Tag Archives: Photo Tips

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This article was specifically written as a comprehensive guide for photographers visiting the Bisti Badlands to help them make that trip as productive and safe as possible.  If you are more interested in general information about Bisti, then please check out my earlier article which is intended for visitors who aren’t totally focused on photography. 

Note:  The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a huge area (45,000 acres) Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers  Bisti is the western section and De-Na-Zin is to the east but most maps (and signs) will just say ‘Bisti/De-Na-Zin…which can be a bit confusing. This blog only covers the popular western section (Bisti) which is about 36 miles south of Farmington, N.M. and includes locations like the ‘Alien Egg Nursery’ (aka “Cracked Eggs”),  the ‘Stone Wings,’ the ‘Conversing Hoodoos’ and others   This blog will not review the De-Na-Zin area which borders CR 7500 (this area includes the ‘Valley of Dreams’, ‘Alien Throne’ and the ‘King of Wings.’ )

 

Tip 1:  Get a GPS App:

There are no trails in Bisti, no boardwalks, no rangers, no consistent cell service.  Lots of folks don’t plan ahead and end up walking around for hours, getting lost and not seeing much. 

If you have your own GPS unit or you’re one of the old breed who knows about topographical maps and compasses, then you can get topo maps here and you will find GPS coordinates later in this article.   

But for most folks the best thing to do is buy a good GPS app for your smartphone.  Some of these apps are really excellent and with a bit of practice, you should be able to find your way around Bisti well.  Personally, I’d recommend the All Trails Pro ($29.99/yr) app.  Another highly regarded product is the Gaia App ($20)

  •  These apps do not need a cell signal to work…which is critical since cell service is poor in Bisti.  They work work right off of GPS satellites.
  • All Trails Pro includes ‘tracks’ by other people who have previously made this hike and it includes their photos.  For example, you can pull up a hike I did in Oct 2018 and see exactly where the photo locations are that I found.  When hiking with this app, it can indicate your location within ten feet or so (which makes it pretty darn hard to get lost).  Think of it as a ‘virtual guide.’  $30 might be a lot for an app, but its cheaper than buying  stand-alone GPS unit…plus if you are coming all the way to Bisti to photograph, $30 seems to be a small price to ensure that you make the most of the experience (BTW: I don’t get a kickback from All Trails…or any of the items I recommend in this blog). 
  • Don’t buy one of these apps and use it for the first time when you visit Bisti.  There is a learning curve involved when using these apps.  You really need to try them out first near home and be comfortable using them before hiking out into the desert at Bisti.  
  • Buy a portable backup battery for your smartphone.  GPS apps will drain your battery and if your phone is the only way of finding your way back to the car, you don’t want to run out of juice.  I bought one of these backups a few years ago.  It’s lightweight and will recharge my phone multiple times but I’m sure you can find better/cheaper ones out there now.

Tip 2:  Stay in Farmington:

You can camp in Bisti (at no cost) but you will have to drive back to Farmington (about 40 minutes) to find bathrooms, food or water.  So unless you have an RV or have experience in Wilderness Camping,  getting a room in Farmington will be your best bet.   FYI…there are plans to build a pit toilet at the main Bisti Parking lot, but work has not started as of this date (Nov 2018) 

Tip 3: Visit in the Fall or Spring: 

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is open year round 24/7/365.  Good images can be made any month of the year.  However, some months are definitely more hospitable than others.

  • Many consider September and October to be the prime months to visit.  Temperatures range between 49°-76° and you can stay out from sunrise to sunset with no problems.   
  • April/May are also very good but since this is the is windy season, you have to be careful of the fine dust/sand that can be blown about.  
  • Summers often have some great clouds because of the Monsoons, but the heat can be absolutely brutal:  Bisti is in the desert and there is no water and little shade.  Other than early mornings, it can be challenging to be out for more than a few hours even if you have experience hiking in high temperatures.   Night photography can still be a good option during these months (the Milky Way core is out and the full arch is visible).  
  • Bisti does get snow in the winter and it can used to great advantage in your photography if you can handle the chilly temperatures  (Bisti is at 6500 feet, so it really does get cold here).
Monthly Averages & Records –  °F 
Date Average
Low
Average
High
Record
Low
Record
High
Average
Precipitation
Average
Snow
January 19° 38° -21° (1963) 63° (1986) 0.64″ 6.3″
February 23° 45° -10° (1989) 68° (1976) 0.43″ 5.9″
March 28° 53° 3° (1966) 80° (2004) 0.68″ 5″
April 34° 62° 10° (1980) 86° (1981) 0.56″ 1.2″
May 42° 71° 19° (1967) 92° (2002) 0.65″ 0.5″
June 52° 82° 26° (1974) 99° (2007) 0.57″ 0″
July 57° 86° 45° (1995) 100° (2007) 1.46″ 0″
August 55° 83° 35° (2000) 94° (1996) 1.84″ 0″
September 49° 76° 25° (1971) 90° (2004) 1.04″ 0″
October 39° 64° 14° (1993) 81° (1963) 1.04″ 1″
November 27° 49° -6° (1976) 76° (1977) 0.79″ 3.1″
December 21° 40° -12° (1990) 63° (1999) 0.53″ 7″

Tip 4:  Think about your Safety:

A Personal Locator Beacon

When you hike in Bisti, you will often not see another soul all day.  Plus cell service is not good.  Occasionally you might get a signal when you climb a bluff but you can’t count on it.  If you get seriously lost or have a medical emergency, help could be a long time coming…if it comes at all

Hiking with a friend is a good idea. 

Another option is to have a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).  PLBs are smaller than a cell phone and weigh about the same as a couple granola bars.  They accurately relay your position to a worldwide network of search and rescue satellites in case of emergency.  My PLB set me back about $280 from Amazon, which isn’t cheap unless you consider the alternative. Plus it made my wife happy…and that is truly priceless.  

