Using a Long Lens for Landscapes

When it comes to landscape photography there are a lot of tools you should have in your bag to get “the shot.” One of the tools that is often over looked is using a long lens. Now I’m not talking about 200 or 300mm but 400mm and up. A long lens allows you to do two main things, first you don’t have to get close to the subject which in landscape may not always be possible; and second, a long lens allows you to focus in on one specific area without any distracting elements. These two images I put up are examples of just that.

Both of these images were taken on the backside of Mammoth Hot Springs using the D5 and 200-400 VR. For those that have not been to this area of Yellowstone, the backside of Mammoth Hot Springs looks really cool but the boardwalk doesn’t let you walk by it. You can drive around it though and park, which is what I did. The top image is at 240mm which certainly shows more steam but with the overcast skies the steam gets lost. If it was blue sky and sunny it would look more dramatic. Since the subject wasn’t the steam at all but the mineral formations going in tight was the answer.

The bottom image is at 400mm and works better to show off the subject I had in mind all along, the patterns in the rock. Now I wasn’t even planning on doing landscape when I was out that day, I was looking for critters which was in part why I was setup with the 200-400. That being said, even if I didn’t have the 200-400 in my lap, I wouldn’t have grabbed the 24-70 to capture this image. It wouldn’t have worked. Long lens with landscapes can lead to some really great images if you look for them.

Vignetting in the Snow

Everyone has heard of a vignette and the effects it can have in a photograph. It can either be too much and ruin a potentially good photograph or it can be extremely effective and make an image stronger. It really depends on the story you are trying to tell and how much information is needed to tell it. One of the great things about shooting in winter and working with snow is it is a great time to use a desaturated or lightening vignette, which is the opposite of a darkening vignette. Most of the time when you use this technique it instantly becomes artsy and not natural. The snow brings in the balance.

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This backlit set of trees I photographed in Yellowstone a while back is a great example of where a lightening vignette can be effective. We had diffused light coming from a cloud screen, not overcast or full sun. The forest in the background was already somewhat faded because of the diffused light, but in order to exaggerate the feeling of being in this valley with the diffused light I used the desaturated vignette to make the background even more faded out. Because of the snow and the subject being backlit it feels more natural and almost more of a flare then diffused light. It’s a simple trick to use in your winter photography and should be kept in mind. Now I did shoot this before I had the D5 so I can’t wait to go back to see how much better I can make this.

Bison Always Make Good Subjects

Bison are one of those great American west animals that I truly enjoy photographing. Right now is a great time of the year to be out working with these big mammals because the the Spring calf’s are starting to drop. When I was out on Saturday in Yellowstone, I saw only three of four this year calf’s but a lot from last year. In fact there were Bison everywhere on Saturday which rather surprised me but it to lead to some great shooting towards the end of the day.

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Photographing large mammals, especially in the middle of the day, can be rather challenging between the light and the background. I spent quite a while watching the Bison and finally found a spot where they were gathering around a watering hole. This was a great spot because it added something different to the background besides the brown grass. It’s important to watch the color relationship between the subject and the background to find more interesting shooting scenarios.

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Now the whole time I was shooting I was hand holding the D4 and 200-400 VR outside my truck window. Not only was that way safe but also acted like a blind. The other big challenge when working with large game is the direction of the light. Because Bison have a very dark color to their hides, harsh shadows can really hide key features, like the eye. Finding the right subject and watching where he/she goes is key to getting the best shot. One other thing that can make a big difference when shooting in direct afternoon light is switching to cloudy white balance. This raises the kelvin temperature so the images appear warmer an more accurately reflects the feel of that afternoon light. With brown grass and a brown subject it makes both of those visually pop.

Respect and Responsibility

By now I imagine many of you have heard about the baby dolphin that died being passed around for selfies that happened on a beach in Argentina and made worldwide news. Normally I don’t post about issues like these on my blog because that was never the purpose of this blog. However, as I have spent many years working with the critters of this world I felt I should write something because what happened is just wrong.

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As photographers our job is to capture images of the world around us. In no way is any photograph worth endangering the welfare of yourself or the subject. While it wasn’t a photographer that made this horrible incident occur it was for the sake of a photograph. Selfies have become such an important thread in our pop culture now that the rules around them seem to not apply. It’s always who has the best one. In cases like this when there is another life present the rules have to be followed. I see this too often in Montana, in close proximity of Yellowstone, as too many tourists come up to take selfies with Bison. Inevitably they get gored. It’s stupid and shouldn’t happen. Just as the baby dolphin shouldn’t have been taken out of the water. When you’re out shooting either in front or behind the camera remember it’s not just about you.

The Morning Steam is Back

The temperature is finally starting to drop. This week we might actually be back in the below freezing temps at night here in the valley. This past weekend was the closing day of the interior of Yellowstone. Soon the snow coaches and snowmobiles will be bringing people into the park to see the splendor of Yellowstone in winter. This time of the year is one of my favorites because it brings about a change that I love to photograph, the great steam coming off of the geothermal rivers.

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I am in no way a morning person but the truly the best time to photograph the steam is in the morning. It is in the morning when the temps start to rise after a below freezing morning that the river really starts to talk. In the glow of the morning sun you’d swear you weren’t on this earth anymore. I shot this with the D3 and 24-70 AF-S, nothing tricky just a simple click of gods splendor.

Breaking up the Fall Color

This time of the year brings a lot of photographers outdoors to photograph the fall color. In Montana Yellowstone is one of the hot spots to go to in the fall because of the great fall color spots as well as the fall rut going on with the Elk. Fall has always been one of my favorite times to go out shooting, with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S on my lap, I just pick a direction and go.

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The one nice thing about working with fall color leafs is that you can’t really get it wrong. Everything from abstract to documentary is possible during this season. One thing that I always strive for is trying to find that balance while making a unique capture. I took this shot a couple years back because it was such a small grove of trees situated around a pine forest. The contrast of the two just made me stop and enjoy. It’s little things like that contrast that can make a big impact in your photography.

Get out and Enjoy the Parks

This week marked the 99th Anniversary of the National Park Service. 292 million people visited National Parks in 2014. What will the numbers be like this year? I don’t know. But I can tell you that I will be among those people this year. Will you? National Parks, Monuments, Historic Sights, and Memorials are some of the most inspiring and educational places in the United States to visit. I have spent a lot of time growing up in only a handful of the 408 National Parks in the U.S. and I can honestly say that every one of them is special.

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From the red rocks of Bryce Canyon.

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The valley floor looking up at El Capitan of Yosemite.

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The geysers of Yellowstone.

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The peaks of Glacier, everyone of these places holds a different story and a different photographic challenge. For some of these places I have still yet to capture that one image that symbolizes what that place has to offer but it is that challenge that keeps me shooting and hopefully, you as well.

The Details on the Hill

One of the joys of landscape photography, outside of the achs of trying to find that one romantic image, is finding that one spot that you can stop and bring in the whole picture as well as those little details in that picture. Snowy mountains are a great example of this as they have that great worldly winter scene to them but inside of that are the little snow mounds, the pine trees and the shadows of each imperfection of the snow as the light goes across it’s face. It’s real easy to get sucked into doing black and whites for a long time when you come across these scenarios and if the clouds are right then why not.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D4, 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Using Snow as a Fill Light

When it comes to Wildlife photography there isn’t always an option when it comes to lighting the subject. Often times it’s a matter of holding still and letting the critter do as it pleases. That’s where knowing your biology really comes into play. Knowing what that critter will do and how it will behave can help get that image when the time comes. Well, I have spent a lot of time working around big game, it kind of comes naturally living in Montana, and one of the best and worst times to work with them is in Winter.

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Winter time shooting can be one of the harshest times to shoot because of the extra light or lack of light. On Sunny days harsh light can be an understatement as the snow acts as a fill light on everything. It can be also a blessing when working with a dark critter like this Bison. Seeing how it’s back lit there really shouldn’t be any detail in the fur or face but the snow is acting like a reflector bouncing light in. With the D4 and 200-400 VR, all it takes is simple tracking along the path the other Bison have made to know where this one is going. On the other hand when it’s cloudy act that snow just becomes a grey blob that really isn’t that desirable. Keep in mind the trick is not only using the snow for light but also as a good background.

Fast Cards are as Important as Fast Bodies

I talk a lot about my travels and especially the shooting adventures from those travels. Well there is one thing that I don’t talk enough about and it is one of the smallest pieces of tech I carry with me in the field and is probably the most important, flash cards. It’s an amazing piece of technology when you consider how much storage space is on each of those little pieces of metal. Not only that but how important it is to have good ones. I have always used Lexar Flash cards in all of my cameras. They simply are the best. When I upgraded to the D4 it was with no question that new cards were a must. The file sizes would just eat up any small cards. The 64gig 1000x CF cards rock! There fast and dependable which is what I like. For when in that moment that you need that combo you don’t want to be left out.

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Last week when I was down in Yellowstone photographing Bison in the snow, I wasn’t worried about getting that image. I knew by waiting with the D4 and 200-400VR, that this female would eventually turn her head and the moment would be captured. When I got home, I uploaded the cards with the Lexar 3.0 Reader and in a couple minutes there it was for me to enjoy. If you haven’t checked out there line yet then you really ought to.

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