Yes you read that title right. There is snow on the peaks of the Gallatin and Bridger Mountains in July! This place still amazes me and this is why. We had a real cold storm come through the other night, the temperature in the valley dropped below 50 and sure enough we got some snow on the mountains. Now it won’t last long but it’s still one heck of a sight!
For many years now I have had the 14-24mm AF-S f/2.8 lens in my camera bag. When it comes to landscape photography you really want to be able to go wide at times. Not every shot, but there are those occasions where the wide shot can tell a more complete story. That range of the 14-24mm is a really great range, which is one of the major factors that drew me to that lens. Over time I have discovered that I was using the lens less and less for one particular reason. The Aspherical Lens element, which if you’ve seen the lens it’s the very curved front element allowing for 114 degrees at 14mm for FX format, allows for a great perspective. But because it is so wide and so curved the lens does have a tendency to be a little distorted around the edges.
While there is nothing wrong with the lens, it is in fact a very sharp lens, it does create a certain look. It creates that curved, draw your eye into the center, ignore the edges look. In some instances that works really well. In others it’s not as desired. If you have a foreground that is important to the story you might not want that slight distortion. The above image is taken with the 14-24. The bottom image is taken with the 18mm.
To be honest it’s not the greatest example but that’s partly because I couldn’t find a great example. I have shot with the 14-24 that little. The one area where I found this difference to really come into play is when working with straight lines. Since I work a lot with Aviation straight lines are important, having that slight distortion can cause problems. Both lenses are great tools, but each have their own purposes. Depending on your style, you have to decide which is better. For my purposes right now I’m eager to work with the 18mm some more.
This past weekend was truly beautiful. It felt like Spring even though it still isn’t yet. The mid fifty temperatures just begs to get outdoors but I couldn’t think of anywhere really wanting to go out shooting so I thought why not do some late night shooting. After all the time I have spent shooting here in Montana I have actually done very little star trails or light painting photography at night. Don’t know why but it is something I plan on changing.
Shooting at night is a lot of fun but sometimes it can be very boring. It just so happens that the night I choose had an overcast sky and true brilliant planning an almost full moon. When that happens the best plan is to wait it out till it gets darker. Thankfully the sky broke and the moon, well didn’t change much. It was still really bright out. I went over to the Gafke ranch which is where I practice different techniques quite often. With the great landscape and barns it’s an easy choice.
With the bright moon it was obvious that great star trails wasn’t going to be as strong as other nights, but the light painting was going to be fine either way. Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8 on a tripod I started with the red barn. Now a quick tip for shooting at night, the D4 has a setting in the shooting menu called Long Exposure NR. This setting helps make a cleaner image by reducing noise in the camera. After that it’s just a matter of finding the desired shutter speed. The longer the shutter is open the more light will come in including moon light and stars. When it comes to light painting it means that the light from the flashlight is going to be the brightest so less if often more. Also the light source closest to the camera is going to be the brightest. This is why if you are going to go out shooting and play with this technique to practice a lot.
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.
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?
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.
It’s the start of another week and that means another round of blogs. Oh the challenges of coming up with new topics gets harder and harder but that brings the joy of getting out shooting, to fulfill such topics. While I was out cruising this past weekend, which in itself if is a lot of fun, I was in quick search mode as the clouds were moving fast. To the Southeast the clouds were great! Every other direction sucked! That’s the way it is when a storm moves in. I stopped in one spot where an old barn stands that I have photographed several times. It has this great road leading up to it and i don’t know why but I’ve always been drawn to those roads. They let the imagination tell great stories.
Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, one of my absolute favorite combos for landscapes, I quickly captured the scene. But that wasn’t the entire scene. One of the most basic and important rules in photography is to always look behind you. Sometimes the best things aren’t right in front of you but in every other direction. In this case it was a lone pine tree bathed in gorgeous afternoon light, with a lit hillside behind it, making it almost look warm out.
Even though I have been a photographer for a very short while, I have spent my fair share of time on the road. It has been a lot of fun to see all the different landscapes that make up the West. At times it does get tiring driving for hours on end but then there is always something to look forward to at the destination. Every now and then I even stop to take a picture. Today I will be heading home for Christmas and I was wondering what I might see along the drive this time.
For all those fellow photographers out there. If any of you are looking for a gift idea for someone special, you might want to consider looking within your own library. We have an item that is available to us that can bring great joy to others. Our photographs. If you need something still, I would recommend giving that person a print. It may not seem like much to us that print often but to the person on the other end, getting that nice big print of their favorite place or of their favorite critter can be pretty powerful. So if you know someone and are struggling to come up with something good, see what images you have laying around that might look good on a wall.
If I’ve said it once I’ll say it again, I love old barns. Every time I find one I mark it down on the map. They just have such great character to them and the possibilities photographically are practically limitless. Of course having a dramatic sky helps to, which I found humorous as I was thinking earlier how all the good storms from the Spring are done with and now we are stuck with bald skies. I was wrong.
As much as I was watching the light as it went down the side of the barn I was also wondering if an owl would come. It’s a great hiding place for them, no luck though. These both are rather simple shots with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S. This is one of my favorite combos especially for walking around. Since I was on a big ranch there were lots of opportunities and moving fast with the falling light was important albeit I did stroll around a bit. Needless to say that this was not the only opportunity to come along.
I don’t think I have ever put up a shot before that had cows in it. They don’t exactly qualify as wildlife and not as landscape material either. But in this case I didn’t want to remove them in post. It just wasn’t necessary. In fact quite the opposite. This is part of an old ranch and it’s a building I have photographed several times. I love old buildings, because you never know what the story is. Since it is part of a ranch the cows kind of fit. Working with locations like this is all about incorporating elements of today with elements of the past. Things like a road can be used as a visual aid to lead your eye through the image.
Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film