There aren’t many big critters here, so you don’t need bear spray.  There are rattlesnakes, so don’t go sticking your hand into dark holes, but short of stupidity of that magnitude, you don’t have to worry much about wildlife.

It is the desert.  Lots of sunshine, 12 months of the year.  Wear a hat and sunscreen and carry plenty of water.

Tip 5:  Rain makes Bisti a mess:

You wouldn’t think it rains here in the desert, but it does.  And even a little sprinkle of rain will turn the surface into a heavy, boot-sticking goo that makes hiking miserable (I learned this the hard way).  If rain is in the forecast, it might be a good day to check out other photo ops in the area (like Shiprock.

How do you to get to Bisti?

Nearly every photographer going to Bisti wants to go to the ‘Eggs’.  Whether you call them ‘Cracked Eggs,’ Alien Eggs,’ ”the Alien Egg Nursery’  or ‘the Egg Hatchery’ it is the certainly the most famous and desirable photo location in Bisti, so that’s where we will start:Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

  • To download a PDF of this map, click on Bisti Hiking photo map merged final.
    • From Farmington, take SR 371 south about 36 miles, turn left onto Country Road CR 7297.  It is between Mile Marker 71 and 70 (closer to 70).  CR 7297 is a well maintained gravel road (as of Oct 2018).  You don’t need FWD or high-ground clearance.  CR 7297 will dead-end into CR 7290 in about 2 miles.  Turn left on 7290 and go about a mile until you see the large ‘Bisti’ Sign on your right. 
      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      Sign at Parking Lot: #1 on the map

      This is the main parking lot for Bisti.  It is probably the location that will pop up if you search for ‘Bisti Parking’ on Google Maps, Waze or most other apps.  There are a lot of different names for this parking lot, but let’s call it the Main Bisti Parking Area at Alamo Wash (South). Bisti is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and there is no fee to park or hike.   Lock up your car and hide your valuables then walk 100 yards to the cattle guard gate to your east that allows you through the barbed wire.

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      Cattle Guard: #2 on map

      From here you will see two low red hills nearly directly east.  Walk to them. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      The two ‘Red Hills’: #3 on map

      When you pass them, look further to the east for two distinctive black topped hills and head toward them. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

      The two Black Top Hills: #4 on map

       When you reach them, hike around the left (north) side of the two hills.  You should see black topped white cliffs in the distance to the east.  The “Alien Egg Hatchery” is right up against that white colored bluff/cliff that is part of the elevated ridge-line south of you that runs east/west.  The actual area is about half the size of a football field.  The “eggs” are about 3 to 4 feet long but can be hard to spot until you are nearly on top of them (I wandered around for 30 minutes the first time).   Use your smartphone app and it will take you right to them.  From the parking lot, it should take you about 35-45 minutes to reach the eggs (assuming you don’t stop or take any detours on the way). 

    • After checking out the eggs, there are a lot of other spots you can explore and photograph.  Below I’ll review a number of the most popular locations and provide photographic tips

Photo Tips for Bisti’s Top Attractions

South Bisti:

The Alien Egg Nursery (Cracked Eggs): #5 on maps

  • The Eggs look best right after sunrise or shortly before sunset when low angle direct sunlight emphasizes the shadows and textures on the eggs.  Of the two, sunset is often better because the bluff to the east of the Nursery blocks sunrise light until it is a bit higher in the sky. 
    • This is one of the few places (other than the parking lot) that you are likely to see other people.  You will often have other photographers keeping you company at sunset (but rarely any other time of day).
    • Get there early so you can scout out the eggs.  Some of them are much cooler than others.  Remember, the good light doesn’t last long and you don’t want to be stumbling about frantically trying to figure out where to shoot as the sun goes down…plan ahead and use that time productively.
  • Don’t only shoot from eye-level, try getting lower to the ground for a different and more intimate perspective.   Try to pick out a particularly nice ‘egg’ and get close so it fills up your foreground.
  • Night photography here is awesome with very little light pollution.  You can shoot the Milky Way to the south or flip around and shoot northward to capture star trails including the north star.
  • If you only have one day and you can’t be here at sunrise/sunset, then you should know that  the eggs just don’t photograph well during the middle of the day.  If that’s your only option then do yourself a favor and don’t spend too much time here, instead hit some other nearby locations that look great in direct light.  Most of them are only a 30 minute hike away and are detailed below in the section called ‘North Bisti’).
    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery

    Sunset at the Alien Egg Nursery. Check out the organic patterns on the surface of this egg.

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery

    If the sky is clear on the horizon, you will be blessed with this dramatic low-angle warm sunlight.

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery

    A subtle amount of Low Level Lighting on the foreground and across the desert floor in the background can make Milky Way Shots truly something out of this world.

The Bisti Arch: #6 on maps

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The Bisti Arch. If my three year old granddaughter was in this shot she would look like Godzilla looming over Tokyo!

  • This spot is less than a 10 minute walk from the eggs and based on the number of references to it on the internet, it seems to be popular but I can’t for the life of me tell you why.
  • First off, it is really small…the ‘window’ is less than two feet tall.  Not exactly what you would see at Arches National Park!
  • If you set up your tripod very low to the ground, you can make it look larger (see photo) but even so, the results aren’t dramatic.  I’m sure someone, someday will take a great shot of the Bisti Arch, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be me.

Petrified Wood Logs: # 7 on maps

There is petrified wood all over Bisti, but the largest concentration might be just east of the eggs.  Some of these are full logs, many over 30′ in length.  I ran across 5 or 6 of them within 30 minutes.  I’ll admit that I’m fascinated by petrified wood but even if you don’t share my interest, this area is worth a look. 

