Archive for March 2013

Happy Easter!   3 comments

A red tulip.

A red tulip.

Happy Easter!  This is a very simple post.  I hope you are spending most of this day outside.  So I have few words to distract you.  No pictures of bunnies, sorry.  For me Easter means tulips.  I think tulips are my favorite flower, or at least my favorite cultivated flower.  Just click on the images for high-res. versions and purchase options.  These are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest.  Enjoy your holiday!

A spring shower dampens a newly bloomed pink tulip.

A spring shower dampens a newly bloomed pink tulip.

 

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Friday Foto Talk: Pickin’ & Choosin’   12 comments

Birds fly south over fall colors along the Animas River in New Mexico.

Birds fly south over fall colors along the Animas River in New Mexico.

This Friday’s Foto Talk I am keeping it light.  We have the first of spring’s lovely days here in Oregon and I see no reason to get into a complex software tutorial, or equally heavy conceptual discussion.  This week it’s all about the fun part of post-processing:  when you have a memory card full of images and are sitting in front of your computer to view them for the first time at a larger size than the 3 measly inches on the back of your camera.  This is fun, right?

 Well, for some it can be anything but fun.  You know who you are.  You have a “little trouble” deciding which of the hundreds (or thousands) of images to select and which to toss.  Which of those selects are really good enough to enter into that photo contest?  In fact, this decision-making process should be fun but it often is anything but.

A small windstorm sweeps sand and dust down Death Valley toward the sand dunes.

A small windstorm sweeps sand and dust down Death Valley toward the sand dunes.  This is an image I originally only kept as a 1-star, but later came back to it and liked it better, increasing the rating to 3 stars.

It is a fact that you need to be flagging most of your photos as rejects.  Whether you toss them or keep them is up to you, but if you use a program like Lightroom, you have all sorts of ways to put your rejects immediately out of sight and out of mind.  For example, you can put only your selects from that shoot into a collection labeled as such, and from then on work from that collection, not the original folder.  This is the way I prefer, but there are still a bunch of images I just delete from the original folder, to save storage space and reduce clutter.

A detail shot like this one might escape notice if during your choosing you are not thinking "I need a few detail shots".

A detail shot like this one might escape notice if during your choosing you are not thinking “I could use more detail shots”.

I won’t go through the step-by-step procedure of picking photos.  This is one of the first things you will learn about Lightroom or whatever program you choose to organize your catalog.  I will say one thing however.  If you have many images from a shoot, avoid going through them one-by-one.  This takes way too long.  Learn to evaluate your images (along with those of others) from a thumbnail size.  It takes awhile to get the hang of this, but believe me it will save you tons of computer time.

If you are heavy on scenery and have few wildlife images, choose the animal!  This is a curious coyote in Death Valley.

If you are heavy on scenery and have few wildlife images, choose the animal! This is a curious coyote in Death Valley.

 My general procedure is to go through and select my picks from my rejects using general composition and color (which the thumbnail can give you).  For each pick I do view the image in loupe view, zooming in to 100% if I need to, all to make sure that focus is precise and nothing important is blurry.  If a photo is magnificent and a key element is even slightly blurred (such as a person’s or animal’s eyes), I toss that image.  Too bad too sad!

The road in Zion Canyon, Utah is lined with cottonwood trees.

The road in Zion Canyon, Utah is lined with cottonwood trees.

Here are a few things I consider while choosing photos:

Exposure:  the ideal is a slightly too-bright photo, but there are a wide range of exposures that are acceptable to me.  It just can’t be way off.

Composition:  it should be pleasing to the eye, be balanced and have attractively arranged and framed elements.  Notice I said nothing about “rules”. 

Subject:  you want a clear subject (even if that subject is just beautiful light).  It needs to be something interesting to look at.

Focus and clarity must be spot on.  It cannot look too washed out, since post-processing will not save that, in my experience.

Variety:  as I go through, I will tend to choose a vertical even if it’s not perfect, if I have chosen nearly all horizontals thus far.  I will choose one with a person, an animal, some human element, if I have a group of shots where natural features dominate.

Context:  if I have specific uses in mind for the photos, or specific things to try in post-processing, I will select for that.  For example, I don’t reject a shot of a great sky, even if it lacks any sort of interesting composition.  That sky could be saved and used later in a composite (though I don’t do much of that).  If I plan to possibly do an article or a book, I will tend to choose more detail shots, just so I have a variety of those to choose from.

I often choose a picture specifically because it might look good in black and white, even if the color version I am viewing does not have much impact.

I often choose a picture specifically because it might look good in black and white, even if the color version I am viewing does not have much impact.

And a few more general tips:

        • Try to pick and choose as you shoot.  Don’t miss the light, or the pose.  Simply use downtime well by tossing out obvious poorly exposed, unfocused shots.  Be careful with this; your rear LCD is not a fine selection tool.
        • If you are on a trip and have a laptop with a decent display, use that to toss out more rejects.  The advantage of this over the previous method is that you can try out a developing preset or two to help you decide whether the picture is worth keeping.  But since no laptop will match even average desktop displays, use caution here as well.  Only trash the obvious rejects.
        • When you get back from your shoot or trip, if possible sleep on it before viewing your images.  Selecting among images, like any similarly visual task, can often be much more effective given time away from it.
        • If you have time, go through your images a second (or even third) time, further refining your selects.  This is where you would give them star ratings.  As with the above tip, it is best to let a little time go by before revisiting your images.
        • Try to avoid selecting two very similar images as equals in your collection.  It’s okay to have similar compositions.  In fact it is highly advisable to have both horizontal and vertical compositions of the same subject.  But force yourself to choose which is the 3 star and which is the 1 star (for example).  Which is better?  And since I have this one vertical that is great, can I trash this other vertical and just keep the horizontal alternative?
I had two nearly identical images to choose from here, one with people and one without.  In this case the choice was easly.

I had two nearly identical images to choose from here, one with people and one without. In this case the choice was easy.

I have in the past had a hard time deciding which of my photos are any good.  I’ve gotten a lot better but I still have trouble deciding which of the good ones are really good.  I think this is a fairly natural progression in learning to evaluate photos.  I think of context a lot more these days, and many shots I would have rejected before are saved (but not highly rated) just because I foresee uses for them.

These images here are part of a huge update of my website, in this case for my American Southwest galleries.  The image at top was chosen recently as an Earth Shot of the Day.  Earth Shots is a fantastic website that features one gorgeous image each day.  Check it out!

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

In Little Ruin Canyon the moon illuminates Square Tower, with Hovenweep Castle visible on the rim beyond.

I included two pairs of images that I still cannot for the life of me decide which is better.  The pair above is from Hovenweep, a really interesting Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) site in the Four Corners region.  They are two slightly different compositions with Square Tower in the foreground.  Which do you prefer?  I really can’t make up my mind on this pair.

The other two (below) are from Death Valley’s salt flats, which fracture in fascinating patterns during wetter periods.  Both are early morning pictures, but one has better color saturation while the other possibly has more interesting detail and more subtle color.  It’s another tough choice.  Which do you prefer?  And why?

The morning sun hits the Panamint Range bordering Death Valley's salt flats.

The morning sun hits the Panamint Range bordering Death Valley’s salt flats.

The salt flats in Death Valley form interesting patterns that glow during dawn's light.

The salt flats in Death Valley form interesting patterns that glow during dawn’s light.

Hope you enjoy the images.  Go ahead over to my galleries if you want to see more.  Thanks so much for your interest.  Note that they are copyrighted and illegal to download.  These versions on the blog post are much too small anyway.  Click on any image to be taken to a larger version which is available for purchase by clicking one of the tabs to the upper right of the image (prints, downloads, etc.).  You can also contact me with any questions or special requests.  Thanks a bunch!

The sand dunes at Mesquite Flats in Death Valley, California, appear wave-like in the right light.

The sand dunes at Mesquite Flats in Death Valley, California, appear wave-like in the right light.

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons Sampler   6 comments

The Snake River's Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming reflects autumn colors.

The Snake River’s Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming reflects autumn colors.

I am in the process of updating my website with pictures I’ve made in the past few months.  Yes, I know.  I have been suffering that most common of website owner maladies: utter neglect!  I guess I don’t really love my website.  All I like is the color of the background and the photos, of course.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

Here are a few of the shots I have re-edited, spruced up, and made ready for the world.  All are from the first leg of my recent trip around the American west, of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts under a starry night.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts under a starry night.

If you are interested in prints or downloads just click on the picture.  The versions here are very low-resolution, but when you click you will have the option to purchase high-res. versions.  All of the images are copyrighted and thus illegal to download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me for more information or special requests.  The direct link to my main website: MJF Images.

 Hope you enjoy them.

The Grand Tetons are a must-stop on any road trip through America's Rocky Mountain states.

The Grand Tetons are a must-stop on any road trip through America’s Rocky Mountain states.

An icy early autumn morning along Yellowstone's Firehole River and the enormous steam plumes rising from Grand Prismatic Spring.

An icy early autumn morning along Yellowstone’s Firehole River with colorful steam plumes rising from Grand Prismatic Spring.

Bare trees and a frosty meadow form a dramatic setting for lifting morning mist at Yellowstone National Park.

Bare trees and a frosty meadow form a dramatic setting for lifting morning mist at Yellowstone National Park.

Bison roaming the road at Yellowstone, and a tourist who had no idea they were that big.

Bison roaming the road at Yellowstone, and a tourist who had no idea they were that big.

 

The marvelous Swan River Wildlife Refuge in NW Montana, at the foot of the purple Swan Mountains.

The marvelous Swan River Wildlife Refuge in NW Montana, at the foot of the purple Swan Mountains.

 

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of evening.

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of  a crescent moon.

Cross-country Skiing at Mt Hood   14 comments

Mount Hood peeks above the fir trees during a cross-country ski outing in Oregon's Cascade Mountains.

Mount Hood peeks above the fir trees during a cross-country ski outing in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.

It grew cold and snowed in our mountains during the first week of spring.  When the storm broke I took the opportunity to go up to Mount Hood and ski.  Whenever I tell somebody I have gone skiing they immediately assume downhill skiing.  I mostly cross-country ski nowadays, though I still love downhill.  It was a beautiful day.

If you are looking for a good place to begin your winter exploration of Mt Hood (on skis or snowshoes), I think Trillium Lake is a good choice.  Those who know the area well might scoff at this choice.  After all, it is fairly popular and can get crowded.  It is very easy to find, however, and offers the option of quickly losing the crowds to ski very beautiful terrain.

Mount Hood stands near snow-covered Trillium Lake on a full moon ski.

Mount Hood stands near snow-covered Trillium Lake on a full moon ski.

Trillium Lake Snowpark lies just a few miles east of the pass at Government Camp, along Highway 26.  Coming from Portland it is on your right.  You immediately descend into a beautiful basin.  On skis it is quite an exciting descent, but because you are following a wide snow-covered road, there is plenty of width to snowplow.  From the bottom you can do like 95% of folks do and circle Trillium Lake.  This is a fantastic option for a beginner (who would probably take off skis and walk down the big hill).

