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.

Color Contrast

It’s that time of the year again when the leafs turn those gorgeous yellows, oranges and reds. The color is seductive that it’s hard to put the camera down. What most don’t realize is that color can also be too overpowering. Pretty much every photographer has seen at some point a good fall color shot and a bad fall color shot. It’s really quite understandable since, like every over photograph, a bad composition or bad light can lead to a disappointing image. The color by itself isn’t always a savior!

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One great way to make sure that the color isn’t overpowering is contrast. Yellow, orange and red are usually bright colors and thus our eyes often go to them first if there is no white in the photo. If you have something dark like blue, green or black to balance out the photo then the Fall color won’t be overpowering. Now does this mean that every Fall color photograph should be this way? No, of course not. But it is important to keep in the back of your mind that fall color can be overpowering and that the other elements like composition and light are still essential.

Captured with Nikon D4, 85 F1.4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

First Shots with the D5

If you were expecting to see something amazing and never seen before then you’re probably going to be disappointed. The truth is with any new piece of camera gear the best place to start is right at home. The reason being it’s a controlled environment and there will be differences. The biggest mistake you can make is taking a new piece of gear out to a remote place, see something beautiful and have something happen you weren’t expecting. The D5 is a whole new beast compared to the D4 I’ve been using for years and getting used to those changes is essential.

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What I find amazing are the things not being talked about. For me the first thing I noticed wasn’t the ISO or AF sensor, which is getting all the attention. The first thing I noticed was how good the grip felt. It is slightly different then the D4 and it’s actually more comfortable. Next I noticed the shutter sounded a little quieter to me. Then of course there was the AF sensor. Now it was quite dark when I took these with the shutter speed about 1/40 but I had absolutely no problem getting a sharp image. Just a quick initial test and I can’t wait to do some more.

A Beautiful First Day

Last Friday I announced that I was going full time with my photography and I knew that that the best way to start was to be shooting on Saturday. Not only did I have my new 18-35mm f/3.5 to test out but I had that extra motivation for being the first day in my new lifestyle. Well I braved the storm that was covering Bozeman and Livingston and after a few shots of the storm at Clyde Park, I drove down to Paradise Valley where the only visible light was left, except way out to the east. I’ve spent a lot of time in Paradise Valley shooting over the years, it’s just a gorgeous place. That day it was unbelievable!

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There was this one spot that I wanted to get to because I knew that it would be spectacular, having shot in that spot in the past. Well the whole time I was driving down to that one spot the light was slowly fading from the peaks which had just the right amount of snow left on them. I was cursing the whole way as I watched it disappeared until finally I got to that one spot. As you can see it was worth the drive. Now all of these iamges I shot with the D4 and 18-35 and you can see how it was just an unbelievable evening!

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The light slowly got more and more intense as it went down over the mountains. Considering the amount of wind we had and how fast the storm to the north was moving, I was shocked that this hole stayed open to create such a fantastic sunset.

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Event he clouds straight out to the west had some amazing drama and structure to them.

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Finally after all that drama, the light came to an end in one last dramatic scene. I’ve spent a lot of time photographing landscapes and there are times when I simply won’t work that hard for one because it’s just not worth it. This was one of those times that any amount of work would have been worth it. In all my time over in that valley, this is the first time I’ve been able to capture such beauty. I couldn’t have asked for a better start!

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 18-35 f/3.5, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Breaking In The New Lens

This past weekend I got to do something that I always enjoy doing, shooting for the first time with a new piece of equipment. Along with the addition of the soon to be in hand D5, this past week I got the 18-35 f/3.5. It’s not a new lens being released in 2013 but it’s a light weight, quiet, crystal clear and tack sharp little lens! I’ve used it a couple of times over the years but never purchased it in part because I had the 14-24 f/2.8 for a long time. The 14-24 is another really nice lens but one of the big differences between is the front element. on the 14-24 it’s domed, on the 18-35 it’s flat. As a result the 14-24 does have a bit more distortion at 14mm around the corners. While that’s fine in some cases other times it’s not desirable. Since a lot of the work I plan doing this year involves aircraft, having straight lines is important.

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At first glance I was rather annoyed with the way the weather was when I went out shooting because I really wanted to test the new lens and it was just pouring. Well I got over it and drove around for quite a while before ending up out east of Bozeman over by Clyde Park. It was the only direction where there was still some light coming through the clouds. Now that area is known for its wind and when storms come through they often look amazing because the sky is this giant tornado of clouds. It was the perfect opportunity for the 18-35mm.

