Friday Foto Talk: Flow & Travel Photography   Leave a comment

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Flow, or “being in the zone” is all the rage these days.  It’s considered to be how creative people create.  While that’s true, flow is not that uncommon.  We’ve all experienced it.  I heard a radio interview the other day and the guest referred to flow as something experienced by people at the highest level.  I think that’s too narrow a way to think about it.  Any time you get 100% engaged in an activity and lose track of time, you’re in flow.  Flow will help you progress toward expertise, but being very good at something isn’t a prerequisite for flow.

This series, which started with the idea and concept of flow, has moved on to how to foster the state in different types of photography.  Today let’s look at travel photography, which consists of shooting a wide variety of subjects in unfamiliar places.  I call the entire western U.S. my home area and by definition travel takes me to countries outside the U.S.  My travel photos lean heavily toward cultural subjects, including people, but includes landscape and wildlife.  While traveling I photograph far more people (and fewer landscapes) than I normally do.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

When you’re traveling and shooting there is no shortage of distractions.  So flow is not that easy.  Here are a few tips:

  • Observe & Engage.  Just as it is with other kinds of photography, keen observation and then intense engagement with your subjects is a sure route toward experiencing flow.
  •  Filter & Focus.  Traveling can overwhelm the senses.  It’s one of the great things about it.  But in order to do your best photography focusing on the subjects that you want to shoot is necessary.  The kind of concentration required to capture images with strong subjects can help you experience flow while doing it.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a few overview shots that establish context and show the place you’re in (you could also do this with video).  But it’s easier to get into flow and capture good images if you zero in on one subject at a time, filtering out the rest.

With huge views of the Nepali Himalayas outside this teahouse, I shifted focus to smaller things.

  • Quality vs. Quantity.  Let’s be honest.  Travel can be hectic at times.  That’s probably inevitable.  But your whole trip doesn’t have to be this way.  If you plan an overly busy itinerary, you shouldn’t expect to experience flow while shooting.  And you should expect more snapshots than quality images.  You simply can’t have both quality and quantity, and this goes especially for traveling.  As you plan your itinerary, choose one or the other and be happy with the consequences of that decision.

 

  • Slow Down.  I prefer to plan a light itinerary and cover less area in more time.  This way I get to relax and spend some time with subjects.  When I take the camera out in some new place, randomly exploring with no real destination in mind, flow comes much easier than when I’m rushing to move on to the next place.  Leaving real time for deep exploration is a key to successful travel photography (and travel in general).  Of course during the trip there will always be those times when you have to hurry to catch a train or to check out.  Just don’t let that pace infect your entire journey.
Angkor Wat's West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

Angkor Wat’s West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

  • Make it About the Journey.  While it’s important to get to your destination in order to spend time exploring and shooting, the journey is at least as important.  Sometimes it’s more so.  You’ll encounter some of your best photographic subjects while you’re traveling from one place to another.  So a second key to travel photography is being ready at all times to capture images.  You may prefer your phone for this, or a small point and shoot camera.  It doesn’t matter, just keep observing and shooting things that are interesting along the way.
I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

  • Be Flexible.  This is good advice anytime you travel, whether shooting seriously or not.  But consider this:  you can take yourself right out of your game if you get uptight about the inevitable changes and screw-ups that occur during any trip.  Being upset about things that are outside your control means you’re not about to enter flow anytime soon.  I won’t claim to be perfect in this regard.  But isn’t it better to look upon an unforeseen left turn in your trip as an opportunity to photograph something unexpected?  Go with the flow so you can experience flow!

I didn’t plan on attending this rough ‘n ready rodeo on Omotepe, Nicaragua. But I let my hosts drag me there and didn’t let their fun with my flag get in the way of a good time.