Ice clings to moss along a cross-country skiing trail in Oregon.

Ice clings to moss along a cross-country skiing trail in Oregon.

If you are more of an intermediate, or adventurous novice, go straight ahead at the bottom of the hill.  Then take your first left, climbing up a hill, still on a logging road, to start the Mud Creek Loop.  You will leave most other skiers and shoers behind.  From this loop, you have a couple other options aside from staying on the loop road.  About a mile up, you will see the signed Quarry Trail take off to the right.  This fairly narrow trail descends through open areas and shortens the loop.  You can leave the trail and cut long beautiful turns if you have the ability.

There are plenty of beautiful details to admire on a cross-country ski outing.

There are plenty of beautiful details to admire on a cross-country ski outing.

On Saturday I did a favorite trail of mine, the Lostman.  Other than the name, I like this narrow loop trail for its beauty and generally great snow conditions.  Look for the signed trail leaving Mud Creek Road on the left.  The trail is narrow but not steep, only about a couple miles in length.  You will invariably have it to yourself.  Keep a close watch on the blue diamonds though, because the trail’s name is very appropriate.  You come back out on Mud Creek Road, where you can either turn right to retrace your route back to Trillium Lake or continue the main loop by turning left.

Beautiful Mount Hood is illuminated by alpenglow.  Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Beautiful Mount Hood is illuminated by alpenglow. Mirror Lake is at bottom.

After doing Lost Man, I headed up to Mirror Lake specifically for taking sunset photos of Mount Hood.  This is a short climb on a popular summer trail that leaves Highway 26 just west of the Ski Bowl ski area.  I climbed above Mirror Lake for these last three shots.  The powder snow was deep!  It kicked my butt!  I was a bit too late for perfect light, as the sun set into a cloud bank along the horizon.  But I was happy to have made it in time for a good picture of Hood.  I swept several telemark turns down through the powder under a nearly full moon, as the temperature rapidly dropped.

A crystal-clear and cold evening under the moonlight skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

A crystal-clear, cold evening under the moonlight skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

What a day!  I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  Click on any of them for purchase options, and to peruse the main portfolio section of my website.  These versions are low-res and are not available for free download anyway (they’re copyrighted).  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

Mount Hood stands alone, surrounded by forest, during the beginning of dusk.

Mount Hood stands alone, surrounded by forest, during the beginning of dusk.

Friday Foto Talk: Photographic Personality (or Style)   10 comments

I tend to really prefer finding a high perch for landscape photos.

I tend to prefer finding a high perch for landscape photos.

These weekly photography-focused blog posts are not all about using your camera gear and post-processing software.  I’m also eager to explore a piece of gear that is often forgotten: the photographer.

First off, you might have read of the importance of establishing a certain style with your photography.  If you’re anything like me, upon reading this for the first time you furrowed your brow or scratched your head.  Maybe you even vigorously massaged your temples while letting out a big sigh!  Or was that the third time you read it?  It is hard to argue with the fact that having your own unique style would be pretty neat, right?  But for a while it remained a very vague, ill-defined notion for me.  Style?  What style?  I just want to take beautiful pictures!

Waterfalls are a favorite subject, and I don't have to go too far to find one, as here in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Waterfalls are a favorite subject, and I don’t have to go far to find one, as here in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

I also read somewhere that your style will emerge if you give it time.  Okay, how much time?  How will I know when it has emerged?  Well, a while back I finally got the idea, and it’s one of those vague, mysterious things you hear about that turns out to be almost silly in its simplicity.  Why must people throw a veil of mystery about very simple things?  Just explain what it is!  To be fair, perhaps it’s one of those things that each of us has to figure out in their own little way.

When traveling, my lens just seems to automatically point towards pretty girls; here in Nicaragua.

When traveling, my lens just seems to automatically point towards pretty girls; here in Nicaragua.

My “style” (which is not the word I prefer) is indeed emerging.  It was really there all along.  My style when photographing is really just an extension of my personality.  I”m willing to bet your style is too.  So let’s just call it that: your photographic personality (or PP).

I'm a lover of color, though I also do black and white, and always keep my eye peeled when traveling; here in Guatemala.

I’m a lover of color, though I also do black and white, and always keep my eye peeled when traveling; here in Guatemala.

To illustrate what I think PP entails, I’ll use myself as an example.  Just realize that some of the criteria you use to judge your own PP might be very different from mine.  I tend to gravitate toward nature, whether or not I have a camera.  It is my love of natural beauty, as well as my curiosity about natural history, that determines what I tend to photograph.  That curiosity does extend to people, but I’m much more interested in foreign people and their cultures.  This means most of my people photography is done outside the U.S. when traveling.

I love when traveling to capture a slice of the daily life of people I meet.  Here in Malawi, I tried to help for awhile, until I found out how hard it was.

When traveling, I love to capture a slice of the daily life of people I meet. Here in Malawi, I tried to help for awhile, until I found out how hard it was.

But it’s not just your preferred subjects that defines your photographic personality.  It is also your approach to capturing the pictures.  How do you approach any project?  My preferred method is to zero in and try to exclude all distractions until I finish.  I even love to explore all the pieces of an argument (oops I meant discussion) before letting it go; drives people crazy!  I think of things in terms of mountains.  You know that summit you see is just a false summit, don’t you?  You know there is very likely more to go after that, so hold off on that celebration.  I know, sounds a little obsessive.

Turn me loose in a meadow and come back in a few hours.

Turn me loose in a meadow and come back in a few hours.

