Archive for the ‘Wildlife photography’ Category

Travel Theme: Unexpected   15 comments

A really great idea for a travel theme, thanks Ailsa!  Check out all the other entries over on her blog: Where’s My Backpack?.

Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies at dawn.

Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies at dawn.

Last fall I was shooting sunrise at the ever-popular Maroon Lake in the Colorado Rockies.  As usual I let the other photographers go on their way and lazed around drinking coffee and soaking up some gorgeous sunshine.  I decided to walk down to a little pond near the main lake and look for some abstract or macro shots.  The sun was well up by this time and the light full of contrast.  So I was in no hurry.  I stalled for a few more minutes, cleaning lenses and fiddling with gear.

Maroon Bells in Late Fall I

While I had my back turned a visitor showed up.  When I turned around and saw her, I was surprised to say the least!  I had no idea moose frequented this area.  Change of plan: instead of a lazy stroll, now it was a crouching stalk!  Which was probably not necessary; she didn’t seem too bothered by my presence.  As the last picture shows, she was after a sweet (if soggy) mid-morning snack.  She wasn’t about to let some clumsy human with a camera ruin it either!

The Maroon Bells near Aspen Colorado receive an autumn visitor.

The Maroon Bells near Aspen Colorado receive an autumn visitor.

Water plants, yum!

Water plants, yum!

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Friday Foto Talk: Shooting in Winter, Part I   2 comments

From a previous trip to Nepal, this is the roof of the world.  Going up in elevation like this makes every day of the year a winter day!

From a previous trip to Nepal, this is the roof of the world – Everest & Lhotse. Going up to high altitudes in high mountains makes every day of the year a winter day!

Winter is upon us and it’s tempting to put your photography on hiatus.  The cold and wet is not only uncomfortable to shoot in, it can also be hazardous to your camera equipment.  Avoiding wintertime photography, however, means missing some beautiful pictures.  In this first part I’ll do my best to convince you to keep shooting through the winter months.  In Part II, I’ll pass on some tips and other ways to help you protect your gear and get some great shots.

Enjoy a grab-bag of images both recent and older while you’re at it!  Remember that all of them are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on the images to go to my main gallery page or contact me for requests on specific recent images.  I’m happy to hear from you!

A recent image, this is a snowy morning spent on the canyon rim of the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

A recent image, this is a snowy morning spent on the canyon rim of the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

Click image to purchase.  Late winter blends into spring in Oregon with a gorgeous rainbow.

Click image to purchase. Late winter blends into spring in rural Oregon with a gorgeous rainbow.

Benefits of Shooting in Winter

      • Scenes with snow and ice have a special feel to them.  There is no other time in which to get those atmospheric shots of snow and ice but during the winter months.
      • For those who live outside the tropics, the sun is lower this time of year.  That means you get nicer light for longer periods of time.  With winter solstice, the shortest days of the year are right now.  Depending on how far north you are and the quality of light, you may even be able to shoot in beautiful light from dawn to dusk.
      • The air is most clear and pristine at this time of year, giving the light a special character.  The atmosphere is often cold from top to bottom and the days are short.  This means the ground and the air near it doesn’t warm up appreciably during the day.  The rising heat waves that tend to distort things to one degree or another in summer are almost absent.  Even distant mountains can take on a startling clarity in wintertime.
      • For most areas, wintertime brings stormy weather.  This means it’s your best chance to capture dramatic skies and misty atmospheric light.
      • Similar to the above point, winter is when you’ll find fog in the mornings.  As you drive or walk around, try to imagine what a scene might look like shrouded in fog.  A scene you wouldn’t think of capturing at other times can yield gorgeous shots in fog.
The pastels in this dusk image near Mammoth Lakes, California only appear in winter's frigid and pristine air.

The pastels in this dusk image near Mammoth Lakes, California only appear in winter’s frigid and pristine air.

      • There are fewer other photographers around in winter.  So shooting at popular spots is easier.  If you’re willing to bundle up and go out on freezing mornings, you are unlikely to find your favorite shooting positions already occupied.
      • Speaking of shooting at sunrise, if you’re not exactly a morning person (like me), it’s easier to drag yourself out of bed for the later sunrises during winter.  With the earlier sunset, you might find it easier to shoot and still make dinner afterwards at this time of year.
      • Lastly, winter is a perfect time to experiment with shooting still lifes or portraits at home.  Experiment with using window light or various types of artificial lighting (including flash).  Buy fresh flowers and photograph them.  Even try your hand at product photography.  Use your imagination, but don’t stay inside.  Winter light is waiting!

Reading the above, it seems like a no-brainer to keep going full steam ahead with your photography during winter.  Of course nothing comes for free, and one can easily think of reasons to make your shooting less frequent.  The cold and wet can really put a damper on both your spirits and your equipment.  Days are short and light is often low.  But are these reasons or excuses?  Stay tuned next Friday Foto Talk for ways to avoid some of the pitfalls of wintertime photography, how to make it rewarding and even enjoyable.

A winter storm moves through the interior of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, far from the beaches of Cabo.

A winter storm moves through the interior of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, far from the beaches of Cabo.

Sunset in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California, the light has that winter clarity.

Sunset in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California, the light has that winter clarity in this recent image.

Wordless Wednesday: Desert Bighorn Sheep   9 comments

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Mountain Monday: Maroon Bells & Moose   7 comments

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No internet for the past few days, so I missed Single-image Sunday.  I know about Macro Monday, but having been in the mountains, this seems more appropriate. This post is all about the letter M!

I’m in the Rocky Mountains trying to soak up the last of autumn’s atmosphere.  It seems that this year winter is coming early to these parts.  I did some morning photos at Maroon Lake the other day. Finishing up at a small beaver pond, I had already gotten ready to leave when this cow moose showed up.  She quickly waded right into the pond and began to munch away on the water plants, plunging her big head all the way under and coming up with a mouth-full of moss and such.

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I’ve had the opportunity to see moose wading belly deep on numerous occasions.  But I’ve never had this spectacular a backdrop at the same time as having camera equipment at the ready.  The mountains are called the Maroon Bells, fairly famous because of their proximity to Aspen.

If you are interested in any of these images please contact me.  I’m on the road now and will not have them up on my website until I can get to a faster connection. Clicking on any of the pictures will take you to the gallery on my site that is animal-focused.  Thanks for reading and have a fantastic week!

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The Cascades III – Mount Rainier, Part 3   19 comments

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

The oft-admired view of Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes.

I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington this past August for a few days.  This is one of my favorite parks in the country.  When I was more of a backpacker I used to go up to Rainier and hike in the evening, getting an early start on the weekend.  I don’t mind hiking at night with a headlamp.  Sometimes you see some cool animals.  Well, maybe it’s not so cool to see a cougar at night alone!  I would spend the rest of the weekend off-trail, visiting pristine alpine meadows.  Alas, I wasn’t a serious photog. in those days.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier.  This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

There are many many waterfalls at Mount Rainier. This one sits along a lightly traveled trail in the Paradise Valley.

This last of the Mount Rainier series (but the Cascades series continues!) will pass on some travel tips.  Along with many visits over the years, I worked for one summer at Rainier a long time ago.  I actually lived at the park that summer and hiked nearly every day.  I was a pretty serious runner then and hit the trails on brutally steep routes.  My creaky knees remember every single mile.  But it was the best shape I’ve ever been in.  We also flew once per week around the mountain, counting elk.  It was a great summer.

So here are my favorite places to visit & photograph at Mount Rainier:

      • Paradise is by far the most popular place in the park.  It can be very crowded right around the visitor center.  But it’s a superb place to gain access quickly to subalpine flower-fields.  For the mobility-challenged, there are paved trails.  You can lose the crowds simply by hiking a couple miles out.  This is also the starting point for the hike to Camp Muir and the most popular route for climbing the mountain.
One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

One of the many flowering subalpine plants at Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.

      • Staying on the south side of the mountain, Reflection Lakes is a great place to photograph the mountain at sunrise.  It is just to the left of the main road not far after the turnoff to Paradise.
The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

The sun struggles to break through the fog at sunrise on Reflection Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park.

      • If you want a great short hike, Snow Lake is just the ticket.  Drive a bit further east from Reflection Lakes and the trail-head is on the right.  It is only about 2 miles to Snow Lake; halfway up take a short spur to Bench Lake.  This gorgeous lake when calm has a perfect reflection of Rainier.   You can camp at Snow Lake.  By hiking in this direction you are entering the Tatoosh Range, a rugged line of peaks running along the south side of the park.
Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

Snow Lake at Mount Rainier is peaceful in the early morning.

      • One of Rainier’s best Native American names is Ohanapecosh.  Keep going east past Reflection Lakes and down Steven’s Canyon to the southeast entrance.  Just before you get there, a trail on the left offers a great short walk along the lovely Ohanapecosh River.  An old-growth forest with huge trees grows along the stream banks.
One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

One of the big trees the trail passes at the Ohanapecosh River.

      • Tipsoo Lake on the east side of the park is a popular place from which to photograph Rainier at sunrise.  Since I only have time for one or two over-popular photo spots on each of my trips, I have not photographed this one yet.  I’ll get around to it.  Google Tipsoo for beautiful images!
      • The White River Campground sits along an energetic stream at a great trail-head.  You can hike from here to Glacier Basin.  It’s a beautiful but fairly popular trail.  It is also the starting point for the climb up to Camp Schurman and the north ascent of the mountain.  In my opinion this is a better climb than Camp Muir, but I’m partial to glacier climbs.
One of summer's later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of summer’s later blooming flowers is the beautiful blue gentian of boggy subalpine high country, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

      • Sunrise is, like Paradise, a popular place to hike through subalpine meadows.  You have your choice of hikes, short to long, on a multitude of trails.  It’s not hard to leave the crowds behind here.  There is a visitor center plus walk-in campground.  This is the trail-head to gorgeous Mystic Lake on the north side of the mountain.  By the way, any time you want good back-country information at a national park, visit the back-country ranger’s desk, which is separate from the less useful visitor center’s info. desk. In many cases, Sunrise being one, the back-country office is in a separate, more rustic-looking building.
This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

This furry critter is a hoary marmot and is a common sight (and sound) in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier.

      • On the road up to Sunrise is the Palisades trail-head.  The road makes a big 180-degree switchback and there is a parking lot in the center of the curve. The trail heads out to Palisades and Hidden Lake (which make good day-hikes), continuing to wonderful Grand Park (overnight).  Although the trail is short on views of the mountain, it passes a number of beautiful lakes and meadows.  My favorite thing about it is the likelihood of wildlife sightings.  I’ve seen bear, elk, deer, and smaller critters on this trail.
Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Flowers crowd Clover Lake on the Palisades Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Grand Park is an overnight backpack trip starting from the Palisades Trail-head.  It is shorter if you approach it from outside the park (google for directions). Grand is a huge meadow sitting high atop a mountain, and is a magnet for wildlife.  On one trip there, I approached the park at night.  The meadow was filled with elk!  I could hear them bugling a few miles away, and when I arrived there was a real party going on.  The male elk made it very clear to me that I was not invited.  I had to camp back in the forest; rutting elk bulls are not to be messed with.
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

      • Mowich Lake on the northwest side of the mountain is a wonderfully peaceful place to camp for a night or two.  Though you need to exit the park and drive awhile to reach it from the rest of the park, and the final approach is a gravel road, it’s worth it.  Mowich is the largest lake in the park and trail-head for a number of great trails.  You can stay over in a small tents-only campground.  The trail to Spray Park is awesome, climbing through great meadows with stunning views of the mountain.  Eunice Lake, about 2.5 miles from Mowich, is one of my favorite places to photograph the mountain from, especially at sunset.
Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

Mowich Lake at Mount Rainier allows no motors and is accessible on an RV-unfriendly road, making it a very peaceful spot.

      • Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground on the west side of the mountain is a great hiking destination.  You can reach it on a rough trail from the West Side Road, or on the Wonderland Trail.  There are flower-filled meadows along with tarns which yield great photos of the mountain.  The hike up to Pyramid Peak from here is steep but not too difficult a scramble.  On the other side of the peak is a great pristine alpine meadow.
One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry's Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

One of the tarns (small lakes) in the meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground at Mount Rainier National Park.

      • Lastly, if you’re a backpacker, consider doing the Wonderland Trail.  It is 93 miles of outstanding scenery, a trail that winds its leisurely way around Rainier.  You will face plenty of hills, so plan to not make record time.  You won’t want to hurry, believe me.  It’s an experience you will always remember.
If you're afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

If you’re afraid of heights you will probably not enjoy this suspension bridge along the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park.

Plenty of other destinations tempt you at Rainier.  It’s up to you to find them (I won’t give away all my secrets!).  I would consider devoting the good part of a week at the park if you have the time.  Plan at least a few days for a good introduction.  Visit the park’s website for lodging and camping information.  This park gets busy on summer weekends, but it covers a huge area so don’t let that stop you. September is a fantastic month to visit, as the crowds have lessened greatly, the weather is generally perfect, and the wildlife is much more active.  Flowers peak in August.

Cloud Block

Please note all of these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  They are low-resolution versions anyway.  To learn about pricing options for the high-res. versions, simply click on the images you’re interested in.  If you have any questions at all, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest, and thanks for sticking with me on this rather lengthy post!

Hiker's Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Hiker’s Heaven: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

The Cascades III: Mount Rainier, Part 2   18 comments

Good morning Mount Rainier!  Reflection Lakes.

Good morning Mount Rainier! Reflection Lakes.

What’s in a Name?

Geographic place names are a frequent bone of contention.  In North America, we have a push-pull between those who want to retain the names for mountains, rivers and the like that were given by the first white explorers, and those who want to use the native American names.  It is really a slap in the face to native tribes that we don’t use the names of places they often regard as sacred.  But there is a strong inertia at work as well.  The U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) is quite the staid, traditional organization.  The issue can get people’s blood boiling in a hurry.  And that’s not even counting all the racially-offensive place names, the Squaw Buttes of the world.

The Nisqually River Valley at Mount Rainier is filled with low clouds at dusk.

The Nisqually River Valley at Mount Rainier is filled with low clouds at dusk.

Mount Rainier in the past definitely illustrated this tension.  As mentioned in Part 1 the mountain was named for a rear admiral, a friend of Captain Vancouver (who led the first forays of white explorers up the Columbia River).  The name is typical of Cascade mountains. Many were named after the friends and backers of some of the first expeditions to explore the Pacific Northwest, others for presidents.  The Puyallup, a local native tribe, called the mountain Talol, or Tahoma (Tacoma).  This probably means “source of waters”, but also could be a general term for all snow-capped peaks.  Herein lies the problem with native American names, one reason for the BGNs reluctance to change names.  Often it is not at all clear what the meaning of a Native American name is.  Also, different tribes often use different names for the same place.

A young buck at Mount Rainier National Park.

A young buck at Mount Rainier National Park.

During the late 1800s, the city of Tacoma lobbied hard to get the nearby mountain’s name changed to Tacoma.  Seattle, then a rival, wanted to leave the name as it was.  The debate reached fever pitch in the latter years of the 19th century when the mountain was being considered for National Park status.  Tacoma’s civic leaders figured (correctly) that a name change would bring tourism, money and prestige to their small city.  Even President William McKinley, who signed the park into existence, weighed in.  Perhaps predictably, he favored keeping the name Rainier.  A president’s opinion matters, so the park was named Mount Rainier and the mountain’s name stayed the same.

A small waterfall plunges down a narrow verdant ravine at Mount Rainier.

A small waterfall plunges down a narrow verdant ravine at Mount Rainier.

Flying Saucers of Mount Rainier

In the summer of 1947, a private pilot named Kenneth Arnold was flying near Mount Rainier.  He had detoured during a business trip to look for the site of a recent crash of a military transport plane (there was a $5000 reward).  Suddenly he sighted flashing lights, then discovered they were coming from several strange flying objects near the mountain.  He saw some disk- or crescent-shaped objects that were flying en echelon, darting around mountains and into valleys at high speed.

He watched them for quite some time, flying in parallel but losing ground to them fast. He calculated their speed by timing their passage between Mounts Rainier and Adams and came up with 1700 mph (2700 km/h).  This was more than three times faster than any known aircraft.  Arnold told his story to the folks at the hangar in Yakima where he landed to refuel. The word spread quickly.  When he was interviewed by journalists, and later by the Army, he came across as a very careful observer who was not exaggerating.

I too happened to have a sighting!

I too happened to have a sighting!

Arnold did not compare the flying objects’ shapes to saucers.  He actually said they looked more like half-discs, or a pie plate cut in half, convex in the rear and longer than they were wide.  He told people they flew like a saucer or disk skipping over water.  But the term flying saucer was used in newspapers and the name stuck.  This was the first documented sighting of a UFO in the modern era.  There were many sightings over the next few weeks in the same region, many from very reliable observers.

