Gorton Creek’s Cascades   9 comments

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A small falls along Gorton Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Gorton Creek tumbles down one of the formerly not well known little side-canyons in the Columbia River Gorge.  Now, like the Gorge itself, it is fairly popular with photographers.  This verdant place is even on many photo workshop itineraries.  That’s because it’s a short hike in, is very green, and has two lovely waterfalls that are not well visited generally.

Parking at the end of the campground just off the Wyeth exit, a 1/4-mile walk will take you to the first falls, which is so small it has no official name.  The second one, called Gorton Creek Falls, involves either scrambling up along the steep left side of the creek on a user-made path, or hopping rocks and logs along the creek proper, and probably getting your feet wet.  It’s only another 1/4 mile up the creek.

Gorton Creek Falls.

The second method is good if you want to get pictures along the creek, but it’s best to have shoes or sandals that can get wet.  The potential shots are more numerous when water is high, in late winter and early spring.  This year the water is fairly low, which means it’s easier to hop rocks up the creek but harder to get good creek shots (in my opinion).

In fact on this recent visit, for the first time, I didn’t do any creek pictures, only shooting the two waterfalls.  The bottom image is from a previous year, in high spring flow.  The more rain, the greener everything is.  So it’s wise to try and plan a trip to the Gorge during or at the end of a wet springtime.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek's verdant little canyon.

A long exposure in gathering dusk of Gorton Creek’s verdant little canyon.

Friday Foto Talk: Photography Today – The Great (and not so great)   9 comments

Rocky Butte (Portland) and its photogenic lampposts.

Rocky Butte (Portland) and its photogenic lampposts.

I’ll be doing a series of short posts on what I like and don’t like about the current state of photography.  It won’t be every Friday; boy would that be a mistake!   But occasionally I’ll let my opinions fly, starting today with how easy it is to get started in photography.

Desert indian paintbrush in bloom, Utah.

Desert indian paintbrush in bloom, Utah.

LIKES:  Today we have digital, and that has made a big difference in the ease of getting into photography.  Although I don’t think that digital camera gear is especially cheap, I do agree the price points at which you can enter are always expanding.  Especially when the plentiful amount of used gear is considered, there is room for most anyone with some spare money to start shooting.

  • DSLR (and now mirrorless) cameras, while they may not be much easier to operate than film SLRs, are much easier to use to get good exposure & focus and to control contrast and other basics of a good image.

 

  • I love not worrying about how much film I have, and the experimentation that fosters.  I don’t know what I’d do if I had to limit the number of shots I take.  I like choosing to limit them from time to time, but I don’t want to be forced to.

 

  • The ability to control the process from capture to finish (without building a darkroom and exposing yourself to chemicals) is a great advance.  If we had to do all our own post-processing, this development might represent a “tyranny of choice”, but there are plenty of options for shipping out your images for outside post-processing.

Weather in the Columbia River Gorge.

Spirit Falls, Washington.

Spirit Falls, Washington.

DISLIKES:  This increased ease of entry has led to many many relatively new photographers.  While this isn’t at all bad by itself, it does lead to quite a few unfortunate byproducts:

  • My number one dislike is the illusion that to produce images of professional quality (whatever that means), all you need to do is follow a formula, one that begins with buying the latest and greatest gear.  Yes the increased ease of use inherent in digital photography means you can advance quite rapidly.  But I strongly believe it remains extremely difficult to become a great photographer.  That’s because it’s about much more than gear, technical knowledge, or even technique.
Two snapping turtles appear to canoodle in a Florida canal.

Two snapping turtles appear to canoodle in a Florida canal.

 

  • An increase in the number of ‘teachers’ of photography is probably contributing to my prime dislike above.  I was a teacher (of science) for a number of years, and while I do not think one needs to go to school to become a good teacher, I do think there are far too many teaching photography who don’t bother to learn a bit about how to teach.  Rather they are simply doing it because of demand and the fact it is one of the few ways to make money doing travel, nature and landscape photography.

