Archive for the ‘Photo Travel’ Category

Chip Phillips Photography Workshops

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Palouse Spring Morning

 

I’ve been a little bit out of the loop for a while now tending to my baby who’s now almost 5 months old.  Those who say it gets easier after the first 3 months must have had better luck.  He is a real sweet guy, doesn’t cry much, and we are having a great time with him, but boy is he a challenge to get to sleep!  Unfortunately his sleep has regressed for now.  He was sleeping  7-9 hrs straight at night, and for the past month he has been at about 3 hr stretches at first, then less until morning.  I know this is better than some, but it is sure hard to get used to when he was doing so much better.  He has been diagnosed with acid reflux so we are pretty sure this has been part of the challenge.

I apologize to the people who have been waiting so long to get in on a workshop, but plan to start getting busy soon-things just take a bit longer with the new one around!

I have contacted most of you who wanted a workshop last season and gave you first grabs at my schedule for this year.  I have filled up one workshop, and some private spots,  and am tentatively scheduling another for May 29-31st.  Cost would be $495/person and I am keeping it at 5 people max.  This workshop would start a bit before  sunset on the 29th, and end after a sunrise shoot/early morning shooting on Sun.  This would be in addition to any private or small groups I can fit in as well around the same timeframe.

I am also accepting clients for other times of the year as well if my schedule permits.

More information on my workshops can be found here.

Feel free to fill out a contact form on my website if you are interested in setting something up and I will try my best to accommodate you best I can.

If you are just interested in finding out a bit about my editing tips and tricks, my set of image editing videos can be purchased here.

 

Double Rainbow, Palouse

 

 

A Look At My Lightweight Backpacking Kit by Sean Bagshaw

Monday, September 29th, 2014

I grew up backpacking in the California Sierra and Oregon Cascades with my family and have continued to explore the back country and high mountain wilderness ever since. In my twenties and thirties I spent most of my time in the wilderness climbing, carrying ridiculously heavy packs and taking the most direct path to whatever summit was close by. These days I prefer to take more leisurely trips into the wilderness to photograph mountains instead of climbing them. My most rewarding outdoor experiences come from spending a few days with the camera, far away from more crowded roadside landscapes. When I first began going into the wilderness to photograph I simply traded out my climbing gear for camera gear, convinced that a heavy pack was the hallmark of a burly woodsman. Now that I have both hiking boots planted firmly in middle age I find that carrying too much weight has become painful, demoralizing and potentially injury inducing.

Flame of Asgard

In the past few years I have made it a priority to lighten my backpack so I can get up in the hills with a minimum of suffering and maximum of comfort and mobility. It is a work in progress, but I now have a set-up that seems to be working well for me. I figured some people would be interested to know what my back country kit is composed of and that was the motivation for this article. Fellow PhotoCascadian, David Cobb, also an avid back country photographer, previously wrote an article detailing his lightweight backpacking set up. Most of my gear choices are based on suggestions from friends and some basic Internet research and comparison. I don’t have any personal or financial stake in the companies or gear on my list. I genuinely like and endorse all the gear I’m using. However, there are many other options out there which would work equally well or even better.

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My main goal is to keep my total fixed pack weight (not including clothes, food and water, which varies day by day and season by season) under 15-18 pounds.

Pack –  I use an Osprey pack that is closest to the current Xenith 75 Model: 5.4 lbs. This is the one place where I am willing to go a little heavier for better comfort and load distribution. I find that a good pack can make a heavy load feel lighter than it would with a less able but lighter pack.
TentBig Agnes Copper Spur UL1 : 2.5 lbs. Super roomy single person for the weight and very weather proof for a three season tent. I love the big side entry door and high ceiling.
Sleeping bag -Three season - Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45: 1.2 lbs. Good for me down to about 35 degrees F. Cold weather – Marmot Helium: 2.4 lbs. Good for temps down into the low teens or even colder if I wear layers. Both of these down bags are super comfy and light.
PadBig Agnes Q-Core SL: 1.1 lbs. I’m getting older and stiffer so the 3.5 inches of air cushion really helps me get a good night’s rest. It also keeps me warm down into the low teens.
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket: 0.2 lbs. Super light, super small, super fast, super reliable.
Kitchen KitMSR Quick Solo Pot: .5 lbs. It’s a pot.
Water treatmentKatadyn Hiker: 0.75 lbs. Basic and reliable, although not the lightest out there.

This puts my basic kit at 11.65 or 12.85 lbs depending on which sleeping bag I take. I have another couple of pounds of odds and ends like first aid kit, head lamp, 10 essentials kit, fuel, mug, etc. That brings me up to about 15 pounds total. This leaves about 20 pounds for extra clothing layers, food and camera gear to stay under my 35 pound limit. For camera gear I choose from the following options.

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Camera – Canon EOS 5D mark III or Sony NEX-7
Lenses – 24-105mm or similar. 16-35mm and/or 70-200mm if essential.
TripodMeFoto Road Trip or Gitzo Mountaineer.
Camera clipPeak Design Capture Pro Camera Clip. I hike with my camera outside my pack so I’m ready to shoot at any time without needing to take off the pack and unload it. I find the Peak Design clip an excellent way to carry the camera outside the pack in easy reach.

Depending on how light I want to go will determine which camera, tripod and lenses I take. For the most lightweight rig I’ll take the Sony NEX-7, single 16-55mm lens (roughly 24-82mm equivalent) and the MeFoto Road Trip tripod.

