1/400s
ISO 320
7340 x 5345px
Post Date: 2/2/2022 9:58:35 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Bull elk fights are exciting to watch, but most don't end well for one competitor or from a photography perspective. When elk fight, they lower their nose down, leaving the most important parts of a wildlife composition, the eyes and heads, occluded by the thick, tall grass common in the fight venues.

Another frequent hindrance to a good elk fight photo is being in the right position to photograph a single bull with a long prime lens. A second bull in the frame often requires at least twice the working distance, and the fight may be over by the time that distance is traversed. Also frequent is for one elk's back side to turn toward the camera, blocking all of the action.

The story was different on this day. The versatile Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens was mounted on the EOS R5 when the fight broke out, and the grass and weeds were thin and short.

Despite the excitement, I remembered to roll the shutter speed to 1/3200 (M mode, auto ISO, wide-open aperture) to freeze the action. The lens was zoomed to a focal length that contained the erratic action and focused on the mix of antlers and heads. Holding the shutter release down in continuous shooting mode ensured that this short fight produced a solid number of keeper images.

In this image, both bulls' eyes are visible, and the flying dirt helps to portray the intensity of the battle between these big bulls. Adding to my interest are the seemingly indifferent cows, along with the calf leaping out of the danger zone on the right side of the frame.

I often process my images to honor the original 3:2 aspect ratio, but that practice is not always optimal unless the end-use dictates such. Elk fights are often compositionally wide, and in this case, a wide crop seemed appropriate.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
176mm  f/5.0  1/3200s
ISO 320
7096 x 3999px
Post Date: 2/1/2022 12:30:54 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 23, 2022

Elk calves were at the top of this Rocky Mountain National Park photo trip priority list. However, finding portrait volunteers was quite challenging. Challenge does make success sweeter.

Elk calves spend most of their time bedded, and bedded calves are much harder to find than those up on their hooves. Another challenge was finding the angle to photograph a bedded elk calf. The babies often go down amongst dead trees, brush, and other obstacles, and often, there are no good angles.

The camera angle shown in this image was the only one that worked for this calf, one of only a few bedded calves that were optimally photographable during this week.

Baby animals bring a cuteness factor to images that is hard to beat. So, start making plans to find the babies this spring.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 1/23/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, January 22, 2022

The name of this forest fire came from its origin, but "Troublesome" was an understatement. If there could be any consolation, the fire's destruction provided unique photo opportunities.

Once again, a telephoto lens, the excellent Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens in this case, got the call for a landscape scene. The long focal length permitted a small section of the forest to be isolated. The bright curved lines of the blown and burnt tree trunks stood out in contrast to the charred forest floor.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
451mm  f/8.0  1/60s
ISO 160
8192 x 5572px
Post Date: 1/22/2022 8:56:37 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A heavenly light directs the eye to a pair of bighorn sheep ewes standing guard over a bedded lamb on top of this Badlands National Park ridge.

I was photographing the large thunderhead moving in when these bighorn sheep showed up. Then the cloud opened just wide enough to put a spotlight on the sheep.

I love it when wildlife photography and landscape photography combine.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
135mm  f/11.0  1/250s
ISO 100
8192 x 5464px
Post Date: 1/19/2022 9:57:56 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Hummingbirds are fascinating, and a worthy challenge to photograph.

I was looking for elk (in Rocky Mountain National Park), but this broad-tailed hummingbird was consistently landing on the same branch, and spending a few moments waiting for that to happen resulted in some nice images.

Hummingbirds are tiny, and despite getting relatively close with the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens mounted, I was still focal length limited. As I said in the just shared mountain bluebird image, a high pixel density imaging sensor can save the day when deep cropping is required. The Sony Alpha 1's 50 MP resolution provided a good enough final image resolution.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 1/17/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, January 17, 2022

The mountain bluebird is one of my favorite birds, and like many of my favorite birds, the color of this one is spectacular.

While this bird is relatively common in Rocky Mountain National Park, getting a good photo of one remains challenging. This morning, I was searching for elk when a bluebird landed in front of me, sitting long enough for a few photos.

Despite having the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens mounted, I was focal length limited, and getting closer would have frightened the bird. A high pixel density imaging sensor can save the day when deep cropping is required. In this case, the Sony Alpha 1's 50 MP resolution provided a good enough final image resolution.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 1/17/2022 6:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, January 9, 2022

I spent most of a day trying to stay far enough away from this buck to keep it in the frame. What a great problem to deal with.

Finding the ideal clearings in the woods was an even more significant challenge. Foreground obstructions, background distractions, and mottled light problems were high on the day's list of photography challenges.

Challenge reducing was the impressive performance of the Canon EOS R3 and RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens, immediately snapping focus on the eye I was looking at, capturing the ideal moments in time. Being able to position a focus point anywhere in the entire frame instantly is incredible.

This buck was in the woods, and the woods are full of distracting lines. As is often the case, the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens blurred the background distractions away. Few lenses, primarily only the 400 f/2.8 and 800mm f/5.6 options, can compete with 600mm f/4 background blur.

As mentioned, foreground obstructions were on the challenge list this day, and a downside to using the 600mm focal length in the woods is finding a clear path to the subject. The key is to predict where the animal will go (or where you most want it to go) and be in position when it arrives.

We typically want wildlife subjects to appear large. Especially when photographing whitetail deer, I frequently shoot from close to the ground as long as the surroundings provide a good line of sight. This camera position increases the likelihood of a catchlight in the animal's eye, adding life to the animal.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 1/9/2022 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 24, 2021

My family and I wish you a very Merry Christmas! As always, we hope that your Christmas season is filled with great meaning, great memories, and of course, great images.

Our Christmas tree represents a huge amount of work (primarily for my girls), and the results of their effort deserve preserving in a high quality image. After photographing the annual Christmas tree in the same location for 25 years, I have a few go-to shots dialed in.

An ultra-wide-angle focal length usually gets the selection. In addition to fitting the tree and surrounding space in the frame, this angle of view makes the room appear big, creating a more dramatic look.

There seems to be an outstanding ultra-wide angle lens choice introduced each year, and I seldom capture the tree photo with a lens previously used for that task. The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens captured the Christmas 2020 tree, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens captured the 2019 tree, and, going a bit narrower for a different look, the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM Lens took in the 2018 tree.

Which lens got the call for 2021? The impressive Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens.

At this time of the year, I know that I need to take pictures bracketing 5:15 PM by a few minutes to have deep blue sky color showing through the windows with the exposure balanced for the Christmas lights inside. No, I can't remember this time from year to year, but a calendar item reminds me (and EXIF information from the prior year's photos can be referenced).

F/16 images from any current digital camera, and especially from cameras with ultra-high pixel density, show a slight softness due to diffraction. However, I like the starburst effect that narrow apertures, such as f/16, create from point light sources, such as the candles in the windows.

Yes, compositing pictures taken with different apertures, f/8 and f/22 for example, could provide larger starbursts and sharper images, with still adequate depth of field. However, the points on the star rotate as the aperture is changed. This means that each entire starburst must be carefully contained to only one of the images during compositing in order to avoid misalignment.

Getting technical: if in-camera focus shift correction is combining with focus breathing, one image may be slightly magnified relative to the other, further complicating the compositing process.

Using f/16 with a little extra sharpening keeps the process simple — and the results are still very nice.

With only the tree and other decorative lights on, the exposure needs to be long — 30 seconds at ISO 160. The exposure duration means that only a few images can be captured during the perfect deep blue sky time.

Long exposures also mean that the tree ornaments must be still to avoid motion blur, and the floor vibrates when walked on, making the ornaments swing. One person walking across the room at the wrong time could eliminate one or two exposures from that short period. Thus, the photo day is (usually) selected for when I am home alone at 5:15 PM.

Setup starts about 30 minutes prior to the optimal shooting time. Due to lack of space for this composition, some furniture was moved out of the camera position. The LED thermostat light is blocked with sticky notes, oOttoman wheel tracks in the carpet are pressed out, etc.

The vertical lines in the windows (or sometimes a wall unit) on the right side of the frame look best when running parallel to the edge of the frame. Thus, a camera position leveled for both tilt and roll is usually selected. In this case, the Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens especially impresses with its lack of geometric distortion (no correction was applied to this image), rendering the window frame straight.

I am fortunate to have a range of tripods to work with, and holding the Sony Alpha a7R IV and FE 14mm f/1.8 GM Lens combination steady indoors is not a support challenge. However, when shooting on carpet, I prefer a tripod with some weight (or spikes) to press into the carpet fibers, decreasing movement. The Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Mk2 Tripod and BH-55 Ball Head handled this job nicely.

With that, another Christmas tree photo is in the archives.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 12/24/2021 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The top of a mountain in Acadia National Park is a great location to take in a sunset. Better still is to extend that sunset photography opportunity into night sky photography.

It is hard to make a bad composition of the milky way, but adding an interesting foreground usually improves nightscapes. My eye is naturally drawn to mountain peak markers, and the Bald Peak marker was available.

The next step in composing this image was determining the ideal balance of the marker with the milky way, and the camera position illustrated here seemed optimal of the accessible shot locations.

The Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM Lens is one of the best nightscape lenses ever made. While the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture is one of this lens's key nightscape advantages, the 24mm f/1.4 depth of field is shallow, too shallow to keep this sign and milky way sharp. Thus, this capture required an image focused on the peak marker and another focused on the stars.

Post-processing the two image stack was simple. The images were layered into a Photoshop file, and a layer mask was added to the top layer. Painting the mask black reveals that portion of the layer below, the peak marker and rocks in this case.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 12/22/2021 9:31:18 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, December 19, 2021

When multiple animals are in the frame, the composition challenge increases considerably, and the juxtaposition becomes critical to a good image.

Spending enough time in the right remote places aids in that good juxtaposition happening.

This day brought a blue sky background scenario. The camera's exposure was set to push the blue channel barely against the right edge of the histogram, retaining the brightest blue details.

During post-processing, I wanted the animals to be brighter than the original exposure provided. Therefore, taking advantage of the Canon EOS R5's exposure latitude, the same RAW file was processed at the initial exposure and again at brighter settings.

The two files were layered in Photoshop with a layer mask separating the animals and ground from the sky. The sky adjustment contained in a masked layer permits full control of the sky brightness in the final image. The result shared here has just enough blue dialed in to not be white.

The RF 100-500 has proven an outstanding choice for run and gun wildlife photography.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/11.0  1/400s
ISO 1000
8192 x 5836px
Post Date: 12/19/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The warm early morning sunlight breaks through a small hole in the clouds at Monument Cove.

As is typical with landscape photography, being at the right place at the right time was the key to this image capture. While it is easy to control the when and the where, timing the clouds is a bigger challenge, one that often involves going home without the targeted image.

When photographing a large body of water, wave action is another image quality factor involving timing. Every wave is different, and the brightness caused by air in the water changes as the wave approaches, breaks, crashes, and recedes.

This image was captured at 28mm, well within the comfortable range of angles of view provided by the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens. When creating a composition, determine the elements that are helpful to an image and frame to include only those.

On this day, the sky was extremely bright and not especially photogenic. Therefore, I chose a downward camera angle combined with a focal length long enough to include only a small amount of sky, just enough to fit the ocean horizon.

As you likely guessed, I pressed the shutter release many times while this window of light availed itself. This image made the cut for the wave position and the shadow of a small cloud creating uneven lighting on the far edge of the boulder beach. The latter helps the monument to garner more attention.


A larger version of this image is available here.

Post Date: 12/15/2021 12:07:30 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Photographing animals from or below their level is often preferred, which means a level or tilted upward camera. However, when the scenario is right, the perspective from an elevated point of view can be excellent.

In this case, a large bull elk was defending his harem of cows in a large meadow. Getting lower was not an option, but the lush grasses and their curving seed plumes create a nice background.

