It was a windy and stormy day at Goose Island Lookout in Glacier National Park Montana with an incredible display of storm clouds in the sky that mirrored the majestic mountains above them when I took this photograph.
I took this photo with my Nikon D810 – 24mm – 1/25 sec – f/14 – ISO 64
Processing – Adobe Lightroom Raw conversion finished in Adobe Photoshop.
Some days I feel that I’m blessed with an inordinate amount of amazing light when I go out to make photos. I can’t explain it. I’m not boasting but am simply acknowledging how blessed that I feel. I’ve never been a very lucky guy. Perhaps I’ve been saving up my luck to be used where it will make the biggest difference in my life. Certainly photography has brought to me some of the most meaningful returns in all of my life.
I just spent a couple of days at the Oregon Coast with one of my repeat clients this last weekend. What I found remarkable about the reason why he wanted to spend more time with me was that, according to him, all of the photos that he took during his time with me stood out well over those that he took alone or with other guides that he had hired. I was almost speechless. All I could do was thank him while he was thanking me. 😀 “Aww, thank you.” “No, seriously, thank you”. “No I really mean it. Thank you.” “No, thank you.”…. 😀 lol
This was the one segment of time that he and I had planned where I was hoping, wishing and praying a bit that the light would arrive on cue, and it certainly did. We were hoping for the best at Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock and it certainly did NOT disappoint with this amazing Cannon Beach Oregon Sunset.
I’ve been confident of very little in my life, but I have great confidence in the work that I’m doing at this point in my life.
Well, I finally made it back to Glacier National Park. This time with my good friend Chris Byrne. Chris was conducting a workshop and had a great group with him. I was glad to tag along.
The last time that I went to Glacier I was confronted with cold weather ,snow and ice. I remember camping at Two Medicine Lake on my last day there and getting frozen inside of my Jeep during the night. I woke up to about a 1/2 of an inch of ice covering the whole Jeep. I couldn’t see any mountains so I headed back home early.
This time I was met with some pretty epic conditions. We had two incredible sunrises at Swiftcurrent Creek. Travelling from one side of the park to the other via the Going To the Sun Road is always epic, but the skies were so atmospheric. Probably due to the winds at the beginning of the trip kicking up glacial dust into the air.
In all we had seven days to play in this incredible place. Photographing lakes, creeks, waterfalls, amazing mountain peaks as well as wildlife such as moose, deer and even a grizzly bear.
It will be hard to beat this trip, but I can’t wait to return to Montana.
There once was a time when I would stay up for several nights in a row and had no stories worth telling. These days I stay up for one night and have a wonderful story that I could tell.
I could tell about enjoying this warm, calm dark Summer night with a sky full of stars and a snow capped mountain so close it seems as if you can reach out to touch it, with the Milky way above it like a feathery plume from a hat, and then coming home with a photograph that needs no description.
I have so many wonderful stories that I could tell, and so many photos that need no words.
We’re focusing on focusing this month. How do I focus my photos is one of the most asked questions of me by other photographers. It’s a great question, and one that one would think would be pretty basic and simple. It’s usually the last skill that a beginning photographer considers when starting out but seems to be the toughest to master. I mean it seems that it would be pretty basic, what with the sophistication of the Auto Focus features in modern digital cameras, but once one takes a few photos and is let down by the Auto Focus Mode it’s easy to see why in many cases, especially landscape and portraiture, you will want to manually focus your photo.
There are several things that will affect the focus or clarity of our photos including a completely out of focus image, one where the focus is so far off that nothing is clear or in focus. That issue is obvious, of course, so we won’t discuss this in depth. We will assume that we are focusing but want to refine the clarity and focus of the shot. I’m going to try to proceed without citing mathematics or terms and theories such as Hyperfocal Distance, Circle of Confusion etc. The purpose of this article is to just understand the basics enough to understand how to overcome a common problem with focusing. Trust that this could become so lengthy that it would require another ten pages of the Mountain Times to cover it. Sometimes when someone is learning something new more information beyond what it takes to understand the concept causes confusion and discouragement. Once the basics are learned the understanding can be broadened in the future. I always tell people that if it requires mathematics to take photos I’d be a C-Minus photographer.
First let’s consider blurring caused by the camera moving or objects in the scene moving. This is not a focus issue but it can affect the clarity and areas of focus in the photo as you affect it. If movement is causing problems then your shutter speed is too slow. You’ll need to make sure that your shutter speed is sufficiently fast to freeze the movement. There are times where a slow shutter blur effect is desirable such as in creeks or waterfalls. This typically requires one to make an aperture adjustment to vary the shutter speed. Opened more to make it quicker and closed more to make it slower, but the depth of field will change with each aperture change.
So what’s this depth of field of which you speak you ask? The depth of field is how deep the area that will be in focus is from front to back. The wider your aperture the shallower or narrower your depth of field will be and then when you stop down, or close the aperture down, the depth of field becomes deeper. Remember that the larger the aperture opening the smaller the f/stop number and the smaller the aperture opening is the larger the f/stop number. Something to consider when you’re trying to maximize your focus is that the closer you are to the subject or foreground narrower your depth of field will be as well. If you’re having trouble getting everything in the scene within acceptable focus stand back a little. The same with portraiture. If you’re shooting with a wide aperture to blur the background intentionally you may have trouble getting the person’s whole face in focus. There’s not a lot worse in portrait photography than having the eyes in focus but the nose out of focus or vice-versa. Either stop down (close down the aperture) or stand back a little further or both. This works best with a zoom lens so you can recompose as you move away.
Hyperfocal Distance – I know. I said that I was going to try not to mention this but I think that curiosity will eventually lead a photographer to wonder. Simply and basically, the hyperfocal distance is the point where you will focus to allow everything from the foreground to the background to be in “acceptable focus”.
There’s a mystical mathematical formula to determine what that the hyperfocal distance is, but if you remember this advice you will get by like I have been for a long time without taking a calculator into the field with me. Here goes – I remember that I want to be in my lens’s sweet spot, which is the upper and lower limit of the aperture’s clearest settings. Each lens is different but the average lens is approximately f/8 to f/14. Compose your shot but try not to get too close to the foreground unless you don’t mind the background to be soft – Remember the closer to your foreground the less likely the object in the background will be in focus – And then focus to infinity on your lens focus ring and then focus back until the foreground just comes into focus. Then you will usually have the depth of field maximised and pushed out as far as possible while still maintaining a focused foreground. It’s easy to understand once you try it.
That may have been a long road to a short conclusion but just a basic understanding of how your aperture and depth of field affects focus allows you to take control of exactly how you will focus your photo. I hope that I made that as clear as possible.
Here’s a photo that I made yesterday while guiding my friends Al and Kathy Baca, from Long Island New York, around the Mount Hood National Forest. We spent a day in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and a day in the Mount Hood National Forest with a day of post processing between. It was a great time.
This photo was made while they were photographing bugs, flowers. lichen and moss with their macro lenses. I let them be for a few moments while I dove into the forest to get to this area. The roots captured my attention immediately. While I was there I felt as if I was in the realm of the forest sprites and gnomes.
This whole forest is in it’s Springtime best. All of the deciduous leaves are fresh green as well as the mosses. The forest is moist right now and emits a primordial essence and exudes an aura of primal simplicity. Life in its most primitive and its most beautiful.
I love the Pacific Northwest rain forests, especially in the Springtime. Consider a private Oregon photography exploration tour with Gary Randall Photography some day to explore some of the less visited places in this incredible state. I think that you’ll be glad that you did.
Columbia River Gorge Spring Wildflowers and Shallow Depth of Field Landscape Photography – In this day and age of hyper sharp, focus stacked photos, how do you feel about shallow depth of field landscape photographs?
When I’m photographing the wildflowers in the gorge I can almost always expect a wind or at least some sort of a breeze that tends to toss the flowers around. When you’re trying to increase your depth of field the breeze makes stopping down more difficult to do. An aperture lets more light in when open wider but the depth of field narrow, blurring the background. In many cases most photographers try their best to maintain a deep focus, but when that’s not possible the next step is to photograph multiple exposures at different focus points into the scene until frames are captured with each area in focus. After which these frames are combined to create a full focus from front to back.
But what if you are unable to focus stack or simply do not want to? In that case you will, most likely, deal with an area in the photo that’s out of focus. This can be used to a certain effect to create a feeling of depth. It can also be used to isolate an area in the scene that the photographer wants to make the subject of attention. In the case of the photo that is included with this blog post the foreground is in focus but it trails off to the soft glow of the sunshine in the background.
It’s not often thought of in landscape photography to use a shallow depth of field, but it’s used a lot in macro photography. But using a shallow depth of field is always an option that shouldn’t be completely ignored when the photographer is trying to be creative with their work. Does it work effectively every time? No, but there are times when we are challenged with capturing a scene, such as a windy day, when we can try to create something artistic instead of giving up and going home with nothing.
Sometimes super sharp focus from front to back isn’t necessarily the best approach to landscape photography. So keep this in mind on those windy or even on dark days. Perhaps it will eliminate a little stress or maybe produce a more creative image.
