Archive for the ‘wind’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk ~ Sound in Video   2 comments

Last week because of Christmas I skipped Foto Talk.  I hope the holiday was fun and festive for all.  The series on video is not done yet, so let’s jump back in with perhaps the most important (and challenging) aspects of video.  I’m assuming that you wish to catch native audio; that is, the sounds that you hear during your video clips.  Adding audio later, whether it’s music or something else, is certainly possible and in many way easier.  But my initial goal is always to capture interesting audio at the same time as the video.

Check out the previous posts in this series for tips on the visual half of video.  In order to view the videos in this post, click the title at top-left, or on the link.  You’ll shoot to my Vimeo page where you can click on the play button.

There are several pitfalls to watch out for when recording audio.  The main ones follow, along with solutions.   As you do with photography, tailor your solutions for sound-recording problems to the specific subject and situation.

  • Built-in Microphone.  Your camera’s microphone, while usable, is essentially a starter mic.  Depending on its quality, the sound can be tinny and harsh.  It also can’t easily be used with a windscreen.  But don’t forgo your internal mic entirely.  It can be a better recorder of ambient sound than the shotgun mic that you’ll likely purchase (see below).

  Solution:  An internal microphone is okay for starting out.  But sooner or later you’ll want to purchase a separate external mic (or two) that mounts on your hotshoe.  There are two basic types of microphone, and what you most like to record will determine whether you get one or the other (or both).  If you want to record discrete sound sources (bird calls, a person talking or singing, etc.) get a shotgun mic.  If you most often record diffuse soundscapes with the sources scattered around you (the video at top is an example), get an omnidirectional mic.  The shotgun mic (which comes in different types which vary in their degree of directionality) can cost a lot more than the omni mic.  But it’s useful in a far wider set of circumstances.  So I recommend buying a shotgun mic first.

  • Wind.  The wind often adds atmosphere to a setting (see link to video below).  So why not record it?  Not so fast!  Your ears are designed in a wonderfully organic way.  But when wind hits a microphone it doesn’t sound atmospheric.  It just sounds like somebody trying to annoy you by blowing into a mic.

  Solution:  There is a deceptively easy solution to wind noise.  If and when you buy an external mic, buy a windscreen for it and don’t take it off.  They come in foam or hairy (“deadcat”) versions, or you can make one yourself.  Depending on how strong the wind is they can be very effective in blocking out wind noise.  But they aren’t 100%, so you should take steps to shelter the mic further from strong winds.  Point down-wind and block with your body if at all possible.

Wind and Quaking Aspens: Colorado Rockies

  • Image Stabilizer & other Space-outs.  I hate to admit how many great soundscapes I’ve recorded that are immediate candidates for deletion.  Why?  Because I forgot to turn off the image stabilizer (IS on Canon, VR on Nikon).  That little motor you barely notice while shooting stills will sound like a generator, even if you use an external mic.  Another easy thing to forget is the sound setting itself.  If you turn off sound recording in the menu (say you plan to add sound later), you’ll feel as dumb as a post when you play back to dead silence.  You may think it’s hard to be this forgetful, but when you’re grabbing a quick video in the midst of shooting stills, believe me it’s easy to space out.  Finally, if you have an external mic it can be easy to forget to turn that on.

  Solution:  Get in the habit, every time you switch to video mode, of checking to make sure that IS or VR is turned off.  Also helpful is getting in the habit of reviewing and listening to at least portions of your clips.  And before you do any video make sure that the sound setting is turned on.  Then if you turn it off for a video or two, go in right after and turn it back on.  Make it your default setting.  Most external microphones have a little light that says it’s on.  But get used to turning your mic on (and off when you’re done) every time you record.

  • Planes.  Aircraft (planes, helicopters, and now drones) are a type of unwanted noise that deserves its own category.  Whether you’re recording the human voice or the sounds of nature, planes just seem to show up at the worst times.  Soon after you press the record button, you’ll hear one buzzing overhead.  It’s almost guaranteed.  I never fully appreciated the amount of air traffic in our world until I started shooting video and recording natural sounds.

  Solution:  Mostly patience is all that is required.  Planes don’t take too long to pass over, though while you’re waiting it can seem an eternity.  If you’re under a flight path it may take awhile to get a silent window.  If a helicopter is working in the area you’re stuck with it and should probably return another day.  If somebody has a drone and insists on flying it near you, well that’s what a slingshot or pellet gun is for (just kidding..I think).

There is more to sound than the above, and next time we’ll dive in a little deeper.  But if you can overcome these simple stumbling blocks, you’re well on your way to recording quality sound with your videos.  Thanks for reading, and have a happy and photographic New Year!

Friday Foto Talk: Shoot in Any Weather   19 comments

A blustery cold winter morning at Joshua Tree National Park, California gave me the opportunity to shoot something I’ve always loved to see: spindrift in bright sunlight.

Occasionally I see someone post on Facebook or mention elsewhere that they are anxious for the weather to cooperate so that they can get out with their cameras.  They’ll say they are inside playing in Photoshop because the weather is keeping them from shooting, or that they’re looking forward to getting out when the weather finally improves this weekend.

The message for this post is very simple.  Quit making excuses and get out there!  Short of hurricanes, tornados, and other dangerous situations, there is really no weather that you can’t handle with clothing and gear.  Check out my series on winter photography for tips on how to protect yourself and your gear.

It’s springtime now in the northern hemisphere, and that means quickly changing weather.  So why not go out to see what happens?  Maybe it will clear up just before sunset, rewarding you for your persistence.  But even if it stays weathery (or even gets worse), don’t worry!  The most important thing to remember is that there’s really no kind of weather that doesn’t offer at least a few good photographic possibilities.  Here are some examples:

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee.  It was raining pretty heavily but I walked to a high lookout anyway, just in case.  Grain added during processing.

  • Rainy & Foggy.  Especially when paired with fog or low clouds hugging hillsides, rainy weather can be the perfect time to shoot mood-filled landscapes.  And if it suddenly clears, hello rainbow!  Rain also offers good people shooting.  With typically bright raincoats and umbrellas, the flat light of cloud-cover can really bring out those colors.  Rainy conditions can also favor flowers and other small colorful close-ups.  Droplets on flowers and other vegetation look great in macro photos.


When you're in a Costa rican cloud forest, and it's raining, these are the kinds of shots that jump out.

When you’re in a Costa Rican cloud forest and it’s raining, these are the kinds of images that jump out.

One recent morning I woke to clouds and a missing sunrise, but this fog made it well worth shooting anyway. Toning added during processing.

One recent morning I woke to clouds and a missing sunrise, but this fog made it well worth shooting anyway. Toning added during processing.

  • Snowy & Cold.  New-fallen snow glistens like an older snow-cover never does.  And when the wind starts playing with snow magical things tend to happen (as in the image at top).  It can certainly be a challenge to deal with the contrasts of a snowy scene.  All that white, when it fills most of the viewfinder, demands that you are careful with exposure (your camera’s light meter is ‘fooled’ into underexposing).  The cold air of winter offers a clarity that can give your landscapes a sense of depth, and make your backgrounds stand out better.
The drive out to this spot in an ice storm was not fun but how else are you going to see and shoot unique light like this? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

The drive out to this spot during an ice storm was a little sketchy, but how else are you going to see and shoot unique skies and light like this? Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

  • Windy.  I’ve been shooting in some wind in the desert lately and have posted a few of those.  The nice part about wind is that it will pick up sand and other loose materials and blow them around, creating moody effects.  Of course windy conditions present some challenges.  You need to think about camera stability; decide if a tripod is better than being buffeted while you’re holding the camera.  As long as you weight it down by hanging a heavy bag from the center post, a tripod will work well in wind when exposures are too long for hand-held shots.  And don’t try to change lenses out in the wind, unless you don’t want to have your camera’s sensor & interior cleaned afterward.
Owen's Valley, California in a sandstorm.

Owen’s Valley, California in a sandstorm.

  • Clear Blue Skies.  This is the bane of every landscape photographer.  It means the sun’s light isn’t really filtered and reflected while it’s still in the sky, before it gets to your subject.  Thus most photographers think the light is poor in times of clear weather.  While it’s easier to get a great landscape image when there are clouds in the sky, that doesn’t mean great shots aren’t possible.  Subjects have to be unusually strong when under bluebird skies, and there is a tight window to shoot in when the sun is very near the horizon.
Mount Rainier and its famous subalpine flower meadows under soars into the clear blue near sunset.

Mount Rainier and its famous subalpine flower meadows under soars into the clear blue near sunset.

  • More Clear Days:  Clear skies are also decent times to shoot close-ups and macros.  A portable diffusing panel helps out, or you can shoot when the sun is very low.  For similar reasons people pictures can turn out very nice in clear sunny weather.  You need to find shade or again shoot when the sun is low.  Placing your subjects at the edge of the shade and near broad reflective ground surfaces helps to give beautiful illumination backed by darker backgrounds.
I photographed this particularly striking food vendor at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in shade but adjacent to a brightly lit square.

I photographed this particularly striking food vendor at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in shade but adjacent to a brightly lit square.

  •  And Clear Nights:  When it’s clear, some subjects (architecture being a great example) look very good at the so-called blue hour.  That’s well after sunset but before it gets dark and the sky loses all of its blue color.  If you want to shoot a star-filled sky, clear and moonless is the time to do it.  I actually like a partial moon to help illuminate the subject or foreground.  I also like some clouds in my starscapes and don’t care too much about the Milky Way.  But I’m in the minority there.
A crescent moon was setting as I captured this image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

A crescent moon was setting as I captured this image at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

I think you can see that almost any conceivable weather is good for photography.  The trick is to think about all the types of pictures you may want, not just the one or two that you happen to desire at a given time.  If you have this mindset, then no matter what the weather you’re likely to find just the right kinds of pictures to shoot.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Just before sunset the clouds started breaking and voila! Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

Just before sunset the clouds started breaking and voila! Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

Single-image Sunday: Panorama   8 comments

Tucki Mountain looms as a storm moves in to Death Valley.

Tucki Mountain looms as a storm moves in to Death Valley.

I so rarely post panoramas that I noticed something: I’ve started to do fewer of them.  That’s a shame, and so in Death Valley recently I made sure to do a few.  This is one.  It isn’t too wide and skinny.  I have one of this scene which is, and it looks like a thin strip on the computer screen – not good.  Panoramas don’t tend to lack impact when viewed on a screen, but when printed out (especially large) they are spectacular.  Of course it isn’t cheap to print and frame a pano, but if you put it in the right spot, where it can be examined from fairly close-up, it’s worth it.

This image is similar to a more standard crop I posted for Friday Foto.  This was a fantastic storm that swept in toward sunset just as I had emerged out onto the top of the alluvial fan after hiking a canyon.  It was very windy, difficult to keep the camera steady enough for sharp shots.  In those cases it’s hard to use a tripod unless you weight it down.  Often it’s best, if you have enough light, to just hand-hold your shots with the lens’ image stabilization activated.

It’s springtime in the desert and other areas of southern California.  Beautiful flowers are blooming everywhere.  These moody stormy images aren’t exactly what people want to see right now.  But I love these conditions anytime I get to photograph them.  And that goes double when I’m in a spectacular location.

Looking down the valley as the storm moved toward me, blowing sand out ahead of it, was invigorating to say the least!  And being in an elevated position at the top of an alluvial fan allowed me to capture the distant hulk of Tucki Peak.  After this it got dark rapidly and I got to get wet as I walked down the fan into the teeth of the storm.  See below for some geologic details for Death Valley and Tucki Mountain.  Enjoy and thanks for looking!


Tucki Mtn. & Telescope Pk. are Death Valley’s two iconic mountains.  I’ve climbed them both but it’s been quite a long time since Tucki (it can be much tougher than the much loftier Telescope).  Tucki sticks outward into the valley in a position where it’s hard to miss.  Two or three million years ago the whole Panamint Range, including Tucki, began to slide northwestward off the top of the Black Mountains on the other side of the valley along what’s called a detachment, or low-angle normal fault.  In addition Tucki has been pushed up to form a “metamorphic core complex”, where erosion has exposed metamorphic rocks formed far beneath the surface.

Tucki has also been pushed north relative to the mountains across the valley along strike-slip faults related to the San Andreas Fault and plate boundary to the west.  Death Valley itself is a graben (German for grave) that opened under extensional stresses as a result of this shearing motion.  The bottom literally dropped out and now the valley floor lies below sea level.

Friday Foto Talk: Showing the Wind   8 comments

Spring flowers and a windy morning in Oregon.

Spring flowers and a windy morning in Oregon.

I was out of touch yesterday, spending the whole day on the beach in Southern California.  But I decided early on that Friday Foto Talk posts can be plus or minus one day.  Not long ago in a post on sand dunes, I showed an image captured during a windstorm.  That gave me the idea for a post on how to “show the wind”.

I get pretty excited about showing something that is considered impossible to see in a still image.  Moving water is fairly easy, but the wind?  It’s invisible after all.  Here’s how I approach the challenge:

  • Anytime it’s windy I try to avoid lens changes to keep the inevitable dust from getting inside the camera.  Choose a lens that will work for the shots you want and stick with it.  If you break down and change lenses, try to find some shelter and do it quick!  Also realize you’ll likely need to clean your sensor after a windy outing or two.
  • Showing the wind is all about showing its effects.  Blowing branches, spray, snow, etc., it can all be used as a proxy for the wind.
Hiking to a high viewpoint gave me a chance to show the patterns of winds sweeping across Lake Crescent, Washington.

Hiking to a high viewpoint gave me a chance to show the patterns of winds sweeping across Lake Crescent, Washington.

  • As with water, I often use a shutter speed that either freezes or blurs movement.  Sometimes you have to search for a medium shutter speed that will make the blowing subject more visible.  Blowing rain or snow can be like this.

Owen’s Valley, California

  • For blurring movement, a subject that forms a strong contrast with the background will create a naturally stronger composition.  Look for contrasts in texture, shape, and especially color.  You don’t want your blowing subject to be too subtle to notice at first glance.
  • It can be harder to show the wind’s effects by freezing movement (see image below).  My advice here is to give your imagination some rein and experiment with different shutter speeds.  Then choose the image that best shows the moment, whether that’s the drama of high winds or the feel of a gentle breeze.
The tail end of a rare snowstorm in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park offered the chance to shoot the bluster and spindrift.

The tail end of a rare snowstorm in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park offered the chance to shoot the bluster and spindrift.

  • Using blowing wind as a supporting subject is also a great idea.  Say you already have a strong subject, for example a person or animal standing firm, facing the wind (as in the image below).  Then you can allow the background effects to show the wind.  In this case you may be limited to a relatively faster shutter speed because of the need for a live subject that is sharp (they move a little even when it doesn’t seem that they are).

This image from Botswana has been posted before, but it shows the intensity of a duststorm so graphically here it is again.

  • Finally, strong winds can cause stability problems.  If you’re using slow shutter speeds, trying to let some elements blur while keeping others sharp, you’ll need either to hang a weight from the center post (if your tripod has a hook) or use a heavy duty tripod.  If on the other hand you’re shooting with a fast shutter speed to freeze movement, then be free and work without a tripod.

The next time it’s windy, instead of wishing for calm, get out and shoot to show the wind in all its glory.  Hope you’re having a great weekend and happy shooting!

A California sunset with the Channel Islands and blowing sea-spray.

Sunset the other day over the Pacific, with blowing sea-spray and the Channel Islands offshore: Southern California

Two for Tuesday: Forming Sand Dunes   14 comments

Recently I spent a few days at a dune field I’ve been wanting to photograph for quite some time.  With a great name (Ibex Dunes) and a fairly remote location in the far southern part of Death Valley National Park, California, they are a natural magnet for someone like me.  A bonus: nearby Saratoga Springs gives rise to a large wetland, attracting birdlife and hosting a number of endemic species, including pupfish.

I was there long enough to see a windstorm move through, out ahead of a big rain and snow storm that hit southern California this past week.  It was one of many this winter that are related to El Nino.  That gave me the idea to do a Two-for-Tuesday post.

Sand dunes are a bit like glaciers.  They move and evolve over time.  Glaciers are under the influence of gravity combined with year-on-year snow in their higher reaches.  The driver of a dune field is the wind combined with a steady supply of sand.

For the Ibex dunes, there is a large valley with fine sand and salty sediments west of a range of craggy peaks.  The prevailing winds are from the west, so they pick up that sand and essentially throw it up against the mountains.  Anywhere wind is forced by topography to change direction it slows down, potentially dropping it’s load of sand.


Wind moves sand over the Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park.

The great thing about wind and sand dunes, at least for fans of texture and shape in nature, is that not only does the wind bring in new sand, but re-sculpting takes place as well.  Footprints are erased, ripples and ridges are sharpened, curves are smoothed.

In open terrain dunes move along, driven by the wind.  For the Ibex Dunes, eastward movement is arrested by the mountains.  But you can see how dunes have migrated up onto the alluvial fans and to the north (where with a decrease in sand supply, they are smaller and partly stabilized by vegetation).

If you get the chance to visit sand dunes in wind, don’t miss it.  The sand in your hair is a minor inconvenience compared to the opportunity to see dune formation in action.  Thanks for looking and happy shooting!

The Ibex Dunes lap up against a range of desert mountains.

The Ibex Dunes lap up against a range of desert mountains.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: