Tag Archives: photo tours

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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Yellowstone–The World’s Crown Jewel

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone shines as the crown jewel among the world’s national parks. It is with good reason that Congress dismissed explorers’ earliest reports of this otherworldly landscape as mere flights of an overactive imagination. Stories of spouting geysers, hissing vents, and bubbling mud pots told tale of something not of this Earth. Yellowstone defies description and can only be experienced. When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill on March 1, 1872, establishing the world’s first national park, he was setting a precedent for all the national parks to follow and preserving something of incalculable value for future generations.

Yellowstone is truly another world–a place brimming with superlatives. The Park is home to the highest concentration of geothermal features on the planet and claims the largest population of wildlife in the lower 48 states. Some of North America’s most impressive species reside here–including grizzly bear, elk, moose, and with its re-introduction in 1995, Canis lupus–the gray wolf. In the highly controversial program, the wolf had returned to Yellowstone for the first time in 70 years. The National Park Service, at the end of 2011, listed the wolf population in the Park at 100 animals–98 wolves comprising 10 packs, along with 2 loners. 8 breeding pairs exist among the 100 wolves.

The Gray wolf is not the only species to make its comeback in Yellowstone National Park. The trumpeter swan was driven to the brink of extinction with the use of DDT in the early 20th century. Only 69 swans were known to exist within park boundaries in 1935. The flock reached an all-time high of 100 birds in 1992. Today, the trumpeter’s continent-wide population numbers around 35,000 birds. The peregrine falcon–the world’s fastest bird–also fell to near decimation due to DDT and other pesticides. Since the elimination of these chemicals in 1972, the peregrine has returned to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

 

 

Yellowstone National Park has a history of volcanic activity dating back some 50 million years. The most recent period of activity beginning about 2.5 million years ago and ending with three massive explosions–the last, around 600,000 years ago. That last explosion created the Yellowstone Caldera and is estimated to be 10,000 times more powerful than the blast at Mount Saint Helens. Since then, alternating periods of volcanism and glaciation have shaped the landscape we see today.

More than 10,000 geysers, fumaroles, hotsprings, and mud pots are located within Yellowstone’s boundaries. The majority of these features are concentrated into nine geyser basins. Old Faithful is found in the Upper Geyser Basin, which boasts more than 130 geysers. Norris Geyser Basin is the oldest and most active basin. Situated above two major intersecting faults, it is also the hottest of the nine basins, with a temperature of 459 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists are predicting another cataclysmic explosion in Yellowstone in the near geologic future.

Yellowstone National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire plays an important role in the natural process. A healthy forest habitat is comprised of a mix of young, middle-aged, and mature stands of trees, allowing for the widest diversity of both flora and fauna. Fire-dependent plant species, such as lodgepole pine, require high temperatures for their cones to open and release its seeds. Fire also aids in the elimination of pests, such as the pinebark beetle. In 1988, a huge blaze ravaged the Park. A let-it-burn policy was adopted by the Park Service and some 735,000 acres were ultimately consumed. A few years later, the flora was showing remarkable regeneration. New seedlings and abundant wildflowers carpeted the landscape. Numerous animal species benefited from the newly opened canopy, as well.

The majority of Yellowstone’s 3 million annual visitors arrive between June and August, however Spring and Fall are optimal seasons in the Park. Crowds drop off significantly and wildlife activity increases dramatically. Spring is the season of renewal. New babies bring an added dimension to the landscape and provide wonderful photo ops. Fall is the mating season. Male elk battle for dominance and the miracle we call life reels before us. Winter is an especially beautiful time in Yellowstone, though temperatures can plummet to -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter is a particularly photogenic time to visit the geyser basins. Animals cluster around the geothermal areas to stay warm and the steam generated by the many features lends an otherworldly aesthetic to the landscape. Most of those who come to Yellowstone see it from the comfort of their vehicle. Yellowstone National Park offers 1100 miles (1700 km) of hiking trails through one of the world’s most wild and striking landscapes. Few places can so profoundly transform the visitor as Yellowstone. For those who have never been, I strongly urge you to experience it for yourself.

For more information, visit the National Park Service website.

I welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. Contact me to book a photo tour in Yellowstone.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Lassen Volcanic National Park–A Small and Shining Jewel

Lassen Volcanic National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a living testament to our planet’s fiery origins. When Lassen Peak began erupting on Memorial Day, 1914, the volcano would produce more than 390 recorded eruptions before settling into dormancy in 1917. Those fiery origins are still alive and visible today in places bearing names like Bumpass Hell, The Devil’s Kitchen, and Little Hotsprings Valley. While Lassen Volcanic National Park is overshadowed by its more famous siblings, Lassen is a small and shining jewel and, in many ways, this is its appeal. As is the case with many national parks, stray from the road just a short distance and any crowds fall away dramatically. Summer is the high season and sees about half a million visitors annually. After Labor Day, the Park suddenly empties out with the exception of a few day hikers and week-end visitors.  Fall is a spectacular time to experience Lassen.

 

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park enjoys many distinctions. You will find all four types of volcanoes–the stratovolcano (ancient Mount Tehama), shield volcano (Mount Harkness, Sifford Mountain), tephra cone (Cinder Cone, Red Cinder Cone), and volcanic dome (Lassen Peak is the world’s largest plug-dome). Most types of geothermal features are found in the Park, though no true geysers exist here. Terminal Geyser is technically a fumarole. Bubbling mudpots, hissing steam vents, and colorful hotsprings comprise the many geothermal areas.

Lassen Volcanic National Park possesses 51 lakes within its boundaries, most of which are the result of Lassen’s past glacial activity. Exceptions to that are Manzanita and Reflection Lakes at the Park’s north entrance. These two lakes formed when a large portion of Chaos Crags, a cluster of four lava domes, collapsed some 300 years ago, setting off a massive rockfall-avalanche, damming Manzanita Creek. Snag and Butte Lakes formed when one of Cinder Cone’s lava flows dammed Butte Creek.

Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range, Lassen Volcanic National Park lies in a transition zone for four major biological provinces–the Cascade, the Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin of Nevada, and California’s Central Valley. Over 700 species of vascular plants reside here, including the endangered skunk-leaved polemonium, which grows only at or near the summit of Lassen Peak. The Park is also home to some 200 species of birds–and mammals include the pine marten, red fox, bobcat, mountain lion, and black bear.

 

Lassen Volcanic National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While many of the major features are visible from the Park road, untold worlds are to be discovered in Lassen’s backcountry. Cinder Cone is a personal favorite. ‘Otherworldly’ best describes Cinder Cone and its associated lava flow, the Fantastic Lava Beds. This 100 foot-high mass of block lava spewed forth during one of its eruptions, and is responsible for the formation of Snag and Butte Lakes. The Painted Dunes, with its rich, multi-hued earthtones, is also the result of Cinder Cone’s two or so eruptive events. Largely devoid of vegetation, this area truly does take on a feeling of another world.

For more information contact: Lassen Volcanic National Park (530) 595-4444. Website: www.nps.gov/lavo/

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #6: Photographing Fall Color

Photographing Fall Color

Fall is a truly magical season–a time of great movement and change. Days grow shorter and shadows grow longer. Animals migrate to their wintering grounds and the Autumn displays of color offer their final farewell to the abundance of Summer. Fall is rich with photographic opportunity–and Autumn color and slant light of the season can provide for striking imagery.

This Photo Tip is an addendum to Photographing Landscapes. While certain locations are well-known for their vivid displays, most areas of the country experience some kind of Fall color. Aspen, ash, birch, maple, oak, and numerous other deciduous trees turn ablaze with the season’s arrival of colder temperatures and waning sunlight. The first thing I recommend when photographing Fall color is to assess the scene. A few minutes spent here can make for a more efficient and productive photo session. View the big picture. What immediately attracts your attention? Does that small, isolated stand of aspens provide the bright splash of color to make your landscape pop? Or is the stand of trees an interesting and worthy subject in itself? When is the best time of day for optimal light? Consider all the possible vantage points. The best photographs are often hard-won. A little extra effort may mean the difference between an average photograph and one that really stands out. A polarizing filter can increase color saturation and contrast, but I suggest going easy on the amount of polarization you use. Too much polarization takes on an unnatural appearance and can reduce subtle detail, particularly in shadow areas. When using a zoom lens, check your composition at a variety of focal lengths. If multiple compositions appeal to you, photograph them all. If you are a professional photographer offering stock images for licensing, having several options increases your chances of selling the image. You can never foresee what might appeal to a particular client.

 

Photographing Fall Color

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think outside the box. While sharp depth-of-field and crisp detail are usually desirable when photographing trees and foliage, you can also apply the same principles you use to create the effect of soft, flowing water. Long exposures (1/8 second or longer) allow blowing leaves to paint abstract blurs of color across the photograph. As a counterpoint, consider anchoring all that motion with a sharply focused branch or tree trunk. Try using a flash at dusk to photograph the leaves as they rain down in a windstorm. Experiment–and most of all, have fun. It’s a wonderful time to be outside embracing nature’s beauty and diversity.

