Archive for the ‘nature photography’ Tag

Two for Tuesday: Close-up Signs of Spring   12 comments

Orange globe mallow in bloom.

Orange globe mallow in bloom.

Yesterday was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.  So in celebration here’s a Two for Tuesday post.  It’s where I post two photos that are related to each other in some way.

This pair shows a couple closely related signs of Spring.   During a splendid hike through a desert canyon recently, the season was springing forth in typical desert fashion.  Spring rarely bowls you over in the desert.  But the closer you look the more you see.  It’s why both of these are close-up shots.

The hummingbird surprised me at first when he buzzed by my head, looking straight at me hovering a couple feet away before zooming off to perch on his branch.  I wondered why he was there at first, but then walkiaround I found a spring with some flowers blooming.  In fact the further up the little draw I walked the more like a lush oasis it seemed.

This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.

This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.

Get out there and enjoy springtime (or autumn for my southern hemisphere friends).  And thanks for checking in!

Wordless Wednesday: 1st Cactus Bloom of Spring!   7 comments

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Friday Foto Talk, Part V: Plug-ins   8 comments

First post!  Happy New Year!

First post! Happy New Year!

This post concludes a mini-series on post-processing.  Find parts I – IV here.  My intent is to summarize the approach I’ve found to be helpful for me.  It’s not to give specific instruction on how to edit your photographs on the computer.  You can find these tutorials in many different places both online and in print.  But be selective and only go with the most experienced teachers.  Much of the online instruction in particular can be a little misleading and not all that helpful.  Everybody is different and will approach specific editing tasks differently.  Only very experienced teachers factor this in to the right extent.

You should develop your own unique “workflow”, or general sequence of steps, while being flexible enough to take any given image in a different direction than the one you took the last image.  Editing is, in fact, just like capturing images.  The more you do it the more comfortable you become.  If you’re fairly new to digital photography, don’t expect to get to that post-processing comfort zone without some degree of frustration.  Don’t despair; it’s all part of the learning curve.  And so, on to plug-ins:

Last week I posted a winter Crater Lake.  This one is from late summer with smoke from distant fires turning the sky orange.

Last week I posted a winter Crater Lake. This one is from late summer with smoke from distant fires turning the sky orange.

PLUG-INS:  WHAT ARE THEY & HOW DO THEY WORK?

Plug-ins are software programs that work with Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop CS and other programs to add functionality and ease of use.  They are the classic editing extra.  I’m talking only about those plug-ins which apply post-processing techniques to your images.  There are plugins that do all sorts of things – automatically publishing your pictures on websites, for example.

As the name says, these programs “plug in” to your main editor (Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture).  When you install a plug-in, you link it to your main editing program.  Editing plug-ins are designed to, in effect, take your images on a round-trip from your main program to the plug-in (where you apply edits) and back again.

In Lightroom for example, you simply right-click on a picture and click “edit in”.  Then from the drop-down menu you choose one of the plug-ins you have installed and, from the box that pops up, select how you want to save it.  After you finish with the image and click save (or apply, or whatever the plug-in says), your photo is automatically sent back to Lightroom, thus creating another version of it in a non-RAW format (Jpeg, TIFF).  Once you’ve done it a few times, it’s a pretty simple procedure.

A bare winter tree

A bare winter tree

PUTTING PLUG-INS TO WORK

Although you can almost always do with Photoshop what any plug-in can do, these little programs can almost always do it quicker and easier.  By and large, a plug-in, like any editing extra, will impart a certain style to your picture.  Plug-ins can lend quite magical or painterly effects to your images.  Many of them do what filters did in the film era.  But they go far beyond simple filters.

The power of these little programs means it’s very easy to overdo things, resulting in an image with the wrong kind of impact.  But, at least with the better plug-ins, it also means you can exert a fair amount of subtlety and control.  This control is best applied by combining the judicious use of sliders and opacity.

Some of the more popular plug-ins for photography include Nik, onOne, Imagenomic and Topaz.  There are others.  These companies offer bundles, which are a good deal if you plan to use two or more of their products a lot.  For instance I use Nik’s Silver Effex & Color Effex quite a bit, so I bought the bundle and for nearly no extra money got their excellent Dfine for noise reduction and HDR Effex for HDR.

The charming town of Quetzaltenango (Xela for short) lies in Guatemala's western highlands.

The charming town of Quetzaltenango (Xela for short) lies in Guatemala’s western highlands.

As mentioned, most editing plug-ins are quite powerful, and thus they’re often used with Photoshop because you can easily apply them as a layer and then dampen the effect simply by changing layer opacity.  Also, you can apply layer masks in Photoshop, limiting the effects of the plugin to local areas of the image.  But even here the creators of these programs have figured out ways to allow their use without Photoshop.  .

With many plug-ins, you can adjust opacity while still inside the plug-in software itself.  And to take it a step further, in the better plug-ins you can adjust the effect in local areas of the image.  Some plug-ins have masking as their sole function, competing directly with Photoshop.

All this allows photographers like me to largely avoid Photoshop, using the plug-ins in conjunction with Lightroom (which doesn’t have layers or layer masking).  As described in Part IV, I use Photoshop itself as a plug-in, only occasionally taking photos from Lightroom to PS for specific tasks, then saving right back to my LR catalog.  If you plan to use plug-ins in conjunction with Lightroom instead of Photoshop, I recommend those that allow a lot of adjustment to the overall effect (opacity) as well as the effects of individual sliders.  All plug-in software offers free trials.

The roof in Carlsbad Cavern's Big Room is studded with thousands of stalactites.

The roof in Carlsbad Cavern’s Big Room is studded with thousands of stalactites.

USE PLUG-INS WISELY

Plug-ins have an effect you’ll see all over the internet, especially on social media.  Some of these looks become quite popular, and soon enough it seems like 9 out of 10 images you see have been edited by the same plug-in, with the same effect applied.  Of course this isn’t the plug-in’s fault.  It’s just our “ape” ancestry showing through.

But don’t let this stop you from trying the plug-in.  Just be thoughtful and you’ll be okay.  Your job as a photographer stays the same throughout the post-processing minefield, rife as it is with Facebook fads and 500 px rankings.  Edit your images so they express your particular vision, taking strong account of exactly what was happening at the time you pressed the shutter, and how you felt about it.  If that means using a look that happens to be popular at the moment, then so be it.  Don’t be shy!  If it means going with a look that gets 3 likes on Facebook, that’s fine too!  In other words, to beat a dead horse, just be yourself.

While rambling southern Africa, the call of the "go away" bird might make you feel just a bit unwelcome.

While rambling southern Africa, the call of the gray “go away” bird might make you feel just a bit unwelcome.

Canyon hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas.

Canyon hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas.

SUMMARY

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I’m more into the capture part of photography.  I started out hating post-processing, but now I’m much more in tune with it.  In the end, it’s up to each of you to learn how you want to approach editing your images.  Just like it’s up to you to choose (and then learn how to use) the software you think will get your photography to where you want to take it.

You’ve likely noticed that I recommend basing things off Lightroom.  That’s because it does such a great job of organizing and editing both.  And boy do I need organizing!  Supplement with Photoshop (or Elements) if you’ll be doing a lot of cloning and/or composites (merging images).  Add a few plug-ins that you enjoy using and that jive with your needs and style.  If you take this approach, you’ll be doing the same thing most pro photographers do.

A long post, thanks for sticking with me!  Hope you got something out of it.  Good luck and have a fun fun fun 2015!

A recent sunset, Cimarron River.

A recent sunset on the Cimarron River.

Wordless Wednesday: Jeweled Chamber   11 comments

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Wordless Wednesday: Fall Color   11 comments

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Posted October 15, 2014 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, Photography

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Single-image Sunday: Patterns in Sandstone   5 comments

Since the Foto Talk this week was all about not getting too caught up in the search for abstract patterns in your photography, I thought I’d post an image whose sole aim was to abstract the subject.  But is this really an abstract?  I could have made it more so, for example by moving the camera or otherwise blurring details and color.  Or by getting experimental in post-processing.  But I wanted the close-up features of this dune sandstone to be very clear.

The abstraction is created by simply getting  close with my macro lens and framing so as to exclude the tiny flaws that are scattered through the rock.  I captured this at the famous Wave in southern Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  The sandstone has been worn smooth by water and wind erosion, but up close you can see how rough it is, like sandpaper.

The tiny sand grains are frosted by winds that blew them into dunes during the early Jurassic Period nearly 200 million years ago when this whole region of the American southwest was a vast desert similar to the Sahara of today.

The thin layers (laminae) of alternating color are at an angle to the main sandstone beds.  This is called cross-bedding and is characteristic of dune sands.  The wind blew in grains that had been stained brick-red by iron.  Then it turned around and blew in cleaner, lighter-colored grains from a different source.  These grains would cascade down the steeper lee side of dunes, creating the cross-beds.

The flatter, thicker layers have been eroded into steps, a characteristic of the Wave.  Because of variation in their hardness, their ability to resist erosion, the layers stand out or are recessed.  This differential erosion is caused by variation in the amount and hardness of cement binding the sand grains together.

So what this image shows on a micro-scale is an ancient sand dune in cross-section that is now being sculpted by present-day winds.  In other words, it shows winds in a desert of the distant past, when early dinosaurs roamed the area.  And it shows what the desert of today is doing to those ancient dunes

So an abstract image can tell you something real about the subject.  I believe that’s the best kind of abstract in fact.  I’m hoping the image shows what nature can do, not what me or my camera can do.  Please let me know whether or not I succeeded.  I hope your weekend was a lot of fun.  Thanks for reading.

Undulations

The End   50 comments

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River.  It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

A rainbow reflected in a small lake along the Columbia River. It was classic Oregon springtime weather that last day.

I’ve been trying to avoid this post for the last few days.  This weekend I was shooting at the top of a waterfall, a virtually unknown one called Summit Creek Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  It’s rare you can get in a relatively safe position to shoot decent pictures at the lip of a falls.  Most of them end up being disappointing because when you look down you lose the sense of depth in pictures.

Anyway, while I was there I momentarily broke one of my rules and didn’t have my neckstrap on.  Only one other time did I do that in the past couple years, and that’s when the 5DII went in.  Murphy’s Law is a vicious thing.  Murph took over at that point and my tripod, Canon 5D III and an L lens went over.  Amazingly it got caught about 10 feet down off the lip of the 100-foot falls, on a submerged log or rock.

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

Triple Falls, Oneonta Creek, Oregon

After almost dying in a foolish attempt to climb down and get it (maybe a bit of subconscious suicidal thought going on there!), I stopped and caught my breath and thought about the certain consequence of going any further.  I retreated back up, took off my bootlaces, rigged a slip knot and loop, tied off to a long stout stick I found, and went fishing.  I was able to grab hold of a tripod leg.

It’s funny to think about, but if I still had my fancy Gitzo tripod (which has twist leg locks), I would have never recovered it.  With my old trusty Manfrotto that has bulkier lever locks, I was able to grasp it with the loop.  After a frantic wrestling match, fighting the implacable, uncaringly powerful spring snowmelt, I got it.

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Creek, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

An Oregon forest strains the clouds.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Fog moves in towards evening in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The gear had been pounded with tons of water for almost an hour.  But my tripod and head (not like the camera but not inexpensive either) are fine.  I just got off the phone with Canon and they can’t accept it for repair.  They say if it’s repairable it would be almost the cost of a new camera.  So it’s gone.  My bad: no insurance!

My backup camera, a 5D II that  had itself been repaired from a brief dip at the top of yet another waterfall, I sold a couple months ago to help pay off the bill from the 5D III more quickly.  So I’m down to an older point and shoot, which means I’m down to snapshop/street photography only.  I am in the worst financial shape of my adult life right now so can’t afford even a used cheaper DSLR.  I will likely sell off the rest of my gear and give up the dream of going fully pro, at least for now.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

Looking down from a footbridge that spans the top of Oneonta Gorge.

I debated discontinuing this blog, but my interests are so varied, and I believe I have much to say.  So I’ll keep at it and probably post Friday Foto Talks too, though perhaps not every Friday.  One negative about this plan:  I’ve been blogging for quite awhile now and I have included many images in my posts, believing that I will always be shooting new images; now that’s not the case, and so some of the example images will be reposts from my archive.

So that’s it.  A sad week for me, and something big in my life has now gone.  A big transition back to just observing light and nature instead of always wanting to capture its beauty.  But it’s how I started out and how I came to be a decent photographer in the first place.  Please don’t feel bad for me.  It was a great run!

By the way, these images are from the last day shooting with my camera.  CF memory cards are amazing!

The very last image.  Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls.  Note my tripod leg; this is an unprocessed image.

The very last image. Just ahead is the lip of Summit Creek Falls. Note my tripod leg.  Unprocessed & uncropped.

