Monday Madness

I wish I had something classy and inspirational right now to say but with all the processing that I’ve been doing over the last couple days, I can’t think of anything. It’s been a great couple of days and tomorrow I’ll hopefully and have something better up but for now this one from the backyard will have to do.

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Going back to the old haunts

Over the years I have gone to some of the same locations over and over again in hopes of improving on the images I already have. Once you know of a good shooting spot, it’s good practice to go back there and challenge yourself to come up with something new or to improve. Well this spot I have gone to many times in all seasons. If you live in Bozeman and have fished the Gallatin River then you know where this is. I keep going here one to fish and two to shoot. It’s just a spot with great a great foreground and great trees but the hitch is always the sky.

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If you ever have heard my Dad talk about landscape photography then you’ve probably heard about the importance of clouds. I keep looking for that great sky that is going to be over this part of the river and thereby being reflected in the water. The problem is those clouds have to be over the south, over the Gallatin Mountains to be precise. And usually by sunset either there is no color left or the clouds have moved. I lucked out this time with a little bit of light and a little bit of cloud cover. Shot with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, it’s a vast improvement over the last image I took here but there is still room for improvement.

Using your backyard town

One of the frequent questions I get is how to get those good shots with just whats around town. Well a lot of it comes with patience and exploring. There is an amazing amount of opportunities right in everyone’s backyard that can yield some amazing results if only you stop and look for them. No I’m not saying I’m going to get great shots of the ocean or redwood trees or sky scrapers here in town so there is the reality that you have to go after what your environment provides. But think about it, would you rather practice on a trip were have x amount of time or around the house where time is less restrictive?

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As I posted yesterday I spent some time on one of my buddies ranches. It’s just one of the pluses of living in Montana and having those kind of friends. That’s part of my environment. While they were feeding the goats, the chickens and doing ranch maintenance I was putzing around watching the light. With the D4 and 24-70 AF-S in hand it was open season on the landscape. Thankfully there wasn’t bald skies. Quite the opposite in fact as one opening did form in the clouds. Some quick clicks and finishing in ACR. The total time for this was only about 90mins of shooting but that’s all it takes to get moving on that next step. No matter what the subject or where you are there is always something around to work with.

Fun out on the Ranch

One of the best things about living in Montana is that there is so much open land. A lot of that openness is just from the amount of ranches and farms that have bought those large chunks of land. The amount of houses and buildings in that proximity are very minimal throughout the valley. Well on the 4th I went out to my buddies ranch where his family usually does something fun for the holiday. After a beautiful morning with puffy clouds, we were all a little surprised when an afternoon thunderstorm rolled through. After fifteen minutes, the storm pushed through and we were left with a gorgeous afternoon. Since I already had my camera for fireworks, I went out cruising in the fields. I learned a valuable lesson that day, thistles and sandals don’t mix.

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In order to capture the range of light between the foreground and the sun, I had to use HDR. The beams of light over the green fields were a key aspect and losing that would create a loss in the images. The final touches were then brought out through ACR.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Shooting out Your Back Window

The holidays are over and it’s back to a regular work week, which means less time to go out shooting. That’s not such a bad thing as there are always ways to shoot while in the office. The easiest way is to setup a studio and play around with shots inside your office. But for us outdoorsy people that can’t stand being cooped up inside all the time, the simplest option is just to watch whats going on right outside your window. You’d be surprised what a little creativity can accomplish. Now if you’re reading this and looking at the image below you might be saying, it’s easy when you have that kind of backyard. Well in truth I don’t. There was a lot of other things in this image and I’m not ashamed to say that I removed a few ugly buildings. But the point is I was watching the light as it moved down this nice cloud right behind my house and with a few little tricks in the computer, that’s all the story is about.

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In the Camera Bag: Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

How much land is needed?

One thing I was taught along time ago or you could say something that I was told to think about was how much land do you need in the viewfinder when composing a shot? Sometimes the foreground and middle ground earth is important with telling the story. Then there are those times when they aren’t important. When photographing a beautiful Rocky Mountain sunset with a D4 and 14-24, and the sky has great clouds and great color, how much of that foreground earth is needed? The subject is the sky right? why not show just enough for a anchor and then leave out the rest.

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When it comes to telling the story it’s important to remember what the subject is and how best to show that subject, not just the rules to capture the image.

Combining the Natural World with the Modern

Something that I find very difficult to work with when it comes to landscape photography is dealing with the areas that have been affected by people. We always see beautiful majestic landscapes and want to create such moving images for ourselves but it’s not always easy to do so. Sometimes it comes down to just going to those iconic locations like Yellowstone, or Monument Valley, or Yosemite. But in photography everything comes down to the money put in and it’s not always possible to go to such iconic places on a daily basis. In order to keep up with photography though you have to constantly be practicing. So how do you resolve this issue?

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If you live in a beautiful place, like Montana, where majestic areas aren’t hard to find then the answer is pretty simple. But if you don’t, the only way to find a solution is to combine the modern world with the natural world. It’s not easy but there are ways to tell a story through the natural world with the inclusion of man made structures. Roads and pathways are great examples as they can lead your eye through an image to the subject. Now as I have said previously I do use Photoshop to work on my backgrounds especially when it comes to my aviation work. But it’s still best to get as much right in the camera as possible. If the image isn’t there when you click the shutter then it won’t be when you go to process it.

True Friday Fun

Saturday was a great morning shooting statics of the Dixie Wing’s planes there at Falcon Field. Of course after every early morning shoot there comes a time where you need a good breakfast and a cup of coffee. Well being in Georgia there was only one logical place to go, a nice cozy simple coffee shop. It was a really good cafe with great coffee and really good southern eggs and biscuits. But the cafe had one other really interesting feature. A View.

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This is the view of main street of Woodbury. That’s right for all you Walking Dead fans this is Senoia which was the set for the town of Woodbury. Naturally of course I had to get a few shots, so i grabbed the D4 handed it to my Dad and he snapped a few. Ah the simple pleasures.

Finding those Halmark Winter Scenes

As the whole country is engulfed in bad weather, up here in Montana we certainly have had our share with over a foot of snow just over this past weekend. We had a huge storm come through Friday-Saturday and finally it let up a little bit on Sunday. It’s great getting the snow we certainly do need it when Summer roles around but why does it always come in on the weekends? Well Sunday I was tired of being cooped up inside so with the break in weather I grabbed the gear and headed up into the Birdgers.

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This is what I found. It was great! I love finding trees that are just covered. There’s nothing like that fresh snow fall. Everything is clean, no tracks or footprints and the trees are all covered. The possibilities seem to just pop out at you as you can go from extreme closeups to abstracts. My favorites are often when the light falls so softly that you can’t tell if it’s a black and white or not.

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One thing I often look for is that one tree or that one clump of trees that just pop out. With the D3 and 70-200 VRII I just isolate that area and go for just the detail, not the whole scene. I was taught when working with snow is that it can be not only seductive but also overpowering at times. When you try and encompass everything in one image often times it’s hard to focus because of all the whites and blacks. That’s why it’s important to go with snippets here and there to compliment everything else.

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One very powerful tool to use when working with snow is a vignette. It’s a simple old school trick to bringing the eye down to one selective point. Personally I like using the darken and lighten tool in Color Efex Pro 4 to do this. By using that filter it’s much easier to isolate that one tree that originally caught your attention and you’re trying to bring out in your image.

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There are those moments of course when you just have to stop and look. This is one of those shots that I just had to do. On the middle of this snow covered mountain was a lone cabin. Everything else seems like a painting except that one orange dot. What a view that person must have.

The steam tells the story

This felt like the right series to end the week on. The last spot on the walk in the upper terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs, at least my favorite spot, had some unbelievable god beams going on which were being made from light going through steam. With the D610 this felt like a great opportunity to test the bracketing series for doing HDR’s. Well as it turned out it really wasn’t needed to capture what I wanted to in the image, so I’ll talk about that feature a little later. What did amaze me yet again was how much information was picked up with that 24.3 MPix censor. I just couldn’t believe how much is there with the highlights and shadows. The steam doesn’t just contain white and yellow variants in the light but also a mixture of blues and violets as the background of the steam changes with the texture of the hot spring. In my D3 this info wouldn’t be there or I would have to do an HDR to retrieve it but it’s there in these images.

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One thing some of you might be wondering is why I only shot with one lens giving the situation. Well simply put I had my sling bag on which contained more lenses. Now I use one of the Lumbar bags from Mountainsmith and a camera lens inserts inside that for extra security. Then with an addition of the backpack harness, I never have to worry about putting my bag down or not having what I needed. I use it in my aviation work as I carry around the bag at airshows. I’m sorry I don’t have a direct link to the bag as it is an older model, but you can find them here.

The other reason I only shot with one lens is, due to the steam from those thermals, I didn’t want to change lenses. That steam can do damage to the front and rear elements as well as inside the camera. That’s why you have to be careful when shooting into the steam and in this case, I waited for the wind to stop so that the steam was going straight up and not at me.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D610, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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