The R5 put a lot of good images on the card during this bull's defensive stand. Still, the leg separation and differentiating body position especially led to this image getting selected for sharing.

As usual, the 600mm f/4 background blur makes the animal and its impressive antlers stand out.


A larger version of this image is available here.
Post Date: 12/14/2021 9:04:13 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 13, 2021

Do you enjoy photographing details? Telephoto zoom lenses are quite adept at this task.

The trees on the top of the mountain range that makes up Shenandoah National Park are loaded with light-colored lichen. I find this look highly attractive, but finding order within the chaos is the big challenge for photographing this subject.

In this case, a tree with red berries stood out among the oak trunks lining the edge of a clearing.

Not everything in a scene needs to be included in the frame. The small berries added a pop of color. Zooming in to nearly fill the frame with the berry tree excluded much of the forest surrounding it and created an interesting pattern of trunks entering the frame.

The Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM Lens was made for times like this.

This small, light, and affordable lens was ready for use, mounted to a Canon EOS R5 in a toploader case on the seat behind me. This lens's relatively narrow max aperture was wider than needed for this landscape image, and the lens's image stabilization system meant a tripod was not required, despite the strong wind pushing me around.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
325mm  f/11.0  1/125s
ISO 100
7894 x 5264px
Post Date: 12/13/2021 10:01:10 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, December 12, 2021

As I shared in The Sony a1 and FE 35mm GM Lens Capture the Exit image, the time allocated to this shoot was very short. To speed the shoot, three cameras with prime lenses mounted were in the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L. The Canon EOS R5 and RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens got the call for this scenario.

Noteworthy is that this image was captured handheld at "Civil End". If you are unfamiliar with this term, estimate it to be about 30 minutes after sunset. It was dark.

Utilizing the R5's IBIS kept what was not blowing in the wind sharp, despite the awkward and unsteady near-ground level shooting position.

Need a clean background for your portrait subject's head? The sky often works well for this.

Want to make your athletic subjects appear large? Using a low camera position often works well for this.

Merge the two concepts, and this image is the result.

The Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens's ultra-wide aperture had a big role in making this image possible, and that feature held complete responsibility for the strong background blur. Despite the incredibly wide aperture in use, the background remains recognizable at this subject distance.

When the background is supporting the subject, being recognizable can be advantageous. When a high percentage of the image area is background, the importance of what is in the background is elevated, becoming critical to the overall image. Spend the time to search out supporting backgrounds for your engineered images.

While this image was captured at ISO 2500, my eyes were not keeping up with the viewfinder brightness increasing relative to the ambient lighting. Therefore, this image required +1 EV of brightness adjustment in post.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
50mm  f/1.2  1/30s
ISO 2500
5464 x 8192px
Post Date: 12/12/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 10, 2021

Pattern and texture images usually rank among the least liked images I share. Still, I like them — and they are quite useful. Use pattern and texture images for subtle yet beautiful decor. These images are also ideal for backgrounds, including with words and other images over them. For example, this white ice scene would make holly leaves and red berries pop for a Christmas theme.

While hiking up a mountain toward a rockslide to find pikas, I discovered a small iced-over pool of water (welcome to the first day of fall in Alaska). The consistent pattern of ice crystals immediately caught my attention. The friends with me were not interested in interrupting the pika chase for ice crystals, but this ice pattern was one of those photo opportunities I knew I would later regret passing up. So, I quickly captured some handheld images.

With a flat, 2-dimensional subject, any focal length would produce a similar result if the same composition was included, and the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens provides an extensive range to choose from. In this case, the widest available focal length was the easiest to work with, including the easiest to hold steady.

While the creatively blurred ice crystals option was available, keeping everything in focus seemed optimal at the time. With a relatively close subject and a telephoto focal length, the depth of field was limited. Especially since I was working quickly, f/11 seemed the best aperture, providing enough depth of field to forgive any misalignment over the flat surface without going too far deep into the softening effects of diffraction.

The longer I shot, the more I liked what I was shooting. So, I continued to shoot additional images, overshooting to ensure the ideal alignment and pattern was captured in sharp resolution – without motion blur.

After many minutes of this perfection attempt, I hurried to catch up with the others. While I did not have the regret of passing up an opportunity, my first thought in the field was that I regretted not taking the few minutes to set up the RRS TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head that were in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L. Doing so would have made the alignment easier and would have ensured steadiness.

Fortunately, that concern was needless.

The f/11 aperture at ISO 100 meant that a 1/60 shutter speed was required to push the histogram to the right side of the chart area (white ice is a bright subject). Impressively, the R5 and RF 100-500 combination produced 100% sharp handheld shots in this scenario, despite the somewhat awkward straight down shooting position and unstable footing. Perhaps more impressive is that I managed to sufficiently square the camera over the ice (within the f/11 depth of field) for every shot.


A larger version of this image is available here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/11.0  1/60s
ISO 100
8192 x 5464px
Post Date: 12/10/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, December 5, 2021

Previously, I asked if the weasel was adorable or a vicious killer? Most would rate the other image as considerably more adorable, but on this day, both descriptions accurately described this little predator.

As I said before, the opportunity was a unique one. What started as a glimpse of a weasel hunting in the brush turned into an afternoon of waiting, with some watching and frantic photographing mixed in. Often nocturnal, weasels are seldom seen, and when they do show themselves, getting the fast- and erratically-moving critters in the frame is tremendously challenging, even without accounting for accurate focusing.

On this afternoon, a pair of weasels were raiding ground squirrel nests. Capturing photos of the weasels alone was extremely challenging, and capturing photos of the weasels returning to their underground caches with ground squirrels in their mouths was even more so.

A key to successful wildlife photography is knowing (guessing properly) where the subject is going, and finding an attractive composition it might enter into. I guessed right on this weasel's return path, and the near-ground-level Sony Alpha 1 with a Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens mounted captured the weasel running over a rock with a clean background.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr or here.

Post Date: 12/5/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 3, 2021

On this trip, I was primarily testing the new EOS R3 with the Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens. However, I had the lightweight, compact, inexpensive Canon RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM Lens on an EOS R5 readily available in a toploader case, handy to pull out when a wider need arose.

