5 Camera Settings to Improve Your Photography

Compelling images don’t just happen, they are created. By initiating the 5 simple camera settings listed below, you will noticeably improve the quality of your photographs. Refer to your camera’s Owner’s Manual for specific instructions.

Shoot RAW Files

Shooting in RAW format is perhaps the single most important setting a serious photographer can make. (See my article ‘Why Shoot RAW Files.’) RAW files produce the greatest possible visual information and offer you the most creative latitude in post-production. RAW files are your digital negative and require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro to process the image. There is a bit of a learning curve to using this processing software, but the time investment is well worth your effort. You can fine-tune every aspect of the photograph, and correct issues like chromatic aberration, vignetting, and lens distortion. If your interest is black and white imaging, the RAW format offers the greatest tonal control. You will find many fine tutorials online.

As always, get the exposure right in-camera. Avoid the ‘fix it in post’ mentality. This is counter-productive and diminishes your workflow. In most cases, I spend less than 5 minutes processing an image.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Shooting in Manual Mode gives you complete and total control over the final image. Make photographs rather than take snapshots. By allowing the camera to make your creative decisions, you are limiting yourself to a pre-determined (and average) set of parameters, which will most often yield average results. Dynamic images are never average. Take control of Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, and Depth-of-Field.

Set your camera to Manual Focus. Don’t rely on the Automatic Focus setting. More often than not, your images will be out-of-focus because the camera is unable to decipher what elements are important. By focusing manually, you control depth-of-field, as well as selectively focusing on the key areas in the photograph, like a subject’s eyes in a portrait.

Select the Adobe RGB Color Space

Set your camera’s color space to Adobe RGB (1998). Most cameras are set to sRGB by default. sRGB was created to ensure consistent color reproduction as an image is transferred from the camera to a device, such as a monitor or printer. It is the smallest color space, and yields the least amount of color information. Consequently, some colors in an image are discarded and won’t reproduce when printed. Adobe RGB, on the other hand, has a much larger color gamut (spectrum of colors).

Set the White Balance Manually

Set your White Balance manually based on the light source in which you are shooting. Each lighting type has its own color temperature and color cast. A proper white balance setting assures accurate color reproduction in an image. White balance can be fine-tuned in post.

Use a Low ISO Setting

By using the lowest possible ISO setting, you minimize the amount of digital noise in an image. Digital noise generally equates to a degradation in image quality, and while noise can be used to creative effect much like the grain in film, it is more often undesirable. Shoot at ISO 100 whenever possible. If this means having to use slow shutter speeds, consider a tripod. If you need to freeze action in low-light condition, you may have to boost your ISO setting, but try to keep it at ISO 400 or lower. By shooting in RAW format, you have a Noise Reduction slider which renders a viable solution to the problem.

I hope this article has been helpful in the on-going quest to improve the quality of your photographs. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time…happy shooting!

Bruce

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Why Shoot RAW Files

RAW Files vs JPEGs

RAW files are your digital negative. Like film negatives, RAW files contain the greatest range of visual information and offer the greatest latitude in post-production. RAW files are uncompressed, unlike the highly compressed jpeg file, which discards information to reduce file size. Once that information is lost, it cannot be retrieved. RAW files offer a much greater dynamic range (the ratio of brightest tones to darkest tones) and allows for greater detail in both highlights and shadows. An 8-bit RAW file contains 16.8 million possible colors, whereas a jpeg contains a mere 256 colors. That is fine for web images, but unacceptable when printing or publishing images.

Fontana Theater JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fontana Theater RAW File

Optimized RAW File

RAW files require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro. I have used both, and while there is an argument for each, I choose to use Adobe CC because it is what I am most familiar with, and also I use other programs in the Adobe Suite like InDesign and Premiere Pro.

8-Bit or 16-Bit Depth

As previously mentioned, an 8-bit image contains 16.8 million possible colors, which would seem more than adequate when printing an image, but there are situations in which tonal differences are so subtle that even this many colors doesn’t produce a smooth transition. This step from one tone to the next can create a noticeable effect known as banding. Saving the processed file as a 16-bit image produces a staggering 281 trillion colors and greatly reduces the incidence of banding. This is beneficial in rendering smoother and more subtle tonal transitions in large continuous areas such as a blue sky. Be aware that a 16-bit file is twice as large as its 8-bit counterpart. Save your optimized image as an uncompressed TIFF file.

