Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mellow Yellow

It was late morning and we had completed our search for wildlife in the early morning light. It was time to move on to look for scenics and water reflections. Or so we thought.

We stopped at one of the many exquisite mountain lakes in the Canadian Rockies where we knew some yellow-leaved aspens lined part of the shoreline. We took a few shots and then noticed some movement in the water. Through the binoculars we could see that there were several male and female loons. They were far away, so we got out our longest lenses, set up the tripods and began to shoot.

As the loons moved around the lake, diving for fish and swimming on the surface, they eventually swam toward an area where the yellow aspens were reflected in the water. This was a shot of a lifetime! In this large lake there were many evergreens reflected in the water, but just a small area where the aspens, in peak fall color, were reflected. How lucky that the loons swam into that area, just when we happened to be there.

The yellow was a good backdrop for the loon’s neutral color and gave great punch to this image.

When we arrived at the lake we thought we were done with wildlife for the day, but clearly Mother Nature had other plans. Being flexible and open to all opportunities is a good philosophy to follow when photographing in any natural environment. You just never know what will present itself around the next bend.

Shutter Speed 1/3200 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with external 2x extender for an effective focal length of 800mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity."  --Oprah Winfrey

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sunset Surprise

When deciding to photograph sunset, you never know how it is going to go. Sure, you can check the timing and choose a location, and you can make an educated guess regarding color (or lack thereof) based on clouds and weather conditions. But in truth, Mother Nature has an infinite bag of tricks and you never know which one she will spring on you at the last minute.

This sunset is a great example of the unexpected. We had hoped for great color and classic cloud shapes. What we got was subtle color, unusual clouds, and an odd, long, low-hanging cloud that reflected the peachy-pink sunset.

Use of a wide-angle lens enhanced this sunset immensely. The extreme wide-angle view brings your eye into the picture from the top and sides, and directs you to the long, low line of the colorful cloud, the strongest warm tone in the image.

The line of mountains acts as a base. While often mountains are the main attraction in an image, in this case, they just support the very brief drama played out in the sky above.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 23mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE:  "There's nothing like a beautiful sunset to end a healthy day."  --Rachel Boston

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sometimes it is fun to attribute human characteristics to animals or flowers. That is what happened when I saw this group of four flowers blooming outside a hotel in the Canadian Rockies. The three on the right seemed to have turned their backs to the one on the left, hence the title “Snubbed.”

Once I saw the lineup of flowers, it was necessary to position the camera to isolate them from the rest of the nearby blooms, and then to control the background. Because part of the background was in sunlight and part was in shadow, I had three choices  -  either shoot from a low position so that the sunlit area filled the background, shoot from a higher position so that the shadowed area filled the background, or split the difference and make the background partly sunlit and partly shaded. I shot from all three angles and then chose my favorite after I downloaded and could look at them on the computer screen.

As you can see, I chose the view with a partly sunlit and partly shadowed background. In all cases I used a shallow depth of field in order to blur the background.

I find I have the most success when I shoot from a variety of angles and vantage points. Sometimes it is easier to see which view is better once you see the images on your computer screen, and it is nice to have choices after a day of shooting. So don’t lock yourself in to just one option. Take your time, shoot a lot of images, and make final decisions later.

Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time. We haven't time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time."  --Georgia O'Keeffe

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Once In A Lifetime

I feel very fortunate to be spending the month of September in the Canadian Rockies on a photographic sojourn. My good friend and superb photographer CL is traveling for several months in the west, and invited me to join her for part of the time. It seems that around nearly every bend in the road we find something to photograph.

We were traveling along the Icefields Parkway in the northern reaches of Banff National Park when we saw several people parked along the side of the road near a bridge. In most places that is a sign that wildlife is nearby. We pulled over safely onto a wide shoulder, grabbed our cameras and got out to take a look. As we walked back to the bridge, which spanned a deep river gorge with a waterfall and a rocky, fast-moving stream, we saw an amazing scene of animal behavior play out. Here is the overall scene on the right.
Narrow but dangerous chasm. Note the rock marked.

We saw a line of about 8 female bighorn sheep, some with young, walk out from under the bridge and up the sheer, rocky sides of the gorge, looking for a way to cross the raging torrent safely. It was going to take a hefty leap for them to get across the chasm. The alpha female walked slowly across, then up and down, the steep cliff face to get a better view. She appeared to be seeking the narrowest section of the chasm, and a jumping off point that was higher than the potential landing spot on the other side. She seemed to see a way across, stood still for awhile, appeared to study the options,
Alpha female changed her mind,turned around.
but then apparently thought better of it and turned away from the gorge.

All the other sheep stood patiently in line, obviously waiting and watching to see what the alpha female would do.

There was more reconnoitering, more walking along the cliff face. It is miraculous how these animals can stand on and climb up apparently sheer rock. The tiniest ledge, just wide enough for their hooves, is all they need. Their feet are so well-adapted that they can effortlessly traverse seemingly impossible places.

This whole decision-making process took what seemed like a long time, perhaps five minutes or more. All the while, the increasingly large group of human onlookers watched in awe and some trepidation, fearful of the possible outcome.

Finally, with no warning and no sound, the lead female effortlessly bounded from a standing position,
The start of the leap.
vaulted across the chasm, and landed safely on the other side. Her eyes looked straight ahead, and she calmly walked forward after her soft and controlled landing.
Successful leap.

The  others followed her lead, and one at a time each bounded just as effortlessly and safely across. Once the last one had successfully leapt across the chasm,
Safe landing.
the 2-legged onlookers cheered,  applauded, and breathed a sigh of relief. We knew we had witnessed a potentially dangerous situation for the sheep, and all came through it safely, and with style and grace. What a privilege to have watched such a scene.


Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: "The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans."  --Jim Fowler 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

With A Little Bit Of Luck

They say timing is everything, and that seems to be true with nature and wildlife photography. An early autumn snowfall coated the mountaintops and dusted the huge evergreen trees in the Canadian Rockies. We could never have predicted being here for this surprise storm, but oh how lucky we were.

One of many treats to being here is the color of the water in lakes and streams. The unmistakable blue-green of glacial waters adds a lovely almost caribbean look to the scenery. The surreal water color against the freshly snow-covered trees creates a very simple but strong image.

The water creates a rectangular base to the overall image, complemented by the vaulting height of the vertical trees lined up like soldiers, one row behind the other.

Don’t shy away from simple compositions. If you can incorporate color, shape, and line, even the simplest of arrangements can make a pleasing image.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood."  --Andy Goldsworthy

Sunday, September 14, 2014

As Good As It Gets

Some days Mother Nature presents you with unexpected gifts. This was one of those days. An early autumn snow and bitterly cold temperatures hit the Canadian Rockies, bringing great photographic conditions.

There was just enough snow to dust the tall evergreen trees and to define the ridges and valleys of the high peaks. The swirling clouds added the final dramatic touch.

With all the elements there, it was just a question of finding a good composition. The oblique angle of the near mountain became the main graphic element, punctuated by the pointed peak behind it, and balanced by the rounded mountain on the right side of the image. The vertical trees in the foreground added a touch of life and scale to the scene.

This image worked better as a black-and-white rather than color. Black-and-white allows the subtle tonalities to show, and provides a timeless look. It is reminiscent in some ways of images made by Ansel Adams and other masters of black-and-white. Not that I am in their league by any means, but it is a nice look to emulate when possible.

Stripping away the color allows you to see texture and detail more clearly. While color is great in many circumstances, when you remove color, a completely different image greets you. Your mind no longer has to process the color information and you can concentrate more fully on the shapes, tonal variations, sizes, and all the other elements that combine to make up the image.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Black and white always looks modern."  --Karl Lagerfeld

Friday, September 12, 2014

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy From Company B(anff)

Photographing wildlife is part of why I am here in the Canadian Rockies this month. An early snow has brought some elk down from the high country, and this mature male was herding his harem of 5 females. Three of them were fairly close to him, but the other two lagged far behind. He clearly decided that all 5 needed to be together and in close proximity to him, so he sounded the haunting bugle sound of wild elk. It is an unmistakable sound  -   throaty, multi-toned, demanding, and it reverberates well across distances and in wooded terrain. The two slowpokes quickly picked up their pace and joined the group.

The air was quite cool and we could see his breath as he bugled. You can see the light mist in front of his mouth. What a double whammy treat – to hear AND see the bugle. That was a new experience for me, and while this is just a visual representation, I hope it conveys the mood of the moment.

In the interest of full disclosure, it is important to say that this image was cropped in a good deal.  I was not nearly as close to this big guy as it appears. The image as shot shows his entire body plus a good bit of the surrounding trees and the snow-covered field. The park service recommends keeping a distance of about 100 yards from large animals. Elk, moose, bear, bison and other wildlife can move surprisingly quickly, and can cover great distances much faster than you might imagine. It is important to respect their space and not to try to approach for any reason. No photo is worth endangering yourself or your traveling companions.

It is also vitally important to not disturb the animal’s normal habits of feeding, mating, or movement. When traveling in the terrain of wild animals, it is important to remember that we are in THEIR home, and their requirements must come first.

This shot was taken from the road, just outside the vehicle I was traveling in.  In a car behind us, a thoughtless man kept banging on the outside of his door, hooting, and making other sounds in an effort to entice the elk to look in his direction. While he maintained his distance from the animal, his behavior was certainly wrong, and it appeared to disturb the animal.  He was interested only in his needs, and did not appear to care anything about the animal.

When photographing wildlife, please consider their needs first and treat them with the respect they deserve.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with Canon 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity."  --George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Flying On The Wind

Windsurfing in a national park? Talk about a strange sight to see. But that is indeed what was happening on this windswept lake in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.

The windsurfer was a highly skilled athlete and was able to skim across the lake with great speed and control. It was a joy to watch and a real treat.

It was a hazy day, but the sidelight coming from the left side of the image did a good job of lighting the sail and separating it from the rest of the scene. I took several shots and tried to time them so that he was not centered in the frame, and the trail of water behind him was well-lit.

When photographing any moving subject, watch the movement with respect to the background in addition to the actual movement itself. With nearly all photography, the background can play a pivotal role. Pay careful attention to all the elements in the frame, take a variety of views, and then choose the ones that work the best.

When traveling in national parks and wilderness areas, I usually try to avoid any sign of civilization in my images, but this was a unique opportunity that I could not pass up.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.'  --William Arthur Ward

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Morning Mist



Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, just north of Glacier National Park, is a gem of a place. It is a charming, relatively small park with stupendous scenery.

Often in the autumn, when days are warm but nights are cool, morning mist forms on lakes and rivers. This was an especially beautiful morning. This shot was taken just a few minutes after sunrise, and the combination of the warm glow of the sun, the deep blue sky, and the low-hanging mist, all reflected in the calm lake created quite a scene.

Even though the contrast range was great, the exposure was not difficult. When photographing a scene with the sun, keep in mind that the brightness of the sun, even when diffused through mist or light clouds, will be so intense that it will most likely go pure white in the image. While HDR can help somewhat, my personal preference is to not use HDR unless absolutely necessary. Why? Because many HDR programs can go too far and create a somewhat artificial look. That can be controlled up to a point, and certainly the software (and in-camera HDR) will improve over time, but for now I prefer the more old-fashioned approach of controlling overall exposure as much as possible, and then using Lightroom and occasionally Photoshop (or Elements) to bring shadows and highlights under control.

Compare the Before and After images above. Lightroom did most of the heavy lifting. It brought up the shadows and brought down the highlights beautifully. The only added touch was done in Photoshop –  by picking a light orange color from the area just outside the brightest sunlight, and using a soft brush (at about 20% opacity), a touch of color was added to the brightest areas of the sun and its reflections, so that they did not appear pure white.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 28mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “I don't ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun, on a misty morning. There they are and they are beautiful."  --Peter Hamill

Monday, September 8, 2014

Stop And Smell The Flowers

When photographing in the Rockies or any place with sweeping scenics and breathtaking photo opportunities, you naturally expect to see big impressive animals to complete the scene. Bighorn sheep, mountain goat, elk, moose, etc. But don’t forget the little guys. They are just as important to the ecosystem and just as entertaining to watch and to photograph. While they might not be as impressive as the larger species, they can make for great photos nonetheless.

While hiking up a wide trail along the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, I saw several Columbian ground squirrels zipping back and forth, and stopping to eat. They were not afraid of the people on the trail, which made getting some nice shots fairly easy.

I chose this shot for today’s blog because it looks like he is just smelling the flower, when in fact a moment later it became one of many that he devoured. That is one of the great things about photography – a photo can tell a story, and the moment the shutter is tripped can make all the difference.

When shooting wildlife, I always set my camera to rapid burst. Depending on which camera body you own, that could be anywhere from about 3 frames per second to many more than that. Rapid burst allows you to fire the shutter more quickly than you could if you had to depress the shutter button each time. This works well when shooting animals or birds in motion, allowing you to capture different body positions in quick succession.

Also, set your autofocus to AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous (Nikon). That will allow your camera to keep focused on the animal or bird as it moves.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 266mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Little things make big things happen.”  --Tony Dorsett

Friday, September 5, 2014

Clearing Storm

Since photography was in its infancy, clearing or approaching storms have been compelling subjects. Massive clouds, mist, and dramatic skies make for powerful images.

Today’s image is of a clearing storm. An early snow fell in the higher elevations of the Rockies overnight. The clearing clouds and mist brought gentle drama to the sky, and the contrast of the early fall colors in the fields against the massive snow-dusted mountains added even more drama.

This image works for a variety of reasons, in addition to those mentioned. The color contrast of the warm tones in the foreground against the blue mountains is one reason. The visual tension of massive craggy mountains softened by the rolling hills in the foreground is another.

In any successful photograph, there are often several things that work together to create a visually appealing piece. The juxtaposition of warm against cool, soft against hard, light against dark, are just a few of the things we can use to help make our images the best they can be.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/13.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 161mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s learning to dance in the rain.”  --anonymous    

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Detail Oriented

When shooting exciting scenics, take a few minutes to look at the small details around you. While the big scenes are thrilling and compelling, the individual details help to define the area, and combine to create the overall whole.

These grasses were all around us in Glacier National Park, in the meadows and along the roadsides. It is easy to overlook the commonplace, but sometimes they can be a nice added touch. I looked for a patch where some stems were parallel and others were criss-crossed. Then I looked through the viewfinder to see what looked good.

As you will see in the Technical Data below, I used a telephoto zoom with a 1.4x extender attached. Normally I would not use the extender, but I had the camera set up this way in hopes of seeing wildlife close to the road. Unfortunately no animals ever showed up, but I was ready anyway! Maybe they will appear later in the week.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with a 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 223mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The details are not the details. They make the design.”  --Charles Eames

Black-and-White To The Rescue

When the colors in a muted image do not do justice to the scene you experienced, and no amount of optimizing helps, Black and White conversion can be a powerful tool.

This image was taken on a cloudy day with mist veiling the distant mountains.  While I could see the green of the trees and the blue of the water, the camera saw everything as a muddy blue, and attempting to optimize the colors just made everything look even more blue and dull. So I decided to try removing the color to see what it would look like in Black and White.

There are many ways to eliminate the color from an image. For this image, I used Lightroom 5. Lightroom has several different Pre-sets for Black and White conversions. I generally start with the Pre-set that looks best and then do more tweaking with Blacks, Whites, Saturation, and Luminance (the last two are in the HSL controls). Yes, you can still use the color sliders when working on a Black and White image. That is because Lightroom knows which colors are in the image, even though all you see is Black and White. So you can control the lightness or darkness of a color, and its saturation. This function gives you great control.

There are other ways to eliminate color from an image. Use whatever software you have to accomplish this.  Photoshop and Elements are not as good for this as Lightroom or Silver Efex Pro (formerly Nik, now Google), but if that is what you have, by all means use it.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/16.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Shades of gray wherever I go, the more I find out the less that I know. Black and white is how it should be, but shades of gray are all the colors I see.’  --Billy Joel

Monday, September 1, 2014

Montana Morning

Sunrise comes early in Montana, even at this time of year. We arrived at this location in Glacier National Park a little after 6AM, and there was already enough light in the sky to maneuver down to the lookout point easily.

Official sunrise time was 6:30, but these colors did not appear until 6:45, and by 7AM the show was over.

When photographing sunrise anywhere, from the mountains to the sea, it is important to arrive on site early and be ready long before Mother Nature’s light show begins. Once things start to pop, there is precious little time to think. You just have to shoot, shoot, shoot. I suggest taking a shot every five or ten seconds while the colors are strongest. Sometimes your eye does not see subtle changes at the time, but you will see them when you get back to download and edit.

When photographing sunrise or sunset, use a small aperture in order to maximize Depth of Field, and use a relatively low ISO if possible. The lower the ISO, the less noise you will have. In any case, try to use an ISO no higher than 400. Regarding shutter speeds, a slow shutter speed is rarely a problem when photographing sunrise or sunset, especially when the sun is not in the picture.

Shutter Speed 2.5 seconds.  Aperture f/32.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “”…day and night meet fleetingly at twilight and dawn… and their merging sometimes affords the beholder the most enchanted moments of all twenty four hours.”  --Mary Balogh