Archive for the ‘landscapes’ Tag

Winter Photography, Part VI: Cold Shooting   16 comments

Morning at East Zion, Utah

Morning at East Zion, Utah

I’m not happy right now.  I had to leave Facebook (time for a break anyhow).  Not that it’s a big deal, but still, I don’t like being sort of forced into things.  You don’t want the dirty details.  Suffice to say, much as I believe I was born at least 100 years too late, I don’t think I’m made for today’s photography, at least in the landscape arena.

I’m thinking of giving up landscape photography it’s got me so discouraged.  The way to become popular in LS photography is to follow a path that I don’t want to follow.  In fact, I’m including pictures in this post that, while I like them for a few reasons, I’m really not satisfied with.  Maybe I’m being hard on myself, and tomorrow morning I’ll probably be out shooting happily.  But I’m really ready to move onward and upward, and am frustrated with my lack of artistic progress.  I’m not into this for a hobby.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through a cold waist-deep stream, pushing aside floating ice.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through the cold waist-deep water of Oneonta Creek, Ore., pushing aside floating ice.  P.S. it wasn’t really difficult, just making it seem that way!

So back to winter photography.  Here are a few parting tips for successful winter shooting:

  • Don’t Stay in Bed.  This is the hardest thing, at least for me.  Let’s face it, the best light is usually in the early morning or late afternoon, or with today’s cameras even in the middle of the night!  You can do winter photography at any time of day, but since days are shorter your time is limited.  If you want to focus on the golden hours near dusk or dawn, you have two chances each day, and they are much more closely spaced than in the summer.  So get out early and shoot late; you’ll still get plenty of sleep!
  • Positive Exposure Compensation.  Use your exposure compensation feature and over-expose by about a stop when you’re shooting in bright snow.  The amount you need depends on how bright the sun on the snow is, and on how much snow is in the frame.  The old film rule of thumb was +2 stops, but with DSLRs I’ve gotten away with anywhere from +2/3 to a stop and a half in most circumstances.  If you’re shooting RAW you can always bump up the brightness of the snowy parts on the computer, but it’s always best to get it right in camera.  Just don’t actually over-expose anything.  The easiest way to check for this is to set your blinking over-exposure warning (available on most all DSLRs) and always review the image on the LCD.
The Goblins in snow, Utah.

The Goblins in snow, Utah.

  • Watch the Weather.  Yeah, I know it’s great advice any time of year.  But I’ve found that weather patterns will settle into an area and make it so that one time per day is best, and that these conditions could last for a week or more.  I’ve also noticed that this bias is more prevalent in winter, at least in North America.  (It’s one of those things I pass on in this blog that nobody really talks about.)  That preferential shooting time could be around sunset or it could be sunrise.  If it happens to be dawn that is better than sunset, you better get your butt out of bed!
  • Strive for simplicity.  While this is a good thing to come back to from time to time, no matter the season, in winter the opportunities for simple compositions (and simple themes!) seem to abound.  There’s the obvious fact that snow blankets a lot of chaos with a smooth white, but even without snow there tends to be more simple compositions available during the cold months.
  • Take your tripod.  Winter makes it even more important to consider the limitation of low light.  Even during daytime, take your tripod just in case.
An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

  • Be Ready.  Unless you are in Alaska or somewhere in high latitudes during that hemisphere’s months of shorter days, you should be ever cognizant of the brevity of the light.  In temperate regions (which includes nearly all of North America & Europe), so-called golden hour is noticeably briefer during winter months.  Of course your style may dictate that you are set up and ready at all times.  That’s not me, I wander even during good light.  Just be willing, during winter especially, to decide on a composition and subject well before the light comes.
New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Look for Details.  In winter, often the light is very clear but also quite boring.  That’s the time to look for details and macro opportunities.  Ice is a world unto itself, and often snow or ice clings to the most improbable objects, creating unusual and beautiful photos.  That is, if you’re looking for it.  As you travel through the environment, keep looking near and far, close-up and wide-open.

Okay, that’ll do it for Winter Photography.  I don’t like to be too prescriptive about photography, so it’s up to you from here on out.  Just bundle up and do it!  I’ll try to maintain the blog, even during my pause on social media (talk about love-hate).  But maybe I don’t consider this blog as the typical social media platform.  Anyway, have a great holiday season everyone!

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Winter Photography, Part V: Get Away from the Road   6 comments

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Let’s continue the series on photography in wintertime.  With the holiday season approaching, we all have more time off from work.  So don’t spend all of it inside baking cookies (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Get out and shoot some too.  We’ve covered the getting there part, plus how to dress for winter.  Now it’s time to hit the trail.