Please contact me with any questions or comments, or to book a photo tour.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Klamath National Wildlife Refuges Offer World-Class Photo Ops

Klamath National Wildlife Refuges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Klamath National Wildlife Refuges offer some of the finest photography opportunities you will experience anywhere. Few places in the world rival the Klamath Refuges for sheer numbers of birds, and, also, for the importance of its ecosystem as a stopover along the Pacific Flyway. Because it’s just a little more than an hour from Mount Shasta, it is a place I love to visit as often as possible.

Situated along the California-Oregon border, the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges are comprised of six refuges–Clear Lake, Tule Lake, Lower Klamath, Bear Valley, Upper Klamath, and Klamath Marsh Refuges. The Lower Klamath Refuge was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 and is the nation’s first waterfowl refuge. The Klamath Basin was once a vast complex of large, shallow lakes and extensive marshes totaling some 185,000 acres. More than six million birds migrated through every Spring and Fall. Today, about 36,000 acres of that habitat remain. A variety of pressures have reduced the number of migrating waterfowl to around one million birds. The refuges are home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the contiguous U.S.. I was there in February of 1988, when more than 900 baldies stayed the season. December through February are prime months to view the eagles. Dress warmly, as the elevation lies around 4100 feet and Winters here can get quite cold.

Over 400 faunal species have been identified in the refuges. 263 bird species are found here, including 23 species of raptors. Mammals include mule deer, elk, and black bear. Don’t be surprised to see a herd pronghorn antelope grazing placidly in a grassy meadow. A limited number of blinds are available on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges by advanced reservation. Self-guided canoe trails are provided at Tule Lake, Upper Klamath, and Klamath Marsh Refuges, offering additional photo opportunities. Check with the Visitor’s Center (530-667-2231) for current information and availability.

 

Klamath National Wildlife Refuges

As an added bonus, make the short trip over to Lava Beds National Monument, a worthwhile destination in itself. I find myself drawn to its stark and primal beauty. View ancient lava flows. Numerous lava tubes honeycomb the area and several caves are open for exploration. A helmet and more than one light source are recommended. Captain Jack and his band of Modocs made their final stand here in 1872, in what is commonly referred to as the Modoc Wars. Five prominent sites are located within the Monument’s borders. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can continue south to the Medicine Lake Highlands. There is much to discover. Check out Glass Mountain. This is an all-too-convenient addition to your wildlife viewing excursion. Please note that the road to Medicine Lake is seasonal and not plowed in the Winter.

Please contact me with any questions or comments, or to book a photo tour.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #2: Depth-of-Field

 

Depth-of-Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depth-of-field is defined as that area within a photograph which is in sharp focus. By understanding and implementing a few basic concepts, you can take complete control of your image-making. When you determine depth-of-field manually, you are able to render any scene in a myriad of ways–from isolating a subject against a soft, blurred background to maintaining sharp focus front to back. This lesson on depth-of-field is the second half of understanding exposure (see Photo Tip #1: Determining Exposure).

Let’s review some basics. There is an inverse relationship between aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed (how long light strikes the sensor or film). Once proper exposure has been determined, and you change one setting, you have to adjust the other to compensate for the increase or decrease in light reaching the camera’s sensor. Aperture controls depth-of-field. Large lens openings (f/1.8 or f/2) produce very shallow depth-of-field, that is, only a very limited area is in sharp focus and the rest of the photograph is a soft blur. A small lens opening (f/16 of f/22) will produce sharp focus throughout most or all of the photograph. At different times, one or the other may yield stronger or more pleasing results. You should familiarize yourself with your camera’s depth-of-field preview, which allows you to see what is in focus at a particular aperture before you take the photograph. If your subject is static or posing, you can always take the photograph, view it, and adjust accordingly. But if you’re photographing a fast-paced event, say, a sprinter dashing across the finish line for a gold medal, you may only have a split second and one chance to get your shot. Your depth-of-field preview allows you to pre-determine exactly which areas in the photograph are sharp and which are not–so when the subject moves into position, you are ready to depress the shutter.

