Just Color

Never be afraid to take a landscape image when there are no clouds. Yes it can be a little less dramatic but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. I know I got the habit from my Dad to look for clouds but sometimes having just that color is all it takes. Rolling hills on a beautiful summer evening is pretty hard to pass up.

Watch the Weather

If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to landscapes is that after a rain storm has gone by in the summer, you’d best be out with the camera. If the skies to the west are clear then odds are there will be some good light on some great clouds that evening. Yesterday was one of those exact days. Clear all day, light wind and then an afternoon shower. Now it is deceptive because the sky goes dark and the clouds stay socked in but if they open up then it will be gorgeous. Odds are that’s what happens, they open up and move on.

I did my usual and it’s what I encourage you to do. Drive around with a camera on your lap, watch the sky, watch the light and find a good spot to make a few clicks. This was a simple click with the D5 and 24-70 AF-S. Nothing more then finding the right foreground to go with the amazing background. A little help in ACR and done. It feels great when it all goes that smoothly and you come back with a couple images.

Working Those Small Pockets

In winter time there are often more days with overcast skies in the Rocky Mountains then there are sunny skies. This is the case with most areas. While my favorite has always been and will always be puffy cloud days, the winter weather can lead to some interesting moments if you are watching the weather. There are many things that as a photographer you have to pay attention to and the weather is another one of the them.

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In between storms cells is often an opening in which some light will make it’s way through providing some shooting opps. If you’re familiar with your local you can take advantage of these times. In order to do that you have to explore and shoot. With the D4 and 24-70 AF-S I made these two basic shots by just going to a couple spots that I had previously been and knew would have the light.

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If you’re wondering why one is black and white and the other isn’t it’s really simple. When there was great color I stayed with it. When there wasn’t I went monochrome. This was my thinking while I was shooting because not all of those pockets of light produced great color. But every pocket did create great contrast.

Spring Storms

We’re getting into that time of the year when the great Montana Spring thunderstorms come through the valley and with them comes some truly beautiful photo opps. June and July are some of my favorite months for landscape photography because we get those sudden temperature changes that make for really dramatic clouds. Saturday was a rainy gloomy day but opened up in the afternoon. Sunday was even better.

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Now I’m still getting used to the D5 and all it has to offer so when I went out working with the storms I was quite surprised and pleased with the results. The quality difference is quite amazing. It’s hard to see when you don’t shoot with the two cameras yourself but just like when I moved from the D3 to the D4, moving from the D4 to the D5 I can see the quality difference in the final image. One way I saw it was that I had less post processing to do when I got back. The D5 did just an amazing job capturing the light.

In the Absence of Light, Structure is King

Even when the light has finally disappeared, it’s not time to put the camera away yet. Without light all that is left is structure and structure can make for some great images. Spring thunderstorms are great examples as the clouds often form these great masses of drama. The key is to take that image and then in post bring up the structure or the clarity slider to bring out more of the character in the clouds. One of the key elements when composing an image like this is to have very little foreground in the frame. By looking up more and essentially ignoring the rule of the thirds, the focus turns to the clouds and that also helps to make the structure more pronounced.

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Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 f/2.8 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Benefits of Retracing Old Haunts

Fall means luxurious yellows, oranges and reds. It’s the iconic symbol of the season and in Montana, with Cottonwoods and Aspens all over the place, it’s a great time of the year to be out shooting. There’s one spot I love going and it’s not because of the color. There is a stretch of hwy 191 that goes between Gallatin Gateway and West Yellowstone and it is absolutely beautiful the entire year. This time of the year it’s great because we are starting to get snow fall on top of the peaks which means cloud cover. Well this particular stretch is great for getting really interesting clouds rolling over the pine trees.

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Now before I went down this road I had set out with no plan, no agenda, just a fun afternoon drive. It’s how I like to shoot. It keeps it fun and rewarding. When you’re fixed with a plan you build up your own hopes that can be let down. If you’re just driving, you’ll have fun. I had my usual setup, D4 and 70-200VR II, on my lap ready for the image that stands out. I pulled over a couple times and found some great creeping clouds moving along the peaks. I took these shots knowing that I would convert them later to black and white. I was going more off of the contrast in shape as opposed to color. All of these were quick shots that came as result of picking a direction and going. It’s that simple.

Dealing with the Smoke

Well the smoke from the forest fires that have been burning off to the western half of the United States has finally found its way to Montana. Over the last week the smoke has slowly gotten worse and worse. Right now it’s so thick I can’t see more then half a mile out. The other day we had somewhat clear skies, enough at least to make an image or two. I grabbed the D4 and 70-200 VRII and went out to one of local spots to see if the sky would light up. It really didn’t. It pretty much fizzled out but there was enough glow to put behind something. This strand of Cottonwoods worked just fine. By underexposing 2 stops I was able to bring out more of the mood of the scene and then in post I brought up the exposure under the trees to have more visual separation between the background and foreground.

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The Light is Gone in a Blink

Light can come and go in a blink of an eye. There are a lot of days in the North where all we get is grey skies so when the skies break up for a while, you better believe everyone gets out. Just as fast as it disappears the clouds come back. While out chasing the hole in the clouds you wait as that one moment arrives that brings a solitary beam down to earth. You can’t explain it but you’re instantly drawn to it. Then the chase is on to get the shot before the heavens close up and the light is gone once again. It’s the challenge of landscape photography, waiting for that one moment to come and bring light to the hills.

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The Trees Tell the Story

As I talked about last week in a post about snow covered trees creating some of the best abstract patterns, while I was out this past weekend I found a clump of Cottonwoods backed by some Pine Trees that looked just amazing. This time of year we see a lot of bare trees which tends to lead to a lot of shots of snags silhouetted against a sunset. We’ve all seen it and probably half of us have already done that. But what about something better?

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Going with my same combo, D4 and 24-70 AF-S f2.8 but the 70-200 VRII it would also be good here, by isolating just the Cottonwood trunks and branches against the shadows of the Pine Trees, those bare branches become rather pretty. Sometimes it isn’t about the shape of the tree and its branches but the color of the wood. With just a hint of light hitting the tops, the grove comes alive for just that brief moment.

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