 

Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera Review

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

To start off I know Chip covered this camera in one of his recent posts yet I figured I would provide my thoughts and images for what it’s worth.

As I was packing up for a backpack trip this past spring my DSLR equipment seemed heavier than usual. Tip top shape I was not yet a lazy couch potato waking up from winter hibernation was not me either. At this point I figured it was time to start shopping for a mirror-less setup that would shave significant weight for backpacking, long hikes and other travel situations where lugging bulkier or heavier gear was less than optimal.
I looked at a number of models online reading many reviews and talking to some photographers as well. Eventually I settled on the Sony a6000 and Sony lenses, for a number of reasons. It’s the newest model in what has been known as the NEX series. The Sony a6000 is a 24.3MP APS-C HD CMOS with BIONZ X image processor. ISO range 100 to 25,600. Shutter Lag of only .02 seconds with 11 fps and weighing well under one pound!

I have had the camera for a couple months now on several outings, even to photograph a wedding for a family member. This has given me enough time to detail my thoughts and opinions which fall in both the good and the not so good sides.

Sony a6000 Camera Review

My Sony a6000 with the 16-50mm OSS kit lens. Taken with iPhone.

What I like

Weight – One of the primary goals was to buy a good interchangeable lens system that shaved many pounds from my DSLR setup. Weight details come from weighing my gear on a mailing scale, not product descriptions. The lightness did not go unnoticed on my first backpack trip using this setup. I will let the data do the speaking here.

Canon to Sony Weight Compare

Size – Besides The Sony a6000 weighing in at less than half the weight of my Canon DSLR setup it’s about half the size too. This photo shows my typical Sony and Canon setups for comparison. As small as it is I can put it with the pancake mid-range lens in a coat pocket to carry around if desired (tad too large for most pant pockets). I am pretty sure I sounded like a broken record to my wife after explaining my excitement a half dozen times that I had to contact f-stop to send me their new tiny micro ICU because their “small” size I have was too big!

Sony a6000 and Canon 5D setup for size comparison.

Sony a6000 and Canon 5D setup for size comparison. Taken with iPhone.

Speed - Shutter speed is lightning fast. I am very in impressed with it but I guess I shouldn’t be with the 179 point phase detection and 25 point contrast detection system. The double digit 11 fps from this sized camera is mighty good. The auto-focus works very well with good results. If the camera is on you can be that person that aims, focuses and snaps a sharp photo in… well, a snap. Notice I said camera powered on. If it’s not you will have to wait up to 5 or 6 seconds for the camera to power up which is a little slow.

Price – Considering I am used to spending $2k to $3k for just a camera body this one rings in lower than most lenses I use for my Canon setup. At $650 without lenses ($750 with kit lens) it’s hard to go much lower price wise. Additionally 2 out of the 3 lenses I bought, 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS and 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens, that run on the cheaper side are decent lenses. The 55-210 I bought on sale for a whopping $148 and the 16-50 came with the camera for an additional $100. The 55-210 is better than I expected and the 16-50 does the job but is definitely soft on the edges, plan to crop about 10% to 15%. But what can you expect for the price!? The next best option with similar range is the 16-70mm for $1k which I am debating getting for myself. The 10-18mm f/4.0 is $850 (and the most I have paid for a full plastic lens) yet it’s a pretty solid wide angle. And for you prime users there are a number of options all with decent price points and good reviews when paired with this camera.

Menu and Controls – From all that I have seen prior NEX cameras had much less user friendly menu which is one reason it kept me at bay, picture oriented which for me is slower and takes longer to find what you need. That said I find the overall ease of navigating the menus a fairly short learning curve. It’s all text based now and similar to Sony a7 series. Adjusting the aperture and shutter in manual mode is easy and only a couple clicks for ISO adjustment. My hand grips the body rather well. It’s as small as a camera can go. Any smaller and it would be too small for me.

Dynamic Range – This is good too. What I am able to pull down from the highlights and pull up from the shadows is fairly decent. You still want to shoot to the right yet it’s good to know I have a little wiggle room here. Below is a sample comparison with the raw file and the single processed shot.

Comparing the raw file to the processed file. Processing in ACR only. Sony a6000, 16-50mm and ISO 400.

Comparing the raw file to the processed file. Processing in ACR only. Sony a6000, 16-50mm and ISO 400.

EVF – Although this also falls in the negative category the one advantage is that you can use this to image review for already taken images and zoom in for the details. Rather than separate setups for your large LCD, simply put your eye to the eye piece and the image review changes to the EVF automatically. This is helpful in bright situations where it’s harder to see the LCD.

Apps and Wireless – Although I don’t use them all it’s nice to have a myriad options for how you take photos and get them onto your phone or computer. For example they have a free phone app called PlayMemories (although limited in features) will allow you to trigger the shot and send a 2MB file to your phone if you choose.

IQ/ISO – This really is one that ends up in both the positive and not so positive category. Overall it’s amazing to see what a small camera with 24MP can produce. In the right situations and ISO it produces a very clean file with excellent detail. Not that I shoot much JPG yet the in camera processing produces a cleaner less noisy JPG vs RAW at higher ISO’s. That said I can clean up the noise pretty well on the RAW so that it’s almost as clean. Here are some examples around ISO.

 

Sony a6000 test photo along the Oregon Coast. This is from a single file at ISO 400.

Sony a6000 test photo along the Oregon Coast. This is from a single file at ISO 400.

This is a close up crop at 100% of the grass in the larger image above at several different ISO's. You can see a significant difference from 400 to 1600. All images shot RAW.

