Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Photographing Fall Colors

Fall colors are spectacular right now. This past weekend we were able to spend some time shooting close to home.

This image taken from top of Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga National Park. We arrived just before sunrise, and Varina used a wide angle lens to capture the color in the sky before it faded. She bracketed the shot in order to capture the entire dynamic range, and then used our manual iHDR technique to combine three images.

Overcast skies are common this time of year, and they provide soft, even lighting - which is ideal for back-lighting fall leaves. Soft directional lighting lets the leaves glow without leaving them overexposed. Jay took this photograph off-trail at Liberty Park.

While enjoying the fall colors, don't forget to notice the small details. Jay took this shot of water droplets on a leaf early in the morning. He used a translucent silk scarf to diffuse the light and prevent harsh shadows and highlights.

We try to make the most of reflections at any time of year, but in the fall, they can be particularly beautiful. In this photograph from last year, Jay used the calm waters of Maroon Lake in Colorado to capture the reflection of the fall colors on the mountains. Jay choose NOT to use his circular polarizer filter because it would have minimized the reflections of the mountains and clouds.

And finally, make the most of Autumn's stormy weather. Passing storms can mean great light. When the clouds open up, make sure you are ready to capture incredible fall color juxtaposed beside dramatic skies!

Tips for Photographing Falls Colors
  • Fall colors are easiest to photograph under a thin, even cloud cover. This provides soft overcast light that helps balance out the highlight and shadows.
  • Don't forget to notice the details - pay attention to water droplets on leaves, and the texture of bark on the trees.
  • Use a circular polarizer to reduce scattered light and enhance Fall colors. This is especially effective when you are photographing wet leaves.
  • When necessary, use a GND filter to balance the light. This will bring out the details in every part of the image.
  • Look for reflections to enhance the colors of the fall images. Don't use a circular polarizer when you are trying to capture reflections.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

When Oppourtunity Knocks...

...be ready to answer the call. In nature photography opportunity doesn't always knock at the most convenient time, or in the best location. On more then one occasion, we've found ourselves under perfect skies while in the car between destinations... or as we were hiking towards a spectacular photographic icon... or when we have six kids in the back seat. When the skies are right, we try to take advantage of the opportunity, no matter where we are. And we're usually pretty glad we did.

As we were hiking towards Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, the storm clouds opened up, and beams of soft light lit the entire area. Rather then continuing down the trail to Horseshoe bend (and risking a missed opportunity) we set up our cameras trail-side to capture the partially diffused light. We made it to Horseshoe Bend a few minutes later, but we captured the best light on the way.

While hiking through Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, we were surprised by a fast moving storm. As we were running towards a shelter, we noticed the blue glow of Pearl Spring with dark storm clouds hanging in the background. Jay set up his tripod and captured a single shot before running to catch up with Varina and the kids... who reached the shelter just moments before it started hailing.

On the last day of a trip to Utah, heavy clouds obscured the sky. We were en route to the airport, when the cloud cover began to open up... so we changed our course. Rather than heading directly for Salt Lake City, we pulled out the map and headed towards the beautiful clouds. We stopped on the side of the road to capture a few photos before the clouds closed in once again. In the end, we caught our flight with time to spare - and got some unexpected photographs as well.

When you are shooting outdoors, you never know when opportunity will come knocking...but when it does, we hope you'll be ready to answer with camera in hand.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Featured Download: Cuyahoga Valley

Today's featured background image is from right here in Ohio. I took this photograph in Cuyahoga Valley National Park a year or two ago. I hadn't planned on shooting that day, but the sky was so incredible that I packed up my gear and went out with my youngest son. He loved the walk, and I got a few photographs of our beautiful park. This will be my computer wallpaper for the next couple of weeks. :) I hope you enjoy it, too.

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More free wallpaper is available at our Download Site.