Did Arnold see craft visiting from an advanced space-faring civilization?  He didn’t think so, at least at first.  He thought they were a new top secret aircraft being developed by the military. But he soon came to doubt that.  For one thing, the speed of the turns as they dipped and weaved would not have allowed a human to survive inside.  Although he noted the possibility of their being remote-controlled, he also had estimated their size as larger than a DC4 (a very large craft to be remote-controlled).  Later investigation by the Army turned up several other witnesses (a fire lookout, a prospector) that saw similar objects in the same area at the same time.

Night Sky at Rainier:  Did a delegation come from a planet orbiting one of these stars?

Night Sky at Rainier: Did a delegation come from a planet orbiting one of these stars?

This event affected Arnold’s life significantly.  He loathed the publicity it brought.  He was both labeled a loony and contacted by many people who believed in visitors from space. He could not understand, with the amount of concern and interest among the public, why the military would not have come clean if the objects were theirs.  Ultimately he seriously entertained the possibility of them being extraterrestrial in origin.

This sighting was followed by hundreds of reports from around the world, 850 or so from that same year.  Not long after the Arnold sighting, 9 UFOs in Idaho were spotted by a crew on a United Airlines jet, and this received much more media coverage than did Arnold’s.  It was during that same summer of 1947 that the public learned of the Roswell incident, the most famous UFO incident in history.

The Milky Way is easily visible from high up on the slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington.

The Milky Way is easily visible from high up on the slopes of Mount Rainier in Washington.

Was Ken Arnold first to see the vanguard of an exploratory mission of some advanced extraterrestrial intelligence?  Did he glimpse advanced military technology? Or did his sighting simply open the floodgates of the public’s imagination, a public primed for this?  It was early in the Cold War and the technology revolution (especially in aerospace) was just then going into hyperdrive.  The sound barrier had not been broken yet, and the speed of these objects were a big part of what captured the public’s attention.  It’s interesting to think about.  But one thing is clear: if those saucers were actually extraterrestrial, then Spielberg had it wrong in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.  It was not Devil’s Tower that the aliens picked to visit first but Mount Rainier!

Mount Rainier in alpenglow.

Mount Rainier in alpenglow.

Friday Foto Talk: Travel Photography, Part III   9 comments

An empty beach invites exploration on Costa Rica's remote Osa Peninsula.

An empty beach invites exploration on Costa Rica’s remote Osa Peninsula.

This is the third and final installment in this series on travel photography tips.  I hope you’ve enjoyed and gotten something out of them.  Check out Part I and Part II if you haven’t already.  If you are interested in any of the pictures just click on them and you will see options for purchase of the high-resolution versions.  Please contact me if you have any questions.

      • What to Photograph:  You should have done some research on what to seek out and photograph while on your trip.  But if you didn’t do much, so what?  Just hit up a gift shop when you arrive and check out the postcards.  They will tell you what is often photographed in that place.  You might not want to take most of those pictures, but it is only a good thing to know what they are.  Don’t be shy, ask questions about the subjects in the pictures.  Hit up the proprietor or buy the card(s) and approach locals on the street with questions about what’s pictured.  This can yield much more than how to get to the particular spot.  Think of postcards as springboards for further exploration.

A boy in a village in northern India gazes with a peculiar intensity.

      • Roaming & People Pics:  I mentioned wandering above, but I want to stress that there is one good reason that a plan is not really necessary.  That reason is people.  There are almost certainly going to be people anywhere you go, and they are endlessly fascinating subjects for your pictures.  While I am normally quite reserved around home, I open up on the road.  Especially in different countries, I’m willing to sort of make a fool of myself.  I approach people readily, perhaps make a joke, and ask to take some photographs.  Most say yes.  Sometimes I even take their picture first then go up and explain why I just took their picture.  My reason is usually flattering.  As you might know, flattery will get you everywhere.

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

      • Children:  I hate seeing tourists with cameras converge on kids and you see the kids aren’t into it.  It’s one thing if a group of laughing children approach you and ham it up.  But you should always ask about and look for their parents.  Ask the parents if it’s okay first.  Just don’t be one of those doofuses in the Himalayan village cornering a couple young friends just being themselves and feeling slightly threatened by all the pasty tourists pressing in with their cameras.

Upon waking very early on only my 3rd morning in Africa, I stepped outside to see this stately female Thornicroft's giraffe in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park.

      • Elderly:  There is a sort of axiom out there about travel photography that kids and old people are what you should focus on.  This might be true as far as the impact of the images, but I don’t generally go along with it.  I think there are all sorts of interesting people out there: young, old and in between.  But kids and the elderly are probably most likely to have the time to give you.  Just don’t treat the elderly like some people treat kids – as if they have no real say in the situation.  Treat everybody the same, with respect for them and their time.

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

      • Communication:  A nice smile and willingness to chat is always good.  Sometimes language is a barrier.  But you can just share what pictures you’ve taken with them (via the LCD) and have a laugh.  It’s important to make some kind of connection, and make clear from the beginning that you’re into taking pictures.  Don’t be shy about that.

In Etosha, Namibia, my patience paid off.  After 2+ months in Africa, I had not seen a cheetah.  Then I happened on a mother and these two cuties.

      • Sharing:  It goes without saying, if you promise to send pictures of people that you’ve taken, you need to follow through.  Doing it while on the road is the best option.  But I carry a Polaroid Pogo printer, a pocket-sized printer that uses no ink and connects directly to my DSLR via a mini-USB cable.  It produces wallet-sized prints.  I give out prints for people who cooperate and with whom I’ve spent time.  I don’t go crazy (you can only carry so much paper), but it has greased many a wheel believe me.  I just found out, however, that they have almost quadrupled the price on these.  The new ones have bluetooth, but I paid $45 and they are now about $160!  I can’t really recommend this thing (which produces, after all, rather poor quality prints) at that new price.  But if you can find an older one, go for it.

