Posts Tagged ‘landscape photography’

Gesture in Nature Photography

Sunday, February 14th, 2016
Tundra swans at sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, CA, USA

Tundra swans at sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This photograph of tundra swans seemed appropriate today. Swans mate for life, so you always see them in pairs, or in a small group when parents are joined by their young cygnets. The two subjects of this photograph were undoubtedly a mated pair.

One of the challenges of photographing these swans was that they kept their heads underwater for long periods of time while they were feeding. Periodically one of their heads would pop up briefly, but then plunge underwater again, and it was rare for both swans to have their necks raised at the same time. I expended many pixels trying to capture moments when both swans had their heads up. Even when I managed to catch both of them with their heads visible, often one of the swans would have its back to me, or be in some other awkward position.

But I stayed alert and patient, and eventually things came together. Both swans lifted their heads for maybe ten seconds – an eternity, it seemed – while I held down the shutter button. At one point the swan on the left even turned its head and looked back at the swan on the right. Perfect. That little gesture made a big difference in the photograph by creating a visual connection between the two swans.


Working With High-Resolution Cameras

Sunday, May 31st, 2015
Oaks and redbud in the fog, Mariposa County, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Oaks and redbuds in the fog, Mariposa County. A sharp lens, good technique, and the 36-megapixel sensor on my Sony A7r captured an incredible amount of detail in this photograph; I’ve printed it up to 40×60 inches with great results.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Canon’s new 50-megapixel cameras, the 5DS and 5DS R. These models haven’t been released yet, but many Canon users are wondering whether they should upgrade.

Since these cameras aren’t available for testing yet, it’s hard to say anything definitive about them. But since I bought my 36-megapixel Sony A7r over a year ago I’ve learned a lot about working with high-resolution cameras, and some of those lessons might be relevant to people who are considering buying one of those new Canon models, or a 36-megapixel camera like the A7r, Nikon D800, or Nikon D810.


Photographing Sunbursts

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Aspens and morning sunlight along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens and morning sunlight, Inyo NF, CA, USA

I’ve always felt that the best photographs capture a mood or feeling. It’s easier to convey a mood when the weather gets stormy, but how do you capture a mood on a clear, sunny day? The answer, I think, is to go with it—to emphasize the sun, the blue sky, and the brightness of the day. Find the visual elements that say “beautiful, sunny day,” and highlight them.

One way of doing this is to include the sun in the frame. Nothing says “sunny and bright” like the sun itself. But putting the sun in your photograph brings challenges. First, you’re likely to get lens flare. This is not the end of the world—in fact, many photographs use lens flare to great effect—but sometimes the flare can be distracting. The other challenge is getting the exposure right.


Light Against Dark, Dark Against Light

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. These backlit flowers stand out cleanly against a dark, shaded background.

Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. These backlit flowers stand out cleanly against a dark, shaded background.

Light Against Dark

Many of the most effective photographs share a simple lighting concept: they either place a light subject against a dark background, or a dark subject against a light background.

This first photograph of two dogwood blossoms is a perfect example of a light subject against a dark background. In fact the background isn’t just dark; it’s completely black, so there’s nothing to compete visually with the flowers. The contrast creates a simple and dramatic image.

This light-against-dark situation is what makes photographs of Horsetail Fall so striking when conditions are right. The waterfall stands out because it’s brighter than the surrounding cliffs – and, of course, because of the color.


Photographing Reflections: Beyond the Mirror

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Creek descending through a granite basin. The sun was hitting the rocks just above the top of the frame, reflecting the gold color into the water, and even some of the polished rocks on the right.

Creek descending through a granite basin. The sun was hitting the rocks just beyond the top of the frame, reflecting the gold color into the water, and even onto some of the polished rocks on the right.

When people think of photographing a reflection, they usually think of a mirror reflection, like a mountain reflected in a tranquil lake. I’ve done my share of those, but I think it’s often more interesting to just look at the colors, textures, and patterns on the water’s surface.

During my just-completed Hidden Yosemite workshop we had many opportunities to photograph reflections of all kinds. The accompanying photographs represent a mini-gallery of reflection photographs that I made during and just prior to the workshop, with extended captions to explain the thought process behind each image. Most of these are not mirror reflections; instead, they’re focused on the water’s colors and textures.


Redwoods, Fog, and Serendipity

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Sunbeams through the redwood canopy, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Sunbeams through the redwood canopy, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Weather always plays a big role in landscape photography. I study the weather so that I can put myself – and my workshop students – in the right place at the right time. But a little luck always helps.

During my recent workshops up in the redwood country we found some wonderful juxtapositions of fog and sunlight. One morning, during the second week, we pulled up to a trailhead and everyone immediately got out their cameras because we saw beautiful godbeams right from the parking area. But, as it turns out, we didn’t need to rush. Usually these sun-breaking-through fog moments are fleeting, but it turns out that we were right at the top of a relatively stable fog bank, so the mixture of sun and fog lasted for hours along parts of the trail. The photograph above is just one of many sunbeam photographs I made that morning, and everyone in the group came away with some great images from that day.


A Harebrained Idea

Thursday, April 11th, 2013
Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiration Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiration Point, Yosemite

It was a harebrained idea, but sometimes harebrained ideas work.

On Easter Sunday the forecast called for showers and thunderstorms, with a 100% chance of rain. So I decided it would be a great day to hike 6 miles and climb over 2,000 feet up to Old Inspiration Point.

I could have just gone to Tunnel View. Tunnel View is a wonderfully photogenic spot, where I could have waited out any rain showers in the car, then walked 50 feet to the viewpoint if something interesting happened. And if the light didn’t cooperate, well, no big deal – it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve struck out at Tunnel View, and it wouldn’t take much effort to come back and try again.

On the other hand, I have lots of photographs from Tunnel View, and every other easily-accessible viewpoint in Yosemite Valley, but I’d never been to Old Inspiration Point. And I was in the mood for an adventure. I asked Claudia if she wanted to come with me (carefully explaining what she might be in for, I swear), and she said sure. She’s always up for a hike.


Light and Mood With Intimate Landscapes

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Sunlight slanting across Crane Flat Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunlight slanting across Crane Flat Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

A Trip to Crane Flat

Yosemite got some much-needed precipitation last week – over an inch total. I kept checking the radar and satellite images online, looking for an opportunity to photograph a clearing storm. Friday morning seemed promising, so I drove up to Yosemite Valley early, but found no snow. It looked like the snow level had been around 5,000 feet, higher than forecast. Worse, from a photographic perspective, the skies were clear and there was no mist.

Shortly after sunrise I noticed light striking a ridge near the tunnels on Highway 120, and on a whim decided to drive up to Crane Flat. I thought Crane Flat would at least have some fresh snow, since it’s at 6,000 feet.

Indeed there was fresh snow – over a foot of it. I parked at the Tuolumne Grove trailhead and walked along the plowed road. The sun had just reached parts of the main meadow, and I found some interesting small subjects to photograph, like tree-shadows on the snow.

Some shafts of sunlight slanting across the snow caught my attention, and then some mist began rising near the edge of the meadow, behind the shafts of light. I immediately recognized the potential to make an image that went beyond an abstract study of shadows – a photograph that had a mood.


A Rare Storm Approaching Yosemite

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Winter sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Winter sunrise from Tunnel View. With the right conditions Tunnel View can be great in the morning as well as the afternoon

January and February are the wettest months of the year in Yosemite. The average precipitation for January is 6.5 inches, while for February it’s 6.7 inches, which makes 13.2 inches for the two months combined.

But this year Yosemite received only a tenth of that: 1.33 inches total for January and February. The Sacramento Bee says it’s the driest January and February on record for the northern Sierra Nevada.

Since storms have been so rare lately, any forecast that calls for precipitation is big news, and we’ve got just such a forecast this week. Meteorologists are predicting a medium-sized storm to reach Yosemite tonight and tomorrow, with lingering showers on Thursday and Friday. The timing is hard to predict from the current forecast, but it’s likely that we’ll see clearing storm conditions either late Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. With the showery weather there may be several clearing-storm events during that time.


Hoping for Snow

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Half Dome and clouds, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Many people, including me, had high hopes for the snowstorm that came through Yosemite on Tuesday. The forecast called for six to twelve inches of snow, so it sounded like we would see some beautiful snow scenes, and maybe even get to photograph a clearing storm. And some moisture might help revive Horsetail Fall.

Around sunset on Tuesday it started snowing at my house in Mariposa — first lightly, then heavily. In no time we had three or four inches of snow, and eventually got six inches, which is a lot for our 2700-foot elevation.

But the storm looked very compact on radar, and the precipitation didn’t seem to be reaching Yosemite. I called my friend Kirk Keeler, who lives in Yosemite Valley, and he told me that they had received only half an inch of snow.

Wednesday morning Claudia and I cleared the snow off our car and drove up to Yosemite Valley. We found an inch or two of snow — not a lot, but enough to highlight every tree branch. I saw many beautiful scenes with trees etched in snow, including the pattern of cottonwood branches below.

The morning was clear, but later some evaporation clouds started to appear, and they kept building. By the end of the day all the cliffs were hidden by clouds. But between 4:00 to 4:30 in the afternoon Half Dome and the clouds put on a great show. Half Dome would vanish completely, then reappear, wrapped in clouds and speckled with sunlight. I made the photograph above just before Half Dome disappeared for good.