Photo Cascadia Blog
November 28th, 2016
American Dreamscapes – Book Review
By David Cobb
I’ve been friends with Christian Heeb for a number of years. An immigrant from Switzerland, Heeb first got his photographic start in the U.S. photographing the Native American. His wonderment in the American myth of the Wild West led him to a variety of places including the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and Route 66 among others. During his career—which includes over 200 published books—his assignments have taken him to every corner of the states and also around the world. His newest venture isn’t for a U.S. or German publisher however, but a personal project titled American Dreamscapes.
American Dreamscapes is the American dream not as interpreted by Horatio Alger, but maybe one closer to the vision of film director Quentin Tarantino. Coming of age in Switzerland, Heeb’s photography has certainly been influenced by fellow countryman Robert Frank; but Heeb also has influences in the surreal imagery of Gregory Crewdson, and the more voyeuristic photos of David Drebin. His settings also remind me of the more banal locations of photographer Stephen Shore.
Many photographers of the lost America like Anthony Hernandez, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams show the blight of American expansion and decay, and those who have been left behind or forgotten. Heeb photographs the edge of American life in a Hopperesque way: from the wayward hotel to the diner, with guns, girls, cars, and sex being common themes. This is the dark side of “when America was great again,” and this is the America that would give Dorothea Lange nightmares.
These people are not only on the fringe of society, but also on the fringe of daybreak. These are the hours when the neon glows brightly, and the hours when folks are desperate enough to commit a crime as seen in his images “The Hold Up” or “Stolen Car.” His models pose with cold distant looks, disconnected from each other and reality. In the photo “The Fun Center,” they’re having anything but fun. These people inhabit a lurid world, and they’re all trying to hang on to make it through another day.
American Dreamscapes is a limited-edition book which may be purchased in both print and digital versions from the Christian Heeb website. The book is in the dual languages of English and German.
Here is a link to download your digital copy here at his web site.
November 21st, 2016
Every autumn there is a great chance to see some of our national parks dressed in fall colors. This year I was excited to lead the group to Yosemite National Park. It is
known to have some of the grandest landscapes in North America. People from all over the world visit Yosemite at all times of the year, but no season is prettier than autumn. The park’s open meadows turn golden with the changing seasons, frost covers the layers of grasses, and the leaves on the trees turn vivid colors of yellow, orange and red. The scenic elements of Yosemite all come together during the autumn. Waterfalls gracefully stream down the larger than life walls of granite, framed by the golden leaves, making their way to the Merced River. The Merced winds its way from start to finish through the middle of the Lower Yosemite Valley. It is in this central heart of the park where everything combines that is the perfect place to photograph in autumn.
The tour began when the group left the Fresno Airport and headed north for Yosemite. On the drive into the park we were met with autumn hues everywhere, especially as we got nearer to our destination. The fall foliage was at its peak and the group was soon motivated to get out and shoot. This fall season was a little different from other years—in a good way—as Yosemite had significant rainstorms, which caused a massive amount of water to flow into the valley. The iconic waterfalls, such as Upper Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls, were pouring out large volumes of water, making for a great combination of autumn color and cascading falls.
Let me give you a glimpse into one day in Yosemite National Park during autumn. On our first morning we headed to an area known to locals as Tahiti Beach on the mighty Merced River at the base of El Capitan and the Three Brothers for the sunrise. The group lined up against the shore of the river and photographed with their widest lenses looking for reflections in the quiet pools. This unique location provides several vantage points of the iconic peaks reflected in the river. Again, because of this year’s excess water from the rains, the group found all kinds of rain pools to photograph reflections of fall foliage and the granite peaks of Yosemite.
During the morning the waterfalls and mountains were photographed framed by the colors dressing the trees. Throughout the day we continued photographing along the Merced River, focusing on as much fall color as we could find. As the day warmed, and recent rainwater began to evaporate, the mist rose from the Lower Yosemite Valley. This made for fantastic atmospheric conditions, especially when combined with the colors from the trees.
