Where Does Life Take Us?

Recently I met someone that told me they had never been as far West as Montana before. The sight of the mountains here were almost overwhelming for him. Now this kind of got me thinking about those that don’t get to travel a lot or how much I get to. Living here in Bozeman I’m always surprised to here from people that they have never traveled further away than Idaho or Wyoming. It’s almost as if being here is like being in isolation. For myself I find it damn enjoyable to get away from everything else but still see the world around me. I am constantly reminded, and so should every photographer that spends time on the road, just how fortunate I am.

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Watching sunrise over Mono Lake

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The magic of sunrise at Yosemite Falls in Winter

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Discovering the Grand Canyon on Kauai

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Maybe just the backyard

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A rainstorm blowing through the desert.

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Or even winter in one of the most solitude of places.

Playing More With HDR

Starting this past January at the Yosemite DLWS i have been practicing with the HDR technique. These past couple of weeks have provided me with some interesting exmaples of when it can be used. The three examples i have up are from Hannalei Bay, Opeaka Falls, and Waimeya Canyon. My apologies if those are not spelled right, Hawaiin names aren’t easy for me to remember. Each of these locations had either a great sky and low light on the foreground or vise versa. With the Bay, image below, the pier had some great character to it which in this case i wanted to preserve, while keeping the clouds. This is a seven bracket image put together with photomerge 4. The one thing that i noticed was that the image itself is sized differently than normal. Not sure why probably something i missed clicked on. The one big problem I have noticed while practicing is noise and bright spots. Both can be fized but are annoying.

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The one below is Opeaka Falls and what really interested me on this one was that HDR wasn’t really necessary on this image. It didn’t seem to preserve or bring out any information that wasn’t already present. Now listening to RC and Matt Kozlowski from photoshop world, one of the most important things about any HDR is knowing those elements that are needed to bring together into one image. Seeing what you want is easy, putting it together isn’t.

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The last one is Waimeya Canyon and as you can probably tell that it’s been a bit over processed. Why did i put these up there? Well it’s quite simple. One of my professors once told me that the end result doesn’t matter as much as the process in which you arrived there. Once you hand in the final draft, it’s done; but that process in how you got that draft can be used over and over again for other projects. So even though I’m not thrilled with any of these images, the process in how i got there, 7 bracketed images, photomerge 4, ACR, photoshop, is important to remember. Now i did learn tonight that using only a few images out of that bracketed set can lead to better results. Definetely more to play with. Something about this process I’m still not grasping and that’s okay because it means i need to get out more, practice more and best of all learn more.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, AF-S 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Last Shoot

I realize this comes a little late considering this past week the workshop ended but i wanted to post it none the less. The final shoot was with our good friend Paul. Paul is the best fire dancer on the islands. A title that he has worked to achieve and has the scars to prove it. Literally! His arms and legs are covered with burns and cuts from the devices he dances with. The impressive thing, besides the fact that he does this, is he taught himself how to do this kind of dancing. Impressive.

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Before we photographed Paul we waited and putz’d along the beach. The best time to do the shoot was of course at dusk where the light from the flame would be more dramatic against the dark background. This being said the shoot itself was quite difficult to manage with thirty of us. Dad and Rc orchestrated it so that manual flash users would be together and TTL guys would be together. This way if anyone needed help in theory the guy next to him would be able to help. Now of course there was a settings setup before the torches were lit which also helped. As for myself i helped Dad by holding a single flash, operated by a Pocket Wizard, on a paint pole with an EZY Box. This was no easy feet. The wind kept blowing the EZY Box off making it difficult to hold. Plus with the fire i was worried the box would fly into Paul and we would have a disaster.

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As you can see from the shots above the differences between using flash and not using flash. Without flash the best bet was to go off the ambient light from the torches, increasing the ISO to around 1600 which is fine on the D3, and decreasing exposure compensation to -2. It worked most of the time producing some interesting results. Dad, Kevin and myself traded time with the flash so that we could all get some good shots. The shoot ended great, everyone got at least one shoot which is the whole point. It was the perfect way to end the workshop.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Just Outside the Hotel Room

The last day of the event came upon us yet again too fast. Of course it took even less time to finish that day to yet again force us to start traveling to the next gig. Before we left the Hawaiian islands we had two great last shoots. The first one was right outside our hotel room on the beach in the early morning light. As you can see we were up before the light had hit the beach front.

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It was a beautiful day, couldn’t have asked for a nicer last day in Hawaii. Great blue skies, puffy clouds, and a slight breeze. Just talking about it makes me want to go back there right now and lay out on the beach chairs. It’s just that nice. I don’t why but it had occured to me while shooting this past week that i rarely use a wide f stop. I don’t normally up open. Not sure why that is but it seems like everything is 5.6 and deeper. Well with the waves i thought i would play with it a little bit. I could see the difference but it was that dramatic.

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Anyways the reason we went down to the beach was for one to take portraits and two Pualani aid she would be happy to model for us again this time in a bikini and surf board. The tide was going out so naturally we put her on this reef so that everyone could get a shot from the beach. Of course not everyone stayed dry on this shoot, Dad volunteered to go out first with the paint pole and flash. Pualani was back lit so we had to use flash to bring in some light on her right side as you can see dad doing here. RC was shooting at the time getting things tested and setup so that everyone else could get the shot that wanted to go out in the water. Doesn’t Dad make a good assistant.

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Well the shots were a hit and everyone wanted to go out. With only one flash rig setup they had to take turns, which they were good about. They lined up and waited for their turn with Pualani. I stayed behind on the shore getting shots of the group and the setup process. The whole thing was kinda interesting so it didn’t bother me none.

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i did manage to get a couple shots of Pualani from the shore line. Since we couldn’t use HDR to bring out all the light from her to the background, and without getting into the water to use the flash setup, the only other options was to do it in post. It wasn’t too hard, just had to be careful of the lines of her body against the sky and the keeping the tone of her believable with the background. All in all it turned out half way decent. Not saying i want to switch fields just yet but it was fun.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, AF-S 70-200, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Depths of the Mill

A couple nights back we had the great fortune of going to an old Sugar Cane Mill. The folks did what they do best and pulled a couple strings, met a few nice people, and made it possible for us all to get into this mill. We were the first group ever to go into this mill. This is one of the original mills on the island. It was truly an amazing place to go into. The outside was filled with these old trucks. Two dump trucks and one semi truck had rusted out and were falling apart on the property. First impression of this place one would think that it would be good to shoot everything in a HDR frame of mind. Rc argued that due to the light, color of the building and complexity of the detail, HDR would be a bad idea. Single simple clicks would be best, at least for the outside.

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I walked around the outside quite a bit trying to find those neat little detail shots that really showed what the mill was. The truck out front was a great start but there had to be more. Back on the inside right was this valve plane. It had a very unique look. As you can see it’s not just square or round it’s a combination of octagonal and circular. It was kinda cool. The whole metal side was just a great rust color, it had to be shot. This is one shot that had very little post processing. Instead in the camera i raised the Calvin temperature in the auto white balance to A2 so that it brought out some of those warm yellowish brown colors.

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The truck kept drawing my eye back into it. It was at the very entrance of the place, had to drive around it to park and it was just rust beauty. The skies kept going back from being open blue to cloudy rain. It’s Hawaii that’s what it does here. Naturally by keeping an eye in it i was able to get a decent shot with some clouds. The one side of the truck had some great light on it making a simple clean lead in for the landscape.

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In all honesty i didn’t spend much time in the inside of the building. It was dark, patchy light and truly complicated to shoot. The inside was filled with old parts, siding, tools you name it. The problem was with the amount of available light the best options was either flash or HDR’s. Having little experience in the HDR fields i didn’t have a very creative outlook. As I’m slowly learning from RC, a really good HDR isn’t just a series of images put together to condense the dynamic range of light. It is more about finding what pieces of the photogrpah, composed in the camera, work well togethor when more than one image is merged. In essence instead of composing for one shot, it is using say a bracket of 5 images, composing the best pieces of those five into one. It’s hard to get the head wrapped around but it’s starting to make sense. I still just like the simple clicks though. So i stayed outside a lot. Towards sunset the clouds lifted and we got one nice end to working with the mill. It was a great day!

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200, AF-S 24-70, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Our Beach Dancer

One of the best parts about DLWS is he people that we get to meet. Normally that just means the participants but whenever possible we have a model come in. The idea being that people can learn about flash. This is Pualani, a very nice and sweet girl that posed for us at Hanalei Bay. It was a great shoot but we had to deal with rain showers off and on so we ran back and forth between the pier and the open beach. The headdress and skirt she’s wearing is part of her dance outfit. She teaches and does shows every week which is how she makes her living. No normally i don’t photograph people, I’m pretty bad with flash, but considering we were in Hawaii and we had this beautiful woman as a model I had to shoot it. It’s best to always include the eyes so that we can connect more with the subject but i kinda like this shot due to its feeling of zen and comfort. I finished it with that in mind.

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Walking Hanalei Bay

Yesterday was day two of DLWS, and it was “planned” to be a great day. The morning shoot we had a lovely model come in, a local girl that screams Hawaii. I’ll get back to her later. Now later that day we had planned to go somewhere that most people have never gone to before. It was an opportunity that is beyond compare. But I’m not gonna show that one yet either! I know I’m mean. What am I going to show and talk about? This is Hanalei Bay, one of the best beaches on the north shore. It is a pretty cool place. To the west and east are mountains, to the north is just open sea, and the beach is just a long curve. There is also a very nice pier. It one went out into the water maybe 200ft, great cement posts, wood structure and of course some nice clouds.

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Now when i was composing i was thinking of the beach, the waves and the angle of the pier to the clouds. I was taking all of this in trying to make the best image possible. Well there was one thing that i didn’t take in on capture which costed me later. In post when i was processing i realized that the background behind the pier was dark enough and the structure had no light on it, so that the open space between the back two posts blended in with the structure. Now it appears that the pier melded into the mountain and doesn’t look good. It was a pretty stupid thing to do. How to fix it? Real simple, move! Yep if i had walked a couple more feet away the sky would’ve been behind the pier and that problem would be solved.

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After the pier i started focusing on the boats. I got kinda hooked on the boats during the catamaran ride and i wanted to work with them some more. Out in the bay was a luxury boat at anchor, moving with the wind. I started to play with it. The first thought i had so to go black and white. It has a long white mast, and white top side. It pops well with a dark background. The light at that time was flat, background sucked. There was low cloud cover and the forest looked just boring. So going dark and eliminating as much of that mountain works well. Now this isn’t a documentary landscape image, it’s more of a graphic artistic look. By being a little imaginative, at this one shoot, multiple images were made beyond just the I’m at the beach image.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, AF-S 70-200, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Looking Down at Waimea Canyon

Last night we headed up to the top of Waimea Canyon. We had previously traveled the windy road up to the two parking areas to get too Waimea Canyon during our scouting. It is a spectacular view. Almost like a miniature Grand Canyon of Hawaii. The first place we stopped was simply at a pullout that we couldn’t get very far out without going over the edge. It was a great day, nice skies and good clouds. If there were gray overcast clouds with no light, it would’ve been a bust. Thankfully it wasn’t. We stayed till about 6pm then headed down to the other viewing area.

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The second stop was my favorite. The first time we went up top to the see the canyon there was a local fruit vendor selling fresh Maui pineapple and sugar cane. It was sooooooo good. That actually was the first thing that i looked for when we arrived. He wasn’t there. I was sad. Up the hill to the viewing platform, because this spot actually had a man made structure, and before us was the canyon half in shadow half with lit peaks. It was a great opportunity for many types of photography, including HDR’s, panos, and my favorite single clicks.

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Now i have never really been any good with panos or HDR’s but i thought i would play with them anyways. I mean how often do you get to look over the side into a canyon on Hawaii. I made sure that i had every kind of image that i wanted if for no other reason than to just have. Towards 7pm we waited and watched as the clouds moved in and the light started to fade. If you’ve ever been to a canyon then you know there is a time when the sun goes down that the whole canyon, with the right clouds, will just start glowing. That’s what we were waiting for. It never happened. Not surprising, it’s one of those gotta see but not always going to be there situations. Regardless it was still a great shoot producing some great images.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 14-23, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

First Morning of DLWS Hawaii

This morning kicked off the beginning of DLWS Hawaii. For the last week we have been around the islands enjoying the sun, beaches, and the photography. Now it’s time to share that fun with the other participants that have to come down here. We started with a nice easy morning at Opeaka Falls. My apologies if i don’t get the spelling of these places right, they are just as hard to spell as it is to say. The morning light pretty much sucked. It was gray skies, no break no puffies. Not a great start. That’s okay though, there were still photographic options.

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The falls are situated in a canyon to the north. In this canyon is a luscious green. Not like the red rock canyons of Utah or Arizona, but these great rain forest covered canyons. The falls itself was pretty cool. I especially liked the one tree in between the falls. For some reason it just drew me in, like a tractor beam. I had to get a shot of that tree in the falls! The rest of the morning i spent trying to get as close to the falls as i could. At on point i had out the 200-400 VR, TC-20e Teleconverter trying to get the focal length that i wanted to get that tree. I managed to get a couple nice shots but I’m gonna be mean and not show them right now.

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Finally towards the end of the morning we had a break in the clouds and the light came through shining on the falls and the surrounding trees. If you’re confused as to why the falls aren’t brighter, well the sun did make them pop a bit more compared to having flat light but it still wasn’t that bright. The falls are behind a rock mound as the canyon banks around to the right. It was an interesting lighting situation but was still a lot of fun.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200, AF-S 24-70, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Boating Around the Island

Well today turned out to be one of those amazing, spectacular, awesome, magnificent, inspiring, and uplifting days that everyone needs every now and then. The five of us, Dad, Mom, Kevin, Rc, and myself went for a boat cruise around Hawaii. The cruise was on a catamaran with twenty other people. It was just beautiful, the ocean, the island, the marine life; it was so good that none of us wanted to leave the boat when we returned to port. In fact it was so good that i don’t think i can example how it felt in this blog, so I’m let you enjoy a couple of the images i played with from the start of the trip to the end of the trip and leave you with the thought of, some of the best photography comes from the most touristy of times.

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