The spectacular peak of Taboche looms above the trekking route to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

      • Money:  Should you pay for pictures or not?  If a person is dressed up like his ancestors and is accompanied by a bored animal, you can bet you need to.  But in most cases it’s optional; always has been.  I don’t generally do it.  But since in the case of other countries (where you are more likely to be asked to pay) the people I want to photograph are on the street and thus may likely be selling something, I will simply buy something from them.  Then I’m not some tourist with a camera but a customer.  Or if they ask for money I might offer them a small print (from the Pogo – see above), explaining that it’s not my “thing” to pay for photos.  Like all rules, this rule of mine has exceptions, but I try pretty hard to stick to it.

An attractive couple of locals from the Nicaraguan island of Omotepe take a break from riding their horses in a local parade.

      • Relax:  I think everyone should read Tao de Ching before they travel.  Trust me I’ve tried too hard when traveling, usually only for the first couple days though.  Just take it as it comes.  If it rains, get an umbrella and shoot interesting city stuff.  If it’s hot get out early and late, taking advantage of “pool light” in the mid-day.  Shoot what interests you in the place you’re in and don’t stress about things.  You want to have a good time on your trip, so you should be willing to miss some shots and keep your “let the good times roll” vibe in place.  For one thing, you’ll get better people shots with a fun carefree attitude.  Have fun!

A lone jet skier motors across Lake Powell, Arizona at dusk.

Okay, I’m tired of this subject for now.  There is more, probably much more, to say on this subject.  If you have something to add, or any questions, let it fly!  I’ll probably be posting on this subject in the future, and many of my posts are travel-related anyway.  Thanks for reading!

A relaxing walk on the beach is a great way to take life easy when on the road.  Get a picture while you're at it.

Friday Foto Talk: Tips for Travel Photography, Part I   22 comments

Early morning in Glacier National Park is a good time to spot wildlife such as this moose enjoying the solitude at Two Medicine Lake.

Early morning in Glacier National Park is a good time to spot wildlife such as this moose enjoying the solitude at Two Medicine Lake.  Canon 70-200 mm.lens at 140 mm, 1/100 sec. @ f/11.

Travel is a subject near and dear to my heart.  Years ago I abhorred the idea of traveling to other countries.  Too much hassle, too much waiting around for connections, being at the mercy of other (bad!) drivers.  Besides I had an entire continent to explore here at home.  I was young and impatient.  But now I love to travel, and it goes so well with my love for photography.  I like both road-tripping here in North America and going overseas.  Both are equally enjoyable in their own way.

When traveling it's good to seek out compositions that include locals plus the iconic sights you're visiting, such as here at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

When traveling seek out compositions that include locals plus the iconic sights you’re visiting, such as here at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Canon 17-40 mm. lens at 17 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/22, tripod.

It’s the July 4th holiday, our birthday here in the U.S. of A.  It’s a time when people either camp out or stay at home celebrating with good food cooked on the outdoor grill.  Fireworks are booming in my ears right now.  This holiday means that summer vacation time is upon us.  Travel is a part of the plans of many people this time of year.  For me, autumn is my favorite time to travel, though anytime will really do.

So now is a great time to post on travel photography.  This first part will focus on gear and related issues.  The second part (next Friday) will focus on some of the other things I’ve learned about taking pictures while traveling.  I would love if you add in the comments below any tips you have learned during your own travels.

Travel photos are good when they include slice of life images such as this one in Mexico of honey sellers passing the time playing cards.

When traveling try to include slice of life images.  On a Mexico street honey sellers pass the time playing cards.  Canon 24-105 mm. lens at 28 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6.

GEAR

      • Keep it simple:  Take as much gear to keep you covered for most (but not all) of the situations you might face.  For example, if you’re visiting Paris, Istanbul or other interesting cities, make sure to take a mid-range zoom.  This means something like a 24-70 mm. for a full-frame camera or 17-55 mm. for a crop-frame camera.  If you are going to be traveling to a wildlife haven like Yellowstone or Africa, you will want the longest lens you can get your hands on.  Keep the accessories to a minimum.
      • Lenses:  So once you have the mid-range covered, which is where you will take most of your photos, other lenses depend on what you will be doing.  You need a wide-angle if you are planning landscapes (or tight interiors).  You need a longer zoom or telephoto zoom for wildlife and some other landscapes.  That is 3 lenses.  But consider taking just one (or two – see below) instead.  You can take a wide-range zoom (like the Canon or Nikon 18-200 mm.) to cover nearly any situation you might encounter.  For the high-quality crowd, Canon makes a 28-300 mm. L-class lens, but it does not come cheap.
Architecture is a hard subject to avoid when traveling, so it's key to try creative angles, such as this one taken from inside a colonial building at Xela, Guatemala.

Architecture is a hard subject to avoid when traveling, so try creative angles, such as this one from inside a colonial building at Xela, Guatemala.  Canon 24-105 mm. lens at 67 mm., 1/40 sec. @ f/16

      • Lenses II:  If you will be checking out a lot of cathedrals, museums, etc., take a fast 50 mm. lens.  If your mid-range is fast (f/2.8 or faster) then this might not be necessary.  But if you’re taking a wide-range zoom as mentioned above, a lens that tends to be slow (smaller maximum aperture), a 50 mm. f/1.8 or f/1.4 will really pay off for not much added weight and space.  This will allow you to take pictures in low-light conditions.

What do I do?  I usually take four lenses: a mid-range zoom (24-105), a wide-angle zoom (16-28), a tele-zoom (70-200), and a fast 50 mm.  If shooting wildlife I substitute a longer telephoto lens for either the wide angle or the 50.  I also take a 1.4x tele-extender plus a screw-on close-up lens, flash, filters, tripod…oh and either an extra camera body or a point and shoot.  As you can see I go fairly heavy, but I’m always planning to go lighter next time!

An old wagon at Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, CA.