The highlight of the day was when we came upon a single elm tree in the middle of a meadow with a “spotlight” shining down upon it. At the time most of the valley was in clouds, but an opening in the sky allowed light to shine on this one solitary tree. The combination of the mist, the fall colors, and the light created the perfect conditions. We shot the tree from all kinds of angles as the light lasted for several minutes before moving on. Then, a few minutes later, we found another meadow with atmospheric mist combined with frost. This time the sun peeked through the mist and the crepuscular rays illuminated through the wall of trees and showcased the frost and golden color of autumn.
After having a quick bite to eat the group jumped back into the van ready to locate more fall color in the park. Walking along the Merced River we made our way to El Capitan Meadow and El Capitan Bridge. Standing on the bridge you can photograph in any direction and get perfect fall reflections with the backdrop of El Capitan or the Cathedral Spires mirrored in the river. With the challenges of shooting due to the different kinds of light, the group took a shot at exposure bracketing and HDR. For some of the group this was the first time ever trying this technique. Exposure bracketing is the process of taking several different exposures of the same scene without moving the camera on a tripod. At the end you have several different exposures of a scene to combat the variety of different types of light in one scene. Later, during processing, all of these different exposures are combined into one for one evenly exposed image.
One of the many outstanding features in Yosemite is the number of stunning peaks that rise from the valley floor and are lined up next to one another. This makes for great landscape panoramas. Throughout the day the group put together several panoramas from several locations in the park.
For our sunset shoot we headed to the unbelievable scenic viewpoint at Tunnel View. As the sun began to set and the pink pastel hues began to appear the group waited in anticipation. With the combination of Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls all in one scene it was a memorable sunset shoot that no one would soon forget.
After a full day of shooting autumn color in Yosemite we headed back to our lodging for a group dinner and some well earned rest. And that was just our first day!
November 7th, 2016
In the video tutorial below (email subscribers can click the title link to view the video on the web) I take you through a feature of Photoshop that is super helpful and pretty simple, but also something that can be a little confusing for a lot of people…customizing your Photoshop workspace.
Photoshop is a massive application with powerful tools aimed at different types of uses…photography, digital painting, graphic design, 3D modeling and website development just to name a few. It arranges similar tools, functions and features into panels. You can also add custom panels to Photoshop, such as Tony Kuyper’s TKActions and Infinity Mask panels. Very few of us ever make regular use of every single Photoshop panel. In addition, we all have different workflow preferences and screen space limitations. The ability to create one or more custom workspaces in Photoshop enables you to personalize and evolve your space to best fit how you work and establish optimal efficiency and creative flow.
I hope you find this tutorial helpful. Please post in questions in the comments section and please share any of your own Photoshop workspace tricks and tips.
Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
October 27th, 2016
Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.
These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.
Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.
Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.
Focal Length Blend:
This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.
One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.
A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.
This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.
These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.
When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.
Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)
This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.
The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.
Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require the combination of many focus points.
The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).
A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.
Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.
Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.
WHEN, WHY, AND HOW MUCH?
My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.
**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!
Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
October 19th, 2016
As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).
View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)
I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)
All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.
As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.
The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!
Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)
More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)
When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.
My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)
What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.
The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)
Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.
Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)
Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)
I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)
October 2nd, 2016
Autumn is a favorite time for photographing in the Pacific Northwest. There are so many places to capture fall colors but nothing quite compares to photographing Mount Rainier in autumn. The Pacific Northwest and Mount Rainier make the perfect combination of elements needed for stunning images of fall photography. Not only is Mt Rainier known for its larger than life size but it picturesque lakes, waterfalls, meadows, and tundra. Although it varies year to year I find the best time for fall colors is the last week of September to Mid-October. But the color usually lasts until the first week of November when the snow first starts. Check fall reports on the Internet and the Mt Rainier website for more up to date information. There are two main areas to visit when going to Mt Rainier, which are the Paradise side and the Sunrise side. Both have excellent fall color and a host of different aspects to photograph. In my experience the fall colors start a few weeks earlier on the Sunrise side. The best places to photograph on the Sunrise side are Yakima Peak, Emmons Glacier (Silver Forest Trail), and the Tipsoo Lake area. Take time to explore around Tipsoo Lake especially the Naches Peak trail and both the Upper and Lower Tipsoo surrounding lakes. Early morning around Tipsoo Lake usually has a host of colors and mist that make for excellent atmospheric images. When photographing in late September the stunning sunrises make for great fall conditions. In terms of the foliage high elevation red huckleberry and larch is what you can expect to find on Mt Rainer. The other types of foliage you see are cottonwoods, willows, elderberry, aspen, tamarack (western larch) and deciduous trees. Although there are several types of foliage to shoot in autumn on Mt Rainier my personal favorite is the Red Huckleberry. The red is visually very impactful and always sticks out above other fall foliage. Look to incorporate the red huckleberry when combining it with areas of water like lakes and ponds that mirror the color of red. The red huckleberry is the first sign of fall color followed by larches, which tend to occur at the later stages of autumn.
