I’m always looking for new ways to do the same old thing. A few days ago I took a morning photo expedition to Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. I was in Phoenix for Thanksgiving and arrived one day before the rest of my family, so decided to take a morning photo trip to this small National Park.
I’ve seen lots of photographs from Saguaro NP before, and all of them prominently featured the rugged landscape, filled with thousands and thousands of saguaro cacti. I was determined to create something different during my time there, so put on my thinking cat and tried to imagine different ways to represent the region. I started taking photographs of the large desert cacti, but just couldn’t get inspired by any of the compositions. Everything I was taking pictures of had been photographed a million times before and none of my shots contained anything original.
It wasn’t until I spent some time at the Red Hills visitor center that inspiration finally struck. I found a dead saguaro and knew that this was a way to represent the Saguaro Desert in a stark, yet new way. I shot this cactus with my Nikon D800 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. To process the shot, I used Adobe Lightroom 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
After shooting the dead cactus, I spent some time photographing the architectural details of the visitor center. I became intrigued with the curved lines of the observation deck and then framed a sunstar to complete the composition. Again, I used Lightroom 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 to create the black and white conversion.
The photo below shows the scale and scope of Saguaro National Park. There are tens of thousands of saguaro cacti spread throughout the region. Finding a compelling composition takes significant effort. The shot below is a far cry from “compelling”. I shot a few hundred boring pictures of the mountains and the landscape, but finally found my muse close to civilization at the visitor center. Sometimes, you have to look past the obvious to find the best shots.
Our November 2013 photo safari to Tanzania was an incredible success. The wildlife was stunning and the landscapes were equally compelling. I can’t wait to go back again next year. Here are a bunch of images from this year’s adventure. More stories to come!
Just outside the city limits of Prescott Arizona is a beautiful reservoir named Waston Lake. The area is special because of the granite boulders that jut prominently out of the water and form an alien-like landscape. A few weeks ago I took a group of photographers to this area for a beautiful morning sunrise. We had a wonderful time shooting reflections, rising steam and blue skies.
All of these images were taken with a Nikon D800 and a mix of lenses including the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. I processed them in Lightroom 5 and used a mix of Nik Software plugins for a few of them depending on the specific image.
Here some images from our morning adventure.
Last week I ran a photography trip through Northern Arizona for the Nikonians Academy called ANPAT 13. The ANPAT is the Annual Nikonians Photographic Adventure Trip and is designed to be a fun gathering of Nikon shooters sharing in the joy of photography. This year, we had a total of 25 people come in from all around the world including Europe, Canada, Mexico and the USA.
The photography plan I initially put together was to spend a few days shooting in the Sedona, Arizona region, then the remainder of the trip in the Grand Canyon, Arizona region. Throughout the week-long photo tour I had also scheduled us to photograph numerous regional National Parks, National Monuments and Forest Service areas. About a week before our departure, it looked like the USA federal government was going to shut down, so I began scrambling to find other locations to photograph outside of government parks. This proved to be a ton of work and I was getting nervous because I had 25 photographers who were counting on me for a great photo tour. All of my hard work in setting up permits for the National Parks was soon going to go to waste.
After pulling out most of my hair and turning my remaining hair gray, I was able to put together a new itinerary that included private lands, indian lands and a healthy dose of Route 66. We traveled to many places I otherwise would have never considered such as Seligman, Oatman, Chloride, Page, Winslow, Prescott, and Flagstaff.
The good news is that nature and travel photographers are a resilient bunch and everyone was willing to go with the flow. Although we traveled to different areas than we expected, we still created wonderful images. I’m proud of our group for continuously striving to create great photographs, even in the face of a government shutdown.
Here are a bunch of images from last week’s ANPAT 13 to Northern Arizona. All were taken with a Nikon D800 and lenses varying from the 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm.
Check out our new Nikonians Academy workshops in Orlando/Kissimmee, Florida, scheduled for January 9th – 12th, 2014. Also, I have upcoming workshops in San Diego, California this December 12 – 15, 2013 that still have seats available. Our workshops are some of the best in the business and I guarantee that you’ll learn more than you expected to. These classes are known for their hands-on learning style and small class size. Check them out. Hope to see you there.