Unprocessed JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

Optimized RAW File

Optimized RAW File

Why Convert to DNG Files

RAW files are proprietary to the particular make of camera in which they are shot. Canon RAW files (CR2) are different than Nikon’s (NEF), which are different from Olympus files (ORF). As software continues to evolve, these various formats eventually become obsolete and unusable. The DNG format is Adobe’s attempt to standardize the RAW file so that it can always be opened regardless of a camera’s make or when the file was created. Whenever I work with a RAW file, I convert it to a DNG file and save it in its own folder. That way, I have a workable file ten or twenty years down the road.

I prefer to shoot RAW files + large jpegs (See your camera manual). This gives me a ready-to-use image right out of the camera that I can immediately send to a client if necessary without having to post-process the photograph. It also aids me in making early editing decisions, such as eliminating out-of-focus shots or comparing image composition. Always strive to properly expose the image in-camera. Meter using an 18% gray card, then bracket. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend optimizing an image—and that equates to more time in the field actually creating photographs. Backup all your files regularly. Redundancy is king. Store your files on multiple hard drives (at least two), and store one of those devices off-site to protect you, heaven forbid, from fire or natural disaster. A safe deposit box is optimal.

I hope you find this article informative—and if you aren’t already shooting in RAW format that it has convinced you to start doing so.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Shooting Action Photography

action-photography-1Action can be described as any scene which incorporates movement. Action can be as slow-moving as a person walking, or as fast-moving as a race car barreling down a straightaway at 200 miles per hour. Capturing action’s peak moment is a combination of experience, artistic vision, and desired result.

Action photography requires preparedness and doesn’t wait for the photographer to ready her- or himself. Before leaving the house, I like to go through a mental checklist of the equipment I will need for an upcoming session. This might include items like a speedlight and portable light modifiers, polarizing and neutral density filters, lens hoods, a tripod or monopod, spare memory cards, and extra batteries for both camera and flash. Be prepared for any emergency. Do you need a second camera body or second flash in the event one fails? If you don’t own a spare, consider renting from a reputable company such as BorrowLenses. Be certain your gear is clean—particularly lens elements and view finder. Anticipate all the possible shooting conditions and adjust camera settings accordingly ahead of time—white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture—then fine-tune as required once you’re at the event. Is the day clear and sunny? Is it overcast and threatening rain? Will you be shooting indoors or under stadium lights at night? This may seem obvious, but more than once I have begun a session with the incorrect white balance or shooting mode only to discover my error after the fact.

One of the big advantages to digital photography is the ability to take test shots and view the results immediately. Arrive early if possible to make any final exposure adjustments and select a vantage point. Use an 18% Gray Card to determine accurate exposure. If your subject is a high-speed race car or an Olympic diver, it is a good idea to position yourself so that the subject is entering the frame as opposed to exiting it. Apply the rule of thirds, and avoid placing your subject in the center of the frame. This accentuates the action, and is generally more visually appealing. If you want to freeze action, use fast shutter speeds (1/500 second or faster). If depth-of-field is critical, use small apertures (f/8 or smaller). Keep ISO settings as low as possible (ISO 100-800) to minimize unwanted noise. I always recommend shooting in RAW format, as this allows for the widest range of image optimization possibilities in post-production. The RAW file is your digital negative, and requires some kind of image-editing software such as Adobe Camera Raw. I shoot everything in RAW + Large Jpeg (See camera manual). This way, I have a workable image without having to expend the time required for processing RAW images.