This is a close up crop at 100% of the grass in the larger image above at several different ISO’s. You can see a significant difference from 400 to 1600. All images shot RAW.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens and ISO 400 and Hoya NX Polarizer.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm kit lens and ISO 400 and Hoya NX Polarizer.

Zoomed in 100% on flowers from image above. RAW file without sharpening. Plenty of detail considering this is a landscape photo and this only one small piece.

Zoomed in 100% on flowers from image above. RAW file without sharpening. Plenty of detail considering this is a landscape photo and this only one small piece.

Video – Although I am not a big video guy this seems to produce good videos from the little I have played with this feature. It’s full HD 1920 x 1080 with 30 or 60 fps.

Could Be Better

This is where most of what I like about the camera stops, albeit the positives are significant for me. Realize besides an iPhone for snap-shots I have been shooting with only a full-frame Canon DSLR for many years now so I tend to get picky about certain things. Also some of what I list is not meant to be a knock to the a6000 but rather things to simply be aware of. Below is my list in no particular order.

Battery Life – What can I say other than this thing EATS through batteries faster than a 5 year old eating through his Halloween candy stash. Keep in mind that although I have live view on my Canon DSLR I don’t use it unless I need to so I am used to a single battery lasting many days for most of my shooting. My perspective might be different if I was heavy live view user prior to this camera. For the Sony I would say plan on using 1 to 3 batteries a day depending on how much you are using your camera. Total battery life is around 90 min. If long exposures or video is your thing I would have an arsenal of batteries.

IQ/ISO – In Chip’s post he mentioned images looking good to ISO 400. I would say that is true, maybe up to 800 at most. After that it really goes downhill for me which is unfortunate. This will limit bumping up the ISO if you are into night photography or working with low light often. That said depending on your end goal cleaning up with noise removal tools has vastly improved the last few years and go a long way to making a decent image from the ISO 800 to 1600 range as long as you are using good glass. Using the cheaper lenses, not so much.

Weather Resistance – Keep in mind this camera is not weather resistant in any way, or the lenses I bought for it. I got caught in a major downpour on the Oregon coast only carrying my camera in my thin coat jacket pocket. I am sure it was quite a site to see me jogging with my four year old daughter in one arm and using my other to try and cover my pocket with the camera as we searched for cover. It survived but lesson learned.

EVF – I know some folks like electronic view finders (EVF) yet for me optical is much preferred despite one comment about the one piece I like about it. It’s very noisy in low light which gets tougher to ensure sharp manual focusing.

Battery Charger – Really this is lack of charger. Who plugs in their camera to charge!? I would have preferred Sony raise the price $25 and simply include the charger. It seems odd that I need to buy this separate.  Not to mention there is no visible sign that the battery is fully charged without turning on the camera, another strike against direct charging. I bought the Wasabi Charger and extra batteries from Amazon and it’s working fine to also charge my two Sony batteries.

Sounds – I run my Canon as silent as possible. The only sound you hear is the shutter. That said I cannot figure out how to turn off the sounds for auto focus, timer, etc which I would rather not have. If you are reading this and I missed how to do it please email me. This would be welcome news to my ears.

Bracketing – For landscape photographers being able to auto bracket with timer is a big deal. I am used to using a remote trigger yet if I forget it or it breaks I know I can always use auto bracketing with timer on my Canon. Not an option on the Sony. Additionally from my testing don’t even bother trying to press the shutter for bracketing on a tripod. Your images are almost surely to come out soft or blurry. I bought the Sony RM-VPR1 Remote.

Weight – Of course you are wondering why in this section when the light weight was such a plus. Well it’s not a negative to the camera or lenses by any means. It’s simply something to be aware of which is that using a very light camera and lens setup on a lighter tripod is more susceptible to shakes and vibrations resulting in soft shots. Hanging your pack from your tripod can help yet it’s not fool proof. Don’t forget to chimp your images because what you think is sharp might be anything but.

Dial Size – For me it’s not an issue yet I could see someone with larger hands finding the controls tougher to work with, especially the dial on the back. That circle dial controls many functions and isn’t much bigger than a dime. Again I cannot blame Sony because with a smaller camera comes smaller buttons and controls. If you tend to shoot mostly in auto mode then this is less of an issue.

Lens Selection – Although able to buy a wide, mid and telephoto Sony lenses that are good, overall they need to beef up their lens selection (this applies to APS and full frame). It would be nice to buy higher quality lenses for all the same focal ranges I have with my Canon. Hopefully this is coming soon. My only real complaint with the current lenses I have is are soft in the corners. A little bit of lens correction and or crop goes a long way and still leaves a big file.

Sony a6000 with 55-210mm at 210 and ISO 400. Handheld.

Sony a6000 with 55-210mm at 210 and ISO 400. Handheld.

Sony a6000 with 16-50mm at 16mm and ISO 200, f/16 and .5 seconds

These are 100% crops from the corner of an image (obviously different scenes but I realized I did not do it for the same scene). There is definitely a quality difference on the edges between the 10-18 and 16-50.

These are 100% crops from the corner of an image (obviously different scenes but I realized I did not do it for the same scene when I went to write this). There is definitely a quality difference on the edges between the 10-18 and 16-50 lenses. RAW files with no processing or sharpening. I forgot to note in the text on the image yet both were shot at f/16.

