Is Black & White the Best Option for Steam?

I absolutely love steam! Steam is a very graphic element in nature and it can be shaped and molded in so many different ways. Light is the best way to mold and if you watch geothermal spot all day you’ll see how different the steam looks throughout the day as the light changes. It’s a great way to learn about light. Well this past weekend it was quite cold with the highs in the teens. That seems to be the trend lately. It was also a good day to be out on the river since it was sunny. When you have below freezing temperatures and blue sky sunny days, the combination results in a drastic change in temperature between the surface of the water and the air temperature. This creates steam, which creates some great photography.

Now I’ve been going to the Missouri River for a few years now but I have never seen this amount of steam before. It was just insanely gorgeous. Since I was shooting landscapes I kept a basic setup, D5 with 24-70 f/2.8. I did close down a bit to bring out more detail and depth in the steam. Then in post I using SilverEfex Pro, I was able to really bring out the detail in the steam using the structure slider.

How Do You Show It’s Cold?

To say my friends and myself are spoiled when we go out fishing is an understatement. But when the weather service says it will be over 20 degrees and the high ends up being 16, well being spoiled becomes a necessity. There are many ways to show it’s cold out but this image seemed so obvious that I had to take it. Of course with the train going by I feel like we were a bunch of hobos trying to catch dinner but we won’t go there.

Every adventure, even small ones, have lots of facets to it that require lots of images. Some are easy to spot and some aren’t. This one was a no brainer. In order to tell the whole story from travel, to environment, to portrait, Monday’s post covers that one, you have to be shooting. This was a simple click with the D5 and 24-70 f/2.8 but at first I did it wrong because I didn’t use my SB-5000 Flash. After the first click I checked and realized that by using flash, the light would bounce off the snow and add in some fill light needed to bring out the two bums by the fire. With the thick overcast overhead flash was essential.

What It Takes

In Montana there are a few crazy people that go out in the middle of winter to try and catch “the big boy.” On a day where the high is 16 degrees most people tend to be inside or at most on the ski hill, not freezing their hands off trying to catch a fish. Well, on the Missouri River certain areas are setup as spawning grounds for Rainbow trout in the fall and in the winter time after the spawn is finished, the fish start to move out but a lot of the healthy population is still there. The water is warmer and the left over roe provides good habitat. This is true for numerous species that hang around in that area including the Browns.

My friend Alex has been chasing the Big Browns for years an he finally managed to get one that truly is worthy of being called a Missouri River Brown Trout. I was fortunate to be there to see it. Of course having a camera didn’t hurt.

Photographically when it comes to this kind of subject there are two main shots to get, the portrait shot and the species shot. Every fish story is just that, a story, unless there is documented proof. And every fisherman likes to tell their stories. Getting the portrait shot with the fish is essential! I keep them simple and quick and for that I use the D5, 24-70 f/2.8, and SB-5000 flash. This is a good general setup that can be very versatile. The flash is key for two reasons, bringing out color and removing shadows. Shadows weren’t a big deal this day but the ugly light meant that the only good light was coming from the flash. The second shot is what I call the species shot. A simple click of just the fish to show the detail in the species and specimen as well as it’s environment. Each shot serves different goals and have different uses but are necessary. Lastly you have to move fast. On days where it’s below freezing you can’t take long with the subject.

Winter Portraits

Some of the locals in Montana have a tradition of fishing in the winter time. While most go skiing, these crazy few folks are found on the river. While it is certainly a harder time to fish it is also one of the best if you’re patient. There’s often less people and bigger fish which makes for a lot of fun. As one local experienced this past weekend, those bigger fish can be stubborn to land.

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While fishing on the Missouri, Alex here hooked into a carp on his five weight and 6lb tippet. With zero leverage on the fish the battle lasted 90 mins before finally he snapped the line to try and get the fish to move. For those watching it was interesting if not somewhat boring. Thankfully I had my camera. With the snow storm passing through the area, sunset was proving to be interesting in the canyon. The scattered clouds opened up enough to let in some light. I was watching for a while thinking about what I could put in front of the clouds. Alex solved that issue. With the D4, 24-70 AF-S, and SB-5000, I made this quick portrait of him rather exhausted from the battle. For a fisherman this is a all to well known feeling. Hooking into something just too big to fight. For a photographer it is a reminder that not only is patience key but constantly watching your surroundings will yield to the best image.