Each morning while heading to the favored deer photography locations, I passed an eastern overlook just before sunrise. A high mountain with no substantial mountains to the east that allows visibility of the sun at a very low angle is a great location to see colorful sunrise. Shenandoah National Park is one such location, and the percentage of photogenic sunrises here is quite high.

On this morning, I simply pulled over, set up the Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod with the integrated head, mounted the RF 100-400 and R5, and took a few pictures before resuming the deer chase.

As illustrated here, the convenience and utility of the RF 100-400mm lens are very high. The long focal lengths can fill the frame with the color of even a compact sunrise show, and a wide aperture is not important in this case.

With the lens and in-body image stabilization, I could have handheld this shot, but strong winds made the tripod an easier choice for composition and steadiness reasons.


A larger version of this image is available on here.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
108mm  f/8.0  1/50s
ISO 100
8192 x 5464px
Post Date: 12/3/2021 7:30:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 2, 2021

Patches of red berry bushes in Shenandoah National Park had my attention, and I was spending time near them, hoping that whitetail deer photo opportunities incorporating the berries would show up. A couple of days prior, I photographed a smaller buck eating the berries, but the images were not remarkable.

On this morning, I discovered an impressive 12pt point buck bedded near a berry-favorable area.

Bedded deer can get up at any moment, but they can also stay down for many hours. When it comes to antler size, bigger is almost always better, and I knew that few bigger bucks were in the area. Thus, I committed to hanging with this buck for the long haul.

Not too long after I sat down, there was a solid thump sound behind me. The doe and fawns hanging with the buck immediately got up and walked toward the sound. An apple had fallen from an apple tree, and the deer were going to eat it. Soon after this, the buck got up and began to move away — straight into the berries.

While incorporating the red berries was the goal, the thick berry bush branches were a visibility obstacle.

Traditionally, a camera attempting to autofocus on an eye in the brush led to the camera focusing on the closest branch in the view. In this situation, obtaining a keeper image typically required manual focusing, a challenge when the animal is erratically moving and the depth of field is shallow.

Game-changing is that the Canon EOS R-series camera's animal eye detection can often focus through the brush, creating a high percentage of properly focused images despite obstructions, such as those seen beside this buck's eye. This outstanding feature is one of many reasons to move to one of the latest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera models.

While this animal was not moving especially fast, its head was, and the Canon EOS R3's high frame captured the relatively few moments when the eye was visible in the obstructions.

I'll likely share more images of this buck. We spent the next 5 hours having an adventure together.


A larger version of this image is available on here.

Post Date: 12/2/2021 8:56:46 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Canon RF 14-35mm F4 L IS USM Lens is an ideal lens choice when compact, light, and wide angles are on the requirements list, and such a lens is a perfect choice for hiking the canyons at Ricketts Glen State Park. The 14-35mm range proved perfect for the photo opportunities available on this hike.

This image was captured below Oneida falls, one of my favorite locations in this park.

At this specific location (and many others), the entire 14-35mm range of focal lengths can create nice images. At 14mm, the foreground falls become prominent, with the background falls appearing diminished in size. At 35mm, the background falls are emphasized, appearing significantly larger in relation to the foreground falls.

In the end, I chose an image captured at 23mm as my favorite.

The usual recipe for waterfall photography was utilized for this image. On a cloudy day, use a Breakthrough circular polarizer filter with a tripod-mounted camera to capture an exposure-bracketed set of f/11 images, including some extras to capture the constantly changing water flow. Additionally, options captured at higher ISO settings provided different amounts of water flow blur to select from.

As usual, the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L was the perfect option for carrying the gear, food, water, layers of clothes, etc. for this day hike.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 11/28/2021 12:01:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, November 25, 2021

When cost, time, and effort are invested into a photography trip, generally only the best-available gear (or something new being reviewed) makes the pack. Milky way and aurora nightscape photography opportunities were on the potential list for a recent trip, and my three favorite night sky lenses were packed specifically for these subjects.

When the milky way is visible, the scene is extremely dark. While the milky way exposures are long, the earth is rotating, creating a form of action photography.

The aurora has varying intensities and can be pulsing and dancing around the frame. If the exposure is too long, the dancing and pulsing aurora turns into a big smear of color. Thus, aurora photography also involves action, an action that is often moving considerably faster than the earth's rotation.

Wide apertures are a big advantage for stopping action, and each of the lenses included in the above list is the widest available at its respective focal length. Just because a lens has a wide aperture does not mean that you want to use that aperture, as many wide aperture lenses are not sharp wide open, becoming considerably sharper as they are stopped down. However, those in the above list are outstanding performers wide open.

While the f/1.4 aperture is a clear advantage held by the FE 24 over the other two lenses, f/1.8 is still very wide. Motion blur is caused when subject details cross over pixel wells on the imaging sensor. Because the 24mm focal length magnifies subject details more than the 14mm and 20mm options, a slightly faster shutter speed is required to photograph the same subject at the same distance with an equivalent amount of motion blur. This shutter speed difference offsets some of the aperture difference.

Mostly, I selected between these three prime lenses based on the angle of view they provide.

The day started with a 5:30 AM alarm and a long search for moose. Upon returning late morning, we learned that the northern lights forecast was favorable. However, the weather did not appear to be favorable, with heavy cloud cover promising to block all higher altitude subjects. Still, the National Weather Service hourly forecast showed the skies expected to clear at 2:00 AM at our desired viewing location. That time coincided with the moon setting, yielding darker skies.

After a short nap, a 2-hour drive ensued, heading north for darker skies and a favorable viewing location. Intermittently checking the skies, the clearing began right on schedule. Unfortunately, the aurora was not yet apparent to the eye. Dim northern lights are considerably easier to see in a long exposure image, so cameras were mounted to tripods and put into action. Test images showed a small vertical column forming over Denali, the mountain in the bottom of this image.

Initially, the northern lights were small, muted, and stationary. The 24mm lens made the little show larger in the frame than the other two lens options, and also accentuated Denali in the foreground.

