What I Learned Photographing The Californian Redwoods

•June 9, 2014 • 3 Comments
A Burst Of Light - Redwoods, California

A Burst Of Light – Redwoods, California

For the last five years I’ve taken spring trips down to the Californian Redwoods. Each year I take the trip with the hope of photographing the stunning rhododendrons with the fog and mist that occurs frequently in spring and summer. The last few years I have either been too early or too late. I have witnessed some stunning weather conditions in terms of fog and mist, which produced stunning crepuscular rays but no flowers. From past experiences it seemed to always occur in late morning light as the fog would rise and the sun breaks through.

Looking Up To The Sky - Redwoods, California

Looking Up To The Sky – Redwoods, California

 

 

This year I had the fortunate luck to have some fellow Photo Cascadia members teach a workshop down in the Redwoods a week earlier. They reported the rhododendrons we’re just about at peak and if I were to head down right away I would be arriving at the perfect time. So I packed up my bags and convinced the wife when needed a getaway. With some begging and pleading we headed down to California. As usual, we made a few stops along the southern Oregon coast and made the most out of the trip. In terms of weather reports I usually scout out a week early to see if the conditions are favorable but this this time I had to just head straight down there with no delays. The last four years I’ve seen crepuscular rays almost every day I’ve ever visited the redwoods in spring. So now all I needed to do was find a pleasing composition with both the fog and the rhododendrons, and possibly a burst of sunrays to top things off.

Redwoods Sunburst -  Redwoods, California

Redwoods Sunburst – Redwoods, California

 

 

If you have never been to the California redwoods it is an oasis of larger-than-life trees. Knowing where to photograph if you’ve never been or not done your research beforehand can be very challenging. With the Redwoods being as large as they are, it helps to know the best trails to capture all of the elements in one scene. The redwoods are broken into several areas that are quite spaced apart. Although similar to each other, each has its own distinct look when it comes to the layout. Every year it changes quite drastically in terms of where the rhododendrons are best for photographing. For my visit, the first thing I did was go to the visitor center and seek advice. They were very helpful in suggesting several trails that were excellent at the time. They also advised me in terms of where to be and when tin terms of placement of the breaking sun and fog.

Redwood Mystery Of Ancient - Redwoods, California

Redwood Mystery Of Ancient – Redwoods, California

 

 

Although I saw several sets of rhododendrons along the main highway in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, I would suggest not stopping along the highway as the cars came to close to the side to comfortably photograph. As in past years, I was recommended to hike the Damnation trail, which had several stunning areas of rhododendrons with the trails not being too busy with other people. To avoid crowds I suggest getting there first thing in the morning. Going early allows time to find a pleasing composition while waiting for the light to be just right. On a side note, many cars early in the morning were broken into in the parking areas as the highway is right there and is quick access for the thieves. On both mornings I was there cars have been broken into before I got there.

Forest Trail Sunray - Redwoods, California

Forest Trail Sunray – Redwoods, California

 

 

When it comes photographing, the rhododendrons in the California redwoods it helps to pre-visualize some possible compositions or scenarios you would like to shoot. I never visit a place with just one composition in mind, but I do research on the Internet beforehand. This allows me the opportunity to see what others are doing, and trying to take it on step further in terms of creativity and impact. For example, one of the images that stuck with me, was an image of the rhododendrons taken from the ground looking up at sky to also include perspective of the gigantic Redwood trees. The combination of these two together when photographed properly really brings a story to life. When light is available I always strive for mist or fog because this seems to really enhance the pink in the rhododendron flower and makes it pop in the image. Shooting later in the afternoon when the sun is out can be almost next to impossible to really get the impact of the color due to the harsh light. So to maximize the color in your images strive to photograph when the mist is present in the morning.

Trail Of Eden And Rhodies - Redwoods, California

Trail Of Eden And Rhodies – Redwoods, California

 

One of the challenges of shooting the rhododendrons is that many are located very high up on the tree. For this reason I would photograph with a lens that is medium telephoto. When I photographed with my ultra wide angle (14-24mm), the rhododendrons got lost in the scene. So I photographed with a 28– 300mm lens that allowed me to really bring the rhododendron in tight and maximize impact.

Descending Down Into The Valley Floor - Redwoods, California

Descending Down Into The Valley Floor – Redwoods, California

 

Because of the telephoto lens, compression also enhanced the important elements in the image. If you do shoot later in the afternoon when the sun is out, you will have to shoot multiple exposures or HDR. This is due to the extreme total contrast between the shadows and the light areas, which can be very challenging in the forest. I did shoot quite a bit in the afternoon, using multiple exposures. Unfortunately I was not happy with most of the results from shooting at this time.

So in summary, photographing the California redwoods is one of the highlights of my photography journey. Until you see them in person, it’s hard to grasp how tall these trees really are. When you combine these tall redwoods with all the elements at the same time it is pure heaven. To have success photographing the redwoods do your research, find where the rhododendrons are and try to time your visit with early morning sessions. But the most important thing is ,be patient and wait for early-morning weather changes when the fog rises and the sun breaks. This is more frequent than you would think, always leads to some spectacular images.

 

The Bursting Glow Of Light - Redwoods, California

The Bursting Glow Of Light – Redwoods, California

How To Successfully Photograph Northern Lights

•March 2, 2014 • 9 Comments
Northern Lights Over A Winter Cabin

Northern Lights Over A Winter Cabin

 

One of my dreams has always been to photograph the Northern lights under a fresh blanket of white snow. A few years I got a chance to photograph the northern lights in the Canadian Rockies. I happened to be on a workshop at Abraham Lake shooting winter landscapes when we received an unexpected stunning display of lights. At this point I had no experience and was not sure even how to do it; all I knew was the photography mantra, “expose to the right always”. So I made the mistake of shooting the northern lights for thirty seconds or more to get the scene exposure on the right side of my histogram. During my moments of excitement and panic I did not even think to look at the images just the histogram. I learned a hard less on that night as the final result was a series of images that had all been overexposed. This overexposure caused all the Northern lights to blend together with no detail or patterns. A lot has happened since then in term of camera equipment technology and photographer progress. These days with the year 2014 being a great year for Northern Lights I thought I would write a brief article on my experience and what I have learned.

Converging Points Of Patterns

Converging Points Of Patterns

When it comes to locations and where to find the right places to shoot the Northern Lights it always comes down to a few places that always win the hearts of photographers when it comes to visual beauty. As most know the Northern Lights are called that for a reason and that being they are seen in the higher areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The areas that I find the truly most scenic are Iceland, Norway/Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada/Yukon. Each has its plus and minuses which are beyond the scope of the article.

Northern Light Pancakes

Northern Light Pancakes

 

 

This year has been predicted to be a fantastic year for Northern Lights so I decided to do plan several trips this year based around the Northern lights. For my first trip I visited the countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and more specifically the Lofoten Islands. I had never been there and had seen all the images with fresh snow and snow capped mountain peaks. It was exactly what I had been looking for. From research I knew driving would be extremely difficult in the Lofoten Islands so I decided to take a photo tour where I would not have to worry about that. If you have ever photographed with me you know that was a smart decision. It was nice to be able to just be taken to places without worrying if I would end up lost and frozen somewhere in the night. Some nights it was -28 and a few seconds in this temperature and you felt the numbness already. The other advantage of taking a photo tour is the instructors will know the best places to go when the Northern Lights do happen. The last thing you want to be doing is trying to find a place when the lights occur. Not only was this advantageous to have instructors take you to these places but they also have the knowledge to know where it is most likely to happen and when. This was really helpful at night so that you did not have to stay up all night to look out the window when you have already been shooting all day.

Northern Lights Down At The Shore

Northern Lights Down At The Shore

So how are you suppose to shoot Northern Lights? Well the following is just my experience with it and what I found works best.

The first thing I want to talk about is shutter speed and how long you should expose for the image. This depends on the light available at each scene and the elements. The most important aspect I found to be essential to shooting lights is to make sure you don’t overexpose. What I found works best to capture detail in the Northern Lights is anywhere from five to twelve seconds. Anymore then this and the lights just blur into one another and you lose the stunning movements of the lights. I adjust the shutter speed based on how fast the lights are moving. When you get high action movement in the lights adjust your settings to have a shutter speed of five seconds. This short shutter speed will allow you to capture all the stunning patterns and movement of the Northern Lights. When the lights are barely visible I was up around twelve seconds. So in terms of my ISO I adjusted it so that I would be able to get the proper shutter speed.  I photograph with a Nikon D800 with a 14-24/2.8 lens so that camera and lens does really well with night photography. I found that most of my images were taken at ISO 1600 and a few at ISO 3200 for the short bursts of light. In hindsight most of the images that I took at ISO 3200 were too noisy for large printing. It goes without saying that newer cameras will do better with noise and low light situations. I also recommend using a lens that has an aperture of 2.8 or less. Shooting at f/4 lens I was not able to shoot the lights with minimal noise and fast enough shutter speed. If possible a 1.4 or 1.8 would be even more preferable. In terms of what type of lens to shoot in terms of length, I always look for something as wide as possible. Using a 14mm lens I was able to capture most of the patterns in one image. I have seen plenty of fantastic images with a fish-eye lens as well.

