Friday, May 28, 2010

En route to Olympic

We arrived in Portland very late last night - and got up bright and early this morning to head for Forks, Washington. Yes - all you Twighlight fans out there - that Forks. :)

It is rainy and overcast, but we're not complaining. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful in any weather. And with any luck, we'll get some fantastic skies as the storms move through.

For those who are joining us in Olympic for this workshop - bring your rain gear! And get ready for a great trip. We can't wait to see all of you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Capturing Creatures

The critters that call our landscapes home are often elusive and hard to photograph. When we do foray into the world of animal photography, we try to make sure our images allow the creatures to stay in their habitat. Think about the difference between a studio portrait, and a candid shot. Both are representative of the subject - but the candid shot provides a bit of the real story.
The Great Egret (Ardea alba) in the photo above is an example of the "studio shot" I'm talking about. The bird is holding a perfect pose for me, and I've taken some liberties with the colors and light in order to create a mood. It's a pretty portrait shot - but it's a bit like touching up a posed senior photo, right? Still a nice image - don't get me wrong. In fact, I love this shot. It's just not what we are usually looking for.

Here are some shots that show a bit of habitat - and are more representative of reality. Jay photographed this cool little ghost crab (Ocypode pallidula) on Kauai - the locals call them 'ohiki. He used a 180mm macro lens to capture the tiniest details. It takes patience to get this close to these skittish little guys - they're very fast, and they disappear into their holes if you come too close. Jay sat near a burrow for a long time before this 'ohiki decided he wasn't a threat. The click of the shutter was enough to send him back underground, but Jay got a couple of nice shots in the end.
On another morning, we found ourselves on a sandy path en route to another beach. It was pitch dark, and we were navigating with flashlights. Suddenly, my light danced over one of these beautiful East African Land Snails (Achatina fulica) beside the path. These are an invasive species, and are considered pests, but they sure are pretty! We returned later to capture them in brighter conditions. They stayed in the cool shade, and pulled into their shells if we came too close. They avoided the sand - staying on damp, rich soil beside the path. Maybe they get kind of itchy if sand gets into their shells! :)

I used the 180mm macro lens to shoot this little guy. My depth of field was incredibly narrow, so I needed two shots to get both the shell and the body of the snail in focus. I combined the images in Photoshop when I got home... and also removed a distracting stick with the clone tool.
Here's an extreme close-up of a Female Widow Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa). She had settled on the side of our house, and I pulled out the camera to try for a few close-ups. I was thrilled when she decided to relocate to the garden - where I could capture a bit of green showing through those fantastic transparent wings. The light was pretty harsh that day, but she waited patiently while I went inside to get some thin paper to act as a filter. In fact, she sat perfectly still while I messed with my camera, and rattled the paper over her head, trying to keep it from blowing away in the wind.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Nights

It's always fun to try something new. Varina did a bit of night photography years ago - but neither of us has spent much time shooting in the dark in recent years. In the past several months, we spent some time shooting at night in Arizona and New Mexico. Here are a few of our attempts. What do you think?

This shot, titled "The Night Flight", is a digital blend of two images taken during our recent trip to Bisti Wilderness in New Mexico. The image was created using a technique Jay calls "Painting with Time", and no artificial lighting was used. He took one shot just as the last light was falling on the hoodoo - soft, directional lighting gives the formation a soft, golden glow. After taking the first shot, Jay left the camera and the tripod in place. Soon, the stars came out, and he adjusted the exposure to capture their light. (F5.6@25s, ISO 500). Later, he combined the images in Photoshop to create the final image you see above.
 Varina chose a simpler technique that evening at Bisti. Shortly after sunset, she used a 3.2 second shutter speed to capture these smooth hoodoos. The sky glowed with a soft magenta light in the West, and the reflected light created the slight color cast you see in the image.
We also tried some night photography in the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona. Jay's shot is titled "A Night at The Control Tower". This is an example of light panting. Although we generally prefer natural lighting, we find that a bit of artificial light can work well alongside ambient light. In this case, the ambient light was provided by the moon. Jay used a 30 second exposure (F4, ISO 200) to underexpose the scene by about 1.3 stops. He wanted to avoid a longer shutter speed, since it would result in "star trails". He used a headlamp to light The Control Tower as he waited. Matching the exposure for the foreground and the background required some experimentation.
While Jay was busy painting with light, Varina climbed high on the rocks in the dark to find a spot that offered an interesting view from above. She wanted to capture the glow of residual light on the bizarre Southwest landscape. In order to capture enough light, she used a whopping 266 second shutter speed (F16, ISO 100). (Though she could have reduced that long shutter speed by increasing the ISO.) The rich colors in the rock were enhanced by the very faint glow in the western sky.

Light Painting, "Painting with Time", star light, moon light, residual light... your options are wide open! Have you tried shooting after dark? If you have some night shots you'd like to share, leave a link in your comment. Make sure you tell us how you did it!

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