The show progressed, significantly increasing in intensity and motion, with this image requiring only a 4-second exposure at f/1.4 and ISO 2500. Eventually, the 20mm angle of view (sample here) was needed to take it all in, and the 14mm angle of view (sample here) became optimal not long afterward.

We pulled into the driveway at 6:30 AM. Aside from a short nap and a few eyes-closed rests, it was a 25-hour day. As is usually the case, I struggle to remember the details of the exhaustion, but the memory of the dancing northern lights is still clear, and the images will last a lifetime, keeping the memory alive.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 11/25/2021 8:54:03 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The whitetail buck were not cooperating this afternoon, the Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens and Really Right Stuff Ascend Tripod needed a workout, some clouds were in the sky as sunset approached, and one of my favorite sunset locations was not far away. I did not pause to implement the plan revealed to me, and the show as and after the sun set was superb.

The Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens produced very nice image quality — remarkable for the size, weight, and price of the lens.

This image is a slight pano (to add some foreground rock) and HDR processed.

As suggested, a Really Right Stuff Ascend Long Tripod with Integrated Head provided the support for this capture.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/11.0  1/10s
ISO 100
8090 x 5928px
Post Date: 11/24/2021 8:52:18 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Subjects that move are prime candidates for the use of servo AF, continuous focusing vs. the focus distance locked for one shot. Using servo AF requires a focus point or area continuously positioned on the desired point of focus.

Aside from vehicles, moving subjects usually have eyes, and usually that means the focus point or area must be on the subject's eye, with the subject looking into the frame. Maintaining the focus point or area over the eye of a moving subject while maintaining the ideal composition is often a huge challenge, especially for wildlife photography. An animal turning its head the other direction historically required a significant amount of joystick pressing when using a camera with an adequate number of AF points to competently accomplish the goal, and by the time the focus point was in position at the other side of the frame, the animal would turn its head in the other direction (one of Bryan's Laws of Photography). Add thick gloves, and this challenge increases significantly.

In addition to the joystick, the R3 has a pair of Smart Controllers for positioning the AF point or area. The AF-ON buttons have been enlarged, and a touchpad is built into them. Simply slide a thumb across the button to rapidly position the AF point or area.

With a conventional joystick and AF-ON button design, two thumbs are required to make focus point or area position adjustments while pressing an AF-ON button. In servo mode, the R3's Smart Controllers are functional while the AF-ON button is pressed, and this feature works even with thick gloves on.

In addition to having the ability to focus nearly anywhere in the composition, the latest mirrorless cameras have the ability to identify and track a subject, and more specifically, subject eye detection and tracking have been game-changing. When the eye is identified, the camera tenaciously tracks the eye throughout the entire frame, freeing the photographer to concentrate on composition and image capture timing. Thick gloves are not an issue.

The Canon EOS R3 adds vehicle subjects to its detection capabilities, filling in much of the remaining active subject identification needs.

Additionally, the R3 has body detection that takes over when the eye disappears. That feature was at times a hinderance with the whitetail buck as I wanted a looking away deer's antlers or head to be in focus vs. the deer's backside. However, the body is sometimes the next-best focus option, such as when an ice skaters spins.

The R3 brings us a very intriguing new method of AF point positioning. What if you could simply look at the subject you wanted to focus on? The R3's Eye Control AF allows the photographer to position the AF point or area at the speed of look. Look at the subject and the AF point is there, with no buttons to press or slide across.

Eye Control AF requires calibration for each user, and the calibrated performance can be individually different. Calibration is fast and easy. Select a menu option, and follow the prompts in the viewfinder that guide the eye to look at a dot in the center of a small circle sequentially positioned in the center and 4 sides of the viewfinder, with the M-Fn button press recording the look for each.

Canon recommends using the calibration process numerous times, including in different lighting and multiple camera orientations, to refine the data the camera has available. The lens in not involved in this process as the Infrared LEDs in the EVF (notice the enlarged viewfinder size surrounding the viewing area) track the eye position without eyeglasses, and a second set of infrared LEDs track eye position with eyeglasses. Separate calibration profiles are accepted, and useful for with and without eyeglasses and contact lenses and for multiple camera users. Profile data can be saved to a memory card for use on other R3 bodies.

Once calibrated, a small target consisting of two concentric circles (by default, configurable) moves around the viewfinder with your gaze. Look at the subject, and that is where the camera will position the indicator, and that is where the camera will focus or initiate subject tracking.

While the Eye Control graphic is needed, it is obvious and a bit annoying to always have over what you are directly looking at. This graphic, in addition to the focus area and subject tracking indicators, starts to create a busy viewfinder.

Using Eye Control involves a short learning curve as focus should be initiated before or after looking around the frame to study the composition.

My first experience with Eye Control was not stellar. After creating many refinements, I found the R3's calibration inaccurate for my eyes. Most of the time, the indicator did not position directly on the subject I was looking at. The experience was disheartening, but Canon shared that this feature would not work optimally for everyone.

On a whim, I deleted the calibration data and started over. The new calibration, even with only a few refinements delivered significantly improved accuracy.

Packing up the R3 along with many lenses in the review queue, I headed to Shenandoah National Park for five days of wildlife (and some landscape) photography. More specifically, the whitetail buck in rut were the primary targeted subject.

This shoot started with the R3 set to servo AF, animal eye detection selected, subject tracking on, and Eye Control AF enabled (by default, pressing the Set button quickly enables or disables this feature). Accurate focusing on the deer meant looking at the deer's eye and half-press the shutter release to initiate focusing. The R3 usually detected the eye and immediately locked tracking on it, tracking it throughout the frame while providing visual feedback in the viewfinder. While Eye Control AF is not always perfect, I was still using this strategy when I packed the camera for the trip home. The R3's AF performance with Eye Control outperformed any focus method I've used prior.

If Eye Control is found not performing well, immediately creating a calibration refinement can improve accuracy. Not too long into the shoot, I realized that the vertical calibration refinement was not yet created. In seconds, calibration refinement was created, and I was back in the game vertically.