 

 

Wordless Wildflower Wednesday: Grass Widow   3 comments

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Wildflower Wednesday: Bring ’em on!   10 comments

Wildflowers and insects are inseparable!

Wildflowers and insects are inseparable.

Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

Pink monkeyflower and a yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

Pink monkeyflower and yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo mariposa lily.

My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo and always beautiful mariposa lily.

Let's  not forget tropical flowers.  This one attended by red ants I found in a forest in Thailand.

Let’s not forget tropical flowers. This one I found attended by red ants in a Thailand forest.

Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon.  Note the moon peaking through.

Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon. Note the moon peaking through.

Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.

Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.

Not all flowers are colorful.  This one is the pasqueflower, which blooms then immediately goes to a "wild hair" seed head.

Not all flowers are colorful. This one is the pasqueflower, which immediately goes to a “wild hair” seed head after blooming.

The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.

The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.

The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.

The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.

Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.

Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.

A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.

A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.

 

A welcome export to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.

A welcome import to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.

I hope you like these wildflower images.  Please click on an image to go to the main gallery part of my website, where some of the full-size versions are available for purchase.  If you can’t find one, or have any questions or special requests, please contact me.  They are protected by copyright and not available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest, and happy Wildflower Wednesday!

Winter Olympics (Share your World)   14 comments

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

That Cee comes up with some great ideas for challenges.  This is a “Share your World” challenge, where you answer a few simple questions – this week on the Winter Olympics.  I really love the Olympics, I’m not ashamed to admit.  For some reason I’m not watching these games.  Maybe I’ll start.  Since I’m marginally better at winter sports than summer, the winter games have always been a favorite.  I really hope you’ll answer some too, either in the comments below or by going to Cee’s page and doing one yourself.  Now on to the questions:

      • Have you watched or plan to watch any of the 2014 Winter Olympics?  Think I’ve already answered this one.  I’ll probably catch a little, at least some skiing and maybe a hockey game.
      • What is your favorite winter Olympic event? Would you ever want to be an expert in that sport?  The Downhill, without a doubt.  I’ve gone pretty fast on skis but no way would I ever be able to go that fast.  About as likely as hitting a major leaguer’s slider or blocking Terrel Suggs (NFL linebacker).  I’d love to be an expert in the downhill skiing, at least down to the giant slalom.
Oneonta Gorge in Oregon's Columbia Gorge Scenic Area  is not an easy place to access in winter.

Oneonta Gorge in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge Scenic Area is not an easy place to access in winter.

      • Have you ever met an Olympic Athlete?  Actually two.  I ran into a U.S. mogul skier once, in Hawaii, hiking at night to the active lava entering the ocean (of all things).  Think she said she won a silver or bronze, but I don’t really remember much (besides the lava and her blonde hair).  For a time I knew a multiple gold medalist (summer games) named Mariel Zagunis.  She’s still one of the world’s best women at fencing sabre, and has golds from two successive games.  I was one of her high school science teachers.  I remember giving her homework to do while she was off to Europe or somewhere for fencing tournaments.  She always seemed very calm and focused, but otherwise not super-athletic.  I think that’s what it really takes.
Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

      • Do you have a favorite athlete? Name sport.  Currently, I’ll say Haloti Ngata of the Ravens (American football).  He’s just so huge (6’4″ 350 lbs) but very athletic and dominant.  He plays for my hometown’s team, went to my alma mater (U of Oregon) and best of all, he’s Samoan.  I imagine him on a palm-fringed beach, cooking up and eating whole chicken after whole chicken, and laughing.  Historically there are several more, but I don’t idolize athletes, at least since I was a young boy.
Snow on moss on lichen on basalt, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Snow on moss on lichen on basalt: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free of the icy grip of a cold snap.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free from a cold snap.

      • What is your favorite exercise or sport? Is there a reason why?  Probably cross-country skiing.  I love all types, from track skating to back-country telemarking.  To go on long tours where you must use all types of skiing technique, plus call upon your navigation and winter travel skills, ability to evaluate avalanche dangers, and your determination, it seems to bring everything together.  The fact that it exercises your whole body, you can do it when the weather is good, bad or in between, the zen state it can put you in, its rhythm and grace, the downhill fun; all that makes it almost the perfect outdoor sport.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Cees challenge and to add your two cents on any one or all of the questions below.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

 

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