This Photo

This Photo

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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:heron_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!  🙂

 

Milky Way Photography Adventures

Milky Way Photography Adventures

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.

 

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On this night, the clouds parted over Shores Lake just for a few minutes, and just enough to see the Milky Way.

 

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.

 

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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.

    moon-composite

    Nearly a full moon means no visible Milky Way.  When the moon went behind the clouds, there was still enough light to photograph Shores Lake with a 10-second exposure.

  • 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…

 

Milky Way at the Fire Tower

This photo is from a shoot with just Gayle and myself, when preparing for the workshop.  Rich Mountain Fire Tower, Talimena Scenic Drive, near Arkansas’ Queen Wilhelmena State Park.  Sony A7R, 24mm lens, f/2.8-15 seconds-ISO 5000

 

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!

Some Thoughts About… Polarizing Filters

Some Thoughts About… Polarizing Filters

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.

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Grand Canyon, 2013 The polarizing filter helped separate and emphasize the clouds, and deepen the blue skies

 

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:

Falling Water Falls

Falling Water Falls, October, 2013

Water, waterfalls, wet rocks, lakes and oceans;

Landscapes, especially with blue sky and white clouds;

Fall foliage;

Or need to slow the shutter speed

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Jack Creek, Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

Bob Atkins:  http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/technical/polarizers.html

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/

California Photo Festival

California Photo Festival

In October, I traveled to San Luis Obispo, California, to attend the California Photo Festival, aka “Click 4”, the fourth annual event.  The week-long event is organized by Hal and Victoria Schmitt, who own and operate Light Photographic Workshops in Los Osos, California.  There was a wide selection of subject matter in the classes, and photo shoots in vineyards, on the California beach in several locations, and on the city streets.  We took photos of horses and riders, small critters, sunsets and sunrises, birds and other animals, and portraits of various models in a multitude of locales.

Instructors included Marc Muench, Rob Sheppard, Ben Willmore, Lee Varis, and Rick Sammon, as well as a dozen more.  In addition, a number of vendors and equipment companies were on hand to show their equipment; not a huge trade show, but plenty of goodies to see and touch.  🙂

The cost for the Festival  is reasonable, given the huge amount of information presented.  Interested?  Next year’s event is scheduled, but not yet accepting registration.  Click the link above, or here, for more information.

Here are a few photos from my library.  Hope you enjoy them!

“Horses on the Beach”

The intention was to photograph members of Cal Poly Tech’s Polo Team riding their horses in the surf at Morro Bay with a marvelous sunset in the background.  The riders were there with their horses, but alas! we had no sun, just clouds, fog, and mist.  We still made photographs!  🙂

Horses on the Beach

Polo player in the surf at Morro Bay

Horses on the Beach

Polo players riding in the surf at Morro Bay

One of the Cal Poly Polo team takes a break from the action.  I really liked the reflection the wet sand gave us...

One of the Cal Poly Polo team takes a break from the action. I really liked the reflection the wet sand gave us…

“Macro Critters!”

Another photo shoot set up for us was captive small animals – lizards, chameleon, snakes, spiders and insects – in “stations” that we could move to and from, making photographs of the small animals.  Great fun, although somewhat cramped space.  I carried my tripod, but left the legs together, using it like a monopod.

The Chameleon was perhaps the most photographed

The Chameleon was perhaps the most photographed

Colorful, exotic lubber grasshopper

Colorful, exotic lubber grasshopper

Gila Monster.  I grew up hearing terrible stories about this animal...

Gila Monster. I grew up hearing terrible stories about this animal…

“The Elfin Forest”

The morning after photographing the horses on the beach, I was in a group that went out for sunrise.  Again, fog, drizzle, and clouds hid the sun.  So, we turned out attention to details.  We were in an area called the “Elfin Forest” which was populated with a dwarf oak tree, and more…

Small shrub with dried flowers and seed pods.

Small shrub with dried flowers and seed pods.

Bracken Fern closeup

Bracken Fern closeup

“Photo Walk With Rick Sammon”

Another sunset opportunity, and finally, we saw the sun.  Not to complain, but that is all there was to see – not a cloud in the sky, leaving the sun without a complement.  We walked along the street at the Morro Bay Harbor, and still made photographs.

I photographed one of the other participants, with the sun backlighting him, creating the sun-star.

I photographed one of the other participants, backlit by the sun.

Morro Bay Harbor with Morro Rock on the horizon, just after the sun has gone down.

Morro Bay Harbor with Morro Rock on the horizon, just after the sun has gone down.

Morro Bay Harbor at dusk.

Morro Bay Harbor at dusk.

There were other classes and photo shoots; these are just some of my favorite images…

The California Photo Fest makes for a good destination, and will present the participant with a lot of information.  Almost too much info!  🙂  But, if you pick and choose your classes and shoots, and don’t overdo yourself, you can learn much.

All photos were taken with the Sony Alpha 77; lenses were the Sony 16-50, Tamron 180 macro, Tamron 70-300.

Cherokee Prairie

Cherokee Prairie

Each spring, I look forward to visiting Cherokee Prairie, an Arkansas Natural Heritage Site. There are a number of pieces of land in Arkansas similar to this; allowed to grow naturally, with only foot traffic allowed.
This spring, I’ve been able to make several visits to the Prairie, and here’s some of what I’ve seen – and photographed.
Among the first wildflowers to bloom is Indian Paintbrush. I visited once and they were just beginning to show color; a later visit and the Prairie was nearly covered with the colorful red flowers.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

Then, in the midst of the red flowers was this yellow version.

 

A yellow version of Indian Paintbrush

A yellow version of Indian Paintbrush

 

Here’s another image (my favorite) of the same yellow flower, juxtaposed with the red ones in the background.

Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Cherokee Prairie near Charleston, AR

Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Cherokee Prairie near Charleston, AR

 

Next, a few weeks later, the Purple Coneflowers covered the Prairie:

Purple Coneflower Duo

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

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Purple Coneflower framed by Doll’s Daisy, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Large patch of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Large patch of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

There are other wildflowers there; these are some of my favorites.

And, the visitor can also see some other “flying flowers”, such as this Eastern Tailed-Blue.  This was a first for me, and I appreciate our friend, Anne Sayers, helping identify it…

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

 

These images were all made with the Sony Alpha77, a Minolta 100mm macro lens and, more recently, a Tamron 180mm macro lens, Manfrotto tripod and Really Right Stuff ball head.  And, all the water drops were there before I was…  🙂

 

 

Black Bass Lake

Every two years, the Photographic Society of Northwest Arkansas (www.psnwa.org) hosts the Mid-America Photographic Symposium (MAPSYM). This year, for the first time, I was able to attend the weekend event, held in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Kudos to the PSNWA for putting on a first-class event, aimed at photography enthusiasts and professionals alike.

One outing I joined was an early morning “Nature Hike” at Black Bass Lake.  Even if you’ve ever been to Eureka Springs, a small community built on a steep hillside, I doubt you’ve heard about this lake. At least, I hadn’t, and I overheard another participant, from the area, say the same thing.  So, we drove down a steep hill on a gravel road, to the lake, and it was like going to another world; right in the middle of the community, we were suddenly in a wilderness.  It was so cool! (Are we supposed to say “cool” any more? I can’t keep up, so I just say what I feel.)
The morning was typical spring for this area; cool and damp. The lake had some misty fog hanging over the surface, and fortuitously, there were two fishermen in a small boat…

Two fishermen on Black Bass Lake, in the misty fog.

Two fishermen on Black Bass Lake, in the misty fog.

 

Walking one of the trails around the lake, I photographed this C-curved blade of grass, with a dew drop hanging on.  Those that know me, and especially those that have sat through a class with me, have heard me stress simplicity…

C-dew drop

Dew drop clings to a curved blade of grass, alongside Black Bass Lake, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

There were also a number of these purple flowers; according to Don Kurz’s Arkansas Wildflowers book, it’s called the Leather Flower.  Cool flower…

Leather Flower (Clematis versicolor)

Leather Flower along Black Bass Lake, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

So, it was an interesting weekend.  I learned a bit about how Hanson Fong takes portraits, saw & listened to Nikon’s Mark Kettenhofen deliver an awesome keynote presentation, and more.  Glad I went.  🙂

 

Camera used was the Sony Alpha 77, Sony 16-50 f/2.8 (I love this lens!) and Minolta 100 macro, Manfrotto tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head.

 

Garvan Woodland Gardens

In April this year, I visited Garvan Woodland Gardens, in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  My first time there, although it is a place high on my want-to-go-to list for some time.  Mid-April was a little late for the tulips, which are reportedly spectacular, but there was still lots of colorful flowers covering the grounds.

So here are a few selected photos.  Hope you enjoy!

Rhododendrons by the waterfall.

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Garvan Woodland Gardens, small waterfall with rhododendrons.

Some remnants of tulips in front of red flowers (no – I don’t remember what they are.)

Tulip remnants with red flowers in the background.

Tulip remnants with red flowers in the background.

Along a path, there was a late blooming river of tulips.

A River of Tulips

A River of Tulips

 

 

 

Here is a tight crop of the tulips from the “river.”

The river of tulips, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

The river of tulips, crop, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Closeup of rhododendrons.

Closeup of some rhododendrons, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Closeup of some rhododendrons, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

 

 

The Gardens have flowers in bloom throughout the spring and summer, but are well known for their tulips displays in early spring.  Maybe next year…

Photos were all taken with the Sony Alpha 77, and the Sony 16-50 f/2.8 lens and the Minolta 100 f/2.8 macro lens.