 

  • I also cringe at some of the things these self-described experts pass along.  Just one example:  too many don’t seem to realize photography is an art form and needs to be practiced as such.  It’s not simply a way to create images that are similar to theirs, those that get a lot of likes and ‘wows’ online.

 

Bella the Magnificent!

 

  •  While I like the fact that easy entry has put a camera in the hands of those who may have never tried, and who happen to have great natural talent, it unfortunately allows many others to participate in the boom.  For instance, I don’t think all the gear heads and people more interested in slick post-processing should be calling themselves serious photographers.  Now before you think me a snob, I think there is plenty of room for the casual and the serious, the amateur and the pro.  But there does seem to be dilution going on among those who call themselves artists.

 

  • The strange combination among us humans of competitiveness and the desire to belong (and thus follow others), means that popular photography has become a game of follow the leader (who is getting all the ‘likes’).  If you’ve read this blog a bit, you know how I feel about copying and following what is popular on the web.  I know it is just us being us, but it squelches genuine artistic impulse.

 

  • For pros, the flood of new photographers has meant an erosion in the dollar value of their photography.  This is a minor dislike for me, but I certainly don’t like being asked to give away my work to those who can afford it, or having to cut prices just because a bunch of photographers (who don’t need it for income) have inexplicably allowed their images to be used for pennies on the dollar.

Okay, now it sounds like I’m ranting, so I’ll stop.  Otherwise you all might think I’m just an old curmudgeon!  Have a great weekend!

Dusk on the Columbia River.

 

 

 

For Those Who Hurt On Mother’s Day   3 comments

Originally posted on john pavlovitz:

Tear

Today is Mother’s Day.

For many people that means flowers and handmade cards and brunches and hugs and laughter. It means celebration and gratitude and rejoicing.

But for some it just means tears.

For many moms and adult children out there, this day is a stark unsolicited reminder of what was but no longer is, or it is a heavy holiday of mourning what never was at all.

This day might bring with it the scalding sting of grief for the empty chair around a table.

It might come with choking regret for a relationship that has been horribly severed.

It might be a day of looking around at other mothers and other children, and feeling the unwelcome intrusion of jealousy that comes with comparison.

Consider this a love letter to you who are struggling today; those whose Mother’s Day experience might be rather bittersweet— or perhaps only bitter.

This is consent to feel fully the contents of your own…

View original 182 more words

Posted May 9, 2015 by MJF Images in Uncategorized

Friday Foto Talk: Simple vs. Complex   5 comments

My girl in the late afternoon sun:  it doesn't get much simpler than that.

My girl in the late afternoon sun: doesn’t get much simpler than that!

A lot of my Friday Foto Talk posts have been quite long and involved, so much so that I’ve had to split them up into parts, or installments.  In keeping with the week’s topic, this one will be as short and simple as I can make it.

Many people recommend keeping your photographs as simple as possible.  Pick a strong subject and exclude everything else.  It’s good advice, but as usual only as far as it goes.  In other words, you won’t be doing a great deal of shooting if you strictly follow that.  There’s more out there than just single-subject compositions.

A young Himba woman in northern Namibia is more than ready for her closeup.

A young Himba woman in northern Namibia is way too beautiful to include much of her surroundings.

My approach is this:

  • I look for cool stuff in places I like to be.
  • I try to time it so that I’m out there shooting that cool stuff in great light.
  • I frame that stuff in my viewfinder in a way that looks cool (shows it to its best advantage).  The only rule I tend to follow when photographing is the rule of thirds, and there are exceptions to that.  All else is situation dependent (and thus not a rule).
  • Before I press the shutter I zoom (with either the lens or my feet) so as to exclude anything that seems extraneous.  Sometimes I zoom in with my feet and zoom out with focal length.
  • I shoot.
  • If the light is still there, I work the subject some.   Most of the time this results in a picture (or three) within the picture, a composition that is narrower than the original.  Usually the effect is to simplify the composition.
  • Later, behind the computer, I will crop down if I change my mind about the composition.  This also simplifies, but at a cost to file size.