An old wagon at Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, California.  Canon EF-S 17-55 mm. lens at 17 mm. 1/200 sec. @ f/11, from a lying position.

      • Which camera?  Decide how serious a photographer you are.  If you’re fairly casual take a fixed-lens point and shoot camera, perhaps a super-zoom.  Today’s superzooms go well past 1000 mm.!  You might also consider a mirrorless camera for travel.  These are sort of mid-way between a point and shoot and a DSLR in terms of quality and size.  Although Panasonic and Olympus pioneered this style of camera (which like DSLRs use interchangeable lenses), the other manufacturers have since begun selling their own.  These compact cameras do amazing quality for their size.  They even capture great video too.  They fall a bit short on handling noise, but you can mitigate that by taking pictures in good light!  I take a DSLR, which is the heaviest option.
      • To Tripod or not:  I would take a tripod, but get a travel model that is just stable enough to handle your gear yet is compact.  Lightweight is not as crucial as compactness.  If you are a serious wildlife photographer or are very serious about your landscapes and low-light photography, a bigger, more solid tripod is necessary.  But for great sunsets and long-exposures of waterfalls, the stars, etc., even a compact tripod will greatly improve your pictures.  If you’re going to be doing mostly city and people shots, a tripod is probably not necessary.
Proof that it's better to be lucky than good: Too cheap to hire a guide, just before sunset I ran into this herd of cape buffalo in Zambia.

Proof that it’s better to be lucky than good: Too cheap to hire a guide, I ran into this herd of cape buffalo in Zambia just before the sun set.  Canon 100-400 mm. lens at 360 mm.  1/50 sec. @ f/5.6, hand-held.

      • Camera Bag:  Take a camera backpack or shoulder bag that is really comfortable.  Test it out.  Don’t get something you heard was great and then use it for the first time on the way to your gate.  Make sure it’s the right size and usable.  Don’t get something so small that it will be stuffed to the gills once it’s loaded.  Best to have a little extra room; it’s easier to use that way.  See below for carry-on size considerations.
      • Integrating with other Luggage:  You can get a camera bag with rollers, a godsend if you have heavy gear.  But if your main luggage case has rollers, it could get awkward.  I like to be able to handle all my bags myself without a cart.  So I go with a rolling backpack for my main luggage and wear my camera pack on my back.  You could do the reverse of course.  I use a little sling bag for my mini-laptop, guidebook, water bottle, snacks, etc.  I like having the backpack option for my main luggage in case I need to schlep everything all at once over rough ground.  I can wear my main luggage on my back while the camera backpack goes on my front  and the sling bag strangles me!  A real beast of burden situation but it works.
While visiting the Redwoods in California, I found it a little hard to get pictures that didn't just look like a bunch of trees.  So I started experimenting with point of view, here placing the camera very low over a huge down log.

While visiting the Redwoods, I found it hard to get shots that didn’t look like just a bunch of trees. So I started experimenting with point of view, here placing the camera very low over a huge down log.  Canon 15 mm. fisheye lens, 1.0 sec. @ f/11.

      • Carry-on Size:  Realize that most of the time, airlines will give you the benefit of the doubt on the size of your carry-on if it doesn’t look big.  (By the way, your camera gear should always always go with you as a carry-on.)  Feel free, if necessary, to buy a bag right up to the limit for carry-on size.  And if it’s under the limit in one dimension, it can generally be a little over in another dimension.  My experience with airlines is they don’t like a big boxy carry-on.  If you get a bag that is relatively slim and/or narrow, it can be several inches longer than their maximum length.
      • Security:  While it is rare, unfortunately your gear is vulnerable to being stolen by those who have gone to the dark side.  Try your best to keep it on your person at all times.  If you must leave it in your room, use either a safe  (if it’s small enough) or get a Pacsafe locking net bag.  These enclose your camera bag and then lock to something permanent with a padlock.  You can get these steel-cored net bags in several sizes.  If your room has a cabinet, put your locked camera bag in there and lock the cabinet with a small travel padlock.  I’ve often left my gear secured in the office, but I always chat up and befriend (i.e. tip) the proprietors first.
It's fun when traveling to visit places from favorite novels, such as here at Cannery Row in Monterey, California.  Hello John Steinbeck!

It’s fun when traveling to visit places from favorite novels, such as here at Cannery Row in Monterey, California. Hello John Steinbeck!  Zeiss 50 mm. f/1.4 lens, 1/200 sec. @ f/11.

      • Security II:  I tend to have more trust in some countries than in others, and it varies a lot within each country.  I trust places with a lot of other tourists the least, since your fellow travelers are definitely potential thieves plus local thieves will target those areas.  I trust Latin America much less than I trust the Buddhist countries of south Asia.  (Not that I think Catholics are more prone to thievery!)  In the U.S., I don’t trust cities as much as rural areas.  It all comes down to common sense of course.  The upshot is theft can happen whether you take precautions or not.  Home-owner’s or renter’s insurance that covers your gear when traveling can be a lifesaver.  I had a policy that paid me $16,000, the value of all my stuff when it was stolen in Nicaragua.

That’s it for this first part.  It gets more fun when we move to actual travel in Part II next Friday.  If you’re interested in any of these images just click on them for pricing options on the high-res. versions.  They are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for tuning in to Friday Foto Talk!

The sun goes down on the idyllic island of Roatan in Honduras.

The sun goes down on the idyllic island of Roatan in Honduras.  Canon 70-200 mm. lens at 160 mm., 1/30 sec. @ f/11, hand-held.

Friday Foto Talk: Isolating Subjects   7 comments

Their shapes and fact that these camel thorn trees in Namibia are in silhouette helps to isolate them from the background of dunes.  The strong morning light washes out the background, further de-emphasizing it.