When photographing with large telephoto lenses in strong winds, up to 40 MPH / 64 KPH on this trip, keeping even a motionless subject in the frame can be challenging, and keeping a manually selected focus point on the subject's eye becomes extremely challenging. With the R3, I could simply look at the deer's eye, half-press the shutter release, and then concentrate on fully pressing the shutter release when the framing looked right. This strategy works just as well with heavy gloves on (temperatures were as low as the mid-20s / -3 C).

AS mentioned, the R3's subject detection recognizes bodies, and it recognized deer bodies quite well. However, when the buck were facing away (I sometimes like images of animals facing away, looking into their environments), the head or antlers needed to be in focus vs. the closest body area. With the R3, simply looking at the antlers while initiating subject tracking worked very well.

The 10pt whitetail buck shared in this post came in fast and close, offering only seconds to grab the shot. A glance at the eye followed immediately by pressing the shutter release down made the quick capture easy.

Want an R3? Use one of the links on the site (supports us) to order it. As I write this, prepare to wait in line. This outstanding camera will be difficult to find in stock for a long time.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 11/23/2021 8:46:26 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, November 14, 2021

The weather forecast indicated partly cloudy skies at sunset and a clear sky afterward, with low wind speed throughout the duration. That is a perfect recipe for an evening of landscape and nightscape photography over a mountain lake, and our workshop group headed to one of my favorite Rocky Mountain National Park locations. The plan was to photograph the sunset reflecting in the water and then the milky way doing the same after dark.

Which lenses to take? The best nightscape lenses are usually outstanding landscape lenses, and the Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Lens is an excellent choice for night sky photography. It made the small set in the pack this evening.

Post processing of this image involved a manual HDR process.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/14/2021 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, November 11, 2021

It's all about the scents. He's not physically stuck, but the desire to leave his scent was holding him against the tree.

Rocky Mountain National Park has areas of straight-trunked pines that call me to photograph them. Add an animal, and I'm all in for that image.

The lines in nature running in primarily horizontal and vertical directions result in a uniqueness to this image. Of course, it is hard to make a bad image when a 6x6 bull elk is in the frame.

In this case, the focal length range provided by the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens permitted getting the ideal subject framing while moving in front of obstructions — other pine tree trunks. A high percentage of my favorite images are currently being captured with this lens.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.
Post Date: 11/11/2021 7:01:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, October 14, 2021

Hatcher Pass is always beautiful, but a recent snow leaving the mountains capped in white made this pass especially picturesque.

The distant mountains with craggy peaks were beautiful, and I was searching for some foreground to go with that background. At the same time, I was searching for Pikas. Pikas live in rock piles, and rock piles make great foreground subjects, so the location had the potential for a win-win combination.

While a couple of pikas were heard (they sound like a squeak toy), the rocks proved best as a foreground on this afternoon.

The 28mm focal length was selected to keep the distant mountains relatively large in the frame. While mountains surrounded this location, the mountain peaks with the most character were what I wanted to emphasize (along with the cloud formation over them). The width provided by a 15mm angle of view (that lens was in the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L) would have been filled with mountains, but the 28mm choice on the already-mounted Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens de-emphasized the already-large rock in front of me and added emphasis on the craggy mountain peak. At the same time, 28mm was not too long of a focal length to achieve sharp focus through the entire image at f/11, an aperture not greatly affected by the softening effects of diffraction.

I recently returned from an intense three weeks in Alaska and Colorado, working in the field with some great gear. As always, the trip was extremely valuable educationally, and the stack of images to be sorted through is a bit overwhelming. This picture was among the low-hanging fruit.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 10/14/2021 8:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Badlands National Park has the full deal for landscape photography — interesting foregrounds in front of incredible backgrounds. Mix those features with the warm light from a rising (or setting) sun, and great results are waiting.

With the extremely warm light hitting the red-colored rock, the red channel is the one to watch. Make that channel too bright, and the red details will be lost. Use the RGB histogram to monitor exposure levels, and having an understanding how far your camera's red channel can be pushed is helpful.

While there were a few lenses in the backpack this morning, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens was the only one to see use. This lens on the R5 produces outstanding results and is an ideal choice for landscape photography.

In this camera position, the sunlight angle made own-shadows a bit of a problem. So I hid in the shadow of a land formation during the image capture, and the tripod shadow was removed with the healing brush tool in Photoshop.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 9/8/2021 8:58:30 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, September 6, 2021

Among the interesting subjects in Badlands National Park are the shadows created by water erosion channels.

While sunrise and sunset are easily my favorite times to photograph in this park, those times of the day do not provide light on some of the great subjects. A higher sun is necessary to light the depths of the canyon. Higher, though not fully overhead as that light often erases the shadows.

I often talk about wide-angle focal lengths being useful for emphasizing an interesting foreground in front of a vast attractive background, with all details in sharp focus. This scene provided that combination, and the perspective captured by the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens at 15mm was ideal for this photo.

Well, ideal until I decided that more sky might be a nice addition. The clouds were attractive, and it seemed advantageous to sometimes capture a picture of mostly sky to enable stitching later. In the end, the selected to share photo seemed best with the sky image stitched in.


Among the interesting subjects in Badlands National Park are the shadows created by water erosion channels.

While sunrise and sunset are easily my favorite times to photograph in this park, those times of the day do not provide light on some of the great subjects. A higher sun is necessary to light the depths of the canyon. Higher, though not fully overhead as that light often erases the shadows.

I often talk about wide-angle focal lengths being useful for emphasizing an interesting foreground in front of a vast attractive background, with all details in sharp focus. This scene provided that combination, and the perspective captured by the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens at 15mm was ideal for this photo.

Well, ideal until I decided that more sky might be a nice addition. The clouds were attractive, and it seemed advantageous to sometimes capture a picture of mostly sky to enable stitching later. In the end, the selected to share photo seemed best with the sky image stitched in.

Post Date: 9/6/2021 8:28:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, August 27, 2021

In June, at this latitude, there is not much time between sunset and sunrise. However, at this time of the year, in this location, there are few sunrises and sunsets worth sleeping through.

While driving at a high rate of speed (as permitted by the high posted speed limit on I90) toward the park this morning, I could see the beautiful sunrise color begin to show in the sky and feared being too late. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded.

Near the end of a narrow ridge, the camera could be positioned to capture just the end of that ridge, helping to emphasize the dramatic depth. The 15mm focal length was ideal for this big scene.

The Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens made this exposure-bracketed capture easy. However, ensuring that the blend between the sky and foreground was void of bright or dark edges while HDR stacking was a bit more challenging. With the foreground carefully separated from the background (in Photoshop), and its brightness reduced by a stop, there is plenty of latitude for changing my mind in a month or 5 years.

While this site's white background is perfect for product photos, it is a touch harsh for sample pictures. Head over to my portfolio site for a larger image on a darker background, a combination that improves especially this image's appearance.

Post Date: 8/27/2021 10:10:25 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, August 23, 2021

The fog was so thick this evening that I was concerned about getting lost (at least to the point of requiring the compass), and the low visibility hindered subject locating abilities. Having this monster walk into visibility was thrilling.

Despite the capabilities of this incredible camera and lens, the tiny water droplets in the fog noticeably impacted the contrast and resolution of this image, as always.

When the fog effect is undesired, a circular polarizer filter can cut the reflections significantly, improving clarity. However, in this case, I welcomed the fog's differentiating look (and didn't want the light loss incurred by CPL filter use).

One makes the most of an opportunity such as this one. The Canon EOS R5 and ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card combination supports holding the shutter release down as long as desired (until the card is full) in high-speed continuous shooting mode, the strategy implemented for this moment. The moose beginning to angle away was provided the logical endpoint to the burst as, at that time, I expected no better images to be made.

The animal was walking at a steady pace but not so fast that the R5's framerate couldn't capture a plethora of images. This particular image stood out as a favorite because of the overall body position. The bull is angling slightly toward the camera (when in doubt of this, use the antler base juxtaposition, minimally indicating head angle) with its legs evenly separated. The front leg lifted and showing slight motion blur illustrates motion.

The RF 100-500 proved an outstanding choice for this moose hunt.


A larger version of this image is available on my portfolio site.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
114mm  f/4.5  1/200s
ISO 2500
8266 x 5407px
Post Date: 8/23/2021 10:30:23 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, July 25, 2021

I scheduled three days to photograph Custer State Park in South Dakota. Those three days included two significant travel days and followed a nearly 1-week-long photo trip in Badlands National Park. On that day, the plan was for my daughter and I to scout from Spearfish Canyon down into Custer State Park.

Upon arriving in the park, the highest priority was to scout a milky way photography location in The Needles, featuring incredible rock formations. A Needles Highway closure foiled that plan. An unfortunate person's camper was stuck in the Needles Tunnel, a peril relatively easy to encounter in this extremely narrow tunnel.

After checking in to the hotel mid-afternoon and grabbing a bite to eat, my daughter and I drove the Custer State Park wildlife loop in search of wildlife subjects. That endeavor was mostly unproductive, with only the donkeys cooperating on this evening.

Exhausted from driving all day (and a rough schedule for the prior two weeks), we opted to sleep in the next morning. With the camper now extracted from the tunnel, the original Needles Highway scouting mission was completed late on our only full day in the park. The perfect position was established, and with help from The Photographer's Ephemeris and a compass, it was determined that the milky way would ideally align just before 3:30 AM, just before the sky started brightening in the morning (nautical start).

Hotel checkout was in the morning, and a 7-hour drive to the airport was on the must-do list. Thus, a reasonable amount of sleep was required for a safe drive. However, the National Weather Service forecasted the clouds to (finally) dissipate at approximately 2:30 AM, the already set moon meant that the sky would be dark, and I couldn't pass up this opportunity. So the alarm went off at 2:30 AM. We jumped into warm clothes and drove to the selected site.

While it was the middle of June, the air temperature was low and the sustained wind speed was extremely high. Tucking into the rock spires helped reduce the felt wind, and the high-performing Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head combination took care of the remaining stabilization requirements. Every frame the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM Lens captured on this shoot was tack sharp.

Upon establishing the ideal composition, with manual focus on the stars, images were captured in quick succession (as quick as 25-second exposures permit) to ensure the perfect alignment among the needles spire formations, including the Needles Eye, was captured. Also captured was an increasingly bright blue sky, providing a range of options to choose from later. As the new day dawned, the sky continued increasing in brightness, with the foreground brightening as well. Once the milky way had passed through the optimal alignment among the spires, it was time to do some light painting for foreground compositing options.

My light painting flashlight of choice is the Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp. This small, lightweight headlight is an excellent all-around choice for outdoor photographers, featuring an extremely bright spot light for navigating in the dark, a red light for preserving night vision, and lower-power floodlight that casts a wide, even light, perfect for many uses, including light painting. The duration of the light panning across the scene was informally measured by counting and adjusted from frame to frame to create varying brightness options.

To gain improved directionality to the light painting, the flashlight was positioned around the far side of the nearby rock spire. The 10-second self-timer provided time to run to this position after the shutter was released.

At 4:00 AM, the milky way was no longer visible. Tired but exhilarated, we packed up and headed back to the hotel for second bedtime.

As so often is the case, the memory of the tiredness, coldness, and effort required for this shot was short-lived, already faded. However, the photos and positive memories will last a lifetime.

Note that a benefit of shooting at this time of the day was that, not surprisingly, we didn't see another car or person during this entire shoot.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 7/25/2021 12:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, July 18, 2021

If you plant it, they will come. Coneflowers, butterflies, and the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens go together beautifully.

This eastern tiger swallowtail was moving from flower to flower, rotating in a circle on each. Getting to the flower and in position before the rotation was complete was the key to capturing a pleasing angle.

