Advantages To A Cruise Vacation For Photographers

•November 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

 

Coming Into Nassau Bahamas

Coming Into Nassau Bahamas

 

Looking out at the turquoise waters of the Caribbean from the cruise ship, I think of all the advantages one has when vacationing on a cruise ship. I began my enthusiasm for photography while working on a cruise ship and have seen some unforgettable places. A different day in a different port; this was the life aboard a cruise ship. It wasn’t long before all I could think about was my photography and capturing the beauty of the next exotic location. I was hooked and photography had me.

 

The Heart Of South Beach In Miami Florida

The Heart Of South Beach In Miami Florida

I quickly realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Fast forward to present day and I am fortunate enough to be living out my dream. Even though I do not work on the cruise ship anymore, I still like to take cruise ship vacations with my family. There are many advantages to photographing on a cruise ship rather than a vacation where you remain on land. In this article I’d like to explain why your next vacation should be a cruise vacation.

 

Island Of St Thomas in the USVI

Island Of St Thomas in the USVI

Firstly, cruising allows me to see several places in a short period of time. When it comes to photography there’s just never enough time to see all the places you want. I often find myself wanting to see more destinations than time can allow. Cruising gets me closer to this goal. It allows me the opportunity to see a new port or city every day. I realize that cruising is not for everybody as many photographers and people really like to explore a place and get to know it intimately. On the other hand, there are photographers like myself who enjoy seeing as many places as possible. Each place or city offers its own unique perspective. Capturing the essence of each place and telling its story is what first got me excited about photography.

Sailing Away From The British Virgin Islands

Sailing Away From The British Virgin Islands

 

 

And this is what I try to convey in my pictures. In preparation for each place, I take notes, read books, and gather all the information I can. There are many travel books, travel forums, and sites that can assist you in getting familiar with each place. Also, I often will look at Lonely Planet books, Trip Advisor forums, and cruise ship excursion feedback to get all the information I need. Once I’ve gathered all this information, I choose a guide to privately show me the island, or an excursion set up by the ship to get me to all the places I need in the quickest time. Using a private guide helps me find the best places that often tourists don’t find in terms of hidden gems of the island. At the end of each day, I make a summary of where I went, what I like, and what I would do differently.

 

One of the outer islands in the Bahamas Chain

One of the outer islands in the Bahamas Chain

This helps me in the process of narrowing the places that I would like to re visit. From this, I choose one or two places I would like to spend more time exploring and do a vacation on land by way of a hotel. For example, I was able to visit Turks and Caicos by cruise ship and was enthralled with it. The color of the water, the friendliness of the people, and the variety of landscapes were absolutely amazing. I recently was able to revisit Turks and Caicos, but this time I stayed at a resort. This afforded me the opportunity to stay longer and really explore.

 

Coming Into the Port Of Miami

Coming Into the Port Of Miami

Secondly, an advantage to a cruise vacation for photography is the vantage points and perspective it will capture. To be more specific, the ship sails into port from sea and gives a perspective of the city at sea level. The ship’s height gives you the vantage point of shooting elements from high elevations. The high elevation of the ship gives the image an aerial look. Cruise ships come early in the morning to the ports, take advantage of this opportunity. Find a position high up on deck and capture first light. The combination of the early morning light and higher vantage point makes for outstanding photography. The other advantage in terms of perspective, is the port is usually located in the central part of town and gives you a good overview of what you can expect. To be more specific, it gives me a good lay of the land and gets me right in the middle of the action.I’m able to photograph the heart of a city in great light and from unusual perspectives.

 

One of the many islands in the USVI

One of the many islands in the USVI

 

The next advantage that I find while cruising is that it forces me to slow down. Often when I am on a land-based vacation, I am always going from place to place trying to get to as many destinations as possible. I find that I am so rushed that I don’t take the time to really tell my story. Photographing while you’re cruising give you an allotted time to photograph and then you are back on the ship and you can relax. This gives me time to reflect on what I photographed and really embrace the experience. It gives me the time to prepare for the next port and spend time with my family. I think many photographers feel a rush to capture everything and, as a result, don’t take the time to really enjoy the moment. The ship sets the hours I can photograph and allows me to relax when back on board.

Coming Into The Bahamas

Coming Into The Bahamas

 

Lastly, the advantage of cruising while on a photography trip is the people you meet. I meet people from all over the world who are curious to know what I’m doing and I like to share my experiences. Mutually, we learn so many things about each other as well as new places to photograph.

 

The Outer Islands Of Bahamas

The Outer Islands Of Bahamas

Cruising is not for everybody, but it does hold a special place in my heart. It offers me the chance to see several places in a short period of time, photograph places from rare perspectives in great light, and meet people from all over the world.

Why Mount Rainier Makes The Perfect Place To Photograph In Autumn

•October 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment
Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

A unusual lenticular cloud and fall color from Mazama Ridge on Mount Rainier

Fall colors and Mt Rainier from Bench Lake

Fall colors and Mt Rainier from Bench Lake

Autumn is my favorite time for photographing in the Pacific Northwest. There are many places to capture fall colors, but nothing quite compares to photographing Mount Rainier in autumn. The Pacific Northwest and Mount Rainier make the perfect combination of elements needed for stunning images of fall photography. Not only is Mt Rainier known for its larger than life size, but also it picturesque lakes, waterfalls, meadows, and tundra.

Stunning display of fall colors and late afternoon light from Mazama Ridge

Stunning display of fall colors and late afternoon light from Mazama Ridge

Although it varies year to year, I find the best time for fall colors is the last week of September to Mid-October. The color usually lasts until the first week of November when the snow first starts. Check fall reports on the Internet and the Mt Rainier website for more up to date information. There are two main areas to visit when going to Mt Rainier,  the Paradise and the Sunrise sides. Both have excellent fall color and a host of different aspects to photograph.

Fall displays of color in Paradise Meadows beneath Mount Rainier

Fall displays of color in Paradise Meadows beneath Mount Rainier

In my experience, the fall colors start a few weeks earlier on the Sunrise side. The best places to photograph on the Sunrise side are Yakima Peak, Emmons Glacier (Silver Forest Trail), and the Tipsoo Lake area.

Take time to explore around Tipsoo Lake, especially the Naches Peak trail and both the Upper and Lower Tipsoo surrounding lakes. Early morning around Tipsoo Lake usually has a host of colors and mist that make for excellent atmospheric images. When photographing in late September the stunning sunrises make for great fall conditions.

Images from the Southern Oregon Coast

From Above Tipsoo Lake On The Sunrise Side

First change of colors from Lower Tipsoo Lake on Mt Rainier

First change of colors from Lower Tipsoo Lake on Mt Rainier

In terms of the foliage, red huckleberry and larch is what you can expect to find on Mt Rainer. The other types of foliage you see are cottonwoods, willows, elderberry, aspen, tamarack (western larch) and evergreen trees. Although there are several types of foliage to shoot in autumn on Mt Rainier, my personal favorite is the Red Huckleberry. Visually, the red is very impactful and always sticks out above other fall foliage. When photographing try to incorporate the red huckleberry with areas of water like lakes and ponds. The reflection of the red foliage mirrored looks stunning.

The road up to Mt Rainier and the Tatoosh Range

The road up to Mt Rainier and the Tatoosh Range

The first sign of fall color is the red huckleberry, followed by larches in the later stages of autumn.When it comes to photographing on the Paradise side of Mount Rainier I like to start off by looking for fall colors at the Paradise Inn. The area around the Inn has a great view of the mountain. The best displays of fall color right can be found right at the visitors center.

Fall color and the mountain enveloped in cloud formations from just above the Paradise Visitor Center

Fall color and the mountain enveloped in cloud formations from just above the Paradise Visitor Center

Heading up the pathway to Myrtle Falls, the fall colors and view of the mountain only get better. Try to incorporate waterfalls from the Paradise Side.

Myrtle Falls and sunset explosion of red

Myrtle Falls and sunset explosion of red

A Trail Of Color and Myrtle Falls Beneath Mt Rainier

A Trail Of Color and Myrtle Falls Beneath Mt Rainier

Although the hike can be somewhat strenuous, the hike is worth it. If you keep along the path they converge into the Paradise Valley where the mountain is in full view. If you turn 180 degrees away from the mountain you get grand views of the Tatoosh range. The Tatoosh Range looks best at sunset.

Overlooking the Tatoosh range from Paradise Meadows on Mt Rainier

Overlooking the Tatoosh range from Paradise Meadows on Mt Rainier

The perfect spot to see the Tatoosh Range At Sunset in fall colors

The perfect spot to see the Tatoosh Range At Sunset in fall colors

When the weather looks active and the clouds are moving in, the Paradise Meadows also makes a great sunset spot.  Sometimes the clouds block views of Mt Rainier. However, the colors on the Tatoosh Range look excellent. In essence, the Paradise Meadows is your safest bet if you are looking to capture some fall colors on the mountain.

If you continue up the hill past Myrtle Falls, you will eventually reach the Mazama Ridge. It’s my favorite area to see the mountain and fall color. With wide-open meadows of vibrant color, and full views of the mountain it makes for an excellent combination.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images of Mt Rainier from Mazama Ridge and A Lenticular Cloud Buildup

The total hike in and out from the Mazama Ridge is about 4 miles. There are several areas to stop along the way to photograph fall colors. If you like to shoot reflection images of the mountain, you can’t do better than both the Reflection and Bench Lake areas.

Images from Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest Of Washington State

Images from Mount Rainier and Bench Lake

Early morning atmospheric mist at the beginning of autumn along the Reflection Lakes Trail

Early morning atmospheric mist at the beginning of autumn along the Reflection Lakes Trail

I always make an annual stop at these lakes early in the morning to capture both atmospheric mist and fall colors.The hikes around the lake also present many possibilities to shoot more intimate shots of autumn.If you are looking to capture images of fall color and forest scenes, then head into the Grove Of Patriarchs. Many short hikes in this forest provide stunning forest views of the tall trees and fall colors.

Intimate image of autumn within the Grove of Patriarchs loop

Intimate image of autumn within the Grove of Patriarchs loop

To get really creative, try photographing really low to the ground and aim straight up with the camera. Look to combine both  fall colors and evergreen trees together. With so many places to photograph on Mt Rainier, you always have many options available.

If you are lucky enough to live close to the mountain, September is a great time to watch the mountain for unusual weather activity. The elevation of Mt Rainier is so high it creates its own weather system. Therefore, your chances of seeing unusual weather patterns like lenticular cloud buildup is quite possible.

The formation of a lenticular cloud around Mt Rainier from the Paradise Visitor Center

The formation of a lenticular cloud around Mt Rainier from the Paradise Visitor Center

In layman terms, lenticular clouds are those clouds that look like UFO’s in the sky. They are caused by encounters with obstructions in the sky like very high mountain peaks. Known also as “wave clouds” they make for very interesting patterns and when combined with fall colors make for ideal conditions. In autumn, I check the webcams quite often looking for a buildup of these clouds as it takes often several hours to develop. The Paradise Valley makes for one of the best spots to see this unique weather pattern. Another place that I will often see these weather patterns is along the Silver Forest Trail, which is about .5 of a mile from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center.

Late afternoon light and a lenticular cloud combine for a stunning moment along the Silver Forest Trail on the Sunrise side of Mt Rainier

Combine all of the elements of unusual weather, stunning sunrises, and atmospheric conditions and Mt Rainier makes for the perfect autumn spot to photograph.

What I Learned From Co-Hosting A Photo Walk By Kevin McNeal

•September 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I recently got the chance to co-host a Photo Walk in Vancouver, BC, Canada with 500px. We also had the luck to have Fuji as a sponsor for the event and to have a representative from Fuji join us. About 80 people participated in the Photo Walk. There were lots of Fiji giveaways and everybody walked away some goodies including a lucky participant that won an underwater camera.

For those that were wondering what exactly a Photo Walk is. Here is the short answer; it’s an organized photo event that brings photographers together from all walks of life with a common interest in taking pictures.

There are many benefits to joining a Photo Walk in your local area. It gets photographers together with like-minded goals. It introduces you to the events and organizations that are in your area that have to do with photography. Also, it gives you the chance to meet all kinds of people with diverse backgrounds that, when together, share ideas and thoughts. The Photo Walks often take place in an area of the city that really highlight the area’s beauty. It’s a great way to see your city as well learn new things.

For this Photo Walk I choose the Vancouver Seawall in Stanley Park as the place to meet the group of photographers and really showcase Vancouver’s stunning city skyline views. Vancouver is well known around the world for its tall buildings and gorgeous harbor views of the city. The Vancouver Seawall is just a short walk from the main downtown area, yet allows one to feel like you are far enough away from the city to really enjoy it without the crowds.

The group started at the historic Vancouver Rowing Club and worked its way around the seawall shooting all different perspectives of the city skyline. Right away we encountered a great spot for photographing fall colors. Some people got adventurous and laid on the grass and took turns photographing the fall leaves. The photo below is an example.

Fall Colors Along The Vancouver Seawall

Fall Colors Along The Vancouver Seawall

The shooting of the fall colors gave the group a great chance talk about the potential of an important concept in nature photography called High Dynamic Range or HDR. High Dynamic Photography is the process of taking multiple exposures of the same scene with different exposures and combining them into one exposure. The final exposure is made up of all the exposures and thus has a wider dynamic range of exposure in a single image. Some had done it before and others were learning about it for the first time. People also shared some of their tricks when shooting, as for example, when shooting into the sun at an aperture of f/22. After finishing shooting the fall colors and trees along the seawall the group moved on to shoot the inner harbor and city skyline. Everyone was eager to learn all about the different ways to shoot the city as well as learn about their camera settings to take advantage of the light. We choose a time to photograph near sunset to show of the late light of twilight on the cityscape as shown in the examples below.

The Vancouver City At Sunset From Stanley Park

The Vancouver City At Sunset From Stanley Park

Sunburst Shining Off The City Skyline Buildings

Sunburst Shining Off The City Skyline Buildings

Canada Place as the sun sets

Canada Place as the sun sets

We were also fortunate enough to get a near full moon that gave the group more opportunities to shoot late into the night. The group made its way along the seawall noting some of the local wildlife such as the harbor seals. People also took time to talk about photo equipment and what cameras and lenses to use and in what situations to use them. With a wide diversity of cameras and tripods the group tried out several different pieces of equipment including some newer lenses by Fuji. The Vancouver Seawall is also in my opinion one of the best places to shoot panoramas of the city with reflections. So the group got together and did some panoramas that worked out great with the light and the location. The scenes below show examples of panoramas.

The Vancouver City Panorama At Sunset From Stanley Park

The Vancouver City Panorama At Sunset From Stanley Park

The City At Night And Vancouver Seawall

The City At Night And Vancouver Seawall

The sun began to set in the west and the last of the day’s light hit the Vancouver landscape city skyline. This gave the group an opportunity to shoot a group photo of some of the participants, which people can share. We managed to all squeeze close enough with the backdrop of Vancouver.

Vancouver Photo Walk 2015

Vancouver Photo Walk 2015

Eventually we made our way back to the start of the Photo Walk continuing to photograph the city at night with all its glorious reflections in the water. The group even found a way to shoot at night without a tripod by placing the camera on the seawall ledge, which made for a great impromptu tripod.

Twilight Pinks And A Full Moon Over Stanley Park

Twilight Pinks And A Full Moon Over Stanley Park

During the few hours together we got to know each other and made new friends. We also learnt lots of new things about Vancouver and photography.

The night ended with people exchanging contact information and well as the promise to post their images on their Facebook page.

Co-hosting the event with 500px gave me a great opportunity to learn some new things as well as meet a great bunch of new people. It was amazing to see how many people showed up from different experiences yet shared a common goal of taking great photos. So thank you everyone who showed up and hope to see everyone again in the near future. And thanks to our sponsor, Fuji and 500px for co-hosting the event.

Good Night From Vancouver Photo Walk 2015

Good Night From Vancouver Photo Walk 2015

Lime Kiln Lighthouse – The Elusive One

•July 24, 2014 • 3 Comments
Lime Kiln Lighthouse During Storm

Lime Kiln Lighthouse During Storm

 

 

One of my favorite subjects to photograph is lighthouses. There’re so many possibilities in terms of composition when shooting lighthouses. And when it comes to deciding what image or images to display its really hard to decide a favorite. I recently came back from a trip to the San Jan Islands to shoot the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Ever since I began photography I have seen images of this lighthouse in magazines, books, and the Internet. It has always been a goal of mine to capture this mesmerizing subject in amazing conditions. I have visited this place half a dozen times but have always met with cloudy conditions. This past week I finally got some great weather and was able to shoot the lighthouse for three straight days.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse Sunset Lookout

Lime Kiln Lighthouse Sunset Lookout

 

Lime Kiln Lighthouse is found on Friday Harbor, which is one of the many islands that make up the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. To get here you need to take a ferry from Anacortes, which runs only a few times a day. Once on the island it is a short twenty-minute drive across the island to Lime Kiln State Park. Accessing the lighthouse is easy with a short hike and can be photographed from both sides.

Looking Up At The Stars - Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Looking Up At The Stars – Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

Like most people I try to check the internet for up to the minute weather reports and time adventures with favorable conditions but for some reason the Lime Kiln Lighthouse has always alluded me and never worked out so when I made the decision to go the weather forecast was calling for partly cloudy conditions all week so I figured this was my chance. I made the drive to Anacortes from Olympia but was dealt a bad blow in traffic and it took me double the time to get there.

 

Late Twilight Color O fLime Kiln Lighthouse_720 2

Late Twilight Color O fLime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

As I pulled up to the ticket booth the lady explained I just missed the 4:45 pm and would now have to wait till 8:45 pm. This meant I would miss another opportunity to photograph this lighthouse that had been getting the better of me ever since I began photography. With sadness I began to tell me story to the lady hoping she could come up with a solution to my problem. With a little change in her voice she explained that I might just make a ferry ride to Lopez Island and then do some island hoping to catch a last minute ferry that would get me to Friday Harbor by 9pm and the lighthouse by 9:30pm. Sunset was at 9:20pm. Would that be too late and would I have to forgo this trip again and try again another day?

 

Sunset Glow On Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Sunset Glow On Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

I decided to give it a try and when it was all done and said I got to the lighthouse a little earlier than expected and was treated to an amazing sunset. In the end I was able to capture three full days of different conditions and now setting on a composition would be the toughest part. When I edit my images one or two might strike me as standouts and make the choice easy for me but other times not so easy. This was one of those times. I had so many choices to go with that I decided to write this blog on my frustration and hopefully receive some feedback from my readers. So without delay here are some of my choices…

 

Starry Night At Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Starry Night At Lime Kiln Lighthouse

 

 

Looking Up At Storm - Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Looking Up At Storm – Lime Kiln Lighthouse

What I Learned Photographing The Californian Redwoods

•June 9, 2014 • 4 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 Spring Season – Kevin McNeal

•October 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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