Canon EOS R5 Sample Pictures

Canon EOS R5
Canon EOS R5 Catches Comet NEOWISE Canon EOS R5 Catches Comet NEOWISE

The Canon EOS R5 arrived just in time to capture the spectacular night show Comet NEOWISE was providing. Sorry that the noise test results for this camera were delayed by a day, but this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up (at least I waited until after the R5 review was finished to process this image).

The first challenging comet photography decision to make was the desired composition. Including landscape or filling the frame with the comet were the options, and the latter option was chosen. After determining that NEOWISE would nearly fill a 200mm frame, the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens was the chosen lens. The wide f/2 aperture is excellent for use in the dark, and the impressive sharpness of this lens at f/2 means that stars (over 7,000 software-recognized in this frame) remain pin sharp.

The next decision was whether or not to utilize an equatorial tracking mount. A 200mm lens directed at the comet's location in the sky with an ultra-high-resolution imaging sensor behind the lens meant that relatively short images, about 2 seconds, were the limit before star trails became noticeable. On the equatorial mount, 13-second images showed no motion, and this was the option taken. Though the 200 f/2L is rather heavy for the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Astro Package, this affordable mount along with the Star Adventurer Mini Latitude (EQ) Base and Counterweight Kit were up to this task. With that much weight riding on it, this mount works best on a solid tripod, and the Robus RC-8860 Vantage Carbon Fiber Tripod was a perfect choice. B&H had just sent me a Robus RTH-1050 Ball Head. It works great, so that option was mounted on the Sky-Watcher.

The R5 was set to manual exposure with 13 seconds, f/2, and ISO 1250 selected. High-speed continuous shooting in 1st curtain shutter mode (this is where I learned that the full electronic shutter does not allow exposures longer than 0.5-seconds). A Canon Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3 was plugged in, and its shutter release was locked on. With the Star-Watcher Star Adventurer polar aligned, the lens framing the comet, including the extensive tail that was not readily seen in the viewfinder, and the camera continuously capturing images, I walked away, watching the comet through binoculars and enjoying a bowl of ice cream.

Despite the night having a clear forecast, clouds showed up in the frame a significant amount of the time prior to the comet setting (while the rest of the sky remained clear). Fortunately, 45 images captured contiguously were able to be made cloud-free with slight cropping. 45 x 13 seconds = 9.75 minutes of exposure, long enough to produce a nearly noise-free image and long enough to capture the color in the ion tail.

While the air traffic is not currently as strong as usual, more satellites than ever are in the sky. Nearly every image had at least one satellite, and some photos had as many as three satellites streaking through. I opted to crop out the clouds before processing the RAW image into 16-bit TIFF files and then removed the streaks using the healing brush tool in Photoshop.

The next task was to stack the images. Stacking comet images is a level of challenge higher than stacking star images due to the comet moving at a slightly different rate than the stars. I know, it is the earth that moves the most, but from an earth-bound perspective, the stars and comet are moving. Stack the comet, and the stars become streaked. Stack the stars, and the comet is stretched. Fortunately, some very smart people created DeepSkyStacker software with an option to align both the comet and the stars.

DeepSkyStacker does a superb job, but you would not know that when looking at the default image created. The low-contrast 32-bit image requires "stretching", contrast significantly increased with colors pulled out. The only adjustments made to this image were contrast (levels and curves to stretch the low contrast 32-bit stacked image), saturation (+10 and -60 in PS), and a white balance adjustment (cooled the image slightly).

I love NEOWISE's colored ion tail, pushed away from the sun by solar winds and separated from the dust tail. BTW, the name NEOWISE uses all capital letters because it is an acronym, named after the device that discovered it.

Now, NEOSWISE is gone, effectively, forever. Comet NEOWISE was awesome but will not be seen again for another 6,800 years. Hopefully, another comet will entertain us in the night sky long before that.


 
200mm  f/2.0  585s  ISO 1250
The Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Meet a Huge Alaska Yukon Moose The Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Meet a Huge Alaska Yukon Moose

I've just returned from 17 days of field testing in some great locations with the Canon EOS R5 (best camera ever), Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens (awesome lens), and an assortment of other gear.

A solid set of images of this huge Alaska Yukon moose was the reward for packing gear nearly three miles into the Alaska mountains. On this afternoon, the cloudy sky created soft, shoot-from-any-direction lighting, and the light rain saturated the fall-colored foliage and hemlock backdrop. I couldn't have scripted a scenario much better than this.

Working in the thick forest meant a zoom focal length was required clear obstructions while facilitating ideal framing that included, at times, a significant amount of the environment around the subject(s). The need to move and work fast meant there was no time for tripod setup. While the RF 100-500 does not have the widest aperture, its image stabilization system coordinating with the R5's in-body image stabilization meant that nearly all of my images were sharp. I came away very impressed and have been re-training my brain to shoot handheld at longer shutter speeds throughout the trip. That is when the animal was motionless.

When photographing wildlife, I usually use manual exposure mode with the aperture wide open (unless the scenario dictates otherwise) along with auto ISO. These settings enable the top dial to be quickly rolled to the minimum shutter speed required to stop any camera or subject motion (or until ISO 100 is reached) in the current shooting scenario. Often, after getting the insurance shots with a relatively fast shutter speed, I capture images at progressively longer exposures attempting to better what has already been captured. Exposure compensation was adjusted as appropriate as moose are very dark animals, encouraging the camera to overexpose the scene.

For this shoot (and for most wildlife photography), AI Servo AF was used, readying the camera for any movement the animal makes. For the moose photos, touch and drag AF was used with the small AF point selected. While this camera's animal eye AF is awesome (game-changing for most wildlife photography, including birds), the black around the moose's eye caused animal eye AF challenge enough times that I opted for the also-good alternative selection method. When I did my job correctly, nearly all images were focused correctly.


 
118mm  f/4.5  1/500s  ISO 1600
7 Reasons Why the Canon EOS R5 is My Ultimate Wildlife Camera — Bull Elk in RMNP 7 Reasons Why the Canon EOS R5 is My Ultimate Wildlife Camera — Bull Elk in RMNP

Is the Canon EOS R5 a good wildlife camera? Absolutely.