action-photography-2

Crisp, sharp images are not always the most desirable or aesthetically pleasing, nor do they necessarily best convey action and sense of motion. Slow, hand-held exposures are a very effective way to communicate motion. Experiment. Try very long exposures (1 second or more) while panning. If you are shooting in bright daylight, you may need to use a variable neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. I use a Tiffen Variable ND filter. This also allows you to use larger apertures, which enable you to isolate your subject while blurring the background. If you have a zoom lens, try zooming in or out during a long exposure. Using a flash in combination with slow shutter speeds at night offers a variety of interesting effects, and the results can be quite dramatic. Be sure to turn off image stabilization when panning or zooming. Most of all, get out and shoot as often as possible—anything and everything. You will become a far more competent photographer as a result.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact me. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Memory Cards—A Basic Overview

Memory cards are the photographer’s digital equivalent to film. The most common types of memory cards include SD (Secure Digital, up to 2 GB of capacity), SDHC (High Capacity, up to 32 GB), SDXC (Extra Capacity, up to 2 TB), and UHS (Ultra-High Speed) cards. Two factors determine how memory cards are rated. Speed rating measures the maximum reading and writing transfer speeds to and from the card in megabytes per second (MB/s). Class rating measures the minimum sustained speed needed to maintain an even rate of data transfer onto the card (particularly important when shooting hi-def video). Class 2 cards have a minimum transfer rate of 2 MB/s, while Class 10 cards transfer data at a minimum of 10 MB/s. UHS Speed Class (Ultra-High Speed) appeared in 2009 and utilizes a new data bus, so UHS memory cards are not compatible with non-UHS devices.  SanDisk’s recently released UHS-2 cards offer write speeds of up to 250 MB/s or faster. Note that performance may vary depending on your particular host device. Check manufacturer’s specs for your specific camera. A card’s capacity is designated in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) and refers to the amount of data a particular card can hold.

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When selecting a memory card, purchase only quality, reputable brands such as SanDisk or Samsung. Because this is your ‘film’ equivalent, you don’t want to scrimp just to save a couple of dollars. At the same time, they can get very pricey, and there is no need to buy the most expensive card. Buy memory cards from reputable dealers only, and beware of counterfeit cards. Most manufacturers offer some kind of warranty. SanDisk offers a limited two-year warranty on its products, while the Samsung 64 Pro Plus offers a ten-year limited warranty. Keep in mind that warranties are no guarantee that a card won’t fail—and should it fail, only the replacement of the product is covered. Loss of images can still occur. SanDisk claims its cards have a Mean Time Before Failure (MTFB) of 1,000,000 hours.

Like film, precautions must be taken when using and storing memory cards to avoid the corruption of data or loss of images. When using a memory card for the first time, it should be formatted for your particular camera (See owner’s manual). Be sure your camera is turned off before installing or removing the card to prevent accidental data loss. A small lock switch on the side of the card allows you to prevent the accidental deletion or overwriting of data. Do not touch the gold contacts on the back of the card, as this may cause corrosion and interfere with the transfer of information. Do not fill the card to its maximum capacity, as this may corrupt data and cause the loss of data (a mistake I have personally experienced). Avoid exposing memory cards to extreme heat or cold. Store them in their supplied case, or a quality memory card wallet, like the Pelican 0915 Memory Card Case (purchased separately). If you do happen to lose data on a card, there are several fee-based online recovery options available, including DriveSaver Data Recovery.

When downloading photographs to the computer, I prefer to remove the memory card from the camera and insert it into the computer’s SD slot. Properly eject the memory card before removing it. If your device doesn’t have an SD slot, you can tether your camera directly via the camera’s supplied USB cable. Be sure the camera battery has enough charge to complete the process. Your third option is to purchase a memory card reader. I’m a minimalist in everything I do, so the last thing I want to do is carry around another piece of gear, especially when traveling. Unless it is your only option, spare yourself the expense and additional hassle of a card reader.

Redundancy is king! Backup your images to at least two devices before erasing them from the memory card. Please note that erasing a card does not remove protected images, whereas formatting deletes all images, including protected images. It is recommended to format the card periodically to optimize performance.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. I’m wishing you an enjoyable Summer. Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Backcountry Photography Tips

nature-photography-1

My Faithful Marmot Tent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, I am writing from the confines of my tent and listening to the sharp staccato of raindrops pelting the fabric just inches from my ears. It has been raining for the last three days, with only brief and intermittent breaks in the precipitation. I have been camping on the North Fork of the Sacramento River for over three weeks now (the same place I camped for five weeks last Summer), and I am wanting to photograph this special area that has been my home for several weeks. Backcountry photography requires the right gear, and experience using that gear. Equally important is the willingness and mental preparedness to endure Mother Nature’s sometimes lengthy inclement bouts, for they almost always provide outstanding photographic opportunities, but patience and a sense of humor is key.