Conclusion

Overall it’s a good mirror less camera system with room for improvement to be great. For any hobbyist or photo snapper it’s a dream. For someone looking to high quality work for prints and stock it’s good to meet the needs with some exceptions that I covered above. I did not buy this to replace my DSLR system and I would not recommend that unless you have a old or bottom end DSLR. This is a great compliment to your DSLR system for when you have to or simply desire lighter traveling and still want great quality photos. The price is certainly right. I spent about $2,000 for my full setup which includes the body, three lenses, two polarizers, battery charger, four batteries and remote trigger.

Movies That Inspire and Excite

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Chances are you would rather be out exploring and enjoying outdoors whether curb side view, hiking miles into the woods, paddling majestic waterways or the myriad of other options instead of reading a blog post. I can relate, seeing amazing places in photos and videos is rarely enough.

Not long ago I was having lunch with someone that said something I could not relate to at all. He said seeing amazing places in videos and photos is good enough for him and he doesn’t need to go see them himself (obviously he is not a photographer or outdoor enthusiast). For me it’s the exact opposite. When I read, see or hear about locations that offer great adventures or fantastic photo opportunities I want to go. It whets my appetite for more. I may never get to a particular location I am viewing photos of or dreaming about yet it certainly fuels the fire to simply get out. Being an armchair adventurer is not the goal. Getting out is and that is exactly what happens!

Baraka

One way I get inspired is watching flicks that make me think about places I have been, where I want to go, how I take my photos. Below is a short list of movies that makes me excited about getting out for the next outing or capturing the next spectacular photo.

One Man’s Wilderness
Few of us will ever attempt (or even desire to attempt) what Richard (Dick) Proenneke does for many years of his life. After spending decades working in the rat race around age 50 he decides to leave it all behind for year-around living of solitude in the Alaskan Wilderness. He creates his cabin, tools and more documenting his journey in writing along with some video and photo work.
I first heard about the story when someone gave me the book as a gift and since then I have also received or purchased multiple documentaries on his story. I will likely never make such an extreme change in lifestyle yet it’s a great reminder to me how important alone time is outdoors for photography, for rejuvenation, for simply reflecting on life and escaping the hustle and bustle daily life brings for many of us.

http://www.dickproenneke.com/

SALT
If you are picturing Angelina Jolie as a Russian spy right now chances are you are on the wrong blog. During the summer of 2010 I was getting ready to head for bed one evening when I figured I would watch a few minutes of TV before calling it a night. There are not many shows I watch and considering our TV gets less than 20 stations (mostly CSPAN and community access) you can tell our family is not big tube watchers. That said a couple stations I do enjoy from our wide assortment includes OPB and Discovery. That night I clicked on OPB and was immediately engulfed with what was on…which I found out afterward was the short film SALT. I subsequently took the time to watch the full video less than a week later.
Murray Fredericks as a landscape photographer documents his numerous solo adventures on Lake Eyre in Australia. Besides stunning video and photos he talks about what he is thinking while spending weeks alone on this vast open lake including SAT calls with his family. I place this in the must-view-category for any landscape or adventure photographer.

http://www.saltdoco.com/index.htm

Baraka and Samsara
Anyone that is serious into time lapse photography knows of the movies Baraka and it’s recent sequel Samsara. When I first met my wife over a decade ago she mentioned a movie Baraka playing at our local independent theatre that I would likely enjoy. Entering the theatre filled with mostly empty red velvet seats I had low hopes. Walking out I was in awe. 96 minutes of amazing footage with no words other than a few tribal chants.
Since then I have purchased Baraka and earlier this year my wife bought me the sequel which I have also watched and enjoyed just as much.  If you have not seen either of these you are missing out. They are worth your time.

http://barakasamsara.com/baraka/about

The Other Side of the Ice
There are two kinds of people, those that gravitate to the ocean and those that gravitate to land. I am naturally drawn to spending my time on land with a little water sprinkled in for good measure. I have full respect for those that can spend many weeks and months on a ship and little time ashore.
In The Other Side of the Ice a family successfully navigates the infamous Northwest Passage over a five month journey. It does not happen without amazing views, emotional struggles and close calls. I will say this is the only title in this post that I have not seen the whole movie. I read the book which I feel was very good yet all the reviews and trailers for the movie don’t excite me as much as the book. If you are not a book reader then the movie is an option.

The Other Side of the Ice

Happy People
There are very few of us left on planet Earth choosing to live without most of what the modern world offers… smartphones, high tech cars, piped heat/water, online ordering, the list goes on. This documentary shows the life of trappers and their families living in Bakhtia, the heart of Siberian Taiga. It’s a reminder that we don’t always need all the fancy gadgets of the modern world to survive and be happy.  When I leave the house and forget my iPhone, and I wonder how I will do a few hours without it I need to remember and think of folks in this film. Although not the life for me to live day-in-day-out, they obviously do quite well with very little. What can you do without?

180 South
At home sick one day roaming Netflix streaming I came across this movie. I remembered hearing about it yet hadn’t taken the time to watch it until this point. Amazing documentary, plain and simple. If you are in search of adventure, good stories and amazing visual feasts look no further. It’s hard to watch and not want to back your bags the next day for exotic lands. When thinking of travel and adventure documentaries, 180 South is first to come to mind.

I leave you with a quote from another movie about adventure, Into the Wild. I love the book and movie yet it’s more main stream which is why I left it out of this post.

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”
- Christopher McCandless

What movies get you excited about getting outdoors for photography or fun?