Light is a Natural Framer

We all know that light is essential when it comes to photography. It’s how we are able to capture the feeling that we see when we take a picture. Light presents itself in many forms and recognizing those forms is a must. When I saw how the light was coming over the mountains along the river creating a natural spot light between the light on the mountain terrain and that light being reflected in the water, I knew that was something special.

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Shooting with the D5 and 70-300 VR, I used the light and the reflections to capture the boats as they moved through that spotlight. The shadows made a perfect frame around the subject so that I didn’t have to do anything in post. While the subject isn’t front lit it still pops out because the eyes naturally go to the lightest spot and that dark spot is in the middle of that spotlight. The light and the reflection of that light can be just as powerful when used to frame around your subject as opposed to be directly on your subject.

Right Place, Wrong Camera

Have you ever been out shooting on assignment or a project, you get back and you want to go out again so you pack quickly and then as soon as you get to your next destination you realizes you grabbed the wrong gear? This usually doesn’t happen to me but it sure did yesterday. I was up at Flathead attending a friends wedding and shooting video for him and being me I was in one mind state the whole time. Then when I got home I swapped out gear and went fishing for a little while to relax. Well wouldn’t you know I grabbed the wrong camera body.

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I ended up shooting with the D4 instead of the D5 which was in no way a life or death situation but I did have to think about what and how I was shooting. If you have been in this situation then you the surprise you get when you first discover your mistake but then you quickly start thinking, okay how do I get done what I need to now? It was a simple answer for me. Knowing what the subject was in this scenario it was a simple matter of adjusting my shooting technique to compensate for the difference. The D5 has better quality and better noise reduction then the D4 so I kept that in mind when I was shooting this spot at sunset and also when I finished the images in post.

Working With MY Aquatic Friends

You can probably guess what I did on Saturday just by looking at the photos. I truly do enjoy fishing, almost as much as I enjoy shooting. Fishing is a lot like photographing critters because it requires the same patience and knowledge. While I have only been doing this type of work for about a year and over that time I have discovered many challenges to overcome.

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One of the first challenges I learned to overcome was when to use flash and when not to. Color is really important and flash helps bring out color. But the down side is when you have a reflective surface, like these fish. Direct flash can then be more of a problem then a blessing. Knowing how to use natural light with reflective surfaces is a good skill to have in all areas.

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Simple things like composition, lighting and background are a little bit easier to overcome. The two hardest ones I’ve found so far is catching the subject and then telling it’s story. There is of course the basic portrait shot and then you have to be creative and with an aquatic species you have to be quick. Now I’ve photographed many different subjects and I keep trying more because of these challenges and the lessons I learn from them keep me going back.

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

How do You Show It’s Cold?

We are visual storytellers and sometimes the realities of what is going on at the time the photograph is taken are hard to translate in an image. Temperature is one of the realities. While temperature does effect color it’s still hard to see the difference in just how cold or how hot it was when the image was captured. Now our minds are really good at filling in these blanks with a little help. It goes back to the psychology of the human mind.

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While I was out at the river I had sometime to play around with the great landscape available. It was cold the night before as in the negatives cold. That morning it had warmed up to 16 degrees. The results was great hoarfrost and beautiful sunshine. Now this one spot has a natural spring that is warmer then the river. When the two waters meet it creates the steam. It was still so cold that it was actually warmer to be standing in the river then outside the water. Well I love steam. Steam is a great aspect of winter photography that I exploit as often as possible because it’s dramatic and it gives a true feeling to that temperature. I told my friend to go stand by the steam as I fired off the shutter. I did two basic setups, one close in so that there is no sunburst and then wider so to get the sunburst. I was shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S at F/22 to get the star burst effect from the sun, otherwise it would’ve been a bright white dot. This was actually a great day not to have clouds because it brings out more of the color in the image, rather then the drama that would’ve been there if there was clouds. Understanding these elements and how to use them is essential when it comes to winter landscape photography which can be difficult with the overwhelming amount of contrast between light and the cold.

How’d You Start the New Year?

The Holidays are finally starting to settle down and the rhythm of the New Year has begun. I hope everyone had a great time celebrating with family and friends. How you start the New Year can have an impact on how mentally you view this new year and for myself I spent it outside on a beautiful Montana day. The week before had been nothing but grey skies and cold temps, and although it was 16 degrees out when this was taken it was still great to be out on the river.

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