Staying safe, warm, and dry is primary. Your comfort will dictate how productive your photo efforts will be. Shelter for most people means a tent. Choose a small, quality, lightweight model—large enough to accommodate you, your pack, and your camera gear, yet light enough that you’ll actually carry it. Condensation on the tent’s interior is a natural occurrence and poses a challenge to staying dry, even when it isn’t raining. The ability to vent the space can help to alleviate this problem. Keep clothing and sleeping bags away from tent sides, and avoid bumping the fabric as much as possible. Dress in layers—and absolutely NO cotton! Cotton retains moisture and has no insulating value. Be prepared for any kind of weather regardless of the season. Don’t rely on forecasts. Mount Shasta has seen snow on the Fourth of July.

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North Fork, Sacramento River, Northern California

With today’s sophisticated electronics, camera’s are far more vulnerable to the elements than the manual film cameras of old. Even with a weatherized pro-level camera system, precautions need to be taken. Weather-resistant carrying cases add a level of insurance. I have a Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 AW II for my Canon EOS body and moderate zoom lens. I also have small protective soft cases for each of my lenses.

I am a minimalist in everything I do. I rely on experience more than gear, particularly when camping in the backcountry. Unless I absolutely need it, I don’t carry it. I have the same attitude regarding camera gear. I bring only what I need to do the job. That means a camera body and two lenses—a 10-18 mm ultra-wide zoom and an 18-55 mm zoom. This covers the majority of shooting situations and keeps weight and space requirements to a minimum. I also carry a fully-charged spare battery and second memory card. Occasionally I use a circular polarizer or neutral density filter, but I find with digital photography that I am less prone to using filters.

Maidenhair Fern, Northern California

Maidenhair Fern, Northern California

A tripod is an essential piece of equipment. Some of the most compelling image-making happens after sunset. Many fine, lightweight tripods are available. I recently purchased a Davis and Sanford Traverse with a BHQ8 Ball Head. Turn off any image-stabilization when using a tripod. Use a remote shutter release or self-timer to avoid camera-shake. Use a lens hood to protect the front lens element from precipitation, as well as the occasional bump.

Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the difference between an enjoyable outing and a disastrous one. I always carry a large, heavy-duty trash bag in my pack. They’re light and offer excellent rain-protection in the event of a sudden downpour while hiking on the trail. That has kept my pack, clothing, and camera gear dry on numerous occasions. Also, pack a couple of one-gallon zip-lock storage bags for water-proof security. They serve as a rain-guard in drizzly conditions. Plastic film canisters are one of the greatest storage containers ever conceived. They are water-tight and pack easily. Keep memory cards, lens tissue, and/or your Bic Mini safe and dry.

Accidents do happen! When I recently purchased a new Canon system, I enrolled in the SquareTrade 2 Year Drops and Spills Protection Plan. At $92 for the two years, it’s cheap insurance. Canon will repair or replace damaged equipment, as long as the item isn’t lost or stolen.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!

Bruce

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Black and White Photography Basics

Black and White Photo Tips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and white photography is very much its own art form. The process of creating black and white images requires the photographer to think and see differently. Even the viewer’s experience is a different one. Black and white is an especially dramatic and impactful medium. By applying a few basic principles, you can create stronger, more compelling black and white imagery. Digital cameras offer so many creative possibilities and black and white imaging benefits greatly with today’s technology.

Black and White Photo Tips The first step to improving your photography is to shoot in a RAW format, whenever possible. The RAW file is your digital negative and it gives you the most creative control over the final image. Adjust your camera’s white balance, as this is particularly important with black and white imaging. Shoot in color mode, then convert your image to grayscale in post. Use the lowest ISO setting possible. This helps keep detail sharp and noise to a minimum.

Composition is fundamental to strong black and white image-making. Be mindful of the rule of thirds, but don’t apply it mechanically. Use visual weight to create balance or tension in your composition. Look for interesting patterns and textures, strong converging lines, and contrasting light and shadow. Think and see in black and white. Look for scenes with a wide range of tones. Does a particular shot call for a shallow depth-of-field or is sharpness throughout the image a preferable choice? Experiment. Try different lens focal lengths. Bracket your shots. Many digital cameras allow you to do this automatically.

Neutral Density Filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera and increase exposure times. They are used to create the veiled effect of flowing water and soft clouds. ND filters decrease depth-of-field by allowing wider apertures. They are also used to decrease the ISO setting in bright situations. A Neutral Density filter can reduce the light up to several stops, permitting very long exposures. Use a tripod on any exposure longer than 1/30 second, and lock up the mirror and use a cable release or self-timer to eliminate camera shake. Also, be sure all image-stabilization is turned off whenever the camera is on a tripod. This will give you the sharpest possible detail.

I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. If there is a particular topic you would like to see covered, please contact me and I will attempt to address it in a future post.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Lava Beds National Monument–A Land of Primordial Beauty

Lava Beds National MonumentLava Beds National Monument is a land of stark and primordial beauty. It is a landscape rich in geologic and cultural history. When Lava Beds was declared a national monument in 1925, a unique and incredibly diverse natural wonder is preserved for future generations to discover and explore. The many lava flows, fumaroles, and cinder cones offer testament to this planet’s fiery origins. More than 700 caves can be found here. The Klamath Basin is also home to the Klamath and Modoc tribes and is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, going back thousands of years. Their presence is evident in various locations throughout the basin, including Petroglyph Point, to the northeast of the park. A wide variety of plant and animal species reside within the monument’s more than 46,000 acres, making Lava Beds National Monument a perfect photo destination. And with the nearby Klamath Wildlife Refuges and Medicine Lake highlands, the photo-ops are world-class.

Lava Beds National MonumentLava Beds National Monument consists of more than 30 separate lava flows, ranging from 2 million years to 1100 years in age. The majority of those flows originated with the Mammoth and Modoc craters located in the southern portion of the park. A smooth, rope-like lava known as pahoehoe (pronounced pah-hoy-hoy) covers most of the monument. Some 22 caves are open for exploration, including Fern Cave. With the exception of Mushpot Cave, near the Visitor’s Center, all caves are unlighted. Bring a flashlight or headlamp and wear a helmet. Long-sleeves and closed-toe hiking shoes or boots are highly recommended.

With an elevation between 4000 feet (1200 meters) and 5700 feet (1700 meters), Lava Beds National Monument supports a variety of vegetation. Grassland and sagebrush occupy the lower elevations, yielding to juniper and chaparral at mid-elevations. Coniferous forests dominated by ponderosa pine are found at higher elevations. Wildflowers include Indian paintbrush, Mariposa lilies, and the slender penstemon. The monument is home to a diversity of wildlife, as well. Badgers, coyotes, and pronghorn antelope are among the mammals you will find here, along with a number of raptors. The Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Bald Eagle feed on the abundance of birds, rodents, and fish in the area. Several species of reptiles inhabit Lava Beds, including the Western Rattlesnake, so please use caution when hiking.

Lava Beds National Monument

 

The Klamath Basin is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, dating back thousands of years. When White settlers began arriving here in the early 19th century, skirmishes between the indigenous people (specifically, the Modocs) and encroaching settlers broke out. With injustices and atrocities committed on both sides, the U.S. Cavalry was sent in to forcefully re-locate the natives to the Lost River Reservation. They resisted and the stage was set for what is commonly referred to as the Modoc Wars (1872-73). Outnumbered ten-to-one, the Modocs were able to hold out for several months, before succumbing to the inevitable. Several battlefield sites have been preserved, commemorating what is considered the only major Indian war to be fought in California. The National Park Service offers Special Events, including re-enactments of the Modoc conflict. For more information on Lava Beds National Monument, visit their website.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Waterfalls of South Siskiyou County

Waterfalls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Siskiyou County, with its abundant lakes, rivers, and creeks, is home to a number of outstanding waterfalls. Many of these are easily accessible, while others require more effort. With a little planning and an early start, you can visit several of the area’s spectacular waterfalls in a one-day tour.