From the ‘eggs’, walk east along the bluff/wall that overlooks the eggs.  There are a number of little alcoves, each with some photographic gems and oddities, like this hoodoo shown below with a chuck of petrified wood perched on top:

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

I’ve seen a lot of hoodoos in my time, but this was a first!

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This log weaves in and out of the cliffside…

The first log is east of the Nursery around two small outcrops of light colored rock projecting out from the bluff that borders the badlands to the south of you.  It’s a long, nearly black log that rests on a 5′ tall white rock pedestal. It’s pretty neat but I have always found it difficult to capture its appeal in a photograph.

Just behind the bluff behind this log is a large flat area surrounded by walls.  Just continue walking east about 500 feet and look for an opening through the wall to your right.  Once you get into this area, you will find a number of huge logs .   

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Check out the root ball on this petrified cypress tree. Bisti is one of the few places where you will be able to make an image that has BOTH a hoodoo and a petrified log!

 

Hoodoo City:  #8 on map

This is a dense concentration of hoodoos close to #7.  They are in a depressed ‘amphitheater-like’ setting.  It is best photographed after the sun rises over the surrounding walls..

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

“Welcome to Hoodoo City N.M.    Population Zero”

Rock Garden:  #9 on map

The Bisti Rock Garden is an area with lots of small rounded rocks that photograph well near sunrise/sunset when the low angle light accentuates long shadows  There are also some small (7′ tall or less) hoodoos a bit to the west but they are not particularly photogenic during the middle of the day.   

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The so-called ‘Elegant Hoodoo’ is about five minutes from the Rock Garden

Since there are much more photogenic places at Bisti for sunrises and sunsets, I never spend much time here.  Instead I start heading north where you will find the highest concentration of great photo ops.  Pull up your GPS app on your phone and follow it to the Beige Hoodoos. 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Bisti Rock Garden…

North Bisti

Beige Hoodoos:  #10 on map

As you hike out of the wide and flat Alamo Wash, your GPS will lead you through some increasingly narrow valleys as you hike in a northerly direction.  If you are heading here from the eggs, it will take you about 30 minutes or so.  The Beige Hoodoos cover a substantial area…think of one or football fields…packed with squat 6′ tall hoodoos jammed together.  Plan on spending some time here.  There are so many hoodoos that it can be overwhelming and you might have a tendency to take wide-angle shots in an effort to get them all in a single frame (like I did below).  However many of these hoodoos are fascinating by themselves so invest some effort into photographing them as individuals as well.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The Beige Hoodoos are a large and enjoyable area for you to explore.

Manta Ray Wing:  #11 on map

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This is the view of the Manta as you walk up to it from below…

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

…but from another perspective it looks totally different…

As you follow your GPS app and walk north and east from the Beige Hoodoos, the pathways become narrower and more constructed.  Take your time, watch your footing and you’ll be fine. 

The Manta Ray is one of the more attractive wings you will see while winding through the little dry creeks.  Stop every few minutes and check out the surrounding ridgelines so you don’t miss the photographic opportunities  that populate this area. 

The Manta can look dramatically different depending on what angle you photograph it from. 

Even though I thought I had examined it from every angle, I was wrong.  A photographer named Mike Jones captured this perspective that makes it look like a F117 fighter jet!

Vanilla Hoodoos:  #12 on map

As the name implies, these hoodoos are very light in color and look quite dramatic when photographed in front of a nice cerulean blue sky.  Not as large an area as the Beige Hoodoos, but perhaps even more photogenic. 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

The Vanilla Hoodoos are filled with fantastically shaped monuments that will fill quickly up your memory cards.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

I call this one the ‘Star Destroyer’…one of many the many delights awaiting you in the Vanilla Hoodoos.

There is also quite a bit of petrified wood in this area

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

A stump of petrified wood provides foreground for the Vanilla Hoodoos…

Stone Wings:  #13

As you are  hiking in from the south (from the Eggs or Beige Hoodoos), you will have to negotiate some uneven footing and narrow passages.  Again, just be careful and don’t rush.  Other than the Eggs, the Stone Wings are probably Bisti’s most famous photo op.   These large wings are perched on an easily accessible bluff and are truly magnificent…certainly among the most photogenic I’ve seen anywhere.  Wonderful at sunrise and sunset and easy to photograph from multiple angles and perspectives.  It is also an absolutely incredible location for night photography. 

Bisti Badlands: star trails Stone Wings night photography

If you position yourself south of the stone wings, you can shoot great star trails with the north star anchoring the image.

Bisti Badlands Milky Way Night Photography Stone Wings

If you walk up the bluff that the stone wings are perched on, you can shoot them with the Milky Way visible to the south.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Stone Wings

The warm, orange light of sunrise illuminates the Stone Wings in all their glory. The wing on the right reminds me of a Klingon Battle Cruiser but from other angles it looks like a seal. Either way it is likely to be one of the most uniquely sculpted and sensuous wings you will see anywhere.

Conversing Hoodoos:  #14

These tall, elegant Hoodoos are one of my favorite spots in Bisti…right up there with the ‘eggs’ and ‘stone wings.’  Unlike many hoodoos here, these suckers are tall…easily 15′ or so and they sit on the side of a bluff with a commanding view of the valley (Hunter Wash).  The best light here is during the morning because of a bluff behind them (to the west) that blocks sunlight in late afternoon, but good photos can be taken here all day.  Don’t be afraid to explore around them for better angles.  The shot below was taken hand-held while on my back wedged in a crevice trying to capture that elusive afternoon light.  Desperation can definitely inspire creativity!  FYI…some folks call these the “Talking Hoodoos” or the “Bonnet Hoodoos.”

