Photographer’s Notes Series. This Week: “Dreamscape”

September 15th, 2014 22 comments

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Permanent Collection Acquisition
U.S. National Park Service

Size: 18×21″ (45.7×53.3 cm)

About This Photo
Frederick Dellenbaugh was an artist who accompanied John Wesley Powell on his late-1800’s expedition of the Colorado River. Dellenbaugh’s images of Utah’s dramatic and fragile Zion Canyon was published in Scribner’s Magazine and exhibited at the Words Fair in 1904. His images of the area drew so much national attention that it 1909 it was declared a National Monument (and a National Park in 1919).

While serving as artist-in-residence at Zion I wanted to honor Dellenbaugh’s work, the park’s long history and the importance artists have played in the creation of many national parks. To do that, my camera gear included a vintage wooden camera made in 1907. That camera, a “Seneca medium format film camera” holds individual sheets of 4×5″ black and white film. Photographs of Zion Canyon made with Seneca cameras would have appeared in newspapers, magazines and exhibits in the early 1900’s. My intent was to photograph Zion as it looks today with a camera in use when the park was first established to convey its timeless scenery and the work of the park service to preserve public lands for future generations to enjoy.

One morning I awoke at 4 AM to the sound of high winds and snow coating the ground. Since the ground had been warmed by daytime temperatures of 65° F (18° C) during the prior week there was also a good chance that fog would appear in the early morning. Photos made in extreme weather conditions like snow, fog or rain can add an element of visual interest and mood to a photo.

At 5:30 AM I reached an area of the park known as The Narrows. As the sky begin to lighten, a nearby mountain peak that was covered in snow and faced east (toward sunrise) could be seen that looked like the perfect photo subject. Finding the best location to photograph it, however, required a one hour hike on snow and ice all while carrying 30 pounds (13 kg) of delicate equipment. After setting up the camera gear the sun slowly crested the horizon and as it did, fog began to fill the valley. As it did so, I made this photo and three others before a heavy fog hid the entire scene from view for the remainder of the morning.

TIP: You Can Create B&W Photos With Digital Cameras
Although I used a vintage film camera for this photo, you can also create black and white (B&W) photos with most digital cameras or camera phones. Some cameras will photograph in B&W by changing a menu or dial setting. You can also convert any color photo to B&W using software (or a camera phones). While popular programs like Photoshop or Lightroom offer this feature, many cameras come with free software such as Photoshop Elements, Canon DPP or Nikon NX that will do the same thing. And, if you don’t have any of those programs, download Google’s free Picasa program (click here).

[For more information on Zion National Park, visit their website by clicking here.]

Equipment: Seneca 4×5″ View Camera (1909), Wollensak f6.3 lens

Camera Settings: F-Stop: f/16, Shutter Speed: N/A, ASA: 50.

~ Rick Braveheart, Columbus Ohio USA

Photographer’s Notes Series. This Week: “Winged Beauty”

September 7th, 2014 32 comments

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Winged Beauty
Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

About This Photo
If you love watching or photographing birds, the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife refuge in Southern New Mexico is a dream come true. Each Fall, tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, Arctic geese and ducks migrate here. Bosque del Apache is one of the most important, well known and widely visited refuges in North America.

The refuge contains 13,000 acres (53  km2) of wetlands, floodplain and irrigated farmland along with 40,000 acres (162 km2) of grasslands that provide both food and water for the birds. The refuge is surrounded by an easy to drive loop road and it features a large boardwalk and various walking trails that provide excellent vantage points from which to view the birds.

I have photographed at Bosque del many times and have never left disappointed. On my last visit there the cottonwood and willow trees that dot the landscape were painted in brilliant fall colors of reds and yellows. For this photo, I wanted to convey the graceful motion of cranes and set them off against the brilliant colors of trees. To do that I used a slow shutter speed and a technique known as panning. Panning means aiming your camera at a moving subject, holding down the shutter half way (to lock in the focus) and then following that moving subject (in this case, the birds) until you eventually press the shutter. If you get it right, the main subject ends up in sharp focus while the background becomes a delightful blur of colors.

Panning can work with many types of moving subjects like flying bird, galloping horse or even speeding car, trains or airplane. The speed with which the subject is moving along with your camera’s shutter speed controls the amount with which the background blurs. Similarly, your ability to keep the camera consistently pointed at the moving subject plays a large part in how sharply focused the subject will appear in the photo. TIP: If possible, start following the moving subject with your camera several seconds before you press the shutter. Doing so helps you adjust to the speed with which its moving and increases your chance for a sharply focused shot.

[For more information visit the Friends of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website by clicking here.]

Equipment: Canon 50D camera, Canon 400mm F/4.0 L lens

Camera Settings: F-Stop: f/4, Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec., ISO: 200.

~ Rick Braveheart, Columbus Ohio USA

Photographer’s Notes Series. This Week: “Awaken the Spirit”

August 28th, 2014 34 comments

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Awaken the Spirit
Ocala, Florida

About This Photo
Most people think of Florida as a flat state with little elevation and filled mostly with beaches, golf courses, palm trees and amusement destinations. And in part, that’s true. But Ocala, Florida located in the Northern part of the state is strikingly different with rolling hills covered in lush green grass, white fences, old growth trees and more horses than most of us could ever imagine.

The first Florida horse farm was built here in 1943. Today, Ocala is one of the top thoroughbred horse centers of the world, home to 1,300 horse farms and also one of the largest horse shows in the USA called “Horses in the Sun.”

Awaken the Spirit shows one of those special moments when an animal gradually allows you to become part of their world. This photo was made during a week-long photo assignment for a horse show. Before I began work I stopped at this same horse farm each day before sunrise to admire the animals and was constantly drawn to the beauty and dignity of this particular horse. Although I’d move slowly and talk quietly as I walked along the fence, whenever I’d come within 200′ (61 m) he would quickly turn and gallop away.

On the final day of the assignment, I again arrived before sunrise but this time no horses were visible anywhere in the fields. I setup the cameras however, and waited. Eventually, he appeared out of a heavy fog, walked directly toward me and stood staring and almost close enough to touch. As I talked quietly explaining how I’d like to photograph him, he turned, walked to an adjacent fence and rested his head on the rails. Soon after, the first rays of sunlight appeared and as they highlighted the colors on his tail and mane I pressed the shutter.

[For more information on Ocala, Florida visit the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce website at clicking here.]

Equipment: Canon 50D and Canon 300mm F/4.0 L lens
Camera Settings: F-Stop: f/6.3, Shutter Speed: 1/15 sec., ISO Speed: 100.

~ Rick Braveheart, Columbus Ohio USA

Photographer’s Notes Series. This Week: “Sweet Light on Sand”

August 21st, 2014 29 comments

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Until October when I begin the next photo destination series for an upcoming assignment with the National Park Service, I’ll be posting one photograph each week along with thoughts about that image, the location and why/how the photo was made. The idea for this series was recently suggested by long time blog reader Pat Bailey. Thank you for this great idea Pat. I hope it provides readers with some ideas, techniques or inspiration they can use in their photography.
travel and photography tips

Sweet Light on Sand
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

About This Photo
Established in 1936 and setting at an elevation of over 4,000 feet (1,220 m), White Sands National Monument is a vast 10 acre (4 ha) area of sweeping sand dunes located in Southern New Mexico. If you love sand, sand dunes or locations that feel “out of this world” it is a must see destination.

My purpose in photographing at White Sands was to capture an image that conveyed the dramatic colors, beauty in its simplicity, and the highly sensual shapes created by wind and light on the dunes. I know from years of photographing desert landscapes that during the moments near sunrise and sunset, the colors of sand can often turn into stunning shades of red, orange, pink and gray, especially when contrasted against a dark sky.

To photograph these dunes I arrived two hours before sunrise. A two mile drive into the park followed by a 1-mile (1.6 km) hike across isolated dunes guided only by a small flashlight brought me to this location. During that hike I had been searching for a large, gently sweeping sand dune whose highest point (normally the curved center portion) faced directly East toward the upcoming sunrise.

After a 45 minute wait in 20° F (-6.7° C) temperatures a small beam of sunlight edged over the horizon painting this dune in brilliant colors and cast shadows that revealed the textures and shapes in the sand. (Photographers call the soft light which appears around sunrise and sunset “sweet light”). After making only 5 exposures and less than one minute after I began photographing the sun had crested the horizon and the dramatic colors vanished.

[For more information on White Sands National Monument visit the National Park Service website by clicking here.]

Equipment: Nikon D2X DSLR camera and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens
Camera Settings: F-Stop: f/18, Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec., ISO Speed: 200.

~ Rick Braveheart, Columbus Ohio USA

Summer Photo Tips #8: Some Final Tips and Thoughts

August 12th, 2014 24 comments

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Earlier in this series we looked at different techniques for helping compose photos to guide the viewer’s eye and to help add interest to photos. In this final installment we’ll look at some ideas to use that can help in planning and making outdoor photographs.
travel and photography tips

1. Watch Out For Busy Backgrounds
A distracting background can ruin what might otherwise be a great photograph. We’ve all seen photos where its background included so many elements (trees, flowers, people, etc.) that the main subject was hard figure out. The deer in the photo below for example is even difficult to see because of a busy background filled with tips

A similar problem happens with competing background objects—one or more distracting elements that draws the views’ attention away from the main subject. Often, in landscape photography, these competing background distractions are man-made such as power lines running through a forest, a discarded soda can on the ground, or a radio tower soaring into a pristine sky. The image below includes a soda can floating on the water (lower right) which I noticed after making the first photo then retook the shot after stepping a few feet to the left.

After selecting your subject and before pressing the shutter, try remembering to look carefully at the background for possible visual distractions. Often, simply moving the camera to the left/right or closer/farther away can help eliminate or minimize the background problem.

2. Don’t Forget to Look in All Directions

When photographing in nature it’s easy to find a subject that grabs your attention, make a photo of it and then move on in search of the next subject. Over the years I’ve found there are often many subjects to photograph in one location other than the one that initially caught my eye. After making that first photo a good idea is to turn slowly 360 degrees as well as look up and down for other subjects. By doing so you’ll often discover even more interesting subjects, lighting or perspectives than the one which first caught your attention.

Two Photos Made by Turning Around 180º
graduated neutral density filter ND Grad filter

     The photos above, made in the same location at Rocky Mountain National Park help demonstrate this tip. The image on the left was made just moments after sunrise while the image on the right was made one minute later after turning 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

photo tips3. Practice the Art of Silence

In landscape photos I try to share not only the beauty of a subject but a sense of its environment as well. And, the sooner I can come to know its environment the sooner I can understand how to include it in the photos. To help do that, whether I’m driving from home or leaving an airport in a rental car, I always travel in silence to a photo shoot. For me this means not playing the radio or listening to CD’s and turning off the cell phone to avoid mental interruptions. I find that the quiet helps to clear my mind so I can pay attention to the changing landscape and begin adjusting to that new environment long before I arrive.

While this usually makes for a longer trip, it’s often more scenic and provides more visual cues to help adjust to the new location. If you’re use to traveling with music playing this “quiet approach” may seem strange at first, and, it may not be for you. But you might also find, as I have, that it can help you to slow down and also begin adjusting your mind to a new landscape long before you arrive at the destination.

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