Blending Texture with Color

This is another in-camera double exposure made at the Planting Fields. I used a close up of tree bark as the texture to layer on top of the flower. 

double_exposure_texture_march_2015

The orchids below were created with a second exposure of Spanish moss.  A quick web search reveals the many creative ways other photographers are using this feature. Check it out

orchid_moss_double_exposure

A Much Needed Burst of Color

After the freakish snow that started Spring, it was a relief to find these brilliant flowers, even if they were indoors. I created this look with an in-camera double exposure. The first image was a sharp rendition of the flowers, while the second frame was a super close up of the same subject. The camera then stacks them together into one frame. 

double_exposure_flowers_march_2015

New eBook Available Now! Finding Your Vision: A Roadmap to Creative Composition

If you are one of the many photographers who are challenged by both composition and translating your vision into strong photographs with purpose, this is the perfect tool for you.

Largely considered one of the most influential photographers of the last century, Henri Cartier-Bresson said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. Unfortunately some photographers give up too soon, frustrated by results that don’t meet their expectations. Overnight success is a myth. Most anyone who has accomplished something worthwhile first paid their dues with splendid effort and persistence.

FINDING YOUR VISION: A Roadmap to Creative Composition is comprised of practical ideas and exercises to get you back on the road, camera by your side, ready to create the next 10,000 images. This 49-page eBook includes 51 inspiring and illustrative photographs, along with 12 exercises that will see dramatic visual improvements in how you approach composition.

Inside You’ll Get:

  • A Roadmap To Creative Composition. I approach composition from a fresh perspective, inspiring readers to become more curious when creating photographs. You’ll learn how and when to question your camera settings, how to use white balance more effectively, working with both light and shadow, and all about composition techniques that define strong imagery. Additionally, I cover how to make better images at all hours of the day, and tips specific to all four seasons.
  • 12 Practice Assignments to rapidly improve your composition techniques. These are the same exercises taught in my workshops. Each individual photo assignment will have an immediate and lasting improvement in how your make photographs.
  • Part of the NEW Rapid Photographic Learning Series. Perfect for those with a busy lifestyle, you won’t have to “find time” to read this. Micro-eBooks are designed to be consumed quickly, without all the fluff and erroneous material. You’ll be able to gain quick improvements with this thoughtfully crafted approach.
  • Delivered in PDF format for maximum compatibility with all your devices!
 
 

New Tutorial: Mountain Photography Tips

If you're wondering what subject matter to explore on your next photography adventure, consider a trip to the mountains. Not only are you guaranteed a wide variety of photo opportunities, but a rare chance to unplug and reconnect to a simpler way of life. It was early mountaineer John Muir who said "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees." To help you capture these moments with your camera, I've prepared several photography tips along with practical advice.   

Read the full piece here.

Las Vegas at Night from 550 Feet Above

I've written before about how effective an elevated perspective can be. By finding a raised vantage point to shoot from, you immediately give yourself a unique point of view. Naturally, when I heard about the "High Roller", I jumped on the chance to ride it. I grabbed my Canon 6D and 17-40mm wide angle lens, paid the $35 admission fee and hopped in my pod. 

It's essentially a giant ferris wheel with transparent windows to view the city. Each observation pod holds about 40 people. Luckily, I didn't get assigned to the bar car which was packed tightly with people and their drinks.

_MG_6586.jpg

We started the slow steady ascent, and the clear cool night offered visibility all the way to the edge of the horizon. There was still a ways to go, but things were looking promising.

My settings were ISO 6400, f4, and 1/40th of a second. This was a little slower than I ordinarily would recommend without a tripod, but I did my best to brace the camera against the plexiglass and was very careful to hold it steady. 

My favorite image came about 15 minutes into the ride as we reached our maximum height of 550 feet. It was amazing to see Las Vegas from this bird's eye view. 

_MG_6467-2.jpg

We then started the slow descent to ground level...

Here, the impressive Bellagio fountain display is visible in the distance. 

_MG_6570.jpg

Back on the ground, I made one last image of the towering structure as it appears from the street. It was definitely a unique experience and one I'd recommend to anyone looking for a fun photo opportunity. 

Finding Solitude at Red Rock Canyon

I woke up at 4:30 am bleary eyed but determined. After lacing up the hiking sneakers and gathering my gear, I set off for a roadtrip to Red Rock Canyon. Normally, the walk from the hotel to the rental car is not part of the adventure, but this was Las Vegas, and everything is bigger and most notably, weirder. In order to get to the parking garage at the MGM, you first have to make your way through the casino. Surely I thought, most people would be sleeping at this hour right? 

Passing by the slot machines I felt like an alien from another land. With my camera bags and tripod over my shoulder, I navigated past countless people smoking cigarettes and cigars, blackjack, craps, roulette, and yes...drinking. I know it's Sin City, but I had no idea that people did this well into the next morning. The smell of smoke was interrupted only by a weird mix of perfume and cologne. Katie Perry roared over the lobby speakers, lights flashed like Christmas-time on steroids, and I finally descended towards the "Underground" parking area. 

casino

There was no time to waste for breakfast or coffee as the sunrise time was 6am, and the park was approximately 1 hour away. Driving past the now deserted streets, I made good time. The faux Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers of the Strip looked small in the rearview mirror and I quickly found myself on the highway heading towards the mountains. I enjoyed the height of the Jeep, but it took me a few minutes to get the feel for the larger size of the vehicle. I drive a Civic, so this was a pretty big difference. I'm not sure why the rental car places always give me something large when I ask for a standard sedan. It was smooth enough of a ride, and I made really good time to the park. 

moon_over_red_rock_canyon

I had been there the night before as well but only had a short while to make a few pictures before dark. This actually did turn out to be helpful as it gave me a better understanding of the full layout of the place. The scenic route is about 10 miles and it's only a one way road. Once you enter, there's no way to double back without going completely around again. Just outside of the toll area though, there is all kinds of beauty for those willing to drive a few extra minute. 

red_rock_dawn

There was still about 15 minutes before they opened the gate, so I made a quick detour near the overlook area. There was an un-official roadside pull off near an impressive mountain range and I used a large cactus as a foreground element. The light was soft and pastel-like, and I needed the tripod for a longer exposure at a small aperture. After a series of bracketed shots, I headed back to the toll gate, paid the $7 entry fee and made my way to the first pull off.

Luckily I had brought my winter jacket as it was freezing! In fact, I wish I had brought gloves as well. Nevertheless, I started hiking around the unbelievable collections of wind swept rocks, and was just overwhelmed by all of it. Where to begin?

first_pull_off_red_rocks

It wasn't until I made a conscious decision to slow down, and really see, that my images began to take shape. To help stay focused, I kept reminding myself of the first secret in my eBook. "What is my subject?" 

red_rocks_sunrise

I found little details in the rocks, like faces, and was really interested in the spiraling patterns beneath my feet.

Do you see the face?

Do you see the face?

Cactus, mountains, weathered ridges of stone-wall passageways, and that color...that spectacular color. I happily made a number of exposures and the sun rose higher in the sky. The temperature rose a few degrees, and it was time to drive on the stop #2 which was more desert like. 

cactus_red_rock

On this next hike, I experienced the profound beauty of true silence. Even in the deepest woods of New York, there is always a distant hum of a highway, along with the steady flow of air traffic. Out here though, was absolutely still. I just stopped and listened. I could practically hear my heartbeat, and then, a bird. It was the Anna's Hummingbird, and it landed nearby. I set the 400mm lens onto the tripod and slowly walked over. The bird stayed there, and let me take dozens of photographs. It would occasionally fly away only to return a minute later, stretching it's wings and flashing its ruby-colored feathers occasionally.

Annas Hummingbird

By this time, it had now gotten downright hot, and I quickly stripped to a T-shirt before drinking some water. The desert can get dangerous in a hurry if you're not careful. I made a few more stops, using the circular polarizer to darken the deep blue sky. The research I did at home did not properly note just how unbelievable the surrounding mountain range is. I routinely found myself in awe of their sheer height and beauty. 

red_rock_mountains

"True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible."

- Wendell Berry

From Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park

With the blinking lights of the Vegas strip in the rearview mirror, and nothing ahead but vast desert landscape, my destination was the Valley of Fire State Park. While it's only a one hour drive, it feels worlds away from the bustling city center. There are no houses or businesses, just dry arid land and powerful mountains in the distance. Gas stations are also sparse, and this is definitely not a place you'd want to be stuck. The sun is relentless, and I constantly felt thirsty in this dry air. Eventually the GPS cut out, and I was left to simply follow signs. North on 15 towards Salt Lake City...

Vegas_Reflections

While listening to my road trip music (Neil Young, and also Joni Mitchell), I noticed fighter jets screeching across the open sky. They were too far to identify, but appeared to be either F18 or F22 jets. It was incredible to see their silhouette set against the snow capped mountain tops. Just minutes later I saw what looked to be a Drone with the circular attachment on top. A roadside sign noted a nearby Air Force Base, possibly explaining the military aircrafts. Back on the road, the traffic around me had changed from pedestrian vehicles to mostly eighteen wheelers. 

Once at the park, I had my first "what the what!?" as I noticed a long range of crimson red rock set against a rugged wide open landscape. Cheerfully paid the $10 toll and began to explore in my rented Jeep. Surrounded by astounding natural features, I was tempted to pull off everywhere. Although it was mid afternoon, the light was terrific as the blue sky perfectly complemented the rich mountain colors. This was enhanced even further with a twist of the circular polarizer. 

I was using two cameras, the Canon 6D, and the Olympus OMD EM10. Both had their benefits, but overall the user experience was more fun with the mirrorless camera. At each pull off I would get out of the car and explore beyond the gaggle of tourists.

Sometimes it would only take a few minutes to find a hidden little arch or a breathtaking vista. The adventure had just begun and I was already dumbfounded by the expansive beauty of the park. 

One of the longer hikes I took was the Rainbow Wave, where prickly cactuses poked out from the red sand, making an interesting foreground for the bold mountains. With the overwhelming amount of natural beauty it was challenging to make a simpler photo. I made a good number of images while testing a variety of compositions. The trail was named after the extremely colorful patterns on the rocks. One of the most exciting finds was a prominent band of color not typically found in nature. I got down very low to emphasize this. 

valley_of_fire_2
rainbow_wave
cactus

When working in a mountainous region, the precise time of the sunset can be deceiving. While the actual time it dips below the horizon may be 5:30pm, it can be blocked by mountains 30-45 minutes earlier than that. Knowing this, I set out for my sunset destination around 3pm.

valley_of_fire_state_park_3

It was called "The Fire Wave" and the trail head noted an easy 1.2 mile roundtrip hike. I had researched the location while still in New York and set off with a bounce in my step, excited to see it for myself. The trail was well marked, which is necessary considering how large this place is. In fact, the designation of a "State Park" is misleading, at least to me. Considering the sheer size and majesty of this area, it could easily qualify as a National Park. Anticipation built as I came around each breathtaking bend.

valley_of_fire_4

 The sand eventually made way for these impossibly long, massive rock formations, complete with deep ridges and colorful stripes. This signaled that my destination was near. Joy built with each step, and I pondered just how unbelievable this planet we live on is, and how important it is to travel, get out, have adventures and see as much of it as possible.

fire_wave_trail_2
fire_wave_trail

I waved to a few hikers who were resting nearby, climbed over one final boulder and saw first hand why this was called the Fire Wave. The sweeping curve of the rock is dramatic, further emphasized by these thick bands of contrasting color.

Fire_Wave

In the background stands an extensive series of mountains, all of which were being illuminated nicely by the sun, now lower in the sky. Again, the polarizing filter was essential here to really bring out the vivid colors of these natural features. I was shooting wide, basically between 17mm and 35mm, using both horizontal and vertical compositions. 

photographing_fire_wave
Fire_wave_vertical
Fire_wave_polarizer
Fire_wave_with_mountains

With the shots I had hoped for in the camera, I decided to hike a bit further to find another spot for the actual sunset. This turned out to be a good decision as many more impressive photos were found nearby. Once again, I found the most dynamic compositions from the ground. Laying there on the warm rock, I was felt a connection to this amazing location. 

fire_wave_trail_4
sunset_valley_of_fire

Along the way, I came across one last mountain vista, and used a graduated ND filter to balance the bright sky with the dark foreground. With that, my final Las Vegas photo adventure was done. I hiked back to the Jeep and carefully drove the long, winding and dark roads out of the park. There in the distance, I could see the blinking lights of the strip, and I followed this all the way back to my hotel for a well deserved dinner, and restful night of sleep. 

valley_of_fire_sunset