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Tatooine? Altair IV? Vulcan? Nope…just another couple Hoodoos in Bisti!   I think the Conversing Hoodoos are particularly photographic and the surrounding vista and dramatic clouds are just icing on the cake.

There is a whole lot more to photograph in Bisti and I’m sure that there are wonderful locations that I’ve failed to include in this blog.  One great source to find other locations is the Bisti Facebook page.  Many of the members are locals who know the area far better than I and they post some amazing photos.  You can also check out this link to an interactive Google map that explores additional locations that may interest you.

Now that we’ve reviewed the photo locations, lets finish up by going over some final tips…

Tip 6:  Try Hunter Wash on your second day:

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Map

Bisti North (Hunter Wash) Trailhead directions

As you may have already noticed, most of the really good photogenic stuff here is not around the Eggs….it is in the northern section of Bisti.   If you are going to visit for more than one day then you should concentrate on the northern area on your second day.  If so, then the Bisti Parking Area at Hunter Wash (North) is where you want to go. 

To download a PDF of this map click on Map North Parking lot.

This trail has a couple of big advantages:

  1. It it closer to the northern part of Bisti and will save you over an hour (round trip) of hiking (assuming you are not going to go to the Eggs again). 
  2. If you want to photograph the Stone Wings, Conversing Hoodoos, Beige Hoodoos or Vanilla Hoodoos at sunset, sunrise or after dark, this is a safer route for hiking than from the main parking area.  This is because it will allow you to avoid most of the awkward and difficult trails you would have to use if you try to hike in from the southern part of Bisti (from the main parking lot/eggs area.)

As noted on my graphic, there are some watch-outs:

  1. This parking area is a bit harder to find but with the directions on this map you shouldn’t have any problems during daylight hours. 
  2. Nighttime is another story.  As you get close to the parking area it can be hard to even see the road …if not careful, you could make wrong turn or mistake a ‘path’ for a road and end up getting stuck in loose sand.  If you are going to park here in the dark, scout it out during daylight first.
  3. These roads are not maintained as regularly as those leading to the Main Parking Area at Alamo Wash (South). 
    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

    The cattle guard at the Hunter Wash trailhead. #15 on map above

    They are dirt, not gravel but a regular passenger car should have no problems (as of Oct 2018)

  4. This parking area can flood after rainfall.  Avoid parking here if rain is forecasted.

For details on how to hike to the ‘stone wings’ from the parking area check out a ‘track’ I recorded on All Trails for this hike, you can see it here.

Tip 7: Get out of the Gutter

Look for the white areas and then go check them out.

When hiking in Bisti, your natural tendency is to walk in the washes (flat valley areas).  Instead, occasionally climb up on the little hills and bluffs and scout around.  Although it is a bit more work, you will find that often some really interesting stuff is pretty close but you just couldn’t see it from down in the washes.   When you do get on top of a hill, look for white colored areas (as opposed to the regular darker coffee-colored landscape).  These lighter areas are usually the ones that have most photographic interest  (like hoodoos/wings).   

Tip 8: Don’t Believe in First Impressions

When you first walk up to a new hoodoo or wing, resist the temptation to just start taking photos.  Instead, walk completely around it.  Look at it from different angles and different elevations (low to the ground vs eye level).  Nearly always the best composition will NOT be the first one you see.  I have missed some great opportunities by not following my own advice here (like the Manta Ray I already mentioned).

Tip 9:  Walking on Sunshine

Stone Wings at Bisti Badlands Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Even at noon, you can capture wonderful images at Bisti.

Don’t shoot only at sunrise and sunset.  Certainly sunrises and sunsets at Bisti can be sublime but the landscape is so unique here that many locations photograph well during day.  Hoodoos and petrified wood, in particular, can be stunning, especially if you have a brilliant blue sky for contrast.  The only downside is that you won’t have anytime for sleep, especially if you hike out early for sunrise, shoot all day, capture the sunset and then stick around for some night photography….   But isn’t that a wonderful problem to have?

Tip 10:  Water is Good for more than Drinking

Spray some water on petrified wood before you photograph it.  The water can really make the color pop .

Tip 11:  Forget the Flip-Flops

Although the footing in most of Bisti is good, I’d recommend boots with good ankle support.  I stumbled a few times (especially when out in the dark)….you really don’t want to break an ankle here.

Tip 12:  Bring your Tripod and Polarizer

Even during bright sunshine,  I find that I often need my tripod because of the need to get a wide depth of field.  Obviously this requires smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds which make a tripod critical. 

A polarizer is great for intensifying the incredible blue skies.  

Tip 13:  Save weight on Lenses

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Monochrome Magic at Bisti: The Conversing Hoodoos

During daylight photography at Bisti, I use my 24mm-70mm zoom for over 80% of my shots (on a full frame camera).  You won’t have much need for a long lenses here.

You might want to bring a wide angle lens.  I used my 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8 when photographing the eggs so I could get a frame filling egg in the foreground and still show the landscape behind it.  This was my go-to lens for night photography as well,

If you are into micro photography, you might be interested in the lichens that grow on the petrified wood, if so, bring that micro lens.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Lichens live off of the minerals composing Bisti’s Petrified Wood

Tip 14:  Dust Control

The sand/dust in Bisti can be pretty pervasive.  Bring lots of Microfiber cloths and maybe a small can of compressed air.  Change lenses sparingly.  Also, bring a small towel to put down underneath your backpack when you take it off.  This will keep dust from sticking to your backpack and coating your gear inside.

One last tip:  Don’t forget about Black and White 

It is easy to get enamored with the incredibly blue skies and their contrast with the light-colored hoodoos and wings.  But that very contrast can make for dramatic black and white images, especially if you are blessed with some wicked clouds.  

