We have a lot of old buildings here in Montana and oddly enough people keep moving more into the state. It must be part of the appeal of the state to be old and rustic. I love working with the closeup parts of the rustic buildings. There is so much detail and color and intrigue with each building that sometimes the details are better then the whole picture. One great example is simply the light on one side versus the other side. Using the corner as the divider and the natural vertical lines of the boards, it’s hard to tell what’s light, what’s just the wood and what has just been aged over time. Fun simple way to play with depth of field, light and old buildings.
May has been one very interesting month flying across the country and the weather has been more then interesting over the last month. Spring time in Montana has always been one of my favorite times of the year because of the great thunderstorms we get. Memorial Weekend was very wet as we had rain throughout the whole weekend but occasionally there was some openings in the clouds that yielded some nice images.
These were taken with the D4 and 70-200 VRII out of my apartment window. When having to work between projects having those great little areas that you can shoot out of is great. It’s also kind of fun to just pick up the camera without having to think or strategize and just shoot.
A long time ago I started going to a junkyard to work the antique and aged cars that made up the yard. It was these little corners that I started to develop my technique and skill as a photographer and thus wouldn’t forget them. Sadly this particular one outside of Bozeman is gone. Not sure where or why but now a blank space exists. Junkyards are always a two edge sword. They are great for photographers but not everyone likes the sight of them. Nor the maintenance. While it’s gone the lessons and images remain.
When it comes to landscape photography I was taught a long time ago that taking in everything in your scope, while good, is not always the best way to go about it. If you go by the traditional rule of thirds then you have to take everything into effect but if you are trying to capture just the feeling or the beauty of the day then little slices can be just as powerful. Here’s a good example of this.
Not everyone lives in the most scenic places on earth. The majority of people live in cities and have to contend with many obstacles to make great landscape images. Certain elements such as power lines, telephone poles, cars, houses, lights and other man made objects can get in the way and make the image worse. Well there are three options in such cases; first you take the shot anyways and make the best, second you go in tight and take a section of the overall scene or third do nothing and just enjoy. As a photographer usually we tend not to do the third reason because our brains are often over thinking of everything else and eventually tells us that we need to make a click happen regardless. It takes practice to turn off our brain and just watch the light unfold. The second option can be helpful.
While out shooting sunset this past weekend, I notice certain areas where the light was hitting but I couldn’t get to. I could have driven somewhere else and seen what else I could’ve done. Maybe something better could have been found. Who knows? Or I did this. Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, I zoomed in and focused on spots where the light was hitting and I wouldn’t get telephone wires in my frame. Now the 24-70 is one of my favorite lenses that I use constantly! For this type of work the 70-200 VRII would have been better but with the light fading fast I didn’t have time to switch. So, for the bottom image I switched the camera to DX mode or high speed crop which with the D4 doesn’t loose any quality but does give that little bit of extra focal range which got me a little tighter on the clouds. It was a simple solution to a problem that occurred in the field.
I’ve spent most of my life living in the mountains and it still amazes me how much the landscape can change. For a couple of years now I have gone to one spot just south of town for sunset shoots of the Bridger Mountains. The main reason is an obvious one, it’s a really good spot! when you find great haunts you go back to them because they do change, they’re never quite the same as the last time. Well Spring is not here yet but it sure does feel like Spring with all the 60-70 degree days. Hard to even type those numbers since it is March still. Spring brings about one of my favorite landscape opportunities and that’s afternoon thunderstorms leading up to thunderstorm sunsets.
The best landscape photographs have great light which creates great drama. Even the most boring of earthly lands can be made great with clouds and the right light. When it comes to the Rocky Mountains, the land is anything but boring. Spring time fills in the other half which are the clouds and around Bozeman we get some pretty bizarre weather patterns rolling through, which bring in great clouds. Thanks to high winds, positioning at the end of the valley between the Bridgers and Gallatin Mountains, and the elevation of the town, we tend to get it all.
Last Saturday a small storm was passing through with really fast winds. That morning I was out fishing on the Yellowstone River which was great until the winds picked up making it hard to even hold a fly rod, but as predicted, the storm quickly went by and the winds were all that were left. I was hoping that the tail end of the storm would remain over the Bridgers for shooting later that evening and sure enough they did. With the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, I went to my old haunt and made a couple of clicks. The one nice thing about living in a farming/ranching valley while surrounded by mountains, is the golden fields are often a great visual line throughout the image.
After spending time with the Geese I wasn’t sure where to go IF the skies would break up or not. That’s the joy of cruising. I ended up cruising along the Bridger Mountains heading north parallel to them, up to a point a knew about that would go into the forest. The light over the peaks was looking good as the sun kept going down. Then out of the north the clouds were moving so fast that this one big spear headed cloud decided to move in front. I’ve spent a lot of time watching sunsets and sunrises as they transpire into something great or fizzle into nothing. Even though the eye cup was so cold when pressed against my eye that it actually was hurting, I stayed and watched and shot knowing that this would be a great sunset. Shooting with the D4, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8 and Lexar UDMA Digital Film, the sky transformed from this.
And finally, before the sun went down to just below the cloud line, to this.
When it comes to powerful landscape images, god beams often make them. While I’ve shot many and seen many more, these were some of the boldest that I’ve witnessed. With a little help in Adobe Camera Raw by light painting a little bit of the foreground to bring out the light on the earth, the image becomes complete.
Over Christmas break, I had the great fortune of being able to go through some of Grandpa’s slides from his military days. While I was doing this I learned two very important things that make a lot more sense about my family; first my Grandpa would take a camera everywhere. While he was in the Air Force he served in the nose of a B-29 in WWII and served in Korea. He flew many planes during those days and went to a lot of places, some of these things we are still finding out about him. Well, as it turns out while he was flying, while on days off, at home, traveling, everywhere, he had his camera. The second thing I learned is that he loved clouds. Many of his slides were just labelled with a date and the word clouds. It explains where my Dad got his love with clouds. I bring this up because it was going through my mind as I photographing these great clouds over the Bridger’s. Sometimes I wonder why we need the landscape to make a good landscape image? Why not just use the sky as the canvas? These simple shots were taken with the D4 and 200-400 VR, isolating fun patterns amongst the lights and shadows.
I really don’t like grey skies. They always seem to be so limiting that it almost takes the fun out of shooting. Usually when it happens it’s best to point the camera down as opposed to up. This was one of those times that it was just fun to point the camera wherever. After finishing with the ice shelves I turned around and looked at the landscape. The horizon had a slight glow to it and the tree line was a silhouette. It wasn’t a great shot but it captured the moment. Of course that all changed when Al decided to walk in front of the camera. It still amazes me that such a small change can alter the photograph so much. It is little changes that can make good images become great images. Only by trying new ideas and taking on new challenges can great images emerge.
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 beginning of a New Year. Isn’t it an amazing feeling knowing that another year has passed and we have a whole new year to look forward to making so many things happen. The possibilities are endless and the adventurous are everywhere. 2014 was a great year for myself and my family and it’s one of those times when it’s good to reflect on how good it was and what there is to look forward to.
I had the great fortune of going on many trips to many places that I had never been before, and many more that I had been. As photographers we have the privilege and the challenge of constantly trying to come up with the next big thing. To improve upon our own work so that others may learn from what we have accomplished, while capturing the history of what we are witnessing. With the new year comes the challenge of learning from last year to make this one better.
Whether we can see or not see the path that leads forward in this career, all we can do is keep working. Photography isn’t just about following your passion but about taking on anything that comes your way. Being able to rise and fulfill any job you wouldn’t normally do, can be more rewarding than anything else you have done.
During this year we will meet new people and add more stories to the already bursting hard drive. Take time to enjoy those moments with those people you care about for often the best moments are fleeting. It is those times that we truly need a camera in hand.
Above else, make sure you have a wonderful place that you can call home. For at the end of the day, at the end of the next trip, you need that special place to return to. Have a Happy New Year, may it be filled with joy.