These images are provided for personal use as computer wallpaper or backgrounds ONLY. Copyright belongs to the photographer, and photographs cannot be used, redistributed, or recreated in print or on the web or on any other medium without written permission from the photographer.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Suprada Urval - Photo Talk with Varina Patel

I am honored to be featured on Suprada Urval's photo blog this week. Suprada joined us for an iHDR seminar this summer, and asked if I would answer a few questions for her blog. She also spoke with Jay some time ago, and his interview is available on the blog as well. Suprada has featured several other photographers over the past few years, and she also has a beautiful gallery of her own photos available online. Take a look!

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 3

...continued from Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 2...

When we travel with the kids, we're also concerned about bed-times... so that means late sunset and early sunrise photography are not going to happen. If you can manage it, why not travel with the kids during the winter months? Our kids are all in school now, so winter travel is difficult, but younger families can take advantage of off-season hotel rates and enjoy parks without the crowds that tourist-season brings. Why not take the family to Death Valley in January or February (we've been there many times, but not yet with the kids)? Summer weather in the Mojave Desert is remarkably unpleasant - unless you like scorching heat and bone-dry weather - but the winter months are wonderful. Death Valley is nice and warm in winter, and passing storm-fronts make for wonderful skies. When children are along, shorter winter days mean you can shoot both sunrise and sunset while your child is awake.

And best of all, a playing child makes a perfect "foreground object" for those wide angle scenics. Although they aren't part of my public collection, some of the photos I've taken of my kids are my favorite shots.

So, get out there and shoot! No excuses! :) And have fun - because that's what having kids is all about!

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 2

...continued from Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 1...

Before we leave home, we do some serious research. We're looking for sunrise and sunset times, weather patterns, tide charts, topographical maps, various shooting locations, and the advice of park rangers, local residents, and other photographers. We make sure we know a lot about a variety of potential shooting locations.

Even with good information, we never decide exactly where we'll shoot until we're on location. We may plan a trip months in advance, but we wait until we're there to decide where to shoot. We're watching weather patterns to make sure we have the best possible conditions... and we're willing to drive long distances to reach the best destinations. Our plans are constantly changing based upon cloud cover, humidity levels, and the angle of the sun.

If the weather is bad or the light isn't right for shooting, we explore the area. We look for locations with interesting foreground and background - and we note the topography of the area for future reference. We'll return to choice spots when conditions are right - maybe a day or two later, and maybe on another trip. We try not to waste any of our travel time, so that future trips might be more fruitful.

Although most of our trips are child-free, the kids do travel with us about once a year. This year, they joined us for a trip to Michigan, and last year, we went to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument. We've also been to Florida and Colorado with the kids. Those trips are generally geared towards the children rather than photography - so we're less likely to shoot for our portfolios when the kids are with us. However, if the skies are fantastic, they can listen to a story in the car or play nearby while we shoot. These shots were taken from the side of the road in Yellowstone National Park - the kids were listening to a music CD while we photographed the storm clouds at sunset. :)

When the children are with us we choose locations that are child-friendly (no 2000 foot cliffs!), and we looked for daytime lighting conditions that accent the location. Waterfalls, for example, are just beautiful in overcast conditions - and small children are fascinated by the falling water.

...continued on Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 3...

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 1

Jay and I have six kids between us. Four are mine, and two are his. They range in age from 6 - 13. We are always busy - homework, school programs, soccer games, cross country meets, martial arts classes, gymnastics practice, swim team, and all the other things that are part of having kids. It's great fun - but it's also hard to find time for the things WE love to do.

Lots of you have kids, too - and one of the questions we hear a lot is this:


"How do you balance family and a photographic career?"


Well, it's not easy. We work a lot in the evenings and on weekends - and we try hard to make sure that the kids have our attention when they need it most. That means that family time is usually more important than getting those photos from our latest trip processed.

Fitting travel into a busy schedule takes creativity and lots of advance planning. We travel about once a month (if possible), and in most cases, our children stay at home with a trusted adult. Most of our trips last for just a few days - we generally travel over a long weekend - so we try hard to put ourselves in the best possible location at the right time. Research and flexibility are essential.

...continued on Q and A - Finding the Balance - Part 2...

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

Dramatic sunbeams like those in the photographs you see here, occur only under certain conditions. Sunbeams appear when sunlight passes through - and is scattered by - particles in the air. In order to effectively photograph sunbeams, we need to capture them against a dark background... like heavy storm clouds. The difference between dark and light makes the sunbeams stand out.

In this shot from Glacier National Park, the sunlight scattered as it passed through particles of water vapor in the air. The dark valley provided an excellent backdrop, allowing the sunbeams to stand out. Heavy, humid air is a perfect medium for sunbeams - and because it was late in the day, the light took on a golden tone.

This photograph was taken in Arizona's spectacular Antelope Canyon. The air is very dry here in the desert, so these is little moisture to create water vapor in the air. However, the floor of the canyon is covered with fine sand. We tossed handfuls of the sand into the air, and photographed the resulting sunbeams against the dark walls of the slot canyon.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Featured Download: Autumn Light

Today's featured download is Jay's shot of Baxter State Park in Maine, titled "Autumn Light". We didn't have time to explore the park before sunset on that day, so we weren't sure where to set up our cameras. We noticed the light touching the tree tops along the river, and stopped to get the shot... just in time. A few more minutes, and the opportunity was gone.

Click on the link below to download this free wallpaper at the appropriate size for your monitor:

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1440 x 900

More free wallpaper is available at our Download Site.

These images are provided for personal use as computer wallpaper or backgrounds ONLY. Copyright belongs to the photographer, and photographs cannot be used, redistributed, or recreated in print, on the web, or in any other medium without the consent of the photographer.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Video Tutorial - Creating a Mask with the Color Selection Tool

Our last video tutorial showed you how to blend two images using a gradient mask and adjustment layer in Photoshop. Although the technique works well for some images, it isn't ideal in every situation. We use the gradient technique when we want to reduce the brightness of the sky in an image with a relatively straight horizon line. In today's video tutorial, we're going to show you how to use the color selection tool instead. This tool allows you to select a region of the image based upon its color. Once again, the technique won't work for every image - but it's a great tool to know about. We'll start with two bracketed images layered one on top of the other - one processed for the highlights, and the other for the shadows...

For more articles and tutorials, click here.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Learning to See: Unique Perspective

In our first two posts on learning to see creatively, we talked about shooting in less-than-perfect lighting conditions, and using creative compositions. This third post will focus on shooting from a unique perceptive. Explore the location from every angle, and look through your camera's viewfinder to try a variety of different compositions. Get the attention of the viewer by doing something something different or unexpected - why not shoot from inside a cave or behind a waterfall rather than choosing the same spot every other photographer has shot from?

During our visit to Kootenay National Park in Canada, we visited a burnt forest. The day was hot and humid - and we were there in the middle of the afternoon. Although Jay's primary goal was to shoot wildflowers growing in the region, he wanted to capture the remains of the forest fire as well. At first, he tried typical shots of trails and burnt trees, but nothing really impressed him. As he prepared to leave, he looked up at the clouds and realized he wasn’t thinking creatively. He took this shot of dead trees towering overhead with his camera pointed straight up towards a languid sky.

We visited Antelope Canyon in May - hoping to capture the sunbeams for which the slot canyon is famous. The sun was high in the sky, and we threw handfuls of sand into the air to catch the light as it streamed through gaps in the overhanging canyon walls. The bizzare twists and turns of the canyon walls made the location seem almost surreal - and Varina tilted the camera to make the most of an unusual composition.

Like most visitors, when Jay visited Dry Tortugas, he was instantly drawn to the colors and textures of this beautiful location. When he saw the old but majestic Red Fort surrounded by shallow turquoise waters, he made up his mind to shoot the location from the sky. The next day, he chartered an over-wing airplane and flew to Dry Tortugas just as dawn was breaking on the horizon. He took this photograph from high above the beautiful park.

Tips for Unique Perspective

  • Get down close to the ground and look straight up at the sky to capture the scene from an unusual angle.
  • Shoot from the air to capture a bird's-eye view.
  • Tilt your camera and use unusual angles to create an abstract photograph.
  • Shoot from inside, under, or behind objects to add an element of surprise to your images

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