  • Be Outgoing.  Some of the best travel images are of people, often showing something of their unique culture.  But unless you play at being a paparazzi, you’ll need to break out of your shell and approach strangers in order to get good people shots.  Luckily, most people around the world (not all) are happy to be approached by tourists.  You may be rejected occasionally.  Don’t let that stop you.  All it takes is one great interaction to make your travel day.  Once you’re with an interesting local talking and laughing, all the time shooting great candids, photo flow can’t be far behind!
This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

By the way, a future post will go into more depth about photographing people in strange (to you) surroundings.  Thanks so much for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

Wordless Wednesday: Blue Alert   2 comments

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Posted September 28, 2016 by MJF Images in Animals

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Friday Foto Talk: Photo Flow in Practice (Landscape & Architecture)   5 comments

Early mornings in beautiful places like Pintler Pass, Montana are tailor made for flow.

I’m liking this series on flow in photography.  Hope you are too!  Flow, or being ‘in the zone’, is a state of intense focus where you often lose the sense of time passing.  Check out the first two posts in the series for a background primer.  This and succeeding posts will go through particular examples to show how flow can help you get the best images whether you’re shooting a grand landscape or ducks in the park.

Landscape Flow

I’m not surprised that I more easily enter flow while alone and shooting landscapes.  I love being in nature and almost always feel relaxed away from civilization.  I don’t think we can assume, however, that flow in nature photography is always a piece of cake.  Often it’s when we’re alone in a beautiful setting that those oddly irrelevant thoughts enter in and distract us, taking us right out of the moment.  And being in the moment, fully engaged with your subject, is the entry point to experiencing photo flow.  External factors may get in the way of flow too, as the following example shows.

Though I'm not as much into shooting the stars as I used to be (too popular), I still love stargazing: Snow Canyon, Utah.

Though I’m not as much into shooting the stars as I used to be (too popular), I still love stargazing: Snow Canyon, Utah.

EXAMPLE – Rain at Panther Creek Falls:  Here’s an occasion where I got into flow despite challenges related to weather & terrain.  Although it’s a bit overexposed and popular with photogs., I’d been wanting to shoot at Panther Creek Falls in SW Washington.  To my surprise I was alone.  The fact it was rainy may have had something to do with that, but I wanted to shoot it in a rainy period, for the atmosphere and green of the vegetation.  I spent a lot of time wiping water from my lens, as much from the spray as from rain.

I wacked through wet brush on a very steep slope, approaching from the opposite side of the canyon than the viewpoint and trail is on.  This waterfall gets its unique character from a large spring that floods out of the steep hillside, and I wanted to see that up close.  As I always do with popular spots, I was going for completely different points of view than most every other shot at Panther.  I stayed for nearly three hours, working the subject mercilessly.  Getting to interesting viewpoints in that terrain was slow going, and all the lens-wiping took time too.

Panther Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Panther Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Despite all the distractions of weather and terrain, once I was soaked and didn’t need to worry about getting any wetter, I entered a state of flow.  The image above wasn’t the best of the shoot.  The horizontal version probably is, but I’ve posted that before.  I squatted very close to the water and under the log.  The main falls is in the background.  There are two lessons here:  First, only on a misty rainy day is a shot like this possible; you can’t really simulate it very well with software.  Second, flow by its nature means ignoring discomfort and overcoming challenges.

At Monument Valley, Utah, sand and the light at dusk create a peaceful scene.

 

Architecture Flow

To me landscape and architecture are similar in many ways.  By the way, I plan to post soon on the different types of photography and how to use their commonalities to more effectively “cross-train” your shooting.  You are much more likely to be around other people when shooting architecture, but flow still feels similar to landscape.  Capturing the character of a building, as with mountains, is more likely when you are in the moment; when you carefully observe the subject, its surroundings and the changing light.

A building on Portland's industrial eastside.

A building on Portland’s industrial eastside.

EXAMPLE – Portland Eastside:  I was just walking along on the east side of Portland, Oregon, close to the river.  Many of the older warehouses and other unremarkable buildings in this area have been spiffed up in recent years, and are now occupied by various upscale tenants.  It was dusk, my favorite time to shoot architecture.  I forgot about judgments and started noticing the more subtle features of the buildings.  This is what flow can do, allow you to notice everything around you.