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Both of these shots were very simple. Hand held, D4 and 18-35, mostly at 18mm. I closed down to F8 because with landscape I like having more detail and when shooting really wide and with less light available, I wanted those details sharp. Besides that it was just a matter of composing the elements. Oh and ducking when the rain flurry came through. Not a bad first outing.

The Man Made in the Landscape

Not every opportunity that presents itself in photography yields a clean result. When working in the realm of landscapes we often have to balance man made and the natural world while trying to capture the best light. Lets face it if the light sucks there isn’t much point to take the image but if it’s good then we go out of our way to make it work. Well this was one of the scenarios. Light was pretty but the foreground kind sucked. How do you get around that? Well one of the easiest ways is to just underexpose so that light becomes more intense while the rest of the scene tends to fall away in shadow. That way the eye only goes to whats light and bright and ignores the rest. It’s a real simple trick to use in those pesky landscapes where you just can’t do anything else.

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Image Captured with Nikon D4, 70-200 VRII on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Little Rim Light Never Hurt

I have always been a fan of using heavy dark’s when it comes to my landscape images. What’s light without dark? That contrast when applied to the natural world can tell pretty compelling stories. Now granted I shoot a lot at sunrise and sunset when these two forces meet with the most drama but regardless having that little pop of light just peeking out can make for some very meaningful scenery.

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Rim light isn’t just used with people it can be used in landscapes. In these examples the only light that is coming through is a little bit from between the clouds layers just moments before the sun sets. Normally to capture you would either do an HDR to capture all that detail between the lights and dark’s or underexpose as to not have any blown out highlights. Obviously I went with underexposing. Why? Well the whole day was dark, clouds kept the sun away until these shafts popped through so why not express that.

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Using the D4 and 70-200 VRII, the last bit of light brought a little warmth to the otherwise cold winter day. The subject in both of these images is truly the light and that’s all that really matters.

Snow equals black and white

I love photographing snow. Every patch of snow is different, because of every snow flake is actually different. The way the light bends and refracts off of the snow makes it so seductive that it can be challenging and rewarding. One of the best ways to make use of snow patches is to convert the image into a black and white.

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This is up in the Crazy Mountains on a rather boring overcast day. But the clouds added one nice benefit and that’s shadows on the landscape. It’s real easy to have a definite black and white point when it comes to snow but finding that other little element that makes it interesting like fog, or mist or a shadow will bring out more drama. Something to think about this weekend while out shooting, especially if you have snow in your yard.

In Front and Behind You

One of the great things about shooting landscapes is knowing that behind you could be the better image. While I was out this past weekend at the marsh, which happened to be next to the Gallatin River, I stopped on a bridge and shot a little bit while the sun was just about down. Now the way the clouds were that evening, the great reds were never going to appear where I was up but further out west. That didn’t mean thought that there still wasn’t light. Even without the direct light there was enough definition in the clouds to bring out some of the contrast in the light and dark areas. What fascinates me is the difference between looking east and looking west.

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The great thing about working with bodeis of water is that they reflect light and that reflection can be almost graphic in nature. While looking out west where there was just a slight hint of red on the horizon, the rest of the sky showed almost no coloration. While the scenario is technically backlit the overall tone is that of a black and white. This is a result of no clouds, no moisture, the temperature seems more neutral then cold as a result.

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Looking out east where the last bit of light was hitting the clouds are cold but there is enough light to make out the rest of the scene. Both images were shot with the D4 and 18mm and neither one of them saw much time in ACR but it amazes me how different the landscape can look when looking 180 degrees the other way. The physics of light in that regard are pretty amazing.

All Roads Lead Somewhere

I love working with roads. It may seem odd to use in landscapes but they are a great simple way for the minds eye to move through an image. When it comes to my landscape photography I try to either exclude the man made objects that are often distracting from the overall scene or incorporate them so that they are not distracting. Roads are one of those man made objects that can be included to tell a story.

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I threw up these three examples to show how effective a road can be. They were all taken with the same settings and with a D4 and 18mm. While they were all taken at the same location they were in slightly different spots but the story remains the same. The really important element to remember when it comes to roads is that there has to be something worthwhile at the end. That simple notion goes back far into human psychology that there is always something better at the end of the journey. The image incorporates that ideal by showing what we are seeing along that journey. The next time you’re out shooting remember to look for those roads.

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