Santa Fe Revisited
As many of you know, I completed a trip to Utah and New Mexico last autumn. One of the highlights of the trip was the several days Tanya and I spend in Santa Fe. I enjoyed my trip to Santa Fe so much, I’ve written an article about travel photography in and around Santa Fe for the Travel Photographers Network. They published the article this week, featuring my photo shown here as on their home page (you may recognize this photo, which I posted in black and white in a previous post). You can read the article here. While several images are embedded in the story, there is an associated album which includes 30 images from the Santa Fe region. While you are at the TPN site looking at my article, be sure to check out the other articles and photos on the site; it is a wonderful resource and community for travel photographers of all experience levels.
I admit feeling a little embarrassed, being snowbound at home by only 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow when I’m an eastern Washington native who learned to drive on snow and ice. Earlier this week, western Washington experienced a winter storm that brought havoc to the Puget Sound region. On Wednesday, snow fell; Thursday brought freezing rain, coating everything with ice. I stayed home and telecommuted to my day job. Can you blame me for not wanting to put tire chains on the car when work was as close as my studio computer? (Does this mean I’m getting lazy or wise in my old age?)
I accomplished a lot without the distractions of the office. However, being home brings its own distractions, not the least of them being the snow and ice in the yard. So I couldn’t help but slip out in the yard to do a bit of photography, especially after the freezing rain ended. Outside, the coating of ice seemed to make everything old new again in our yard. I was amazed how bit of snow and freezing rain changed everything and made my creative imagination flow. I wish I had more time to do photography, but by the time I got enough work done to justify picking up the camera, it was already late in the afternoon and the light was fading.
The experience did remind me once again how a change, sometimes a small change, can provide inspiration. Sometimes, the change need not be more than a change of attitude. If you’re having trouble getting the creative juices to flow, or have a case of photographer’s block, grab your camera and make the old new again. If you’re lucky, you might have an ice storm available to help.
PS – a big thanks to Tanya for braving the cold to hold a piece of black mat board for backgrounds on some of these shots!
Hints for Shooting Panoramas
A neighbor of mine asked me this weekend to stitch together a set of images he took in New Zealand into a panorama. It was an easy enough task, except that it seems the camera was on auto when the photos were taken. This led to very nicely exposed individual images, but there were exposure differences between the shots. With exposure the differences, the images in your pano might stitch well, but it will be obvious where one ends and the other starts. In this case, it took some Lightroom and Photoshop time to get the images tweaked so they better matched.
I’ve taken a few panoramic images (four of which are shown here) and along the way have learned a few secrets to successfully shooting panoramas. The two main secrets to shooting successful panoramas are to 1) keep all the camera settings the same for all the shots – this includes exposure, focus, and focal length, and 2) to move the camera along a level plane, typically either horizontal or vertical. Here are some hints to shooting panos:
- shoot in manual exposure mode – use your camera’s meter to get a f-stop and shutter speed, than turn the camera to manual mode and set the f-stop and shutter speed to the same settings; do not change them through the series of shots
- for jpegs, shoot with manual white balance – do not use auto white balance, pick one setting (such as cloudy) and leave it there
- better yet, shoot in raw – and then process the images exactly the same way prior to blending (more on my workflow below)
- shoot in manual focus mode – use the autofocus to set the focus, than turn it off and shoot all the images without changing the focus
- use a tripod – to help keep the camera level and moving in a single plane; if you don’t have a tripod, be careful to move the camera in a single plane. When handholding, most people have a tendency to sweep upward or downward. Even with a tripod, without special equipment, it is difficult to a good series of shots without some movement off your preferred plane.
- consider photographing with the camera vertical for horizontal panos and horizontal for vertical panos – though following this advice will result in more images , it will give your panorama more width (and more fudge room for imperfect sweeps)
- don’t compose the main subject too close to the edge of the frame – after stitching the images together, you will need to crop off where the frames do not line up exactly; you don’t want to crop off part of your main subject
- it’s better not to use a wide-angle lens – wide angle shots have distortions which make it more difficult to stitch properly
- compose the first shot at either end of the pano, then take a picture with your hand or fingers in front of the lens; do this again at the end – this marks the beginning and ending of the series, making it easier to figure out which images belong together when doing the stitching
- overlap the shots by at least 20 to 25% – I typically look for some distinct feature about 1/3 off the right side of the frame (when shooting a horizontal pano sweeping rightward), take the shot, than recompose with that distinct feature on the left-hand frame edge for the next shot
- shoot fairly quickly – to avoid having changes in light, clouds, etc. between frames
I almost always shoot in raw, and my basic processing workflow for panoramas goes like this:
- Import the images into Lightroom and adjust the white balance (even if the auto white balance looks fine, move the sliders a little so auto is no longer selected) and correct the chromic aberration on one image.