A big challenge for this image was one that is common with architecture: point of view.  In order to get the right angle and show off the gentle curve of the building as it follows the curving street and sidewalk, I needed to stand in the middle of the street.  Because of the low light, I also needed to be on a tripod.  After several unsuccessful tries where I was chased back to the sidewalk by traffic, I was able to get the shot during a lull.  I don’t think I was in flow while running for my life.  But I was for the important part; that is, finding the subject & composition.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

Grand Canyon’s North Rim Lodge reflects warm light from the setting sun at Bright Angel Point.

Wordless Wednesday: Oblivious   7 comments

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Posted September 21, 2016 by MJF Images in Animals

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Friday Foto Talk: Meditation & Photo Flow   10 comments

Sunrise at Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

This is the second in a series on the state of flow in photography.   Check out Part I for introductory ideas and general concepts.  Flow, known also as being “in the zone”, is a mental state most of us are personally familiar with.  While it includes intense concentration, it’s a whole lot more.  Photo flow, at its essence, is not any different than flow in any other endeavour.  As with, for example, flow in writing (especially nonfiction), photo flow is marked predominantly by an intense engagement with your subjects.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Meditation & Photo Flow Compared

I mentioned in the last post how photo flow is like meditation.  But there are also contrasts.  The point is not to have a blank mind, as in (zen) meditation.  It’s to shoot without thinking too much.  Photo flow is marked by intense engagement with the process, and that involves conscious thought, punctuated by many small decisions.  It’s too active to be synonymous with meditation; but then again, flow can be thought of as a type of meditation.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

I think of flow as a very relaxed, largely unconscious focus, one in which your body may be anything from very quiet (while writing for instance) to intensely active (I’ve entered flow while climbing mountains & skiing powder).  Meditation, on the other hand, normally implies a quiet body, one that mirrors a quiet mind.  I realize that people think of things like long-distance bike rides as meditation, and I can understand the comparison.  But in general I believe flow not meditation characterizes those sorts of activities.

So how does flow most resemble meditation?  It’s when you’re actually tripping the shutter.  Just like anyone who excels at something, good photographers think about photography for a good chunk of any shooting day (if not every other day!).  But they don’t think about it at the moment of capture.  As that quote machine of a photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it: “Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”

Next week we’ll look at some examples of photo flow in landscape & nature shooting.  Thanks for looking, have a great weekend and happy shooting!

Being alone near sunset in the desert dunes with the fractal patterns and stark light you can easily slip into flow.

Two for Tuesday: Pet Diversity   4 comments

Charl hiking in the Grand Staircase, Utah.

Charl hiking in the Grand Staircase, Utah.

Diversity is a term that is used a lot these days.  I like to think of it not as something we “should” strive for but something that is here and that we should enjoy and make the most of.  And that goes for every aspect of our lives, including our pets.

It’s been a while since the last Two for Tuesday post.  The theme is two photos that are connected in some way and together tell a simple story.  I like to pair images that have contrasts as well as similarities.  Variety is the spice in pets as well as life in general.  All my dogs (+ one cat) have been rescues from the street or shelter, or otherwise unwanted.

I used to have a mixed breed dog named Sugar who was dominantly samoyed (those big white fluffy white huskies with a smile).  She was a great hiker and loved the snow too.  While I had her, I ended up with my first small dog – a boy shih tsu named Charl.  While he was certainly comfortable being a lap dog, Sugar & I taught him how to hike and camp, in general to be a ‘real dog’.  I learned that most shih tsus are remarkably adaptable.

Charl taught me that a small dog was very much worth having as a pet.  He died a year and a half ago after a long, adventurous life.  After years of only having the “little boy”, I suppose I was ready for something different.  And the dog in the 2nd shot is most definitely that.  We found him wandering the streets and after advertising heavily and staying in contact with the shelter, realized he wasn’t simply lost.  He was apparently abandoned by his owner.  He’s a purebred pitbull we named Blue.