I had the opportunity to select any camera available for an over-two-week wildlife photo trip. My choice? The pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies already in my kit, and I am left extremely impressed as I review the images from this trip.

Here are 7 reasons why I find the Canon EOS R5 to be the ultimate wildlife camera:

1. The AF System Rocks, Especially the Animal Eye AF Feature

Most notably, the eye-in-focus rate from the EOS R5 was considerably higher than my experience with any camera prior. Keeping a wildlife subject's eye in focus is a critical challenge of wildlife photography, and keeping the ideal focus point on a wildlife subject's eye is a key to that challenge. When a bird or animal turns its head, the ideal composition typically changes just as fast as the head turned, often requiring the AF point to be moved completely across the frame. Swimming ducks can change directions almost instantly. Too often, the subject changes position again before the AF point is in the required new position. Hence, the shots are missed.

In a large percentage of scenarios, the R5's animal eye AF system eliminates the AF point challenge, permitting the photographer to concentrate on proper scene framing with the eye being tracked throughout nearly the entire frame. I have photographed a variety of birds and animals with the R5, including whitetail and mule deer, elk, moose, coyote, ground squirrels, turkeys (ever try to focus on a feeding turkey's head?), green herons, magpies, whistling swans, frogs, and even stuffed animals. The only subject in that list to confound the R5's animal eye AF enough for me to not trust using it nearly 100% of the time was the moose, and with the dark hair surrounding that animal's eye, it is hard to fault the R5 for that one.

Even when not using eye AF, this camera's AI Servo AF tracked moving subjects very accurately

2. The Frame Rate is Fast

Animals move, and capturing the ideal body, leg, and wing position can be critical. The challenge is even greater when multiple subjects are in the frame. Capturing the movement sequence can also be desired. Even when the subjects are standing still (or bedded), there can still be movement in the frame. A drip of water falling from a duck's bill can make the difference between a good shot and a great shot. A moose's big eyebrow lifting even slightly can allow a catchlight or a larger catchlight, increasing the value of the image. If the eye goes closed during a blink (I'm amazed at my ability to time a single shot with a bird closing its necessitating membrane), the image is not likely as attractive to me as an alert, open eye. A fast frame rate can catch the pinnacle point in time.

Fully supporting the fast frame write is the deep buffer coupled with the fast card write speed. Even when writing to SD cards, I barely reached the buffer full state only once.

3. The EVF is Excellent with Lack of Blackout

When shooting in continuous mode, electronic viewfinders typically freeze or blackout while each frame is being captured, and it is very difficult to track a moving subject without being able to see it. The R5 does not have that problem. In addition, the resolution of this EVF is high enough to be able to see when a catchlight appears in the animal's eye along with other important details.

4. The Image Quality is Excellent, Ultra-High Resolution Included

The R5 delivers crisp, high-resolution image quality that is ready to be printed large, and when focal length limited in the field, the EOS R5 provides adequate resolution to crop deeply.

5. The Grip is Adequately-Sized and Comfortable

Spending many hours a day with the camera in hand was not unusual on this trip, and having a significantly-sized, expensive lens hanging from it was the norm. A sore hand developing could cause problems for the remaining days, and a grip slip could spell doom for especially the lens, a big problem when a replacement is not readily available. I find the R5 grip to be comfortable and sure.

6. The Weather Sealing and Build Quality can Save the Day

While the R5 is not built up to the standard of Canon's 1-series cameras, it is solidly built with good weather sealing. The weather is not controllable, and when photographing wildlife, unfavorable conditions are not uncommon. I photographed in a snowstorm in CO, and while photographing moose in Alaska, it was raining lightly nearly the entire time. Sometimes I used a rain cover in AK, but not always.

That this camera is relatively light is a definite bonus when it is being carried for many hours and many miles.

7. The Controls are Intuitive and Customizable

The faster I can adjust the camera settings that are important to me, the faster I can get back in the game. The set of controls provided on the R5 are just right for changing the important wildlife photography-related settings, especially with the M-Fn button programmed to provide the ideal subset of options.

 
I was fortunate to spend nearly 7 hours with the Rocky Mountain National Park bull elk in the image accompanying this post. Few elk have antlers that are larger, more symmetrical, and more perfectly shaped than his set. My time with this brute included the dreaded mid-day hours where harsh shadows and heat waves tend to rule. Amazingly, the edge of a large cloud remained still, blocking the sun during nearly this entire time. The provided light was bright and soft while the heatwave issue was significantly reduced. In this case, the denser portion of the cloud darkened the background, providing a high contrast that, along with the shallow depth of field from the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens, makes the subject stand out.

I prefer to photograph wildlife at their level and often like to be even lowered than eye level to give them a larger appearance (and increase the odds of a catchlight appearing). The low flora in this meadow accommodated a squatted shooting level nicely.

Is the R5's battery life adequate? The pair of Canon LP-E6NH packs in the Canon BG-R10 Battery Grip delivered 4,300 images before giving up on this day. It is easy to add another battery or two to a pocket if this volume is not adequate for your needs.

How do EF lenses perform on the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R? After mounting the adapter, I forgot that it was there. The lens seemed normal during use, and the R5 delivered a considerably higher in-focus rate than I am used to.

Get your Canon EOS R5:

Body: B&H | Adorama | Amazon USA | WEX

w/ RF 24-105 L: B&H | Adorama | Amazon USA


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/2000s  ISO 250
Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Capture a Chillin' Bull Moose Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500mm Lens Capture a Chillin' Bull Moose

I can attest to the sleeping qualities of the tundra. In general, I avoid photographing wildlife from a downward angle, and unless obstructions such as tall grass are present, you will often find me photographing wildlife from a squatted or seated position. However, when the subject is lying down on the ground, it can be especially challenging to get down to their level. In this case, I was flat out, lying down on the tundra alongside this huge bull moose. With the tundra under me, I have seldom had such a comfortable shooting position — a very welcomed restful position after hiking the miles necessary to get to this location.

