Once again, it is time to review the photographs made this year, and select my favorites. We have been doing this for the past several years, and I look forward to it every year. This year, I started with over 50 photos, and after making several passes through the collection, and making some tough decisions, I selected the 10 photographs that gave me the most joy and satisfaction when I made them, and continue to do so now. Here are my Favorites for 2017, in roughly chronological order… Continue reading
Ever since I began making photographs, I prefer to photograph the morning. I like to be there for that transition from night to day, when the colors change, and the light changes, and the day is fresh and with a new beginning. And… every morning, every day, is different…
In the winter, you see frost on rock edges and on the edges of leaves, and ribbons of ice from stems of plants, and you see frozen water, and fog rising from streams, and you feel the crispness of the air, and you see your breath… Continue reading
Great Blue Heron Flying Across the Arkansas River, Slide file 10039, date 1989
Location: Citadel Bluff Park, near Cecil, Arkansas
Of all the photos I have made, this one fills a special place in my memory. The moment, the location, and the image all added up to make it one of the best photos I had made at that time…
In the 1980’s and 90’s, I often visited Citadel Bluff Park and Campground on the Arkansas River, just outside the small community of Cecil, hoping to see bald eagles – and frequently I did. A trail led from the end of the campground, through the woods, and along the river. However, no matter how quietly I approached, wildlife knew when I was there…
On this cool but pleasant winter morning, the Great Blue Heron flew when I got too close, sounding its blood-curdling alarm call. A grove of cane blocked my view, but I pushed through and saw the heron flying away. I had learned the hard way to preset the camera, but I still only had time for two photographs: the one you see here, and a second one with its wings in the downbeat.
Is it a good photo? I like it; but, for me, there is more: the image includes the sounds of the breeze in the trees and the river lapping on the bank, the smell of the forest, and the breathtaking flight of the heron. There’s nothing else there but the Arkansas River, with its own reflected image of the heron, and small ripples in the current…
Some tech stuff, as I remember it: Minolta Maxxum 7000 camera, a Sigma 400mm f/5.6 lens, and Kodachrome 64 film. (Yes, film.) Settings were probably f/5.6, at 1/500 sec shutter speed. I frequently set the camera ISO to 80, so as to underexpose the film and add saturation to the colors.
Oh – we have since incorporated the heron’s image into our logo:
In closing… this is the first post in a series. Would love to hear your thoughts about my little story, and if you have a photo that means something similar to you, we would love to hear about that, too! 🙂
Despite the fact that Arkansas’ River Valley has had a dry year, it seemed that every time I planned a star photography outing – there were clouds.
And, this trend included our Night Photography Workshop in August. We tried 3 times, before we finally had a marvelously clear night to see and photograph the Milky Way.
Same location – Shores Lake – but no significant clouds! 🙂 To add a little foreground interest, I set up my film camera to photograph the stars streaking across the sky, aka “star trails.”
If you live in an area with little light pollution, you may wonder what’s the big deal. However, for those of us who live in an urban area, it is a rare treat! Some of the photographers in our workshop had not seen the Milky Way since childhood. Seeing it and making photographs was very exciting!
Would you like to photograph the Milky Way? Here are 5 things I think you need:
- A DSLR camera, because shooting in manual exposure mode and manual focus mode, and at a high ISO is necessary. Very few compact cameras have all those functions.
- A wide angle lens. How wide? My preference is a 24mm for a “full-frame” sensor, but up to a 35mm will work. If you have an APS-C sensor, sometimes called a “crop-sensor,” 18mm to 24mm is the equivalent. That does not mean that we cannot use even wider! Many photographers use a 14mm, 16mm or an 18mm, and sometimes a fish-eye.
- A Good tripod. Shutter speeds will be measured in seconds, and no one I know can hold a camera steady for that long. Your tripod will need to be solid, and easy to adjust in the dark. I recommend a carbon fiber or aluminum tripod, with a ball head.
- A remote control for firing your camera. Pressing the shutter button will cause your camera to move, so use a remote cable or wireless remote.
- A headlamp or flashlight with a red lens. Without the red lens, your night vision will be compromised each time you turn on the light.
Also helpful: an app on your phone. “Photo Pills” and “The Photographers’ Ephemeris” will provide photographers where and when information – I like and use both. I also like “Star Guide” which does just what it says – displays on screen where and when the stars are.
Once you have the equipment, the techniques we use are different from most other types of photography:
- Locate an area with a probable good view of the Milky Way. Helpful web sites: www.cleardarksky.com, www.darksitefinder.com, and Google Maps www.google.com/maps.
- Check the moon phases – a full moon is so bright you cannot see the Milky Way. A crescent moon is also bright enough to interfere, although if it sets early, the light – coming from the opposite direction of the Milky Way – can be helpful by lighting up the foreground.
- Camera settings: Start at ISO 3200, a shutter speed of 15 seconds, and your aperture at its widest. Make a test shot, check your image exposure, and adjust as necessary. It is not uncommon to set ISO at 4000 or higher. (Note: to calculate the longest usable shutter speed, divide 500 by your lens focal length. Example: with a 24mm lens, 500 divided by 24 = 20.83, so you would keep your shutter open no longer than 20 seconds.) A too-long shutter speed results in trailing stars, not points of light.
- Focusing can be difficult. We tried to use autofocus before dark, then switched to manual focus. We also applied gaffer tape to the focus ring to avoid accidentally bumping and moving it. If you need to focus after dark, try using “live view” and magnify the display. (Practice this before dark!) The good thing about digital photography, of course, is we can see what we shot, then adjust and reshoot if necessary.
The end result can be very rewarding photos. And, watching the Milky Way – and other stars and constellations – begin to appear after the sun goes down is exciting and breathtaking! Especially the first time…
The “season” is about done for this year; during the winter months, the Milky Way is not visible. When it is most visible is late spring to late summer. (I can hardly wait!) The apps I referenced earlier are great for helping us plan. Feel free to contact me if you have questions – or search the internet for more information.
Wishing you good light!
Derrick Story (www.thedigitalstory.com) hosted a 4-day photography workshop in the California’s Eastern Sierra region. Initially, he called it the “Bodie Workshop,” and that was the first location we visited. But, since we also photographed at Mono Lake, Green Creek in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and within the town of Bridgeport, it became the “Eastern Sierra Workshop.”
From the beginning, one thing Derrick emphasized was to enjoy ourselves, relax, and keep from making our time there seem like work.
My personal goals were to improve my photography, and to observe how someone else ran a workshop. Being a photography instructor, I wanted to compare my methods, and to learn different approaches. And, to teach photography, my own photography must be good.
It was difficult for me to follow his advice, but by the third day, I was much more relaxed.
The workshop was terrific. (Does anyone say “terrific” these days?)
Bodie is a ghost town about 20 miles north of Mono Lake, and has a photographic opportunity around every corner, literally. There is an old school, a church, a hotel, numerous shops, abandoned homes, a fire station, and a stamp mill for the ore. It is now a California State Park, and attempts are being made to preserve as many of the historical buildings as possible. When we visited, the day was perfect: mild weather, blue skies and puffy white clouds.
Have you heard about the light in the Sierras? For many years, I have read John Muir, Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, Dewitt Jones, and others, speak of the light. It is, indeed, unlike anywhere else I have been.
Mono Lake, with its dwindling water level and tufa formations, is like a scene from a sci-fi movie. We stayed until after sunset, watching the sun light up the landscape, and filling our memory cards and our internal memory banks.
Where ever we went, Derrick was there to encourage, suggest, and guide us in our photographic journey. Yes, just as other workshop leaders do; but Derrick has a calm and mild persona, that he passed on to us.
Next year, he will lead a similar workshop – but in the fall. It should make for great photography!
I have been absent from posting for some time. This is the first attempt to catch up – I hope you will follow along…
My Christmas Wish List
Ever get asked: “What do you want for Christmas this year?” Supposedly, photographers should be easy to buy for – but, we are not. Many things are personal. We have specific preferences, and to a non-photographer – even one who means well – it is not always obvious what works for us. We have favorite brands, or we need (want!) an accessory that works differently, or maybe we already have that piece!
As you may know, I have worked at Bedford Camera for more than 15 years, and Bedford’s stocks most of the products listed here. But there are a few items you can find, or will need to find, elsewhere.
So, here is – in no particular order – my personal wish list. If you have a photographer to buy for, or if you need to give someone some ideas, you should find this helpful.
- Sony Cybershot RX100 camera: Really??!! Yes, I already have a camera, and I love it! However, none are perfect for every occasion. This is a pocket-sized camera that can be fully automatic or I can use as many pro-type features as I want, including shooting in RAW image format. There are 3 models, ingeniously named RX100, RX100 II, and RX100 III; prices range from $499 to $799 – but watch for sales!
- Sony Alpha 6000: This camera is only slightly larger than the RX100’s, but uses interchangeable lenses, making it more versatile, and is one of the fastest focusing cameras around. With lens, its price is $799 – but is on sale right now for $699. (Alternatively, the similar A5100 kit is on sale for $599.)
- Tamron 16-300 Lens: An all-around lens good for nearly any type of shooting we need to do. Its price is $629, but right now there is an available rebate-by-mail. An alternative is the nearly as all-around 18-270 lens, priced at $449.
- Tamron 150-600 Lens: Given very high ratings for quality, this lens is great for wildlife, including birds. You can have this for a remarkably low price of $1,069. (Sigma has announced a similar lens that should be available soon.)
- Xume Magnetic Filter Adapters: (Pronounced “zoom”) With these devices, I could avoid fumbling with filters, while trying to screw them to the front of lenses. A fairly new product, kit prices range from about $50 to $100, depending on the filter diameter. www.xumeadapters.com
- Speaking of filters, I could use another circular polarizing filter, in the 77mm diameter size. And, if I am blessed with any of the lenses previously mentioned, some of them may come in a size I do not already have.
- Batteries: Can we have too many? If your photographer only has one or two, this could make a great stocking stuffer.
- Memory cards: Another stocking stuffer. It is always good to have several on hand. And, as we add video or time lapse to our shooting, higher capacity cards will be needed. The good news is the price continues to drop! FYI – I am looking for a high-speed 32- or 64-gb size.
- Workshops or classes: I plan to attend one with Derrick Story (www.thedigitalstory.com/workshops) next summer, but there are also others nearby. (Bedford Camera sells a coupon good toward any class/workshop. The lead instructor there is very good!) www.bedfords.com
- Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers: OK, I do already have this, but it really needs to be included. For $9.99 per month, you can own the full version of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, and they will be constantly updated. https://creative.adobe.com/plans/photography
- Coffee-table Picture Book or Trail Guidebook by Tim Ernst. Cannot go wrong with one of these. (But check the library first!) http://www.timernst.com/
- For other photography books, Books-A-Million has the best (largest) collection in my area, or you can search online. Again, check your photographer’s library first.
There are more accessories, much more, than listed here. Point-of-view cameras (Go-Pro, Sony Action Cams), tripods (Manfrotto, Really Right Stuff), camera bags and backpacks (LowePro), remote control devices, and light sources, just to mention a few. Your local camera store really is the best place to start looking. The sales staff is there to answer your questions, show you the choices, and help you find just the right gift for your photographer. Meanwhile, if you see my lovely bride, Gayle, please make sure she has a copy of this list!
A frequent question I hear is “is there a filter that will help me __ __ __?” Often, the answer is no. However, a Polarizing Filter is the one I encourage most people to acquire. Here are some basic tips and thoughts about this accessory…
The Polarizing Filter: A Nature Photographer’s Best Friend
The one accessory I always make certain is in the bag.
Why use a polarizer
If you want to see your outdoor photographs really “pop,” this is the answer. A polarizing filter changes how you see the light that is being reflected from objects in the scene you are photographing. If your photograph includes water, it becomes clearer; if there are wet rocks, suddenly you see the rocks and not the light reflected from the moisture. If there are blue skies with puffy white clouds, the sky becomes bluer and the clouds whiter and more distinct. If your photograph includes vegetation, the color of the foliage is made richer – think fall foliage.
When to use a polarizer:
Get out your polarizing filter when you photograph:
Water, waterfalls, wet rocks, lakes and oceans;
Landscapes, especially with blue sky and white clouds;
Or need to slow the shutter speed
How to use the polarizer
The greatest amount of polarization occurs at a 90° angle to the sun; but, that does not mean you only use it at that angle. Rather, it just means you will see the effect lessening as you move the camera more toward or away from the sun. If the sun is in the frame, or directly at your back, you will essentially see no effect. So, with that in mind:
- With the polarizing filter in place, frame your image and focus. Then, slowly turn the outer ring of the filter. As you do so, you will see the effect on your image increase or decrease. When you like what you see, stop the rotation and press the shutter button.
- Take caution: if you are using a wide angle lens and have the blue sky in your frame, the effect will be uneven across the image, making the sky look unnatural.
- If you are shooting at high elevation, the air is thinner, making skies a deeper blue than at sea level, and the polarizing filter will make the sky very dark, almost black.
- In addition, pay attention to your exposure settings. This filter reduces light to your camera by 1½ to 2 stops. Your camera’s light meter will automatically compensate for this – usually by changing your shutter speed. If you are hand-holding your camera, or if you are trying to stop motion, you may need to compensate with aperture and/or ISO settings to keep your image sharp.
One final note: Unless you are using a pre-1970’s camera (or a view camera) be sure yours is a “circular polarizer.” Occasionally, you will come across a “linear” polarizing filter. This does not mean one is round and the other is not; this refers to the way they filter polarized light. Simply stated, the circular polarizing filter will work better with today’s cameras.
The polarizing filter: one accessory I don’t leave home without.
Additional resources and references:
The Luminous Landscape: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/polarizers.shtml
Digital Photography School: http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-use-and-buy-polarizing-filters/