Unlike Charl, who knew only kindness, Blue is a little head-shy and has a few scars from being beaten.  But he doesn’t show it otherwise.  He’s still very young and still puppified, despite his size.  And he just loves people and other dogs.  Fortunately he wasn’t abused enough to affect his personality at all and promises to be a fine example of the reality that the breed’s reputation is wholly undeserved.  Unfortunately, in my current circumstances all I can do is foster him and find a good home.

Other than the fact that Blue is the same species as Charl was, there are other similarities plus a few differences.  Blue is a big baby, more so than Charl was actually.  He thinks he’s a lap dog, but it’s like having a large anvil in your lap, one who enthusiastically licks your face.  He’s a much bigger handful than Charl ever was.  Another big difference: Blue takes the job of guarding home and vehicle quite seriously, while Charl thought all visitors were welcome.  But the two are the same where it counts:  gentle and good-hearted.

Blue doesn’t leave my side and thinks I’m his owner now.  Who knows?  He may turn out to be right.

Blue strikes a pose.

Blue strikes a pose.

Posted September 14, 2016 by MJF Images in Animals

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Foto Talk: Letting it Flow   4 comments

 

Beach grass on the dunes under a crescent moon along the Atlantic coastline.

The idea of flow has been around a long time, although doubtful that it’s had so many different names in the past as it does now.  Hyperfocus and ‘being in the zone’ are two other terms for it.  One of my pet peeves, by the way, is when people take an old concept or idea, slap a new, sexier name (or three) on it, and then pretend it’s brand new.  People have known about flow for a long time.  It is an experience common to all humans and undoubtedly as old as our species.

At some point in time everyone experiences flow.  It is that wonderful feeling of getting lost in an activity.  You lose sense of time passing.  You forget to eat.  And you don’t stop until you are finished or otherwise satisfied.  It’s what all artists strive for and what everybody wishes their jobs allowed them to do.

Flow is often described as a state of total concentration, but for me it is more than that.  It’s when awareness and action combine with total focus, but in sort of an unconscious way.  I find flow very hard to enter into without having a genuine interest in what I’m doing.  Anything worth doing is worth doing in a state of flow.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

Photography flow is just like flow while doing anything else.  It’s complete absorption.  Nothing is capable of distracting you or takes your mind off the act of finding the best compositions and the most authentic ways to portray your subjects.  There are a few things unique to photography flow that are worth keeping in mind:

  • First off, don’t expect to enter into photography flow without some shooting experience.  It’s like anything else.  The more you shoot, the easier it is to flow along without a lot of conscious thought of what you’re doing.  But as soon as you’re comfortable with your gear and the basics of photography, flow is achievable.

 

  • It’s critical to be acutely aware of your surroundings during photo flow.  I’ve stressed the value of observation many times in this blog, and I’ll repeat it here.  If you want to get better at “seeing the shot”, practice observational skills whether you have a camera with you or not.  The goal is to see everything without needing to remind yourself.

 

  •  Photo flow is also aided by awareness of position with respect to your subjects.  Purposely moving through space, walking closer to the subject, getting very close to the ground, all of this variation of point of view helps to put you in close touch with the scene and your subject.  It avoids the bystander role (which in my opinion gets in the way of good photography) thus allowing you to ‘let it flow’.
A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico.  What does it look like to you?

A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico. What does it look like to you?

 

 

  • Working the subject, good advice for several reasons, can also help you enter photo flow.  If you don’t think you’re in the right frame of mind or your mind is wandering, try working the subject intensively.  By its nature this tends to eliminate distractions, allowing the sort of focus and concentration that leads to flow.