Shooting handheld, taking advantage of the excellent image stabilization this camera and lens provide, gave me the ability to get into unique positions very quickly on this adventure.


 
159mm  f/5.0  1/125s  ISO 320
Canon EOS R5 Focus Stacking at the Somesville Bridge and Selectmen's Building Canon EOS R5 Focus Stacking at the Somesville Bridge and Selectmen's Building

In my Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 Setup Guide, I indicated that "Focus bracketing" and "Number of bracketed shots" were included on the My Menu tab 2. The R5 is my first daily-use camera to have this feature (one of the first Canon EOS cameras to get it), and I've been anxious to put this feature to use in the field. Remembering that the feature is now a couple of button presses away is the first in-the-field challenge.

The Mount Desert Island Historical Society beautifully maintains the Somesville Bridge, Selectmen's Building, and the surrounding grounds. This includes planter boxes that always hold attractive flowering plant arrangements in the fall. These planters beg to be included in the frame, but including the plants, the bridge, and the building in the same frame requires extreme depth of field for all details to be sharp. Extreme depth of field generally requires a very narrow aperture, and a very narrow aperture generally results in a diffraction-softened image.

Focus bracketing solves this problem.

For this picture, the focal length that best composed the scene was first selected, and the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Tripod with an RRS BH-40 Ball Head was moved into a somewhat awkward position to lock the composition down. ISO 100 was selected for the least noise, f/11 was selected to gain a significant depth of field for each image (f/8 would have been a good alternative in hindsight), and the shutter speed, 1/10 sec., was selected for the final exposure brightness, just bright enough to cause minor overexposed highlights on the bridge (blinking during image review). The R5's "Focus bracketing" was enabled and the "Number of bracketed shots" was set to 15.

With the lens in AF mode, the focus spot was placed over the closest subject, the ornamental cabbage flower. When the shutter release was pressed using the 2-second self-timer mode, the camera took a series of images. While I selected 15 bracketed shots in the menu, the camera knew that only four were required for this scenario.

In Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), the four RAW images were selected, and the Tools > Depth Compositing > Start depth compositing tool menu option was selected. The default settings were used to output a 16-bit TIFF file that only required minor adjustments unrelated to focus.

My wife thinks the cabbage is too big relative to the background elements, but moving into the street to capture a more distant view was not a good idea from a safety perspective, and that perspective would have resulted in sidewalk and other less attractive elements being included in the frame. Harder to argue against is that the flowers provide lots of color in the frame. Regardless, hopefully the ease of creating a focus bracketed image with the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6 is illuminated.


 
24mm  f/11.0  1/10s  ISO 100
2.5 Seconds, 70mm, No Tripod, Cadillac Mountain Moonrise 2.5 Seconds, 70mm, No Tripod, Cadillac Mountain Moonrise

On the Acadia National Park bucket list is to be the first person (or more accurately, among the first group of people) in the USA to see the sun on that day. Checking off that item requires an early morning drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Leading a small workshop on this day meant my priority was to make sure each participant was in their preferred location with their camera set up and ready for the action to start. With that goal accomplished, I moved into the next-best location and locked a Canon EOS R5 and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head into a sunrise-ready position.

During this setup, the incredible scene unfolding on the horizon had my attention. A tiny crescent moon is a great supporting element. Combine that feature with a strong, colorful pre-sunrise or post-sunset gradient in the sky and throw in some water and mountains, and images I like are easy to create.

While this scene was in my locked-down composition, even 35mm does not render the moon a substantial size in the frame. Fortunately, the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens and another R5 were in my MindShift Gear BackLight 26L. What was not along was my second tripod, and I did not want to lose the locked-down composition held by the first. So, I sat down on the rocks, rested arms on knees, and began shooting with the settings that would have been used if tripod-mounted. Those settings were ISO 100 for the least noise, f/8 for considerable depth of field and reduced vignetting, and the shutter speed necessary to yield a right-aligned histogram.

That shutter speed was 2.5 seconds, a very long 70mm exposure without a tripod. Amazingly, all of the dozens of images captured at this and, later, faster shutter speeds were sharp. There was no need to use a higher ISO or a wider aperture setting — or a tripod. This is impressive performance from the R5 and RF 70-200 combination.

It is often easy to create nice landscape images with telephoto focal lengths, and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is a great landscape lens. This image is simple — minimalistic. The dark mountain provides a base to the image, and the waterline is positioned approximately 1/3 into the frame. The position of the 3.2% waning crescent moon and silhouetted evergreen trees work together to create an overall balance to the scene. While many rules can be used for composition, overall balance is what I usually look for first.


 
70mm  f/8.0  2.5s  ISO 100
Wide Aspect Ratio Cadillac Mountain Sunnrise, Acadia National Park Wide Aspect Ratio Cadillac Mountain Sunnrise, Acadia National Park

In the 2.5 Seconds, 70mm, No Tripod, Cadillac Mountain Moonrise post, I shared that I had locked a Canon EOS R5 and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Mk2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and BH-40 Ball Head into a sunrise-ready position. It seemed logical to share the image that setup captured next.

I love photographing when the sun is below me and visible. In this case, a location with significant unshaded area (sloping toward the sun) (and void of people) was selected. Granite rock provides a solid foundation, and the evergreens on the right aid in framing the scene.

When the sun is in the frame, an HDR capture is often the ideal strategy. This capture involved using auto exposure bracketing (AEB) set to 5-shots 1-stop apart with the exposure adjusted so the brightest and darkest images had detail in the shadows and highlights, respectively. With the 2-second self-timer enabled, the shutter release simply needed to be pressed for the bracketed sequence to be captured, followed by shooting a few more frames with the other camera. Repeat until the scene decreased in photogenic value.

I use a variety of HDR software but selected Lightroom for this one. The set of images that seemed optimal (the sun reflecting in the water influenced this choice) were selected and processed.