But don’t despair if blue skies aren’t to be seen,  Overcast skies can really be used to great advantage in Black & White.  Actually, eliminating color can serve to draw attention to the bizarre shapes and textures that are unique to Bisti (see ‘Desert Dreadnaught’ below). 

“Desert Dreadnaught”

 

Wrapping up

If you do make it out to Bisti and you found this guide helpful, then I’d ask for a small favor in return.  Just pop me a brief email and tell me about one thing I left out…or got wrong.  I’d like to make this a living document that helps my fellow photographers in the future and I’d greatly appreciate your help!

Enjoy your time here: it is a landscape photographer’s wonderland.  But even more, I’m sure you will find Bisti a truly spiritual place that you will remember long after the photographs are forgotten.

Jeff

 

 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

 

Posted in Landscape Photography, Night Photography, Photo Tips and Guides, Southwest U.S.A. Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

A Photographer Commutes on Zion’s Subway: Photo Tips

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

This is pretty much straight out of the camera. I pulled the highlights down a bit, lightened the shadows and increased the vibrance a tad…that’s it!

If you are a photographer, then you know we live in challenging times.  The source of this concern is that there are a LOT of  talented and dedicated photographers out there and they are creating incredible images.  So why is that a problem?  Well, have you ever finally got to one of those locations on your ‘photographic bucket list’, set up your tripod, looked thru the viewfinder, and said to yourself….Crap, this doesn’t look at all like those pictures I’ve been looking at!

That’s the problem I’m talking about.

Heck, you get all excited, spend the money and time to travel to one of these photographic icons….and then the real thing just doesn’t look nearly as good as those images you saw on your computer back at home.

It’s happened to all of us…no matter how good our equipment or how talented (we think) we are.

So when I do get to a ‘bucket list’ spot and I look thru the viewfinder and what I see is there is as good as anything I’ve ever seen on the internet, well, then I know that I’m truly in the presence of something special.   A real Icon.

And I’m here to tell you that the Subway at Zion National Park is one of those Icons.  I don’t care how many photoshopped masterpieces you’ve seen taken by National Geographic Award Winning Photographers …the fact is that YOU can take a photo here that will compare well to the best of them and  make you shake your head in wonder.

Yeah, but here’s the hitch (there’s always a hitch).   It’s not easy to get to the subway.  Access is tightly restricted by a permit system plus you have to be willing and able to make a long hike.

Actually, there are two ways to get to the Subway.  One way involves rappelling and other mountain climbing type skills, so let’s forget about that one.  The second route is shorter and easier… its called the “Bottom-up” hike.  Although easier, it is still about a 10 miles roundtrip hike.  And it isn’t a smooth, easy trail.  The National Park Service calls this a strenuous hike.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration but it was certainly the toughest 10 mile hike I’ve done.  None of it is smooth, straight, level or flat.  You are constantly scrambling up and down over rocks and boulders.  Maybe this explains why less than 1% of Zion visitors make it to the Subway.

My son, Ryan, and I are confident hikers but we still took about two hours (not counting stops) to reach the Subway.  Once you figure in some breaks as well as stops for photography, it would be difficult to do this whole hike in less than seven hours.

But it is worth it!

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

You start seeing these colorful pools as you approach the subway entrance

Ryan and were in Zion this March and the Subway was #1 on our list of hikes.  We got to the trailhead a couple of hours after dawn and started down the trail.   To be honest, compared to other hikes in Zion, this one isn’t particularly beautiful.  To be brutally honest it was a long, tiring slog.  But as we finally approached the subway entrance things started to get very interesting.

Carved out from the colorful sandstone by moving water, the subway is aptly named.   Actually it is a narrow canyon with a thin opening in the ceiling but it really does look like someone burrowed a curving, round tube right thru the rock.

We set up our tripods and took our first shot.  We glanced at the result and then looked up at each other with huge, dopey smiles on our faces.  Shook our heads and got to work.  We were bouncing ideas off of each other, suggesting different angles, perspectives, camera settings…I was almost giddy.  The place is truly magical for a photographer!

The subway was a lot larger than I had imagined, the ceiling was about 20′ tall.  And the colors are amazing!  The chilly water saturates the rock which results in robust reds, fluorescent greens and subtle yellows.

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

“Subway Commuter”  My son’s silhouette helps you appreciate the size of the place.

Ryan thought it would be good to include people in some of the shots.  I’m kind of ‘old school’ and was taught to exclude people from my photographs.  But I’ve come to appreciate how much a human figure in an image provides a sense of proportion and fosters an emotional link to the image.  Looking thru my Subway shots now, the ones with people are among my favorites:  who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

'Zion's Subway Photo Tips'

It can be hard to come up with unique compositions at the Subway. In this shot, I used a Gorillapod tripod to set up my camera only inches over the water.

The Subway is fully shaded and surprisingly cold, especially when the wind whips thru the ‘tunnel.’  We had a ball, despite the chill and managed to stay on our feet the whole time although the swift current and slippery rocks resulted in a couple slips that certainly got the adrenaline flowing for a moment or two.

There is a waterfall in a chamber at the back of the Subway, but the water levels were too high for us to reach it due to the snowmelt.  Something for our next trip.

We enjoyed the Subway’s magic for nearly 90 minutes before we regretfully packed up to head home.

We decided to stop for a well earned lunch at Arch Angel Cascades.  As we were enjoying our extravagant meal (Cliff Bars) we noticed a young couple coming down the stream headed for the Subway.  We waved and said hi.  About ten minutes later we were putting our packs back on when we saw the same couple heading back.  I guess they weren’t photographers.  They had hiked for 2 hours, looked at the Subway for five minutes or so, then turned around started the 2 hour walk home. Ryan and I were amazed.  Sure, the Subway is beautiful, but I wonder if I would be willing to walk 4 hours to look at something for less than 300 seconds!