Mossbrae Falls and Hedge Creek Falls, in the vicinity of Dunsmuir, are two beautiful and varied examples of the south county’s many waterfalls. Mossbrae Falls percolates out of a broad expanse of verdant cliffside, before joining a shallow stretch of the Sacramento River. The setting feels almost tropical, with its rich abundance of ferns, grasses, and other water-loving flora. Unfortunately, the trail to Mossbrae Falls is closed at this time, while a new and safer access trail is being considered. Near Dunsmuir’s northern city limit, Hedge Creek Falls lies nestled in the coolness of a deeply shaded basalt gorge. The falls cascade for twenty feet through some of the area’s outstanding columnar basalt before resuming the journey to the Sacramento River. Spring is an especially good time to visit, as the creek’s flow is full and diminishes later in the season. Bring your camera and tripod.

waterfalls_hedge creek_webFive miles east of the town of McCloud are the Lower, Middle, and Upper McCloud Falls. These three unique falls lie within a two-mile stretch of the beautiful and scenic McCloud River. The Lower Falls plunge ten feet through a distinct cleft in the rock before joining a large pool below. The Middle Falls is the largest and perhaps most impressive of the three falls. At 35 feet high and 70 feet wide, it provides a wonderful photo opportunity. For the more adventurous, Winter is an especially photogenic time to visit the falls. The relatively short ski or snowshoe in is well worth the effort and can yield striking results. The Upper Falls lie at the terminus of a long, beautifully sculpted basalt channel, then plunge some twenty feet to the emerald pool below.

Faery Falls, in the Castle Lake drainage, is one of the Mount Shasta area’s lesser known waterfalls. Located upstream from the once-famous Ney Springs Resort, Faery Falls rollercoasters some sixty feet over a granite cliff face, to join the Sacramento River below Box Canyon. A word of caution. While standing at the top of the falls a few years back, a friend and myself were unknowingly standing within six feet of a coiled Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. With the noise of the crashing falls, the dappled sunlight, and the animal’s excellent camouflage, we were completely oblivious to the snake’s presence until I turned and perceived a rattling tail out of the corner of my eye. Please be snake smart. Step cautiously over rocks and logs. All animals require water and tend to gather near these life-sustaining sources–including rattlesnakes.

Waterfalls

Mount Shasta is home to Siskiyou County’s most dramatic waterfalls. Mud Creek Falls, Ash Creek Falls, and Whitney Falls comprise this area’s highest and most dramatic waterfalls. This being said, they are also the most difficult to access and require modest route-finding skills. Mud Creek Canyon, on Mount Shasta’s east side, poses the greatest obstacle in circumnavigating the mountain. A truly imposing feature, this canyon cuts a dizzying 2000 feet through the soft, easily eroding volcanic strata. The 150-foot falls are dwarfed in the immensity of this chasm and not easily approached due to the steep and unstable strata. Ash Creek Falls is accessed via the Brewer Creek Trail on the mountain’s northeast side. At 290 feet tall, Ash Creek Falls is the tallest waterfall on Mount Shasta. The two-and-a half mile round-trip hike requires some route-finding and bushwacking. Whitney Falls is another of the mountain’s spectacular features, plunging some 200 feet, before resuming its course through narrow, v-shaped Whitney Canyon. The creek’s flow is seasonal and greatest in the hot Summer months. As Whitney Creek is glacier-fed, fluctuations can vary significantly with the time of day. Depending on conditions, the creek may not flow until afternoon. The trail to Whitney Falls is more obscure and seeing less use since the Bolam Creek debris flow buried the trailhead in 1997. Since that event, the U.S. Forest Service is no longer maintaining the trail. As with all the mountain’s waterfalls, viewing is a challenge and requires off-trail experience, so please use caution and travel prepared. Approximately one mile to the southeast of Whitney Falls lies Coquette Falls. While I have never visited these falls, accessing them appears to be roughly similar to the other three–be prepared for a cross-country scramble. In the Summer months, temperatures can climb into the 90s, even at elevation, so carry plenty of drinking water and/or a filter or purifier.

Two great resources for hiking the Mount Shasta area are 75 Hikes in California’s Mount Shasta & Lassen Volcanic National Park Regions, by John R. Soares, and The Mount Shasta Book, by Andy Selters and Michael Zanger. Both offer detailed hiking information to several of the destinations mentioned above.

I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photographing Wildflowers

Photographing WildflowersPhotographing wildflowers is its own art form–much like portraiture or wildlife photography. With the most basic camera equipment, you can create stunning and compelling floral portraits. The key to successful wildflower photography is less about equipment and more about spending time in the field. Flowers bloom in the Spring and Summer months and the window of opportunity is often very short. More time in the field equates to better photographs.

Photographing WildflowersTechnique is the single most important component in creating any compelling image. Photographing wildflowers usually requires close focusing distances and controlling depth-of-field is critical to the final feel of your photograph. A shallow depth-of-field isolates the subject and provides a soft background, while increasing depth-of-field brings a greater area into sharp focus. Use a tripod and cable release whenever possible. Pay attention to composition. Look for simple backgrounds free of competing distractions. Shoot during the golden hours–that hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset. Rainy and overcast days provide a diffuse light and increased color saturation. Do your homework. Research flower-rich areas near you. Study your subject and return until you have adequately captured it. Experiment. Try different and unusual perspectives. Wide-angle and telephoto lenses can yield striking results.

Photographing wildflowers is a specialized pursuit. Three items can enhance your creative possibilities. The first item is a macro lens. A true macro lens provides magnifications up to 1:1. This means that if you photograph a small object (say, a penny) at the lens’ closest focusing distance, the image projected onto the camera’s sensor is life-size. Macros generally come in two focal lengths–50mm and 100mm (Exact focal lengths vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer). The 100mm lens allows a little more distance between camera and subject. You are less likely to cast a shadow upon the flower and depth-of-field is increased. Extension tubes are an inexpensive alternative to a macro lens. Extension tubes are hollow tubes which mount between your lens and camera body to shorten the minimum focusing distance. They often come in a set of 3 and can be used in varying combinations to achieve different magnifications. Extension tubes work particularly well with short to moderate telephotos. The final piece of equipment is a ring flash–a circular flash unit which mounts to the front of the lens. Low light can be a challenge in macro photography. A ring flash resolves that issue.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Mount Shasta–Its Many Moods and Faces

Mount ShastaMount Shasta is a mountain of continually changing moods and faces. It is a mountain of striking natural beauty–a constantly swirling interplay of light and shadow, sun and clouds, wind, rain, and snow. Mount Shasta is a larger-than-life presence, an iconic mountain immersed in myth and legend. It is a living, breathing entity–an otherworldly landscape born of fire and ice. Hotsprings at its summit offer testament to its fiery origins living still, while glaciers continue to slowly and methodically scour out valleys as they have for centuries.

Mount Shasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Shasta is sometimes a deceptive mountain. Warm and inviting in Summer, it can turn hostile and forbidding in Winter. Temperatures can plummet to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and winds at the summit can exceed 200 miles per hour. Weather can change suddenly and unpredictably any time of year. Mount Shasta claims the world record for the most snowfall in a single storm–nearly 16 feet in the Old Ski Bowl in February 1959. Other forces, such as avalanches and mudslides, can drastically alter the terrain with little or no warning, as with the Bolam Creek debris flow in 1997.

Mount ShastaWeather is Mount Shasta’s most exciting and dynamic element. Clear skies can quickly turn dark and ominous. Thunder and lightning in the mountains can be terrifying–yet it is intrinsically beautiful at the same time. Skies explode in a swirl of color, lightning flashes, as rain falls through a shaft of sunlight. This is the indescribable magic that is Mount Shasta. This is the drama that makes for outstanding photography. And it is precisely my reason for moving here more than three decades ago.

I look forward to sharing other photographs, thoughts, and reminiscences in future posts. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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