Posted by: kerryl29 | May 19, 2015

Setting the Stage

As noted in an earlier post, I flew from Chicago to Portland, Oregon on May 3 and drove from the Portland area to Gold Beach, on Oregon’s far south coast, the following day.  Thus began my most recent photo excursion:  a week on the southern Oregon Coast, followed by parts of four days based in Crescent City, California, to photograph the redwoods, and finally parts of two days at Silver Falls State Park, about an hour’s drive southeast of Portland.  I returned to the Chicago area on the evening of Saturday, May 16, and have spent the time since then recuperating.  I was bushed when I got back.

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I’ve scarcely had time to do any image editing since returning to the home base.  I’ve processed perhaps 20 images and have more or less randomly selected a half-dozen, just to give readers a taste of the subject matter, to accompany this post.  As was the case when I returned from my time in the Canadian Rockies last fall, it’s going to take quite some time for me to work through all of this material.  I spent something on the order of 10 weeks processing images from the Rockies last year and I suspect it will require a comparable amount of time to complete work on the Oregon/California photographs.

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I spent a few days on the Oregon Coast as part of my extended trip to the Pacific Northwest in July, 2009, just a couple of months before I started this blog.  On that occasion, I was frustrated by the incessant presence of the Pacific marine layer, which blotted out potentially epic sunsets on beaches in Washington and Oregon.  For a variety of reasons I was led to believe that mid-spring would produce more favorable conditions for coastal shooting and that turned out to be the case.  While the marine layer wasn’t a complete non-factor, as I will detail in coming installments chronicling the photo experience, it wasn’t the omnipresent force that it was during my time on the coast in 2009.

Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

My time in far northern California marked my first visit to the coastal redwood forests of the region.  (I’ve seen redwood groves before during several visits to Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.)  This part of the trip was my biggest disappointment, for two reasons.  First, I had hoped–though not expected–to be in the area during the rhododendron bloom.  Since the bloom usually peaks some time during a roughly four-week period from mid-May to mid-June, I figured to be a bit early, and so I was.  Despite much searching on my part, through three state parks and one national park, I found only a handful of rhododendron bushes flowering.  More surprising was the near complete absence of fog, which I had been told was a daily occurrence, morning and evening, in the groves.  I saw almost literally no fog during my time in the area, which was unfortunate, because its such a huge aesthetic and technical asset to forest photography.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Still, despite these discouraging conditional developments, as those of you have been fortunate enough to experience redwood forests know, the coastal redwood environments are awe-inspiring places and I’m not at all sorry I made the short journey from southern Oregon to northern California to see them.  In addition, the rather unusual weather developments gave me the opportunity to photograph some subjects in and around Crescent City that I hadn’t anticipated being able to do, and I think that time was spent productively.

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

I had only one afternoon and one full day at Silver Falls State Park, about 12 miles east of Silverton and 25-30 miles east of Salem, but the weather conditions when I was there were absolutely perfect for waterfall photography–mostly cloudy and very light winds.  Despite only a few available hours on May 14 and the full day of May 15, I spent roughly 14 hours photographing in the park, along the famous Trail of Ten Falls (so named because each of the park’s 10 waterfalls can be seen from the trail, which runs nearly nine miles).  Because the conditions were ideal, I was able to photograph all of the subject matter that I’d hoped to experience.  Additionally, wildflowers were ubiquitous in the park and I spent some time working these subjects as well.

Upper North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Upper North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

As I did with the Rockies imagery last year, I’ll provide a chronological reporting of the trip and will periodically interrupt the narrative with some thematic thoughts, based on my experiences during this trip and topics that those experiences engendered.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 5, 2015

The Rites of Spring

Each year during the Midwest spring, I try to get out with the camera at least a few times.  I managed four short day trips this season; it wasn’t as much as I’d have liked, but it was a fair piece better than nothing.  Here’s some of the fruit of these recent excursions.

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

I spent part of a day during the first half of April at Clifty Falls State Park in far southeast Indiana.  The trees were just beginning to bud when I was there–wish I’d been able to go back 7-10 days later when things were a bit further along.

One of the frustrating things about Clifty Falls is that, while there are four tall, impressive waterfalls in the park, there are very, very few good views to be had of any of them.  As a result, I spent the bulk of my time shooting creeks and wildflowers.

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Little Clifty Creek, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

I did make a long, rather unpleasant slog up Clifty Creek in the hopes of getting a good look at Big Clifty Falls from below; I had to ford the creek at least a dozen times on the roundtrip  but the end view wasn’t quite what I’d hoped.

Big Clifty Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Big Clifty Falls, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

This was as close as I was able to get to the waterfall (which you can see in the background).  None of the other three tall waterfalls in the park can even be approached this closely from below, which is disappointing.

Blue Phlox Intimate, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

Blue Phlox Intimate, Clifty Falls State Park, Indiana

The following week, I took a very quick trip late one afternoon to Mucatatuck Wildlife Refuge, near the town of Seymour, Indiana, about an hour south of Indianapolis.  It was the first time I’d been to this particular refuge, and I mostly just poked around, as something of a scouting session for possible future visits.  I did manage to capture a few frames of this interesting, mixed ecosystem locale.

Muscatatuck Evening, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Muscatatuck Evening, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Muscattuck includes–as I understand it–the northernmost collection of cypress trees in North America.

Cypress Black & White, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Cypress Black & White, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana

Back in Illinois, I made two trips to the Morton Arboretum, about 25 miles west of Chicago this past week.

Daffodil Glade, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Daffodil Glade, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

The daffodils at the Arb’s Daffodil Glade were in peak bloom–that’s a good week to ten days later than most years.  The bluebells, which were badly stunted by the extraordinarily long, harsh winter of 2013-14 were in much, much better shape this spring.

Bluebells Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebells Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebells Hillside, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebells Hillside, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Virginia Bluebells, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Virginia Bluebells, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

The wild lilies on the West Side of the Arboretum were carpeting the hillsides.

Lilies Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Lilies Intimate, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

And some of the flowering trees were in full dress as well.

Tulip Tree Evening, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Tulip Tree Evening, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

It wasn’t an epic experience this spring but it was very nice to get out with the camera in decent weather for the first time in many months.

*                      *                     *

By the time this post sees the light of day I’ll be on my way to the West Coast for photo opportunities on the southern Oregon coast, the coastal redwoods area of northern California and Silver Falls State Park back in north-central Oregon.  I’ll be back in town–and on the blog–in mid-May.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 27, 2015

The Shot

Photographer Michael Gordon, in a recent piece on his blog, discussed “getting the shot.”  The primary focus of the post covers the notion of “getting the shot” as a kind of conquest or triumphal experience.  A related, but distinct, concept covered near the end of the article is the implication that the term “the shot” implies that there is merely one, single shot to be had at a given photo location.

If you read the original post, you’ll see that Michael is less than complimentary about each of these ideas.  I wholeheartedly agree with him, and I’d like to share a few thoughts of my own on the subjects.

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Chimney Rock Overlook, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Photography as Conquest

Proceeding with the notion that there’s a specific shot to identify and obtain from a given location makes me think of having a to-do list and ticking off the items as they’re accomplished.  Feed the cat, check.  Drop off the dry cleaning, check.  Paint the garage, check.  Procure photograph of Delicate Arch in evening light.  Check.