Badlands of Central Oregon

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

By Adrian Klein

I stand there watching the sunset feeling as remote as one can be. No other people except my friend and I, enjoy the sounds and smells of nature. That is the beauty of the Badlands in Central Oregon for those that don’t want to involve a big backpack or hiking trip covering a large distance or elevation to escape. You feel very removed from it all yet only miles up the path and miles up the road is a bustling town.

Only hours earlier my friend and I were sitting in the sun at one of Bend’s newer breweries. No shortage of good ones to visit yet that is a different blog post. After finishing up our meal and IPA we set out on the highway. It was a short drive. About 20 miles and we were at the trailhead for Oregon Badlands Wilderness.

Wildflowers in the Badlands appear to be growing from the ends of this dead bush.

It’s May and as you step out of the car you quickly realize why this is no place to visit in summer. With the high expected of 70 degrees Fahrenheit it’s a cooker in my book when the sun pokes through the clouds. It’s the weekend yet the trailhead has all of three cars, including ours. This is my second time here and neither time was busy.

The Badlands is high desert. There is no water source when you are out there unless you consider putting out a bucket to catch rain drops that infrequent the area. The lack of water is made up by very easy hiking even with a full backpack. The elevation is basically flat. Our 3 mile hike maybe gained a hundred feet. Well in all reality lost 100 ft too so let’s just call it even.

Badlands Light Storm

Storm light brings on a nice glow at the end of the day at the Badlands Wilderness.

The few trails throughout the wilderness are easy to follow. That said a GPS and map would be helpful if you venture too far off trail. Everything looks the same and I could see getting lost while off trail as an easy achievement whether intended or not. Here is a map for more details.

Now to the photography aspect, this is a blog relating to photography after all.

Seasons:

  • Spring – The wildflowers are out usually in April and May and the temps are comfortable.
  • Summer – Avoid unless you like very hot dry conditions, without a water source, and no flowers. This place would not appeal to me for photography in summer.
  • Fall – The temps are back to comfortable and Rabbitbrush will add some nice color to your images.
  • Winter – Going when a light layer of show has fallen appears to be the right choice. I plan to try it this winter.

Overall you have options every season except summer. My personal opinion of course.

Badlands Flower

Fragile and delicate sand lilies on the desert floor. Taken with iPhone 5S

Points of Interest:

  • Views – If you want to get up “high” your only options are a few large rock formations such as Flatiron Rock that will get you up just high enough to see over the trees and out to the mountain ranges.
  • Flowers – As mentioned the spring season will bring a variety of flowers. My photos only show a few types that you will see.
  • Trees – One of the highlights of this place is the endless assortment of knotted and gnarled juniper trees. Not as cool as the timeless bristle cone trees yet I saw many that remind me of them.
  • Rocks – Some of the rock formations were rather interesting. I saw a number of cool colors/textures that would make for possible triptych photos as well as the more common anchor for your foreground when taking landscapes.
  • Weather – Going in spring increases your chance of more dramatic skies. All seasons except summer has a decent shot to experience something except dull gray or crystal blue. We were fortunate enough on our trip to get some thunder and lightning rolling in around sunset.
Twist and Burn

A close up of a juniper tree that appears to have met it’s final day with the strike of a lightning bolt.

In summary if you are looking for an under-visited desert with compositions that take a little time to find (but are worth the time finding) then this is a place worth taking a trip to. We chose backpacking to be close to where we wanted to take the photos yet hiking in early or later in the day is certainly an option as long as you are well equipped to find your way.

The sunset view from the top of Flatiron Rock in the Badlands.

What I Learned Photographing The Californian Redwoods

Monday, June 9th, 2014
A Burst Of Light - Redwoods, California

A Burst Of Light – Redwoods, California

For the last five years I’ve taken spring trips down to the Californian Redwoods. Each year I take the trip with the hope of photographing the stunning rhododendrons with the fog and mist that occurs frequently in spring and summer. The last few years I have either been too early or too late. I have witnessed some stunning weather conditions in terms of fog and mist, which produced stunning crepuscular rays but no flowers. From past experiences it seemed to always occur in late morning light as the fog would rise and the sun breaks through.

Looking Up To The Sky - Redwoods, California

Looking Up To The Sky – Redwoods, California

 

 

This year I had the fortunate luck to have some fellow Photo Cascadia members teach a workshop down in the Redwoods a week earlier. They reported the rhododendrons we’re just about at peak and if I were to head down right away I would be arriving at the perfect time. So I packed up my bags and convinced the wife when needed a getaway. With some begging and pleading we headed down to California. As usual, we made a few stops along the southern Oregon coast and made the most out of the trip. In terms of weather reports I usually scout out a week early to see if the conditions are favorable but this this time I had to just head straight down there with no delays. The last four years I’ve seen crepuscular rays almost every day I’ve ever visited the redwoods in spring. So now all I needed to do was find a pleasing composition with both the fog and the rhododendrons, and possibly a burst of sunrays to top things off.

Redwoods Sunburst -  Redwoods, California

Redwoods Sunburst – Redwoods, California

 

 

If you have never been to the California redwoods it is an oasis of larger-than-life trees. Knowing where to photograph if you’ve never been or not done your research beforehand can be very challenging. With the Redwoods being as large as they are, it helps to know the best trails to capture all of the elements in one scene. The redwoods are broken into several areas that are quite spaced apart. Although similar to each other, each has its own distinct look when it comes to the layout. Every year it changes quite drastically in terms of where the rhododendrons are best for photographing. For my visit, the first thing I did was go to the visitor center and seek advice. They were very helpful in suggesting several trails that were excellent at the time. They also advised me in terms of where to be and when tin terms of placement of the breaking sun and fog.