So when photographing something, I will exhaust all angles, get close, back up, get low, look for high perches.  In short, I naturally do something that all good photo 101 books tell you to do; that is, work the subject.  In fact, I often overwork the subject.  I also tend to bore quickly of things, which sounds contradictory I realize.  So on a landscape photo shoot, for example, instead of capturing every shot at wide angle with very close foreground, I will also shoot some with all background at medium or even long focal lengths.

I like subjects that are interesting from a natural history perspective, like this living fossil, the metasequoia.  It is now growing in eastern Oregon after being known only from fossils (in the background).

I like subjects that are interesting from a natural history perspective, like this living fossil, the metasequoia. It is now growing in eastern Oregon after being known only from fossils (in the background).

When I worked as a field scientist, I got into the whole observation thing.  I would lose myself for an entire day mapping.  Ten hours would pass by without my noticing (or eating), and the radio would crackle, my partner wondering when we were going to call it a day.  This was because I got to the point where I would absorb myself totally in every little detail of the land and its rock formations.  Give me a camera instead of a rock pick and I fall back into the same old habits.  Guess you could say I’m detail-oriented, but also believe that the “big picture” is a very important detail.

Finding interesting places to stand while taking a picture: a nurse log in the redwoods.

Finding interesting places to stand while taking a picture: a nurse log in the redwoods.

In the city, or anywhere where human-built stuff predominates, I am the opposite of observant.  In fact, I’m often unfocused and rather blind to my surroundings.  But having the camera in the city is enough to turn me into a head-swiveling maniac of observational intensity – at least for awhile.  I can’t keep it up for long in this environment.

If I include human-related elements in my pictures, they must fit in very well to the landscape: Capitol Reef, Utah.

Any human-related elements in my pictures must fit well into the landscape: Capitol Reef, Utah.

The last element of my photographic personality is patience (or my lack thereof).  I’ll often spend well over an hour photographing some little macro subject in a meadow.  Some would call that patience.  Well, maybe it is a kind of patience, but this is not the kind of patience I’m talking about.  I’m talking about finding a fantastic landscape composition, or a great lookout post for some wildlife subject you’re after.  And then camping out until the light is just right, or the animal finally decides to favor you with his or her presence.

I love natural light.  Thus this trillium is not lighted with flash but with a sunbeam coming through the forest in Oregon.

I love natural light. Thus this trillium is not lighted with flash but with a sunbeam coming through the forest in Oregon.

This takes real patience.  It is waiting, and waiting…and waiting some more.  This is not me.  I have to move or my motivation just drains right away.  I’m willing to shoot an outstanding composition with so-so, too-early light, and then move on to get a lesser composition with perfect light.  So long as I can move if I want to move.  That is a trade-off many many landscape and nature photographers are unwilling to make.  I should say I do also plan ahead for the occasional special shot.  Then I will arrive just in time for great light (or more likely get skunked).  But I prefer being out well before golden hour.

Interacting with people I meet during travel is such fun, and taking their picture is easy because of that.

Interacting with people I meet during travel is such fun, and taking their picture is easy as a result.

A sort of side-effect of this insistence on moving until day’s end is that I am often rushing to set up, racing to get some kind of decent shot before the magical light winks from existence.  It gets a little stressful.  But I suppose I’m used to it, being a habitually late person by nature.

A bit more on patience, since I think it’s an important part of photographic personality.  I suppose I (and most photographers) have at least a moderate amount of patience.  But do not think you must have enormous patience to be a landscape photographer, or any type of photographer for that matter.  The big exception?  If you want to be a top-notch wildlife photographer you will need boatloads of patience, believe me.

When the weather gets back, I can't help but imagine all the possibilities.  I still hate hiking in the rain though.

When the weather grows stormy, I can’t help but imagine all the possibilities. I do hate hiking in the rain though.

Now I know that your “style” is supposed to show up in your pictures and be sort of a unique stamp that sets your pictures apart from others.  That in my opinion is over-stating it.  Yes, your images will eventually bear your stamp, be a reflection of you.  But it is your photographic personality that places that stamp upon your photos.  Just as in normal life, there are parts of your personality that you share in common with many other people.  And so some of your photos will be similar to those of other photographers.

I’ll assume that you do not go out of your way to copy other photography.  This is, of course, a big no-no if you want to progress as a photographer.  The exception is when trying to reproduce a certain type of photo, a look, some lighting style, etc. as a learning exercise.  That doesn’t count.

One of my favorite flowers, the tiger lily.  I spent quite a bit of time getting the perfect shot.

One of my favorite flowers, the tiger lily. I spent quite a bit of time getting the perfect shot.

My point is that the totality of your portfolio will clearly demonstrate your “style” because it reflects all the little quirks of your photographic personality (which in turn is a reflection of your own unique personal personality – if that makes any sense).  Since it takes a good while after starting out to begin to take very good pictures (or at least a bit less than 99% sucky pictures), it will take a while for your real photographic personality to be fully reflected in your portfolio as (yes) a style.  So be patient (there’s that word again, grrrr!).

Star photography is a natural extension of my interest in astronomy.

Star photography is a natural extension of my interest in astronomy.

I’ve described the basic parts of my photographic personality.  Now I am very curious about yours.  If you are just starting out, perhaps you don’t know the full answer yet, but I’m willing to bet you know part of it.  I am honestly still tweaking mine, and after a few years of fairly intense image-making, I finally have a decent portfolio that is beginning to show an emerging style.  Wow, I”m back to using that word style with no quotations.  It certainly does flow more smoothly with the word ’emerging’ than ‘photographic personality’ does!

Luck is something I embrace.  While setting up in a rush for a sunset shot, I looked behind me and saw this view of Mount Hood, Oregon.  I quickly shot it without a tripod, as the unique light quickly changed.

