This September, Tanya and I are planning to take a trip to Utah and Arizona. The American Southwest is one of my favorite places in the world. It combines the best of my two passions: photography and geology. And though I’ve been to the Southwest perhaps twenty times or more, on this upcoming trip, we are planning on going to some places I’ve never been before, including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
We will probably also go to Antelope Canyon as well, since I’ve never been there and it is one of the top photographic destinations in the world. I’m just a bit wary about how crowded and commercial it has become (see this blog by photographer Stephen Penland). If any of you have gone to Antelope Canyon, please let me know what you think.
I enjoy planning for trips such as this, reading guidebooks, looking at maps, making internet searches, and thinking of photographic possibilities. This year, the planning started perhaps a bit early because I wanted to get a permit to the Wave. You need a permit to hike into the Wave, and there are only permits for 20 people per day. There is a lottery for 10 daily slots on the internet four months ahead of your visit. Thus Tanya and I put in our lottery applications last month, and we were not chosen. The other 10 daily spots are given out by in-person lottery the day before your visit at the ranger station in Kanab, Utah. Right now I’m not planning on trying for two of these permits as we will be traveling to the Paria area (in which the Wave is located) from the other direction (from Page and not from Kanab). So, the Wave may have to wait for some other trip. But with so many other great photographic locations waiting in the area, I’m not too upset.
Our first stop of the trip will be Arches National Park outside Moab, Utah. I have been there perhaps four or five times before, but the last time was nine years ago. It’s certainly time for a visit again. The photo above was from that trip to Arches in 2005. I hope to get some great light like this again, in fact, I’m planning on it!
As I recently mentioned, I spent a long weekend on San Juan Island several weeks ago. While there, we spent an hour or two at the San Juan Sculptures Park. If on the island and you like art, this is a good place for a quick visit even if you don’t bring your camera. Not only are there sculptures to view, there are also large natural areas including a bit of waterfront. The artwork, more than 125 pieces, is scattered over 20 acres, providing plenty of room to explore. Apparently new sculptures are being added all the time, as when we were there, several pieces had not had their title/artist signs added yet and two workers were building a new stand for a yet-to-be-displayed piece. There is also a resident sculptor, who was setting up shop for the summer while we were there. Admission is a suggested $5 donation per person. The park is within walking distance of the Roche Harbor resort. Together, the two make a good stopping spot for doing some travel photography.
Computer upgrade is mostly complete, and I am back to having a digital darkroom. It’s like magic! Lightroom is like a totally different program. When going to a 1:1 view, it snaps into focus in about 2 seconds and not the seemingly (I never actually measured) 1/2 minute. When running my Tony Kuyper triple play actions in Photoshop, they finish up in a few seconds. This is great!
The big test, though, was running Nik Silver Efex Pro, which would not run at all on my old computer. Several months ago I posted about wanting to do more black and white work, but not being able to use Silver Efex Pro. I was still able to produce quality black and white images, but was unable to use one of the top plug-ins for creating black and white images. So now with the new computer, it was time to put it to the Silver Efex test; it passed with flying colors (or actually lack of colors that is)!
I tried it out on an image I took over Memorial Day weekend on San Juan Island. Being on San Juan Island over the long weekend, I had hoped to capture some good images. However, since we were with friends and Tanya took pains to remind me that the trip “was not a photography trip,” combined with not the best weather in the world, I didn’t get anything I was really happy with.
Since first seeing photos of the Lime Kiln State Park lighthouse, I’ve always wanted to photograph it. And Memorial Day weekend was my chance. I convinced Tanya and our friends to have an early dinner so we could go out to the state park for sunset. Sunset was kind of a bust – not much color. However, we stayed into the blue hour, and I captured the shot featured here, which I thought might work well as a black and white. Below is the original RAW capture straight out of Lightroom with no development (other than the default). Also below is the color version after I developed in Lightroom and Photoshop – not bad, but not really what I was hoping for. I made a duplicate image and tried the Silver Efex Pro plug-in. It opened right up, and within a few minutes, I was able to create the image above. I was just playing around, and this probably won’t be my final version of the image. But Silver Efex Pro impressed me with how quickly I was able to get close to my black and white vision for the image. It’s great being back in the saddle again.
For those who are interested. This image was taken perhaps 10 or 15 minutes after sunset. The exposure settings were 13 seconds at f22, iso 100. I used a 2-stop, graduated neutral density filter.
Last Friday Tanya, Nahla and I took a day hike along Ingalls Creek in the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area. When loading my pack at the trailhead, I decided the leave my tripod in the car – it was a bright sunny day, what would I need the tripod for? Actually, I needed the tripod for two things. First, I apparently forgot that I like that silky water look when photographing streams. Second, as the afternoon progressed, it got cloudy and much less bright.
So, what to do when you need to use slow shutter speeds and don’t have a tripod? Well that depends on the photo. In the case of low light, you can just increase the ISO and decrease your need for a slow shutter speed. Of course, this does have the problem of increasing noise. In the case of wanting a slow shutter speed for a visual effect, like creating silky looking water, a high ISO will not help. You have to find a way of holding the camera steady.
If possible, you try not holding the camera at all; set it on the ground or, when hiking, on your pack. However, this doesn’t always work well. It can be difficult to get the composition you want that way, though using the live view (if your camera is so equipped) can help. If you have to hold the camera, try some of these techniques:
- use the proper technique to support the camera and lens – support the body and lens with your hands, elbows in tight against your body, camera tight against your forehead, have your body braced if possible.
- You can also use the camera strap to help. In my case, I shortened up the strap and looped it under my elbow so there was just enough strap length to hold the camera when pressing my elbow after from the camera. This made the strap very tight and greatly steadied the camera.
- Shoot in short bursts, gently pushing the shutter button – often when shooting three or five images with one press of the shutter, later images may be more steady than the first one (when the button is first pressed).
- Shoot lots of frames – for the stream image above, I probably shot 20 or 30 frames to get one steady enough.
- Control your breath, make it slow and steady. Try to press the shutter button when exhaling.
- Shoot using a wide-angle lens – camera movement is less apparent with wider angle lenses than with telephoto lenses
- Use an image-stabilizing lens (nice if you have it; though in my case, the lens I was using does not have this feature)
With these techniques (except the last one), I was able to get a few decent shots without having the resort to software solutions (such as Focus Magic), which though good, do have limitations. But next time, I think I will bring my tripod, even on a sunny day.
BTW, the wildflowers are really out in force along Ingalls Creek right now. We saw lupines; red, orange and yellow indian paintbrush, mariposa lilies; and many more. This is a great time of year to do this hike.