Breaking in a new kind of whet stone…

I can hardly believe that it’s already the first day in February!  Tomorrow, the Groundhog comes out and we’ll see just how much longer we’re going to have winter – at least according to folklore.  I’m betting we’re going to have more winter, partially because a big storm is coming into the Carson Valley tonight!  Speaking of folklore, many of you have spent the last month trying to sustain the new year’s resolutions you made.  I didn’t make any, nor did I set any specific goals for my photography.  As I’ve continued my photographic journey, I’ve found that my best goal is to look for and be ready to pursue knowledge as I find new things.

In my last post, I announced that I was taking a winter photography course.  The snow was deep and our outdoor shooting time was shorter than expected.  The instructor was excellent – we shifted the program indoors to study light and shadow and photo processing techniques, which brings me to the ‘new kind of whet stone.’  Us old Boy Scouts remember that a whet stone is used to sharpen knives and axes.  In the digital photography world, we use software as a ‘whet stone’ to sharpen our images.  During the workshop, we spent quite a bit of time on sharpening.  The most important thing I learned was that I’ve been doing it all wrong, and badly to boot.  I now have a specific goal – become proficient in using software to sharpen my images!

In the book Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom, authors Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe begin the discussion on sharpening with, “…one of the ways our brains try to make sense of the world as seen through our eyes is by breaking down the scene into edges (objects) and non-edges (surfaces). If the edges in an image appear too sharp or not sharp enough, our brains tell us that there’s something wrong, and in the case of a photograph, the image appears unconvincing.”  Bruce and Jeff tell us that, “Sharpening works by increasing the contrast around edges.”  (Contrast is the difference between light and dark tonal values.)  And so begins my journey into the wide world of sharpening!  Since I’m just beginning my venture into sharpening, I don’t have anything to show you.  I will soon – I promise.

What have I been doing besides reading about sharpening?  Let’s look at some pictures!

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From the winter photography workshop – this is the view across the road from Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley CA. As I said, the snow was deep. Sorensen’s got a foot of new snow the night before the workshop and several inches while we were there. They were expecting another three feet that night!

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Same picture, just a little bit different editing technique. Could be a nice Christmas card!

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I ventured into Diamond Valley looking for Eagles and found this tree covered in Pogonip (heavy frost). I made this image before the frost melted away.

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A recent storm dropped several inches of snow at my house. This is a Spruce tree in my backyard…

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…one of the Austrian Pines…

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…and one of the clumped Crab Apple trees in my backyard. The apples help feed the little birds all winter long.

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I found this Rough Legged Hawk near Genoa last week. As I was shooting, the Magpie flew into the shot.  How lucky for me!

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A couple days later, I found the Rough Legged Hawk again – this time on a fence post. He launched…

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…soared gracefully, close to the snow-covered ground…

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…and pounced on his noon meal!

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The Kestrels have been out in force. I came on this little fella’ just south of David Walley’s Hot Springs on Foothill Road…

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…and his friend north of Genoa. They always give me a good look before they take off!

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This Cooper’s Hawk was sitting on the snow pile when I first saw him. He launched as I was taking pictures.

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I added a new tool to my toolbox – a 2X teleconverter! My big lens now has a maximum focal length of 1200 mm! While this is wonderful, the longer focal length comes with a new set of challenges. Using a tripod is a must. Autofocus only works in Live View (not a bad thing on tripod anyway). The longer focal length exacerbates any movement or imperfections in focusing, and depth of field is very shallow at any aperture setting. It’s a tool, however, and only a matter of learning how to use it! This is the first image at 1200 mm. Not bad!

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This is my second attempt with the teleconverter. This Eagle was 173 yards away (I bought a rangefinder) and the background looks like heat waves, although it was near freezing when I made the image. A little soft, but he looks good nonetheless.

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The Eagles have been in town. I seemed to find this one hanging out at the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park rather frequently.

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I think he’s in his final year of being a juvenile, based on the coloring in his head feathers.

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His ‘pensive’ pose…

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This is a different Bald Eagle (note the lack of dark feathers in his head), using his ‘regal’ pose!