The hike back seemed to take forever…possibly because I was dreading the climb near the end of the trail where you have to climb 500′ over less than a tenth of a mile.  That is one steep climb.  Of course my 21 year old son bolted up the trail like some kind of crazed mountain goat.  My 57 year old knees weren’t quite as nubile so he got to wait quite a while at the top before I clawed my way up.

Now, four months later,  the sore muscles are (nearly) forgotten.  But whenever I look at the photos I took that day, I smile and think of a place where you don’t have to be Ansel Adams or Tom Till to take a breathtaking photograph.

‘ Subway Station’ A three frame composite panorama

Photo Tips and Guide for Photographers visiting Zion’s Subway:

Normally, what you would see now on my blog would be a full length article on “How-to photograph the Subway” …but that isn’t going to happen:  Because someone has already done it.  I ran across this guide  by fellow photographer Nico Debarmore when I was first planning my trip.  His article is through, detailed, accurate and I highly recommend it to any photographer considering making a hike to the Subway.

In addition to Nico’s information, let me add a few random thoughts of my own:

Find out about the water conditions  before you hike: 

  • The Left Fork of North Creek is the stream that runs thru the Subway and it is the single most important variable in your visit to the Subway.  The amount of flow and temperature will determine IF you can make the hike and what type of equipment (i.e. neoprene socks/boots/etc) you will need.
    • The best way to get this info is to ask one of the outfitters in Springdale (the little town at the southern entrance of Zion.)  They get daily updates on water conditions from their customers as they come back to return rented equipment.
      • Personally, I found the folks at the Zion Adventure Company to great sources of info…plus they have all the gear you will need to rent at decent prices (and no, they don’t give me a kickback for this endorsement, unfortunately.)
    • I originally tried asking Park Rangers at the desk that issues permits for the hike but they rarely seemed to have up-to-the minute and accurate info (or maybe liability concerns by the management has resulted in instructions for them to be vague?)

Don’t get lost

  • This isn’t a well maintained trail.  However, once you get down to the river you really can’t get lost…you just follow the river.  But the trail from the trailhead at the parking lot to the river can be difficult to follow.  I got lost for ten minutes when I thought a dry creek bed was the trail.  Thankfully I had a “AllTrails” GPS app on my phone and was able to get back to the right trail quickly (that alone was worth the $15 I spent on it!)

Don’t get distracted on the way to the Subway.

  • We stopped and photographed a number of neat little waterfalls and cascades on the way to the Subway…don’t do that.  Hit them on the way back.
  • A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo TipsA Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips
    • Why?  Because there are 3 truly memorable photogenic subjects on this hike other than the Subway (Arch Angel Falls, the Cascade just above Arch Angel Falls and the Crack).  They are all clustered near the end close to the actual subway.  If you dawdle too long during your hike, then these 3 spots will likely be in direct sunlight by the time you get there.
      • So, don’t be a slowpoke and if any of these 3 spots are still in the shade when you reach them on your way to the Subway, stop and take a few minutes to capture some images.
    • A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

      I photographed Arch Angel Falls on the way back from the Subway…by then it was in direct sunlight. If I had taken this  photo while it was in the shade I would have been much happier with the result.

A Photographer Commutes on Zion's Subway: Photo Tips

The Cascade above Arch Angel Falls photographed in mid morning while still shaded by the canyon walls. This shot was taken in March and the snowmelt provided a nice waterflow. Later in the year (summertime) the current is much reduced and isn’t quite so photogenic.

  • You won’t find a photo of the famous Crack in this blog, because I was in a hurry to get to the Subway and didn’t stop and photograph while it was still in the shade.  I really should have.  Because by the time we returned on the hike back it was in direct, blinding and harsh sunlight.  It wasn’t even worth wasting a shot.  I’ll know better next time.

Avoid the Crowds.  The Park Service allows a maximum of 80 hikers per day to visit the Subway which doesn’t sound like a lot.  However, the Subway can’t really handle more than a handful of photographers without them getting in each other’s way.  You really don’t want to be here maneuvering your tripod here around 79 of your new, bestest friends.

  1. Start your hike at first light (before sunrise if you can).   It will mean leaving your room/campsite early, but you will avoid most of the crowd. Plus, you will be able to get to Arch Angel Falls and the Crack before they get hit by direct sunlight.  Also, if you are hiking in the winter months when there are only 12 hours of sunlight, you have to start early or you will be hiking home in the dark.
  2. Try to avoid April – October.  These are the busiest months.  If you visit during Nov-March you are very likely to get a permit (for example,  the day my son and I visited in March, there were only 11 other people who applied for a permit). However, during the busy April- October timeframe the 80 available permits are in such demand that they are actually doled out via a lottery…so there is NO guarantee that you will get one  (see Nico’s article for more details). .

Bracket your shots

The Subway is at the bottom of a tall, narrow canyon, so it doesn’t get much direct sunlight.  The light is subdued and my Nikon D800e was able to handle the dynamic range.  However, the D800 is known for its dynamic range abilities, so depending on your camera, it might be a great idea to bracket your shots just in case you have to use HDR software.

'Zion's Subway Photo Tips'

Ryan and I waving goodbye at the end of an epic photo shoot!

 

I’ve never seen a place like the Subway.  It is truly unique and for the photographer willing to make the hike, it is a place never to be forgotten.

I hope you get to experience the magic yourself someday soon!

Jeff

 

 

 

Zion’s Subway Photo Tips

Zion’s Subway Photo Tips

 

 

Posted in Photo Tips and Guides, Southwest U.S.A. Also tagged , , |

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

The colors of the restored buildings are simply amazing.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips  

I don’t do a lot of street photography.  As a rule, I prefer to spend my time outdoors and do my best to avoid cities.  There are some exceptions, towns like Savannah, Charlestown and St. Augustine have a charm I certainly wouldn’t deny and I have spent many an enjoyable day photographing them.  Today, I’m adding another location to that list:  Old San Juan.

I’ve visited Old San Juan a half dozen or so times over the years, usually at the start or end of a cruise (over a million tourists cruise out of San Juan harbor yearly).  I had taken a couple quick tours and hit the highlights but that was about it.  However, earlier this month, a lovely young woman we’ve known for years had her wedding there and I found myself with nearly three days to explore and photograph the city.

 

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

The projecting Garitas (Sentry Boxes) are an image that has become synonymous with Old San Juan

First of all, an overview.  Old San Juan is known as La Ciudad Amurallada “the walled city”…understandable for a town surrounded by a 3.4 mile long wall that is up to 20 foot thick.  It was founded in 1521, by Spanish colonists who called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico (“Rich Port City”) and is considered the second oldest town in the New World. The city occupies the western side of a small island at the entrance of San Juan Harbor.  Thanks to decades of good zoning laws, you will rarely see a modern structure, in fact, as you walk the narrow streets and look up at the 400 exuberantly painted and carefully restored San Juan Map16th and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings, it would be easy to think you had slipped thru a time rift and had been carried back a couple centuries. The city is pretty small (about 7 square blocks).  You can walk to nearly any spot in the city in 30 minutes.

As soon as I booked my flight, I started searching on-line for ‘photo tips’ and ‘photo locations.’   However, I was surprised by the lack of info available, so I’m writing this blog to help out future photographers who visit this exceptional city.

Top 10 Photo Locations in Old San Juan:

Sure, this Top 10 list is just my humble opinion and some might quibble over a couple of the selections but it will give you a great starting point for your exploration.  So, here’s my top 10 list (in no particular order):

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations

  1. Paseo Del Morro (see location #1 on my map)
    Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

    Take a early morning stroll along the Paseo. There isn’t another like it in the world!

    • This is an incredible walkway that snakes along the water’s edge between el Morro (see #2) and the southern part of the island.  It is wide, paved and nicely landscaped.  Photo ops abound and include the Raices Fountain (see #6 below) the old red city gate and wonderful views of the city wall with its projecting Garitas (sentry boxes).  The trail ends at el Morro.  Great sunset views.
  2. Castillo San Felipe Del Morro (#2 on map)
    Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

    HDR is mandatory for this type of shot

    • Commonly known as El Morro, this is an impressive, 6 storied, 16th-century citadel with walls that soar 140 above the amazing turquoise Caribbean.  Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & TipsAlthough smaller than Castillo de san Cristobal (#9), it is much more photogenic because of its location at the tip of the island…the views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular.  The fortresses and the walls, together with La Fortaleza, are recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, one of only 23 such locations in the United States.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & TipsEl Morro is part of the National Park system and entry is only $5.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

El Morro’s lighthouse

That fee will also get you into Castillo de san Cristobal and your pass is good for a full week.

There is a lot to photograph here.  Cannons, flags, tunnels, a Victorian lighthouse…plenty to easily keep you busy for a couple hours.

 

3. Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery (#3 on map)

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

This would be the kind of view that couldn’t get old even if you had an eternity…

  • Frankly, I’m usually not very enthusiastic about photographing cemeteries, but this is an exception.  Santa Maria Magdalena must be one of the most picturesque burial sites in the world.  It is only a short walk from El Morro.  Early morning photos here are enchanting.

4. City View of La Fortaleza (#4 on map)

La Foraleza

Great spot during the blue hour after sunset

  • This spot provides a dramatic view of the city wall and La Foraleza (the Governor’s mansion).  From the La Rogativa statue (#5), just walk a short distance along the city wall northwest (toward el Morro) until you reach the Casa Rosa (Rosada), also known as the Pink House.  Part of the wall in front of this building curves out toward the bay, giving you a wonderful view of the illuminated city wall, the red city gate and the Governor’s house (La Fortaleza)…at night, this is a beautiful, world class vista.
  • Note:  Be careful entering the sentry boxes (Garitas) at night…unfortunately, they seem to be used as bathrooms by some folks.
Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

La Rogativa

5. La Rogativa Plaza (Plaza of Religious Procession…#5 on map)

  • Statues of generals and assorted statesmen can be found across the city.  Most of them look like those you can see anywhere.  Not this one.  It is different, modern and depicts a cherished moment in San Juan’s history:
  • In 1797 an English blockade threatened to starve the city into submission.  Outnumbered and desperate, a large group of women and children lit torches at night and walked toward the city as part of a rogativa, or divine entreaty, to ask the saints to save them.  The English, mistakenly thinking the long column was Spanish reinforcements, abandoned their blockade and fled.
  • The best natural light is in mid morning.  Also, the sculpture very photogenic at night (see photo above).

6. Raices Fountain (#6 on map)Raices Fountain

  • Located where Paseo del Morro meets Paseo de la Princesa, this large and uplifting statue is front lit in mid morning.  Also makes a killer sunset shot.

7. Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (#7 on map)

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

One of the many fascinating nooks at the cathedral

Second oldest cathedral in the New World and also the resting place the island’s first governor: Juan Ponce de León.  It may not be the largest or most impressive cathedral you’ll ever see, but there are some beautiful niches and stained glass.  Visitors can explore the cathedral from 8:30am to 4pm daily.

8. Street Art with Puerto Rican Flag (#8 on map)Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

  • This is simply the side of a decrepit building that has been imaginatively painted with the Puerto Rican flag on the front door and images of famous residents on its walls.  Judging by the number of photos of this spot on the internet, it seemed to be to one of city’s iconic locations but I couldn’t find directions.  On my last day I happened to turn a corner and there it was!
  • You can find it about 300 feet south of Calle san Sebastian on Calle de San Jose.
  • It is best to photograph this spot early in the day.  There can be some harsh light and shadows here in late afternoon.

