Archive for the ‘Grand Tetons’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting around Weather   4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

SHOOTING IN THE STORM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHOOTING TRANSITIONS 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Friday Foto Talk: Visualization, Part I   18 comments

This image was the result of waking up just after sunrise and while still sleepy walking into a fog-suffused meadow in the Sangre de Cristo Mtns., New Mexico, visualizing an image that would capture that mood.

The result of waking up just after sunrise and while still sleepy walking into a fog-suffused meadow in the Sangre de Cristo Mtns., New Mexico, visualizing an image that would capture that mood.

I want to follow-up on last Friday’s post on Pre-visualization. This is Part I and next Friday I’ll conclude with Part II.  I strongly believe that most of our best pictures are captured when we are in the right frame of mind, and a big part of that is visualization.  Although pre-visualization can result in great images as well, I don’t think it’s as important a skill as visualization.  It’s not easy to put these ideas into words, but here goes!

At least it is easy to describe the difference between the two types of visualization.  I thought about calling the subject of this post Syn-Visualization; that’s because it takes place while you’re out photographing.  Pre-visualization on the other hand happens before-hand, while you’re planning a shoot.  A simplistic distinction I admit.  The two certainly overlap and lead one to the other.  Observation while out shooting is directly related in that it can lead to and be spurred by both kinds of visualization.

I had walked by this tall cliff of andesite near Mt. Hood many times, waiting for the right conditions to image it so as to show some of the lush environment along the creek that cut into the lava flow to expose it.

I had walked by this interesting cliff near Mt. Hood (Oregon) many times, waiting for the right conditions to show some of the lush environment along the creek that it borders.

Oklahoma_Sept-2014_6D_030-Edit

While in Oklahoma, I’d been pre-visualizing images of tall-grass prairie in wind.  The warm mood of this sunset allowed me to capture it, but with just the barest sense of movement instead of a longer exposure that would blur the textures of the grass.

Visualization in Practice

Let’s use a hypothetical example to show both kinds of visualization at work.  On a first visit to a place you might observe something about a subject that you want to highlight.  Unfortunately the light and other conditions aren’t quite right, so you shoot a more or less documentary (objective) photo of the subject.

Thinking about it afterwards, you spend some mental energy visualizing your desired image, planning that second visit (it may be the next day or next year).  Then when you’re onsite again, you are faced with different conditions, different from last time and different than your pre-visualization.  Your mood and state of mind are different.  There may even be things that have changed about the place.  A large log has fallen into a waterfall, for example.

Unfazed and with an open mind, you observe everything about the subject and conditions.  You observe the mood of the place, and inevitably your own state of mind influences your interpretation of that mood.  You begin to visualize an image that may to some degree be influenced by your pre-visualization and planning.  Or you may throw out all thoughts of realizing your pre-visualized image and visualize a different image.

All of this should lead to getting the best possible image.  A picture that does more than just record your being there.  One that is deeper than what you thought was possible after your first visit.  And as a bonus, you could end up being more artistically satisfied with your image than with one that is simply about the light, one that gets a lot of “wows” & “stunnings” online (although it could do both).  The more conscious visualization you do, and the more time you spend behind the camera, the more all this “virtual photography” takes place in your subconscious (read on).

Any safari-goer would love to get an image of a charging black rhino, right? This one wasn't charging but he was covering the ground between us a bit too quickly, especially since he had caught me outside the vehicle (a no no in Kruger N.P.)

Any safari-goer wants an image of a charging black rhino, right? This curious guy wasn’t charging, but was covering the ground between us a bit too quickly, especially since he’d caught me outside the vehicle (a no no in Kruger N.P.)

The result of visualizing pretty Mexican girls who wanted to clown around, and I borrowed a piece of fabric with Mexican flag colors as a backdrop.

While in Mexico I pre-visualized images of a pretty Mexican girl smiling.  I ended up with three young friends who wanted to clown around, causing me to change my mind and visualize them together, a borrowed piece of fabric with Mexican flag colors as backdrop.

Subconscious Visualization

Let’s go deeper into how visualization might help your photography without much conscious effort.  Both pre- and visualization can happen in the subconscious as well as the conscious mind, but there’s an important difference.  Subconscious visualization while out shooting is made conscious (or explicit) when you make the photograph.  It doesn’t always happen of course, but there’s at least a decent chance it will.  In contrast, subconscious pre-visualization moves to the front of your mind in the less useful form of an explicit pre-visualization.  Who knows if it will be made into an image or not, but the chances are slim compared to onsite visualization.

Pre-visualizing aspens in front of the Grand Tetons for most has them in fall colors, but spring green and their exposed trunks meant visualizing something different.

For most photogs. pre-visualizing aspens in front of the Grand Tetons has them in fall colors.  For me, spring green and exposed trunks meant visualizing something different.

I believe that visualization (both conscious and subconscious), much more so than pre-visualization and planning, leads to images that accurately reflect the nature of the subject and your own take on that subject.  It’s for the simple reason that visualization happens when you are faced with your subject, light and other conditions of the moment.  Images based on good observation and visualization reflect your own style better too.  Pre-visualization is subject to extraneous influences.

All of these benefits depend on how observant and conscious you are when you photograph.  If, while you’re out shooting, you are thinking about an argument you had with someone, or about the election and that guy with the fake hair, you can’t expect much useful visualization to take place.  I’m the first to admit I don’t always succeed at this level of attention while shooting, but the effort is worthwhile.

Visualization concludes with the next Foto Talk.  Thanks for reading, happy shooting, and have a super week!

The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is a good place for visualization. Here at a restored area I was trying to depict the gorge the way it was before dams, with wetlands lining the length of the river.

The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is a good place for visualization. Here at a restored area I was trying to depict the gorge the way it was before dams, with wetlands lining the length of the river.

 

 

 

Friday Foto Talk: Overcoming Physical Obstacles   11 comments

This continues the mini-series on overcoming obstacles to great photography.  This Friday we look at two inter-related and very important obstacles: shooting position and physical barriers.

Being Too Far Away

“If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is one of photography’s most basic truisms.  To illustrate, I’d like to share a little story.  At the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, I had always wanted a good shot of the horses who hang out along the east side of the Snake River (visible from Hwy. 89 north of Jackson).  The image below was the best I had gotten before my visit last September.

 

Horse heaven.

Horse heaven.

I spent one morning shooting along Hwy. 89.  I didn’t visit the horses until well past sunrise, but the light was still interesting because of storm clouds.  And because the sun was still low and behind me, I knew there was a chance for a bonus: a rainbow!  There were a few other photographers coming and going.  We were shooting the mountains plus some buffalo who were near the road.  A fence lay between us and the fairly distant horses.

I was itching to get closer to the subject, so I slipped under the fence.  I knew this was park property and that the horses turned out on it were used to take tourists on rides.  Realize that the horse’s owners or handlers would probably not have not liked it to see a tourist next to their horses.  So don’t take it as an invitation to follow this specific example.

Walking slowly up to the horses, I murmured soothing words and scratched them, just to say hello and allow them to get comfortable with me.  Having owned horses I know how to avoid disturbing them.  I had only taken a couple pictures when the rainbow happened.  I clicked happily away.  I used a fairly wide angle so everything was in focus while using a faster shutter (to keep the grazing horses from blurring and to shoot hand-held).

When the rainbow faded, I walked back to the road.  There were quite a few more photographers because the rainbow made them pull off the highway.  They were shooting with longer focal lengths and not getting the best shot.  They were much too far away, and also they weren’t really ready when the rainbow happened.  They let two important obstacles get between them and a great shot.

Not being too shy about getting up close and personal with a subject is the surest way to get average photos.

Not being too shy about getting up close and personal with a subject is the surest way to get great photos.

Physical Obstacles

The fence in the story above is an example of a physical obstacle.  In that case it was a pretty simple one to hop over, so what held the other photographers back was either laziness or more likely mistaking the purpose of the fence (it was for keeping horses off the road, not to signal it was private property).  Sometimes the obstacles are a little bigger than this, but rarely are they insurmountable.

Is the best shot of that sunset from the shoreline or partway into the lake?  Is the best shot of the waterfall from the near side or do you need to wade the stream to get closer?  Do you need to get up higher for the right point of view?  At Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal, I needed to get off ground level, and that meant asking around until finally, just before sunset, I found a place where I could buy a cup of tea that came with a good view.

The great stupa at Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, Nepal.

The great stupa at Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, Nepal.

See the pattern?  It’s actually about point of view and working the subject (a recent Friday Foto Talk).  But to get there you need to get past obstacles regarding position and physical barriers.  How about climbing that hill for a better point of view and composition?  I’ve often been tempted to climb trees, but (alas) I’m not the limber guy I once was; it’s just too dangerous.

But so often it’s not danger that holds us back but the fear of a little discomfort, or of being seen doing something slightly ridiculous.  The key is to not fool  yourself one way or the other.  Know your limits but don’t sell yourself short either!

Thanks a bunch for reading and don’t forget to add your ideas or ask questions in the comments.  Have a very happy weekend!

I was able to see and shoot this fiery sunset in Kuala Lumpur only because I found a way on to the roof of my hotel.

I was able to see and shoot this fiery sunset in Kuala Lumpur only because I found a way on to the roof of my hotel.

 

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.

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