Redwood Mystery Of Ancient - Redwoods, California

Redwood Mystery Of Ancient – Redwoods, California

 

 

Although I saw several sets of rhododendrons along the main highway in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, I would suggest not stopping along the highway as the cars came to close to the side to comfortably photograph. As in past years, I was recommended to hike the Damnation trail, which had several stunning areas of rhododendrons with the trails not being too busy with other people. To avoid crowds I suggest getting there first thing in the morning. Going early allows time to find a pleasing composition while waiting for the light to be just right. On a side note, many cars early in the morning were broken into in the parking areas as the highway is right there and is quick access for the thieves. On both mornings I was there cars have been broken into before I got there.

Forest Trail Sunray - Redwoods, California

Forest Trail Sunray – Redwoods, California

 

 

When it comes photographing, the rhododendrons in the California redwoods it helps to pre-visualize some possible compositions or scenarios you would like to shoot. I never visit a place with just one composition in mind, but I do research on the Internet beforehand. This allows me the opportunity to see what others are doing, and trying to take it on step further in terms of creativity and impact. For example, one of the images that stuck with me, was an image of the rhododendrons taken from the ground looking up at sky to also include perspective of the gigantic Redwood trees. The combination of these two together when photographed properly really brings a story to life. When light is available I always strive for mist or fog because this seems to really enhance the pink in the rhododendron flower and makes it pop in the image. Shooting later in the afternoon when the sun is out can be almost next to impossible to really get the impact of the color due to the harsh light. So to maximize the color in your images strive to photograph when the mist is present in the morning.

Trail Of Eden And Rhodies - Redwoods, California

Trail Of Eden And Rhodies – Redwoods, California

 

One of the challenges of shooting the rhododendrons is that many are located very high up on the tree. For this reason I would photograph with a lens that is medium telephoto. When I photographed with my ultra wide angle (14-24mm), the rhododendrons got lost in the scene. So I photographed with a 28– 300mm lens that allowed me to really bring the rhododendron in tight and maximize impact.

Descending Down Into The Valley Floor - Redwoods, California

Descending Down Into The Valley Floor – Redwoods, California

 

Because of the telephoto lens, compression also enhanced the important elements in the image. If you do shoot later in the afternoon when the sun is out, you will have to shoot multiple exposures or HDR. This is due to the extreme total contrast between the shadows and the light areas, which can be very challenging in the forest. I did shoot quite a bit in the afternoon, using multiple exposures. Unfortunately I was not happy with most of the results from shooting at this time.

So in summary, photographing the California redwoods is one of the highlights of my photography journey. Until you see them in person, it’s hard to grasp how tall these trees really are. When you combine these tall redwoods with all the elements at the same time it is pure heaven. To have success photographing the redwoods do your research, find where the rhododendrons are and try to time your visit with early morning sessions. But the most important thing is ,be patient and wait for early-morning weather changes when the fog rises and the sun breaks. This is more frequent than you would think, always leads to some spectacular images.

 

The Bursting Glow Of Light - Redwoods, California

The Bursting Glow Of Light – Redwoods, California

Tips for Photographing Waterfalls by David Cobb

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Tips for Photographing Waterfalls

By David Cobb

 

Last fall I spent the day with Outside Explorer in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. The finished video below supplies a number of tips and tricks to photographing waterfalls.

 

Tips for Photographing a Japanese Garden in Spring by David Cobb

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Tips for Photographing a Japanese Garden in Spring

By David Cobb

 

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Recently I took a stroll through the Portland Japanese Garden to admire the cherry blossom blooms, and I took my camera along in case something caught my eye. When photographing for the book “Quiet Beauty: Japanese Gardens of North America,” I noticed the spring and fall seasons were different in the garden. The light was better, the garden seemed fresher due to recent rains, and there was much more color. Here are a few tips for photographing a Japanese garden in spring.

Get there early: The earlier the better in spring to take advantage of that beautiful light. Gardens are best to photograph in soft light, so mornings, overcast days, and sunset can bring the best light to your garden photography. Mornings are preferable because spring days can bring windy weather later in the day.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

Watch your red channel: The histogram on the back of your camera is an average of your red, green, and blue channels. When photographing the red spring blooms of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias you’ll need to be aware of your red channel. The average on your histogram might look fine, but your red channel could be clipped off the charts. This means you’re losing detail in the blossoms of those flowers, and when you lose detail the flowers look like sheets of color.

Morikami Museum & Japanese Garden

Morikami Museum & Japanese Garden

Backlighting: This can be the best and most dramatic light in the garden, and the most difficult to photograph. When photographing backlighting I often use a lens hood to avoid image flare, but when it’s captured correctly the backlighting adds a beautiful glow to an image.

Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant

Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant

Don’t include the sky: There are few reasons to include a sky in your garden image, unless you’re interested in a sun star or to include a fabulous sunrise or sunset. When you visit a Japanese garden or any garden, photograph the garden and minimalize the sky.

Nitobe Memorial Garden

Nitobe Memorial Garden

Photograph water features: For some reason water features in a Japanese garden seem cleaner and fresher in the spring. Maybe it’s the spring rains or maybe it’s that the gardeners have caught up on all their chores, but spring is a wonderful time to include water features.

Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

Use a polarizer: I can’t stress this enough in garden photography, and a polarizer will make or break a shot in a Japanese garden. There are a lot of reflective plants and leaves in the garden, so a polarizer will cut down on those reflections and help saturate the color of the garden image too.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Photograph blossoms by structures: There are a number of structures in a Japanese garden, so I always try to compose a few blossoms near them to give a hint of the spring season. A few flowers and a little greenery also go a long way to help soften the harsher angles and elements of a man-made structure.

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Change your perspective: This tip is good for any season or for any type of photography, so change your perspective and quit shooting at eye level. Crouch down, get on your belly if you need to or get high and shoot down, but change the viewpoint to create a more interesting and dynamic image.

Shofuso Japanese House & Garden

Shofuso Japanese House & Garden

Winter Photography in the Palouse-by Chip Phillips

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Winter Glow Palouse

I know I have written about this in the past, but wanted to share some images from this past winter that I took down in the Palouse.  Photographing the Palouse in the winter can be kind of tricky.  It seems like more often then not, a good dose of snow will hit the area, and disappear as quickly as it came.  Other times, it will snow really hard, but be so windy that it will blow all of the snow off of the hills, leaving them bare and brown.

Another problem is accessibility.  They don’t plow most of the roads down there, and they never plow the road up Steptoe Butte.  Therefore, the only two options are to snowshoe up, or attempt the drive in a 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance and good tires.  I have snowshoed and skied up the hill, but this year I was able to make it up on each of my attempts in my FJ Cruiser.  It was a bit sketchy a few times, but I didn’t get stuck.

Palouse Winter Afternoon

My favorite time to head out is in the afternoon on a day when a storm system is moving out of the area.  This gives me a chance to catch the sun at a low angle, but still high enough in the sky to light up the hills.  I learned early on that, heading out only just before sunset can result in missing some of the best light of the day.  Often times I find the light more interesting when the sun is high enough in the sky to light up the hills, which just doesn’t usually happen right at sunset.

Winter Tree Palouse

The usual things still apply for photographing the Palouse during winter, such as a good strong setup with enough capacity to hold things steady in the wind.  This means a very sturdy ball head, and very sturdy tripod.  I use a Gitzo 3 series tripod, and a Markins M20 ball head for my telephoto shots.  I also use a tripod collar, and have rigged up a steel plate extension and set screw for added stability to the barrel of my lenses.

Late Spring Snow, Palouse

This last image was actually shot last April, so not really winter but still some snow.  As you can see, snow is a possibility even into April.  This is the first time I have ever seen conditions like this in April.  Usually during March and April, there is heavy rain and hail storms that move through the area.  These are great fun to watch from high vantage points.

Despite the challenges involved in making good images, winter time in the Palouse is definitely one of my favorites.  Last winter, of all the times I went down to photograph, I didn’t run into a single other photographer.  I do see people around though, mostly locals, especially up at Steptoe Butte.  My last trip down I ran into a local farmer and his wife up on their 4 Wheeler just taking a trip to the top of Steptoe Butte.  We had a great conversation on their way down. Winter is definitely a peaceful time of year in the Palouse.

More of my images can be seen on my website: Chip Phillips Photography

Many techniques used on these images are demonstrated in my editing videos available here: Image Editing Videos

 

Diverse Photography on The Big Island of Hawaii by Sean Bagshaw

Monday, March 10th, 2014

In February I had the great fortune to instruct a photography tour/workshop on the Big Island of Hawaii. In the realm of winter photography, my experience and images stand out in stark contrast to the ones Kevin McNeal shared of photographing the aurora in Norway in his most recent article. Our Hawaii tour was organized by a trailblazing eco-tourism company from California called Destination Earth. Handling the photography instruction along with me was my good friend and colleague, David Cobb. As we have come to expect, our group of participants were fun, talented and ready for anything. It’s always the people that make our photography workshops such a wonderful experience. It was an amazing week long photography adventure with excellent housing, meals and transportation, as well as an adventurously full schedule, all organized by Destination Earth.

Click on images to view them larger. Use the back button to return.

Black-Sand

Receding surf on black sand. Pololu Valley. One second exposure. Four of us made the steep hike into the valley near sunset. The light was flat so we spent an hour running back and forth with the surf, taking dozens of slow shutter speed images and trying to capture dynamic patterns of white foam on the black sand. It was addictive and only the prospect of a hike in the dark pulled us away.

The Big Island really is…well, big. To quote from www.gohawaii.com, “it is the youngest island in the Hawaiian chain and is also by far the biggest, nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. You’ll find all but two of the world’s climatic zones within this island’s shores. This is the home of one of the world’s most active volcanoes (Kilauea), the tallest sea mountain in the world at more than 33,000 feet (Maunakea) and the most massive mountain in the world (Maunaloa). All but two of the world’s climate zones generate everything from lush rain forests to volcanic deserts, snow-capped mountaintops to beautiful black sand beaches. The lush east-side town of Hilo gets more than 130 inches of rain annually, while the Kohala Coast near Kawaihae usually gets no more than five inches a year. Ranging from the fern forests of Puna and the cool, misty breezes of Waimea, to the sunny lava plains of Kona and the dry heat of Kau, Hawaii Island is a place of stunningly distinct environments.”

Shadow-of-Mauna-Kea

Looking east, the shadow of Maunakea stretches over the Pacific Ocean at sunset. Did I mention that the Big Island is really big? At the high point, where this photo was taken, the elevation is nearly 13,800 feet above sea level and there is frequently snow. Breathing up here is challenging. If you have ever climbed a 14,000 foot peak you know what I’m talking about.

Stand-out features of the trip were how much of the island we were able to see, how much diversity of landscape and climate we experienced and how varied the photographic opportunities were. We visited both well known and off the radar corners of the island and were able to experience Hawaii in ways that most beach vacationers or tour groups never get to.

Bamboo

Colorful bamboo at a the Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture (hipagriculture.org), a farm that cultivates a diverse collection of Polynesian crops and operates as an educational site offering sustainable agriculture courses, youth programming, community workshops and events.

While instructing photography in the field I don’t photograph with the same kind of focus and stubborn determination that I do when traveling on my own. My priority is providing instruction, pointing out photo ideas and being on hand to answer questions. But I do make a point of getting out my camera and putting some effort into my own photography as well. I find that I’m better able to evaluate light and composition and provide helpful suggestions if I’m in photographer mode and sizing up the scene through my own viewfinder. I also find that one of the best instructional tools in the field is to teach by example and actively demonstrate my approach and techniques.

Blue

A lone vessel, stormy clouds and pools of light off the Kona Coast, viewed from our lodging at 1,500 feet of elevation on the side of Hualalai Mountain. 70-200mm f/4 lens at 183mm. 1/15 of a second at f/11, ISO 100. Tripod.

Thanks to our expert guides and the action packed itinerary I had the chance to photograph locations I might not have otherwise visited and take photos using techniques and lighting which are outside of my usual golden hour light, tripod mounted comfort zone. I find that changing things up and operating outside the comfort zone is important for learning and expanding one’s mind creatively. As a result, I feel that the images I’m sharing in this article represent something a little different than my usual fare. Photographically they stretched me a bit and were stimulating and energizing to visualize, capture and develop. I have also thrown in some sunsets and waterfalls for good measure.  I hope you enjoy viewing them.

Deep-Forest

Rain forest vines and roots. Glowing light filtered into this jungle scene David Cobb and I found near Hilo. Although it was mid day the light was very dim. With an aperture of f/16 for depth of field and a polarizer to enrich colors in the wet leaves and bark the exposure time was 10 seconds at ISO 100.

Coral

Coral fragment on wave tumbled lava rocks. I was intrigued by the graphic simplicity of this bleached coral on the black lava. This was taken handheld at mid day with bright overcast filtered light. I knew that exposing for the light coral would underexpose the lava and further showcase the contrasting tonal values. I developed the image to further enhance this quality wanting the coral to appear to almost float above the inky background shapes.

Failed-The-Health-Inspection

Health inspection fail. At one beach we explored an abandoned and decaying resort. At one time this stainless steel commercial kitchen gleamed and produced gourmet meals. Now it looks like something from a post apocalyptic sci-fi film. I’m glad that in the gloom I couldn’t see what types of crawling creatures were living there. 30 seconds at f/10, ISO 100.

Iki-Koa

In the Waipio Valley one of the participants found this old fishing boat in a pool of light filtering through the canopy beside a dirt jungle road. In addition to the moody spotlighting I liked how the red of the boat complimented the greens of the forest. Low light, a polarizer and an aperture of f/16 required a 5 second exposure even though it was the middle of the afternoon.

Fish-Pond

Fish pond at sunset. What’s a tropical island without palm trees and a beach at sunset?

Tropical-Flower

Flowering banana (Musa ornata). Walking through the rain forest on the wet side of the island I was looking above my head for silhouettes of lizards on the translucent banana leaves. I didn’t find a lizard, but I was enthralled with the quality of light filtering down onto this large banana flower. Apparently, at this moment, the light was streaming in rays through clouds over the nearby waterfall, but I was glad to have discovered this smaller scene.

Go-Gecko

Go gecko! Sometimes wildlife wanders into my nature photography and steals the show. This gecko was a natural performer. Handheld, 100mm macro, 1/160 of a second at f/2.8, ISO 400. Without a tripod I had to take several frames until I got one with the focus spot on his eye.

Jungle-Scene

Black and white image of hala trees in the Waipio Valley.

Painted-Church

The historic, ornately painted and aptly named, St. Benedict’s Painted Church. In the late 1800s, Belgian-born priest and self-taught artist Father John Velge painted the walls, columns, and ceiling of this Roman Catholic church with religious scenes in the style of Christian folk art found throughout the South Pacific.

Saddle-Road

Northern California? Along the old Saddle Road high above the arid beaches and lava fields of the west side of the island and the steamy jungles of the east side of the island there is a region of open temperate grasslands that make you forget you are in Hawaii. This part of the island is home to one of the largest cattle ranches in the United States. When we passed through the area we found carpets of yellow flowers and dramatic cumulus clouds and had to stop for a photo.

Rain-Forest

Forest in the fog on the rim of the Waipio Valley.

Sundown-Kona

Kona sunset. Rocks, wave patterns and the last light of the setting sun.

Akaka-Falls

The jungle waterfall, another icon of the Hawaiian landscape. This is the well known and often visited Akaka Falls.

Hawaii-Blue

Aquamarine water in motion along the rugged and remote North Kohala coastline.

The-Deep

The abyss. Taken at a turtle lagoon on the Kona side of Hawaii. I shot this handheld from a lava outcrop looking down into the aquamarine water, but I love that it gives the illusion of being taken deep under the sea. A polarizer helped cut surface reflections.

Maunakea-Sunset

Sunset on the snows of Maunakea, taken on the high point of the island on our final night of the trip. It was a grand send-off to a spectacular week of exploration and photography.