Hanging out in the garden with the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens is quite fun.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/2.8  1/640s
ISO 100
7987 x 5327px
Post Date: 7/18/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Adorable or vicious killer? Right — both descriptions accurately describe this little predator.

The opportunity was a unique one. What started as a glimpse of a weasel hunting in the brush turned into an afternoon of waiting, with some watching and photographing mixed in.

Often nocturnal, weasels are seldom seen, and when they show do themselves, getting these fast- and erratically-moving critters in the frame is tremendously challenging, even without accounting for accurate focusing. This weasel finally paused momentarily to check out (her reflection in?) the near-ground-level Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens aimed in her direction.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 7/13/2021 8:10:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, July 10, 2021

You don't leave when the sun sets, do you? Usually, the best show is yet to come when the fiery ball goes below the horizon.

With primarily flat ground outside of Badlands National Park, the sun is not blocked by tall nearby mountains when the sun is at a low angle. This scenario bodes extremely well for sunrise and sunset sky color, creating an above-average percentage of great opportunities, especially during the storm season.

Sunrises and sunsets can be seen nearly anywhere, and they are often beautiful — highly photogenic. But, having a great foreground can give sunrise and sunset images an additional positive element, and when you are somewhere special, make your images show that place.

My least favorite foreground element is a power line. My most favorite foreground element is a glassy reflective lake or pond. However, a mountain with character ranks just behind that favorite. So when it became apparent that the skies would light up after sundown this evening, I headed for such a mountain.

Upon arrival on the scene, the first task was to set up a Canon EOS R5 with an RF 15-35 mounted with an also interesting close foreground. With exposure duration bracketing established for later HDR compositing, getting the time of day bracketed was the remaining key for this camera's capture. Pressing the shutter release frequently (using the 2-second self-timer) took care of the latter goal.

As this scene's primary intrigue seemed to be the incredible sunset color fronted by the gnarly character of the Badlands mountain, a panorama capture was calling me. The Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens mounted on another R5 was the perfect option.

The first task was to establish a manual exposure. The scene brightness varied significantly throughout the proposed pano, promising a range of auto exposures that would increase the stitching challenge later. This manual exposure was established by pushing the red channel, much brighter than the green or blue, against the right side of the histogram.

After autofocusing on the mountains (I depend on the R5's excellent AF accuracy), the AF/MF switch was moved into the MF position. Having all images focused at the exact same distance eliminates any focus breathing issues for panorama stitching.

The image captures ensued. The camera was rotated from left to right, capturing vertically orientated images with at least 1/3 scene overlap between frames (more like 50% overlap, which was overkill). The frames were captured in quick succession to reduce cloud movement and sky brightness change between the frames. The viewfinder grid was used to keep the images vertically aligned. Upon pressing the shutter release, the height of the horizontal grid line was noted against the background and maintained as the camera was panned.

When quickly capturing frames handheld, it is easy to rush the shots and end up with blurry images. Ensure that the camera is still for each gentle press of the shutter release (with a slight lag to the release of the press — a follow-through of sorts) to ensure sharp images. A tripod works best for this task, but that support was under the RF 15-35 mentioned above, and there was not enough capacity to bring two tripods on this trip (my preference). The RF 100-500 and R5 coordinated IS were not stressed by the 1/100 second shutter speed and delivered a 100% sharp image rate.

I mentioned that the exposure was established to protect the red channel. That exposure provided a dark foreground. While the foreground needed to stay dark for a natural balance, making foreground details slightly visible seemed a good idea. Taking advantage of the R5's dynamic range, the original frames were processed brighter. Note that the brighter foreground is much easier to see in a larger version and with a darker background.

Photoshop's Photomerge feature with "Reposition" selected created the pano from 16 source images. Unfortunately, that PS feature created a slightly different resulting image from the brighter-processed source files than from the darker ones. Creating 16 HDR images to use for the stitching source seemed too much work (and likely prone to additional differences), so the foreground pano was manually position-adjusted where it did not properly align. A small area of the sky was processed slightly darker and blended into position. The final images measure over 300 megapixels. For improved display on devices, the image was cropped on the right side, with a sense of balance used to establish where the right side should be.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
100mm  f/5.6  1/100s
ISO 100
24449 x 9050px
Post Date: 7/10/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, June 27, 2021

With air-to-ground lightning strikes averaging under 10-seconds apart, this thunderstorm was awesome.

After dark, lightning becomes easy to photograph. Mount the camera to a tripod, frame a composition that includes the location with the most frequent lightning, focus to a long distance, set the aperture and ISO to control the lightning and overall image brightness, and then open the shutter long enough to catch at least one strike. Easy is to use 30-second exposures controlled by the camera (the strategy implemented for this example), but the Bulb setting controlled with a remote release enables the exposure timing to be adjusted as desired. For example, lock the remote release button down until there is a strike or the time duration exceeds the tolerance for long exposure noise.

Make safety a priority. Photographing lightning from a safe distance (far away) is advised. Locations with long distance visibility are advantaged in this regard, and the flat midwest prairie gets impressive thunderstorms.

Along with this storm came wind, wind strong enough create significant camera vibrations with even a sturdy tripod and strong enough to put a significant amount of dirt in the air. The solution to this issue was to drop down into the canyon a bit. The difference in wind speed 25 yards (25 m) down from rim was substantial and a solution to the problem.

Right, the title says four minutes, but a 30-second shutter speed was in use. This image is a four-minute exposure created by blending eight 30 second exposures using the "Lighten" layer blending option in Photoshop. This blending option is simple to use, allowing the lightning strikes from the layers below to show through.

As usual, the Canon EOS R5 and RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS Lens performed impressively on this shoot.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Post Date: 6/27/2021 7:00:00 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, May 22, 2021

A large bull moose is a good animal to run out of the path of.

This image is brought to your by the R5's incredible AF system paired with the versatile RF 100-500's outstanding image quality. This camera and lens combination is perfect for the quick catch-the-shot and get-out-of-the-way moments.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
200mm  f/5.0  1/500s
ISO 200
8192 x 5464px
Post Date: 5/22/2021 10:46:14 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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