Luck is something I embrace. While setting up in a rush for a sunset shot, I looked behind me and saw this view of Mount Hood, Oregon. I quickly shot it without a tripod, as the unique light quickly changed.

Don’t forget to comment if you want to share some parts of your photographic personality.  If you have a photo-oriented blog, you might even consider posting a more complete description in the future.  Heck, I may even condense and add it to my About page.

Remember these pictures are copyrighted and not available for free download.  These versions are much too small anyway.  Click on any you’re interested in for options to purchase high-res. downloads or beautiful prints (framed or just matted).  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.

Sunsets will never ever seem cliche to me:  The Pacific Coast of northern California.

Sunsets will never ever seem cliche to me: The Pacific Coast of northern California.

Happy Vernal Equinox   3 comments

Bring on the light!  The first day of spring, or vernal equinox, is a time for celebration in the northern hemisphere.

Bring on the light! The first day of spring, or vernal equinox, is a time for celebration in the northern hemisphere.

This is the day that makes everybody in the northern hemisphere happy.  It is spring (vernal) equinox.  That means the first day of spring, the day when daytime and nighttime are equal in length (thus “equi” and “nox” – night).  It’s been happening in recent years on the 21st in North America, so some think that it always occurs on this day.

The fact is, the 20th is just as likely as the 21st.  After all, the event is not tied to a date.  It happens when the sun lines up with the equator.  Since the earth is tilted as it goes around the sun, there are only two times during the year that this happens:  once in spring and once in fall (the autumnal equinox).

This annular eclipse, though different from an equinox, reminds us of the different movements of Sun, Earth and Moon.

This annular eclipse, though different from an equinox, reminds us of the different movements of Sun, Earth and Moon.

The other astronomically-significant days on the calendar, the solstices, are when the earth is tilted at its maximum angle with respect to the sun, and so represent the longest (winter) and shortest (summer) days of the year.  On solstices, I have had the habit of trying to do something awesome.  As with my birthday, if I’m not working I try to get out and hike, ski or otherwise enjoy the outdoors.  Climbing a mountain is a favorite.

I have never really thought of equinoxes in the same way.  Maybe it’s time to change this.  I thought I would look through my picture catalog over the last few years, searching by date taken, to find out if I had accidentally done something awesome on the vernal equinox.

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Tajamulco.

The sun rises over the Guatemalan highlands, as viewed from the summit of the highest mountain in Central America, Volcan Tajamulco.

It turns out I had, on the 21st of March in 2010.  In western Guatemala, I climbed to the summit of Tajamulco, the highest mountain in Central America.  We had camped not far below the summit the night before, and before sunrise we climbed the final 800 feet or so.  The sunrise was spectacular.  Hope you enjoy the photos.  Remember to click on any you are interested in purchasing.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.   Happy Equinox wherever you may be!

Offerings at the summit of Tajamulco, Guatemala.  A lone climber stands in the shadow of the mountain.

Offerings at the summit of Tajamulco, Guatemala. A lone climber stands in the shadow of the mountain.

Poor Khallie   7 comments

Khallie close-up.

Khallie close-up.

This is sort of a personal post, totally unlike me.  But it’s also a good chance to highlight some pictures of my favorite little filly, Khallie.  She is on my mind right now because of an accident.  It could have been worse (of course) but she got hurt and that’s bad enough.

Khallie, an arabian filly, is in the mood for mischief.

Khallie, an arabian filly, is in the mood for mischief.

We were just starting a ride.  She did not want to step into a big puddle of water to get around a gate (she has “issues” with water, something I’m trying to gently fix).  So I led her under a strand of barbed wire to avoid the puddle.  This is something some lame-brained landowner put up, not even on his property.  We had done this numerous times in the past, so I was not worried.  Perhaps I was a bit complacent about it, but I allowed the wire to catch on the saddle horn.

Khallie & her mom Gold Dancer do the mom-daughter thing.

Khallie & her mom Gold Dancer do the mom-daughter thing.

Khallie chose that moment to jump forward, and the wire scared her.  She took off, no way I could have held her.  She ran away like the wind, dragging the barbed wire behind her.  She thought she was being chased by the wire.  I jogged after her and finally found her standing in the trees off the trail, breathing hard.  She was very scared.  I only noticed some minor cuts and abrasions, no limp, and so continued the ride (though I shortened it significantly).  I wanted her to calm down before taking her back.

Khallie just a week after being born.

Khallie just a week after being born.

It wasn’t until the next day that her leg swelled up and pus began dripping from a hidden wound.  The wire had apparently sliced cleanly into her flesh, a nice 4-inch long gash, about an inch deep.  Not good, especially the pus, which means it’s infected.  It might need stitches, but the place it is located would likely mean stitches would not hold.

Khallie just loves the snow.

Khallie just loves the snow.

So now she is being doctored, on antibiotics and confined to her stall.  It should heal fine (she’s young) but it still makes my heart break for her.  I know it was really my fault, so I feel quite guilty about it.

A recent picture of Khallie in profile.

A recent picture of Khallie in profile.

Khallie is my little girl, my favorite horse (I have two, her mother also).  I was there when she popped out of her mom, and she quickly wormed her way into my heart.  I love her spirit.  That spirit you can see in the image below when she is barely a week old already longing to get out of the birthing stall.  Her mom is sick right now with a flu bug and so now I don’t have any horse to ride.

Khallie, a little over a week after being born, is already impatient to get out and see the world.

Khallie, a little over a week after being born, is already impatient to get out and see the world.