Jan 9 – Master the D800/D4 In Depth 1
Jan 10 – Master the D600/D7000/D7100 In Depth 1
Jan 11 – Master Adobe Lightroom In Depth 1
Jan 12 – Master Adobe Lightroom In Depth 2
Dec 12 – Master the Nikon D600, D7000 & D7100 In Depth 1
Dec 13 – Master Nikon iTTL Wireless Flash, CLS
Dec 14 – Master Adobe Lightroom In Depth 1
Dec 15 – Master Adobe Lightroom In Depth 2
A few days ago while flying from Seattle to Salt Lake City, our airplane passed over the Cascade Mountains. I took about ten photographs of the mountain range, but knew that they weren’t going to amount to much because of the hazy sky. After returning from my trip, I decided to take a swing at creating a usable image from my original RAW file using Adobe Lightroom 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
The reason hazy photographs look drab is that they lack contrast. In other words, the image doesn’t have significant separation between the shadows and the highlights. This low contrast scenario is readily apparent if you look at the histogram. Notice how in the original picture, the histogram is bunched up in the middle of the graph. This means that the shadows are not black and the highlights aren’t white.
The solution to giving your image more contrast is to spread out the histogram so the shadows are darker and the highlights are brighter. There are a few ways to do this, but the quickest and easiest is to simply adjust the contrast slider in your editing program. The contrast tool is a fairly blunt tool and I rarely recommend using it because it doesn’t have much finesse. However, in a situation like this photograph, I recommend it. Increasing the contrast effectively spreads out the histogram so the highlights are brighter and the shadows are darker.
The next step is to add some micro-contrast so features like mountain ridges have more definition. Do this by increasing the Clarity slider or by adjusting Structure in plugins like the Nik Collection.
Finally, to really make a hazy photograph look good, my suggestion is to convert it to black and white. I’ve found that color photographs tend not to look great when they started as very hazy images. Converting the image to B&W allows you to add even more contrast without messing with the saturation or color balance of the image.
I was in Utah this last weekend for a friend’s wedding and took an extra day to shoot images near Park City and Wasatch Mountain State Park. I was staying in the Heber Valley, and could see some red showing up in the mountains from maple trees that were starting to turn. With my curiosity piqued, I thought there might be some aspens that had started to turn yellow, so I made a quick exploratory trip in search of an image of fall colors.
Driving up into the mountains on an old mountain road, I parked my car at around 8,000 feet elevation and trekked into an aspen grove. To my dismay, the trees were as green as can be with no hint of autumn color. So, I did what every good photographer does when they don’t find what they are looking for; I changed my goals. Rather than halting my creative process because the landscape scene wasn’t panning out, I simply changed my approach and decided to make what was in front of me look beautiful. Here are a few images from my failed fall colors aspen grove trip.
Our September 2013 newsletter is posted with lots of tips, new workshops, and one or two new photos. In this month’s newsletter:
- Stuff I Like This Month
- August GOAL Assignment: In-Camera Processing
- Digital Tidbits: Four Things (Almost) Every Photo Needs in Lightroom 5
- Photo Techniques: Autofocus Tracking with a Cluttered Background
- Photo Techniques: Vertical Panoramas
- Digital Tidbits: Quick Tip On File Renaming
- Workshop and Business Updates
Our group of 10 travelers has just returned from an amazing journey to Iceland. This trip was in conjunction with the Nikonians Academy and Tim Vollmer Photography. Here are a bunch of pics from our adventure.
I’ve just procured the final 100 copies of our book Nikon Capture NX 2, After the Shoot from the publisher. Since the publisher won’t be printing any more units of the book, I negotiated a deal to buy the remaining copies from their inventory. Amazon.com is no longer stocking the book in their warehouses and new copies have recently been selling for over $130 each on the site!
Click on either of these links to purchase a new, autographed copy of the book: