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Desert Solitaire

The desert’s of Utah provide some of the most diverse landscapes fit for photography than most any other place in the United States and possibly in the whole world.

I may be a bit biased as the Utah wilderness deserts and canyons have become a part of who I am through years of hiking and exploring. Through years of exploring I’ve developed an understanding of these unique landscapes.

I would call this an abstract. There’s no references within the photo to give the viewer scale. It’s more about tones and patterns in the landscape than it is a representation of the whole of the scene. It gives no indication of where or when it was made. It’s not about documenting. It’s about using a small component of a grand landscape to give the viewer more to imagine or to ponder. The end goal of this photo is to provide something aesthetically pleasing to view.

This photo was made using my 70-200mm lens at 140mm. I was perched high on a 400 foot edge looking over this incredible desert floor.

Nikon D850 – Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII
Focal Length – 140mm
Shutter Speed – 1/80 sec Hand Held w/stabilization
Aperture – f/8
ISO – 800

Factory Butte Utah

Situated between Capitol Reef to the west, the Henry Mountains to the south, the San Rafael Swell to the north and the San Rafael desert to the east. This butte is a popular spot for both Photographers and OHV (off highway vehicles). This situation has created a conflict of sorts as the landscape has tracks through it. This causes a challenge in the hope of getting a pristine photo of this location.

The most common method of photographing this beaut of a butte is from the air via a drone. From the air the tire tracks are plain to see. It takes some time to repair the photo by cloning out the tracks.

This is a scene that I have been wanting to photograph for a while now but with this being a pretty common location for landscape photographers, it’s a little difficult to create something unique.

I had the opportunity to go there last week to photograph this area, including Factory Butte. Because I only had a couple of days there I didn’t have the epic skies that I had hoped above this landscape.

I brought this photo up and decided to try to process it into something, anything to justify the time that I spent there – and the time spent repairing it. I took a lot of time working on the foreground but when I was done that plain, blank sky stared at me. I almost hit delete.

Now I have always said that the reason people will drop in a sky is because their time is limited and the time spent at a location didn’t produce the results that were hoped for. This was the exact situation that I was in with this image. As I sat there carefully brushing out tire tracks that blank sky taunted at me.

Once I was done with the foreground repair I saved the file and then decided to play with some different skies and boom. I saw this.

I have always said that if a photo is a composite I’m just fine with it as long as the artist is honest and transparent about it being so. I’m not one to criticize a person’s creative expression. All I ask for is honesty.

And so in my attempt at transparency, I explain the process that I went through to create this image for you. This is a composite of two images combined to create the image that I had hoped to create naturally.

I hope that you enjoy it for what it is.

Adventuring in Alaska August 2021

Alaska is a special place for my wife Darlene and I. We return as often as possible. We recently had the opportunity to return to spend five days with a small group of photographers to show them the beauty of the state. 

We visited the Kenai Peninsula in our search for wildlife, especially bears, where we spent time at the Kenai and the Russian Rivers. We saw huge red-sided Coho salmon making their way upriver to spawn. We also photographed loons at Skilak Lake. We were disappointed that we saw no bears but it was a day full of adventure and breathtaking scenery nonetheless. The Chugach Mountains, Kenai Mountains and the scenic Turnagain Arm dominated the scenery that we enjoyed as we travelled the Seward Highway. 

On our second day we took an excursion boat out of the coastal town of Seward. We cruised through Resurrection Bay into the ocean. It was drizzling with some fog but it didn’t keep us from standing out in the clean ocean air photographing dreamscape like images of the rugged, forested Alaska shoreline and the Kenai Fjords towering rock Chiswell Islands. We saw wildlife including sea lions and a myriad of sea birds, puffins and bald eagles. We even had a humpback whale surface right next to our boat, raising its tail above the water. We then travelled to the face of the Aialik Glacier to watch the calving of the ice into the sea, while harbor seals floated on the dislodged chunks of ancient ice in an attempt to avoid being eaten by Orca whales.

On day three we travelled north into the massive Talkeetna Mountains with their jagged peaks and glacial scoured valleys, green with tundra and decorated by scattered late season wildflowers. We explored Hatcher Pass and the dilapidated Independence mine. As we travelled through Hatcher Pass we photographed sweeping vistas and aqua blue-green glacier fed rivers. 

We eventually met the Parks Highway and turned north to our second lodge located in Talkeetna, an eclectic little tourist town south of our ultimate destination, Denali National Park and Preserve. As we drove we passed through Broad Pass with forests stunted from the harsh winter conditions that they must endure to survive. The incredible scenery was dotted with beaver ponds that mirrored the foothills of the Alaska Range on their still surfaces.

On our last day we arrived at Denali National Park and Preserve early to another wet, drizzly day. We boarded the park bus and started our journey through the park, enjoying some of the most majestic scenery in the world in spite of the clouds and fog that came and went through the day. We saw, and photographed, ptarmigan, caribou and grizzly bears in the distance along the way. We eventually made it to the Eielson Visitor Center deep in the park where we watched two grizzlys grazing on the tundra in the fog on a high ridge above us. When we left the visitor center the bears had made their way down the ridge to a hillside very near the road. Our bus stopped and we photographed them until they crossed over the hillside and out of our view. We were able to take some incredible Denali grizzly bear photos. 

After an uneventful but scenic ride back to the park entrance we left the bus and then went to have a warm meal. As we ate we talked about the two things that the group wanted to photograph but wasn’t able to, a moose and the massive Denali, the third most prominent mountain peak in the world. 

We finished dinner and made our way south on the Parks Highway toward our lodge in Talkeetna. We had gone approximately 10 miles when we came across a bull moose near the side of the highway munching on the vegetation. We pulled over and carefully positioned ourselves to get the moose photos that the group had hoped for. We didn’t mind that it was along the side of the road. 

The weather had been mostly clouds, drizzle and some rain throughout the week. Not enough rain to spoil our fun but enough to obscure the view of “The High One” Denali. We all went to bed on the last night of the workshop feeling satisfied for the amazing week, but a bit disappointed in not being able to see the mountain, our last piece of the puzzle. 

The next morning was one of reflection on the week that we had just spent. Tired but satisfied, we packed our luggage in the van and proceeded to leave our lodge and make our way back to Anchorage. We left under a clear blue sky that morning. We drove up the road to a viewpoint with a clear view toward the Alaska Range, the home of the elusive Denali. We stood in front of a majestic crystal clear view of a pure white snow covered Alaska Range and standing head and shoulders over its neighboring peaks we finally saw Denali. 

Our Alaska adventure was complete. My friends could hardly believe the week that we had. They left for home on their flights filled with memories that will last a lifetime and camera memory cards full of reminders. 

Ethical Landscape Photography

Landscape Photography Ethics

As landscape photographers we visit and photograph some of the most beautiful places in the world. Many of these scenic locations attract millions of people each year. A lot of these locations are found by others by searching for the photos that we take and share on the World Wide Web. In most cases we don’t realize the potential for harm of the places that we love and photograph by sharing them. It is natural for us to want to share the photos of these incredible places but I feel that we need to be aware of and to share with others how to protect the environment which, in most cases, is the reason that these places are so special.

In the years that I have spent as a full-time working landscape photographer I’ve been able to see the gradual damage that’s being done to some of the most beautiful spots in the Pacific Northwest by its overuse. Most of the erosion and the denuding of the grasses, ferns and mosses is from repeated footfalls onto areas beside and beyond designated paths and fences.

I spend a lot of time in the field visiting these beautiful places and am a witness to so many people who shun the posted signs or fences that are placed to keep people from fragile environments or those that are being reclaimed due to the traffic that has ruined them. I feel that it’s easy for most people to think that it won’t hurt if they go because as an individual they won’t cause any harm. I personally feel that it’s a form of selfishness and greed to think that the signs and rules are for everyone else but them.

Although it is true that as individuals we have little impact on the areas that we tread, but we’re not individuals when we visit these highly impacted areas. We are a part of a collective of humanity that causes an accumulative, damaging effect. It is not just the one person but the effects of us all wearing these places down. I feel that it is imperative that we develop a collective consciousness that instils a want to preserve these places. We each should develop a personal code of environmental ethics and to encourage others to do the same. We need to take responsibility for these places. We need to take care of them. Not doing so will further erode them to a point where access will be limited or closed completely.

As landscape photographers who share photos of these places, we can take the lead in raising the awareness of the fragility of the places that we photograph. I think that every landscape photographer who shares their work online should create and adhere to their own photography code of ethics and have a Nature First attitude that addresses how we conduct ourselves while in the field. We can also add a short plea in the description of the photos that we share that urges those who go to be careful where they tread.

My personal code of ethics includes three parts. Environment, Social and Self. These principles are endorsed and shared with others via Nature First . Nature First is a group formed to urge photographers to become responsible stewards to the places that they visit and share online. It’s a place where the Leave No Trace principle is urged and Nature First Principles are shared. If we all adopt a personal code of ethics and encourage others to do the same perhaps we can turn this trend of abuse of the locations that we love around and make it cool to protect the beauty of these photogenic places. 

Nature First Principles for Photographers

Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.

Educate yourself about the places you photograph.

Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.

Use discretion if sharing locations.

Know and follow rules and regulations.

Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.

Actively promote and educate others about these principles.

Learn More at Nature First

Goose Island Lookout at Glacier National Park Montana

Goose Island Lookout in Glacier National Park Montana

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.

Glacier National Park 2020

Grinnell Point at Swiftcurrent Lake

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.

Critique and Competition in Photography – The Painted Hills in Central Oregon. 

Critique and Competition in Photography

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.

Critique and Competition in Photography
Critique and Competition in Photography

Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance

Purple Mountain Lavender

Finding Fantastic Focus – Learning Hyperfocal Distance. It’s a beautiful morning as you gather your camera and gear to head out to take some beautiful landscape photos. You understand the settings that you’ll need to get the proper exposure, in this case with a fast enough shutter to overcome the blur caused by the breeze that’s tosses the flowers around in front of you. In the background is a view of Mount Hood on the horizon. You allow the camera to set the focus by using one of the automatic settings. Perhaps you focus on either the foreground or the background. Or, if you are using manual focus, you use the age old method learned from another photographer who learned it from his uncle who was a photographer who learned it from some guy named Ansel, you focus a third of the way into the scene and hope for the best.

Once you get home and download your photos you notice that in some of the photos the foreground is out of focus and the background is in perfect focus, while in others the foreground is sharp but the background is out of focus. Some may be fine from front to back but you don’t know why or how it happened.

In time, as you hone your photography skills, you will want to understand how to focus properly and consistently. It’s something that is hard to guess your way through or to accidentally discover. And once you figure out that there’s a method, understanding it seems daunting but it’s rather simple to understand if explained properly, so I’ll give it a try.

What you need to understand is something called hyperfocal distance. By focusing your camera at the hyperfocal distance your photo will be in acceptable focus from half that distance all the way to infinity. In other words if your hyperfocal distance is 20 feet everything will be in focus from 10 feet to infinity. In landscape photography especially it allows you to maximize your depth of field. Knowing this, in this example, we can then push our depth of field out by focusing to 30 feet, ten feet past your subject, maximizing the depth of field.

Determining the hyperfocal distance for a particular focal length and aperture combination can be tricky, but there are charts that you can put in your billfold or camera case. There are also apps for your smartphone that will help you calculate what it is for your particular camera, focal length and aperture setting. Because of this I won’t go into the complications of the mathematics involved in determining your hyperfocal distance. With one of the variables being “The Circle of Confusion”, it would be easier to explain a method that I use that you can start using right away to maximize your depth of field resulting in a more accurate and consistent focus in your photos.

Start by switching your lens to Manual. Turn off any kind of vibration reduction if you’re using a tripod, leave it active if you’re hand holding. Make sure to stop down, aiming for the lens “sweet spot”, an aperture setting of roughly f/8 – f/11. The sweet spot is the range of sharpest aperture settings of your lens. It’s typically two full stops from your widest aperture depending on the lens. Just make sure to stop down to increase your depth of field.

Turn on your Live View screen and increase its magnification and scroll the view to the closest spot that you want to be in focus in the scene. Observe that area as you turn your lens focus ring to infinity, which will slightly blur your foreground, and then focus back from infinity slowly until your foreground object just comes into sharp focus then stop. Once you do this you’ve moved your depth of field out as far as it can go while maintaining focus at your foreground object. Using this method you don’t need to know distances to set your focus.

I should mention that there are times when hyperfocal distance is not desired or necessary. Many forms of photography rely on a shallow depth of field such as portraiture or macro photography. In that case, none of this is necessary as having areas that lack focus is desired to direct the viewer’s attention to the subject which is in focus.

Also modern digital photography and computerized post processing allows a photographer to take multiple shots of a scene, focusing from front to back, and then combine them to create a focus that is sharp throughout the image. This method is called Focus Stacking, but in most cases it’s unnecessary if you use the methods described in this article.

As in most cases when an instructor explains something, they will always seem to take the long way. I know that I gave you the shortcut at the end of a lengthy description, but in any skill it’s more than doing, it’s also about understanding. The more that we understand what we are doing, the more we’re able to perfect how we do it. I hope that this rudimentary explanation of hyperfocal distance helps you to take your photos one step closer to perfection.

Pathway To The Stars – The Milky Way Over Mount Hood

The Milky way Over Mount Hood Oregon

Pathway To The Stars. The Milky Way Over Mount Hood Oregon – I had a great time hanging around in the dark with my brudda Rob last night. We shot the night sky over Mount Hood from the north side while talking about the Milky Way over Mauna Loa – The night was as warm as a Big Island night – and other places where we’ve stood and observed the stars.

There are very few things that surpass the brilliance of the stars on a dark Summer night. Since I was a small boy I have slept outside whenever possible, even if only in my backyard. I’m fortunate to have lived in some places that have extremely dark night skies.

I remember great times while I was in school in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon when neighbor friends, my brother and I would just lay blankets out in the pasture, set up our sleeping bags and count falling stars and satellites until we fell asleep only to wake up again at sunrise covered in dew.

I was reading the other day that 80% of the people in the United States are unable to see the Milky Way at night. That’s a sad figure. I sincerely feel that when we remove ourselves from the natural world we suffer. Taking away the stars in the sky that have caused so many people to dream fantastic dreams and thoughts of wonderment and hope is the last brick in the wall of separation of humanity from Nature. Stand in a city some night and search for anything natural. Even the sky is cloaked in a bath of unnatural light. How can we understand what Nature requires from us if we don’t understand her?

Please do yourself and Nature a favor and reconnect your soul to the Earth and all of its natural fantastic wonders. Drive somewhere dark some night and look up. Bring a blanket and a sleeping bag. You may be there for a while.

Oregon Rain Forest

Oregon Rain Forest

The Oregon Rain Forest – This photograph speaks of what Oregon means to me. My earliest memories are of sitting at the edge of an Oregon creek fishing for trout with my father and the smell of the forest and the sound of the creek as it tumbles over the top of mossy rocks and logs. It hasn’t mattered where I have been in the world in my life Oregon was still home to me. These creek side memories had a lot to do with my yearning to return home. They’re a peaceful place and make wonderful landscape photos.

This photograph was taken in the Mt Hood National Forest near the little town of Rhododendron Oregon. It was made on May 21st of 2016. This shows the lush green moss covered forest at it’s Springtime prime.  It’s a time of the year that the forest is the most alive. It’s as if everything that lives there is celebrating the warmer weather and the passing of Winter. Everything from the smallest insect to the largest bear, moss to trees they all are reaching for the light. It’s the lushest and the greenest. The creeks are full and the leaves fill the voids of every corner and every gully. I love photographing the forest in the Spring time.

This shot was made with my Nikon D810 with a 24-85 f/3.5. The exposure was 0.8 sec at an aperture of f/20 and 800 ISO. I used a polarizing filter to reduce glare. Raw conversion was in Lightroom with basic exposure and contrast adjustments, lens correction, CA correction and basic sharpening and NR, and the processing was then finished in Photoshop with a thin Orton layer and final sizing and sharpening.

Contact me for photography instruction including private workshops for camera operation or processing.