Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Winter Photography’ Category
I recently decided to start producing more video content for my YouTube channel. This is an experiment to see where it goes. I’ve always enjoyed making videos, just as I’ve always enjoyed photography. Both were a medium to share my thoughts, experiences and creativity, but in very different ways. I love photography, because it’s a moment frozen in time. A moment you can explore at any time for any amount of time, there is something very powerful about that. Video lets me share my thoughts and experiences in a more personal way. It also can be a more immersive experience. I’ve launched a couple of video series so far, and I have more ideas to share as well.
Advanced Post Processing Workflow Series:
I have 2 episodes available already for my Advanced Post Processing Workflow Series, with more on the way soon. My goal for this series is to illustrate the tools and techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop that make up my basic workflow as well as some of my thought process during post processing. I’ll start with a single RAW file and show how it gets transformed into a final master file. I’ll also show the steps I take to prepare the master file to share on different mediums.
Adventure Vlog Series:
My goal for this series is to bring people along on some of my adventures, and eventually share photography tips and the artistic process. This is pretty challenging to do on my own, but I’m sure with practice I’ll be able to realize this goal as well.
Photography School is another series I’m planning to make. This series will involve photography field techniques, assignments for myself and anyone else who wants to participate, special post processing techniques, and anything else I think fits into this idea. I also plan to have guest instructors share interesting ideas and techniques.
I also plan to record some gear review videos. I’ll share some of my favorite gadgets, and gear and why I like them, or ways I think they could be improved. I plan to review my Nikon D850, some lenses, and some other fun gear like drones, gimbals, filters, and several others.
I have a many other ideas as well, including some collaborations with fellow Photo Cascadia members. Video production is very time consuming and challenging. For now, it’s inspiring having a new challenge. If people enjoy it and the channel grows, I’ll continue producing new videos. I encourage you to check out my channel, and if you like the videos, remember to like, subscribe and share them with others who might like them as well. You can keep up with all my latest video uploads here: https://www.youtube.com/user/zschnepf77
I am writing from a mountain lodge in the Italian Dolomites on a trip with Photo Cascadia teammate, Erin Babnik, so this article will be short and sweet. We spent a couple days before our winter workshop photographing at the end of a small valley with dramatic peaks all around. Our experience there reminded me of two things that are true about landscape photography that are well known but often difficult to remember and practice. First is that landscape photography is as much about the weather and the light as it is about the landscape. Second is that the weather and light is always changing. Every time weather and light change, they in turn change the landscape and our opportunities to see and tell visual stories about that landscape…as long as we are willing to be patient and keep coming back to the scene to see what it is offering us.
All the images below were taken with my phone except the last one, which is a raw file from my camera transferred to my phone. Record shots taken with my phone help me document and track the changes and help me visualize the potential for the images I took with my SLR that I will develop when I get home.
We arrived at the tail end of a winter storm that had coated the trees and peaks in a glorious blanket of new snow. On our first sunrise foray the remnants of the storm were still clinging to the peaks and the scene was moody and dark. Even though we couldn’t see the tops of the peaks there was enough to indicate their looming presence in the clouds above. In the moment it was easy to become disheartened that we didn’t get the dramatic sunrise light we pre-visualized. But looking back at this image I realize that the scene has a lot of character and mystery.
Later that day I noticed the clouds were beginning to lift. I shouldered my pack and headed back up into the hills. On this visit the mountain was playing with me. Intermittently it would reveal itself to me before the clouds would swirl in and hide it again. And it always stayed in the shadows, while the foreground came to life, brilliant in the full light of the sun.
At sunset we ventured out once again, this time to a higher vantage point right at the base of the peaks. The peaks were in full view but still capped by atmospheric plumes streaming from their summits. Although the sun was setting behind the mountains, the clouds captured the golden light and reflected it down, illuminating the cliff faces and snowy landscape in front of me.
The next morning we came back at sunrise a final time. Now the clouds had moved above the peaks and were soft and broken in the calm after the storm. Sunrise light lit their undersides and danced across the faces of the peaks, casting a warm glow across the winter scene.
I loved witnessing the changes and moods of this beautiful landscape over a the 24 hour period that I spent photographing it. It was also a good reminder of what I learned as a photographer long ago, but often lose site of in the rush of life…that it is often the weather and light that make a place special and wonderful visual experiences can unfold if we are willing to be patient and spend some quality time just watching and noticing.
It feels like during any given season we as nature photographers spend time chasing after the elements that first and foremost speak to the season. I would say this certainly applies to trees as well. When someone says fall, we think of trees with colors of a vibrant the sunset. When someone says spring we think of lush glowing greens. When someone says summer we think of them being full to help balance out the scene whatever color that may be. Of course that is some of the list as there other elements that come to the front of our mind for specific seasons whether it’s related to trees or not.
Fog Shrouded Forest – This scene if was all or mostly evergreen trees would be nice yet to me not nearly the same. The many details on the branches in the dense fog is what makes this scene for me.
I can say when it comes to deciduous trees in my early days of photography I always wanted trees to be filled with something, Whether it was green in spring, yellow in fall, or anything else in between because it made sense that would be more photogenic than a bunch of naked trunks and branches. Come on trees, get some clothes on for this photo shoot!
After a number of years photographing I realize now that I am drawn to trees with their stark beauty as much, and sometimes more, than than when they have their coats on from spring to fall. I am specifically talking about scenes without snow because in locations with multiple seasons we naturally think of winter and snow. The intent here is to illustrate there is much more in winter than a cold snowy scene of trees, even though I will admit I sucker for a great photo of snow covered trees.
Here are some reasons why you might think about photographing these more in the “off season” if you don’t already.
- Different Focus – When the trees are bare of leaves you can no longer rely on the colors of the leaves that may add to the overall compelling scene. Instead I feel like you have increased focus on composition and other elements that might normally be side dishes to the overall show.
- Hidden Details – With the leaves gone for the season you can see the details underneath that are normally hidden from view. I have some photos where the detail from many thin stark branches is what makes the photo.
- Contrasting Elements – When you have evergreen and deciduous trees together they can sometimes lack contrast depending on the season. When it’s winter time there is no question. It can provide much needed contrast to specific photos.
Here are some more of my favorites over the years falling under this theme.
Wetland Layers – In The Grand Tetons before leaves started budding I caught this scene of yellow and orange branches from the ground bushes against the empty trees in the back.
Stark and Slender – Trees from a fire decades ago still stand mostly barren while the undergrowth is growing. In spring this glows green (see the contrast here). Yet this stark muted scene stood out to me. As an aside this is likely the type of scenes will start to photograph in the Columbia River Gorge or other locations that have been damaged by wildfires.
Final Flames of Fall – To me this single tree with fall foliage stands out because of all the other stark and colorless trees around it.
Organizing Chaos – The sunset and ground bare ground foliage glows in the sunset light.
Around The Corner – Many smaller trees and bushes bare during winter are reaching up like arms to the light above.
Exposed – With this winter scene there is more more emphasis on the beautiful water and colorful mossy greens along with what is behind this small forest of trees. Something hidden most months of the year.
Outcast – This lone aspen in Grant Teton National park stands out in stark contrast from the giant evergreens surrounding it.
Pure Elowah – If you photograph this scene outside of late fall to very early spring you will have leaves on the trees blocking the view of the waterfall. Another case where a leaf-less tree is in your favor.
In 2011 I saw a beautiful time lapse video by Terje Sørgjerd. The entire video is of sunset and twilight scenery in the Arctic islands of Norway. Some of the time lapse segments span five or six hours of time and the light continues throughout. It immediately captured my attention and inspired my imagination.
The Lofoten archipelago has become a popular photography destination since the system of tunnels and bridges traversing the 100 miles of islands was finished in 2009. In the winter it is one of the top destinations for photographing the aurora. In the summer, when the sun never sets, you can hike to mountain lakes and scale peaks too numerous to count. But it was the light that Terje found in the spring, a couple weeks before the midnight sun begins, that really intrigued me. In his video, gorgeous glowing twilight stretches on for five or six hours a time. Photographing for hours in my favorite light surrounded by dramatic and surreal sea-to-summit landscapes seemed like a dream. Six years after seeing Terje’s video I finally was able to make the trip myself.
After researching and talking with other photographers who had been there, I knew that the photography locations would be spread out across many islands and hundreds of miles windy roads, bridges and tunnels. Here in the western US my trusty Toyota truck and pop-up camper are essential pieces of photography equipment, enabling me to camp close to photography locations and be ready to shoot when the light is good and sleep when it isn’t. I became convinced that this type of “sleep where you shoot” approach would work well in Norway too, so I proceeded to look for rental RV’s above the Arctic Circle and plot my course on Google Maps.
My friend, Paul Imperia, is a guy who isn’t afraid of a little adventure. When I emailed him with some details about the trip his reply only had two words, “I’m in!” So, in late April we flew to the north of Norway and spent a couple weeks road-tripping in our rented Viking RV. We christened it the Gokstad after the famous historic Viking ship. The weather was suitably cold, windy and wet for the Arctic in May and the light did not disappoint. The lighting would begin getting good around 9:00 PM and the sun would set about 11:00 PM. Then gorgeous twilight would continue through the night until about 3:30 or 4:00 AM when the sun would rise. By 6:00 AM we would call it a day. We would usually take a “lunch” break about midnight when the light was lowest. Paul is an excellent cook so these breaks would really be gourmet food events prepared in the Gokstad with plenty of wine and perhaps a bit of Scotch. Living nocturnal lives meant that we rarely saw people in the villages or cars on the road. It was like being in one of those sci-fi movies where you are the last people on Earth. The upside is that we never got off of West Coast time, so no jet lag going or coming.
What follows are some images and stories from the trip. I hope you enjoy. I’ll include some info and links on the trip logistics at the end of the article. If you are interested in visiting this region of Norway and have questions for me, please leave them in the comments below.
I took this on our first day on the road. We flew into Tromso and picked up the RV, and then waited 24 hours for lost luggage to show up. Mine did, Paul’s didn’t. So we decided to drive all night to get to the Lofoten islands and hope that Paul’s duffle would show up at a local airport in the area eventually. We pulled over at 3:30 in the morning, just before sunrise, for our first photo session. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but it was cold. This ice was a cool phenomenon we saw along many of the fjords. I’m not sure exactly how it occurs, but I think a thin layer of ice forms on the brackish water at high tide. Then, as the tide goes out this thin layer covers the shore like a delicate ice blanket. It was so fragile but great for texture and reflections.
Canon 5D4, 17mm, polarizer. 0.6 seconds, f/14, ISO 100.
This was one of our favorite locations of the trip and we returned here two or three times. The images I took on each visit have completely different characteristics. I enjoy being able to return to a spot and experience it in different light and weather. For me, it is a good reminder that landscape photography isn’t just about the landscape itself, but also the atmosphere, light, mood and experience you encounter while in the landscape. This is one shot, but I did some perspective work on it. My camera was pointed slightly down so the mountains were leaning outward. I copied the upper 1/3 onto a new layer and transformed it so the mountains and reflections would be vertical as they should be…but without losing the wide angle perspective of the foreground.
Canon 5D4, 24mm, polarizer. 6 seconds, f/16, ISO 100.
“70 Degrees North”
This is a second photo from the same location. The Lofoten Islands is a chain of rock teeth that rise from the ocean and stretch more than a hundred miles out into the Norwegian Sea. It was a rare and strange experience to photograph tidepools and jagged granite peaks in such close proximity to each other. This is what the light looked like at 11:00 at night, right before the sun actually set.
Single exposure, Canon 5D4, 16-35mm, polarizer, 0.5 seconds, F/18, ISO 100.
“In The Night”
Three images stitched to create the panorama. Canon 5D4, 70mm, f/11, 10 seconds.
There are some recurring elements in most of the photos I made in Norway: ocean-scapes with mountainous backdrops, moody weather and twilight. But those are the precise elements I went there to see…so mission accomplished from that perspective, I guess. We would stay out until our fingers went numb, then we would duck into Gokstad the Viking RV to warm up. It’s hard to see at screen size, but there is a small village across the fjord dwarfed beneath the mountains.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm. Perspective and wave motion blend of three different frames. f/11 and 35mm background, f/22 and 20mm foreground.
A small tree reflecting in a small pond on a small island in a fjord next to the big island of Flakstadøya in Norway. Dreamy light courtesy of all-night arctic twilight. According to Ron Jansen, who lives in Norway, “‘Bu’, or ‘bo’, can mean a little hut or cabin. ‘Øya’ means ‘the island’. Stor means large. So most likely, Stor Buøya refers to a time before the road and bridges were there and this island (the larger of two very small ones) had one or a few little cabins on it.
Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 26mm, polarizer. 3.2 seconds, f/14, ISO 100. Side note: almost all of the images I took on this trip in the 24-35mm range were taken with my16-35mm instead of the 24-70mm I would normally use. On the second day of the trip, I slipped on some slimy rocks and my beloved 24-70 f/2.8 MKII took the full hit, sacrificing it but saving the camera. I spent the rest of the trip getting by with the 16-35 and the 70-200. I’m waiting to hear from Canon if the 24-70 can be resurrected from the dead.
Endless night is what it felt like we were living after two weeks of photographing through the nights and sleeping during the days in Norway. Paul and I happened on this beach on the Island of Vestvågøy. The maze of fjords, bays and headlands on the islands mean that scenes like this can be found around any corner or through any tunnel. We would look at Google maps to find a particularly jagged shoreline and then see if there was a road that would take us there. Often a long tunnel under a mountain would open onto a remote and windswept landscape like this one. This beach had some cool eroded cauldrons with iridescent algae growing in them. They were fun to work with as foreground elements. Meanwhile, thundershowers moved in from the Norwegian sea, alternately pounding us with wind and hail and exposing small openings in the clouds that would let the late-night light through.
Canon 5D4, 16mm. 8 Seconds, f/18, ISO 100. It has been awesome using the 5D4. The dynamic range capability allows me to capture many scenes like this in a single exposure instead of needing to bracket and blend exposures. I know…Nikon and Sony users have been doing this for years. It’s awesome to now have that as a Canon user.
“The Norwegian Sea”
More deep twilight from Norway, but some warmer tones this time. Throughout our all-night photo shoots small breaks in the clouds would let soft twilight filter across the landscape and keep us transfixed. Once the sun set there would be several hours of light like this before the sun would rise again, around 3 AM. So finding the light was just a matter of being patient for an opening in the clouds to come.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm at 24mm. Polarizer. 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 100. Developing included tonal balancing for sky and land, split toning and luminosity/color painting.
“North Of The Wall”
It was about 2:00 AM when I took this. I was alone on the island of Senja, north of the Lofoten chain. Paul had left for warmer conditions (in Cuba) a couple days earlier, but I stayed to continue getting schooled in what spring in the Arctic is about. I knew Norway would be colder and stormier than Oregon in May, but the marine air, wind and below-freezing temperatures made it feel like we were “north of the wall”. Paul and I made frequent GoT jokes throughout the trip. When it began snowing at sea level I didn’t worry too much and celebrated the opportunity to photograph snow on the ocean shore. But it kept snowing and began accumulating on the road. The only way through the mountains on Senja is to go under them…one tunnel after another. But when it snows too much the tunnels can be closed by avalanches. The fact that Gokstad the Viking RV didn’t come equipped with chains also gave me some anxiety. I hung out on this fjord for a full day in the snow, but with my flight less than 24 hours away I decided I had to make a run for it. A couple hours of white knuckle driving later I managed to navigate through all the tunnels and arrived at the ferry dock on the other side of the island.
Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 16mm, 30 seconds, f/20, ISO 100. Single exposure worked in Lightroom and then finished in Photoshop. I did quite a bit of contrast and localized luminosity work until I felt I had communicated the mood.
“Lunch Break In The Gokstad”
The mid-night sun begins around May 24. The period between the end of April and late May is when the long Arctic twilight happens. The light quality is similar again in late July and August, but then the weather isn’t so dramatic and the snow has melted off the peaks.
We flew to Tromso and picked up the RV there. We rented from Motorhome.no but there are other rental companies in Tromso. It was a 10 or 12-hour drive from Tromso to the very end of the Lofoten Islands. There are airports in the Lofoten chain, but I’m not sure of the availability of RV rentals.
Norway has a general public right, called Freedom To Roam, which means that you can hike and camp just about anywhere as long as you take care of the land. It also means that you can park an RV in just about any pullout along the road. This enabled us to find places to cook and sleep within a few yards of where we wanted to photograph.
Restaurants are expensive and almost non-existent way out in the islands. We stocked up on groceries in larger towns and cooked almost every meal in the RV.
The temperatures ranged from the low 20s to the low 40s, Fahrenheit, but the wind and damp ocean air made it feel much colder. I wore several insulating layers including down, a Gore-tex shell, hat and gloves. I decided to pack a pair of Boggs neoprene waterproof boots and they proved critical for keeping my feet warm and dry.
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.
Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.
Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.
Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.
- Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
- Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
- Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
- Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
- Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
- In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
- Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
- Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
- Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
- It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
- When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
- It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
- Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
- Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
- Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
- Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
- Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
- Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
- Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
- Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.
Lucky number seven in 2016 for Photo Cascadia. Seven for the first full year with seven team members and seven for the number of years Photo Cascadia has been around. Speaking of luck it was honestly mostly luck in the beginning that this specific team of photographers formed, have become good friends and enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge with all of you for as long as we have. During this time we have seen similar groups form and fold. We hope this seven year stretch is only the beginning of our journey as you join us along for the ride. In the end it’s you, the readers, that continue to provide energy for what we do at Photo Cascadia. For this we are extremely grateful and thankful… thank you!
Where did 2016 take you for adventure and photography? I am sure it was similar to many on the Photo Cascadia team where we spent time in our own backyards, crossing state lines as well as some continent hopping. If you have been watching our blog for more than a year now you will know that mid December is when Photo Cascadia takes a break from our weekly posting until mid January. It’s our time to step back and reflect on the year that has past while winding down with family and friends.
As we reflect on things it’s a good time to remember that all the places we get to visit should be available for those that come after us. It seems 2016 we unfortunately saw a rise, at least in the media if not reality, around people doing permanent damage to places we all want to enjoy and photograph as well as companies and political forces looking to seize locations set aside for long term preservation. Now days, perhaps more than ever, we all need breaks into nature whether some of us realize it or not as the number of us living in a concrete jungle grows. With that I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
We take this time to provide a year end visual show of where we have traveled with some behind the scenes clips. Take a four minute break and check it out.
May your year close out with many lasting memories and the new year start with a trail full of endless possibilities.
I did a blog post a number of years back on abstract nature photography yet it’s been a long time and thought I would revisit this topic. I really enjoy this type of photography especially when you find hidden gems that others may not have seen or might have passed over many times before you. Often what ends up being the final photo doesn’t jump out at you without surveying a scene for potential compositions. Sometimes I dig in and strike it rich finding those gems and other times I come up empty handed which is part of the fun.
Rather than a lot of typing for this post I will let the video do most of the talking this time around. I am not normally the video tutorial kind of person yet I am getting myself to branch out into this type of work. Below is the video and three photos I discuss in greater detail. For each scene I show several compositions I took leading up to the final to help understand my thought process to build a compelling abstract or intimate nature photo.
Standing Tall – In cold wet forest of the Columbia River Gorge in early winter
Desert Lizard – In the dry cool desert Southwest in Fall inside Zion National Park
Final Flames of Fall – Above a forest in the Columbia River Gorge during the final days of fall
Video covering the three photos above in much more detail. Happy viewing!
On social media I get asked all sorts of questions but one of the questions a lot of people are curious about is what happens when a photographer takes a photo tour and what can they expect.
So for this blog I am sharing my trip report from my recent travels to Fairbanks Alaska and what we did and some of the places we visited as well as the activities the group did together.
The 2015 Fairbanks Photo Safaris Tour started off with an introduction dinner at Pike’s Restaurant. This gave everyone a chance to know a little about everyone in the group. After dinner with a promising Aurora Borealis forecast for that evening we decided to get an early start and head up to a great hilltop view called Mount Skiland. This 360 view of Fairbanks and the surrounding area gave an excellent place to photograph Northern Lights. We had been blessed earlier in the week with a lot of new fresh snow and this really made for some spectacular winter landscapes. When combined with the Northern Lights we could not have asked for a better setting. The group was given an orientation on where to best to photograph the lights and had a nice hot cup of hot chocolate. It wasn’t long after the orientation that the magic began and the dark sky had now become dancing beams of vivid greens and reds. Our first night had been a success and we all headed back to the hotel exhausted but too excited to sleep.
The next morning we awoke to sunny skies and snowy surroundings. Some of the group slept-in while others enjoyed a breakfast. After breakfast the group headed out to watch Dog Mushing at the Alaska Dog Mushers Association. The timing could not have been any better as we got to witness a timed trial race where competitors came from all over the world to race. The race would consist of teams of four and six team dog sled races that would race against the clock and their times would be cumulatively added over the two days. Teams of dog mushers would come rushing down the tracks every two minutes with excitement in the racers eyes and voices. They had a way of communicating with one another that was fascinating to hear. We decided to split the group in half as some wanted to photograph the starting line and others wanted to shoot within the snow capped forest. The event lasted most of the afternoon and everyone came away with some great action shots of the dogs and the dog mushers. With everyone hungry from all the action we headed to a close Italian restaurant named Geraldo’s that served some excellent food that really hit the spot. It was nice as the also had a buffet that people really could dig into and really try different types of food. Later that night after some rest at the hotel we got together for a nice dinner at the Cookie Jar Restaurant. This experience will soon not be forgotten as we had a very funny waitress who was very forthcoming with suggestions and places to eat while in Fairbanks. The group ate well as we had another night of photographing the Northern Lights ahead of us. With full stomachs and dressed warmly we headed back to the same area as the night before. Mount Skiland worked out well as it offered a warm chalet for participants to warm up and eat while waiting. Inside the chalet the TV on the wall were hooked up to the webcams so that everyone could see whether the lights were happening. This was a really nice bonus, as we could all stay warm while we waited anxiously. Within a short period the lights had appeared as promised and we were given another magic show where no of the group left disappointed. With several different areas to shoot everybody got a chance shoot from multiple perspectives in photograph the lights in all directions. Although the temperatures were cold this did not matter to anyone in the group. After hours of dazzling light and excitement the group headed back to the hotel.
With are success from the past day of dog mushing we decided to head out and photograph the dog mushers again but try different viewpoints. We also got a chance to see some of the dogs come out of the kennels and hear some background history on the sport. It was a nice chance to see a wide spectrum of dog mushing and all the events that go into a successful event. After dog mushing we headed to the iconic Daddy’s Barb-b-Que for some excellent ribs. At the restaurant we got a chance to take lots of group photos and relive some of your favorite moments thus far. After lunch the group famished from a good meal headed back to the hotel for some rest.
Later that afternoon we all attended the Ice Sculptures and Carving that presented some of the world’s best ice carvers. We decided to head there around sunset so we could photograph the ice sculptures against the backdrop of the sunset, which turned out very nicely. As the sun disappeared and the night set in we then got to shoot the ice sculptures at night when the lights spotlighted the ice carvings.
After a full evening of shooting the ice carvings we went for dinner at the Pikes Landing, which provided some warmth and time to relax. This was well needed as we headed out for another successful night of photographing the aurora borealis after dinner.
The next morning the group packed up as we had a late lunch and headed out of Fairbanks to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. The resort has always been one of the top destinations in the world to view Northern Lights and has several winter activities to keep everyone busy during the day. Later in the day we got settled into our new rooms and headed back to the restaurant for some tasty food. We got a chance to all eat in a private room and enjoy some of the five star food. We all well knowing we had a exciting night ahead of us photographing the lights. The group assembled together as dark settled in and we had arranged a snow coach to take the group up to the top of the mountain overlooking the resort. The view was second to none and provided and excellent vantage point for shooting the lights. While waiting for the show to start we all enjoyed some hot chocolate inside the warm lit yurt. The group got a chance to listen to a live band while waiting. Shortly there after the sky turned vivid colors of green and the group got another night of shooting under the magic skies of Alaska.
The next morning the group got out together to shoot around the resort as the winter snow had provided some idyllic scenes for photographing. We got to shoot some frozen ponds, hoar frost trees, and the sun rising through the snow capped trees. It wasn’t long after that that our hungry was calling out for lunch while others enjoyed some time in the hot springs which was a highlight for some of the group. With a short rest the group met up again for a private tour of the dog mushing and history of the events. This was a nice chance to get to pet the dogs as well as photograph them. All of the dogs were excited to have company and provided lots of excitement. We met for dinner later in the afternoon and were met with excellent food again.
As the light faded and the night began the group decided to shoot the Northern lights around the resort to shoot different subjects with the lights. There was plenty to shoot as we had igloos, barns, abandoned cabins, rivers, birch trees, and even an airplane to shoot under the stunning sky. We shoot until the early hours of the morning before retiring for the night.
The next morning some of the group got together to explore the outer regions of the resort and find new possibilities for the upcoming evening of Northern Lights. With a stunning rustic atmosphere the settings could not have been better for shooting. The group throughout the day got some time to relax and take another dip in the Hot Springs. With some of the new possibilities the group headed out for another night of lights where the group leader had brought out his yellow tent and made some different options for subjects. The group huddled around the tent as the Alaskan sky had not let us down. The night had lit up and the night could be heard with cheers all night from its audience.
Night after night we had been fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis and capture it in some of the most stunning winter conditions. The group had a chance to photograph in a variety of settings and even had a chance to experiment with different settings
The next morning we all conversed about how lucky we had been to see the magic of nature and headed back to Fairbanks for one last goodbye dinner at the famous Pump House Restaurant. Here we relived the experiences and talked about our favorite things we had seen. We even got the opportunity to try some of the local food that was pretty impressive.
On a full stomach we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved rest. The photo tour had come to a rest but we knew the memories would last a lifetime.
I often get asked which is the best time to visit the Oregon Coast and why. Most people believe that would be the summertime when the sun is out and the days are filled with blue skies. But as a photographer we don’t want the clear blue skies that most ordinary people would want. This could not be more true for the Oregon Coast as the summers are usually filled with no clouds and just boring blue skies. In the winter is when you get the best sunrises and sunsets which make for great dramatic photos. Yes it is true this is when you get the most rain as well but it as the tail end of these weather systems that you are likely to get these amazing weather patterns that make for great photos. So when choosing a time to hit the Oregon Coast it is best to allow some extra time in the vacation to ensure you allow for some bad days. I usually like to go at durations of week or more to ensure I allow for all kinds of weather.
The motto as most photographers know is that the more unstable the weather is the more likely the sunrises and sunsets will be good. So next time the rest of the world takes cover from the rain this is the time to be ready to capture the best photos especially along the Oregon Coast.
Another advantage to shooting on the Oregon Coast in the winter is the extra amount of rain which makes for better reflections and tide pools. This is especially true after a recent rainfall that make for great reflections of the clouds in the tide pools. I time these with low tides where the beach is more likely to be exposed and add a variety of tide pools and beach patterns. The tide pools really add another dimension to the coastal images along the Oregon Coast.
The tide pools add foreground interest which really pulls your viewer into the image. That immediate draw tells a story by combining a foreground with the background through juxtaposition of elements. The tide pools also add a natural mirror to the scene and double the color and beauty of the scene.
This also adds depth to the image and really enhances the illusion of the 3-D in your images. Another advantage to photographing right after a rainfall is the sand and rain together create nice patterns in the sand. I looks for these patterns in the sand in relation to sand ripples and the way the lines lead through the image. I compose my images so that the ripples and patterns lead to the subject I am trying to highlight in the image. If you carefully compose your images at certain angles you can really take advantage of reflective color off the side of ripples that really draw converging lines toward the subject.
With so many images from the Oregon Coast you really need to think carefully how you are composing your images and making them stand out from other images from the coast.The rain adds a great reflective element to the beach and makes for great reflections. By using the weather elements of winter to your advantage you can really create unique compositions that stand out.
Another advantage to photographing the Oregon Coast in the winter is there is the number of people are much fewer. To photographers this is important as nature can best be viewed when one admires nature in solitude. I am a firm believer in this and that whenever I can get somewhere and be with myself I can connect with nature more. It is important to really figure out what each scene is telling you and then try to convey that in the story of the image. The absence of people also means the lack of footprints in the sand around your composition which is almost impossible in the summertime. I like the fact that when shooting after a rainfall the beach is again in pristine condition and lacking footprints.
Winter photography along the Oregon Coast also allows for the change of ratio and rule of thirds when composing images. To be more specific when i shoot during the summer months along the coast I am forced to compose an image where I try to not include much sky. Because there is never anything much interesting going in terms of just blue skies it forces me to compose the image to be one-third sky or even less and two-thirds foreground (beach). This really limits what I can do in terms of compositions and really hinders my creativity. In winter, with dramatic skies I can change my ratio to either emphasize the sky or foreground and that choice is mine. Using the mood of the sky I can really add creativity to the images with long exposures, reflective ripples, reflecting tide pools, and mirror reflections off the sand.
With so many advantages to shooting coastal images along the Oregon Coast with winter weather conditions make it a priority this winter to get out and do some shooting.
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.
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.
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.
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