You likely already noticed that this image is not in the typical out-of-the-camera 3:2 aspect ratio. There are two ways to get the aspect ratio shared here. Ideal from a final resolution perspective is to stitch multiple images together. Capturing and processing an HDR pano adds complications, and with the ultra-high resolution of the R5, the other option, cropping, proved easier with a very sufficient final resolution. The primary reason for this final aspect ratio was that the cropped away sky was not adding value to the image.

Some minor cleanup in Photoshop resulted in the picture shared here.

Why f/16? At 15mm, f/11 would have provided adequate depth of field for this scene and exhibited less softening from diffraction, but f/16 is a compromise that provides a stronger sunstar, a strong element in this image.


 
15mm  f/16.0  1/4s  ISO 100
Canon EOS R5 Catches Portrait of a Huge Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park Canon EOS R5 Catches Portrait of a Huge Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park

Do adapted EF lenses work well with the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R6? Yes! Adapted EF lenses will continue working as well on a Canon EOS R-series camera as they always did on your favorite DSLR. With the improved AF performance of the latest mirrorless models, you might find your EF lenses performing even better than before. A significant EF lens kit should not be a hindrance to a mirrorless migration.

I love clean wildlife portraits with beautiful frame-filling subjects. Our workshop crew referred to this bull elk as "Incredibull". For 2020, this elk was sporting a huge, symmetrical 6x6 rack – easily one of the best-looking racks I've seen. I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings for this beast.

The soft portrait lighting seen here is courtesy of a lenticular cloud hovering over the meadow. With the edge of the cloud covering the sun, soft, bright light was provided for most of the over 7 hours I spent with this bull and his cows.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/640s  ISO 400
Sunrise behind the Alaska Range, Denali National Park Sunrise behind the Alaska Range, Denali National Park

With a very early alarm in the past and the road lottery ticket on the windshield, a friend and I drove the lead vehicle deep into Denali National Park this morning. We were focused on photographing the Denali peak at first light, but with color in the sky and fog in the foreground, I couldn't resist pausing for a few moments to capture this image.

This scene is one of the many reasons the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is part of my standard landscape kit. With the mentioned goal remaining a high priority, this was a jump out of the car, sit, shoot, and jump back in the car scenario. With no time for tripod setup, the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 combination IS was counted on to make the shot sharp, and it did.

When driving by a scene that calls for a photo, I often regret not heeding that call. The captured image is usually worth far more than the very little time and effort the stop typically requires. This was one of the latter cases. Within three minutes of stopping, we were back on the road.


 
118mm  f/8.0  1/25s  ISO 200
Hypothetically Speaking: Let's Say You Visit Your Daughter at College. Hypothetically Speaking: Let's Say You Visit Your Daughter at College.

Hypothetically speaking: Let's say that you visit your daughter at college. She is on the track and field team but will not be running the time trial event occurring while you are there due to her having overtrained. You, of course, brought a camera kit, but without expectation of your daughter running, you packed light.

Upon arrival, you learn that she is going to do "a few laps." Fortunately, your light kit included the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, an impressive lens that is sports-capable, and you were able to capture some nice pics of your daughter on the track. Since you were actively photographing, you also captured some nice pics to share with her teammates.

The 20-fps drive mode meant that the perfect body position could be captured in every pass, despite the relatively short optimal framing window the 70-200mm focal length range offers. Perfect body position except that you were positioned near the starting line where your daughter glanced at her watch as each lap was completed. Eye detection AF meant the framing was the photographer's primary remaining job to be concentrated on during the race. Well, their primary job until having to process the over 1,000 in-focus images delivered by the Canon EOS R5's 20 fps drive mode in a short time.

The image quality at 20 fps was superb until the sun began to set. Then the flickering stadium lighting began to show some mild banding in your full electronic shutter images. Fortunately, only the last lap was affected by this condition (which could have been avoiding by using the still-fast mechanical first curtain shutter).

After the time trial ended, cool-down runs were over, and the team meeting was finished, your daughter says, "Hey Dad, can you take a team photo?" Your only valid response to this question is "Sure!" As you care about your images, you are not willing to make this a simple snapshot. That these kids have worked hard for years to make this team makes a good team photo especially important.

Your first assessment is the available lighting. This one is easy. The sun set a long time ago, and the only lights available (you did not bring strobes) are the four large stadium lights, two evenly located on each side of the field.

You know that the image background is very important and decide that the home stadium seating provides a clean, non-distracting background, along with giving the image a relevant location.

To get balanced lighting and a symmetrical background, you move the 19-member team down to the centerline of the soccer field inside the track. As mentioned already, and as is frequently the case, the stadium lighting was the flickering type. The Canon EOS R5 and R6 can avoid that issue for you, but a 1/100 second shutter speed is slow enough for the flicker to not cause a problem without using the flicker avoidance feature.

The team was very cooperative with great attitudes. Upon seeing how the double-cross lighting with the stadium background looked in the image review, the excitement increased, and additional photo requests begin flowing in: individuals, with friends, with boyfriends, with roommates, silly photos, tough and serious poses, etc.

The RF 70-200 was again the perfect lens option. The widest focal length is long enough to force adequate subject distance to eliminate group photo perspective issues, including the people in the front row appearing much larger than those in the back row (keeping the rows close to each other also helps in this regard). The individual and small group images were also easily captured by this focal length range.

Your dinner was late this evening.

After spending many hours processing and uploading the images to a private SmugMug gallery for the teammates to access, you wonder if it was such a good idea to take the camera in the first place.

Of course, it was.

OK, maybe I am not hypothetically speaking in this case. However, this scenario is a quite common one — be ready for it. Consider using the same lens and easy subject-on-night-sports-field strategy for your athlete subjects.


 
95mm  f/4.0  1/100s  ISO 1250
When the Conditions are Unusual, Embrace the Opportunity, Bull Elk in RMNP When the Conditions are Unusual, Embrace the Opportunity, Bull Elk in RMNP

When the conditions at a destination are not as we expected or as we hoped they would be, we tend to get discouraged. However, when those circumstances are unusual, we can capture images that look different. With the extreme number of images being captured today, different is very positive.

The massive wildfires in the western USA were timed with the elk rut in Colorado this year, and the resulting smoke was not a welcome aspect of this Rocky Mountain National Park trip. While the smoke eliminated sky and sunlight color at sunrise and sunset and prevented clear viewing of the milky way and stars, the look of wildlife images captured under a late morning sun was different — and improved. As seen here, the harsh shadows were strongly reduced, and the background has an interesting low contrast appearance that makes the closer subject stand out in the image.

This image is an 86MP panorama captured with the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens. At this moment, the bull came in too close for a 600mm lens to capture the composition I wanted.

When over-focal-lengthed for a situation, attempt to capture the composition's in-motion portion in a single frame. For wildlife and portrait photography, the in-motion part usually includes the head and may include the entire body. For landscape, the in-motion subjects may be a stream or an ocean. After capturing the in-motion portion of the composition, quickly capture the desired additional pieces of the frame in subsequent images, ideally using the same focal length (easy with a prime lens), the same focus distance (switching the lens to MF after the first capture makes this easy), and, preferably, the same exposure settings (manual exposure makes this easy but brightness differences can be resolved when editing the individual RAW files). If there is potential subject motion not contained in the first frame (the back legs of the bull in this example), the immediate second frame should capture that potential motion.

Later, stitch the images together using your favorite image processor. The image shared here was manually merged in Photoshop. The images were stacked, and the hard edges between the frames were removed using a layer mask with a soft-edged brush painting black over the edge of the top image mask.

Another teaching point from this image is the camera position. By photographing from down low, more of the elk is shown against the mountain vs. the meadow and the already-large animal is made to appear even larger.

An exceptional subject always helps overcome any shortcomings in an image. Shown here is, among the animals I've photographed, my all-time favorite set of antlers. The overall size is huge with good mass, the points are long, and the symmetry is impressive. I can't wait to see what this bull grows next year.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 400
Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Catches Little Green Heron in Hunting Pose Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lens Catches Little Green Heron in Hunting Pose

When Canon introduced the RF 600mm F11 IS STM and RF 800mm F11 IS STM Lenses, a primary shortcoming was recognized. The F11 in the name gave many of us reason to pause – who would want a lens that only opens to f/11?

When shooting birds at relatively close distance with a long focal length, it is challenging to keep the entire head and bill in focus, and a narrow aperture is the solution. This lens is built for that specific solution, and bird photography is a good use for this lens.

The f/11 fixed aperture brings significant benefits, including light weight, compact size, and low price, and these features meet a range of other needs. Those not able to (or do not want to) carry heavy gear around, those not able to afford the expensive glass, beginners, kids, etc. are loving this lens and its 600mm sibling. These new RF lenses fill that niche.

The Canon EOS R5's animal eye AF performs incredibly well with this and other bird subjects. While the f/11 max aperture reduces the camera's AF area (and pushes ISO settings up), there was no need to select a specific AF point to keep this little green heron's eye in focus within that area. Simply frame and shoot. The bird turned its head? Frame and shoot. It's game-changing.


 
800mm  f/11.0  1/250s  ISO 5000
A Beast Emerges, Massive Bull Moose, Alaska A Beast Emerges, Massive Bull Moose, Alaska

There is something incredibly photogenic about a huge, dangerous animal emerging from dense cover. Seeing the large paddles approaching through the brush is a bucket list-grade experience.

Often, the key to wildlife photography is predicting where the animal is headed, selecting a photogenic environment along that path, and being in that place with a ready camera. Though highly simplified, that plan sometimes works, as in this case. Getting non-obstructed moose images meant finding the next opening on the moose's route.

The Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens were a perfect handheld combination for this run-and-gun pursuit.


 
159mm  f/5.0  1/500s  ISO 2500
Sunrise at Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, CA Sunrise at Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, CA

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.


 
31mm  f/10.0  0.5s  ISO 100
Elk Bugling in the Smoke, Rocky Mountain National Park Elk Bugling in the Smoke, Rocky Mountain National Park

I love a challenge, and photographing outdoors often presents many challenges. When planning my Rocky Mountain National Park trip, I considered many factors for the timing. Smoke was not one of them.

Smoke filling the air was troublesome overall, but this scenario illustrated making the most of a unique situation. The decreased air clarity meant that contrast decreased rapidly with distance, creating distinct layers of mountains.

I love a tight portrait of a beautiful animal, but it is often more challenging to include that animal in a beautiful landscape. Environmental wildlife images require the photographer to think like a landscape photographer – and a portrait photographer.

My favorite Canon lenses for environmental wildlife photography are the RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens.

Sony camera owners should consider the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens for this purpose. While the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is a great wildlife lens and has a long end advantage, I sometimes find 200mm to not be wide enough for this type of imagery. That said, this range would have worked great for this photo.


 
300mm  f/8.0  1/500s  ISO 125
The Canon EOS R5 Takes on Extreme Dynamic Range During Intense Denali NP Sunset The Canon EOS R5 Takes on Extreme Dynamic Range During Intense Denali NP Sunset

Direct sun on snow delivers an extremely bright subject. Evergreen trees in the shade are an extremely dark subject. This scene provided both.

While an overhead sun is a bit brighter than a setting sun, this a very intense sunset scene. Bracketing exposures for potential HDR use is the safe way to photograph such a scene, but I was shooting handheld with the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens and relied on the Canon EOS R5's capabilities to capture all of the brightness levels in this scene in a single exposure.

When photographing landscape at sunrise and sunset, the red channel is usually the one to watch. The light is strongly warm-toned, and the directly lit portion of the scene will push the red channel high on the histogram.

In Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), this image's exposure was reduced by 1 stop, bringing the red channel in the brightest pixels to at or just below 255, with detail remaining in this channel. The foreground was then processed at a brighter setting and combined in Photoshop.

The setting sun hitting the tops of the Alaska Range and the clouds whisping over it in Denali National Park was breathtaking. Or, maybe I was just holding my breath too much while shooting furiously.


 
223mm  f/8.0  1/40s  ISO 200
When the Sun Rises Below You, Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park When the Sun Rises Below You, Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

When you have to look down to see the sun rising, you know you are in a great location, and Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is such a location. This particular morning greeted our group with extraordinary sky color – this image is practically right out of the camera.

Telephoto lenses are excellent choices for filling the frame with the color of a sunrise or sunset. The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens was the choice for this morning. It's a superb lens. At least that is the lens I originally thought I captured this image with. I later realized that the EXIF indicated the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens was the lens responsible for this image. The two lenses are interchangeable at this focal length.


 
70mm  f/8.0  1/50s  ISO 100
Finding Order in the Chaos, Rocky Mountain National Park Finding Order in the Chaos, Rocky Mountain National Park

There are many scenes that are beautiful to view, but not all are photogenic. On this snowy morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, there was plenty of beauty visible (after the storm subsided). However, I was experiencing a common landscape photography challenge. From a composition perspective, the beauty was lacking the order my eye sought to create an attractive image.

Upon entering a small clearing, I found what I was looking for. The trees had adequate light to grow tightly together, and there was balance in the form of tree size.

When hiking, I typically carry the gear in a backpack, and the MindShift Gear BackLight 18L was the choice for this hike. Because it takes time and effort to access a backpack's contents, I find myself passing up photo opportunities of marginally attractive scenes. The potential reward vs. time and effort required ratio is not high enough. Carrying a camera and lens in a toploader case keeps a camera and lens well protected while significantly increasing accessibility. The Canon EOS R5 and RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, my favorite landscape camera and lens combination, were chosen for the toploader case.

Most scenes offer a variety of compositions. Spending time working the scene, assessing the various camera position and focal length combinations, typically leads to the best images.

My assessment of this scenario was that a level camera, keeping the trees straight, was optimal. While I liked just the trees in the frame, adding a base to the image (the ground) seemed best (and the R5's resolution makes changing one's mind later an easy option). A standing position at 35mm gave me the level camera with a bit of the foreground inclusion I was seeking.

I love symmetry in photography. While natural forest is not typically symmetrical, this scene yielded rather well in this regard. The size and shape of the trees are similar on each side of the central gap.

I waited a long time to share this image (along with a Merry Christmas message) — until winter. However, this image was captured in the summer. Sharing a snowy picture in the summer seemed wrong.


 
35mm  f/8.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Canon EOS R5 and RF 70-200mm F4 L IS Lens Running with the Big Dogs Canon EOS R5 and RF 70-200mm F4 L IS Lens Running with the Big Dogs

Let me introduce you to "Nala," my oldest daughter's year-old goldendoodle. I was looking for a subject to challenge the new Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens for the review, and Nala happily volunteered. She maintained a great spirit for 25 minutes until the session ended abruptly when another dog arrived.

Not long ago, capturing an eye-sharp image of a big dog in a great pose while running (bouncing) full speed toward and close to the camera was extremely challenging. With the Canon EOS R5's incredible animal eye AF combined with the 20 fps frame rate and the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens in front of it, the biggest challenge of this shoot was deciding which of the 1,400+ images on the ProGrade Digital 325GB CFexpress 2.0 Cobalt Memory Card to keep.

Bright white snow is a strong auto-exposure influencer, typically causing the camera to underexpose images. With bright white snow filling greatly differing percentages of the frame during each dog pass, exposure compensation was not optimal. Thus, my most frequently used exposure mode, manual, was the ideal choice.

This shoot's goal was to challenge the camera and lens AF system, so the shallow depth of field provided by a wide-open aperture was best, providing little margin for error. The wide-open aperture in combination with the longest focal length provided the strongest background blur possible, making the subject stand out.

Next, the shutter speed was selected, with freezing motion the goal. I opted for 1/1250-1/1600, choices that proved marginally short enough for this fast dog in some instances.

ISO was the last image brightness factor to be applied. As a rule, snow in the sun should be nearly blown-out white. To determine the optimal brightness, the histogram is the proper tool. The ISO setting was increased until the brightest pixels were registering nearly against histogram graph's right side. Note that the blinkies will likely show before color channel capacities are reached. Use the histogram.

This day was cloudy, and cloudy skies often bring brightness changes. Thus, the histogram required monitoring for ISO adjustment needs.

With the R5 in face and eye detection mode and animal eye AF selected, the remaining job was to keep the dog in the frame while holding down the shutter release as my daughter repeatedly positioned and ran Nala toward the camera.

With the R5 and a good lens, getting the perfect action shots is (often) only a small challenge.


 
200mm  f/4.0  1/1250s  ISO 250
Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens and The Lone Oak Tree in the Snow Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens and The Lone Oak Tree in the Snow

A few months ago, I noticed a large oak tree standing alone at the top of a field in the countryside not far from home. I made a mental note of the interesting tree, keeping that photo opportunity in the pocket for later application.

Right after a recent snowstorm and during the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens review seemed like the perfect timing to photograph this lone tree. The snow minimalized the scene's details, and the lens was a perfect choice to capture it. I pulled the SUV into a snowbank to get out of traffic (there was little on this country road), turned off the vehicle (eliminating the vibration), and photographed the tree until I couldn't think of any more compositions to try and adding any more insurance shots seemed complete overkill.

This scene was filled with bright subjects. At most, changes in lighting through the thick clouds happened slowly. Thus, a manual exposure that pushed the histogram graph to the right edge proved perfect. In this image, ISO 100 provides low noise, f/8 yielded adequate depth of field, and 1/160 with image stabilization activated made getting sharp elbow-rested photos easy.

The focal lengths in the 70-200mm range are among my most used for landscape photography. These focal lengths provide angles of view that make good compositions easy to find. While parked along this road, I used all of these focal lengths, with the tree filling various percentages of the frame, ranging from the 70mm result shared here to the tree nearly filling the frame. An example of the 70-200mm focal length range using this tree is shared in the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens review.

