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.

Pick Up the Camera and Shoot

It can be hard at times to find the motivation to get out shooting. You start thinking about having to drive somewhere, the time it takes, the work you haven’t done, the other things you could be doing, etc. We’ve all been there and we all struggle with it. But the simple fact is if you don’t shoot everyday then you’re not pushing yourself. One of the best ways to keep pushing yourself is to shoot out your window. I’m sure some of you might be saying, “well I live in a city.” Well one of my favorite photographers spends more time shooting from his roof then anywhere else and he lives in a city. If you’ve ever seen a Jay Maisel class then you know he spends a lot of time photographing New York from his roof and it seems to have worked out pretty well for him.

Why not? Shooting from your house or office can be a good way to breakup the monotony of the day and keep your skills sharp. Will you get a great photo that will make you lots of money every time? No probably not. Then again if you’re in this business then you know that’s not really a reality any of the time. The point is to stay sharp throughout the week when you’re stuck at work. These shots I took outside my window. Are they the best? No. Did it feel good to be holding a camera after hours on the computer. YES! These were taken with the D5 and 70-200 VRII. Nothing special in the camera and nothing special when it came to finishing. Just a quick way to think through the process and keep the mind sharp.

Trees and Steam

One of the great things about living so close to a geothermal area like Yellowstone is that the scenery is often very diverse in the winter time. The cold temps throughout the night often lead to snow not melting but in the morning when the sun hits the water we get great steam. Around the outer edges of the park we see this a lot but it’s not specific to just that area. In fact it is a common winter trait for any free flowing body of water and the cold temps. But how do you take advantage of it?



There are a number of ways to work with the steam because it is so abstract with no defined shapes or color, it can be composed in all sorts of ways. Two of my favorite ways is finding that lone tree that is surrounding by the steam and then in post converting it to black and white. One of the great things about steam is it creates a basic white point. It also creates this great moody feel to any image when composed correctly. It’s always a good idea to try and compose with as much space in the frame as possible yielding to the steam and never centered. This helps to exaggerate the effect.

the 18-35mm is just wicked Sharp!

I’ve only had the 18-35mm f3.5 for a couple of weeks now but I got to say I really like that lens! It’s just a great light weight lens. It’s wicked sharp and the 18 to 35 range is great for landscapes. It’s also great for working inside of planes or other small spaces, as I tested that out last weekend at the LA County Airshow. But one thing that I wanted to make sure I did this year was try the 18-35 with snow.


On Monday I went up to Hyalite Canyon after the snow stopped to work with the fresh powder. I love fresh powder. There is something about fresh snow that it’s just crisper or brighter. Whatever it is, there is a visual difference when compared to snow that has been on the ground for a couple of days. Well this one spot just happened to be rather low in the river so it seemed like the right spot to bring out the 18-35. Real simple one click image that was finished in Adobe Camera Raw.

Time Will Tell

If you follow my blog then you’ve probably seen me post images of barns. I photograph barns a lot because they are great subjects to work with. Each one is a little bit more unique and each one has it’s own story. The best part is as soon as you find one the hard part of finding a subject for a landscape image is done. Well this particular barn I’ve known about for years but I’ve never gotten a shot of it that I have liked. Until now.


This is actually a well known barn as it sits right by the entrance to Hyalite Canyon. A lot of people go by it everyday making it a very popular barn. In fact I’d be willing to bet that just about every photo student that went through MSU has stopped and thought about this barn at some point. While it’s easy to get to it’s not easy to photograph and believe me I’ve tried! Due to the angle and proximity to the road it’s a challenge. We just had a nice storm come through dropping off a couple of inches of fresh powder in the valley. The clouds opened up in the afternoon so I went out for a little bit. These are the days I enjoy the most. Just going out shooting with no real agenda and what do you know this barn finally looked good. All the elements finally came together for me to actually stop and want to capture an image. In the past there was always an issue, whether the light, the angle, the background, cars going by, something. Not this time. With the D4 and 70-300 VR, it was just right. This really has to be one of those being patient and constantly trying images because it really has been years of waiting for that right moment. The funny part is as I am writing this I’m already thinking about how this could be better and having to wait for the next opportunity.

From Warm to Cold in a Heart beat

Snow can be so deceptive. I love it! Working with snow can be as great a challenge as working with light. It just keeps changing. With the tiniest amount of direct light it becomes so bright that you can’t look at it but then as soon as that light disappears it becomes dark. Such a fun challenge to work with.


We’ve had some beautiful sunsets in the Gallatin Valley, many of which I didn’t have my camera present, but some I did. This one wasn’t the best but the speed in which it changed from being warm enough to have an open coat, to zipped up and gloves on was mere minutes. Feeling it was one thing capturing it was another.


Just up in one of my favorite retreats with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, nothing much but simple clicks that show just how fast everything changes. What was fun to watch was how fast the light on the snow changed with the light in the sky. That’s why I love snow.

Playing With Boundary Warp

Ever since the new boundary warp came out in ACR a couple weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to play with it. I really enjoy making Panos because they tell so much. The story is just so expansive with a Pano and at the same time you can really be specific when choosing what to add. With the Merge to Panorama in ACR it’s become very easy and enjoyable to make Panos and thus capture the world around us.


I was out Saturday doing the one thing I enjoy the most when not working on a specific project, cruising. I’ve found more great photographs by driving around, with a camera on my lap, watching the sky and the light then anywhere else. That’s the best part of being a photographer is discovering new places. This place I knew about but hadn’t shot there because I needed the right sky. I didn’t quite have it that day but there was one great cloud and that’s all it took.

To see the pano bigger click on the Image.

Now the top shot was the first image I took but I knew the moment I stopped this was a Pano opp. Using the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, I closed all the way down to capture as much detail as I could because when you’re doing a Pano, it’s going to end up really big! You want that detail if you are ever going to print it out. This was six frames that I then merged in ACR and converted with SilverEfex Pro. Now on this image I tried boundary warp to fill in the edges that weren’t there when the images were merged together. Normally I use Auto Crop which normally makes the Pano narrower, one of the disadvantages of that method. That didn’t happen with Boundary Warp. Now I was wondering if it would look off anywhere but it didn’t. Perhaps that’s because this was a landscape and there were no definitive lines, like with a building, but it’s definitely something I’m going to have to keep playing with and studying.

The Devil is in the Details

The little details do make a big difference and it’s important to pay attention to them all. When I went out on Saturday, the temperature was quickly rising after the storm on Friday, but the storm created these great ice rings on everything. Those ice rings created lots of simple small subjects that were just kind of interesting. The other factor that made everything interesting was the blue skies overhead and direct light on the water. Those two elements allowed for no color cast on the water and more vibrant colors to pop out. Simple things that tell the story of how nature works.

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

It’s Good to Walk with the Camera

Montana stills amazes me. Over the last five years I have been watching the weather a lot more closely to find better timing with my shooting and what fascinates me is how big the storms come through in November and December and then they seem to get smaller as far as accumulation in the valley. This past week we had a small storm come through on Friday and then Saturday it was right back to sunny and warm. Well the overnight drop in temperatures combined with the warming of the sun the next day made for a great day to be out.


A buddy of mine wanted to go fishing on the Gallatin and I went but I didn’t really fish I just walked and took pictures. Sometimes you just get that feeling where all you want to do is pick up the camera and this was that kind of day. It started off sunny sixteen but by 3pm it was back to overcast. Those few hours produced some images, all of which I was focusing on the ice flows, nevertheless it was a good day to just be out and those days are needed every now and then.

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

Better Find a Good Subject

When you’re faced with a bald sky day and you’re out shooting, you’d better be looking for a good subject. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing great clouds to make dramatic images, but not a lot of time out chasing on Sunny 16 days. They just were never that appealing to me. But if you’re out shooting on one of those days, you’d better find a a subject worth shooting. For me it would be critters. Now when it comes to the mountains on cold wintry days everything stays bedded down and then as soon as the sun pops out everything is moving around. On Sunday we had a storm come through and Monday would’ve been ideal for shooting critters but alas life got in the way of life. As for today, well it’s a good day to go skiing.


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