Frozen Reflections Of Northern Lights

Frozen Reflections Of Northern Lights

So what happens to the rest of the elements in the image when shooting specifically for the Northern Lights?

Well when shooting just for the lights the rest of the elements went completely dark and no detail. This meant I had to do another exposure just for the rest of the scene and manually blend the two images together in post processing.  It is vital that you use a strong tripod with a sturdy ballhead to prevent any kind of movement during the shot especially when shooting on the ice. The first night of shooting Northern Lights we visited a frozen lake surrounded by mountain peaks. The creativity of shooting Northern Lights has been getting better so fast, that the most creative images most always include the foreground with the Northern Lights. So being that I was on a frozen lake I looked for ice cracks that would act as great leading lines that would connect the foreground to the background lights. To properly expose the complete scene you need to take at least two images. One image should expose for the Northern Lights; a second image where you expose for the foreground and the other elements in the image. A critical element to exposure in the foreground is the elements present. If there is plenty of snow especially in the foreground your exposure will be much less. After the images are taken I usually shoot another image with my hand in front of the lens to signify the end of the series of images. Later in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Bridge I can stack those images as the same set or series. This is very helpful later on when trying to sort what image goes with what. So I shot the Northern lights at ISO 1600 for nine second and then exposed for the foreground ice, which was anywhere from thirty to sixty seconds. I then manually blended the two in Photoshop.

The next component to photographing Northern Lights successfully is Aperture and focusing. Aperture is a constant from my experience. I need to be at an aperture f/2.8 (lower if I had a faster lens) always to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture the patterns in the Northern Lights. Combining an aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 1600 allowed me to achieve a shutter speed of less then ten seconds. The trickiest part for me was the focusing. I started by focusing on the background first to make sure I got the Northern Lights in focus. I set this up by looking at my LCD live and focusing on a star in the distant sky. I then go in at 100% preview by pushing the plus button till I got a bright star in tight and rotated the focus till it was sharp. Once that has occurred you can shoot the background Northern Lights with the assurance you have those sharp. Double check after by checking the LCD review of the image and going in again at 100% to see all the stars are sharp. You know you are in the right area if you are focusing on infinity and then pulling back a smidge from that. If that all seems like too much work you can practice test shots during the day and marking on your lens where the background is in focus and use that mark on the lens later when shooting Northern lights. There are other ways that people use to focus on background stars but I found these methods worked best for me. Once you are confident the background Northern Lights are sharp, refocus for the foreground without moving the tripod or the camera position. If you are going to later blend the two images together in post processing there can be no movement in the camera. In my experience this was the hardest part in the process. I tried a couple of images where I shot one image focusing only on the background but all my foreground elements would be soft. So I would say it is imperative to refocus for a second shot. Once I got the hang of that process I took it one step further and took several images focus bracketing at several different increments blending all the images in post processing.

Best View In The House

Best View In The House

So how do you focus in the foreground when everything is in complete darkness? The answer is bringing some sort of light like a LED light or your headlamp. Find an object in the immediate foreground you will want to include in the image and then focus on that. Use the LCD preview and again go in at 100% to make sure everything is sharp. There are many ways that people offer when it comes to focusing on subjects in the foreground but for me I chose the most important element of the foreground I wanted and used that. That works well except if you are in a group or a workshop where everyone is photographing as well. Shooting with several other participants in the workshop in a wide open space with head lamps buzzing everywhere lead to contamination of light in most of my images. Even though people are spread out, any kind of light that people use can show up in your images. No matter how far away I seemed to get away from the group I could see other photographers flashlights in my images. So be wary if in a group situation. This can be very hard to overcome when shooting Northern Lights. Thus, I tried to avoid using any light and use my best estimate. This proved to be a big mistake and I lost several images to the foreground being soft.

Mystery Ocean Under The Stars

Mystery Ocean Under The Stars

So to overcome this obstacle I decided I needed to wait till the next day. I would practice during the daylight and mark my lens where the optimal sharpness point should be; choosing to focus on something one-third into the foreground scene. When testing I looked for a similar situation that I would find myself in while shooting the Northern Lights. I was looking for something where the foreground element would be similar such as a rock, ice crack, etc. This foreground subject would be right in front of me with the mountain peaks in the far background. Once I found the spot of optimal sharpness I marked this on my lens. I could then go straight to that focus point next time I was in the dark and shooting Northern Lights in a group situation. I want to note this was not the ideal situation and the focus was not always a 100% but it was the best I could do under the situation.

