Creative Light Blog

Photographing the Perseids Meteor Shower

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I am gearing up tonight to photograph the Perseids meteor shower.  Will be trying over the next couple of night but the best prospect will be Saturday night the 13th based on my anticipated location in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  The actual peak will be tonight and tomorrow early morning hours; however the weather/sky conditions are not predicted to cooperate.  Saturday night in the Flint Hills it is forecasted to be clear in the late hours and as the moon sets after 2am, I am hoping for the best opportunities.  Can’t expect much sleep that night but will hope for the best.  I thought I would throw out a few tips if you are hoping to capture this event.

Recommended Equipment and Misc Items: 

  • DSLR Camera (obviously)
  • Wide angle Lens
  • Tripod
  • Large capacity memory card (16 gigs or higher)
  • Intervalometer or locking cable release
  • Extra Batteries
  • Dew heater.  Many folks will use the air-activated hand warmer packets you can get in most sports stores.  If you fasten these around the barrel of your lens it will help prevent dew from forming on your lens.  You can use rubber bands, a strip of Velcro, or other means to fasten them to your lens.  I use an item called the Lens Muff , made by Kevin Adams, Digital After Dark.  Handy thing for you
    Lens Muff from Digital After Dark
    Lens Muff from Digital After Dark

    bag if you do night photography at all.

  • Headlamp or small flashlight.  It’s ideal to have a headlamp with the red light option so you don’t spoil yours and everyone else shot with a sudden blast of bright light.
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Small cloth towel.  This is drape over your camera to keep the dew off.
  • Lawn chair.  You could be up for a few hours.  May as well be comfortable.
  • Bug spray
  • Cooler for snacks and beverages

Background on Perseids:  The meteors we hope to catch are really nothing more than tiny bits of dust or slightly larger particles burning up in our atmosphere.  This particular shower, the Perseids, is a result of the Earth’s passage through the ice and debris associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle.  The intersection of the Earth’s path with this debris occurs every summer and emanates from the constellation  Perseus, from which the shower gets it’s name.

Capture
Perseus and Cassiopeia shown in relation to one another. The yellow blob is the approximate are from which the meteors will emanate

Where to Look:  The meteors will emanate from the direction of Perseus in the northern sky.  Perseus is south of the constellation Cassiopeia.  I know, that probably does  not help much.  Actually though, after you see a few of these constellations in the night sky you will always be able to spot them.  Cassiopeia looks like a big sideways W of bright stars.  And once you recognize Perseus, you will always remember what it looks like and easily spot it.  The are between Cassiopeia and Perseus should be roughly where to expect the meteors to  appear but you may see them anywhere in the night sky.  Probably the easiest way to  find Perseus is with one of the numerous IPhone and Android apps which are available for free download.  Google Sky Map is a good one, Stellarium is another, but there are several good ones out there.

Technical Considerations

Cable Release:  Ideally you will want to have an intervalometer. it will make your life easier.  The intervlometer will allow you to control the exposure time, length of delay between shots, and the number of shots through one group of settings.  Some cameras allow this capability within the camera or by using a smart phone app through wi-fi.  Alternatively you can purchase a generic one at a camera store.  Since you exposure times should be 30 sec or less, you could likely get by with a normal cable release set in the locked position to shoot continuous.  Some type of cable release will almost be a necessity.

Lens Choice:  Remember this is a lot about the sky.  You need a good deal of sky in  your composition to increase chances of capturing meteors.  Wide angle is the order of the day, and it should be fast, f/2.8 or faster.  I would say a focal length of 24mm or wider, based on a full-frame sensor.  Some say if you are too wide, e.g., 11 -1 4, the meteors are less impressive.  This makes some sense because of the stretched perspective.  However, you are getting more sky so I guess it is a balancing act and a personal choice.  I  will be using my Rokinon 24mm f/1/4.  My decision is based on its speed.  My 14mm or 16mm f/2.8 would do fine but I am opting for the little extra speed of f/1.4 and sacrificing a little field of view.  Why is the speed so important?  There will likely be many faint meteors that you might not even notice with you naked eye but with the faster speed lens your sensor might pick them up.  It’s all about increasing your chances.

ISO and Exposure Times:  If we were in a New Moon phase, I would say your ISO would be anywhere between 1600 and 6400 with an exposure time  between 15 and 25 seconds, much as if you were taking pictures of the Milky Way.  However, because we will have a 78% waxing gibbous moon, the ambient light will be a factor.  Expect to do a few test exposures to find the best combination of aperture/time/ISO to fit the conditions.  That being said, you want to keep your exposure times to 30 seconds or less.  Not only because you want the stars to register as points of light, but faint meteors will be lost in the sky-glow at higher exposure times.  Once I have my exposure I will set my intervalometer to fire continuously with only about 2 seconds between exposures.

The moon will provide a little ambient light for the landscape  and any foreground elements you may have.  After around 2am the moon will have set and the sky will be darker and this period of the night we might expect to see more meteors.  This might also require adjusting your exposure as you approach this time as well since you will be losing the moonlight.

A Foreground Element:  Speaking of foreground, I feel it advantageous to have some type of foreground element, e.g., old barn, rock formations, interesting grouping of trees, etc. Simply a picture of the night sky with a meteor, while it might be neat, will not likely have strong compositional value.  A good foreground provides that compositional element and context. Doing this, however, is not without some important considerations. Keeping both the stars and the school in sharp focus could be difficult at a wide aperture setting.

Focus: There are two approaches to dealing with focus. It is very important that we have our stars in sharp focus and to do this we must focus on infinity. There are a couple of ways to do this at night, some easier than others. The good news is that there will be a moon to focus on and then set your lens to manual focus. Now, if you are using an ultra wide angle lens like 14mm you may be good to go, depending on how close you are to the foreground. What I expect to do if I am close is actually be sure I refocus and get one good sharp image of the foreground which I can later blend in with the sky images. Simply use of you hyper focal distance may work okay, depending on your focal length and how close you are to you foreground.

White Balance: I would manually set your white balance.  You might select Auto White Balance as we begin shooting and there is still some light, this is fine. However, after it really gets dark, I prefer shooting around 3800 Kelvin. This tilts the balance to a more blue sky rather than the muddy brown or orange tint you sometimes get with AWB at night. You can also set your white balance to Tungsten to accomplish a similar temp. You can always fine tune later in post if you are shooting RAW. This brings up another issue.

RAW vs JPEG: I strongly recommend you shoot RAW. Shooting RAW will give you the most flexibility in post processing. Shooting JPEG results in an image that has been already compressed and much of the data information as been discarded through the compression. If you must shoot JPEG I would recommend you set your camera to shoot both RAW + JPEG, if your camera gives you this option.

Batteries: Make sure you have plenty of batteries all FULLY CHARGED. We will be shooting a lot of frames and the last thing you want is to run out of battery power.

Final Thoughts:   If you are lucky and capture a bright fireball in one of our images, you have an image that could truly stand on its own. If on the other hand you capture single small meteors you can load your photos in photo-editing software and create a composite showing the multiple captures. You may also be able to create a little time-lapse sequence based on your total image sequence. This would show the stars rotating, clouds moving, and possibly a few meteor flashes. Some good options to consider for post processing and stacking might include: Star Stax and Deep Sky Stacker.

I look forward to following up this post with some great images.  Hope to see some of yours as well.

I hope you will considering sharing this blog post and signing up to follow future posts.

 

 

Through the Woods – A Sleeklens Review

The Objective:  Recently the folks at Sleeklens contacted me with a request to do a review of one of their products.  The Sleeklens founders were apparently dissatisfied with the products that offered what they called quick-fix or “all-in-one” approaches to using Lightroom and Photoshop products.  As a goal they set out to create real and useful tools that photographers could use to facilitate and quicken their workflow.  Among their repertoire of products are a number of presets and brushes for a range of photographic styles to be used within Lightroom and Photoshop applications.  Being principally a landscape photographer, Sleeklens asked that I give a review of their “Through the Woods” Lightroom presets, which is part of their Landscape Essentials Workflow bundle.

The Task:  As we all know, many Lightroom and Photoshop plugins contain presets.  To be perfectly honest I have never been a big fan of presets; however, I was willing to explore this “Through the Woods” workflow to see if in fact was really worth the bother. 

So if I am to be convinced at all I thought I should start off with something really challenging.  After scanning through some earlier images from Bandon, Oregon, I chose as my first challenge a well underexposed image at the mouth of the Coquille River.  I had framed the Coquille River lighthouse between some old pilings and

Coquille River Lighthouse Unprocessed RAW image
Coquille River Lighthouse
Unprocessed RAW image

rocks along the river’s bank as foreground elements.  This particular images was well underexposed.  Until now this image remained in my outtake folder, likely to never be process and maybe even deleted.  I show here both the original raw file and the finished image, after using the Sleeklens workflow. 

 

 

 

Coquile River Light House, Finished image with Sleeklens workflow
Coquile River Light House,
Finished image with Sleeklens workflow

Not bad considering what I had to work with. I used several of the presets, which are stackable, and then fine tuned using their landscape brushes

Next I picked one rather easy, just to see how fast I could get it de. Again, this was of the Coquille River lighthouse. This first shot you can see was a little flat and just not much of great light. It certainly

Coquille Rive lighthouse Before Sleeklens workflow
Coquille Rive lighthouse
Before Sleeklens workflow

needed a little punch. After a quick application of a preset, followed by some slight application of a clarity brush, I had a much more pleasing image in literally a few clicks.

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Coquille River Lighthouse and Driftwood Finished using Sleeklens workflow
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Kansas City Skyline RAW unprocessed image

My next effort was using a recent unprocessed image of the Kansas City skyline and using the Through the Woods workflow start to finish. This image was a long exposure of about 60 seconds using a Lee Big Stopper. While using the Big Stopper allowed for the longer exposure by blocking light, it does not block UV light, resulting often in a cooler cast. This is on issue to tackle in post processing, with I was easily able to accomplish using the Sleeklens workflow.   I will look to fill shadows as well as part of my post

 

 

 

 

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Kansas City Skyline Cropped and finished using Sleeklens workflow

As you can see in the finished version of the Kansas City Skyline, the image has shadows filled, good tonal clarity, and a corrected color balance to complement the finished image.

For a final example I took another under exposed shot of some Pacific coast sea stacks at Bandon, Oregon.  As one might expect this could be a good example of an image to use the delete key as your first post processing action.  But let’s see if anything can be done with this seemingly hopeless capture.

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Bandon Sea Stacks, Bandon, Oregon Unprocessed RAW Image

While the sky looks like it may have some potential, the foreground appears well underexposed.  Going to work on this I used several of the Through the Woods presets and finished using selected brushes to ad some vibrance  to the sky and some targeted tonality adjustments on the seas stacks and to add some tonal clarity.

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Bandon Sea Stacks, Bandon, Oregon Processed using Sleeklens workflow

Conclusion:  The Sleeklens folks developed these workflows to help in easily adding color, light and detail to your images using some categorized, preset recipes, all while increasing the speed and efficiency of your workflow.  The “Through the Woods” LIghtroom workflow offers 50 landscape presets and 30 brushes, all categorized in a manner making it easy to quickly pick ones to accomplish your intended task.  These presets work on both RAW and JPEG images; however, I would highly recommend sticking with RAW.  You will be somewhat limited in how far you can go with JPEGs because they are already compressed files and there is not as much digital information to manipulate.

One of the really nice things is the presets are stackable.  One does not totally cancel out a previously applied preset.  Moreover, you are not stuck with just the effect of a given preset or brush.  You can still adjust your Lightroom sliders to fine-tune the adjustment.  Even after using the presets and brushes, you can still go into Lightroom Basic Panel and make further adjustments.  You have  complete control.

I said initially, that I am not a big fan of presets.  However, what Sleeklens has created in their workflow products is demonstrably value added.  I have included their Landscape Bundle as valuable addition to my post processing toolbox.  I highly recommend you give them a try.

Take a look at Sleeklens here

 

 

Adding Depth and Context to Your Images

Jenny Lake, Fall afternoon, Grand Tetons National Park, WY Canon 5DSR, 24mm, 239sec @ f/22, Lee Big Stopper

The Challenge

One challenge we as photographers have in creating images that really engage the viewer is often related to our ability to convey a sense of depth in a medium that is only two-dimensional. That is not to say that a two-dimensional photograph cannot be effective. But often such images are intimate landscapes, or studies in patterns, lines, microcosm in nature and even some grand vistas. But in many cases creating depth is an effective way to engage the viewer and guide them through an image, holding interest and in many ways providing context for your subject.

We actually borrow many of the same techniques artists have used for centuries in painting and drawing. In photography while our tools to accomplish this are similar, our methodology is necessarily different because of our medium. The photographer must arrange existing elements within the frame of a photograph in a somewhat symbiotic fashion to create a sense of depth. This is often critical to the success of many landscape photographs. So what are some of the techniques we should consider as we create images?

Including Foreground Element

Use of a supporting foreground element in your photograph is a favorite technique I try to use quite often. This in part is based on my earlier days using 4×5 view camera and the influence of one of my favorite landscape photographers, David Muench, whose work I believe in part guided the development of my personal photographic style.

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Blacktail Ponds Overlook, Grand Tetons National Park, WY EOS 5DSR, 24mm, ISO 200, 1/20 sec @ f/16

While a foreground element adds to the complexity of a composition, you should not pick any foreground element. Ideally, it should help support your main subject in some way. Also, take the time to fine tune your composition. What I mean is consider how close you should be the any foreground object. Sometimes I will tell a workshop student that when you initially think you are close enough, move still closer. The closer you are the larger the object appears in relation to the background element. This forced perspective cue helps create depth.

Don’t however forget the mid-ground. This is another factor that supports the importance of fine tuning your composition. Sometimes the height of your camera is vital to effectively guiding your viewer into the image. While getting low can be quite effective in gaining a desired perspective, it also minimizes the mid-ground. The mid-ground is often important to provide a visual progression or stepping stone toward your background element. If you are too low, you might eliminate the mid-ground. If too high, you may end up with too much dead space in the mid-ground, hence the importance of fine tuning.

Leading Lines

Sockeye, Newport Marina, Newport, Oregon EOS 5DSR, 16mm, ISO 400, 1/125 @f/10
Sockeye, Newport Marina, Newport, Oregon
EOS 5DSR, 16mm, ISO 400, 1/125 @f/10

I think most everyone has heard the mantra about leading lines. When you think about it, everything in nature is made up of lines. A meandering stream is actually comprised of two lines, one on each side of the stream. A tree is defined by two lines, one on each edge. Lines can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Nature is replete with lines and other geometric forms. So in the case of lines, they are often easy to find but be careful in how you use them. To be used most effectively, they should lead the viewer into the image, and in some cases toward the main subject. But most importantly they should support engaging the viewer to explore the image entirely. One mistake photographers make is choosing leading lines that lead the viewer right out of the image.

Of all leading lines, the diagonal line is by far the most powerful. They convey a sense of power and motion. By far they are more dynamic and can give a sense of motion, either upward or downward. When used in conjunction with vanishing point perspective they can be quite effective in directing the eye toward a certain area of the composition and providing that sense of depth.

 

Choice of Lens

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Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Newport, Oregon EOS 5DSR, 16mm, ISO 100, 1/6 sec @ f/22

Often someone will ask me what my favorite lens is. After the quick response “the one on my camera”, I go on to say really it is my wide-angle, particularly my 16-35 mm. This ultra-wide angle lens is really great for emphasizing a foreground and using a small aperture to amplify the sense of depth. So I am always looking for opportunities to pull it out of the bag. However, often my 24-105 at the wide end is sufficient in a lion’s share of cases.

One thing to remember when using wide angles is to resist getting too much in the frame. Often times when first getting use to wide-angle perspectives is to include far too much in the composition. After all, by its very nature it includes more and you may have a tendency to want to include as much of the beautiful scene in front of you in the shot. Resist this temptation. A wide-angle lens stretches perspective making objects seem farther apart, while a telephoto will compress elements. As such you should strive to fill the frame when using your wide-angle.

 

Shoot Vertical Orientation at 45° Downward Viewpoint.

Spring outflow, Alley Spring, Shannon County, Missouri EOS 5DSR, 31mm, ISO 200, 3.2 sec @ f/22
Spring outflow, Alley Spring, Shannon County, Missouri
EOS 5DSR, 31mm, ISO 200, 3.2 sec @ f/22

I really don’t mean exactly 45°. The point though is that if you turn your camera to a vertical orientation with a wide-angle lens, tilted slightly down, you can often use this wide perspective to really maximize foreground and leading line techniques while filling the frame. It also alters your focal plane in a way that somewhat mimics a tilt function utilized in large format cameras or modern tilt-shift lenses. This will help get the most of your depth of field and help give prominence to a foreground element, increasing the three-dimensional feeling of the image.

Depth of Field

Appropriate depth of field is critical in landscape photography. If you have a foreground element, taken the time to ensure your composition had a good combination of supporting elements, waited for the right moment and light, it all could be for naught if your depth of field was insufficient to provide sharpness, or apparent sharpness throughout your image.

Selecting the proper aperture and focus point is a key process in preparing to take your image, once you have determined your composition. In fact I suggest to my workshop student that when they have decided on a composition they should first ask themselves, what aperture do I need for this shot? Why this question first? Well, your

Klepzig Mill, Shannon County, MO EOS 5DSR, 24mm, ISO 100, 1.6 sec @ f/22
Klepzig Mill, Shannon County, MO
EOS 5DSR, 24mm, ISO 100, 1.6 sec @ f/22

aperture governs your depth of field. So, if your shot has a prominent foreground element, for example, you know that you need a lot of depth of field to maintain near/far sharpness. Knowing that a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) will give you this, you decide on say, f16. The next questions is where do I need to focus.

On the focus point, many will say focus 1/3 into the scene. This is based on the point that when you are focused at the hyperfocal distance, your depth of field will extend from half the distance to your focal point to infinity. Personally, while the “focus 1/3 way into the scene will work at times, I find it better to determine the closest point you must have in focus ( near part of your main foreground element) and focus at a point twice that distance. Now, among other things that affect the depth of field is how close you are to the foreground element.

If you are extremely close to your foreground and your background is a distant mountain, you may find that the mountain, even with an aperture of f22 may be a little soft. However, this would likely be acceptable in most cases because with a wide-angle shot, the perspective will still provide enough apparent sharpness for the distant mountain. But you cannot usually get away with a soft foreground element in a landscape image.

Layering and Overlapping

Mount Hood, Oregon EOS 5D Mark III, 400mm, ISO 100, .3sec @ f/11
Mount Hood, Oregon
EOS 5D Mark III, 400mm, ISO 100, .3sec @ f/11

Layering or overlapping can also aid in guiding the viewer through a scene, often encouraging one to view from bottom toward the top. Often you see this in aerial perspective where more distant objects take on a lighter or hazier appearance with less detail. Our mind tends to translate this as those objects being farther away, aiding in feeling of depth.

Vanishing Point

Use of vanishing points to direct the eye is somewhat related to scale. It is a linear perspective in which the point in the distance at which objects become too small to see. Think of railroad tracks that seem to come together in the far distance. We often us vanishing points in

Old Cabin at Falling Springs Mill, Oregon County, MO EOS 5DSR, 46mm, ISO 200, 30 sec, @ f/22
Old Cabin at Falling Springs Mill, Oregon County, MO
EOS 5DSR, 46mm, ISO 200, 30 sec, @ f/22

photography to help direct the eye, using the diminishing scale effect. Vanishing point perspective naturally forms a triangle, which is one reason triangle shapes in nature can act as elements to direct the viewer.

The Context

Considering some the techniques listed above, as well as others, there is additional value in adding that sense of depth and guiding the viewer through your image. You will find that you are not merely “taking a photograph” of a tree, stream, mountain, waterfall, etc., you are adding the context to support the story or feeling you are trying to convey through your final image.

 

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UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FOR 2016/2017

 

Doctor’s Inlet and Little Black Creek…An Old Memory and a Roadside Branch

Little Black Creek Pano
Little Black Creek Pano

 

Couple of times a year I try to get down to Orange Park, Florida to visit my  mom who turned 90 yrs old this past December.  She is doing quite well and I hope I have her energy and heath  when I get to her age, if I make it that long.  Orange Park is just south of Jacksonville, where I grew up.  On my sojourns to Florida I of course always bring along my camera gear and look for new photographic opportunities while there.  Not far from mom’s home is a small community of Dr’s Inlet, which is along a small finger off Doctor’s Lake off  the St. John’s River.

While driving along CR 220 toward Dr’s Inlet I came upon a something I immediately recognized from my childhood.  A sign along the roadside among some old live oaks read “Whitey’s Fish Camp”.  I immediately remembered a time when I was young that my dad used to boat in this area along the St. John’s River and we stayed overnight here on one weekend boat outing.    I recall an old cook coming out of the camp restaurant in the evening and he would

Trash and debris just off the road along Little Black Creek
Trash and debris just off the road along Little Black Creek

entertain the guest by playing wooden spoons like some type of musical instrument with is hands.  I was impressed.   It’s interesting how small things imprint on your mind from childhood.

Just down from Whitey’s I noticed a small branch as I crossed an overpass.  It turned out to be a section of Little Black Creek, another offshoot of Black Creek and the St. John’s River,  just south of Dr’s Inlet.  It looked quite interesting and seemed to exemplify the area’s character.  The water was motionless and the creek had a thick growth of oaks, cypress and sweetgum along the banks.  It was early morning light and the air was quite still, so I had to stop and explore.  I donned my Think Tank harness and belt packed with several lenses and filters, slung my tripod over my shoulder,  and began my exploration.  Unfortunately, in areas like this just off of the highway you’ll find where people have often dumped trash and other items.  This was no exception.  Old tires, a sofa, beer cans, what looked like a washer fluid reservoir from an old vehicle, and other items were scattered about.  I just shook my head in dismay and continued deeper into the thicket to make my way along the creek.

Almost swampy bank of Little Black Creek
Swampy-like bank of Little Black Creek Canon 5DSR, 8 sec, f/16, ISO 200, 24-105mm @ 38mm

As I hiked along the cypress knees, sweetgum balls, and oaks, I could see there was not really a shore line.  It was really more like a swamp.  I could imagine running across maybe a poisonous cotton mouth snake along my walk, or some tropical spider like those I remember from my childhood.  Snakes I have a healthy respect for but spiders just plain creep me out.  Taking my time, moving slowly, I was able to explore possible photographic compositions and stay vigilant for the creepy crawlers.  As I began to photograph a fisherman floated by in his small jon boat.  “Catching anything”, I asked.  “Only a gar so far”,  he replied.  I wondered to myself, what the heck is he going to do with a gar?  Not my kind of eating.  Anyway, he soon moved down stream and I was back to my creative exercise.

Large cypress trees were a dominant feature
Large cypress trees were a dominant feature along the creek Canon 5DSR, 13sec, F/16, ISO 100, 24-105mm @ 35mm

 

I thought a pano shot of the opposite bank might work well to give a feel of the character of this area.  With the perfectly still water I was able to capture the reflections of the tropical like forest along the banks of this creek.  Looked like a good place for a gator to hang out, which would not be unlikely in some of these areas.

A few more images and I noticed the light was changing.  I’m thinking now it’s time for a trip to Starbucks.  I will have to return another time to continue to explore this area.  Certainly some good possibilities and the nearby Whitey’s Fish Camp serves up some great gator tail appetizers.

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Sunburst breaking through the forest as light begins to change

The Annual Prairie Burn

Moonlight Over the Prairie Burn
Moonlight Over the Prairie Burn

The annual Flint Hills prairie burns are again under way.  We are approaching the end of the season and I have posted a few images from this year’s burn workshops.  Background information is reposted from an earlier blog.

Where and What are the Flint Hills?

The Flint Hills – Big sky, expansive landscape, and a horizon that stretches on forever is the beautiful four-million-acre swath of land in eastern Kansas makes up about 80 percent of what is left of the world’s tallgrass prairie, according to the Nature Conservancy. The prairie’s is composed of mostly Big and little bluestem, switchgrass and Indian grass, and a geology of limestone and shale.  Historically it was known as Bluestem Pastures or Blue Stem Hills.  Zebulon Pike was an explorer who first coined the name Flint Hills after entering in his journal about “very ruff flint hills”.  It was suggested that over time Flint Hills had a better ring to it than something like Bluestem Pastures.

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Dusk on the Burning Prairie

A Bit about the Flint Hills

It’s written that clay soil and cherty (flint) gravel is what saved the Flint Hills from the plow, While there were some areas used for agriculture during the period between the Civil War and the 1900’s, much has been turned back into pasture. Among Flint Hills folklore, author James Kindall, suggested the Osage Indians, after having been displaces for the third time to what is not the Flint Hills, were pleased about its unsuitability as farmland as the tribe was unlikely to have to move again.

Why do they Burn?

The Prairie Burns
The Prairie Burns

Prairie fires are essential to maintaining the unique ecology of the flint hills. Native Americans used fire on the prairie to generate new growth that attracted bison. And later, with the arrival of cattle in substantial numbers in the 1860s-1870s, burning and grazing, as key range-management methods, have helped maintain the structure and function of the tallgrass ecosystem.

Without the burning practices the prairie, which provide nutrients and help the grasses grow, would become mostly a scrub forest of essentially Eastern Red Cedars and would have little practical use for anything. As such, the ranchers have a springtime ritual, which sustains the lush grasses for the cattle and has come to provide unique and beautiful opportunities for photography. While the winter and spring weather will determine when the burns take place, it usually happens during a period around mid-March through the latter part of April. Last year the burn took place following a two-year hiatus because of drought conditions; though, high spring-time winds can also cause ranches to cancel or postpone  planned burns.

Prairie Burn Photography Workshops

For the last couple of years Craig McCord Photography Workshops teamed with Manhattan Kansas photographer, Jason Soden, conducting several exclusive prairie burn photography workshops. It is really a joyful experience, not only for the great photography involvement, but to get to know the ranchers and their way of life. These folks are true Americans that love their simple but  hard working  lifestyle and are happy to share their stories and experiences with visitors.

Photographers work their creative magic during the burn
Photographers work their creative magic during the burn

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While photographing the burns it was a pleasure to watch young rancher-to-be children participating in the springtime prairie burn ritual. Then later they played and roasted hot-dogs as the elders prepared the cowboy meal for our photography group. As we relaxed around the camp fire enjoying our cowboy meal of pulled pork and all the fixings, including homemade cookies and brownies, we discussed photography and prepared to venture out for the second burn of the day, the dusk burn. This time of day for me is the most exciting, as the flames reach toward a red setting sun that creates cowboys silhouettes against the backdrop of the burning prairie.

This year we are again we  hosted  Flint Hills Prairie burn workshops. First, with the Cowboy Way Ranch, in Westmorland, KS, and a second at the Clover Cliff Ranch and Bed and Breakfast in Elmdale, KS. The Cowboy Way Ranch is a 1,000 acre working ranch offering great photography during the burn, which will be March 19th.  Our final burn workshop this year at the Clover Cliff Ranch is just days ahead.  We are looking forward to another fantastic exclusive photography event.  If you wish to participate in next year’s prairie burn workshops, send me an email at craig@craigmccordphotography.com and I will make sure you get on the list.

Look for Fresh Perspectives

 Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge,
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

 

This is a classic shot of Multnomah Falls in the popular Columbia River Gorge.  This  highly scenic gorge area replete with lush green trails and beautiful waterfalls is located just outside of Portland, Oregon.  The are begins at the western end of Troutdale, Oregon.  The really scenic drive is along the Historic Columbia River Highway which parallels I-84 east and provides fantastic views of numerous cascading waterfalls and overlooks.  There are well maintained trails along this stretch that lead you to some iconic waterfalls, many within short hikes.

Multnomah Fall #2, Columbia River Gorge, OR
Multnomah Fall #2, Columbia River Gorge, OR

 

There is so much to photograph in the area but it is still easy to take images of the same vantage points we all have soon so many times.  I’m guilty of the same sin, but once we get that shot, we should try to push ourselves to find a different perspective, something to show our own brand on the subject.  Now, this is not always easy for a number of reasons.  Sometimes, such as in the case of Mulnomah Falls,  limitations of access or simply unaccommodating  terrain offers obstacles to overcome.    Nonetheless, continue to push yourself and you might be surprised at the result.

Multnomah Falls Trail, Columbia River Gorge, OR
Multnomah Falls Trail, Columbia River Gorge, OR

After taking a number of what I would call classic compositions of these falls, I moved up the trail and with a little effort  came up with the perspective in “Multnomah Falls #2.  It was not easy because it was hard finding an area where I could get proper clearance for the composition I wanted. After this shot,  I went on then to try to find  supporting images to tell the story of the falls and the trail to the upper part of Multnomah.  Every image does not have to be a fine art piece.  Think of it as a set of images to support your main image and convey a sense of what it would be like for others yet to visit this beautiful area..

 

 

Hope you can join me in June for a fantastic photo adventure along the Oregon coast between Bandon and Newport Oregon.    Oregon Coast, June 4 -12, 2016 Details

Informative Post about Lightroom In Fstoppers

Sean Molin had a great article in Fstoppers called “Lightroom: You’re Doing it All Wrong“.  It help explain what I have found many using Lightroom miss.  The advice on keywording, rating and flagging also worth considering.

 

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Sean Molin’s You’re Doing it All Wrong

Maximize Effectiveness on Impromptu Photo Outing

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Old barn, James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, Lee’s Summit, MO. Canon 5DSR, 1sec, f/16, 24-105 @ 28mm,  ISO 100

 

Arriving at my shooting location at James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area,  I could see that photographing the moon over the barn was not going to be an option this morning.  Well, just have to make the best of it.  Truth is, often what I expect or set out to photograph does not entirely work out.  But most often I still come away with some success and at times even more so than I had hoped.

Given my situation, I decided to photograph the old, mostly abandoned, farm structures making the most of the light I had.  In any case I knew that the sky conditions could change in a hurry as sunrise approached, offering additional options.

Nature retaking farm house, Canon 5DSR, 3 sec, f/8, ISO 100
Nature retaking farm-house, Canon 5DSR, 3 sec, f/8, ISO 100

 

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Hay Bales in Barn, Canon 5DSR, .6 sec @f/22, 24mm, ISO 100

My approach on the fly was to combine  images to suggest a story about what once was, even as nature begins to reclaim what is left of this old farmstead.  I held no expectations of producing fine art prints from my efforts.  It had really become an exercise in trying to make the best of less than ideal conditions.  This forced me to explore various compositional arrangements, given less than ideal light when I started.

As I framed one of my first images of the barn, I could see partial breaks in the clouds at the horizon line and some red glow from the rising sun.  The texture in the lingering overcast added some drama to the scene.  This image was my favorite of the morning.  Other shots of collapsing or run down structures help build the story.

Abandoned farm house and barn, Canon 5DSR, 5sec, F/16, 24-105mm @ 31mm, ISO 100
Abandoned farm house and barn, Canon 5DSR, 5sec, F/16, 24-105mm @ 31mm, ISO 100

What’s the take away?  Often times you will venture out hoping, maybe even expecting, optimum conditions.  We know we are going to catch that perfect shot, right?  Well, most often it just doesn’t work that way.  But regardless of the conditions, if you just “endeavor to preserver” (as said by Chief Dan George said in Outlaw Jose Wales), we can usually come away with a few good shots while exercising our photographic eye.  If you’re really lucky you could even exceed your original expectations.

Barn structure, Canon 5DSR, 3sec, f/8, ISO 100
Barn structure, Canon 5DSR, 3sec, f/8, ISO 100
Clearing morning sky over old barn, Canon 5DSR, 1/250, f/11, 24mm, ISO 200
Clearing morning sky over old barn, Canon 5DSR, 1/250, f/11, 24mm, ISO 200

 

Image of the Month:: February 2016…Revisiting Old Friends

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“Ohio Forest” Zone VI 4×5, Tri-X 400

 

 

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“Window and Pickets, Zone VI 4×5, Tri-X

My wife insisting I needed to get a few things organized, prodded me into some house cleaning in my basement storage area.  In one section I had some boxes holding some old photographic prints and other items from my film days of years ago.  Quite surprisingly there were some prints I had saved, but properly packed, which I had long since forgotten.  They were in great shape and I enjoyed reminiscing the times  hiking and traveling around searching for photographic subject matter with my pack of  Zone VI 4×5 camera and lenses.  It’s rather interesting how I could remember some of the smallest details about when and where some of these images were taken.  As I reviewed the prints with fresh eyes, I could better understand why I preserved these, even though in some cases I was not entirely sure at that time long ago.  In the feature print here, “Ohio Forest”, I used a green filter and processed to lighten the green foliage.  The result was a pleasant interplay of the light and darker tones, giving this image a sense of depth.

In this next image, “Window and Pickets”, I was attracted to the rough and worn wood patterns, and the play of the contrasting horizontal and vertical lines.  I believe too that I may have been somewhat inspired or attracted to the pickets based on an image of Ansel Adams Barn, Cape Cod, Massachusetts“, that I had seen in Ansel’s Guide, Basic Techniques of Photography“, originally published in the early 90’s.

 

 

 

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“American Beech” Zone VI 4×5, Tri-X

 

 

Another time while hiking in Ohio, I came upon this American Beech tree.  It was along the side of a trail and the forest was well shadowed.  One characteristic of this tree is the persistence of its leaves during the winter months.  You easily spot these trees in the winter forest because they tend to retain many of their leaves, which have turned a light amber color. Taking advantage of the soft light I sought to contrast these characteristics against the shadowed background.  I likely used a yellow or red filter to further enhance the luminosity of the leaves. Of course today it is much easier by adjusting color sliders in B&W conversion software such as Silver Effects Pro 2.

 

 

 

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“Waltzing Trees” Zone VI 4×5, Tri-X

“Waltzing Trees” was taken in the Red Rocks hiking trails just outside of Denver, Colorado.  I struggled for some time as to whether I liked this image.  My son did however,  and insisted I make him a print, which he still has on his wall.  After I recently scanned the negative, I did some additional cropping and enhancements to the luminosity and have finally concluded that I do in fact like this image.  I believe for me it is the diagonals in the background with the opposing  leaning angle of the darker trees.  Also the interplay of the dark and light tree trunks as if they are waltzing about.  There is a lot going on here which just seems to hold my interest.

 

 

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“All Saints of St. Peters” Zone VI 4×5, Tri-X

For the image “All Saints of St. Peters”, I use a wide-angle lens to really take advantage of the headstones in the adjacent cemetery.  It was a late afternoon sun, which brightly reflected off the face of the church and really illuminated the cross on the steeple.  An added compositional element was the band of sunlight shinning diagonally across the grass and lighting headstones in the mid-ground.  I exposed for the highlights using a zone system modified Pentax one-degree spot meter.  Exposing highlight for about a zone 9, I let the shadows fall because I wanted the keep the brilliance of the cross and the face of the chapel without blowing out too much detail.  Keeping most of the cemetery in shadow help with the mood I wanted.

 

 

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“Hell’s Gate” Zone VI 4×5, Tri-X

The last image here, “Hell’s Gate”, was taken while hiking in central Ohio.  Maybe an interesting but unintentional counterpoint to my All Saints image. I was attracted to how the rocks encircling this small cave opening  tended to almost ominously draw you toward the opening, inviting you to a place you don’t want to go.

I guess the lesson here is that it often pays to revisit old images (or negatives in this case) with fresh eyes.  Acquiring new skills, experience, and technology, as well as a more developed vision, can bring new life to old forgotten images.

I am very much interested in your thoughts and comments.  And of course feel free to share this post with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image of Month January 2016

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River Dock Pilings in Pre-dawn Light :: Canon 5DSR, 25sec, f/22, ISO 100, 24-105mm @ 105mm

 

Now that the hustle and bustle of holidays are over I hope all had a wonder holiday season and are now ready to break out the cameras again for a new year of creativity and fun.  January is usually a month often not conducive getting out of bed early and venturing out in freezing weather,  at least not for anyone but the true hard-core.  Even I have to work up the motivation at times. 

This month though I am featuring an image taken a little farther south.  Maybe I am just trying to warm up a bit.  Anyway, this old river dock is located along the St. Johns River in Orange Park, Florida, just south of Jacksonville.  Taken just before sunrise I wanted this shot to take advantage of the soft morning glow and the still air to create a simple image that communicated the solitude of early morning along the river.  I knew that soon after sunrise the light would change drastically and morning breezes would quickly churn the waters of the river.  The mood would quickly fade.  Using a small aperture in this case was not needed to gain maximum depth of field.  But I wanted to smooth out as much of any movement in the water as possible by lengthening the exposure time so I went for f/22 and left my polarizing filter on to force another 1 ½ or 2 stops of exposure time.  This combination gave me a 25 sec exposure, enough to gain most of the effect I was looking for.

Just a note, I could have added a neutral density filter such as the Lee Big Stopper to force even a longer exposure (should have) but of course I was without it that morning.  However, using the polarizing filter for this purpose helps and this filter can be very useful for other things than darkening a blue sky.  These two other images captured during this same morning walk made getting up early worthwhile.  At least I had my Starbucks.2015_12_Jacksonville_00592015_12_Jacksonville_0015