 

A landscape that has its focus the Columbia River, but also includes plenty of tangled forest and other Oregon vegetation.

A landscape that has its focus on the Columbia River, but also includes plenty of forest and other typical Oregon springtime vegetation.

A word about cropping.  Normally I don’t crop much if at all, but that wasn’t the case when I was less experienced.  You have to crop on the computer for awhile before you start cropping in camera; it’s a normal part of learning.  And you don’t want to start cropping in camera because some ‘expert’ said you should, then get back in front of the computer and realize you should have included more in the frame.  Take your time and let it develop naturally.  Instead, just work the subject (see below).

A composition of medium complexity, and the kind of scene you’ll find while hiking above the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, captured in everyday mid-afternoon light.

Now the question is this:  what compositions end up being “better”, the wider angle more complex ones or the zoomed in simpler ones?  It’s one of those loaded questions in photography, the kind you find people answering with way too much certainty.  In fact, you have to answer it when you’re rating your shots.  But I believe, like much else in photography, that it is purely subjective.

There's a lot going on in this image from Death Valley, California too:  the limestones of Rainbow Canyon in the foreground, Panamint Valley with its dunes, and distant Grapevine Mountains.

There’s a lot going on in this image from Death Valley, California: the compressed limestones of Rainbow Canyon in the foreground, Panamint Valley with its dunes, the Panamints and dark Grapevine Mtns.  beyond.

I probably have more keepers that are simple than complex, but that doesn’t mean some of my all time favorite shots aren’t complex.  Complex can be awesome!  But if you have a strong subject, you should try to get a few shots where it is isolated, where anything around it is so out of focus (or vignetted) that anything outside of the subject is unrecognizable.  The subject alone is the picture.

Then go ahead (quickly while the light is good!) and work it so that you get some shots with just a little bit of the subject’s surroundings, whether in soft focus or sharp.  And if it seems right, and especially if the light is great, get some shots where a lot of your subject’s surroundings are included.  Later you can decide which (if any) you like best.

Cactus flowers blooming recently in the desert of southern Utah.

Cactus flowers in bloom recently in the  southern Utah desert.

Keyword all those different compositions, using the same search terms so they will all come up when you’re looking for something.  Later on you may have a use for a shot you didn’t particularly like at first.  I’ve even sold pictures this way, shots that weren’t on my website, even those that didn’t show up here on the blog.

Ooh darn, I think this may be a bit too long and complex.  Oh well…Everybody have a simply fun weekend!

A leafless tree in southern Laos lies in a remote area that was bombed heavily during the Vietnam War.

A bare tree holds on in a remote area of southern Laos that was bombed heavily during the Vietnam War.

The Tragedy in Nepal   19 comments

Soulful bells echo through the mountains at dawn, calling the monks to prayer at Tangboche Monastery.

I want so much to be able to return to the mountain kingdom of Nepal and help them in their hour of need.  To see all those wonderful people again would be so great.  That may seem a strange thing to say.  But I know for a fact that even in the midst of tragedy they remain an optimistic and warm people.  Right now I’m missing them and praying for their safety.  I wanted to post some pictures of Nepal that I’ve never shared, and also go into some background on how and why this happened.

THE GEOLOGIC STORY

You may have heard that Mt. Everest is getting taller, and we just saw dramatic and horrific evidence of that fact.  India collided with south Asia some 55 million years ago, and the mighty Himalayas began then.  But that slow motion and awesome event continues today, as huge slabs of the earth’s crust continue to be shoved beneath the Tibetan Plateau.  The zone where they come together, along the 2400 km. (1500 mile) long Himalayan mountain front is complex.  But north-directed subduction, or underthrusting, is the dominant process.

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Ama Dablam in black and white.

Ama Dablam in black and white.

The earth’s most recent and currently most dramatic tectonic collision has resulted in shortening of northern India and southern Nepal, bringing Delhi and Lhasa closer together.  This in turn causes the crust to greatly thicken (mostly in the downward direction).  In other words, most of the long mountain range lies beneath sea level.  Like a giant iceberg, active mountain ranges have roots that are hundreds of times more voluminous than their visible parts.  The north-south shortening doesn’t just create crustal thickening; it also causes the region to widen in an east-west direction via a series of large strike-slip faults (like the San Andreas).

Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Having climbed Everest 8 times in his career, this Sherpa I met taking a walk above his home village had a great way about him.

Having climbed Everest 8 times in his career, this Sherpa I met taking a walk above his home village had a great way about him.

Deep beneath the Himalaya, collision takes the form of a slow, hot, plastic deformation.  There are no sudden jerking motions.  But in shallower regions, where the rocks are cooler and brittle, this is impossible.  Instead, the stress builds up until it’s finally released with a sudden rapid slide along a plane of weakness (or fault).

It is at those times that we on the surface of this planet are reminded that ours is a dynamic planet.  These events, which can vary from a gentle rocking that lasts only seconds and which you only notice if you are in a quiet place to violent minutes-long shaking that can bring down buildings and even whole mountainsides, are called earthquakes.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

3 man at airport

Waiting for weather to clear at Lukla, this gentleman’s beard was too cool I had to talk to him.

 

The earthquake of April 25th was centered about 80 km. (50 miles) NW of Kathmandu,  It was magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale.  It was located about 15 km. (9+ miles) deep.  That is fairly shallow for a quake of this size.  Combined with the dense population and low quality of construction in most of the region, this made for a major disaster.  Considering what is going on here, the coming together of two of Earth’s greatest tectonic plates, historic earthquakes are relatively few.  The last one to affect the same area was in 1988 and killed 1500.  The 1934 Bihar earthquake killed some 10,600 and severely damaged Kathmandu.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

I don't like thinking about the orphans.

I don’t like thinking about the orphans.  Just too sad!

 

Most of the people here, with the resources to live from day to day and not much more, have been deeply affected by this disaster.  The current count is over 4000 and still rising.  Many people live far from roads, so the final tally could take weeks or even months.  Undoubtedly many of the deaths will turn out to be caused by major landslides.  In any mountainous region, a big quake leads to landslides of epic size.  Snow avalanches also occurred in the alpine regions, including one caught on video that roared down the south side of Everest and hit base camp.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

They are sacred but with the wonder they inspire comes a dangerous dynamism.

They are sacred but with the wonder they inspire comes a dangerous dynamism.

So much misery can be brought by earthquakes.  They strike without warning of course, and this makes them truly terrifying.  I have been in a few small ones, and get a visceral thrill out of it.  I get the same feeling witnessing a volcanic eruption.  That’s partly because I’m a geologist and know about the connection between a living breathing planet and life.  But I’m sure my reaction would be one of pure terror if and when I’m caught in a truly big event.  Once, in 1999, I flew out of Istanbul less than 24 hours before a major quake hit that city, killing 17,000.

Getting to spend time in a Sherpa kitchen, drinking tea, is a special thing.

Getting to spend time in a Sherpa kitchen, drinking tea, is a special thing.

A friend who suffered a broken leg in the quake but otherwise is okay.

I played around with this little Sherpa girl as her mother sewed in a small sun-warmed courtyard.  She is a teenager now.

I played around with this little Sherpa girl as her mother sewed in a small sun-warmed courtyard. She is a teenager now.

A Gurkha I met whitewater rafting, he emigrated to Hong Kong, and hosted me there.  Nepalis are so nice!

A Gurkha I met whitewater rafting, he emigrated to Hong Kong, and hosted me there. Nepalis are so nice!

Please give if you can to the legitimate aid organizations helping in Nepal.  And in any case, please keep those beautiful souls in your thoughts and prayers.  I’ve never seen a harder working people.  I’m sure they will recover, but big aftershocks continue as I’m writing this.

Friends of mine are camped outside in pouring rain, afraid to return to their homes.  So right now I’m hoping and praying the aftershocks are many and small, not fewer and large.  Namaste to all Nepalis and all those who have connections to the country.

I'm holding up the rafting party, but I wanted these kids to say Namaste without laughing, haha!

I’m holding up the rafting party, but I wanted these kids to say Namaste without laughing, haha!

Stupa at Boudhanath

Alpenglow over the Khumbu

 

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: It’s Your Art   25 comments

Daybreak over the Columbia River Gorge.

Daybreak over the Columbia River Gorge.

This is a little different from my usual Friday Foto posts.  I think this is the most important thing to remember if you’re doing photography or any other art.  I don’t usually ask you to read my posts; I’m very happy if you just look at the pictures.  But this one is worth reading to the end, I’m sure you’ll think so!

In nature and landscape photography, I sometimes think about the way that others perceive things.  I want to know if it’s very similar to the way I see.  I’m sure there are differences, based on each person’s upbringing and experiences, but I really don’t have a good handle on what those differences may be.  I suspect the similarities are more important and fundamental, but I’m not sure about that.

Deep in the forest on a wet day in Oregon, spring orchids.

I think about this comparison with regard to all sorts of aspects of photography.  For example, what about composition and choice of subject?   I know what I like, but what pleases your eye?

 I boil composition down to one basic concept.  I shoot what looks cool to me, and compose it (in the right light) in a way that shows it at its best, or defines it best.  Other than making sure I don’t include a bunch of extraneous stuff that doesn’t support the image, I don’t arrange things just so.  I don’t follow this or that rule, at least in a deliberate way.  Very simple.

But inherent in that is an assumption.  I need to believe that other people (the viewers of my images) actually share my idea of what looks cool.  Or they are convinced once they see the way I’ve pictured it.  Otherwise I would never share any images.  I conveniently ignore the very real possibility that what looks cool to me may look quite ordinary and unremarkable to others.

A double rainbow graced the sky as I was visiting some of my old haunts in the Columbia River Gorge the other day.

A double rainbow graced the sky as I was visiting some of my old haunts in the Columbia River Gorge the other day.

I remember once reading an interview with Dustin Hoffman, the actor.  He was asked about, early in his career, how he handled critics and even being jeered by stage audiences.  Of course his acting is very natural and believable, in my opinion.  But he gave a very interesting answer.  He said that early on he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to worry about what anyone thought.  Pretty standard response, right?

But then he said something much more interesting.  He simply believed that whatever he did on stage or in front of the camera, a lot of people would enjoy it and connect with it.  He was so sure of that, it allowed him to relax and practice his art without worry.  And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, he ended up being exactly right.  A great number of people have enjoyed what he does.

_MG_3901-Edit

It snowed on my first morning in Oregon!

That made me think about photography, and really everything I do.  There’s no sense trying to convince yourself that what others think doesn’t matter to you.  That’s a lie.  Everybody cares about what others think.  We’re social creatures who evolved to care about our interactions with other primates in our group.  The key is to be confident that what you’re doing (in this case to express yourself through photography) will appeal to other people.  That frees you up to pour your heart into it.

The North Umpqua River rushes out of the mountains bearing snowmelt from the southern Oregon Cascade Mtns.

The North Umpqua River rushes out of the mountains bearing snowmelt from the southern Oregon Cascade Mtns.

Of course some will not like (some of) what you produce.  Some folks are jealous so they’ll never admit to liking it.  Some will over-analyze and pick it apart.  But those are a small minority.  They always have been and always will be the minority.  The great majority will connect with your art, but only if you practice it honestly.  If you don’t pander, if you follow your own interests and personal style, and if you put yourself wholly into it, others will like what you’re doing.  Simple as that!

Hope you like the pictures, which are from my recent return home to Oregon.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Dusk falls on the Columbia River.

Dusk falls on the Columbia River.

Mtn. Monday: Mount Mazama & Crater Lake   9 comments

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

My first day back in Oregon after almost a year gone, and I am psyched!  I went up to Crater Lake and hiked out into the snow for a sunset that never quite materialized.  But it was magnificent as always, staring down and out at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

For those who don’t know, this is a caldera: a giant hole in a volcano.  Calderas usually fill with lakes, at least until they are breached by erosion and drained.  This particular caldera was formed when Mount Mazama exploded in a furious eruption about 6700 years ago.  It’s estimated that the mountain was a bit bigger than Mount Shasta, making it one of the (former) giants of the Cascade Range.

The large magma chamber underneath the mountain emptied rapidly and gravity took over.  The entire peak area collapsed down, creating a caldera.  Some of the last volcanic activity at Mazama, some 800 years ago, formed Wizard Island at one end of the lake.  You can visit the island on boat tours.  I highly recommend you do this if it’s summertime and the tours are running.  You can hike to the 763-foot summit and then return to the cold blue lake waters for a very refreshing swim!

The meadows at Crater Lake aren’t as abundant as at some other Cascade Mountains, but they are nonetheless beautiful.

By the way, hiking to the top of Wizard Island gives you the all-time best lesson in the difference between a crater and a caldera.  Wizard is a cinder cone, a pile of loose pumice and other debris ejected into the air as hot frothy lava and ash.  At it’s summit is a crater, the hole left when that debris blasted out of the summit vent.  So instead of collapse into a large void beneath the mountain, craters are created by explosion outward.  Craters are normally quite a bit smaller than calderas.

This isn't Crater Lake, it's the lake filling Rinjani Caldera, a still-active but otherwise similar volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

This isn’t Crater Lake, it’s the lake filling Rinjani Caldera, a still-active but otherwise similar volcano on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

Mazama’s position and height make it a magnet for snow storms, so it wasn’t long before the steaming caldera filled with some of the world’s cleanest water.  Springs in the porous volcanic debris also helped fill the lake, where evaporation and input from these two sources are now in equilibrium.  Visibility down into the lake is awesome, 100 feet plus.  In recent times that clarity has fluctuated, and scientists monitor things closely.

The forests surrounding Mount Mazama attract snowclouds in this image from the other morning.

The forests surrounding Mount Mazama attract snowclouds in this image from the other morning.

My first morning back into my home state after a long time away, and this is what it looked like:  Upper Rogue River area

My first morning back into my home state after a long time away, and this is what it looked like: Upper Rogue River area

Often overlooked when people come to Crater Lake are the beautiful forests surrounding the mountain.  On the wetter west side rises the Rogue River, which the writer Zane Gray made famous when he lived and fished its lower reaches.  Wandering around the rugged and heavily forested upper Rogue you’ll find big evergreens and crystal clear streams, punctuated by the occasional waterfall.

Enjoy Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park!

Crater Lake in August.

Crater Lake in August.

Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part II   6 comments

A cloudless morning is hardly unusual at Death Valley, California, one of the driest places in the world.

Let’s continue with the subject of shooting under cloudless conditions, which for many of us is a real challenge.  You may even say clear blue skies are an obstacle to getting the photos you want.  But it’s not the only one.  Check out my other posts in this series for ways to get around all the other obstacles.

Here are the ways I deal with cloudless conditions:

  • Find Shade:  Seems obvious, right?  If you’re shooting people find some shade to put them under, preferably near a large reflective surface that bounces light up into their faces.  Shade can be in short supply, so shooting small things & details, even going macro, can be a very good idea.  With the blue skies overhead, your images will likely end up on the cool side, so warming up white balance in post-processing is usually required.
These cliff dwellings dating from ancestral puebloan times in the southwestern U.S. desert were built under an overhang, so in the morning they can be photographed in shade.

These cliff dwellings dating from ancestral puebloan times in the southwestern U.S. desert were built under an overhang, so in the morning they can be photographed in shade.

 

  • Embrace Shadows:  Often when it’s clear and sunny out, you can use shadows as graphical elements (leading lines, etc.) to highlight certain parts of your subject.  The image at bottom is an example.  A low sun is key, so shoot in early morning or late afternoon.  By the way, I don’t really shoot strong graphical elements for their own sake; instead, they have to help highlight the subject or story I’m trying to show or tell.
Using shadows:  The view from atop Cedar Mesa, UT includes distant Monument Valley.

Using shadows: The view from atop Cedar Mesa, UT includes distant Monument Valley.

 

  • Use Diffuser & Fill Flash:  I have a portable hand-held diffuser panel that I use mostly to shoot flowers or other close-ups in bright contrasty light.  I place the diffuser panel as close to the subject as I can while keeping it out of the frame.  Using an off-camera flash can help fill shadows, even when you’re already in shade, and especially when photographing people.  Outdoors you rarely need to diffuse the light of the flash.   Just set flash exposure, shoot, then check the LCD to make sure it isn’t too bright or dim.  Repeat until you get just the right amount of fill light.

 

  • Black and White:  Shooting subjects that look good in black and white is a popular way to use high-contrast light to best effect.  If you wait until the sun is low, you can also work that side-light to your advantage, bringing out textures.
Cedar Mesa breaks away into Monument Valley in southern Utah.  Driving off the mesa involves a steep, twisty gravel road named Moki Dugway.

Cedar Mesa breaks away into Monument Valley in southern Utah. Driving off the mesa involves a steep, twisty gravel road called the Moki Dugway.

  • Keep it Simple:  Under clear skies, simple compositions work best.  For example, when shooting flowers, you would either use a diffuser (as mentioned above), which can work even when the sun is well up, or you can wait for the sun to sink low and shoot simply.  Single blooms, when spotlighted as in the image below, can look great in late afternoon light.
Bee plants are bloomin' in the Utah desert right now!

Bee plants are bloomin’ in the Utah desert right now!

 

  • Sunbursts:  An oldie but a goodie, sunbursts (at top and below) are created when you shoot with the sun in your frame and use a small aperture (f/22 for e.g.).  Other tips:  (1) Pay attention to exposure by using your histogram and re-shoot if you’re blowing out (too bright) or blocking (too dark) important parts of the image.  (2) Use obstructing elements in front of the sun, like tree branches or rock silhouettes, to increase or modify the star-like effect.  (3) Try to shoot compositions with some foreground interest and with a good amount of depth.
Live oak and spanish moss, Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Live oak and Spanish moss, Cumberland Island, Georgia.

 

  • Abstracts & Reflections:  I like shooting abstract reflections when it’s clear out.  This is when you allow water to slightly soften colorful elements, cropping in close to eliminate anything that potentially distracts from the abstract composition.  I love hiking desert canyons in mid-morning or late afternoon partly for this reason.
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White Canyon in Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  If you have some advice on making the best of bright sunny conditions, please let us all know in the comments below.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Clear weather forces you to get creative:  sunset at Lake Tahoe, California.

Clear weather forces you to get creative: sunset at Lake Tahoe, California.

Two for Tuesday: We’re Coming!   2 comments

If you want to see desert bighorn sheep, you can’t do much better than east Zion National Park in Utah.  Not the canyon itself so much; that can be a zoo in the warmer months.  If you travel east, through a couple spectacular tunnels, you come out in a wonderland of sandstone monoliths.  The bighorn sheep here are doing quite well.

I drove through my favorite part of Zion a couple days ago, stopping to take a short hike.  I saw two sheep browsing the spring growth and slowly pursued them, hoping they’d get comfortable with me.  They crossed the road and I crossed behind them.  Then I saw the babies & another female.

Mom was understandably shy about letting me get close to them, so I just watched as they climbed the steep sandstone.  Mom reached a viewpoint, but the kids were more careful.  They took their time, making sure each step was placed right.

Now they were very visible from the road and a few other cars stopped.   But since I had been with them for awhile, I ended up with a nice series, not just the one with them surveying their domain.  Stories and behavior are what I always hope for with wildlife.  I used my newish 600 mm. lens.  Enjoy!

Wait up mom, we’re coming!

Try and reach us now, haha!

 

Friday Foto Talk: Cloudless Skies – Part I   8 comments

In the land of the Ancient Ones: Four Corners area, desert southwest U.S.

Clear skies:  a landscape photographer’s nightmare.  Okay, maybe that’s being a bit too melodramatic.  But cloudless conditions are a kind of obstacle related to light.  You can find a general discussion of light, as important obstacle to overcome, in a recent post.  I’ve been doing a whole series of posts on Friday Foto Talk dealing with obstacles, so check them out if you have a moment.

Although landscape photography is where we most miss clouds, nature, sports, macro and portrait shooting are all potentially more challenging under clear skies.  Here are the main issues that can cause problems:

Although skies are clear, the subject here (Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is dramatic enough to compensate.

Although skies are clear, the subject here (Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains) is dramatic enough to compensate.

  • Harsh Contrast:  Bright sunshine causes big differences between areas that are brightly lit and those lying in shadows.  Besides the obvious problem of finding the right exposure, these bright and shadowed areas are typically separated by sharp lines, creating a scene which lacks any  softness.  This tends to be unpleasing to the eye.
  • Flat Light:  Hazy sunshine is the worst, but light can grow flat under other weather conditions as well.  You know this kind of light: despite the fact contrast is not as harsh as with perfectly clear sunshine, there is really no depth to the light.  Foreground objects appear to recede into the hazy background and distant objects may not be discernible enough to add depth to your images.
  • Cool Light:  By cool I mean blue, even though you scientist-types will object, quite reasonably, that blue light is actually at a higher temperature than red or orange light.  Bright and blue light is generally less attractive than somewhat dimmer and redder light.
  • Golden Hour Blues:  When skies are clear, sunrise and sunset are, like the shadows which characterize mid-day, abrupt, sharp and relatively unpleasing to the eye.  Dawn can pass without much color at all.  And sunset is a short, unspectacular affair, where the sun sinks to the horizon surrounded by an ocean of blue.
A simple unspectacular shot, but I so enjoyed stripping & dunking my dusty body in this crystal clear (and cold!) water-pocket on top of Cedar Mesa, UT.

An unspectacular shot, but I so enjoyed stripping & dunking my dusty body in this crystal clear (and cold!) water-pocket on top of Cedar Mesa, UT.

Direct sun from the side can bring out details like this bear print petroglyph I found along a canyon wall in Utah's Grand Gulch wilderness.

Direct sun from the side can bring out details like this bear print petroglyph I found along a canyon wall in Utah’s Grand Gulch wilderness.

 

On my journey west, ever since crossing the Great Plains, dry and sunny conditions have prevailed.  The American West is in the midst of a long-term drying trend, exacerbated by global warming.  On previous trips I’ve had the luxury of being able to hang out and wait for a front (or at least a few clouds) to come along.  But on this trip I’ve been forced to take what I can get, just like an average amateur photographer on vacation.

Unlike many photographers who drop into a low-grade sulk when confronted by clear blue skies, I can still enjoy this kind of weather.  Also, I don’t want to be thought of as some sort of disturbed, gothic creature, unhappy unless things are dim and gloomy.

Cactus bloom at the bottom of a deep canyon on a hike in southern Utah.

Cactus bloom at the bottom of a deep canyon on a hike in southern Utah.

But a big part of the reason I don’t mind (so much) when clouds are a no-show is that I still enjoy capturing images at these times.  True, there end up being fewer “Wow, stunning!” landscapes.  But I actually like photographing within limits, trying to come up with something good when conditions are unfavorable.  I think it forces creativity and makes me a better photographer in the long run.  Or this is what I tell myself.

There are two main ways to mitigate the effects of clear sunny weather when you’re traveling and photographing.  One is to shift focus to other subjects, and the other is to shoot in different ways.  In the 2nd and final part, I’ll cover some of the ways I get good pictures when the sky is cloudless and blue.  Have an awesome weekend!

To my delight, a few clouds moved in at sunset after a clear day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

To my delight, a few clouds moved in at sunset after a clear day at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

 

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