 

  • Obviously, entering flow is difficult if you’re thinking of things other than photography.  Clear your mind before beginning a shooting session, and if thoughts enter unwanted, just let them go on.  Don’t follow them to more distracting thoughts.  In this way flow is like meditation, which is discussed in next week’s post.

 

  • Focus on the seeing and shooting and leave for later your judgments about how good the shots are.  The only thing that should distract you from the act of shooting is a quick review on the LCD to make sure a shot was properly focused and exposed.  Avoid lingering over reviews and move right on to the next composition or subject.

 

Next time I’ll use a few examples to illustrate photo flow and also show how it is like meditation in some ways.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

Mountain Monday: Outback Oregon   4 comments

Winter begins by dusting the Pueblo Mountains of southeastern Oregon.

Winter begins by dusting the Pueblo Mountains of southeastern Oregon.

I posted Friday on photography around stormy weather but neglected to include snow.  Good images are really difficult to get when it’s snowing heavily.  So let’s follow up and correct that error.  This is an image where the snow had just fallen on the mountains but never really reached me.  It was early morning and I was hoping for the mountains to show themselves.  It was chilly so I though maybe there would be snow, but I was surprised there was so much.

I was in what is called Oregon’s “outback” (apologies to Australia).  Southeastern Oregon is very thinly populated and is wide-open high desert.  Geologically, the mountains are fault-block type.  This simply means that they were formed by high-angle faults which throw one side down (becoming the valley or basin) and one side up (forming a long relatively narrow range).  It’s also known as basin and range terrain and continues south through most of Nevada and east to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

The reason I didn’t get snowed on is because of the “rain shadow effect”.  This is when rain or snow is essentially blocked by a mountain range.  The clouds are lifted by the mountain slopes, cooling the air and causing precipitation.  When the air descends the lee side of the range, it warms and dries, leaving little or none of the wet stuff for the valley beyond.  In areas where the weather pretty much comes from one direction, there can be very dramatic differences in vegetation between the windward and lee sides of any range that runs nearly perpendicular to the direction of prevailing winds.

Enjoy your week and Happy Labor Day to my fellow Americans!

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting around Weather   4 comments

Dust and sand from the dunes at Mesquite Flat blows up-valley ahead of a storm.  Surprising for this hyper-arid place, I got soaked hiking back.

I took a break last week from Foto Talk.  Hope you all didn’t give up on me!  This week I passed by an area that was readying itself for a hurricane.  And there’s been plenty of rain besides.  So I’m taking the hint and posting on the subject of photography and weather, in particular photographing in the wet stuff.

Shooting in stormy conditions presents both challenges and opportunities.  You’ve probably heard the advice to keep shooting right through stormy weather.  While I won’t disagree with this in general, I prefer a less absolute, more realistic attitude.  It’s a matter of weighing the upsides against the downsides.

On the plus side, depending on the clouds and sky, you may get some of your most atmospheric or dramatic shots during bad weather.  On the downside your gear is at risk.  In wet weather you are taking the obvious risk of getting moisture inside camera or lens.  Since that’s where your sensitive electronics reside, this is of course not good.

A storm blows itself out over the Columbia River, Oregon.

SHOOTING IN THE STORM

I’ve lived in both Oregon and Alaska, two places where dramatically bad weather is very common.  Here is what I’ve learned over the years about photography in bad weather:

  • I just mentioned the risks of water inside the camera.  But that’s not nearly as bad as putting yourself at risk.  It doesn’t happen often but dangerous weather does occur.  Use common sense and know when to beat a hasty retreat, to high ground and/or shelter.
  • Find camera protection that works for you.  I’ve posted before with tips and recommendations in this regard, and this post isn’t about that.  Just realize that no matter how good your rain cover, lens changes and other occasions expose your camera to the weather.  So no matter what you do some moisture will likely fall on your camera.  If you have a well-sealed professional grade camera and lenses, you can get away with wetter conditions.  The key is to know how well sealed your gear is and act accordingly.
I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.

I shot this lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida recently just after a heavy shower had passed.