One of the fun things for me was having one subject in the same spot on different days and different lighting conditions, then playing with the processing for a different interpretation of each image.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my images, and I promise to be sharper in the future!

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

Shooting in snow! What a fun challenge!

Our collective attention has focused on the weather for the last week or so, as seemingly the entire nation has been under siege by cold and snow.  (One of my good friends ran off to Australia to escape.  Travel safe, Butch!)

Taking pictures in snow is very challenging.  I’m taking a winter/snow photography class next week so I’ll learn the mistakes I made in shooting for the last couple days, but I’ve had a great time this week and I look forward to learning something next week!

I’ve been out in the Carson Valley the last couple days.  The snow was falling both days – very evident in many of the images.  One of the challenges of shooting snow is preventing the snow from blowing out (or overexposing), making great white spots in the images with no recoverable detail.  One means of preventing this, I’ve read, is to overexpose the image by one stop.  (This is primarily done to maintain white balance in snow pictures.  Since I shoot exclusively in RAW format and assign white balance in the computer, this is not a factor for me.)  I tried this technique and feel that I had great success.

Let’s get to the pictures!

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You’ve seen these horses before – they were in a landscape I did last year. The two on the left were standing in the snow, and the horse on the right came over the culvert to join them. I couldn’t have placed them in better position.

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The irrigation ditches are running strong with all the moisture we’ve had. I was drawn by this meandering ditch with the yellow vegetation covered in snow. I thought about processing this in black and white but I loved how the yellow showed through, so I left it alone.

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This is a bigger irrigation ditch with more vegetation. I didn’t need to desaturate (remove the color to make it black, white, and various shades of grey) the colors…nature did it for me!

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I processed this scene using Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex to enhance the contrast, give the image a bluish tone, and add a nice vignette and border. I loved the dark tree in the foreground with the smaller tree up the hillside in the background!

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I had a lot of fun with this image. This is the Genoa Bar in Genoa, Nevada. It is the oldest bar in Nevada. I had made three images when a guy drive his car into the foreground and parked. Darn it! For this version, I processed the RAW image and went into Photoshop. I created a duplicate layer and desaturated the first (or background) layer, then applied a Gaussian blur to the duplicate color layer. I overlaid the blurred layer on the black and white layer and blended them. I then adjusted shadows and highlights and applied a vignette to make this image. It’s a technique called ‘Dreamscape’ that I learned in a weekly photo challenge a couple years ago. It’s a fun effect and works well for this image.

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Dreamscape is not for everyone, however.  A couple of my friends didn’t like the above image, so I processed this image without the Dreamscape effect. Like most art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or something like that).

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After the interloper disrupted my Genoa Bar shoot, I rolled forward a few feet and began shooting the structures next door. This antique store, with its wagon and covered porch, made a great composition. I worked to bring out the colors in the buildings and the wagon to offset the snow covered trees and foreground. If only I’d had some people in period costume or maybe a horse or two…oh well!

There’s a few of my snowy images from this week.  I hope you enjoyed them.  I look forward to learning how to take pictures in the snow next week, and sharing the results with you!  Everyone stay warm, drive safe, and enjoy!  PHOTOROGR

“Don’t start breaking the rules…

…until you know and understand them.”  This is the final tip in an article called ’50 Tips from 50 Years Behind the Camera’ by Allen Weitz (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/50-tips-50-years-behind-camera?BI=4906).

My lovely bride found the article and sent it to me (it’s so nice to have a partner who supports your habits).  The other 49 tips are also good but this one resonated with me for some reason, especially as we begin a new year.  I began my journey in creative photography a few years ago with the stated intent to learn how to take better pictures.  Every now and then I catch myself challenging those few rules that I know, mostly as I investigate more creative techniques and photographs.  These tips help me be a little grounded, though, because I don’t know all the rules – YET!  I’ll just have to continue working on it!  Stay tuned to watch me challenge the rules…as I learn them.

The winter months can be challenging for photographers.  Here in the Carson Valley, when the weather gets cold we break out the really big lenses and go looking for the Raptors and other predatory animals that migrate into the area during this time.  We’ve seen a few Bald and Golden Eagles in the area, but the Hawks and Coyotes are the most evident, at least for me.  Here’s a few for your enjoyment!

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I saw this three-legged Coyote near the California line a few days ago. He wasn’t interested in me taking his picture!

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I found this female Northern Harrier on Mottsville Lane last week.

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Several friends like the previous picture, but I’m kind of partial to this one. She appears to be thinking about something, but she’s actually cleaning herself. This is my favorite composition for a Raptor picture – eye level, wide aperture giving great detail on the subject with a pleasing out of focus background.

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I found the Red Tailed Hawk south of Genoa. I think he was checking his position relative to the camera to ensure I got his good side.

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American Kestrels are the smallest and most common of the Falcons, but they are extremely camera shy. I snuck up on this guy while he was enjoying lunch!

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But I obviously over stayed my welcome.

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I first saw this Kestrel on a utility wire, but he quickly flew to the backslope across the road. I was very excited to get a Kestrel with a background other than a blown out sky.

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Of course, he took exception to me taking pictures of him and flew off to another utility line.

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

Night Skies – Before and After…

In my last post, I shared pictures from my recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, for a Night Skies Photography Workshop.  When one drives over 700 miles (one way) for something like this, one often plans little side trips to make the trip more worthwhile.  This post is about the drive down and back.  I hope you enjoy my trip as much as I did!

I left home on a nice Sunday morning and drove to Boulder City, Nevada.  My goal was to get past Las Vegas and avoid the traffic on Monday morning.  I got up early on Monday and drove south on US 95 to an ‘oasis in the desert’ named Nelson, Nevada.  Situated about 21 miles from Boulder City (10 miles on US 95 and another 11 miles on SR 165) in the Eldorado Canyon, Nelson (http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/nv/nelson.html) is the home of the notorious Techatticup Mine, where millions of dollars in gold, silver, copper and lead were mined from about 1858 until 1945.  The town is now host to cactus, snakes, tourists, and photographers wanting to see life in those times.

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A couple of the buildings and vehicles.

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The water tower…not sure if it’s still functional.

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This water truck under the water tower is definitely not functional, but the controlled decay makes for a fun picture.

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Another of the wonderful photographic subjects around the town.

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Colors and textures abound…with some very fun antiques.

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This is not a very impressive subject – I would never try to sell this image. The process for making the image is worth discussing, however. Getting a single exposure that shows the shaded subjects inside the structure while viewing the sunlit mountains through the window is impossible. This image becomes possible by using a tripod to hold the camera in position and then making multiple images at different exposures, then combining the images in a high dynamic range (HDR) software. I recently saw a new technique that does not require HDR software. Using the underexposed image (for the mountains in the window), I made a copy of the mountains in the window and overlaid it onto the normal exposed image (covering the overexposed mountains) to create this image. Well, I did a little creative editing after the merge.  A fun technique and worth the time to explore!

After spending some time taking pictures in Nelson, I continued south on US 95 to Laughlin, Nevada, where I made a quick stop at the Big Bend of the Colorado River State Park and stamped my Nevada State Parks Passport.  Big Bend is at the southern tip of Nevada and I don’t expect to get back there anytime soon.  From there, I headed for Grand Canyon National Park.  I drove on I-40 to Williams, Arizona, and headed north on AZ Highway 64 to Mather Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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A Grand Canyon panorama…

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Another Grand Canyon panorama…note the tourists on the lookout on the left…

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This is not a panorama, it is a single image cropped to near panorama proportions. I’ve talked about the ongoing ‘to pano or not to pano’ question before. Still a pretty shot!

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I couldn’t resist including my ‘selfie’ from the Grand Canyon. It’s my new profile picture on Facebook, so many of you have seen it before. One of my friends told me it’s not a real selfie, but I disagree.

As I headed south from the Grand Canyon, I saw a band of Pronghorn Antelope hanging out by the side of the road.  I pulled over and snapped a few pictures.

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I processed this image in warm tones just for fun!

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I’m very familiar with Pronghorn, as they are very prolific in my home state of Wyoming. I was excited that these animals were so unconcerned about my presence. The Pronghorn back home don’t tolerate people and most of my images from home are Pronghorn butt as they run away.

I arrived in Sedona in the dark of late evening, so I didn’t see the landscape until the next morning.

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I grabbed this picture with my cell phone on my way to breakfast. As you saw in my last blog, this doesn’t do Sedona justice in any way!

Since the Night Skies Workshop didn’t start until Tuesday afternoon, I made a quick trip to Clarkdale, Arizona, to visit the Tuzigoot National Monument.  Tuzigoot is an Anasazi ruin, and was definitely worth the trip.

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From the ruins near the top, I made this panorama. I wish I had increased the height of the tripod to minimize the wall in the foreground.

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I liked how the ruins in the foreground followed the lines of the mountains in the background. This image was taken in the morning with the wall in shadow. I might have had better light in the afternoon, but then I would have lost the helpful impact from the shadows.

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This is the Visitor’s Center. It’s a beautiful structure and fits the environment well.

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This is the view from the very top of the ruins, looking to the southeast and down the mountain. Can you imagine living in this community, climbing ladders to reach your living space?

When the workshop was over mid-morning on Wednesday, I began my trip home.  I had been fighting a cold or some type of crud from the time I left home, so my goal of getting to Las Vegas was fairly modest – only 250 miles or so.  When I crossed the Tillman-O’Callahan Bridge into Nevada, I was feeling a little better and decided to drive up the west side of Lake Mead.  I stopped in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area Visitor Center, stamped my National Parks Passport, and headed north towards Overton, Nevada.  I made a couple stops on the way to take some pictures, but the water level in Lake Mead is so low that I didn’t get near the water.

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You can see the ‘bathtub ring’ in this panorama of Lake Mead. I saw a few wild horses in the desert, but did not see any Desert Bighorns (darn it all).

When I exited Lake Mead’s north entrance, I came on the Valley of Fire State Park East Entrance.  The sun was going down, but I paid my entry fee, stamped my State Parks Passport, and ventured into the Park.  The light was fading and my sinuses were regretting my decision to make this side trip, but I found some pretty rocks and stopped for a couple sets of pictures.

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The setting sun was behind me as I shot this panorama. I love the sky behind these rocks.

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I cranked the tripod head 180 degrees and shot into the sunset. Yes, it’s a very over-processed image, and I won’t get into the details of what I did. Pretty sunset, and not a bad foreground.

I got a good night’s rest that night, and made it home safe and sound.  The trip was fast (5 days) and I put about 1,800 miles on my Expedition.  I picked up 3 stamps in my National Parks Passport, 2 stamps in my State Parks Passport and, of course, lots of images of Nevada and Arizona.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been in the field a couple times checking out the local Raptor scene.  The Bald Eagles are starting to return to the area.  I leave you with this image from Diamond Valley, south of the Carson Valley just over the California line, from a couple days ago.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Merry Christmas!

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

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The Wonder of Night Skies…

In the many photography magazines and websites that I read, I see all manner of advertisements for photography tours around the United States and the world.  The tours range from a few hours for a seminar to a few weeks shooting with big names in the photography world, and can cost thousands of dollars.  The more expensive tours include all lodging, meals, and transportation around the chosen venue.  A couple months ago, I saw an ad for a night skies photography workshop with a couple locations within driving distance and at a very affordable price.  The tours were offered by National Park Trips Media (visit their website at nationalparktrips.com) teamed up with Tamron USA (http://www.tamron-usa.com).  I selected the tour in Sedona, Arizona.

Sedona is a community of around 11,000 people located in north central Arizona, about an hour’s drive south of Flagstaff.  (Visit http://www.sedonamonthly.com to learn more about Sedona.)  I arrived in the darkness of early evening and my Garmin took me on quite a tour before finding the hotel, the Andante Inn of Sedona (http://www.andanteinn.com).

The workshop started at 2 p.m., with a couple hours in the classroom.  Tamron’s award-winning photographers – Ken Hubbard, Andre Costantini, and Marc Morris – provided a review (for me, anyway) of the photography triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) and shooting in low light conditions.  After, we loaded up the equipment truck and the van and headed to the Crescent Moon Ranch to photograph Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek in the foreground.

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Cathedral Rock reflected in Oak Creek

Our group joined a pair of photographers who were after the same view on a small patch of dirt along the creek.  The pair of photographers were a bit overwhelmed by 16 people invading their shoot with tripods and cameras, but they offered their spot to the highest bidder when they were done shooting!  I got my shots and looked around the Crescent Moon Ranch for a different view and other subjects.

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Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon Ranch

As the sun went down and the light faded, we loaded back up and headed to Bell Rock Park off SR 179.  This is where the shoot got very interesting.  I’m used to shooting in ambient light and being able to look through the viewfinder on my camera or use Live View to set the exposure and compose the shot.  In the light of the half moon, we were literally shooting in the dark.  I set my ISO at 3200, a relatively high setting, my aperture wide open, and shutter speed at 30 seconds.  Hoping for the best, I manually set the focus at infinity and pushed the shutter release.  When the shutter closed, I was able to see the image for the first time and it wasn’t bad.  I made a few adjustments in the camera position and resumed shooting.  Over the next several hours, I made around 130 images.

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This is a rock formation in Bell Rock Park.

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Bell Rock is on the left. The bright light at the bottom of the saddle is from Sedona.

The Tamron guys helped us experiment with a technique called ‘light painting.’  During long exposures, we used flashlights to illuminate trees to bring out some of the detail and add a new element to the image.  Light painting is definitely an art, as controlling the light on the subject is critical.  It’s very easy to put too much light on the subject and ruin the shot.  The image below took several tries – still not perfect but acceptable.

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Light painted tree in the foreground.

Long time followers of my blog know that I love a good panorama, and I had to try for a panorama in the dark.  From the position of the light on the rock formations, you can see that this panorama is actually about a quarter of a circle – not just flat.

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The instructors used the star apps on their smartphones to get us in position to shoot Orion over the rock formation on the right side of this image. If only someone had a star app for my Windows phone (big sigh).

One of the members of the tour got separated in the dark and ended up a mile away from the group.  After an hour of searching, we got word that he had called 911 and local law enforcement had picked him up.  We got back to the hotel around 1 a.m. and got a few hours sleep before heading out the to local airport for an early morning shoot.

The morning was overcast, but we waited for a couple hours and finally got rewarded by good light.  Here’s a couple panoramas from the early morning shoot!

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The sky was overcast, but not very sexy.

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A little different position and shot.

After the morning shoot, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and some instruction on Lightroom software to process the night’s work.  The workshop was a fast 20 hours of exploration into a new photography technique.  I learned a lot and look forward to continued exploration into night photography.  I see that National Park Trips Media has a night skies workshop in Yosemite next August.  Hmmmm – might have to register for that one!

Thanks for being a part of my journey.  Until next time – enjoy!

PHOTOROGR

Behind the Scenes look at ‘A View From the Office’…

I don’t know when I started the ‘view from the office’ series on Facebook, but I do remember why!  I was trying to poke a little fun at my many friends who are still working, sitting at a desk or on a job site or somewhere every day.  More bluntly, I was rubbing their noses in it!!  I hope no one takes offense at this revelation – it’s all in good-natured fun and I love sharing my passion for photography with you.

One of my rules for the ‘view’ is that all the pictures and videos are taken with my mobile phone camera.  They are frequently taken from the same vantage point as pictures with my DSLR cameras, but not always.  I post them on Facebook at the earliest opportunity, since I am often in places with limited or no signal.

I must confess that I took a long time before embracing the multi-media device we all carry to do anything but transmit and receive voice communication.  I thought a mobile phone was for making phone calls and nothing else.  I started looking at mobile phones differently when I carried a PDA (don’t ask me what it stands for, something like personal assistant) in one of my last professional positions many, many years ago.  When I finally bought a smart phone and I worked my way through apps and having my email at my fingertips, I still resisted using the camera.  Then I began using the camera, but I avoided video.  Last February, I finally touched the little movie icon on the camera screen and recorded the snow falling in my back yard through my breakfast nook window.  Since then, I’ve been making lots of short videos with my mobile phone.  The next step is to engage the video function on my ‘big boy’ camera, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s get back to mobile phones.

The December 2016 issue of Shutterbug magazine has several articles on photokina 2016, the biannual event showcasing the future of imaging technology.  The future is apparently perplexing -Editor Dan Havlik says as much in the issue’s Editor’s Notes.  In addition to interesting developments by major photo equipment companies, Havlik laments that there were “…tons of – too many, actually – new Virtual Reality (VR) products at photokina…”  A friend of mine received a VR device for his birthday recently, and he tells me his mobile phone provides the operating system to bring the VR media to the device.  That’s a long way from making phone calls.

An article by Seth Shostak tells us what a camera of the future might look like, and how we might use and view the images it will make.

Joe Farace writes articles for Shutterbug’s ‘Geared Up’ column, which provides a discussion of new photo equipment.  In an article titled ‘9 Trends That Will Change Photography Next Year,’ Joe gives his take on photokina and the future.  Joe writes that cellphone photography is adversely impacting the point-and-shoot camera market, and that “…thanks to the smartphone boom the worldwide population of photographers has grown by a factor of eight over the past 10 years.”  He continues, “…while smartphones represent the primary camera for a growing number of people…the opportunity for users to step up to a digital camera grows with every new photographer this trend produces.”

I hope I haven’t lost any of you by now – I have a point – really!  I began taking pictures as a boy using the point-and-shoot technology of the time, my trusty Kodak 110 camera.  I graduated up to a single lens reflex (SLR) camera just before our first son was born and carried that camera for decades.  Almost 8 years ago, I bought an entry level digital SLR (DSLR) and have upgraded twice.  The mobile phone is a much more advanced version of the point-and-shoot film cameras that my generation grew up with (it makes phone calls and connects to the internet, too).

For now, we have to be content with the tools we have and put them to their best use.  For me, my mobile phone allows me to have the advantages of point-and-shoot technology.  Further, it allows me to quickly and easily share with my friends and rub my retirement fun in their noses!  Mostly, it allows me to quickly and easily share – that’s my story!  Whatever your equipment or skill set, I encourage you to take pictures and share them, but mostly have fun.

Here’s a few examples of a view from the office compared with the image from the big camera.

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I posted this image from Mormon Station State Park on November 29, 2016. I put my mobile phone on top of my DSLR camera for this picture.

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This is the same shot from the DSLR and enhanced on the computer.

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The Carson River on November 1, 2016.

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From the big camera – love the sky much better!

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Remember this image from October 27, 2016. The south shore of Lake Tahoe on a stormy day.

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From the big boy camera and enhanced on the computer. Much better composition and drama.

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There are some images that are fun to make, but are not deserving of getting out the big camera. This is the Welcome sign in Vernal UT. Mobile phone all the way.

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Rocky Mountain National Park with the mobile phone, August 16, 2016.

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Same view with the big camera. I shot multiple images and stitched this panorama.

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Eden Vale Pond, October 3, 2016. One of the fun things about shooting with the mobile phone is that I can include the big camera in the image.

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Same pond, big camera.

While this was not a ‘view from the office’ post, I include it because of the comparison between my mobile phone camera and my DSLR.

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I haven’t mastered the art of the mobile phone selfie, hence I make very few and show even fewer.

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I vastly prefer the DSLR selfie – I can make a good one that I’m willing to share. Thanks to my lovely bride for being seen with me in public!

That’s the behind the scenes look at ‘A View from the Office.’  I hope you’ve enjoyed the view on Facebook and now see the difference between the view and the final image.

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR