Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Photographing The Lunar Eclipse

I normally like to plan things in advance whenever possible, especially when it comes to photographing astronomical events; however, this one almost slipped by my radar completely. Thankfully I saw it online that afternoon and had just enough time to do some quick research about the details before heading out.  Armed with some hastily acquired knowledge, I grabbed my gear and jumped in the car.  Luckily I knew where the moon would be rising and that there was a great look-out spot on the southwest side of Silver City-the perfect moonrise-viewing point, and easily accessible, since I only had about 30 minutes before it was due to rise.

Once I got there and got the cameras and tripods all setup, I used my phone to double check where on the horizon the moon would be rising and then got the cameras in the right spot.  For this I used a couple of apps.  Sun Surveyor, and The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE).  These are both super handy apps for helping you plan your shoot, be it for the moon, sun, milky way, or just landscapes in general.

When shooting the moon, you typically have to use a pretty fast shutter speed to get the moon both exposed right and nice and sharp-since it is a moving object after all.  But this being an eclipse, made it a little different.  Since the eclipse made the moon a little less bright, it made it possible to include some foreground interest via the mountains over which it was rising.  It also became possible to get this in one single expose, without the moon being over-exposed or the landscape being under-exposed.  For the shot above, I was at 400mm at f/5.6, 1/50 sec, ISO 320. That is still a pretty slow shutter, especially at 400mm, but the tripod, mirror lockup, and a delayed timer helped in minimizing camera shake.  Taking the hood off your lens when in these conditions helps a lot too, because if it's even just the slightest bit windy, the hood can act like a sail and start catching wind and causing the lens to move during shooting.  

For this shot, I knew I wanted to include the feature on the right, which is called the Kneeling Nun, and is a local legend. So I wanted to show that with the moon. I had to shoot wider for this shot, and also since the moon was already completely up and the eclipse was starting to pass, the moon was now much brighter than before.  So now I had to do multiple exposures, one for the landscape and one for the moon, and blend them together in Photoshop. The foreground image I shot at f/5.0, 1/13 sec, ISO 160, and the moon I shot at f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO 100.

I also did a timelapse of the moonrise, and put it in the vlog I did.  So here's the link for that:

For the timelapse I shot it using the same settings as the first image I posted above.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Inauguration of the Hall Lot of Adventure 2016 Trip

After what some might consider a rough start, having the a/c compressor seize up and die in the 110 degree Las Vegas heat, followed by a rear tire being impaled by a shard of rhyolite from a flash flood in a thunderstorm in Death Valley forcing an unexpected stay in a small town hotel and subsequent tire shop visit, our trip has finally resumed normalcy.

Me changing a flat tire in Death Valley

Despite Brittany's insistence on universal thwarting of us ever making it to the big fluffy trees, we made it to the Redwoods in time to enjoy the last night of the 3 day reservation we had already secured.

Our time there was quite short, but magical and refreshing nonetheless. The next morning-yesterday-I awoke pre-dawn, as usual for me while on the road, and began filming some epic Ferngully-esque footage of the campsite and surrounding woods.  (Video here)

The cold air was refreshing-to me-and instilled an invigorating sense of adventure. I was equally amazed by the fact that the whole night and following day was completely clear-not the normal weather for that region. Needless to say, I was afforded the perfect opportunity for a few astro shots at night, and some incredible sunrise-through-the-trees shots in the morning (video)

After a very slow drive north, with a long detour through the Jedediah Smith State Forest, a play in the most beautiful river I've ever encountered,

The Smith River

and a completely surreal and mind-blasting drive up to Stout Grove, we meandered up to the Crater Lake Resort, where we had made reservations for the next 4 days.

This resort is one of the nicest-nay I dare say-the nicest RV/camp parks I have ever visited (the WiFi itself is worth its weight in gold). So here, on the edge of some of the most stunning and pristine examples of volcanism and geologic history in the world- and in one of the most iconic natural structures in this country, we shall celebrate our great nation's independence by visualizing the explosive fireworks of the ancient Mt. Mazama and its crater lake forming event, spewing blankets of pyroclastic flows, pumice, and ash...and the Milky Way...tonight I shall capture it over the crater lake in all of its amazing glory and awesome (in the original sense of the word) splendor. Please take a moment to allow yourself to be visually enthralled by some crudely edited images from days 4 and 5 of the Hall Lot of Adventure journey, and stay tuned for more!

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Hall Lot of Adventure – A 6000 Mile Summer 2016 Trip

Some very big things are in the works for me this summer—well—they have been in the works for quite a while, but now everything is in order and the stage is set! From June through August 2016 my wife, son, and I will be embarking on a 6000 mile trip from New Mexico, Arizona, and California, up through Oregon and Washington, into Canada, and back down through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. I am going to label this adventure under the “Work-Cation” category, as it is both a trip for our family and a trip for our business, and I see no better way to enjoy our life than by the combination of our favorite things: family, travelling, photography/videography, and adventure.  

(My son, Tristan at Courthouse Mountain, Co)

That sounds crazy! Why are you doing this???!!!?

Our ultimate goal, outside of the intention to expose our son to the natural world and to teach him natural sciences, anthropology, psychology, general outdoors skills, and all things science and art via firsthand experience, is to inspire, and help eliminate fear, as well as to share our experiences and these teachings with everyone else. So many people these days, especially people with families, or with large financial obligations—which, let’s face it, is the majority of the populace—are either too afraid to travel and explore, don’t know how, or most importantly, don’t know or think that they can. This can partially be contributed to a lack of easily accessible, well laid out information, which if provided, would help eliminate the ignorance, reservations, and fears most might have when considering exploring nature.  An additional objective is to capture as many beautiful places and natural wonders as I possibly can—to the best of my ability—through both still photography and video, utilizing my skills, gear, and knowledge as a professional photographer/videographer, in order to share these places and experiences with everyone. It is our hope that through sharing our experiences as a family, that others like us—and anyone really—will be inspired and become educated in the ways of adventuring and becoming more in touch with our planet.  We will do this through a variety of mediums and platforms, including—but not limited to: Youtube (arguably the largest and most effective platform), Instagram, Facebook, websites, blogging and vlogging. We will be creating a myriad of different information and visuals to share, including travel vlogs, blogs, still images, travel vignette videos and mini documentaries, video tutorials ranging from family travel tips, location guides, outdoor skills, photo and video tutorials, gear reviews, timelapses, and stock footage. All of this information will help create not only the information people are seeking for travel and adventure of this nature, but will also depict a “lead by example” and “if we can do it, you can do it” mentality, which will inspire others to get out there as well.

(My son, Tristan)

We are doing this for many reasons, though the biggest and most motivating one is the way in which I have always tried to live my life, inspired by a quote from William Blake, “Those who restrain their desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” This quote, and the writings of Blake, Thoreau, Tilman, and others have been with me since I was a boy, and these sentiments have long resonated with me.  I have never wanted to live a typical 9-5 life, nor by someone else’s expectations of me.  This feeling was exponentially strengthened after I got out of the Navy in 2006 and even further instilled after the birth of my son Tristan in 2008.  My wife and I are not normal people, with normal lives, nor has our son grown to be, and we want to continue to instill him (and ourselves) with the wanderlust, and to maintain our deep connections with nature, the earth, and a full life. Going along with all of this, it is my desire to share our adventures with the world; to let people know what is out there and that anyone can experience it, especially those with families who think they can’t do it, or whom are too scared to try. The style in which we will do this will be through a 2 month trip in our Subaru.  We will not be staying in any fancy hotels or B & B’s, instead we will be camping (largely in national parks) the entire trip.  This is for many reasons—first, we love camping. Second, it is the cheapest way to get out there—and as a normal family with bills and everything else, it’s really the only way we could afford to do attempt such a big trip.  Third, because it’s so cheap (comparatively speaking) it will afford us the opportunities to go farther, explore more, and stay out longer.  

(Camping in our Subaru in New Mexico)

For this trip, we will be travelling very light, all things considered.  Everything we will need, including gear, food, clothing, etc. for the entire 2 months will fit in our small Subaru. We wanted to maintain a light travelling style, and not be burdened by things we don’t need, such as hotels, plane tickets, RVs, trailers, etc.. While these things could have increased the quality of our travels in some respects, they would greatly reduce it in others.  Mostly in cost, as we simply cannot afford to travel that way; nor do we really desire to, as then we would not be able to see as much or get to some of the places we want to explore.  It also leaves less room for things to go wrong; which always happens to some degree.  The lighter and more independently we travel, the less things can go wrong.
Though millions of people have traveled our intended routes and visited many of the places we are headed, I would wager few have done it in the same capacity and style as we will—that is, as a family, and for two months straight, and without planes and hotels and fancy lodging and restaurants, etc.. The US has been blessed with a copious amount of public lands, which of course encompasses the national and state parks; however, most people either don’t know or tend to forget about BLM and how much land is at our disposal for exploration and adventuring. This trip will include visiting over 15 National Parks plus state parks, and national and state monuments, as well as many areas of accessible BLM land from New Mexico, Arizona, and California, up to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, and back down through Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

(Rough route outline, exact places and dates may be subject to slight changes)

I hope you will join us on our adventures by staying connected with our various social media platforms, which will be updated regularly with pictures, information, trip details, videos, writings, and more. If you have suggestions or advice about any of the places we will be going—or should be going—please don’t hesitate to share and leave comments, questions, and thoughts here at the blog, or on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Vimeo, Twitter, or wherever you prefer to interact. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How To Add Depth To Flat Landscape Images

Here's a quick tip for the day:

  So I was driving out to L.A. from Albuquerque, New Mexico​ the other day and I wanted my son to see the Meteor crater-because he is fascinated with all things space-related, and because I am a geologist who also finds it fascinating.  We get there in the middle of the afternoon, the sun is high, and there is not a cloud in the sky...worst photography situation possible.  So what can you do to make a decent photo from crappy conditions? Since the lighting was as flat as possible, I shot the same-that is, I shot to capture as much dynamic range as possible (leaving the image looking very flat and dull) in order to be able to bring detail back in post.  I then concentrated on adding depth to the image.  I look for all of the shadow areas of the rocks and cliffs, and add some adjustment layers to give them more depth.  Of course I did some other things as well, more general adjustments like clarity, exposure, highlight reduction, shadow lift, luminance and saturation shifts, etc., but these are normal, and minor.  The main focus is on bringing that sense of depth back.  Because when you see the words Meteor Crater, you have an image in your head, and the image that you make with your camera should try to match that grandeur, even if you have less-than-desirable lighting conditions as I had; Photoshop is a wonderful thing.

Before and After

One more tip concerning situations like this.  So I went to Meteor Crater...a seriously big tourist destination.  One bad thing about places like this is that people most often will take the same pictures, from the same places, at the same angles as everyone else.  Google images of meteor crater, and other popular places like half dome in Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc., and you will see many of the same-looking images from the same places.  This is from a lack of thought concerning composition.  Try to find even just a slightly different angle, add a person (landscapes with people for presence, emotion, and scale are always better).   Even a slight adjustment to composition and framing can make a big difference in the overall feeling of the image. 

Here's the typical shot, from the typical spot at the top observation deck, from the typical angle, with minimal editing...quite boring and mundane.

Here's one from the same spot, but with a slightly different angle and with a person added for emotional feeling and scale.

And here is one from another popular spot near the lower observation deck, but again, from a slightly different angle with a different perspective:

And here is a lizard for sheer randomness and enjoyment-I saw it as I was walking away from the lower observation deck:

That quick tip ended up being not so quick, though hopefully still informative and enjoyable.  

Here is a link to the Facebook post I did on this with the images and descriptions:

Don't forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram to see more of my daily adventures and get more awesome info and quick tips like this! 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How I Got the Shot: Telephoto Panoramas

Since I am often on assignments where I am primarily shooting with telephoto lenses, I have become very adept at using them for what some might call "non-traditional" things, i.e. using them for types of shots not typically associated with long lenses.  In this case, that would be landscapes.  I have always maintained that telephoto lenses can make great landscape images—if you have good technique and a keen eye for composition.  But don’t let that discourage you, because those things can be easily taught and learned! 

The shot above was created with a Canon 300mm f/4L IS on a 5D3 body.  It was a compilation of 5 vertical shots that were stitched together in Photoshop. 

The image above was created with the Canon 300mm f/4L IS on a 5D3 body.  It was a compilation of 11 vertical shots that were stitched together in Photoshop.  While it is wider than the first image, it is also more shots, and had I done fewer shots, but taken them horizontally, I would have lost most of the sky above the clouds.

 Most people will intuitively want to shoot a panorama with the camera in the horizontal position, because the goal of a pano is to get a wider image than you can with a single shot.  This is fine, if that’s the specific look you are going for, but there is a trick that most overlook or just don’t think about: turn it vertical.  The problem arises when you start stitching multiple horizontal shots together you will drastically increase the length to height ratio, which is not always pleasing—especially when viewing the image on mobile or smaller screens, as many do these days.  That makes it harder to see the detail you packed into the pano.  To get around this, turn the camera vertical to take the individual shots, then when you stitch them in post, they will add up to a more normal width to height ratio.  This is especially helpful when you are working with a longer focal length, such as I was here with the 300mm.   Another benefit—if shot correctly—is that the resulting image will have much more detail than if you were to have just slapped a wider lens on to get the same shot; and I really like detail in my landscapes!

I hope this tip helps you to remember that next time you find yourself out and about with your telephoto and see an epic landscape opportunity that you can still get that shot!  Just remember to always think outside the traditional frame.  If you want to know more, or have any questions regarding this post, feel free to leave a comment or email me any time.

Video tutorial Here