Their shapes and fact that these camel thorn trees in Namibia are in silhouette helps to isolate them from the background of dunes. The strong morning light washes out the background, further de-emphasizing it. 55 mm., 1/1600 sec. @ f/16.

This is a look I sometimes go for in my images, if for no other reason than to occasionally get away from the extended depth of field, wide-angle landscapes that dominate my shooting.  It involves highlighting one or a few particular subjects and allowing other parts of the scene to be less obvious.  Although close-up or true macro photographs fall into this category, I’m not really talking about those.  They are relatively straightforward images to make.  The trick I think is to isolate a subject and yet still leave something of the surroundings for the viewer to identify – even if it’s just a feel for the surroundings.

This type of image works well if the subject contrasts in some way with the rest of the scene.  Your subject  doesn’t have to be big, or even all that interesting.  You will make it more interesting by photographing it in the right way!  But it sure helps if the subject you’re trying to isolate is already set off in some way from its surroundings.

For this picture of my mare I simply opened up my aperture all the way (f/4) and shot.  I checked my LCD and saw that the background was a little too much in focus, so I moved closer and shot again.  I wanted it to be only slightly out of focus.

For this picture of my mare I simply opened up my aperture all the way (f/4) and shot. I checked my LCD and saw that the background was a little too much in focus, so I moved closer and shot again. I wanted it to be only slightly out of focus. 200 mm., 1/160 sec. @ f/4.0.

Here are some examples of subjects that are suitable for isolation:

      • Flowers, either a single bloom or a tight bunch.  Their color can really set them off against the background.
      • Trees, if they are interesting in some way.  Good candidates are trees that show off a different color (say a golden larch against green pines or firs), or a stark, bare tree against a background empty of details.  A tree that stands far above the rest of the canopy can make a good subject for isolation too.
      • Rocks can be good subjects for isolation, so long as they either contrast in color (difficult to find) or stick out in some other way from their background.  So-called hoodoos are a perfect example.  These are pillars, often with interesting shapes, that stick up out of the surrounding landscape.
      • Animals or people are perhaps the easiest subjects to isolate against a natural background.
For this shot of spring poppies, I wanted to include the cliff they were growing beneath, so I moved in close and chose a wide-angle.  If I had shot it from a standing position, the flowers would not be a strong enough subject.

For this shot of spring poppies, I wanted to include the cliff they were growing beneath, so I moved in close and chose a wide-angle. If I had shot it from a standing position, the flowers would not be a strong enough subject. 24 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/11.

How you go about isolating a subject will depend on how strongly the subject already contrasts with its surroundings, plus how much you wish to hit the viewer in the head with isolation.  Your approach can be subtle, such as a slight vignette applied in post-processing, or it can have full-on impact, such as a shallow depth of field combined with a mask applied in post-processing that darkens and further blurs everything but the subject.

USING DEPTH OF FIELD

If you use a large aperture (small f number), you can put your subject in clear focus while the rest of the image is blurred.  You should be aware that it rarely works to put a lot of the area in front of the subject out of focus.  It’s best to limit this effect and go for blurring the background instead.  A blurred background looks much more natural than a blurred foreground.  This is certainly not a hard and fast rule, however.  You should play around with different levels of foreground blurring when the opportunity arises.

For this macro image of moss, I wanted to highlight the droplet, so I focused on that and got as close as I could.  I might have needed to get closer though.

For this macro image of moss, I wanted to highlight the droplet, so I focused on that and got as close as I could. The blurry stalk in front of the droplet takes away from the picture. 200 mm., 2.0 sec. @ f/16; taken with Canon 70-200 mm. f/4L + Canon 500D close-up lens.

USING COLOR

I often will spot a composition that just begs for an isolation technique, and it is only because of a subject that intrigues me.  It might be shape, it might be texture, but I most often pull the trigger when it is color that sets the subject off.  Perhaps this is because of my bias toward color in photography, but it also seems to work better than using a subject’s other characteristics.

USING BRIGHTNESS (NATURAL) 

This might be the best way to highlight a subject.  Anyone viewing a photo will tend to look at the brighter parts first.  You don’t have a lot of control over this sometimes, unless you can move your subject.  I should note right here that it’s not okay to damage the natural world in your pursuit for the perfect picture.  But if you are photographing a person or pet, moving them into a beam of light is a good option.  You can also wait on a cloudy day for light beams to fall on your subject.  You will see stunning shots of hill towns in Europe highlighted in this manner.  Also think about shooting into the sun in order to highlight your subject in the opposite way – by making it much darker than the background (see top image).

USING BRIGHTNESS (FLASH)

You can use flash, whether it is daytime or not, to isolate a subject with brightness.  Even a subtle flash directed at the subject can be used in combination with a darkening mask for the surroundings to create a “spotlight” effect.  The spotlight can be obvious or subtle or something in between.  When I say subtle flash I am talking about either being near the outer limits of the flash’s working distance or using flash exposure compensation to dial down the power of the flash (or a combination of the two).  Check the owner’s manuals for your camera (and for your flash if it is an off-camera unit) to see how to dial down the flash’s power.

For this shot of springbok in Namibia, I broke a rule saying that your in-focus subject should be in front.  Placing the male in shadow helped to focus attention on the well-lighted female in back.

For this shot of springbok in Namibia, I broke a rule saying that your in-focus subject should be in front. But placing the male in shadow helped to focus attention on the well-lighted female in back. 400 mm., 1/1250 sec. @ f/5.6

USING SIZE

If you are closer to the subject, even something small like a flower, it will appear bigger in your frame.  I know that is obvious, but it’s amazing how many photographers refuse to simply move their feet and get closer to a subject.  If you do this, you might get one more picture out of the scene, one you didn’t see initially.  Maybe it will not turn out very well.  But maybe it will!