- Copy those adjustments and paste to all the other images.
- Select all the images, right click on the mouse, and select the merge in Photoshop option.
- Allow Photoshop to merge with its auto settings – most times this works well, occasionally I’ll need to try different setting or even do it manually
- After Photoshop merges the images, check the seams to see if they match well, and if so, save the file and go back to Lightroom.
- In Lightroom, select the Photoshop file just created, go to the Develop module, and now start my normal processing workflow (which is the subject of another post)
5 Years Ago This Month
Sometimes it seems like the new year has addled my brain. I wanted to put out a new blog post, but my brain fog wouldn’t let me think of a topic. So what does a photographer do when they have nothing new to show, pull something out of the archives of course. Thus, this post, complete with photos from January 2007.
Five years ago I lived in Gig Harbor. Gig Harbor, like much of western Washington, doesn’t get much snow. In the typical winter, we might get snow two or three times a winter. In January 2007, we had a rather large snow storm hit the harbor. It was cold enough to freeze some of the water in the harbor. I drove down to the harbor before going to work that day and took these shots.
Back then was rather different from conditions today here in 2012. Today it feels almost like spring here; some trees in the neighborhood are starting to bloom, as are Tanya’s geraniums on the front porch. Of course, it still is winter, and it could get cold again any day. We might even have snow, like that day in January five years ago.
Paradise, in Mount Rainier National Park, is the highest point you can drive in Washington State Cascades in winter. It would be the highest point drivable in the state, except for Sherman Pass (between Republic and Kettle Falls) in northeastern Washington which is about 200 feet higher. Paradise is an amazing place in winter. The National Park Service claims Paradise is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is regularly measured. The maximum annual snowfall observed there was in the winter of 1971-72, when 93.5 feet (28.5 meters) of snow fell. When I was there in mid-December, it was not quite that snowy, I think there was about 58 inches (1.5 meters) at the time. However, since Christmas, some storms have blown through and the accumulation as of the start of 2012 was 77 inches (2 meters). (You can check on the current snowpack at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.)
With all that snow, it is amazing the road is kept open, particularly in today’s climate of budget cutting (please don’t tell the Park Service how much money they could save by closing the road in winter!). The road to Paradise is open most days (there’s a gate at Longmire, which opens each morning after the road is cleared and closes currently at 5:00 p.m. uphill and 6 p.m. downhill). During storms, the road remains closed during the day. All vehicles are required to carry tire chains.
Mount Rainier is a great place to travel to in the winter. There are plenty of sights to see from the road. Strap on some snowshoes or skis and there’s even more. On our day trip up there in mid-December, I took snowshoes; Tanya took skis. It helps to have some way to wander off the road and parking lots a bit. For most the shots here (and the one in my previous post), I wandered off the road. It is possible to get some good shots without venturing out into the snow, but without snowshoes or skis, you might have trouble getting around the snowbanks along the roads left from the snowplows. This is hard sometimes even with snowshoes or skis. Another problem is just finding a place to pull over. Many of the pullouts there in the summer are not plowed. However, there is a lot of parking at Longmire, Narada Falls, and Paradise (though the parking at Paradise, in particular, can fill up on weekends).
Remember if you do go up in the mountains this winter for photography, at Rainier or anywhere else, here are some reminders:
- Check the conditions before you go and dress appropriately
- Don’t wander out in the snow if you aren’t prepared
- And if you do wander out there, be aware of potential avalanche danger
- Remember that camera batteries don’t like the cold. Take extra batteries and keep them warm.
- Don’t trust your camera meter, or all that snow will be gray instead of white. Open up your exposure by one to two stops, or use your camera’s auto-bracketing feature (if it has one).
- Try adding a bit of color to all that snow in your compositions (blue skies, green trees, colorful clothes of your companions, sunrise/sunset colors, etc.)
- Remember to have fun!