I shoot a lot of action and other images where timing is critical to get the perfect shot, with a stress-induced adrenaline rush typically accompanying the moment. A nice change for this image was that I had as much time as I cared to take. The tree was not moving, the snow was not melting, and the clouds were unchanging.

At the longer focal lengths, not much time was needed to get the good compositions. At the wider focal lengths, there was considerably more freedom to position the tree in the minimalistic scene within the frame. My favorite tree position at 70mm is shared here, but I also like the tree toward the upper left, and the tree centered at the bottom in a vertical orientation also looks great (at my wife's request, I ordered a metal print of that image this morning).


 
70mm  f/8.0  1/160s  ISO 100
Bedded Bull Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park Bedded Bull Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park

More precisely, a big beautiful bedded bull elk bugling in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Stay with an elk long enough, and it will bed down, and a stationary subject is easier to photograph than a moving one.

However, once bedded, obstructions (such as grass or trees) are often an issue. This cooperative bull opted to bed in a meadow with short grass, meaning that foreground obstructions were not an issue.

The background can typically be counted on to present a challenge, and distractions are among the most frequently encountered issues.

In this image, the first background distraction avoidance strategy was to blur it away. The Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens rises to that challenge. The bokeh capability of many ultra-wide aperture lenses is raved about, but the 600mm f/4 combination is unsurpassed for diffusely blurring the background. The 600mm f/4 combination smooths the strong contrasting background lines, such as trees, that would otherwise catch the viewer's eye, distracting from the subject.

The big in-the-field challenge is aligning the subject within the background. Once it is bedded down, you know where the animal will be for at least a short time — usually long enough time to allow perfecting of the composition. In this scenario, the goal was to avoid strong lines and color differences intersecting the animal's body and antlers.

I love a low shooting position when photographing elk (and most animals). While this image was captured from a low position, the position was high enough for the elk's back to remain below the brush behind it.

For many, it is all about the antlers. The camera position that placed the rack between the background trees also worked well for the animal.

A sleeping animal is usually not too exciting (unless it is a baby). Fortunately, during the rut, bull elk make use of their downtime. When bugling (one of my favorite sounds), elk raise their heads which lowers their antlers for my also-favorite elk body position.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/320s  ISO 200
Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska

Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500 Lens Create Giant Bull Moose Environmental Portrait, Alaska When the subject is in a great environment, incorporating that environment into the portrait is usually the priority. While I love tightly-framed wildlife portraits, capturing a great environmental portrait is a more significant challenge.

Of course, with that set of antlers in the frame it is difficult to take a bad picture.

As is so often the case, the Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens were a perfect handheld combination for this run-and-gun pursuit.

Right, the 1/200 shutter speed is a relatively long exposure for photographing close wildlife. The beast paused (he was watching a cow) long enough for me to roll the shutter speed down to this setting. With auto ISO selected in manual exposure mode, the camera then chose a very low noise ISO setting despite the dark light levels.


 
100mm  f/4.5  1/200s  ISO 500
Athletic Graduation Portrait After Sunset with the Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L Lens Athletic Graduation Portrait After Sunset with the Canon RF 50mm F1.2 L Lens

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.


 
50mm  f/1.2  1/30s  ISO 2500
Bull Elk Intently Watching Herd, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Intently Watching Herd, Rocky Mountain National Park

A bull elk with an incredible set of antlers intently watches his herd of cows in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Strongly blurring the background while keeping an animal this large comfortably in the frame requires a long focal length and wide aperture. The 600mm and f/4 combination is unsurpassed for meeting that challenge. In this case, it was the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens getting that job done.

Behind the lens was the Canon EOS R5.

While the pose shown in this image does not appear to be an AF challenge, this bull was constantly in motion. The elk moving in all directions meant that the required AF point was continuously changing. Chasing the animal's eye with a focus point used to be a considerable challenge — and stress. With the R5's game-changing animal eye AF performing incredibly well, the person behind the camera can better enjoy following the animal in the frame.

As I've said many times before, low shooting positions work great for photographing elk (and most other animals). This scenario permitting going low and a few quick leg lock twists on the Robus RCM-439 Carbon Fiber Monopod placed me there. This position pushed the bright grasses lower in the frame, with the dark blurred evergreens creating an excellent background for the elk's head and antlers.

Elk in Rut and More, Rocky Mountain National Park Workshop 2021 Special Offer

Be at my hotel near the Denver airport in the morning on Sat, 9/25/2021, or meet me at the house in Estes Park late in the afternoon, and you can join me a day early for a soft start to this transportation-provided workshop! There is only one opening remaining for this year. Contact me for more information.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/1600s  ISO 800
Run and Gun with the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500, Incoming Bull Moose, Alaska Run and Gun with the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100-500, Incoming Bull Moose, Alaska

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.


 
200mm  f/5.0  1/500s  ISO 200
4 Minutes of a Lightning-Spewing Thunderstorm, Badlands National Park 4 Minutes of a Lightning-Spewing Thunderstorm, Badlands National Park

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.


 
70mm  f/2.8  30s  ISO 200
Reflecting Pink from a Clear Sky, Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve Reflecting Pink from a Clear Sky, Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

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.


 
70mm  f/8.0  0.4s  ISO 100
A Gnarly Mountain Sunset Silhouette in Badlands National Park A Gnarly Mountain Sunset Silhouette in Badlands National Park

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.


 
100mm  f/5.6  1/100s  ISO 100
A Walk in the Garden with the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens A Walk in the Garden with the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens

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.


 
100mm  f/2.8  1/640s  ISO 100
When Bad is Good, Sunset in Badlands National Park When Bad is Good, Sunset in Badlands National Park

While badlands may be bad for farming and inhabiting, they are awesome for photography. Late spring brings the storm season to Badlands National Park, and the clouds associated with stormy weather bring the sky color that makes landscape photographers drool.

I can't think of any scenarios I like better than the sun shining under heavy cloud cover immediately before setting. The flat prairie often provides very late in the day ultra-warm, direct sunlight, which was the case this evening.