Also, you will find a depth-of-field scale on your camera’s lens barrel. It tells you, in feet and meters, what area is in sharp focus at all the various f-stops. Using my 50 mm f/1.8 lens, if I focus on a subject 10 feet away with an aperture setting of f/4, the area in sharp focus, according to my scale, is between about 9 and 12 feet. If I stop down to f/16, that area in sharp focus increases to between approximately 6.5 and 28 feet, for a much greater depth-of-field. Keep in mind that by stopping down to f/16, you have decreased your exposure by 4 stops, and so you need to reduce (slow) your shutter speed, and/or increase your ISO setting a total of 4 stops. That is, if you are shooting with an ISO of 100 at 1/1000 second at f/4, you need to set your shutter to 1/60 second–or increase the ISO setting (from ISO 100 to 1600, etc.) to compensate for a much smaller lens opening

A lens’ focal length also affects depth-of-field. The shorter the focal length, the greater the depth-of-field. The longer the focal length, the shallower the depth-of-field. I have a 24 mm f/2.8 super-wide angle lens (89 degree field of view) that I use with my film camera. I love the lens for its sharpness throughout the image area, even wide open. I also love it for its distortion, which becomes more exaggerated as you move closer to the subject.

 

Depth-of-Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the above photo, Fly on a Leaf, I used a 200 mm f/4 Canon lens with a small (12 mm) extension tube to increase magnification. Telephoto lenses have an inherently shallow depth-of-field and are wonderful for isolating a subject. Using the extension tube allowed me to magnify the subject (in this case, the fly) and still maintain enough distance to preserve a soft, pleasing background.

The final factor that determines depth-of-field is the distance between camera and subject. Using the same example as above, if I am shooting a subject 10 feet away at f/4, the area in sharp focus lies between approximately 9 and 12 feet. If my subject is 30 feet away at f/4, that area in sharp focus is between approximately 23 and 45 feet. The basic premise is: when you focus on a subject, 1/3 of the area that is sharp falls in front of the subject and 2/3 falls behind it. So needless to say, when you start getting very close to a subject–using extension tubes or macro lenses–depth-of-field is sometimes a fraction of an inch. This can provide for all kinds of interesting challenges. At such high magnification, or with long telephoto lenses, you want to use a tripod and cable release. Exposures are often long, and it’s easier to focus and compose the photograph, and it assures that critical areas will be sharp.

The top photo, Pebble Creek, Yellowstone, was taken using a 35-105 mm f/3.5 zoom on my (tripod-mounted) Canon film camera. I zoomed wide, stopped way down for increased depth-of-field, and used a slow shutter speed to soften the flowing water. Fly… was shot hand-held. The fly wasn’t going to stick around long enough for me to set up a tripod, so I seized the moment. Notice the telephoto’s ability to isolate the subject using shallow depth-of-field. This works well with both portraiture and photographing wildflowers.

A note on tripods and image-stabilization: Turn off the image-stabilizer when mounting the camera on a tripod. When shooting long exposures (1/15 second or slower), I recommend turning off your camera’s autofocus and focusing manually, and then locking up your mirror. Remember to bracket.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Castle Crags–Our Own Little Piece of Yosemite

Castle Crags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Castle Crags, even after 31 years, remains a very special place for me. Upon moving here in 1981, it was the Crags that captured my photographic attention, not Mount Shasta. There is something very commanding about those granite spires rising more than 4000 feet above the valley floor. The complexity of this outcropping offers a lifetime of exploration and more. The Crags/Indian Springs Trail is a strenuous 2.7 mile trek (one-way) that gains 2250 feet in elevation and ends at the base of Castle Dome. For those of you able to make this hike, you will be rewarded for your efforts with spectacular views of the spires, the dome itself, as well as neighboring Mount Shasta. The Root Creek Trail is a moderate one-mile hike (one-way), largely through the forest canopy, which offers occasional views of the Crags themselves, before terminating at Root Creek. The Pacific Crest Trail also provides a variety of stunning perspectives.

Formed some 200 million years ago, Castle Crags is the result of many forces, including wind, rain, and glaciation, which have scoured and polished the granite spires we see today.

 

Castle Crags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I never tire of spending time in Castle Crags. The photographic opportunities are infinite. I have witnessed Peregrine falcons mating in flight at the base of Castle Dome. I have seen a Northern Pacific rattler literally leap three feet through the air onto the trail and quickly coil, ready to strike. You never know what you might encounter here. Because of its relatively low elevation, the trails in Castle Crags remain open much of the year. Springs and creeks run full in the Spring. Wildflower blooms last into Summer and include azaleas, tiger lilies, Indian paintbrush, and wild iris. Black oaks, dogwoods, and vine and big-leaf maples provide colorful displays in the Fall.

To book a photo tour in Castle Crags, or a number of other area locations, contact me.

I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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Photo Tip #1: Determining Exposure

Determining Exposure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO TIP #1: Turn off the Automatic Mode.

This is the first step in taking control of your image-making. Don’t let the camera make critical exposure decisions for you. In this easy lesson, you will gain an overview of light, the camera’s metering system, and accurately determining exposure. This is photography’s most basic precept and with a little practice it will quickly become second nature.

Let’s start with what is commonly referred to as the exposure triangle–which consists of your ISO (light sensitivity), aperture (lens opening), and shutter speed. There is an interrelationship between these three components and when you change one setting, it directly affects the other two. A camera’s ISO settings range from 50 (the least sensitive), 100, 200, 400, 800, etc…up to as high as 25,600, for extremely low-light situations. Changing your ISO setting from 100 to 200, increases the exposure by 1 stop. Reducing your ISO setting from, say, 400 to 200, decreases exposure by 1 stop. The general rule is to use as low an ISO setting as conditions allow to reduce unwanted noise in the image. Aperture refers to the size of the lens opening (f-stop). Your f-stop determines the amount of light reaching the sensor or film plane. Full stops range from f/1.8 (wide open), 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, up to f/22 or f/32 (smallest opening). Stopping down from f/8 (larger) to f/16 (smaller) results in a 2-stop decrease in exposure, and so you must reduce your shutter speed and/or increase the ISO setting a total of 2 stops.  Shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open and allowing light to hit the sensor. Settings on a digital SLR generally range from 30 seconds up to 1/8000 second. A slow shutter speed requires a smaller aperture to compensate for a longer exposure time. A fast shutter speed requires a larger lens opening to allow for a decreased exposure time. For example, if you are shooting a sporting event at an ISO of 100 with a lens opening of f/11 at 1/125 second and you want to increase your shutter speed to 1/500 second to freeze the action, you have reduced the amount of light you are letting in by 2 stops. Increasing your shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/250 second reduces your exposure 1 stop, and increasing it to 1/500 second reduces the exposure by another stop, for a total of 2 stops. To adjust for the decrease, it is necessary to open the lens and/or increase the ISO setting 2 stops. In this case, I would choose to open the lens 1 stop, from f/11 to f/8, and increase the ISO setting 1 stop, from ISO 100 to ISO 200. This allows me to maintain a relatively small aperture for increased depth-of-field and sharp focus with minimum noise.

A brief word on depth-of-field. The term depth-of-field refers to the area within the picture that is in sharp focus. In general, the smaller the lens opening (f/22 or f/32), the greater the depth-of-field. The larger the lens opening (f/1.4 or f/1.8), the shallower the depth-of-field. When you focus directly on your subject, the depth-of-field begins 1/3 in front of your subject and ends 2/3 behind it–that is, if you’ve determined your depth-of-field to be 9 feet, that area of sharp focus begins 3 feet in front of the subject and ends 6 feet behind it. I will talk more about depth-of-field in a future Photo Tips post.

The Gray Card and Determining Exposure

The average scene you encounter is calculated to have a light reflectivity of 18%, and so the camera’s light meter is calibrated to this 18% reflectivity. This is well and good, but the majority of scenes are not average, and if you rely on the Automatic setting, you will likely get average results, and most of the time. Have you ever taken a photo of a snow-covered landscape, to find that the snow is rendered a dingy gray tone? In the days of film, this was always a horrific discovery. Of course, with digital technology the results are instantaneous and so you can view the image and adjust accordingly. The camera’s meter is not able to determine when a particular scene deviates from this 18% reflectivity, such as sunlit snow, which may have an 80 or 90% reflectivity–or a dark object, which may have little-to-no reflection at all. The meter is always going to assign these things a tonal value of 18%.

An 18% Gray Card allows you to accurately determine exposure in any lighting condition. They are available at B & H PhotoVideo, or any camera supplier. To use the Gray Card, you simply point your camera in the direction of your intended subject. You then place the card in front of the camera lens until it just fills your viewfinder. It is imperative that your subject and gray card receive the same illumination. If your subject is in full sun, the gray card must also be reflecting full sun. Take your reading. You may choose to fine-tune your exposure by bracketing 1/2 to 1 stop.

A little trick I use while skiing is to meter directly off the snow. In bright light conditions, I will take my reading in the same direction and light as my intended subject, and then open the lens 2 stops and bracket. On overcast days, I will meter off the snow and open 1 to 1-1/2 stops, depending on the intensity of the light. You can also meter off the palm of your hand and open 1 stop. I have a lens cleaning cloth that doubles as a Gray Card. It’s very compact and extremely lightweight. For minimalists such as myself, it’s the perfect solution. Eventually, through using the gray card repeatedly, you will learn to recognize objects with an approximate 18% tonal value, allowing you to meter on the fly.

Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions.

Until next time, happy image-making…

Bruce

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