This morning I watched a few other photographers in Zion National Park.  They were, as usual, sticking to the roadside.  By far most pictures are captured from within a few yards of the road.  I don’t completely avoid it of course, having gotten some great shots even by standing on top of the car.  But although it’s even more tempting in winter to shoot near the car, getting away from the road is key to making the kinds of photos that are unique to your own vision.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The last post focused on winter clothes, but there are a few other things that can help greatly when you’re traveling in snowy or icy conditions.  So let’s look at how to stack the odds in your favor during a winter outing.

  • Camera Pack – Fit:  Though not unique to winter, it’s even more important to have a camera backpack that fits and carries well.  The typical blocky camera pack isn’t really good for hiking, but its shortcomings are even more pronounced in snow or ice where the simple act of walking is more challenging.  So find one that carries most of its weight closer to your back and doesn’t swing the weight around.  A sternum strap & waist belt are very helpful, for example.

 

  • Camera Pack – Size:  Since you’ll be carrying some extras beyond photo gear, it’s necessary to get a pack that has a roomy compartment for clothes and other non-camera stuff.  If you already have a pack that is fairly large and comfortable, but without a dedicated compartment for extras, try taking out a few velcro dividers meant for extra lenses and making a place for the extra stuff.

 

  • Filling that Pack:  In summer, typically short photo hikes can be done without a lot of the safety equipment that’s necessary both for longer hikes in summer and outings of all distances in winter.  So think carefully about which lenses to take and take out any extra camera gear that you may not need.  This makes room for extra clothes, some food plus the 10 essentials.
Now this isn't how I planned to fill my pack!

Now this isn’t how I planned to fill my pack!

  • Just in Case – Ten Essentials:  Google the 10 essentials, but realize in winter two of them are especially important:  light and fire.  Take a good headlamp with extra batteries (and don’t forget extra batteries for the camera).  Being able to easily make a fire is very important in wintertime.  Waterproof matches and a ziplock full of dry newspaper and other tinder (and perhaps some fire-starting compound) can save your butt!

Horsetail Falls, Oregon.

Feet – Extra Help    

Once you have good warm boots (see last post), consider where you’ll be hiking.  The snow and ice of winter often demands something more for your feet:

  • Traction Devices:      If you don’t plan on going through deep snow much, you don’t need snowshoes or skis (see below), but if you’ll be in icy conditions, consider the small traction devices that slip on over your boots.  Yak-Tracks are a popular brand.  True crampons are too much; they’re for mountaineering.

 

  • Snowshoes are popular with winter photographers for good reason.  They’re simple to use and sure beat wading through hip-deep powder snow.  Buy a pair that is appropriate for your size and weight.  I would avoid the super-small and light kind; they’re for the crazies who run races in them; they normally don’t float enough in soft snow.

 

 

  • Snowshoe Technique:  Practice walking in snowshoes before you carry your camera pack, then add the gear on the next hike.  While you do need to walk with a slightly wider stance and lift your feet more, most novices exaggerate this movement, wasting energy.  The idea is to sort of shuffle, lifting just enough to avoid getting tangled up and tripping.  If you never trip and fall, you probably aren’t learning to do it right.
  • The Ski Option:  I’m biased, but in my opinion skis are the best way to get around in snow.  Sure it takes a little more time to learn than snowshoes, but that time is paid many times over with more speed and more fun when you’re out.   In most terrain, I can leave snowshoers in the dust when I’m skiing.  With short days, trying to catch the light, snowshoes are too slow for some destinations.  And fun?  On downhills snowshoers are plodding while I’m whooping and hollering.
A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Using Cross-Country Skis:  Modern cross-country skis are shorter, wider and much more stable/easy to use than the long skinny skis I learned on.  And this kind have been out long enough now to go used.  Just get a basic set of touring skis, boots and poles.  With the money you save I recommend taking lessons.  It probably goes without saying, but your camera needs to be stowed safely in your pack when skiing.  I wear a small bag for my camera (Lowepro Toploader) over my chest, clipped to the straps of my backpack.  Load distribution is even more important when you’re skiing, so make sure your backpack doesn’t swing around as you move.
An alternative way to get around in winter that isn't covered in this post.

An alternative way to get around in winter that isn’t covered in this post.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Friday Foto Talk: Color vs. Black and White in Your Landscape Photos   18 comments

Rainy weather descends on Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Rainy weather descends on Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

I thought I’d briefly discuss this question that landscape photographers always face.  Digital is very nice in that it allows us to just shoot pictures and decide later what we want to convert to black and white.  Of course you need to be shooting in RAW to have that option.  But having that option can lead to a sort of laziness out in the field.  You still need to evaluate compositions for their value as a black and white.  Some images work well in both schemes.  But your vision for the image, its feel; that will be very different depending on which way you go.