Critique and Competition in Photography – The Painted Hills in Central Oregon.
My son Chris and I took my mom to the Painted Hills this past Sunday. Mom had never been there and was completely stoked by its beauty.
I enjoy taking photo at this location with a long lens. I usually take my 70-200 and shoot little micro scenes of the textures and folds in the hills. I also enjoy the textures of the soil, but I have found that it confuses some people, I’ll explain later. On this day I used my Tamron 150-600 G2 and had a great time.
I entered a similar photo to this in a competition once. One of the things that I was gigged for was the texture. I remember that every time that I return to this location. The judge couldn’t figure out what the “grain in the foreground” was. I just slapped my forehead and fell back in my chair in dismay. I wanted to yell into the screen that it was coarse soil. I also entered a cool shot of the lava ocean entry and I was gigged due to some “diffusion and lens distortion” that one judge perceived to be an issue. The issue was the steam from the lava. I was taken aback by that one too. All in all I did fairly well in the competition, but after that day I became a bit disillusioned by professional competitions. Their critique gave me no encouragement or advice in how to improve my work, but I suppose that’s not the purpose of these competitions anyway.
Call me dumb or closed minded but I got nothing from the critique or comments. I think that competitions are fine, but really, I hate making photography a competition to begin with. I also question the qualifications beyond the certifications of some of those who are judges after the last one that I participated in. I compare them with “book learned” engineers. I’d love to have taken a couple of them out into the field with me and show them how I work.
All of the photographers whom I admire and am inspired by do not enter competitions. For them, I perceive, and I photography isn’t about winning. It’s not about professional credentials. It’s about the experience and inspiring others to follow their dreams and aspirations. I hope that I do this with my own work. In my opinion competitions only encourage the victors.
In the end a photographer’s audience will not judge them or their work by the competitions that they win, or the credentials that they earn but, rather, the images that they create that touch their audience in the most personal way, many of which aren’t technically perfect. And only you and those who admire what you do can actually honestly judge your work in a positive way.
Critique is fine, but ultimately it’s objective. And when the judge’s goal is to be critical of the photo, it won’t be viewed in the same way as the photographer’s fans. And it certainly won’t be seen in the same light as the one who created the image.
Create your work for yourself first. Break away from standards that are used to judge photos. That’s where creativity and originality starts. If you need advice seek it from someone whom you admire and trust. Take the critique of a stranger, no matter their professional credentials, with less weight than those who are trying to find positive in what you’ve done. And don’t get discouraged.
Turnagain Arm Sunbeams – The Turnagain Arm is a waterway in the Gulf of Alaska and is one of two branches of the Cook inlet, the other being the Knik Arm. It happens to be one of my favorite places for photography.
The Turnagain Arm was named by William Bligh of the HMS Bounty fame who served as the sailing master for Captain James Cook, British Explorer and cartographer, on his third and final voyage on his quest for the Northwest Passage. In the exploration of the Cook Inlet a party was first sent up the Knik Arm only to return reporting that it led to a river. A second party went up the next Arm only to turn back saying that it too was only a river. In their frustration of having to turn back again they named it the Turnagain River, later to be designated an arm of the Cook Inlet, thus the Turnagain Arm.
The Turnagain Arm’s geography affects the weather in dramatic ways. On the south side of the waterway lies the Kenai Peninsula with its mountain peaks averaging 3000′-5000′ while on the opposite side rise the Chugach Mountain Range with peaks comparable in size to the Kenai Mountains but, because of their position to the Cook Inlet set world records for snowfall with averages 1500 cm (800 in). With the waterway between the weather can be intense, and the sun being low on the horizon most all seasons, the light is incredible an inordinate amount of times throughout the year.
Another unique part of exploring the Turnagain Arm is it’s bore tide. A bore tide happens only in a small handful of places around the world. A bore tide is a tidal phenomenon where the incoming tidal flow meets an outgoing flow of the bay or a river. The leading edge forms a wave that travels up the arm on the incoming tides. It’s always fun to go to the Turnagain Arm and chase the bore tide.
We always make the Turnagain Arm a primary feature of our Alaska workshops. When the bore tide happens just before a sunset, magic can happen. We had the opportunity on this particular evening to chase and photograph the bore tide and the Alaskan surfers along the Seward Highway, a sunset and as a bonus we experienced Baluga whales breaching just below where were were standing taking in the last light of the sunset.
These experiences are hard to describe, even with a photograph to accompany the narrative. They are things that one must experience in person to appreciate. Darlene and I have a combined total of over 25 years of experience exploring Alaska. If you have ever considered an Alaska adventure please consider signing up to one of our Alaska workshops.