Another way of looking at it is to think of individual photographs as preconceived items in a collection, like stamps or coins.  Tunnel View, Old Faithful, Mesa Arch at Sunrise, Schwabacher’s Landing…now if I can just pick up the Maroon Bells at peak color…

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River, Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

I suppose there may be people out there who gain some sense of satisfaction by applying these kinds of approaches to landscape photography and, if there are, who am I to judge?  But, this is utterly different from how I think about the endeavor.  The enjoyment and satisfaction that I attain from participating in landscape photography stems from embedding myself in a location and really looking around, trying to find visually appealing scenes, large and small; in spectacular light and even light; images that may mesh with whatever preconceived notions I inevitably bring to the subject and ones that may not.  The enjoyment, then, comes–at least in part–from the interweaving of the intellectual and aesthetic process of image making in the field.

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

None of this is to say that I won’t, under any circumstances, make images of iconic scenes; I certainly have in the past and presumably will in the future.  But I’ve never arrived at an iconic location, obtained “the shot” and moved on.  Ever.  That wouldn’t be much fun, I don’t think.

One Shot Pony

I’ve discussed the notion of approaching a scene with a preconceived idea of what will be found and what a shot will look like on several past occasions right here on this blog.  I have “visualized” a scene on a few occasions, and gone out looking to fulfill a vision a few times.  But this is the exception to the general rule, which typically follows a more serendipitous undertaking.  As I intimated, even when I approach a location with a clear, specific idea of what I expect to find there (often based on previous experience at the spot), I try to keep an open mind and act accordingly.

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Apple Blossoms, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

I’m not sure that there’s anything worse for a photographer’s creativity than approaching a scene with a one-shot-only mentality.  There’s a certain self-fulfilling prophecy that surrounds this sort of mindset:  look for only one image and you’ll find only one image.  There’s always more than a single composition worthy of consideration at a given scene; it’s completely counterproductive to think otherwise.  It’s arguably acceptable for some photographers to approach a scene with the intention of obtaining a particular image; that’s what visualization is about, in a nutshell.  I’ve done that myself, as I’ve indicated above.  But if a preconceived image is held, once it’s obtained, the photographer must be able to look at things with a clear, open mind.  Shifting gears is a necessary skill if you’re going to play the visualization game and not let every other photo opportunity pass you by.

Elakala Falls (Tier 2), Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Elakala Falls (Tier 2), Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

“The Shot” mentality is a very dicey–at best–way to approach landscape photography, in my estimation.  It puts figurative blinders on the photographer, thereby stifling creativity, potentially turning the entire endeavor into little more than a trophy hunting expedition.  If that’s what you want, I guess that’s fine.  But if you derive satisfaction from the experience of exploring, discovering image making opportunities on location, “the shot” is a tremendous impediment to realizing your potential as an original maker of photographic images.

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Light and Shadow black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 13, 2015

Preparing for a Photo Trip

Several years ago, I wrote a guest blog entry on 1001 Scribbles that dealt with photo trip preparation.  As I’m poised to head off on such an excursion myself (to the Oregon Coast and the redwoods area of northern California) in less than three weeks, I thought it would be appropriate for me to revise that post and present it here.

For those of us with cameras, there are two types of trips:  trips where we take photos and photo trips.  It may seem that there’s no distinction between the two, but I assure you there is.  While just about anyone with the shutterbug will take a camera and snap some shots during a trip, a photo trip is one that is specifically designed to accommodate photography.  Stated in other words, a trip that is created for the primary (or sole) purpose of photographing is a photo trip.  Anything else is trip where you take photos.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean dismiss trips that aren’t specifically intended to further one’s photographic pursuits–there is, quite obviously, absolutely nothing wrong with them.  But they are different, and it’s the photo trip excursion I’m going to discuss in this post.

I try to take two extended photo trips each year, though I’m not always able to do so.  This year, my first trip begins on Sunday, May 3, when I fly from Chicago to Portland, Oregon en route to spending approximately 12 days on the southern Oregon Coast, Redwoods National Park in California and Silver Falls State Park in north-central Oregon.

Because it’s been very much on my mind lately, this entry will provide some suggestions relevant to photo trip planning.

Conduct Advance Research on Your Destination

Being in position to obtain the best shots—particularly in an unfamiliar locale—demands some background research on the location.  For most places, there’s a tremendous amount of material available for you, in the form of printed guide books, e-books, websites, blogs and online forums.

Swift Creek Overlook at Sunrise, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Swift Creek Overlook at Sunrise, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

I’ve been to the Oregon Coast (not Redwoods N.P. or Silver Falls S.P.) once before, but it was about six years ago and it was a parts-of-four-days whirlwind, covering the entire coast from Cannon Beach in the north to Port Orford in the south.  So, for that trip I ordered a couple of books on photographing Oregon from Amazon (one dealing with the Coast specifically); did extensive research on Redwoods and Silver Falls on the Web; and engaged the always helpful services of Gunta at Movin’ On, because of her extensive experience in the region and willingness to help.  And that’s just for starters!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t expound a bit on the last point above.  It’s always a huge benefit when you have someone who has a home base knowledge of an area and a photographer’s sensibility to consult; I’ve leveraged this sort of assistance over the years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Red River Gorge region of Kentucky, western Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio, West Virginia, New Mexico, the Canadian Rockies and elsewhere.

By consulting these myriad sources, you can learn an incredible amount—in advance—about prime shooting locations, best times, weather considerations, what gear to bring and utilize and countless other handy bits that will allow you to hit the ground running and make the most of your time when you arrive at your destination.  There’s nothing worse than arriving at an unfamiliar spot and flying by the seat of your pants.  Photo opportunities will always be relatively limited, so it makes sense to give yourself as much of a chance to take advantage of them as possible.

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Waterfall, Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Don’t Overschedule

There’s an inclination, when planning a trip to a distant place (you know the kind; the one you’re not sure you’ll ever be able to return to) to try to see everything.  Resist this urge to the extent possible.  (I know it can be difficult; I’m as guilty of this as anyone.)  If you put too much on your plate, you’ll inevitably end up giving short shrift to everything and you’ll miss out on the pleasure of really working specific spots that particularly appeal to you once you’re on the ground.  You’ll also lose the opportunity to return to especially enchanting spots.

My suggestion:  Take the time to prioritize—to the extent that you can—the places you most want to see and then put together a list of alternatives to draw from, without committing to them.  This will give you the opportunity to maximize the places of appeal as you experience them in real time.

Aspen Hillside, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Aspen Hillside, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

Retain Some Flexibility

In line with the above, don’t pigeonhole yourself into going to certain places on certain days or at specific times.  Give yourself the flexibility to adapt to the conditions.  For instance, a “must do” sunrise location will work best with scattered clouds.  Keep an eye on the forecast and if it’s going to be clear one morning, you might put that location off for another day.  Some locations work best under overcast conditions, while others do best when sunlit.  Give yourself the chance for the best opportunities by tailoring your spots for the conditions you face.  (If you’ve ever been on a photo workshop or tour, you already know this mantra.)

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Leave the Non-Photo Family Members at Home

This is going to be a bit controversial, but…photography is a terrible spectator sport.  It is extremely difficult—and probably unreasonable—to bring non-photographers on a true photo trip and expect them to keep themselves amused all day, every day, while you’re out in the field.  There are some very rare people who will do this without complaint (my wife happens to be one of them, bless her), but you may still find yourself feeling guilty wondering what on earth they’re doing to keep from being bored to tears while you’re waiting for the sun to peek behind a cloud or the wind to stop blowing…and that may make you rush and…let’s just say it’s not a good scene.

Photo trips are best handled when they’re exclusively limited to photographers.  I almost always partake in my photo trips entirely alone these days.  That will be the case for my upcoming Oregon/California trip.