When it comes to photographing on the Paradise side of Mount Rainier I always like to start off looking for fall colors at the Paradise Inn which has a great view of the mountain and the best displays of fall color right at the visitor center. Heading up the pathway to Myrtle Falls the views only getting better as well the color. Look to incorporate waterfalls as well as the mountain when making your way up the mountain from the Paradise side. Although the hike can be somewhat strenuous the hike is worth it. If you keep along the paths they converge into the Paradise Valley where the mountain is in full view but also if you turn 180 degrees away from the mountain you get grand views of the Tatoosh range. The Tatoosh Range looks best at sunset. The Paradise Meadows also makes a great sunset spot when the weather looks active and the clouds are moving in. Sometimes the clouds move over Mt Rainier making it impossible to see but the action on the Tatoosh Range gets color. So in essence it’s your safest bet if you are looking to capture some fall colors on the mountain.
If you continue up the hill past Myrtle Falls you will eventually reach the Mazama Ridge. It’s my favorite area to see the mountain and fall color. With wide-open meadows of fall color and full views of the mountain it makes for an excellent combination. The total hike in and out from the Mazama Ridge is about 4 miles but there are several areas to stop along the way for fall colors. If you like to shoot reflection images of the mountain you can’t do better than both the Reflection Lakes and Bench Lake areas. I always make an annual stop at these lakes early in the morning to capture both atmospheric mist and fall colors.
Another favorite of mine for great views of the mountain is the hike up to Pinnacle Peak saddle and the surrounding areas. There are great views of Mount Adams as well from up here. The hike is short but steep. Once at the saddle I explore around the area for good compositions and color.
The hikes around the lake also present many possibilities to shoot more intimate shots of autumn. If you are looking to capture images of fall color and forest scenes then head into the Grove Of Patriarchs. Many short hikes in this forest provide stunning forest views of the tall trees and fall colors. To get really creative try photographing really low to the ground and look straight up with the camera and shoot fall colors and the trees together. With so many places to photograph on Mt Rainier you always have many options available.
If you are lucky enough to live close to the mountain September is a great time to watch the mountain for unusual weather activity. Because the elevation of Mt Rainier is so high it creates its own weather system. So your chances of seeing unusual weather patterns like lenticular cloud buildup is quite possible. In layman terms lenticular clouds are those clouds that look like UFO’s in the sky but are caused by encounters with obstructions in the sky like very high mountain peaks. Known also as “wave clouds” they make for very interesting patterns and when combined with fall colors make for ideal conditions. In autumn I check the webcams quite often looking for a buildup of these clouds as it takes often several hours to buildup. The Paradise Valley makes for one of the best spots to see this unique weather pattern. The other place that I will often head to if I see these weather patterns is along the Silver Forest Trail, which is about .5 of a mile from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center.
With so many options on Mt Rainier to photograph as well as the diversity of colors it makes for the perfect place to photograph. Combine all of the elements of unusual weather, stunning sunrises, and atmospheric conditions and Mt Rainier makes for the perfect autumn spot to photograph.
September 26th, 2016
I have to admit, I have had a bit of sensor envy for the past few years. I have watched many people sell off all of their Canon gear and switch over to the Nikon D800, D810, and Sony AR7 and AR7II, many times never looking back. I have thought about it myself, but just didn’t want to go through the lengthy process of selling all of my cameras and lenses and then learn a whole new system. I just like my Canon gear, it is what I have always used, and it just feels right. Plus, the Canon 11-24mm F/4 is a really great lens and not something available from the other systems. But, I have to be honest, I would have loved to have some extra dynamic range from time to time, and my Canon 5D Mark II, and then Mark III, have definitely fallen short of the competitors in this category. Pulled shadows from both of these cameras just don’t look good. There is a clear loss of detail, exaggeration of noise, and some really ugly banding when going to extremes. I had been holding out with hope that Canon would come out with a new camera that could compete in the dynamic range category with the big guys. So, imagine my curiosity when I saw this posted online by DxOMark here:
From the graph, it appears that the 5D Mark IV, with its new sensor technology, can actually compete. The Nikon is the winner at the very lowest ISO’s, but the three cameras are almost exactly equal at a little above ISO 100 until about ISO 250. This is the range that I most often shoot in so this is good news! Even at more extreme ISO’s, the Canon and the Sony are very close, giving the Sony a slight edge. The Nikon falls behind both shortly after ISO 200, but not by much.
The next test that I came across by DPReview can be seen here, This tool allows you to choose between various different cameras and compare dynamic range while choosing ISO and how much the exposure has been pushed.
In this example, each shot has been pushed 6 stops at ISO 100. Pretty extreme but fun to compare. It looks to me like the Nikon and Sony have a noticeable edge here over the 5D Mark IV, but the 5D Mark III looks pretty terrible.
In this next example, each shot has been pushed 5 stops at ISO 200. Once again, very extreme. In this one, the Mark IV, Sony, and Nikon all appear pretty similar, with the 5D Mark III looking pretty terrible once again.
I have had my hands on a 5D Mark IV now for a week or two. Along with much improved dynamic range, the 5D Mark IV is showing improvements in high ISO over the Mark III, and the extra resolution is very nice for some added detail. I haven’t done any extensive shooting with it in the field yet, but so far so good. One more thing worth mentioning about this camera is the added Dual Pixel Raw technology. Here is an interesting writeup on what Dual Pixel Raw is and isn’t. Basically, Canon says that this technology “enables pixel-level adjustment and refinement for still photographs and includes Image Micro-adjustment to help maximize sharpness in detail areas, Bokeh Shift for more pleasing soft focus areas and Ghosting Reduction to help reduce aberrations and flare.“ None of this really sounds that useful to me as a landscape photographer, but digging around one day I came upon this article over on Rawdigger.com, and this article over on Imaging-Resource.com . Basically what they are saying is that there exists an extra stop of dynamic range in the highlights within images captured in Dual Pixel Raw mode. Now, at this time Lightroom doesn’t support Dual Pixel Raw, but they have said they are working on support and it will become available in the near future. It would be pretty cool if they also figured out a way to access that extra stop of dynamic range in the highlights!
September 19th, 2016
The video tutorial below shows how to save image files that exceed the TIFF file size limit as PSB files and also how to access them in Lightroom and Bridge. This is a challenge that is becoming more common as digital camera resolution increases and as stitching multiple images to make super high resolution photos becomes more popular. I hope you find it helpful. If you have any questions or tips for working with large image files that you have found helpful make sure to share them in the comments section below.
As digital camera resolution continues to increase, with 30 to 50 MP cameras becoming the norm, and as photographers employ more advanced PS techniques with lots of layers, smart objects and luminosity masks, it is common to bump up against image file size limitations. PSD files have a maximum file size limit of 2GB. TIFF files have a 4GB size limit. Unfortunately Photoshop doesn’t do a good job of predicting final saved file size when there are a lot of layers, masks and smart objects involved. So even when the file size indicator shows a file size of less than 4GB you will often get an error message when trying to save. I find that many of my images indicate a file size of less than 3GB but actually exceed the 4GB size limit.
I frequently get questions from photographers wondering what to do when their images exceed the size limit. When an image exceeds the 4GB tiff limit the solution is to save it as a PSB file, where “B” stands for big. PSB files have a size limit of 4 exabytes! I had never heard of an exabyte before, but apparently it is a million terabytes, so the PSB format should do the trick for just about any image considering that my computer only has a measly 8 terabytes of hard drive space anyway.
PSB files are a the solution, but they don’t come without their own issues. You can see them in Bridge, but they don’t generate a thumbnail, so you can’t tell what the image is just by looking at it.
If you are a Lightroom user then you currently can’t even import PSB files into your Lightroom catalog at all. This is a problem for me because I do use LR extensively for cataloging and locating my images. If I don’t see an image in LR I quickly forget it even exists. It also means that I can’t include the image in Lightroom slide shows, collections or print it from Lightroom. Even if I do remember that I have a particular PSB image it is a hassle trying to hunt down where it is so I can open it in PS. It would really be nice if Adobe would add PSB support to Lightroom, but I’m not the first person to say this and so far they haven’t.