Of course the bigger the subject the easier it is to isolate it from the background.  In other words, you won’t have to rely on other means, like depth of field, nearly as much.  If you are going wide-angle, for example, and only have f/4 or f/5.6 as a maximum aperture on the lens, you won’t be able to throw the background very much out of focus.  In this case you will appreciate characteristics of the subject like color and size; they will play a bigger role in isolation.

Although I recently posted a similar image to this one, I included this because it illustrates well the technique of getting close to your subject and playing around with depth of field to get just the right amount of blur.

Although I recently posted a similar image to this one, I included this because it illustrates well the technique of getting close to your subject and playing around with depth of field to get just the right amount of blur. Canon 100 mm. macro lens, 1/80 sec. @ f/8.0

USING EMPTY SPACE

This might be the most obvious technique to isolate a subject.  Just put a lot of empty space around it.  You feel isolated when you are surrounded by empty space, so why shouldn’t a picture give a feel of isolation if a person, animal or tree is surrounded by a lot of empty space.  Photographers often call it “negative” space.  It’s just portions of the frame lacking in elements.  Broad expanses of sky, grass, water, they all count as empty (or negative) space.  See the bottom image for an example of this technique.  The more compelling your subject, the better.

USING POINT OF VIEW

You’ve probably noticed that the lower you get, the bigger objects closer to you appear, while things further away appear even smaller.  This is really using size, as mentioned above.  But here you’re taking advantage of apparent size.  Does it matter to the viewer whether the size of something in the frame is “real” or “apparent”?  Nope.  If you’re using a relatively wide angle, this effect is magnified.  With fisheye lenses, it reaches the extreme.  I should mention the opposite case.  If you gain an elevated viewpoint, things that are closer to you will appear to be closer in size to things that are further away.

This big male hippo in Zambia put himself closer to my position in the boat, thus giving me the chance to quickly grab the shot and isolate him against his pod of females.

This big male hippo in Zambia put himself closer to my position in the boat, thus giving me the chance to quickly grab the shot and isolate him against his pod of females. 81 mm., 1/800 sec. @ f/7.1.

USING FOCAL LENGTH

As I just mentioned, things closer to you appear even bigger when you get lower.  The same thing occurs when you use a wider angle, a shorter focal length.  If you use a lens with a focal length of 20 mm., for example, you are going to isolate closer subjects by virtue of their appearing bigger in the frame.  If you use a telephoto at 100 mm. or more, you are going to accomplish the opposite.  Closer subjects will more easily blend in with the background, again mostly according to apparent size.

Although I got close to this subject, I kept the focal length short to include plenty of sky and not allow the background to go completely out of focus.

Although I got close to this flower, I kept the focal length fairly short (wide angle) to include plenty of sky and keep the background from going completely out of focus. 67 mm., 1/30 sec. @ f/22.

USING THE COMPUTER

There are several techniques to use in post-processing that will further isolate your subject.  But realize that you will need to use some or all of the methods listed above during capture so that you don’t need to push the post-processing too far.  This is a truism in photography.  You will only get natural-looking results if you take steps during capture that get you partway (most of the way?) to where you want to be in the end.

Vignettes, masks, selective focus treatments and more are all used to further isolate subjects from their surroundings.  Instead of going into detail here, I recommend doing a bit of research.  Look into how portrait photographers use post-processing techniques to isolate people from backgrounds (in non-studio surroundings).  Nearly any book or video series that shows you how to use Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and others will go into the techniques used to help isolate people (or animals) from their surroundings.  Take a look, and apply those things to flowers, rocks, or any subject you wish to isolate.

For this shot of blooming beargrass with Mount Adams in the background, I tried a few different focal length/aperture combinations before I got the one I liked best.

For this shot of blooming beargrass with Mount Adams in the background, the fact that I was close to the subject relative to the background meant that a small aperture was needed to avoid the background being too blurry. 165 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/22

Use all of these things together.  Use characteristics of the subject like color, brightness and size (or some other feature), use apparent size by varying distance to subject and point of view, use the focal length of your lenses, and maybe even use flash.  While editing on the computer use vignettes, masks and other techniques to further isolate your subject.

If you bear these things in mind while shooting, pretty soon it should become second nature to you.  It will help keep your mind on the subject.  I’m not promising that you’ll get a level of isolation that yields a winner every time.  But I can promise you’ll obtain a greater variety of images, even if you only vary depth of field.  If more of your images isolate interesting subjects, you will eventually have more images with impact in your portfolio.  And that can only be a good thing.

This is just a straight picture taken at f/11.  The height and interesting shape of the lightning-struck tree does all the work of isolation without any help from the photographer.

This is just a straight picture taken at f/11. The height and interesting shape of the lightning-struck tree does all the work of isolation without any help from the photographer. 28 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/11.

Isolation in this image comes from a combination of the fact this roan antelope is the only live creature plus all of the open space of Malawi's Nyika Plateau that surrounds him.

Isolation in this image comes from a combination of the fact this roan antelope is the only live creature plus all of the open space of Malawi’s Nyika Plateau that surrounds him. 31 mm., 1/50 sec. @ f/11

Single Image Sunday: A New Friend?   5 comments

This is the second time I’ve risked my skin climbing up Rooster Rock to get eye level with my new friend, the osprey.  The nest is at the top of a big fir tree that has had its crown lopped off by lightning.  The view over the river for sunset was my original motivation, but I think now it’s really about the fish hawk.

Osprey_6-21-13_5D3_002

She was not happy the first time I did it, and this time she was only slightly less noisy.  I can see progress though.  Sorta have to cling to a perch while taking the picture, so I’m glad the Mister was far too busy fishing to pay me much mind.  He did do a flyover however, to see what she was squawking about I suppose.

I’m definitely thinking of returning at least a couple more times.  I want to see the chicks when they hatch.  Of course her gradually increasing comfort with me might vanish when the little ones appear.  We’ll see.

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