Category Archives: Landscapes

Discovering my vision at Rainbow Falls, CA

I went to Rainbow Falls in California’s Eastern Sierra over the July 4th weekend.  My first visit to the falls was in the middle of the day, with my family.  Since the sun was shining into the falls at that time of the day, it formed a rainbow at the base of the falls upon which it is named.  From a photographer’s perspective, the light was too harsh and no good waterfall image could be produced at that time.

I came back the next day, early enough before sunrise, to get the light right for a waterfall image.  While the grand view from the standard vista point was great, it did not offer anything satisfying for me.  For example, one search for Rainbow Falls, CA in images.google.com, yields several images of the standard view.  I began by making a standard view image as well.  Here it is.  It does not impress me and therefore it has not been published in my web gallery.

Rainbow Falls, CA

Rainbow Falls, CA. (Standard View from Vista Point)

After getting the standard shot out of the way, I started exercising my visual imagination to make additional more satisfying images.  Using my 70-200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm, I made a frame that was later cropped to this 1:3 format.  This is a section of the waterfall towards the right side of the view from the vista point.  To me, this image is a compelling composition.  It has a series of waters falling from the top right into the bottom one-thirds of the image, where there is a diagonal flow of water from the left to the right.  There are distinct shapes and flows in the top, middle and bottom one-thirds of the image that grabs attention.

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

Another shot using my 70-200mm f2.8 lens with 2x teleconverter (set at effective 400mm), is shown below.

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

This one shows a single strand of waterfall to the right of the image counter-balancing the diagonal cascade going left to right.

Another 400mm shot is shown below.

Rainbow Falls (section), CA, USA

This one emphasizes the wall of water towards the right of the view from the vista point.  The wall of water and its shapes/texture is counter balanced by the rocks at the bottom right.

As I wrapped up my shoot, I used the same 400mm setup to frame a couple of shots of the runoff from the falls.

Runoff from Rainbow Falls, CA.

Runoff from Rainbow Falls, CA.

This one showcases the whites from the falls runoff counterbalanced by the green grass on the shore.  I saw this first and upon closer examination, I found a dead fallen tree bark whose branches pointed towards these whites.  I thought that they formed a perfect set of complementary subjects to juxtapose in an image.  Here it is.

Dead tree bark and whites from Rainbow Falls runoff, CA, USA

Dead tree bark and whites from Rainbow Falls runoff, CA, USA

Notice how the shapes in the branches of the dead tree bark, mirrors the shapes of the whites (the branches pointing one way and the whites following it).

Using this post, I want to encourage more photographers to look beyond the obvious.  The first thing that you see when you get to location should be photographed, but one should not stop there.  The better photographs come from staying there, a bit longer, and looking for what else is there, or, how else the scene may be photographed.  Changing viewpoints and changing lenses are the simple exercises to get you started on the road to eventually change what you see and see more.

Correcting White Balance in Digital Images using expodisc 2.0

Of all the autoexposure features available in modern DSLRs, the one that is most frustrating for me is the Auto-WB.  For years, I set the white balance to Auto-WB, hoping to be fine with the color in my digital images.  Again, for all those years, my mind wasn’t tuned to deciphering the color issues.  Recently, I noticed that some of my landscape shots looked too blue to me.  Talking to a former photography student and now a good photographer himself, Sanjiv Kapoor, I learned how to adjust the color temperature and the tint sliders in Lightroom to get the right colors.  Furthermore, I learned the idea of using a WB filter to reduce the guesswork involved in this exercise.  Here’s how.

This is my process for RAW shooting.  I attach an expodisc 2.0 WB filter to the front of the lens, in the light condition of the main shot, to make a reference image at metered exposure.  It produces a perfect (18%) neutral gray image.

Neutral Gray Image

Neutral Gray Image made with a WB filter in the same light as the image subject.  Caveat – if you are viewing this post in a monitor not correctly color calibrated, you are not seeing neutral gray.

Once opened in Lightroom, the default may not open up as neutral gray.  It will open up with a default color temperature and tint, that may not be the real color temperature/tint.  Drop the eyedropper from the Lightroom Develop Module into this image.  That neutralizes any color cast in this reference and gives you the right white balance.  Just apply the same color temperature and tint to the desired image.  It is quite easy to do this in Lightroom, by simply “sync”ing the develop settings.  In fact, I spend my time long enough on this reference (see the dust spot in it – I correct that, plus apply the lens profile etc), before “syncing” it to all the frames shot in the same light.

Here’s an example.  As opened in Lightroom, the top image shown here is how it looked.

Image as seen after Lightroom opened RAW file

How this image looked when RAW file was opened up as default in Lightroom. Too blue and not representing what was seen.

This is too blue and did not represent what was seen.  The color temperature was 5750 with a tint of -4.  The neutral gray reference shot shown earlier had a color temperature of 8800 with a tint of -5.  Upon correcting this image to that, the resulting final image is shown below.

Image with corrected white balance

Image with corrected white balance, with the aid of the expodisc 2.0

This represents what was seen.

Now that I have figured this out, and now that I have tuned my mind to seeing colors a bit better, I find all kinds of color errors all over my portfolio from years of work!!  :-)  As I find time, I will keep correcting the color of my past photographs, but I don’t have the reference shots to help me.

NOTE: The user’s manual for expodisc 2.0 talks about a different way to use it.  Take a reference shot into the camera, by using a setting for white balance reference shot.  Then the following images will be rendered correctly.  In my honest opinion, this method is appropriate for jpg shooters.  The method I outlined here is more suited for RAW shooters.

Expressing my own photographic vision in Yosemite

THE CONTEXT

I went to Yosemite on Feb 18.  As I was driving through the valley, enjoying the scenery and making my images, I noticed a group of about 50+ serious photographers all bunched up at one spot along the South Drive in Yosemite Valley.  They were all standing beside their tripods, with their 70-200mm lenses pointing in about the same direction.  I was curious and couldn’t wait to find out what they were up to.  I stopped my car, walked up to this group and inquired what was going on.  One of them shared with me that the horsetail falls would light up in the last light of the setting sun and that they were all waiting for that magical moment to be photographed.  I immediately recalled my reading of Galen Rowell’s book, “Mountain Light”.  Galen had photographed this phenomenon and had also provided insight into the precise time of the year when this magical phenomenon would occur.  It did not happen all the time, because of the changes in sun’s trajectory relative to the location of the falls.  A special time of the year indeed.

WHAT OTHERS PHOTOGRAPHED THAT DAY

At the time of this writing, I just searched Google Images for “glowing horsetail falls yosemite” and just saw several hundred images, all looking about the same.  There are just a handful of them that are unique.  For example, see this great image, made coincidentally on Feb 18, by Michael Frye – http://www.michaelfrye.com/landscape-photography-blog/2016/02/19/horsetail-el-capitan/.

MY REACTION

After settling my curiosity on what was going on, my instinct was to move on and continue to find my own images.  Being a passionate photographer myself, I did not feel like joining them to wait for that magical moment.  My heart was not there.  Joining this crowd to repeat what they were doing, to make an image just like theirs, would not give me any joy and I did not want to have anything to do with it.

MY VISION

I find satisfaction from my photography, only if the photograph represents something I found.  I do not consciously copy what others do and I get no joy from doing so.  Since all of my photography knowledge and skill is based on studying the works of great photographers that have walked before me, no doubt, there is a subconscious influence from them.  My composition style is certainly subconsciously influenced by all the great photographs that I have seen in the books that I have read.  In that sense, I am not original.  At the same time, I do not study a famous photograph of Yosemite tunnel view or Half Dome and go there to duplicate it.  If I had joined that group of 50+ photographers that day, I may have walked away with a stellar photograph of a great phenomenon, but it would not represent my vision and would therefore give me no joy.  I have seen many photographers, many of them in my own photography workshops, who go to a location and do the following.  They set up their tripods, and then look up other famous images of that location on their iphones and try to recreate it.  Being there in excellent light was by itself not sufficient.  They need this iphone review of past great images, to inspire them.  I am exactly the opposite.  When I visit a new location, my research through TripAdvisor, Google, Wikipedia and other sources, is restricted to figure out where to go, but never to study previously photographed images of that location.  I go there, soak it in and let the place talk to me.  Once a particular scene touches my visual heart, I pull out the camera and work on dissolving myself (get lost) into the scene.  I capture some compositions and keep fine tuning until I feel that my vision is exhausted.  In fact, if there is another photographer in the vicinity, I usually walk away until I find some solitude to work my vision unhindered.

That day, when the group I ran into, were set up to capture the glowing horsetail falls, I simply moved on and made my own images.  Here are my 7 keepers from my day trip to Yosemite on Feb 18.  None of them may be as stellar as Michael’s horsetail falls shot, but these are images dear to me as it represents my original vision.  I made them alone and haven’t seen another photographer’s work look similar to these.  These are mine and therefore extremely fulfilling for me.

  1. El Capitan and Afternoon Clouds
    El Capitan and Afternoon Clouds, Yosemite, CA.

    El Capitan and Afternoon Clouds, Yosemite, CA.

    Usually, I refrain from making landscape images in the afternoon.  Most of the time, I shoot early at sunrise or late at sunset.  However, the afternoon clouds offered an incredible sight on Feb 18.  The uninteresting afternoon light prompted me to give it a black and white treatment.

  2. Runoff stream from Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite, CA
    Runoff from BridalVeil Falls, Yosemite, CA

    Runoff from BridalVeil Falls, Yosemite, CA

    While the BridalVeil Falls by itself forms interesting viewing, it did not offer anything photogenic for my eyes.  I ended up spotting this area of its runoff.  In fact, I made over ten different compositions at this spot and finally picked this as my keeper.  The black and white treatment emphasizes the colorless winter look.

  3. Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Whenever, I see water bodies, I look for compositions similar to this one.  The emphasis is on the reflection in the water, while the trees above water provides the context.  The strong dark tree trunks in the left (along with its reflection) anchors an otherwise floating green scene.

  4. Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    This is another interpretation of the scene depicted in image 3 above.  I couldn’t resist the lure of the panoramic.  There is something very attractive about the 1:3 format for me.  A series of floating dark tree trunks are anchored by the strong pair of dark tree trunks on the right of the image.  Several individual frames were stitched to create this one.  Viewing this in a larger size on a large monitor brings out its glory better.  Try viewing this same image on a large monitor from my website gallery in the panoramic section.

  5. Vertical Face of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA
    Vertical face of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA

    Vertical face of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA

    Later in the afternoon, the clouds continued to mesmerize.  This time, I witnessed how the vertical face of El Capitan and its magnificient size could be emphasized by showing how it rises into the clouds.  Again, couldn’t resist the lure of the 1:3 format, but in the lesser used vertical form.  I stitched several frames vertically to create this.  The vertical pano format also emphasizes the height of this famous rock.  The uninteresting afternoon light called for black and white treatment.

  6. Trees and reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Here is another location that offered an excellent photo opportunity with mirror reflection of interesting trees with dark trunks.  I shot this originally in the native format of 2:3, but cropped a little to emphasize the reflection.  Again, this image has a greater impact when viewed in larger size.  View this in the Landscapes (color) section of my website gallery.

  7. Trees and reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    This is another interpretation of the same scene shown in image 6.  Again, I couldn’t resist the lure of the 1:3 panoramic format.  It is debatable which of image 6 and 7 is better.  I like both of them because I made them – my wife and kids love image 6 better.  This image is also better enjoyed as viewed larger from the panoramic section of my website gallery.

Walking away with 7 landscape keepers from one day’s shoot is unusual for me.  I usually find one keeper out of a day’s worth of effort.  Some of these images will eventually be deleted.  I think two of them may survive over time.  Since these are my new babies, I like all of them for now.

CONCLUSION

My point of this blog is not to belittle those that wanted to create the magic originally seen in Galen’s image of horsetail falls.  In fact, I am not sure if Galen was the first one to do it, but certainly his image is the earliest I have seen.  Also, Michael Frye’s image points out how one can be original even today, with the same old location.  My point, however, is that I see far too many photographers attending my workshops who are very happy simply recreating other images they have seen.  In fact, they keep visiting the same iconic locations that have been over-photographed.  Through this post, I want to encourage at least some of you serious photographers to go out and open up to find your own images.

It takes three visits …

When a new place is to be photographed, doing a great job on the first and only visit to the place is indeed rare.  I know this from first hand experience.  Whenever I visit a new place, I rarely succeed making a great image on the first day.  Usually, the first day is spent in just acclimatizing myself to the new location and developing a broad idea of the possibilities of the place.  On the second and third days that I am in the new location, I start to make images.  When I visited Yellowstone for the first time, I made good images on the second and third days, not the first day that I got there.  When I photograph locally around my house, a bulk of my landscape photographs are made over the weekend and typically one day of the weekend (such as a Saturday or a Sunday).  Therefore, my best local landscapes are made when I revisit the same location three consecutive weekends.

Earlier this month, I photographed the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which is located about 90 minutes from my home in San Jose, CA.  On my first visit to this place, I hiked with a friend and my son for several hours and had no images taken.  On our return, just by luck, I found a tree and the surrounding forest interesting and made a vertical panoramic stitch.  I would have been perfectly happy not making a single image in that visit, but I took advantage of the opportunity and made this image.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA.  Image made on first visit to location.  Usually, I am happy making no images on the first visit.

This image was made by shooting several vertically overlapping images that were stitched together in Photoshop.  Not a bad image for my first trip, but most people expect a lot of images from just one trip.

Now, on the way back from this first trip, I observed that the morning fog had settled on part of the road and furthermore, since the sun had risen quite a bit by our return, we also witnessed godbeams in several parts of the road.  However, due to earlier commitments, we could not stop to photograph.  I made a mental note of the location on the road and the time we saw that light, promising to come again soon.

The next day, I made my second visit to the same location, timing myself based on the previous days’ observation.  Lo and behold, the same light appeared on several sections of the road and I was able to make several images with greater ease and higher success.  Here are a few of them.

Early morning fog along road, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA

Early morning fog along road, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA.  Image made on my second visit to this location.

Trees and Morning Fog, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA

Trees and Morning Fog, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA.  Image made on second visit to this location.

Crepuscular rays, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA

Crepuscular rays, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA.  Image made on my second visit to this location.

These are just some of the images made during my second visit.  It was much more successful than my first trip.

Interesting thing is that I noticed a great vista point in the location that had bad light when I was returning from both my first and second visits.  To photograph from that vista point, I decided to make a third trip.

The following are couple of images I shot from the vista point, on my third visit.

Foggy morning, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA

Foggy morning, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA.  Image made on my third visit to this location.

Foggy morning, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA

Foggy morning, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek, CA, USA.  My last keeper image from my third visit.  My most favorite image from the three visits.

My last keeper image in this series also happens to be my favorite image from the series.  To reach this image, I had to make three visits.

In general, if you are looking to photograph a new landscape location, give it at least three visits.

Several things happen as you advance from the first to the third visit:

  1. You get very familiar with the roads and the access to key locations
  2. You get very familiar with the photogenic possibilities of the location
  3. You get very familiar with how and when the light is going to start and advance
  4. You get time in between the visits to pre-visualize a composition

In summary, allow time for the new location to grow on you.  Give it at least three visits.

If you like this post, please forward it to your friends.   Furthermore, I would greatly appreciate it if you could visit my Facebook page, https://Facebook.com/pixgaga and “like” it.  Comments on this post most welcome.

 

 

 

 

Working a composition

When I come across something interesting to photograph, I do not click one image of an obvious composition and walk away.  I start with the obvious compositions, but I keep refining and altering my position, until I have attempted a lot of variations.  Very often, when I review my work later in Lightroom, I find that my later refinements bring out the fine keepers.

I photographed a waterfall along Fern Creek in Muir Woods, CA, last week.  Let me illustrate how I worked the composition in that case.

The following image is the first image I made when I saw the waterfalls.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The first image made of the waterfalls

This first image has a number of branches coming in the way of the view of the falls.  Clearly, I don’t like it and try another shot by moving a bit.  The next image shown here removes a bunch of the blocks and the view is somewhat clear.  However, one fern leaf snuck into the lower end of the image.  It is important to understand that I was viewing through the viewfinder on my f2.8 lens, but I was shooting f22.  This causes this fern leaf to be almost invisible in the viewfinder, due to shallow depth of field, but it shows up in the f22 image.  Plus there is a brown twig in the lower left of the image.  I see all this in my LCD panel and decide to try again.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

I moved and made the following image, in an attempt to remove distracting blocks to the view of the falls.  The following image has problems though.  Some other brown dried leaf has now snuck in, plus the brown twig on the left is still there.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

After some more adjustments to my tripod position, I made the following image.  This composition is almost OK, but, during the 30 second long exposure, I got distracted talking to my kids in the nearby trail and accidentally touched/hit the tripod during the exposure.  Observing the top edge of the rock, just after the falls, I realize that it is not exactly sharp, due to the accidental hit to the tripod during the exposure.

The next image made

I try again, this time getting a sharp image, with minimum distractions.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

Taking one of the final frames during these series, as my base, I decided to use Lightroom to crop it and develop further.  FInally, I removed some branches and twigs to clean it up further.  The final result is as shown below.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

My final finished image

Many beginners ask me what I mean, when I say “work the composition more”.  I decided to illustrate using this example.

Let me know if you have any feedback on this post.

Surf along Pacific Grove in California

I visited the coast along Pacific Grove one Sunday morning a couple of weeks back.  It was a cloudy day with a slight drizzle.  I wanted to make photographs anyway.  Usually, I look for landscapes with my wide angle lens, composing near-far images.  Unfortunately, I was just beginning to use my Nikon D700, for which the required tripod L-plate was back-ordered.  I was left with only one choice, my 70-200 telephoto (this lens is mounted on the tripod and the camera hangs off of it).  It was an interesting constraint to work with.  After walking around for a while, I figured out a spot from which I could see the surf hitting the rocks along the coast forming interesting patterns as the water washed over the rocks.  I decided to photograph these patterns.  I shot about 200 frames that morning, each one attempting to time the flow of the water just when interesting patterns occurred.  Furthermore, I decided to make long exposures to capture the sense of movement.  To achieve this, I set the ISO to 200 (the native ISO of my Nikon D700), the aperture to f22 (to get the longest shutter speed possible) and let the camera operate in aperture priority mode.  The shutter speeds as determined by my camera ranged from 1/6 s to 1/13 s during my whole shoot.  The 70-200mm f2.8 lens was mounted on my RRS BH-55 Ballhead on my Gitzo 1340 Tripod.  Furthermore, I had my GPS-1A unit on to tag the GPS co-ordinates to my images and I was triggering using a cable release.  Here are a few images from the session, post processed using Lightroom 5 and Google’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

 

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

Surf, Pacific Grove, CA, USA

 

7 Lessons from a Waterfall Image

Fall leaves and small waterfall, Uvas Canyon, Morgan Hill, CA, USA

Fall leaves and small waterfall, Uvas Canyon, Morgan Hill, CA, USA

  1. In overcast conditions, look for colorful subjects (flowers, foliage etc) to make intimate landscapes.  Given the time of the year (mid-Nov), photographing fall leaves was a no-brainer for me.
  2. If possible, emphasize something in the foreground, against the background subject.  In this case, I found this colorful leaf for the foreground to anchor the shot of a background waterfall and more leaves.
  3. Photograph extensive depth images with a wide angle lens.  I used my 17-35mm f2.8.
  4. Use f22, if there is a foreground object very close to the lens, along with background that is far away.  This ensured front to back sharpness due to extensive depth of field.  My lens was about 9 inches away from the foreground leaf.
  5. Use your camera’s native ISO to keep the noise to the minimum.  I used ISO 200, native to my Nikon D300.
  6. Use a tripod.  The shutter speed for this shot was 30 s.  I could not have done it hand-held.  I used my light GK1580TQR5 tripod, coupled with my Kirk BH-1 Ball head.  This tripod is light enough and small enough to actually fit inside my camera backpack.  At the same time, I was not impressed by the ball-head that came standard with this tripod.  I therefore took it out and fitted my Kirk BH-1 ball-head to it.  I now have a fine light tripod, with an extraordinary ball-head.  This tripod provides the stability to shoot long exposures.  This ball-head provides ability to quickly and easily fine-tune my composition, once the tripod is setup.
  7. Do not trigger with your finger.  Use an electronic cable release.  I used one for this shot, to eliminate any camera shake, resulting in a sharp image.

When many things come together …

Grand Canyon Dawn in Winter

Grand Canyon Dawn in Winter

Many things came together that resulted in this image.

  1. Good light.  I almost thought that I would not get good light that morning.  It was dark, cold and cloudy.  However, the clouds just opened up and brought in some great light, just after sunrise.
  2. I found this rock as a foreground to lead the viewers into the image.
  3. There is tremendous depth.  You can examine the details from the foreground to the background and there is enough to see at every stage of your journey.

 

Marble Canyon, Arizona

Road and hills, Marble Canyon, Arizona, USA

Road and hills, Marble Canyon, Arizona, USA

Making this shot was an interesting experience.  When I was driving on this road, this composition occurred to me.  Stopped the car off the road and walked into the middle of the road to visualize some possibilities.  I tried several heights of the tripod – flat on the ground, at 1 feet height, 3 feet height and my eye level.  At each tripod height, I tried compositional variations and exposure variations.  Finally, this is the composition I selected.  The tripod is about 1 feet high (I think!).  To get end-to-end sharpness, I adjusted the aperture to f22.  Since this is a wide angle image, my 17-35mm f2.8 lens was used.  Of course, I used a remote release cable to open the shutter.  Gitzo 1340 tripod and Kirk BH-1 ball head provided the stability I needed.  My wife was extremely helpful – she stood by the side of the road and alerted me whenever a vehicle was approaching on the road.  All my attention was on the photographic technique and composition – she made sure that I did not get run over by a car.  Every time a vehicle approached, I lifted my tripod/camera and walked out of the road, then tried again.

Colorado River, Marble Canyon, Arizona

Colorado River, Marble Canyon, Arizona, USA

Colorado River, Marble Canyon, Arizona, USA

A view of the Colorado River that created the Grand Canyon as seen from Marble Canyon in Arizona.  This small image that fits the blog format does not do justice to the image.  Click on it to see it in larger size.  This image is a stitch of 3 separate shots.  I teach this stitching technique in the Advanced DSLR class that I just announced.