The last thing I did was take some time to just enjoy the Northern Lights without doing any shooting. Just enjoy the amazing show that so few people every get to see!

If you have any tips that you found helpful that would be great to know..

Shooting Wildflowers In Summer Season – Kevin McNeal

•October 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment
Mt Rainier At Sunrise From Tipsoo Lake

Mt Rainier At Sunrise From Tipsoo Lake

One of the most challenging aspects of nature photography is shooting the subject of wildflowers successfully. There are many aspects to learn and nothing is more rewarding when the outcome is positive. I have made many mistakes over the past few years shooting wildflowers and I hope to pass some of this wisdom down to other photographers. Having the right tools in your camera bag is essential to capturing impact in your images. The first goal when shooting wildflowers is to capture vibrancy and color in the wildflowers. When we look at images of wildflowers the first thing that captures our attention about these images is the color that seems to “pop “off the page. You especially want to have a lot of impact in the foreground to grab your viewer’s attention.

Morning LIght On Mt St Helens

Morning LIght On Mt St Helens

Therefore producing wildflower images that contain good color rendition and vibrancy are vital to the overall goal. To make sure that you are able to reproduce the colors you need a filter that can realistically take advantage of the bold colors and then allow it to come through in the image. The filter I turn to in all my wildflower images is the LB ColorCombo Polarizer. The filter offers two successful qualities in an image that boost impact. The first aspect in the filter is the color intensifier so that images taken with the filter will consist of vibrant and bold colors. In many nature scenes this might not be vital but when shooting wildflowers this is critical.

Lupine Surrounding Pond In Colorado Rockies

Lupine Surrounding Pond In Colorado Rockies

The essential component to shooting flowers is color. While improving color saturation it also renders the image with a natural color balance so that what you see is what you get. I have tried other filters in the past and found I was getting unusual colorcasts when I used their filters. Not only did I receive a colorcast with other filters but often the colors were also muted. With the Singh-Ray LB ColorCombo the results are excellent when it comes to reproducing accurate results. The second component contained within the LB ColorCombo that gives it a huge advantage over other similar filters is that it contains a warming polarizer within the same filter. In the past you would have to stack filters to get these same results. Shooting wildflowers there is always a certain mood you are looking to convey; I will always lean towards a warmer tone in the image as this really attracts more viewers to your image then cooler tones. So having a warmer within the polarizer I can really take advantage of this as well as gets the best of the warmer tones in the image like the reds and yellows. Thus, the color is accentuated yet remains natural in its overall tone.

Wildflower Meadow In Grand Tetons

Wildflower Meadow In Grand Tetons

One of the arguments I often hear is that I can recapture that color in RAW images so why is it necessary to have this filter. And it always comes back to the notion that it is vital to render the image as close as possible to how the scene was originally. You can add saturation and vibrancy later in post processing but the side effect to that is that you are pulling pixels from the image and thus destroying the image. This is especially prevalent in the shadow areas of an image. The effects become very visible when enlarging an image for larger print. When it comes to reproducing colors through RAW the images maintain their vibrancy without really having to increase the saturation past higher levels.

Van Trump Blazing Sunset On Mt Rainier

Van Trump Blazing Sunset On Mt Rainier

Another advantage I have noticed with the LB ColorCombo polarizer is the image rendered from the filter remains sharp throughout. With other filters I have noticed a dramatic reduction in quality pertaining to sharpness. This is critical when shooting something in the foreground close to the lens. Whenever shooting wildflowers there is always a fine balance between ISO and shutter speed. In the past I have had to shoot without a filter to capture the flowers without movement. The use of other filters has decreased the shutter speed and not allowed me to capture sharpness and detail in the foreground flowers. Shooting wildflowers with success is much easier now with the newer LB ColorCombo being one stop faster combined with newer cameras having the ability to shoot higher ISO’s with fewer noise pixels.
With the advantages of clarity, color rendition, and color saturation being natural and true to the subject when shooting wildflowers the use of the LB ColorCombo is a definite asset in your arsenal of photography tools.

Mazama Ridge Sunset On Mt Rainier

Mazama Ridge Sunset On Mt Rainier

Long Exposures In The Magic Hours – Kevin McNeal Photography

•August 21, 2013 • 4 Comments
Long Exposure Along the Oregon Coast At Cape Kiwanda
Long Exposure Along the Oregon Coast At Cape Kiwanda

One of the most challenging tasks in landscape photography is shooting long exposures during the periods of sunrise and sunset when the sun is visible. Over the years I have gotten better at it but there are a few simple things that I have done to improve my success. In this article I hope to share the single most important factor that has helped me to capture some of these rewarding images.

The most important aspect to successful long exposures during the magical hours is to use a quality Neutral Density Filter that blocks enough light. When I first started using ND filters I began with a cheaper filters and thus was not getting the results I wanted. I didn’t realize how the quality of the glass can affect the overall quality. After upgrading, I have only used quality Singh-Ray filters. The key to the Singh-Ray filters is their ability to achieve excellent results in terms of consistency, exposure, and colorcast free.  Overall the last few years I have visualized the possibilities of having a Neutral Density filter that would be strong enough to block out daylight and still allow you to get long enough exposures with the sun present. Shooting into the sun is already one of the most difficult things to get correctly. Adding a technical challenge of now shooting a long exposure looking into the sun would be even harder.

Rodeo Beach Sunset
Rodeo Beach Sunset

So when it comes to long exposures the filter I turn to most is the Singh-Ray 10 Stop Mor-Slo ND filter. The recent arrival of this new filter has allowed me to expand a whole new level of creativity in my images. Constantly trying to push the boundaries of long exposures has always been an objective of mine. So when Singh-Ray came out with a thin mount 10 Stop Mor-Slo filter I was really excited to take advantage of this unique filter. In terms of a Neutral Density filter, 10 Stops is a perfect amount of blocked light and opens the doors to a new level of experimentation. The Singh-Ray 10 Stop filter has the option of a thin mount so I can shoot wide-angle scenes and not worry about vignetting.  With other brand filters this has always been an impeding factor in using neutral density filters. This occurs because other brand filters dealing with Neutral Density filters are thick and thus the filter protrudes into the image. The thin mount on the Singh-Ray ND filter is thin enough that scenes can be shoot as wide as 17mm and not have any vignetting.

Aloha Sunset
Aloha Sunset

One of the most asked questions I receive when teaching workshops is why long exposures are important and how to go about this using Neutral Density filters. Shooting longer exposures even in times of strong sunlight allows the photographer to create images that most photographers have never seen before. I like to use longer exposures in my photography to create mood and a sense of calmness in the images. In the past, this was only possible in low light situations such as the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset. With the emergence of this filter long exposures can be taken at anytime of the day. This especially applies to images with elements of water such as waterfalls, rivers, and oceanscapes. This filter has not just opened new possibilities of creativity but has expanded the times of when I can shoot. I frequently shoot scenes with water at anytime of the day and combine this with the sun to really create unique images. The most rewarding has been the ability to shoot long exposures while the sun is setting or rising. When longer exposures combine with the strong elements of warm light the results are a juxtaposition of mood and drama. The final result is a uniqueness that is rarely seen in landscape photography and really draws the viewer into the image.

Rushing Waves Along The Olympic Peninsula
Rushing Waves Along The Olympic Peninsula

When it comes to Neutral Density filters other then the Singh-Ray, one of the main criticisms is the colorcast that is present in the image. This is very apparent in the higher number stops especially when the number of stops reaches 10 stops. With the Singh-Ray 10 Stop Mor-Slo ND filter there is no colorcast. This filter not only negates the colorcast but also adds a deeper richer color to the final result. The longer exposure produces a more vivid color in the more saturated colors in the image. The reply most people tell me who don’t want to use quality ND filters is it is easy to remove the color cast in post processing. But these days, many publishers, editors, and photo contests are asking to have the RAW image submitted with the final image. The last thing you want in your RAW image is a color cast that is nothing like the final image. The other reason I use the high quality Singh-Ray ND filters is I want to get as much right in the camera as I can, so I minimize my post processing. There is a certain satisfaction when the image out of camera is close to how you visualized it.

The most important factor why I use the Singh-Ray 10 Stop ND filter is the lack of ghosting and banding that occurs in lesser quality ND filters that range from 5-10 stops of light. This irregularity of consistency from lesser brand ND filters cannot be fixed in post processing. The banding occurs across the image and causes inconsistencies in exposure and destroys the image. With Singh-Ray ND filters there is no banding, posterization, or uneven exposures in the image. The final image is a clean, colorcast free image that wows your audience and allows you to explore new areas of creativity. When it comes to excellent results with long exposures from Neutral Density filters, the high quality of Singh-Ray ND filters is the most important element.

Long Exposure Along The Big Sur Coastline
Long Exposure Along The Big Sur Coastline

Photographing Yellowstone National Park in the Winter by Kevin McNeal

•March 7, 2013 • 4 Comments

Grand Prismatic Sunset

This past week I had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park in the winter. I have wanted to photograph this special place in winter conditions but never had the chance. Well my wishes came true this week and I was given the opportunity to co-lead a Yellowstone Winter workshop with three other great instructors. Being that is was my first time in the park I was a novice and was prepared to make some mistakes. I believe each park has its own special qualities that capture the essence of it. Needless to say, I learned so much from this past workshop. Not only from the other instructors but the students as well. So if I went back I would do a few things different that will help other photographers visiting Yellowstone in the winter. The following are some helpful hints if you decide to photograph this majestic place in the winter.

Eye In The Storm

Firstly, bring all your lenses from widest to telephoto. You will need a lens capable of at least 300mm. I only brought a 70- 200mm L and I found out quick that was not nearly enough. I was constantly finding scenes that were stunning but did not have the lens to capture it. If you have a 100-400L lens that should appropriate for most scenes in the park. Whether you are shooting wildlife or landscapes I found that I was restricted to where I could shoot from because of the snow. In past situations I would move closer to the subject but when you are photographing with others this is not something that can be afforded to you. When getting around in Yellowstone during winter conditions park access is restricted to snowmobiles and snow cats. During our time in the workshop the group was divided into two snow cats. To book snow cats you can do that in West Yellowstone where we made it our home base. In West Yellowstone you can find adequate accommodations and food as well.

                                 Secondly, I would have held my camera in my hand while in the snow cat. Many chances to capture wildlife happened in a split second and by the time you reach for your camera it was too late. You have to be open to the idea of hand holding your camera and shooting through the snow cat windows (they keep the windows very clean) as this is your only opportunity in many cases. I have always been a tripod kind of person, so I had to adjust to new circumstances. This included shutter speeds and aperture which are completely different if you are hand holding. The other problem is the snow cat does not stop every time you see something you would like to shoot. The snow cat only makes stops where the majority of the photographers in the vehicle would like to stop. The emphasis was primarily on wildlife in the park.

Last Light Geysers

Thirdly, I did not bring a wide enough range of clothing with me on the trip. The mornings were very cold, well below zero but the afternoons really warmed up. I found I brought enough cold apparel but not enough clothes for warmer weather, which was also breathable. Especially when the snow cat would stop for long periods of time. You would get cold exiting the snow cat but as soon as you moved around you would sweat immediately. I needed some clothes that adapted to all the particular situations. For example, clothes that were not just breathable but also have zippers down the side making it easier for quick access depending on the situation. Also make sure to bring gloves that can provide access to your camera controls, as you are not going to be taking your gloves off. Many students did not have this option and unfortunately ended up back in the snow cat due to the cold conditions.

                              Lastly, the most important thing I would do different is time my visit to coincide with better photography weather. As I was involved in co-leading a workshop I did not have this option. Timing the weather conditions is very hard to do in this park but can be done. If you can see that the weather calls for favorable conditions in the park a few days ahead make the trip, as it will be definitely be worth it. If possible fly in to either Idaho Falls airport or Jackson Hole airport; both airports are within a few hours of the park. The best place to make accommodations is West Yellowstone. Prices are reasonable for accommodations and transportation. Reservations can be made here for transportation into the park. When I visited this past week the conditions in terms of snow were not ideal. If I traveled by myself I would have waited it out in West Yellowstone before making the trip inside the park. There is a high probability of snow most days in the winter so waiting it out should not take too many days.

The Variety Of Colors In Yellowstone

In conclusion, each photographer will have a set of ideals that are important to him or her when photographing in Yellowstone during winter season. From my experience, these simple tips can go a long way to improving your success in the park.

Introduction To Winter Photography – By Kevin McNeal

•March 5, 2013 • 8 Comments

Winter is a special time for photographers who enjoy the challenges and the rewards that come with winter photography. Dedication comes to mind, when we think of photographers that enjoy adventures in subzero temperatures, to capture images that other photographers would not be willing to even consider.

A trip to the park in summer means hot weather, overcrowding, and congestion. On the other hand, winter is the perfect time to try shooting some unique perspectives of your favorite places. The solitude and peacefulness of a winter scene takes on a new persona and allows the photographer to see it in a whole new light. What really makes winter special for the photographer is the chance to be out in nature on a more intimate level. This time alone in nature makes one really think about what it is they are to trying to capture, and how they are going to relate this to their audience. Winter photography can be very rewarding if one prepares themselves for the challenges of colder temperature. There are a few simple tips that will make your winter adventures more enjoyable.

The following three concepts are equally important to the enjoyment and longevity of winter photography: 1) clothing; 2) camera equipment, and 3) the picture-making process.

Common among these elements is the notion of preparation for all winter conditions you may encounter. An absence of planning in winter can deter any photographer from further experiencing the true beauty of winter.

When it comes to shooting in the winter, weather can be unpredictable. The best way to prepare for weather is to expect anything in the winter. Therefore, dressing appropriate for the situation is fundamental for winter photography. When it comes to dressing, it is necessary to plan ahead for situations of changing weather. Preparing the body for winter includes wearing something light and loose, so the body can regulate the escape of body heat.

Shooting in colder temperatures, the body temperature changes dramatically between hot and cold depending on the activity. As photographers are well aware of, photography can vary in terms of activity levels. Anticipating this level of activity means wearing clothing that can be easily opened with zippers in specific areas of the body for fresh ventilation and not wearing multiple layers that cause the body to overheat. For a photographer who already carries heavy camera equipment, dressing in layers is not ideal. The kind of clothing recommended is some form of loose fitting, breathable jacket that has zippers, allowing the photographer to quickly open and close depending on the level of activity. Also, it is important to wear clothes that leave no area of the body exposed to the colder temperatures. Always wear a warm hat to avoid excessive heat loss through the head. Research shows that seventy percent of one’s body heat can be lost by not wearing a hat in colder climates. In addition to a warm hat, wear pants that are fully waterproof, yet comfortable so that different types of shooting can occur. For example, photographers sometimes like to kneel in the snow to get closer to the subject. The ability for a photographer to move around comfortably and stay dry is critical. In terms of footgear, boots need to be waterproof, insulated, and high enough around the ankles to prevent leakage of snow. Gators, which are water resistant equipment that goes around footgear from the ankle to the knee, and keeps the snow from getting inside the boots are Recommended.

The one piece of equipment that most photographers wear incorrectly is gloves. Although most photographers wear some form of warm lining or gloves, most will wear gloves that do not have fingertips. They believe that fingerless gloves can help the photographer manipulate easier the camera controls. The truth is, most winter conditions are cold enough that exposed fingertips will hinder any finer control movements of the camera, thus being unable to operate the camera properly. The better option is to wear gloves that have removable fingertips that are held by strings from the body of the glove to the fingertips. Depending on the activity the fingertips can be easily removed or put back on. When it comes to enjoying your time in winter, the right type of clothing can make all the difference between a good and bad day. What about the ‘Tech Gloves’ that have a special end on the first and index fingers for working camera controls? I bought a pair at REI yesterday.

The most neglected area of winter shooting is winterizing camera equipment. What do you mean ‘winterizing camera equipment’? As I understand it, the modern digital cameras do not need to be winterized like the old film cameras. There are a few important considerations to be aware of when preparing camera equipment for winter. Keeping batteries warm should be separate from any winterizing. Do you find that batteries recover when warmed up? Depending on how cold the temperature is, one common problem prevalent among photographers is short-term camera battery life. Results vary on temperature and camera model, but it is safe to assume that batteries might only last a few minutes in cold weather. Do you ever put one of those hand warmers on the camera to keep battery area warm? Therefore, always carry extra batteries in the winter. Carry the extra set in a warm area like a pocket close to the body. This keeps the spare batteries warm and ready to switch out when the current batteries lose their power. Throughout the day continue to switch out the cold batteries with the warm ones for longer shooting.

Another common problem with camera equipment in winter is the condensation that occurs on a camera from changes in environments. Very cold air has very little water vapor, it is dry. When a camera comes from a cold outside environment to a warmer and more humid environment area like a heated vehicle, water vapor can condense on the outside and inside of the camera. Water inside the camera can cause the electrical components to malfunction and corrode. To avoid this, bring a large Ziploc or large trash bag to keep the camera inside until the temperature inside the bag is roughly the same as room temperature.

It is imperative to realize that mistakes are common when you are new to winter photography and every individual will have different things that work for them. Success comes with perseverance, and learning from mistakes is the key to continued involvement in shooting. Try different things by experimenting with different types of adventures, varying length, weight load, and locations. Take some early trips near home and figure what works for your style. These starter trips also give the body a chance to acclimatize to the colder conditions and build tolerance over time. Once everything is ready to go with your clothing and equipment, the only thing is to reward the winter experience with some great images.

Photography in the winter is a lot different than any other time for a variety of reasons. The main obstacle in the picture making process is the challenge of exposure. When evaluating exposure, the camera meter cannot give an accurate reading for white subjects like snow or ice. This is because snow fools the camera meter in trying to average out the luminosity of the snow, and ends up turning the snow grey rather than white. To get around this exposure challenge you must open up one or two stops on the camera to retain the highlights. Proper exposure varies depending on the light available. It is recommended to bracket images whenever the camera’s meter cannot give an accurate reading. Bracketing in one-stop increments beginning at an even exposure bias (0) and extend the exposure bias by plus/minus two stops at either end. A common solution to this exposure challenge is to take an average reading with your camera’s spot meter of a subject such the base trunk of a tree.

The single most important element in improving winter photography is working with the light. In wintertime, the light quality is unique, as frequent changes in weather take place. These weather changes make the clouds susceptible to more movement, thus more opportunities to capture the transient light. Transient light can be described as changing light that occurs as clouds interact with the sun’s luminosity. This diffused light at sunrise or sunset can lead to dramatic lighting that is accentuated by the contrast of the white snow. As well, in winter, light at sunrise or sunset lasts longer allowing the opportunity for longer periods of shooting. To capitalize on this opportunity look for situations that allow for side lightning that pronounces a subject’s features. Side lighting not only enhances the contours and shapes of the subject but it gives the image depth. Depth to an image draws a viewer into an image and makes it more interesting.

To make the most of winter weather, track weather systems in your local area and be present when these weather changes occur. Snow is a natural reflector of light so incorporate subjects into your composition that will reflect color into the image. Subjects that can improve compositions in winter situations are icicles, ice rim, frosted subjects, and natural shapes outlined in the snow. Capturing light in winter can lead to very dramatic images that stand out. Impact is important in pleasing images, and balancing composition with stunning colors is the way to achieve this. Rewarding winter images are possible when you learn to read and understand the light. Preparation is essential and visualizing your subject beforehand and how it will react with the light is important. Once you learn how to control the light you can use the combination of winter elements to make available light work to your advantage.

In conclusion, preparation is the unifying concept that ties all these recommendations together. It’s the combination of successful planning that makes it even more pleasurable when everything comes together out in the field. Success follows those that prepare and envision what they are trying to capture. Winter is a great time to get out and try something new. Take time to enjoy what you are doing and make sure to come back with some great images.

How Much Is Too Much Photoshop ?

•October 17, 2012 • 12 Comments

Thors Well Sunset – Oregon Coast

For example, some photographers choose to combine multiple exposures together in a process known as HDR. This method captures the whole tonal range of the scene from darkest to light by combining several exposures together. HDR images have become a subject of much controversy over which people have a wide range of opinions.The results vary from beautiful to “over the top”.  Some who lean more toward traditionalism feel that every photographic image should come from a single exposure and that each image should be presented as it was captured by the camera. For me I use a combination of methods that enable me to achieve a final image that tells the story I want to tell. From my perspective there is no right answer to which approach is correct.

For the non professional photographer each is entitled to his own vision and each has the right to present it as he sees fit. What about the professional photographer? Do they have an obligation to present the scene as it is in the camera or are they allowed to have creative freedom when it comes to post processing? These days it is not uncommon for magazines and photo contests to request that images avoid excessive Photoshop and to attach the original image with the final results.

With the advancements of Photoshop, photographers are now creating images that cross the boundaries into “digital art”. In other words the image combines elements from multiple images or doesn’t resemble anything that could be found in nature. The results are often stunning and beautiful, but the image may look more like a painting than a photograph based in realism. Personally speaking, when it relates to selling images the competition is fierce and often publishers will make a decision to choose an image based on a thumbnail. Therefore, the images chosen often look unnatural. You can see evidence of this in magazines, calendars, and even photo contests. There is no arguing that brightly colored and stylized images are popular these days.

If you make a living from photography what are the guidelines when it comes to realism? I don’t have the answers but I know, in an effort to express myself and my artistic vision, that I often push the limits as far as I can. I am grateful to make my living as a photographer. It seems that as photographers become more skilled in the art of digital image developing the debate over the use of new digital image developing techniques versus a more traditional approach to photography will continue.

 
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