It’s difficult also because Khallie was just learning to ride.  I’ve only ridden her a half dozen times up to this point.  So now I’m off to the barn to bring her more treats.  Along with cleaning the wound, I feel my job is to baby her and soothe her bruised feelings.  She’s a bit of a prima dona, but I know she has a tough streak in there too.  So she should get through this with no lasting scars, at least emotional ones.

Khallie is very much a people horse, here she greets her mom and rider returning home from a ride.

Khallie is very much a people horse, here she greets her mom and rider returning home from a ride.

Puttin’ on the Green: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!   7 comments

 

The O'Flaherty Castle in Connemara, Ireland.

The O’Flaherty Castle in Connemara, Ireland.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  This post will be a bit short on words but very long on green.  I love all the colors found in nature.  I’ve been blessed to admire the crystal blue of a clear sky, the deep brown and ochre of rich earth, the impossibly-pure white of fresh snowfall, the vibrant fuschia and magenta of a desert sunset; even that most fiery of red-orange in flowing lava!

But there is something about the color green that speaks to all of us.  It is the color that means life.  I make my home in a very green part of a green state: northwestern Oregon.  Also, I’ve traveled to lush and very green places in the tropics all over the world.  But I believe that when I visited Ireland about 6 years ago, I saw the most incredible variety, the most luminous shades of green that I’ve ever seen in my life.  This is where my ancestry lies, in the Connemara region of western Ireland.

If you’re interested in buying any of these images either framed or in high-resolution download form, just click on those you like (except the top one).  All of them are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  Enjoy the green!

A mother giant river otter leads her babies across a plant-covered pond in western Venezuela.

A mother giant river otter leads her babies across a plant-covered pond in western Venezuela.

Rice paddies surround a small village on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

Rice paddies surround a small village on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A green frog floats in a green pool in Namibia's Naukluft Mountains.

A green frog floats in a green pool in Namibia’s Naukluft Mountains.

A fern-filled grotto in western Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A fern-filled grotto in western Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

A capuchin monkey peers down from the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

A capuchin monkey peers down from the rainforest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

In the foothills of the Andes in Colombia, a cloud forest seems a great place to hide leprechauns.

In the foothills of the Andes in Colombia, a cloud forest seems a great place to hide leprechauns.

One of spring's colts gambles across a green pasture in eastern Oregon.

One of spring’s colts gambles across a green pasture in eastern Oregon.

A waterfall in the jungle on the slopes of Mt Rinjani on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A waterfall in the jungle on the slopes of Mt Rinjani on the island of Lombok, Indonesia.

A river flows through remote jungle in southwestern Costa Rica.

A river flows through remote jungle in southwestern Costa Rica.

A moss-covered bank overlooks a small rapid on Hood River, Oregon.

A moss-covered bank overlooks a small rapid on Hood River, Oregon.

Home in the Jungle: Life on the Rio San Juan, which flows along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Home in the Jungle: Life on the Rio San Juan, which flows along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Big sky and rolling green plains grazed by roan antelope define the pristine Nyika Plateau of northern Malawi.

Big sky and rolling green plains grazed by roan antelope define the pristine Nyika Plateau of northern Malawi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Mixing White Balance   3 comments

Geese fly along Yellowstone National Park's Hayden Valley.

Geese fly along Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley.

This week we talk about a fairly simple way to enhance your photograph in post-processing: mixing white balance.  I always use Lightroom 4 to bring my photos on to the computer and do the basic editing.  Normally this is the only program I use, but sometimes I will use Photoshop Elements or a plugin (Topaz, Nik, etc.) to perform a task that is difficult to do in Lightroom.  I shoot in RAW.  One big reason I do is because this is the only way you can change white balance after taking the picture.  If you shoot in Jpeg you need to choose your white balance before taking the shot, and then you can’t change it on the computer.

These photos you see, by the way, are quite small Jpeg versions created from the RAW photos.  They are small to make them not so good for downloading, which is illegal anyway since they’re copyrighted.  Click on an image for purchase options.

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What is white balance?  It’s simply a color scheme for your picture.  Take a look at a color wheel (google it).  Think of it as a sort of graph for color, where colors on the opposite side of the wheel represent extremes.  Sometimes colors out in the world will be relatively pure, but mostly they will be a mix of these extremes.  For example the color blue, as in a deep blue sky, is the opposite of the color yellow or orange (gold), as in a golden sunset.  But think of what you see (and what you photograph) as a mix, a balance between the extremes represented by the color wheel.

An example of a "blue-hour" shot of the iconic Crown Point over the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

An example of a “blue-hour” shot of the iconic Crown Point over the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

 In other words, each time you go outside and look around, you are seeing a particular white balance in the colors of each scene.  Sometimes when you face one direction you will see one color scheme, and then you turn around and see a different one.  The most dramatic differences in white balance come as the day moves along.  During pre-dawn and again during deep dusk hours you get a fairly cool lighting scheme, rich in deep blues.  That’s why this time is called by photographers the “blue hour”.  When the sun is very low and reflecting off of a scene (such as in the image below) you are in “golden hour”.  This is a time when the light is very warm and rich in yellows and reds.  In mid-day, depending on the weather conditions, a pale blue scheme can dominate.

(A disclaimer for scientifically-inclined readers: I know that the more blue a light, the warmer it is.  Red is cooler light than blue.  But we are talking artists here, and for these purposes blue is thought of in cool terms while red is considered warm.  So reverse your thinking.  I know – artists!)

Simple front light on this pronghorn antelope has a uniformly warm color scheme (white balance).

Simple front light on this pronghorn antelope has a uniformly warm color scheme (white balance).