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Be Comfortable with your Gear

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:  don’t buy a new piece of gear the day before you leave.  A photo trip is not the time to be experimenting or learning the ropes with unfamiliar equipment.  Be entirely facile with your equipment well in advance of your trip so that you don’t spend time in the field, missing the opportunities that you’ve sacrificed time and money to obtain, by fiddling around with camera menus or lens settings.

Similarly, if you haven’t shot with your existing gear for awhile, be sure to get out into the field a time or two before you hit the road for your photo trip, just to re-familiarize yourself with in-field workflow.

Elowah Falls, John B. Yeon State Park, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Elowah Falls, John B. Yeon State Park, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Be Prepared for Changing Weather

Depending on where you’re going (and when), be prepared for changing climatic conditions.  The Oregon Coast in spring, for instance, is prone to some rainy conditions–not as bad as winter, but it’s by no means a slam dunk to be dry, as is almost always the case in the summer–with temperatures likely to range from roughly 40 to 60 degrees, F.  As a result, I’ll be bringing plenty of warm, waterproof or water resistant clothing.   When I was in West Virginia a few autumns ago, it was snowing when I arrived, for the first few days the high temperatures never got out of the 30s and I dealt with near constant light rain.  The back end of the week I was there, mid 70s and sunshine were the order of the day.  I had a similar experience when I was in New Mexico five years ago, dealing with 90 degree temperatures and snowfall on the same week long trip!  The same thing happened on my trip to Utah and Nevada in May of 2012–I had temperatures in the low 20s at daybreak at Bryce Canyon and dealt with temperatures above 100 degrees in the shade at Valley of Fire.

It’s almost impossible to concentrate on photography when you’re uncomfortable, so take that possibility out of the equation by being properly equipped.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Prepare Your Gear for Any Special Consideratons

If there’s something unique about your destination, as it pertains to your photo gear, find out in advance and prepare accordingly.  For instance, cameras, lenses and tripods positively hate sand and saltwater.  Guess what exists in abundance on the Oregon Coast?  Right.

Whenever I shot at the seaside, I make sure that I always have several things with me that I don’t necessarily bring when photographing elsewhere:  lots of fresh water (to wash down tripod legs at the end of the shoot to eliminate any sand/salt residue); plenty of clean towels (to dry off gear); high end clear filters for my lenses.  I only use the filters if I’m going to be shooting around salt spray (sometimes wind driven), to keep traces of that material off the front element of my lenses.  Similarly, if I’m shooting in snowy conditions or in dusty conditions, I make the necessary allowances for my gear.

The point, really, is to take note of any special shooting circumstances and make allowances for your gear accordingly.  Have what you need when you need it.

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point Light, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Take Proper Care of Yourself

This is going to have to fall into the “do as I say, not as I do” category, but do yourself a big favor and don’t push yourself beyond your comfort limits.  I have a nasty history of really pushing the envelope on these photo trips, to the point where things can get out of hand.

For instance, when I was in the Pacific Northwest for two weeks six years ago, I was dealing with 17 hours of daylight per day.  I was awake a couple of hours before sunrise every day, to get myself in place for pre-dawn shooting, and out well past sunset night after night.  I was literally getting less than four hours of sleep per night.  I was in the field just about all day every day and I wasn’t eating properly or hydrating properly either.  I got some great pictures, but…  The upshot of it was that I was sleep deprived, lost 12 pounds (and I didn’t go into the trip needing to lose weight) and two days after I returned home I suffered through a brutal kidney stone episode (caused by the extended period of improper hydration).

I’ve continued to push myself pretty hard on trips since then, but never to that extent and I’m now very careful to properly hydrate.  Do yourself a favor and learn from my (bad) example; it’s not worth putting your health at risk for any shot.

Similarly, don’t take dumb, unnecessary chances with your safety.  Don’t go hiking alone in bear country, don’t get yourself stranded because of the incoming tide, don’t get too far out on the cliff face on wet rock surfaces just to get a slightly better (or even much better) shot.  I’m probably more willing to push the limits than most (but definitely not all–I’ve seen some people do things in the field that were patently insane), but I never go beyond my innate comfort level and (at least partly) as a result, I’ve never gotten myself into any truly dangerous predicaments over the years.

Live to shoot another day.

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 31, 2015

Acting Locally

When I was getting started with the digital darkroom, roughly 15 years ago, there weren’t as many tools available as there are today.  Photoshop was the 900-pound gorilla and it was widely–if not quite universally–regarded as the only “serious” software package for photographic editing/enhancement.  Almost literally all of the tutorials and editing tips at the time were concocted and outlined with Photoshop in mind and so, of course, I purchased a copy of the Mother of All Editing Programs and jumped in with both feet. And I floundered around for about six months before I had an epiphany, of sorts; the rest, as they say, is history.  (The chronology of my digital darkroom experience is, at least arguably, an interesting one, but I’ll save it for another, later post–maybe.)  To this day, Photoshop is, hands down, the least intuitive piece of software that I’ve ever used.  When considering that statement keep in mind that I’ve used a number of advanced statistical packages going back deep into the DOS era.  Photoshop was significantly more indecipherable than any of them.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

The process of using Photoshop, in the beginning, was so opaque that it’s difficult to convey.  Typically, when using software, the stumbling block that needs to be overcome is how to accomplish a specific goal that has already been identified.  How difficult this is tends to be a function of how complex the software is (i.e. how many things it’s designed to do) and how intuitive the interface is (among other things).  So, for instance, if I’m firing up a statistical package, I might want to carry out what is known as a discriminant analysis using a particular data set.  How do I go about carrying out this particular known task?  There’s a very specific way of doing so–I just have to figure out what it is (probably through some combination of checking through menu items, trial and error and accessing a Help file).  But postprocessing a photograph with Photoshop?  That’s an immeasurably more complex, fuzzier thing altogether.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The first problem–as compared to the statistical example outlined above–is simply determining what the task itself is.  How should I edit this photograph?  It’s not always so obvious, particularly when you’re new to the game.  Is there a color cast that you feel should be tweaked or removed entirely?  (By the way, if there is…it’s better removed in RAW conversion, assuming you’re shooting RAW, by means of a white balance adjustment.)  And, hey, the image looks pretty flat.  I guess it needs a saturation boost.  Or does it?  Perhaps a contrast adjustment would take care of the problem.  In short, you need to figure out what you want to do before you go about figuring out how to do it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Then there’s this little realization–there are multiple ways to carry out just about any kind of editing adjustment you care to apply in Photoshop.  There are  an innumerable number of techniques at your disposal, utilizing a variety of specific Photoshop tools and a dizzying accompaniment of blending modes, masks and plug-ins.  When I was first starting out, I began to create a Word document that listed different editing techniques as I ran across them, as a reference that I could consult.  I more or less stopped adding to the document after about five years, as I became sufficiently facile to remember/recognize virtually everything I felt I needed.  The document was well over 100 pages in length when I stopped updating it, in part because there were so many different approaches to accomplishing the same basic task.

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

All of this–and other things, which I’m mercifully keeping to myself–in the early days of my digital darkroom experience meant that simply accomplishing ostensibly very basic actions with Photoshop were considered a triumph.  As a result, there was little recognition of what a blunt instrument Photoshop postprocessing could be.  The emphasis, naturally enough, was on carrying out global adjustments–making the entire image brighter or darker, for example, or adding contrast throughout.  But, in reality, it’s seldom necessary to carry out this sort of adjustment to a decent photograph.  In fact, it’s not only frequently unnecessary, it’s often a bad idea.  The vast, vast majority of helpful postprocessing work is accomplished with a far subtler, more deft, touch.  Truly enhancing adjustments are typically carried out in targeted fashion, via the use of layers, selections and masks.  This is what makes Photoshop such a potentially powerful tool for image enhancement (and the value of these tools is what made up the substance of the the aforementioned epiphany I had, six-odd months after first getting my feet wet with Photoshop).