Until then, here is a solution that will enable you to see PSB images in Lightroom and Bridge. It’s less than perfect, but better than nothing. I’ll also mention that I didn’t figure this out. As with most of what I know about photography, I learned it through the kindness of others who are smarter than I am and I’m just paying the knowledge forward. Check out the video to see how to save PSB files and how to access them in Lightroom.
Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
September 14th, 2016
by Zack Schnepf
I think the histogram is one of the most important and useful tools in all of photography. It’s a tool I rely on throughout my entire workflow, but I notice it’s a concept that many students have a hard time fully understanding. It can be confusing at first, but once you understand your histogram, you can master your exposures. In this article I’ll share how I use the histogram and why I find it so usefulI. I’ll discuss how I use it the field and in post production.
What is a histogram, how do you read it, and what information does it gives you? Basically, a histogram is a graphical representation of the tonality of an image. It shows what tones and colors exist in an image and the concentration of these tones. Here is the basic anatomy of a histogram. This histogram is from the image below of First Snow on Gothic Peak. The left edge of the graph represents pure black, any tones beyond the left edge have no detail in them. Conversely, the right edge represents pure white, any tones beyond the right edge have no highlight detail, they are just pure white. The middle of the graph represents the mid tones of the image. So, left to right is the luminosity scale, or how bright or dark the tones are. In this histogram you can see overlapping graphs of the three color channels RGB(red, green, blue) The height of the graphs indicates the concentration of tones of color and luminosity tones. For instance, in the histogram you can see I have a spike in the blue channel toward the left side, that tells me I have a lot of dark blue tones in this image. There is also a spike in the red channel right in the middle which tells me I have a large concentration of red midtones which you can see in the red foliage of the image. The Height of the peaks is not important for judging exposure, so don’t worry how high the peaks are. One of the most important things I look for in the field and in post processing is information that might be getting lost in either the shadows, or highlights. In this histogram you can see that all of the information is being contained. I can tell, because none of the color channel graphs are bumping into either edge. I’ll elaborate on this further in the sections below.
In the field, I rely on my histogram as a guide to give me an accurate assessment of each exposure I capture. One of the biggest mistakes I see when teaching photo workshops is a student judging an exposure using the LCD on their camera. I’ve been burned by this too many times to count. I’ll be shooting in a low ambient light situation, take a quick look at the image on the LCD and think it looks great, but when I get home and view it on my computer I realize it’s way underexposed. The low ambient light makes the image on the LCD seem really bright. The only way to truly judge an exposure in the field is to check the histogram. Below are 2 bracketed exposures of the same scene. One exposed to capture the tones in the bright sky and the other exposed to capture the tones in the foreground area. In the field, the darker exposure looked good on the LCD, you could even see detail in the foreground grasses, but one look at the histogram told me those foreground tones were way too dark. You can see on the histogram for the darker exposure, the highlight detail is being captured well, there is no information being lost in the highlight, but there is a large spike next to the left edge of the histogram. This indicates a high concentration of dark tones that contain very little detail. I wanted to take another exposure to capture detail in the shadows.
This lighter exposure has plenty of detail in the shadows. You can see in the histogram, the detail that was being lost in the shadows is being captured well. There is now plenty of detail in the foreground grasses and stream. On the other hand, the highlight tones are blowing out. You can see there is a huge spike on the right edge of the histogram and it goes right up to the edge and beyond. Anything beyond the edge has no detail in it. This is what is known as a high dynamic range scene. You could try to compromise and get an exposure in between and use Lightroom and Photoshop to recover the tones that are being lost, or you can bracket exposures and try to combine multiple exposures that contain a lot more information. Either way, the histogram is the tool that will tell you if you have captured the information you need, or not.
In post production the histogram helps me determine which tonality adjustments to make. Below is an image captured while teaching a workshop in the Palouse this spring. You can see on the histogram, most of the color and luminance tones are concentrated in the middle and left side of the image. This indicates that it is a low contrast, dark exposure. This is important information to determine what post processing this image needs. I would like to add contrast, but also brighten the image.