I won’t go into a lot of detail on how to convert to black and white during post-processing.  But I will say that programs like Lightroom and Aperture make it quite easy to convert.  Start by using their B&W presets.  You just click one thing then do some tweaking to get the exact look you want.  It really is no different in practice than processing an image for color.  In fact its simpler since you really don’t worry much about color, more about tones.  If you’re really into black and white I recommend purchasing Nik’s Silver Effex 2.

A beautiful lake on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington, Lake Crescent is calm here under cloudy skies.

A beautiful lake on the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington, Lake Crescent is calm here under cloudy skies.

So let’s get right on to some examples.  Below are two images and each are shown in color and black and white.  I’ll go into the thought process I had during capture then how I chose a look during post-processing, a look that matched my feel for the mood of the scene.

I love going into the mountains right after a dump of snow, as much for the skiing as for the photo opportunities.  The trees look great weighed down with snow. The photo below was taken about an hour and a half before sunset, so the light was pretty blue and things were contrasty.  The color version of this has a pretty cold color scheme.  The shadows help to increase depth in the image, and the snow-basted tree at left is an important foreground element.

Silver Star Mountain in Washington is basted with a heavy snow from a recent storm. 28 mm., 1/250 sec. @f/11, ISO 200.

I developed this shot with a warming tone using Topaz B&W plugin.  Now I would probably use Nik, but there would be little difference.

I developed this shot with a warming tone using Topaz B&W plugin. Now I would probably use Nik, but there would be little difference.

But while shooting I thought I might like it in black and white.  That’s because any time I’m shooting snowy scenes in bright light, I think of black and white.  From experience I know that often these types of shots will work better in black and white than color.  In this case, I think it works fairly well in color but better in black and white.  This is because there was a subtle golden quality to the light hitting the mountain, something that does not really show in the color rendering.  I could have warmed up the white balance but then I would have lost the deep blue of the sky.  I could have used a mask to only warm the snow and leave the sky cool-toned.  That may have worked, but it also may have looked unnatural.

So I converted the image to black and white.  I added a moderate warming tone, sort of a cross between sepia and pure warming.  I darkened the blue sky too, so that the face of the mountain would take center stage in terms of brightness.  This image definitely looks different than what I saw, but I think it better matches the feel I had for the scene at the time.  The color version is fine as a documentary portrait of this mountain in winter.  Which one do prefer?  Do you like black and white in general?

The second image was captured in Capital Reef National Park.  This is a famous barn in the park, part of the old Gifford homestead that predated creation of the park.  I hiked up a trail that ascends the slope opposite the barn in order to get a composition that included Capital Reef, the cliff that gives the park its name.  The color version really highlights the orange of the rocks and the rich tones of the barn.  The rest of the scene in my opinion is not helped by color, but the rock and barn probably make up for that.

It was an obvious vertical composition.   I did make a mistake here in not setting up my tripod, which made me use a higher ISO.  But it’s not so high that it degrades the image, and I used a fast-enough shutter speed to get good focus throughout.  So all is good.

A bit of the old west survives at the old Gifford homestead, now inside Capitol Reef National Park.  42 mm., 1/125 sec. @f/14, ISO 320.

A bit of the old west survives at the old Gifford homestead, now inside Capitol Reef National Park. 42 mm., 1/125 sec. @f/14, ISO 320.

I love this in color, but I thought briefly while shooting that it might be good in B&W too.  Just before this I had been shooting closer to the barn and I knew black and white might be best.  So my mind was already on black and white.  When I sat down at the computer right away I thought of giving it an old-time feel.

This look involves a lot of little things during post-processing, so I made the process quicker by going with a high contrast preset in Nik Silver Effex 2.  I then tweaked the brightness and contrast a bit to lessen the effect.  I also gave it a sepia tone and a vignette, both modest.  I like the look, but I wasn’t necessarily in an old-time type mood at the time.  So this is a case of changing the mood after the fact, something I don’t often do.  What do you think of it?

Processed with Nik Silver Effex 2.

Mild sepia tone processed with Nik Silver Effex 2.

I also processed it with a more standard black and white treatment.  This time I did not use a sepia tone; I simply upped contrast and clarity.  Which of the three do you like better: the color, sepia or straight B&W version?

Processed with Nik Silver Effex 2.

Processed with Nik Silver Effex 2.

Definitely try to think about scenes that might look good in black and white while you’re out there.  One thing NOT to do is use B&W as a sort of default go-to when the light is harsh.  That’s not a good plan.  Instead, separate quality of light from B&W in your thinking.  If you think about black and white during capture, you’ll be able to better determine the type of feel you want when it comes time to develop the image on the computer.

Note that all of these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you’re interested in purchase options (prints, downloads, etc.) simply click on the image and you’ll go to the high-res. version.  These here on the blog are not suitable for printing.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest and happy weekend!

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