  • At least as important as having camera/lens protection is having good clothing that keeps you reasonably dry and comfortable.  But since no clothing is perfect, be ready to put up with a certain degree of discomfort.  I always remember what my grandmom used to say whenever I complained about getting wet.  “You’re awfully sweet but you’re not made of sugar.  You won’t melt!”
  • Unless I see something quite compelling, either while driving or hiking with camera in a pack with rain-cover on, I usually don’t bother getting my gear out when the rain (or wet snow) is coming down hard.  Shots I may try when it’s dry I won’t chance when it’s very wet; that is, unless it’s really calling out to me.  It’s a simple calculation of risk vs. reward.
  • When it’s raining or snowing, contrast tends to be subdued.  So I tend to be attracted to compositions where low-contrast helps instead of hurting.  Low contrast in the wrong shot can rob it of impact, but in the right situation it helps establish the mood of your image.
Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.

Hiking up into the Oregon forest during a rainstorm near dusk was the only way to get this shot.

  • I shoot from within my vehicle a lot more when the weather is bad.  And I don’t think it makes me a wimp!  It does require sometimes pulling off in odd places.  If you do this, take it from me:  turn your attention away from the light and pay attention to your driving until you’re stopped, and even then continue to keep one eye out for traffic.  Unless the road is truly empty, I won’t block the travel lane.  I always make sure there is good sight distance behind and in front.  Having good sight distance is key, as is using emergency flashers and being quick about it.
The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The rain was coming down hard for this shot from inside my van: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

  • Being near big waterfalls can be just like being in a rainstorm.  So all the precautions you take in rainy weather you should also take when shooting a big waterfall in high flow.
  • Normally I don’t use UV filters, but when it’s wet I like to put them on. Lenses seal much better with a filter than without.  Any filter will help seal a lens.  If I’m shooting in a forest and especially along a stream, I use a circular polarizer instead of a UV filter.  CPLs cut down on reflections from wet leaves and rocks, bringing out their colors.
  • If you like shooting the stars at night, consider also shooting on moonlit nights when clouds or even storms are around.  Lightning is an obvious draw for many photographers, but if you let your imagination roam you can find unusual night compositions.
Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.

Most photogs. want clear skies when they shoot at night, but the clouds added drama to this overview of Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone Park.

SHOOTING TRANSITIONS 

As I’ve gone along, shooting in weather of all kinds, I’ve learned that shooting on weathery days is all about transitions.  Periods when weather is moving in on you or just clearing away very often offer the most rewarding light and atmosphere.  That’s why I titled this post Shooting around Weather, not in it.

  • Given that weather transitions usually happen quickly, it’s important to be ready.  That means, for a start, getting out there.  Some people think it strange, but a landscape photographer looks at bad weather forecasts and plans to go out shooting.  And it’s not just landscape shooting that can benefit.  You’ll get some of your most interesting architecture, people or wildlife shots when weather adds some drama to spice things up.
The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.

The interesting light here at Bollinger Mill & Bridge, Missouri is from a rapidly approaching violent thunderstorm.

  • So how to plan for something so capricious?  First, identify “transition days” ahead of time.  They are days when weather shifts from one regime to another, and the weather-person will sometimes call them out for you.  Otherwise you can see them coming yourself, once you’re familiar with the weather in your area.  Because they are full of change and thus unpredictable, you can easily get skunked with either socked-in conditions or clear blue skies.  But you can be rewarded with fantastic light as well.
  • Because they are literally defined by change, success on transition days is anything but guaranteed.  So instead of trying to outsmart the weather, go out on storm days too.  Transitions in the middle of stormy periods, often featuring brilliant sun-breaks and colorful rainbows, occur between fronts and generally don’t show up in weather forecasts (although you can sometimes see them on radar).

Within seconds, the rain stopped and light of the setting sun shot out from behind the Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

 

  • Watch the sky carefully and try to anticipate transitions.  This can take practice, and expect Mother Nature to throw you many curves.  During dry times, get to where you want to shoot and wait (hope) for the shift to stormy weather at the right time, when the sun is low.  During the storm, get to your spot and shelter there with camera & tripod at the ready.  As the sun lowers, there is always the chance it will dip below the storm clouds, illuminating everything in beautiful light.

Thanks for reading.  Now I’m off to get some shots of the ocean and sky in tropical storm weather.  Wish me luck!  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.

Recent sunset in a coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico where Hermine was due to hit.

Single-image Sunday: Frames   10 comments

Early morning in the Bisti/De Na Zi Wilderness, New Mexico.

Early morning in the Bisti/De Na Zi Wilderness, New Mexico.

It had been quite awhile since I’d used this simple technique, but recently I had a golden opportunity to use it.  Photographic frames (or frame within the frame) are actually more common than you might think.  But they’re usually much more subtle than this image shows, particularly natural frames.  I was inspired by this week’s Daily Post.  Check out many more examples over there at Frames.

Bisti/De Na Zi Wilderness

I recently checked out an area that I’d been wanting to get to for awhile.  It’s in a fairly remote part of the western U.S. in northwestern New Mexico.  Just north of Chaco Canyon, it’s a protected area called the Bisti/De Na Zi Wilderness.  It’s usually just called Bisti, which is a shortened translation of the Navajo word for adobe walls.  I like the second part of the name better.  It’s an exact rendering of the Navajo for cranes.  South of the wilderness are petroglyphs of cranes.  I love cranes and it’s a beautiful name for them, but with little time, I didn’t locate them on this trip.

 Landscape photographers have been coming here in increasing numbers, so you’ll see plenty of images online if you search.  But these are mostly shots of the interestingly shaped hoodoos (pinnacle-like rock formations), with the most popular being a large wing-shaped formation.  Of course I went for a different take, so explored the canyon floor and an area outside the main concentration of hoodoos.

Despite De Na Zi’s popularity I didn’t see another soul.  I got up very early to be out there at sunrise.  It can be difficult to know how to proceed when you first foray into an unfamiliar area.  And when you start out in the dark pre-dawn hours, it can even be quite disorienting.  This is what I was feeling as I hiked out there into the De Na Zi, still half-asleep.  But there was a moon so I soon got used to it and relaxed, enjoying the detached feeling and the solitude.  See the Extra below for some guidance on confidently heading out into unfamiliar lands to shoot.

I found this little arch just after sunrise.  The badlands beyond were receiving full sun while the grainy rock of the arch, inches from my camera, had just been touched by the sun.  I had to scramble up to it and it was a little precarious to position the tripod, but not too bad.  It was very quiet out there as the shadows gradually shortened and the sun rose, promising a hot August day ahead.  Thanks for looking!

EXTRA: Finding your Way

I don’t use a GPS while hiking & photographing.  Too much temptation to locate and find specific things instead of exploring for my own compositions.  Also I have a good sense of direction and rarely get truly lost.  The most important thing to possess, though, is the right attitude.  I don’t mind wandering around temporarily unaware of exactly where I am (I don’t call this lost).

But whenever I go hiking with others, I realize that most folks do mind not knowing where they are, and do call it being lost.  So for most people who want to go off-trail to find unique photo opportunities, I recommend a GPS.  Learn how to use it in a local park before trying it out in the wilderness.  Even for short forays away from the road, it’s nice to tag your parking location so you’re able to head straight back to the car, particularly if the sun has gone down.

Without GPS, I just keep track of my route using landmarks and position of the sun/moon/stars, occasionally turning around and studying the terrain.  So I’m normally confident of the general return direction.  It’s not as exact as a GPS, but terrain usually dictates an indirect route anyway (something that GPS users sometimes forget).  Even if you use a GPS, I suggest getting used to using landmarks and awareness of route direction relative to your parking spot, the direction the road runs, and the sun (or moon/stars if it gets dark).

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