This is after one contrast adjustment. I was able to increase contrast, brighten the image, and control some highlights that were getting too bright. You can see the tones in the histogram are more spread out, but the highlights and shadows have plenty of detail information in them. From here I can decide if want to add more contrast. I can also lighten, or darken the overall exposure. Either way, the histogram will help guide me to the finished image.
You can learn more about Zack and his instructional videos on his website
September 7th, 2016
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” —Neil Gaiman
Exhibiting any creative work entails some amount of risk. Anyone who has a reason to show their work to others has a reason to care about how well it is received. No creative photographer is ever entirely immune to fretting over that simple question that begs for consideration before the release of a new photograph: “Will they like it?” Even if all that is at stake is a feeling of accomplishment, the risk is real, especially for those photographs that we hold dearest.
The higher levels of risk involve decisions that take us outside our norms, whether they are departures from the conventions of a genre as a whole or simply from those of one’s own oeuvre. A risky decision might entail working in a certain type of light, featuring an obscure location, composing in an unconventional fashion, employing a new post-processing treatment, or any number of other decisions that might place us outside our comfort zones. The further we step out on a limb, the more unnerving it can be, so having a strong will is important for taking those steps. What follows is advice for making risky creative decisions with confidence, some thoughts to keep in mind when you feel as though you may be flying without a net.
Onward and Upward
Risk is essential to creative work. Taking risks is how we make progress, how we manage to put something of our own selves into our photographs, and how we can get that special taste of satisfaction for having done so. It is all too easy to fall into habits that seem to work well and that feel safe, and sometimes those habits can become limiting. Of course, there is a lot to be said for reaching a point of some consistency as an artist. Establishing what we like is crucial to self-expression, so consistency in a portfolio usually indicates a certain level of creative maturity. Nonetheless, if consistency drifts into habitual repetition, it ceases to be self-expression; at that point, it’s just rehashing. When you find yourself at a crossroads wondering if you should play it safe or take a risk on something, just remember that the latter option is likely to be more rewarding in the long run. Even if you deem it a failure at first, your decision may be a first step towards a development that you never could have imagined at the outset.
Move Towards, Not Away
Probably the strongest reason to make any unusual creative decision is because of a compulsion to do it. If we are genuinely drawn to an idea or are at least curious to see the results, then we are responding to an inner urge, following our own instincts. The opposite situation would be to make a decision to do something unusual for the mere sake of novelty, fixating on what we want to avoid instead of on what we find interesting. Creativity is the pursuit of ideas and the application of them, not a simple rejection of what came before. If a risky decision holds distinct appeal, then at least you know that you’re following your own nose when you carry it out, and that is usually reason enough to do it.
Be in it for the Long Haul
When a photograph departs from some kind of norm, a portion of your audience may not ‘get’ it. Accept that familiarity is appealing to most people, and that not everyone who typically enjoys your photographs will cheer you on enthusiastically down whatever trail you may blaze. Even if your experiments do not result in immediate encouragement, there could be momentum building, and if that is the case, then you will only ever realize it if you stay the course. Regardless, doing something unconventional is gutsy, and that point in itself should provide a certain degree of satisfaction and motivation. Knowing that you are being true to yourself is a source of real power that can continue to propel you forward.
Be Honest with Yourself
It is possible to convince ourselves that our accidents are happy ones, especially if we put a lot of effort into a photograph that ultimately missed a mark in some regard. If a photograph has some quality that is unusual simply because misfortune struck, then it should undergo special scrutiny. Sometimes the results of happenstance will be genuinely appealing and will inspire further experimentation along the same lines, but otherwise we need to let go. We should never allow a rescue mentality to convince us that an unsatisfactory photo is a bold act of creativity.
Tomorrow is Another Day
Keeping perspective is important. No matter what you produce today, even if it amounts to the biggest feather in your cap, the next blank canvas awaits you. What ultimately matters most is the process of creation, which for a nature photographer means experiencing the outdoors, having responses to those experiences, and expressing those responses through the medium of photography. Everything that follows is peripheral and should not be allowed to derail the process. As the saying goes, just keep on keeping on—and above all, remember to have fun.
How do you handle risky decisions? Is there anything that you like to keep in mind to make them any easier? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.