Archive for March, 2012

Dealing With Bad Weather

Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Mossy oak in the rain

Mossy oak in the rain

Claudia and I are in Humboldt County this week visiting our son Kevin, who’s a junior at Humboldt State University. This is redwood country, along the far northern coast of California. It’s a temperate rain forest, and it sure seems like it this week. It’s been raining—a lot. Yesterday we had a break, and a mostly rain-free day, but another storm arrived today, and the area is expected to get six to ten inches of rain over the next two days.

Although we’re mainly here to visit our son, of course I hoped to do some photography in this beautiful area as well. The main challenge of photographing in the rain is keeping the camera dry. I’ve tried many different ways of doing this: umbrellas, towels, plastic bags, etc, but there’s no perfect solution. Various people make rain covers for cameras, which work pretty well, but only for telephoto lenses. In fact it’s a lot easier to photograph with long lenses in the rain, regardless of what kind of cover you put over the camera, because you can use a long lens hood to keep rain off the front glass. Hoods for wide-angle lenses have to be short, to avoid vignetting, which makes it difficult to keep water from splashing onto the front element. The best solution I’ve found for wide-angle lenses is to attach an umbrella to my tripod with a clamp. This works, but it’s awkward.

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Storm’s Aftermath

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
Clearing storm from Tunnel View, 5:03 p.m. last Sunday.

Clearing storm from Tunnel View, 5:03 p.m. last Sunday.

The storm last weekend in Yosemite was a big one: almost four inches of liquid (rain and snow) fell in Yosemite Valley, and Badger Pass, at 7200 feet, got four feet of new snow. Of course one storm, even a large one, isn’t enough to make up for the months of dry weather preceding it; Yosemite has now received about 67% of average precipitation since last July. But the waterfalls got a noticeable boost, there’s a decent snowpack in the high country, and conditions seem more normal—more like a typical March.

Last Saturday night about seven inches of snow fell at my house in Mariposa. At daybreak on Sunday the skies were overcast, but it had stopped snowing, and I decided to try light-painting the beautiful manzanita bush outside my office. I hope the warm lighting in this photograph (below) looks pretty natural, like early-morning sunlight, but it was actually created well before sunrise with a flashlight.

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Rare Winter Storm Headed for Yosemite

Friday, March 16th, 2012
Half Dome, winter sunset — from 1989 (!)

Half Dome, winter sunset — from 1989 (!)

Rain reached northern California this week, but Yosemite only got brushed by the southern edge of these storms. That’s about to change, however, if the forecasts are right. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for Yosemite and the southern Sierra Nevada for tonight and tomorrow, with two to three feet of snow possible above 6000 feet. The heaviest precipitation will fall as rain in Yosemite Valley (at 4000 feet), but as a cold front moves through on Saturday afternoon snow levels are expected to drop down to 2000 feet. Even though the main part of the storm will have passed by that time, forecasters are predicting plenty of showers Saturday night and Sunday, and significant amounts of snow could accumulate in Yosemite Valley and the Sierra foothills.

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Breaking Routines

Friday, March 9th, 2012
Small waterfall in Yosemite Valley, high noon

Small waterfall in Yosemite Valley, high noon

Everyone develops routines and habits: waking up at the same time every day, eating the same thing for breakfast, taking the same route to work… and on and on. Routines are beneficial in some ways—they help us avoid spending time and energy making small, unimportant decisions every day.

In photography, routines can help with the technical, left-brained stuff. Always putting lens caps in the same place in your camera bag, or the same pants pocket, can help save time and avoid frustration. Checking off a mental list before pressing the shutter can prevent mistakes. Did you adjust the polarizer? Focus? Set the right aperture? Shutter speed? Did you check the histogram? What’s your ISO?

But routines also dull the senses, and in photography that can be deadly. I’ve photographed this small waterfall in Yosemite many times, but always in the shade. Soft light works well for subjects like this—it makes it easy to use slow shutter speeds, and simplifies the lighting. So I’d never even considered visiting this spot when sunlight was hitting the water.

Last weekend I was shooting footage for some instructional videos in Yosemite Valley. I wanted to talk about using slow shutter speeds with moving water, but the crew only had one day in Yosemite, and the schedule only allowed us to visit this waterfall at noon. As we approached the fall I thought, hmm, this might work. Backlight filtering through the trees created some interesting patterns, and as the sun moved it started to highlight just the right spots. As I was demonstrating how different shutter speeds affected the appearance of the water, I was looking at the images on my viewfinder and thinking, “Wow, that looks pretty cool!”

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Lightroom 4 Goes on Sale; Should You Wait, or Dive In?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
Redbud and oaks, Merced River Canyon, processed in Lightroom 3

Redbud and oaks, Merced River Canyon, processed in Lightroom 3

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that I’m a big fan of Lightroom. It’s easy to use, yet powerful, which makes it a great tool for both beginning and advanced photographers. I teach workshops about Lightroom, and wrote an eBook about it, because I think it’s a tool that can help many photographers. Personally, as Lightroom’s processing tools have grown more sophisticated I’ve used Lightroom more and more and Photoshop less and less.

As many of you probably know, Lightroom 4 went on sale yesterday. In this new version Adobe has completely revamped the Basic panel, with significant improvements in highlight and shadow recovery. I’ve already used the beta version of Lightroom 4 to take advantage of those improvements. For example, I was able to get smoother transitions around the sun in one of the photographs from this post (“Ross’s geese taking flight at sunset”).

The Basic panel tools have completely changed in both operation and behavior, which may require some modifications in they way we work in Lightroom. I’m looking forward to exploring these new tools, and telling you about my discoveries, but unfortunately I’ve encountered a frustrating roadblock—a bug in Lightroom 4 that causes all of my Tone Curve settings for images previously processed in Lightroom 3 to disappear! All I see is the default Tone Curve for the camera, and, since I do most of the tonal adjustments for every image with curves, my images look rather flat (the accompanying images show one example of this). And I don’t want to re-create the curve for thousands of images!

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