Totem Pole, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Totem Pole, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

So let me illustrate the point with a broadly accessible example.  Consider the below image of a scene at Cannon Beach near sunset.  It’s essentially unoptimized and illustrates a common issue with many grand landscape scenes (and, not coincidentally, something that bedeviled all of the images accompanying this post prior to optimization)–the yawning chasm of a luminosity difference between the sky and most of the rest of the frame. Cannon_Beach_0318_1&0&1&2_de-tc_untouched The issue here is how to better balance the light and dark parts of the image without stripping it of its contrast.  A standard global contrast tweak–using a curves or levels adjustment–will strengthen the contrast, but will actually make the already too-dark tones even darker.  A reverse global contrast tweak using one of the standard techniques will provide better balance but will strip out the contrast. In essence, the goal is to accomplish something that’s difficult if not impossible to carry out with a global adjustment.  One way to accomplish the task is to create a selection of the sky and apply a contrast adjustment to that portion of the image in isolation.  Then, reverse the process and do the same thing with the other portion of the image.  (Frankly, there are a number of different techniques that can be used to successfully carry out the task.  The important point is that the one thing that all of these approaches have in common is that they involve local, rather than global, adjustments.) Making a contrast adjustment to the sky alone tightens things up–and makes colors appear deeper without actually touching saturation.  The non-sky portion of the image is almost a mirror image; an isolated contrast adjustment here lightens this part of the image without doing any damage to the sky.  The following version of the image shows the final version.  Note how contrast is enhanced, with each portion of the image getting what it needs in terms of its luminosity adjustment.

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Obviously this is a somewhat exaggerated example, but it’s being used to clearly demonstrate a point–the power of local, rather than global, adjustments.  Often times, the appropriate postprocessing enhancements are made on a much smaller scale than what I’ve shown here.  Regardless, the postprocessing capacity of optimizing well-executed images is frequently realized by making changes below the global level.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 17, 2015

Working the Scene – An Exploration

I’ve discussed the concept of “working the scene” frequently on this blog, most prominently, perhaps, here.  But I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to describe the idea thoroughly, and I’m going to attempt to extinguish that oversight with this post.

I don’t always work a scene as extensively as I’d like, for a variety of reasons, but I try to do so as often as possible, particularly when I find myself mysteriously charmed by a given venue.  There are places that, for whatever reason, we as photographers seem especially touched by, and when that happens there’s a special incentive to take the time to attempt to visually do justice to the place.  On such occasionss, working the scene often feels like a personal responsibility.

In the broadest sense, “working the scene” involves making an attempt to exhaust the conceptual photographic possibilities held by a specific location.  Ordinarily this involves the implementation of at least one of two things:

1) Exploring a wide variety of different perspectives, either by altering position, focal length or, ideally, both.

2) Taking the time to let the place itself express itself as broadly as possible, assuming that the scene is imbued with dynamic characteristics (the most obvious of which is changing light, though there are others).

In a perfect world, I’d let both of these principles guide me everywhere I shoot.  The world, quite obviously, isn’t perfect, but occasionally the opportunity to invoke both points is made available and can be executed.  I’m going to use one such example from my own experience to illustrate the point:  an evening that I spent at Bandon Beach, Oregon in July, 2009.  I’m going to make an attempt to describe this experience in terms that are of a nuts-and-bolts variety, because I want this post to be as actionable as possible for those reading it.  I sense that there’s a tendency to discuss these non-technical photographic principles in ethereal terms.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing this, but I think that these accounts tend to be so personal, so subjective and so intangible that others reading them either don’t understand them or don’t know how to come to terms with them and make use of them when they’re in the field.  I will try to avoid this pitfall.

Mobile Investigation

The most commonly understood part of working the scene involves movement on the part of the photographer.  With or without camera in hand, the photographer physically changes place, to investigate different perspectives and how they alter the appearance of a scene’s depiction.

Before heading off to Bandon Beach on the July evening in question, I’d already done a bit of scouting of the area, both from high on the bluff overlooking the beach at Coquille Point and Face Rock and on the beach itself, earlier on the same day.  I didn’t have my photo gear with me during the scouting session and I really didn’t take the time to conduct a thorough investigation.  (Bandon Beach stretches for miles.)  About 3 1/2 hours before sunset, amidst a copious dressing of marine layer fog, full photo pack in tow and waterproof rubber boots donned, I descended the lengthy staircase at Coquille Point, all the way to beach level.  I slowly wandered southward, in the direction of Face Rock, near the waterline itself, frequently sizing up the various rocks and seastacks in search of what I felt were the most compelling compositional arrangements.  The tide was relatively low and this “feeling out” process continued all the way to the collection of smaller rocks and seastacks around the headland leading to the Face Rock area.

Bandon Beach in Fog, Oregon

Bandon Beach in Fog, Oregon

It was here that the compositional options were greatest, which was something of a double-edged sword.  A greater number of choices means that there’s a better chance of finding something truly special, but it also brings the burden of potentially feeling overwhelmed and, out of frustration, settling for something rather than pushing the margins to find something better.  (This is a constant battle; experience will, ultimately, tell you when to keep looking and when to stop and make the most of what you’ve already discovered; there’s really no hard and fast set of rules to follow.)

Because the tide was low, it was possible to maneuver in and around many of the stacks without any fear of being swamped by the surf.  Because I had waterproof footwear on my feet, the meandering shallow streams and tidepools in the area were minor impediments, to the extent that they were impediments at all.  I did, however, have to be cognizant of where I stepped because randomly scattered footprints in the wet sand could ruin an otherwise pleasing image.

Bandon Beach Evening, Oregon

Bandon Beach Evening, Oregon

At this point in the process, I was walking around with my camera (24-70 mm lens and polarizing filter attached) and frequently checking perspectives through the lens.  And I was not beyond executing some shots along the way.  Heavily diffused sunlight was frequently penetrating the marine layer, which made for interesting, if not necessarily ideal, lighting conditions.

Finding the Spot

The seacoast is, by definition, a dynamic landscape.  Whether it’s the tide, the light, the surf or a combination of all three, it’s always changing.  It never looks quite the same, even from moment to moment, which is one of its many great appeals.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

On the day in question, after actively working the scene for the better part of three hours, I decided to ease into the passive state of engagement.  What do I mean by this?  I had identified a basic composition, using a series of particularly interesting rocks and seastacks, that appealed to me a great deal, and as the day moved to within 30 minutes or so of sunset, I decided to plant myself in position to capture this specific scene under the changing light.  The marine layer was sufficiently thick to prevent a “real” sunset, but there was still plenty of interest, complemented by the changing light.  I shot at this spot, with minimal movement on my part, until I lost the light completely, and then trudged back along the beach in the gloom to the same Coquille Point staircase I had used to reach the beach hours earlier.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

The point is that the series of photographs that I made at the tail end of the day still represented “working the scene,” but with a different spin than had been the case earlier.  In the earlier instance, I was “working” by directly changing how I was interfacing with a comparatively static environment.  The changes in the images I was producing during this phase were a function of changing my perspective by transporting myself around the area.  Once I planted myself in a single spot, the “working” had to do with capturing the scene as it manifestly metamorphosed.  Yes, I moved a little bit, but given the size of the space I was operating within (remember, the beach here stretches for many miles), my movement was miniscule.  The largest share of what makes this series of images unique from one another is what was happening, organically, to the scene itself as the light and surf did their thing.  In this case, “working the scene” meant hanging around long enough to capture it throughout the varying phases of its expression.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Exactly how one goes about working the scene varies depending upon the specifics–the subject matter, the light and how quickly it’s changing, the variety of gear at hand, and so forth.  But time permitting, whether to work the scene should rarely, if ever, be an open question because the answer should always be “yes.”

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

This is the first installment of what may turn out to be an irregularly presented, informal series of posts dealing with high dynamic range (HDR) imaging.  I don’t really have a firm plan for the series, so it will probably present itself in fits and starts.  I have no intention of creating a comprehensive treatise on the subject but I have a series of thoughts that are generally related to HDR that I’d like to express.

I’m starting with the working assumption that everyone reading this has a decent grasp of a working HDR definition; (very) briefly, we’re talking about the assembly of multiple exposures of the same subject via some sort of “tonemapping” software, with the rough goal of obtaining a better, richer tonal frame than can be obtained from a single image that isn’t subjected to a tonemapping process.  Obviously, there’s subjectivity to the evaluation; what constitutes “better,” for instance, is a matter of opinion.

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Newfound Gap at Sunrise, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Having dispensed with the preliminaries, it’s time to jump into today’s installment–in-field technique, i.e. how to best go about the process of securing the frames that will make up an HDR set, followed by a recent set of experiences in my seemingly endless quest to establish an effective seamless in-field workflow.

I’ve been fiddling around with HDR, in one form or another, for nearly 10 years now and during that period of time the best (there’s that word again) set of options for establishing a baseline of exposures to assemble the HDR set has been something of a moving target.  The goal, however, has remained unchanged.  When obtaining the images for the set of exposures the minimal considerations involve accomplishing the following:

1) acquiring a set of exposures to completely cover the entire tonal range in a given scene–to ensure that detail has been retained everywhere in the image, from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows;

2) accomplishing step #1 with as little camera movement as possible (to minimize any issues aligning the multiple exposures in the tonemapping process);

3) doing the above as quickly as possible.

Why is it important to proceed as quickly as possible?  Unless you’re working with an entirely static scene (i.e. none of the elements are subject to movement and the light is controlled/unchanging), the more quickly you complete the process the less likely you are to have any problems with alignment or (forgive me for getting technical) “funky lighting.” :)

Lake Logan Sunset, Lake Logan State Park, Ohio

Lake Logan Sunset, Lake Logan State Park, Ohio

Some technique specifics that have always been optimal:

1) Use a tripod.  The rationale here is obvious–since aligning multiple frames is an inherent part of the HDR process, keeping the camera static is important, if not imperative.  Besides, for the kind of subject matter that generally lends itself to HDR, using a tripod is always a good idea.

2) Use a remote release and autobracketing.  This addresses point #2 in the the previous list.  Using a remote–or the self-timer means that you don’t have to manually press the camera’s shutter release.  (Similarly, using an exposure delay means that even if you do press the shutter release on the camera, any movement so introduced will be dampened by the time the shutter itself opens.)  Using autobracketing means that you don’t have to touch the camera to adjust the shutter speed.  Autobracketing also speeds up the process of producing the set of exposures.

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

Freeland Farm Morning, Tucker County, West Virginia

For some inexplicable reason, autobracketing with Nikon camera bodies has always been limited to increments no larger than 1 EV.  Most of the time I use a bracketing sequence with the D800E, given the excellent dynamic range of its sensor at base ISO, of four stops.  (Sometimes I’ll fire off exposures covering six or even eight stops, but it’s usually five (and essentially never any less than that.)  Because of the 1 EV increment limit, that means five exposures (at meter, -2 EV, -1 EV, +1 EV, +2 EV).  There are times when being able to simply take three shots (at meter, -2 EV, +2 EV) would be preferable.  I actually prefer the processed look of the one-stop increment sequences (I’ve done a lot of comparisons), but firing off three shots takes less time than five and there are occasions when a three-shot sequence could be shot without elements moving whereas a five-shot sequence cannot.  It would certainly be nice, in any event, to have the option; it would take no more than a firmware tweak to enable this capability and I have absolutely no idea why Nikon has never seen fit to do so.

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

For me, the biggest problem with regard to completing a satisfactory exposure set has been implementing mirror lock up.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the way an SLR camera operates, the optical viewfinder allows the photographer to see “what the lens sees” via the use of a mirror.  When the shutter release is tripped, the mirror is flipped up, the shutter opens for the appointed amount of time, then closes, and the mirror flips back down.  When the mirror is raised, the entire camera vibrates to a certain extent (exactly how much depends upon the camera and lens in use).  Typically, the impact of this vibration on very short exposures and very long exposures can’t be detected, but in a mid-range of exposures (often in the rough range of about 1/30 second to 1 second or thereabouts) mirror-induced shake can be detected.  A careful examination of the resulting image will elicit decreased sharpness due to mirror-induced vibration.

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Sparks Lane Morning, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The way around this problem is to lock up the mirror; all Nikon camera bodies have an easily implemented mirror lock up feature.  In this instance, using a remote release, one click of the release and the mirror is locked up; wait a couple of seconds for the vibration to be dampened and then click the release again, which will open the shutter.  This is fine for single shots but for a set of exposures the problem is obvious–initiating this process for, say, five exposures is going to take a lot of time–probably something on the order of 20 seconds, depending on the specific shutter speeds chosen as part of the sequence:  click the release to raise the mirror, wait two seconds for the vibrations to disperse, click again, exposure is taken, click the shutter to raise the mirror, wait two seconds, etc .  This is a rather evident violation of the “quickly as possible” rule above.  Unless there’s literally no movement in any of the elements of the scene, this won’t work.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

When I first came upon Live View–when I bought the D700 back in late 2008–I thought that I might finally have the mirror lockup problem licked.  With Live View, the mirror is, by definition locked up.  I figured that, using a combination of a continuous shooting setting, autobracketing, a remote release and Live View, that I could initiate the sequence and match all of the three criteria in the first list above.  Given the use of a remote release, continuous shooting and autobracketing there would be no need to touch the camera and the sequence of exposures would be taken as quickly as possible.  With Live View, there would be no issue with mirror slap either.

Or would there?

Morning Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim, Arizona

Morning Light, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

With the D700, yes there would.  For some reason, which I simply do not and never will understand, the D700 Live View feature worked like this.  The mirror was raised, and the image would appear on the camera’s rear LCD.  The optical viewfinder was blacked out (because the mirror was raised).  The shutter release was pressed…and the mirror was lowered, then raised again, then the shutter opened, then closed.  Yes, you read that correctly…the already raised mirror (remember, for Live View to function at all, the mirror must be raised), was lowered, then re-raised.  There is no mechanical reason why this should be the case; goodness knows there’s no logical reason why this should be the case either.  I have never heard a good (or bad, for that matter) explanation as to why the D700’s Live View worked this way, but it did…and it meant that my would-be solution to the mirror lockup problem for bracketed exposures was no solution at all.

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

When the D800 series of cameras was released, I looked into the details and determined that this Live View eccentricity, present in the D700, had been corrected.  With the
D800/E, the mirror operated in Live View in the manner you’d expect:  the mirror was raised, and the image would appear on the camera’s rear LCD.  The shutter release was pressed…the mirror remained up, the shutter opened and closed.  With this method in place, I figured, the problem was solved.  In Live View, using continuous shooting, autobracketing and a shutter release, everything would operate quickly and smoothly.  I was experimenting with it just the other day, under controlled circumstances.  I preset everything the way I wanted, pressed the shutter release on the remote in locked setting, the five-exposure sequence fired off quickly and…I waited…and waited…and waited.  I didn’t regain control of the camera for 31 seconds.  It took that long, apparently, in Live View mode to write all of the images to the SD card I was using.  When I tried the sequence without using Live View, there was no blackout period at all.  Shooting single exposures in Live View there was no blackout.  Evidently the camera’s buffer is non-functional in Live View mode.  It was a combination of Live View and the five exposures, I reasoned, that caused the 31-second blackout.  The images were produced exactly according to expectations, but a 31-second blackout afterward?  Every time?  That was no good.

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The D800 series of cameras takes two types of flash memory–Secure Digital (SD) and Compact Flash (CF).  My experiment above was using an admittedly sluggish 32 GB Sandisk Ultra card (rated at 30 MB/s).  When I tried running the exact same Live View autobracketing experiment when writing to a rather old 16 GB Sandisk Ultra CF card (also rated at 30 MB/s) the end of sequence blackout period was 7-8 seconds.  That’s quite a difference–and something I could live with.  I presently have a 32 GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SD card (rated at up to 95 MB/s) on order; when it arrives, I’ll put that card through the test and see if this allegedly much faster SD card will give me performance with multiple Live View exposures similar to (or, even better than) that experienced with the old CF card.  But however it plays out, it appears that I’ve finally settled upon a technique that, with the proper media available, will produce HDR exposure sets in something at least approaching a usable method.

Posted by: kerryl29 | February 16, 2015

The Canadian Rockies: A Retrospective

I’d wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies for quite some time, but for some reason it never seemed feasible.  I’ve been taking photo trips, with regularity, since 2002, but–until this past fall–I’d only flown as part of the travel to my photo destination four times.  And I’d never crossed an international border to do it.  But for a variety of reasons (the details of which I won’t bore you with) it seemed different in May of last year when I was pondering what to do for the autumn.  One thing led to another and I went through the crank turning process of making plans to spend two weeks in the Canadian Rockies during what I hoped would be the fall color season.

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

If you’ve been following this series, which I began to post back in October, you know things turned out pretty well.  My timing was good as far as color was concerned; I received good weather (mostly–we won’t talk about Lake O’Hara); I had excellent sources upon which to draw and covered a lot of ground without feeling too rushed.

Mostly, I had the opportunity to experience what quietsolopursuits, a regular reader of and commenter upon this blog, has referred to several times as “one of the most beautiful places on earth.”  (I must add that, while I haven’t had the opportunity to see all that many spots on the planet, it’s hard for me to imagine that this characterization is wrong, because it’s difficult to fathom that there are many, if any, more beautiful areas than the Canadian Rockies.)

Moraine Lake from the Rock Pile, Banff National Park, Alberta

Moraine Lake from the Rock Pile, Banff National Park, Alberta

Prior to this trip, I had spent almost no time photographing in an alpine environment.  I really didn’t know what I’d been missing, though I suppose I had an inkling.  It didn’t take long before I was deeply immersed in the unique aesthetic facets of the this mountainous setting.  And there are some pretty significant differences photographing in comparatively tall mountain chains like the Rockies and much older, shorter ones such as the Appalachians.  The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina are part of the southern Appalachians and I’ve photographed there–and further north in West Virginia–numerous times, but the comparative experience with the Rockies is distinct, and in some less than subtle ways–ways that are informed by specific photographic choices.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

I purchased the Nikkor 14-24 ultrawide angle lens when I moved to “full frame” capture at the tail end of 2008, so it’s been in my gear bag for more than six years now.  I can say, with little fear of contradiction, that I used the 14-24 more frequently during my two weeks in the Canadian Rockies than I had in the previous five years and nine months combined.  There’s something about the setting that fairly begs for sweeping, wide angle expression.  That may make sense when comparing shooting opportunities in the Canadian Rockies to my normal haunts in the American Midwest–where broad vistas are few and far between.  But I found the urge to go very wide much stronger in the Rockies than I did in other fairly “wide open” locales, such as southern Utah, Nevada and Arizona.  I used the 14-24 in all of these places, but not nearly as often as I did in Canada.

Sunrise, Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake Outlet, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Sunrise, Mt. Edith Cavell from Cavell Lake Outlet, Jasper National Park, Alberta

The fearful consequence of going very, very wide when shooting is including too much in the scene–something I’m always well-aware of–but to my eye, that was seldom a problem when I looked through the viewfinder with the 14-24 mounted on the camera while in the Rockies.  Unlike anywhere else I’ve ever shot, 24mm simply wasn’t wide enough in a large number of places.

Meeting of the Waters, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Meeting of the Waters, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

And yet, despite the pull of the ultrawide angle, I found that I was still able to see the landscape in a more detailed, intimate manner as well.  It’s a view I’ve become accustomed to over the years–a function of my copious experience shooting landscapes in tight, cluttered settings, I’ve opined.

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Part of the reason I found this trip to be so memorable–and, quite literally, not a day has gone by in the nearly 4 1/2 months that have gone by since I returned when I haven’t reflected at some length on the experience–is that, through my photographic choices in the field, I was able to let the palpable grandeur of the landscape speak for itself without compromising my ability to portray it through my own eyes.  At least I think I was able to do that.  (I certainly hope so, in any event.)

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

This is part of the reason why every shooting day was so full; I was steadily occupied with the attempt to reflect a kind of organic feel that I was developing for the place.  At the risk of getting all ephemeral, it was as if I spent time at each location working to let the Rockies be the Rockies, and reflecting that sentiment through the lens.  Then, when I was satisfied that I’d at least begun to accomplish that task, I’d let my eyes do the kind of seeing that they’ve sort of been trained to do in settings where there was no real alternative.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Whatever fuzzy line that might divide these two approaches disappeared in the many meadows that I visited on the trip, something I discussed at length in a “meta” post a few weeks ago.  It was in these marvelous places that all of the elements of wonder seemed to come together so effortlessly.

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett and Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Above all, there was the peace and quiet.  With few exceptions (the area around the Lake Louise Chateau, for instance), things were peaceful and relatively empty.  On one of the days that I was at Jasper, I took a hike from the Beaver Creek Picnic Area, past Beaver Lake to the First and Second Summit Lakes.  It was an almost entirely clear afternoon, with temperatures in the 60s (F).  The trail was nearly flat and, though it climbed over a number of rock slide areas, was easy going.  The round trip was about eight miles all told, and though it was mostly a bust in terms of photography (despite some decent shots at Beaver Lake on the return trip; the two Summit Lakes had extremely low water levels, the light was poor and the aspen stands around both lakes were fairly picked over) it was still a delightful experience.  After I passed Beaver Lake, I never saw another soul and, outside of the occasional bird call and the sounds associated with a light breeze and the tread of my own feet, all I experienced was quietude.  This was the rule rather than the exception.

Wildland Trail,  Jasper National Park, Alberta

Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

What do you do after visiting the Canadian Rockies?  Two things.

1) You spend time, daily, remembering, seeing through your mind’s eye what those two weeks were like.

2) You count the days until you can return–something I hope to do in September of this year. (I have a great deal of unfinished business at Lake O’Hara.)

If that comes to fruition, and I’m increasingly hopeful that it will, I’ll document the wonders of that experience here and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Thanks for reading about my time in the Canadian Rockies.  In my next post, I’ll return to more topical subject matter.

The 13th and final day of my trip to the Canadian Rockies began with promise.  There was one more morning’s shoot with the tour and I planned to stop at Bow Summit on the drive back to Calgary that afternoon.  I’d checked in at Bow Summit on Day 4, during my trip north to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, but it was crowded and rainy, so while I got a look at the famous Peyto Lake, I didn’t even bring my gear with me to the overlook area.  I planned to reconcile this omission.  But that was later.

Our sunrise stop was White Goat Lakes, just a short distance to the southwest of the lodge on Highway 11.  It was still dark when we arrived, of course, and the light was just beginning to come up as we made a short hike on a somewhat overgrown trail to the lakes themselves.  It wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise–we’d had a few already, as you know if you’ve been following the earlier installments in this series–but the location was very nice and there was minimal wind at dawn.

The prominent mountain you’ll see in most of the images from this location is the now familiar Elliot Peak.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The water features at White Goat Lakes are well-apportioned with reeds and tall grasses and the lakes themselves are ringed by conifers.  The lack of wind made for excellent reflections on this morning and the sky became increasingly interesting as the light came up.  The scene took on a beauty of the subtle pastel type.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Dawn, David Thompson Country, Alberta

It wasn’t long before the first rays of the sun began to illuminate Elliot Peak.

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliott Peak from White Goat Lakes at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As had become my custom at this point, as the sun inched higher I made certain to pull out the telephoto lens to capture a more compressed view of the scene.

Elliot Peak from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

With these images firmly in tow, I began to take a closer look at some other elements and different perspectives from which to capture them.

Elliot Peak Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Elliot Peak Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox loomed to my right and I moved to a different spot to capture part of its long sloping facade.

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

In my quest for a slightly different foreground element, I switched from the 24-70 to the 14-24 ultra-wide.  It was necessary to do so to incorporate all of a small tree to help balance the composition and still allow for the inclusion of Elliot Peak.

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Stelfox from White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I also played with the grasses themselves, melding them in with the peak reflections using a telephoto lens.

Reeds and Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Reeds and Reflections, White Goat Lakes, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When we wrapped up at this location, we moved on to nearby Preacher’s Point to work the flooded meadow area located there.  I found this spot highly intriguing, with numerous compositional and subject possibilities.  The image immediately below will give you a fairly broad view of the elements we had at our disposal.

Flooded Plain, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Flooded Plain, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

As you can see, it was a kind of marshy meadow area–and you already know how I feel about meadows–with the requisite stands of aspen, with pools of water filled with fallen leaves and prairie grass.  Although the wind had picked up by this time, it was gusty; with patience, it would settle down to nothing, producing good reflections in the shallow water.

I played around with tight compositions and wider ones, focusing on details in the former and broader “sense of place” images in the latter.

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

While some of the aspens were essentially bare of leaves, others–even in the same stands–were still in remarkably good shape.  I found the contrast between the two of interest.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I also found the patterned symmetry of the subject matter, when including the reflections, quite photogenic and pulled out the telephoto lens to isolate these elements.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I was mesmerized by how difficult it was in many spots to distinguish the reflections from the objects creating them.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections Black & White, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Trunks and Reflections Black & White, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

And then I backed off a bit, altering composition to allow for an easier comprehension of forms and objects.  The distant mountainside, bathed in shadow under what was a mostly clear sky at this point, took on a bluish hue, which I thought made for a nice complement to the predominant gold of the aspens.

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspens and Reflections, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Finally, I moved a few hundred feet to a slightly different location for one final parting meadow photo.

Marshy Meadow, Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Marshy Meadow, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

This was the very last image I produced on the tour.  Shortly after this we returned to the lodge and, after saying our good-byes, I was on my own again.

It was a 45-60 minute drive to Bow Summit from the lodge and when I arrived there the conditions were far different than the chilly drizzle I had experienced on my prior visit.  This time it was partly cloudy and pleasant.

I pulled into the parking lot, gathered my gear together and made my way up the steep paved path toward the Peyto Lake overlook.  The overlook platform was crowded and I walked right past it, continuing on the trail further up the slope.  Royce had mentioned that there were far better vantage points, not far beyond the official overlook, that would be deserted, or nearly so, and recommended them to me.  Not long after I passed the overlook I began to see unofficial looking dirt paths heading into the undergrowth in the direction of the lake and, after going another 1/4 mile or so further on the main trail, I took one.  Before long I found myself on an unoccupied rocky outcropping with a terrific, essentially unobstructed view of Peyto Lake, which lay far below me.  This is where I set up and where all of the following images were made.

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

After obtaining the requisite “postcard” shot, I started to play around a bit.  First, I switched to a telephoto lens to obtain some details of the inlet plain and lakeshore that you can just barely glimpse on the left side of the above image.

Peyto Lake Inlet Stream Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake Inlet Stream Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I liked the abstract pattern of the above image and the yin-yang color contrast of the photo below.

Peyto Lake Shoreline, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake Shoreline, Banff National Park, Alberta

I then went back to a wide angle to make use of some of the outcropping itself as foreground shots of the lake–or most of it, at any rate.

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

Peyto Lake from Bow Summit, Banff National Park, Alberta

In all, I spent about 90 minutes at the location.  It was mid-afternoon by the time I returned to my vehicle.  I would have loved to hang around for a few more hours somewhere in the area and shoot sunset, but I had to be at the airport in Calgary at 5 o’clock the following morning, and with a solid three-plus hour drive ahead of me, I knew, much to my chagrin, that I had to head straight back.

Thus, my time in the Canadian Rockies was at an end.  While this is the final daily entry, I will post one more installment before calling the series complete.  I hope you’ll stick around for the epilogue.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies:  A Retrospective

Based on the latest weather information, we’d gone to sleep on the night of Day 11 expecting there to be no sunrise on Day 12; a little bit of extra rest was anticipated.  But the ever-variable weather conditions had changed by early morning and we received an early wake-up notification.  A sunrise, it appeared, would happen that morning and, rather than scrambling around while the light was changing, we’d shoot it from the lodge property.

It was dark, windy and chilly when we stepped outside that morning and made the short hike down a path in the direction of Abraham Lake.  We stopped on a promontory from which views to the east and south were possible.  Royce said that we could shoot from this spot or investigate a lakeside location further down the embankment where there was a large, rocky ledge that jutted into the lake.  Everyone else on the tour was already setting up at the promontory, but I wasn’t particularly enamored with what I could see from that spot.  I told Royce I’d like to check out the shore.  So, he and I went down there alone.

When we reached the area, I was immediately glad we’d approached the water.  I liked the compositional possibilities , which included some true foreground options–something that had been absent up on the overlook–better here.  There were two principal potential downsides to this spot:  1) the wind which, if anything, was even stronger at this more heavily exposed location right along the water; and 2) the physical nature of the spot itself, which was uneven, rocky terrain, making it considerably more difficult to move around, change positions and set up than had been the case back up the hill.  Nevertheless, I felt that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages so I put my backpack in a safe place, pulled out my camera and began to poke around.

After sizing up the location a bit I set up with my tripod very low–partly for compositional reasons and partly to minimize the impact of the wind on the steadiness of the rig.  As the light came up, I alternated between views looking up and down both directions of the lakeshore.  The obvious shot was in the general direction of the sunrise itself.  (You can see Elliot Peak in the upper right-hand quadrant of the frame.)

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

In fact, however, I found the opposite direction, looking toward Mt. Abraham in the upper left, almost as compelling, at least partly because of the more interesting sky.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

There was a third option, and even though I found the compositional possibilities highly limiting, the cloud formations and the associated light show that developed–looking directly across the lake in the direction of Mt. Michener–were too compelling to ignore.  The hang up for me was the inability to incorporate any of the rocky facade as a foreground.  Had there been better reflections to play with it might have been a different story, but there was far too much wind for that.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Gradually I returned to the original set of views, which took on new looks as the sun crested the mountains and began to throw direct light on the landscape.  Elliot Peak took the first rays of light as I looked to my right.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

To my left, the dappled light on Mt. Abraham and the aspen forests on its flank reminded me of a painter using his brush to dab highlights on various features.

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Abraham Lake at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Our next location on this day, after a brief pit stop at the lodge, was the Fire Trail, back in the direction of the Icefields Parkway, beyond the Kootenay Plains on Highway 11.  This interpretive trail winds its way through a prescribed aspen forest burn dating to 2009.  It was late morning of a partly cloudy day when we arrived at the area.  The Fire trail is one of those locations that requires quite a bit of study to extract anything more than snapshots; there are no real “trophy shots” to be had.  This is the kind of environment that I often find myself wandering around with camera gear back in the Midwest and with that in mind I started my trail wandering.

Aspen Snags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Snags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Among the interesting features in several areas traversed by the fire trail was the existence of Native American prayer flags–colorful shards of cloth tied around tree trunks as part of spiritual ceremonies.  The cloth is left on the trees to disintegrate naturally over time.

Prayer Flags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Prayer Flags, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

At one point I found myself in a thick stand of scrub aspen that was backlit by the now early-afternoon sun.  A high shutter speed was needed to deal with the wind, but given the brightness of the subject matter that wasn’t a problem, even at base ISO.

Backlit Scrub Aspens, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Backlit Scrub Aspens, Fire Trail, David Thompson Country, Alberta

We continued to the west from here, returning to the Icefields Parkway for a stop at Mistaya Canyon.  Here, the Mistaya River cuts its way through deep, thick rock, forming a slot canyon with a surging river running through it.  Access to the canyon is via a steep, but short, trail from the parking area alongside the parkway.  In many respects, Mistaya reminded me of Maligne Canyon at Jasper National Park, which I visited on Day 6 of the trip.  Maligne is longer with more controlled access than Mistaya, but Mistaya is more accessible than Maligne; there are no protective fences at Mistaya, which makes it potentially more dangerous but also more shootable for the (relatively) adventurous photographer.

The only problem I had when we were at Mistaya was the light; it had become mostly sunny by the time we arrived and that’s not the kind of light I prefer to shoot in when photographing these narrow canyons which are, by their very nature, highly susceptible to objectionable “hot spotting” when in direct light.  Still, I fought my frustration and tried to make the best of the situation.

The Mistaya River, like most of the waterways in the region, is glacier-fed with the telltale bluish tint to the water.  Given the bright conditions, I put a polarizer and a neutral density filter on my lens for the first, wide shot I took after wandering out to a rock that bordered the rapidly moving river.  I wanted a slower shutter speed than I could obtain without filtration.  The combination of filters would, I knew, make it essentially impossible to focus so I took care to pre-focus before slapping the second filter on the rig.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

As a way of dealing with the rather contrasty light, I converted the above image to black and white–something I ended up doing with most of the images that I obtained at Mistaya.

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

I played around with a few different compositional ideas, including eliminating the sky (the brightest part of the above image set).

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

I caught a few moments when the sun disappeared behind a cloud, which gave me the opportunity to obtain more evenly lit frames that I composed to feature hard-soft/yin-yang elements.

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya River Black & White, Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

As the cloud-diffused moments became fewer and fewer–i.e. as the sky became clearer and clearer–I set up tighter and tighter shots that featured the shrinking areas of even light.

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

My focus became narrower and narrower with each passing minute.

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Eventually I had to pull out the telephoto lens to tighten compositions up sufficiently.

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

Mistaya Canyon Intimate Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

I had spotted at least ten times as many interesting compositions at Mistaya Canyon than I had shot due to the uneven light.  My conclusion as we put a wrap on things was exactly the same as the one I had drawn after my time at Maligne–I’d love to spend a cloudy day there.

Late afternoon was approaching as we left Mistaya Canyon and we had one more fairly brief stop to make before returning to the lodge for the pre-sunset break:  an Icefields Parkway overlook at Saskatchewan River Crossing.  Here we were perched high above the Saskatchewan River floodplain, looking back in the general direction of Mistaya Canyon.

Saskatchewan River Flood Plain from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

Saskatchewan River Flood Plain from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

After shooting wide for a bit, I pulled out the telephoto for a peak portrait.

Kaufmann Peaks from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

Kaufmann Peaks from Saskatchewan River Crossing Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

We returned to the lodge for a dinner break, but then it was back out for the “golden hour” time leading up to sunset.  Our ultimate destination was a return to the Kootenay Plains, but we made several quick stops along the way.  Royce called these stops “five-minute drills” because the goal was to spend no more than five minutes at each place.  We were, essentially, trying to have our cake and eat it too.  There were some marvelous views and wonderful light, which we wanted to capture, but we didn’t want to find ourselves out of time to shoot at Kootenay.

Ex Coelis Peaks from Preacher's Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks from Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

It was a bit harried but we pulled it off.  Everyone exited the vehicles knowing what they wanted to do and I think we all managed to get the shots we wanted during these short bursts.  The evening light was still kissing the Ex Coelis Peaks under brilliant skies during our brief visits.

Ex Coelis Peaks, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Ex Coelis Peaks, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The light conditions were excellent and still improving by the time we hit the Kootenay Plains.  Everyone else crossed the road to the same area we had shot from during our first visit on the evening of Day 8.  I decided to hit the side of the road we hadn’t explored, having been attracted to a particularly interesting (at least to me) lone aspen.  I had taken note of this singular tree as we were leaving during the first visit, and now–again, under a very interesting sky–I wanted to obtain some images.  I set up my tripod at knee level and crouched on the ground to make the photograph you see below.

Lone Aspen, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Lone Aspen, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

When I finished with the tree, I returned to the other side of the road to work some of the scenes I hadn’t quite had time to interact with during the visit four days earlier.

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Kootenay Plains at Sunset, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The aspens were, as a group, a bit more picked over than they had been earlier in the week, but that was to be expected given the cold nights, the snow and the general passage of time.

As the color faded to a uniform bluish-gray in the eastern sky, I raced back across the road to shoot the lone aspen one last time.

Lone Aspen at the Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Lone Aspen at the Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

From here, I switched to telephoto and captured the remains of color in the west, above Mt. Peskett.

Mt. Peskett at Dusk, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett at Dusk, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I then went very tight to capture a peak portrait that I converted to black and white.

Mt. Peskett Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Mt. Peskett Black & White, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Before losing the light entirely it was back across the road one last time for the start of the blue hour.

The Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

The Blue Hour, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

That was the end of the day–another one that had been, on the whole, extremely satisfying despite my self-imposed frustration at Mistaya Canyon.

This was to be the last full day of shooting during my time in the Canadian Rockies, but we still had one final morning on the tour and one more brief afternoon stop on my own along the parkway on the return trip to Calgary.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies, Day 13 – White Goat Lakes, Abraham Lake Floodplain and Peyto Lake

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