Now take a look at your white balance adjustment in the software you use to edit your photos.  In Lightroom and most other software, it occupies a position near the top of your panel.  That’s because it is usually good to adjust your white balance before you do anything else.  But also notice that the adjustment includes two sliders.  In Lightroom they are labeled temperature and tint.  Temperature takes care of the balance between blues and yellows, while tint takes care of the green vs. magenta balance.

(Sorry I am just not going to put screenshots in this blog, at least not right now.  Bring up Lightroom or have a book or tutorial open if you want to follow along.  You will need to play with it yourself anyway to get the hang of it, and I don’t think a screenshot here will help you in the long run.)

 This post will not go over all the ins and outs of setting white balance in your camera and then again adjusting it (provided you shoot in RAW) once you are in front of your computer.  Instead I will (finally) jump into the main topic, that is how to incorporate different white balances into your photo.  I will use Lightroom 4 to explain, but programs like Aperture, GIMP, etc. are quite similar.  I’ll also assume you know how to use two tools in Lightroom: the graduated filter tool (shortcut M) and the brush tool (shortcut K).  Get a Lightroom book or go online for basic Lightroom tutorials to learn how to use these tools.

This is a back lighted scene, where the sun is low and the white balance is uniformly warm and golden.

This is a back lighted scene, where the sun is low and the white balance is uniformly warm and golden.

The photos above illustrate something about this subject that I think is very important.  It is a photo that naturally contains areas of different white balance, and it is these that I like to work on with mixed white-balance techniques.  In the image of the geese in Hayden Valley, the top and bottom of the photo are blue and cool while the middle has nice warm golden front light.  The other photos above have uniform white balances, and so changing white balance in part of the photos would result in unnatural effects.  The reason I think this is important is that I do not want to introduce strange color schemes into my photos, at least for 99% of them.  Although I do enhance things, I don’t like to see an image on my computer screen that is significantly different from the one I saw in the field.  Again, there are exceptions that prove this little rule of mine.

Back to this image from Yellowstone’s wonderful Hayden Valley.  In the river, the deep blue results from light back-scattering toward my shooting position.  I had my camera set to auto white balance for this image, and given the perfect front light I didn’t have to adjust the global white balance in order for me to retain the great warmth that was part of the original scene.  Water that is front-lit like this often has as deep a blue as you can possibly want, so I did not adjust the white balance in this part of the image.  The sky, which is blue because of back-scattering as well, originally had a paler blue color.  The second image from top, by the way, is the image before I did my selective white-balance adjustment.

Since I wanted the sky to match more closely (but not exactly) the blue of the water, I used Lightroom 4’s graduated filter tool.  This is located at top of Lightroom’s Develop panel, and is shaped like an upright rectangle with a graduated shading inside.  Clicking and dragging from top to bottom, I put the middle of the grad. filter at the contact between sky and land.  Once it was in place, I then adjusted the temperature slider to the left a modest amount (9 points).  I also bumped up clarity and contrast a bit, to bring out the clouds; and voila!  I had a deeper, bluer sky to better match the deep blue of the river.  Though this is a subtle difference, it certainly adds some pop to the image I think.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

Sometimes I will decide to go with a fairly cool (blue) white balance globally, across the entire photo.  Then upon looking at it I decide that some part of the image needs more warmth.  That was the case above, with the image of the Goosenecks in Utah.  This time I dragged the graduated filter from bottom to top, made it very narrow and placed the center at the horizon.  I added back some of the warmth I took away, and then some, by sliding the temperature slider to the right 16 points.  Then I noticed the river below was not the way I wanted it, so I used the adjustment brush in Lightroom.  This is located at the top of the Develop panel, just right of the graduated filter tool.

My adjustment for the brush – temperature 12 points to the left – took away most of that warmth I had added with the graduated filter.  I also bumped exposure and saturation up a bit to make the river stand out a little better in its deep shadowy canyon.  Other than some normal contrast, clarity and sharpness/noise reduction adjustments, I did not do anything else to this photo.  Note that it was taken under a full moon, thus saturation in the rocks was there but subtle (thus my desire to make it a bit less subtle).

A canyon in Zion National Park is flooded with warm light even from a sunset that has not yet turned the sky to gold.

A canyon in Zion National Park is flooded with warm light even from a sunset that has not yet turned the sky to gold.

In the photo above, I used two graduated filters plus a couple adjustment brushes.  I began with the graduated filters.  One was for the top third of the photo, and involved sliding the temperature slider to the left (blue/cool).  I wanted to accentuate the blues that were still in the sky as the sunset had not really begun to peak yet.  This was despite the fact that the canyon’s red rocks were catching all of the warm colors.  The other graduated filter, therefore, was for the bottom third of the photo.  I slid the temperature slider to the left (orange/warm) this time to accentuate that warmth a bit.

I was trying to capture the early stages of a sunset in that interesting location.  I cleaned up the middle third by using a couple adjustment brushes: one with temp. warmed a bit (orange bias), the other with temp. cooled a bit (blue bias).  Where the sky transitioned between a warm white balance below and a cool one above, I painted the clouds with the warm brush and the sky with the cool brush, to accentuate that transition.  In addition, for the warming brush, I also slid the tint slider a bit to the right (magenta), because there was a subtle pinkish glow to the clouds that I wanted to bring out.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

A rare desert rainstorm has left pools of water among the granite and saguaro of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

The photo above involves a combination of graduated filters and brushes as well, with subtle changes in white balance for each.  I included this one because it involved a challenge.  It’s not challenging because of the adjustments themselves, but because with the shadows and sharp (but beautiful) light transitions, it was difficult to retain a natural color cast.  What do you think?  Does the image look natural to you?  Does it have impact (does it “pop”) without looking like an HDR image?  Often even professional photographers get “too close” to an image.  Like a writer, they get too comfy in front of their work and as a result lose some objectivity.  It’s important to step away and come back to it after a day or so in order to see whether the color cast still looks natural.  Hey!  I just thought of another topic for Friday Foto Talk!

A pronghorn antelope rests in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar River Valley.

A pronghorn antelope rests in Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar River Valley.  A subtle decrease in white balance in the sky via graduated filter.  On the pronghorn, an adjustment brush with slightly increased exposure, temperature and saturation was used to help bring out the subject.  These changes bring out the contrasts already in the scene.

An example of a photo that has a natural difference in white balance between the landscape and sky.  You could elect to add a graduated filter to the sky and change its white balance, but it's easier to either increase vibrance or increase saturation of the blue channel in Lightroom.

An example of a photo that has a natural difference in white balance between the landscape and sky. You could elect to add a graduated filter to the sky and change its white balance, but it’s easier to either increase vibrance or increase saturation of the blue channel in Lightroom.

Sunset from Munra Point   5 comments

Sunset over the Columbia River from Munra Point, Oregon.

Sunset over the Columbia River from Munra Point, Oregon.

Munra Point has become one of the places I head to when I’ve got some time before the sun goes down and I want exercise and also a chance at a good photo.  It lies in the Columbia River Gorge, not far east of my home in Portland.  It’s a steep and strenuous hike but relatively short.  You can make it to the top in about an hour if you’re in decent hiking condition and don’t stop for anything but a drink of water.  The view down over the Columbia is hawk’s eye, and with the right timing great sunset photographs are possible.

A view from Munra Point south toward the high country gives an idea of how spectacular the hiking can be in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A view from Munra Point south toward the high country gives an idea of how spectacular the hiking can be in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Munra Point lies about a half hour’s drive from Portland.  Heading out Interstate 84 into the Columbia River Gorge, you will pass Multnomah Falls.  Not too far beyond this tourist hotspot, but before you come to Bonneville Dam, you will cross over Moffet Creek.  It is marked by a small sign so keep a lookout.  At the exit for Bonneville Dam get off and turn around, heading back west on the freeway.  As you approach Moffet Creek, get in the left lane, make sure nobody is on your tail, and turn off onto the shoulder.  A guardrail marks the approach to the bridge, and you will drive as far down the left side of this guardrail as you care to, putting it between yourself and the road.  Park and walk down to the creek, where you’ll cross under the bridge formed by the (higher) eastbound lanes.

Poison oak occurs along the Munra Point trail starting in April.

Poison oak occurs along the Munra Point trail starting in April.

This sounds like unofficial parking for a trailhead because it is.  It’s also why you’ll probably have this hike to yourself.  You will see a small trail heading into the woods near the east bridge abutment.  Head up here and travel a short distance parallel to the freeway, heading east.  Then you’ll see a trail heading up to the right; take it.  An old weathered sign at this junction states “this trail not maintained”.  If you see the sign, you know you’re on the right track.  Start climbing.

In the Columbia River Gorge, hiking high up on the ridges brings you to flowery meadows, most of which are too steep to admire the flowers close-up.

In the Columbia River Gorge, hiking high up on the ridges brings you to flowery meadows, most of which are too steep to admire the flowers close-up.

The trail offers a few switchbacks, but mainly gets right down to the business of climbing a steep ridge.  Watch for poison oak in season (spring and early summer).  Near the top you will have to do a little scrambling, but there is nothing that will really scare you unless you have a great fear of heights.  As you approach the summit, you will break out into meadows filled with flowers in springtime.  The last quarter to half-mile  offers a great chance to get pictures looking down and westward along the length of the Columbia River.  If you plan to take pictures at sunset, bring a flashlight for the final stretch back down to your car.

Grass widow is a common springtime flower on the Munra Point hike in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Grass widow is a common springtime flower on the Munra Point hike in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The summit, called Munra Point, is very rocky and offers a 360-degree view.  You can keep hiking the ridge-line to the south from Munra Point.  There is even a trail to follow, at least for a mile or so.  Eventually you will enter thick timber and begin climbing again.  Turn around or plot a loop using GPS or compass and map.  There are adjacent trails which will take you back north to the river, where you can use Gorge Trail 400 (which parallels the highway) to return to your car.

Hiking near the top of Munra Point can feel like you're on top of the world.

Hiking near the top of Munra Point can feel like you’re on top of the world.

I have hiked here with friends before, but usually it is one of those hikes that I do on the spur of the moment, when it is late in the day and I think the light might just be right for an epic photo.  Also, often near the end of the afternoon I feel the need for exercise, and this hike provides that in abundance.

Grass widow grow on Munra Point with the Columbia River far far below.

Grass widow grow on Munra Point with the Columbia River far far below.

The sun sets in a position aligned with the river in late winter and again in very early autumn.  In other times it is either south or north of the course of the river.  The flowers bloom starting in mid- to late-March, at a time when the sun sets well north of the river.  It would be nice if things would line up perfectly, but that isn’t the case.  Still, any time of year offers great photo opportunities.  And as a bonus you will get a natural stair-climber workout.  Who needs the gym when you have this?

The sun sets over the mighty Columbia River as seen from Munra Point in Oregon.

The sun sets over the mighty Columbia River as seen from Munra Point in Oregon.

Hope you enjoyed this little look at an off-the-beaten-track hiking destination in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  Pssst!  It’s a secret, so only tell your closest hiking buddies.

Dusk and approaching darkness make descending from Munra Point a job for a flashlight.

Dusk and approaching darkness make descending from Munra Point a job for a flashlight.

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