With a close foreground and a very distant background, this scene called for the use of the Canon EOS R5's focus shift feature.

A very high (100) number of images setting was selected, indicating that the camera should create sharpness until infinity. The closest subject in the frame was focused on, and with the press of the shutter, the R5 determined that two frames were adequate for this 15mm f/11 capture. The Depth Compositing tool in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) merged the two images.

In this case, some soft areas remained in the seams in the lower left and lower right regions of the merged image. A Photoshop overlay using a small portion of the sharp foreground image corrected this issue.


 
15mm  f/11.0  0.5s  ISO 100
Huge Bull Moose Appears Out of the Fog Huge Bull Moose Appears Out of the Fog

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.


 
114mm  f/4.5  1/200s  ISO 2500
Exposing a Big Badlands Sunrise, Badlands National Park Exposing a Big Badlands Sunrise, Badlands National Park

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.


 
15mm  f/11.0  5s  ISO 100
Snow Capped Mountains at Hatcher Pass, Mat-Su Valley, Alaska Snow Capped Mountains at Hatcher Pass, Mat-Su Valley, Alaska

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.


 
28mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100
Water Carved, Badlands National Park Water Carved, Badlands National Park

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.


 
15mm  f/11.0  1/50s  ISO 100
Exercising the Red Channel, Sunrise in Badlands National Park Exercising the Red Channel, Sunrise in Badlands National Park

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.


 
15mm  f/11.0  1/20s  ISO 100
Put a Sky Behind It, Bull Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park Put a Sky Behind It, Bull Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

When you get a good but fleeting photo opportunity, you shoot continuously, capturing as many images as possible in the time allotted. When your gear (and you) are performing well, even a small window of shooting time can create a challenging selection project later. Probably no one wants to see 100 images of the same scenario, so at some point, you have to pick one (or a few) to call the best.

That was the case in the results from this morning shoot, thanks to a lone bull meandering to the top of a grassy ridge as the sun rose behind a solitary tree. I think lone trees with character are interesting subjects. So often, a significant portion of a composition is background, and the sky often makes a great background, especially for lone trees and especially at sunrise or sunset.

Having a bull elk to go along with the sunrise silhouetted tree took the point score up a few levels. The problem (a good problem) was that selecting an individual image from this encounter was a challenge.

Why did I select this one?

Overall, it seemed that the composition had a good balance. The dark ground creates a nice base for the image, and the bright clouds appear to arch over the tree at this moment. The elk is in a readily identifiable position, with all four legs clearly delineated.

When you see a faunascape, take advantage of it. Sure, I love tightly framed wildlife portraits, but a pleasing landscape background with an animal in it is another, often greater, challenge.

A great feature of the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens is the vast range of focal lengths it places at your fingertips. In this case, the RF 100-500 enabled a rapid selection of wide to tight compositions. Awesome lens.


 
200mm  f/5.0  1/125s  ISO 250
Stuck to a Pine Tree in Rocky Mountain National Park Stuck to a Pine Tree in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.


 
186mm  f/5.0  1/320s  ISO 1600
Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens and a Shenandoah National Park Sunset Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM Lens and a Shenandoah National Park Sunset

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.


 
16mm  f/11.0  1/10s  ISO 100
Fun with the Canon RF 100-500mm: Are You Watching for Patterns and Textures? Fun with the Canon RF 100-500mm: Are You Watching for Patterns and Textures?

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.


 
100mm  f/11.0  1/60s  ISO 100
Red Berries Among Trunks and Branches in Shenandoah National Park Red Berries Among Trunks and Branches in Shenandoah National Park

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.


 
325mm  f/11.0  1/125s  ISO 100
Bull Elk in the Meadow, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk in the Meadow, Rocky Mountain National Park

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.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/400s  ISO 1250
Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park

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.


 
48mm  f/11.0  1/15s  ISO 100
Canon RF 100-500mm Lens Captures Cow Moose with Big Bull in Rut Canon RF 100-500mm Lens Captures Cow Moose with Big Bull in Rut

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.


 
100mm  f/11.0  1/400s  ISO 1000
Guarding the Lamb in Badlands National Park Guarding the Lamb in Badlands National Park

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.


 
135mm  f/11.0  1/250s  ISO 100
Aftermath of the East Troublesome Forest Fire, Rocky Mountain National Park Aftermath of the East Troublesome Forest Fire, Rocky Mountain National Park

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.


 
451mm  f/8.0  1/60s  ISO 160
Battle of the Bulls, Rocky Mountain National Park Battle of the Bulls, Rocky Mountain National Park

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.


 
176mm  f/5.0  1/3200s  ISO 320
Camouflaged Willow Ptarmigan in Alaska Camouflaged Willow Ptarmigan in Alaska

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.


 
500mm  f/7.1  1/400s  ISO 320
Bull Elk Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park Bull Elk Bugling, Rocky Mountain National Park

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.


 
600mm  f/4.0  1/500s  ISO 1250
Focus Bracketing the Ponderosa Pines with the Canon EOS R5 Focus Bracketing the Ponderosa Pines with the Canon EOS R5

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.


 
35mm  f/8.0  0.5s  ISO 100
Why I Don't Use Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filters — The Loche, RMNP Why I Don't Use Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filters — The Loche, RMNP

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.


 
17mm  f/11.0  0.3s  ISO 100
Shadows Rule, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park Shadows Rule, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park

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.


 
31mm  f/11.0  1/20s  ISO 100
How to Expose a Silhouette, Bull Moose, Alaska How to Expose a Silhouette, Bull Moose, Alaska

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.


 
270mm  f/5.6  1/200s  ISO 800
In a Crevice, Focus Bracketed Panorama, Lathe Arch, Alabama Hills In a Crevice, Focus Bracketed Panorama, Lathe Arch, Alabama Hills

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.


 
22mm  f/11.0  1/8s  ISO 100
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

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.


 
32mm  f/11.0  1/8s  ISO 100
Colorful Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park Colorful Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

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.


 
24mm  f/11.0  0.5s  ISO 160
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