9. Castillo de San Cristobal (#9 on map)Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

  • This fort is located on the eastern edge of the old town and is only a bit more of a mile walk from el Morro (which is on the western end of Old San Juan).  A stroll between the forts will take you only about 20 minutes (or you can just use the free trolley that runs between them).
  • Castillo de San Cristobal is actually larger than el Morro and covers 27 acres of ground (110,000 square meters).  In fact, it was the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World.
  • Personally, I didn’t find San Cristobal to be as photogenic as el Morro.  Perhaps I was just so enamored by el Morro that I didn’t give it a fair chance.  Good location for sunrise shots with the sun rising behind the fort.

10. Esplanade in front of el Morro (#10 on map)2016 Old San Juan-217-Pano_1

This is a huge field on the landward side of el Morro.  Originally left open so defenders could have clear fields of fire against attackers this expansive space is unique in Old San Juan.  On weekends, the skies over the field are filled with kites as the locals enjoy picnic lunches.  You can buy kites from vendors there and try it yourself!

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

This view of the walkway to el Morro gives you a sense of the size of the Esplanada

 

11. And even more…

Okay, okay, I know I promised just 10 locations, but there are many more wonderful photography subjects in Old San Juan…my advice is to just start walking and looking.  For example, a life-sized statue of famed Salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso makes a memorable shot (you can find him in the Plaza de Armas…it was actually his favorite bench!)

My granddaughter and son-in-law share a moment with Tite Curet Alonso

My granddaughter and son-in-law share a moment with Tite Curet Alonso

Even the streets themselves are interesting and subtlely beautiful.   They are paved with cobbles of adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag.

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Yup….the bricks are blue…

As you wander around photographing the  colored buildings you will also find iguanas, street performers, dozens of feral cats and a cornucopia of other subjects for your camera!

 

Tips for Photographers:

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Which way to the palace?

1. Stay in the old city  If you will be there more than one night, find a room in the old city…NOT the modern part of San Juan.  Although the distance between the two is not significant, traffic can make it a long commute. Besides, you really get a chance to soak up the atmosphere if you stay in the old city.  My wife rented an apartment on a quiet street with a killer view on Airbnb for less than the cost of a ‘traditional’ hotel.  Seriously, find a place in the old city…you won’t regret it.

2. Don’t rent a car.  The city is full of narrow, one way streets and finding a parking spot can be impossible.  Besides, since the city is small, a reasonably fit person can cover it easily on foot…plus you just see so much more detail when you walk, if you were driving you would miss a lot of photo ops.

  • Taxis are also available, but can be hard to find.
  • There is a great hop-on, hop-off  free trolley service which you can use to cover ground quickly. It runs every day Monday through Friday from 7am until 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am until 7pm every 15 minutes.  Click on this link for a map of the routes.

3. Hat, Sunscreen, Water, Walking Shoes  This is the tropics and the summers can be very hot.  Plus, the sun can be merciless.  My wife, for example, never gets sunburned, well, at least she never had until this visit to Old San Juan;)

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

4. Camera Gear

  • A wide angle lens is a must.  I had a 28mm on my full frame camera (about 18mm on a crop sensor APS-C camera) and it worked out well, but I wish I had brought my 14mm for some shots.
  • A regular lens in the 50-70mm range will come in handy for most of the other shots you will need.  I really didn’t find much need for a telephoto lens.
  • Travel tripod.  I used mine quite a bit, even during the day.  The buildings are tall and shots often have both shadows and brightly sunlit areas.  I often had to take bracketing shots so I could later process them in HDR to capture the full dynamic range.
  • Polarizer.  The skies over San Juan can make for a wonderful backdrop for your shots.  A polarizer will really make the blue ‘pop’ in your shots.

4. Time of Day to shoot

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Little scenes like this abound in Old San Juan

This is one location that you truly can photograph 24 hours a day.  Seriously.

  • Early mornings have wonderful, soft light and is the least crowded time of the day.  Sunrise shots at the San Cristobal castle can be wonderful.  Then walk down to the Magdalena Cemetery (#3) for shots of El Morro castle with the sun at your back.
  • Mid-Day  This is the time to walk the streets and photograph the colorful buildings and the even more colorful people!  When you are photographing the quaint old buildings, I think they look best when the sun is high enough to get some light on them, so late morning thru early afternoon is prime-time.  Keep in mind that one side of a street might get great late morning light while the other side will be best with afternoon light…so you might need to cover the same street during different parts of the day in order to get shots of the buildings on both side of the road.
  • Sunset  The Raices Fountain (#6) is a wonderful spot for sunset shots.  Then you can easily head down the El Morro Trail (#1) for a series of great photo ops as the sun drops into the Atlantic.2016 Old San Juan-508 crop
  • Night  San Juan doesn’t ever sleep.  You will find folks on the streets all night. My favorite night locations were:
    • The La Rogativa statue (#5 on map) and
    • The city wall at Casa Rosada (#4 on map).  Position yourself at the city wall and shoot back toward the governor’s mansion (La Fortaleza).
    • Although there is a significant amount of crime in new San Juan, most of the old town is heavily patrolled by police.  I never felt uncomfortable at night but then again, I avoided dark, deserted areas.  Just use common sense like you would in any city.
      • One area to definitely avoid at night is the La Perla neighborhood. This is on the northern side of the city between el Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal (see this map).

2016 Old San Juan-294

I hope you and your camera get a chance to explore Old San Juan soon.  Even if you are like me and your first love is landscape or wildlife photography, you won’t be disappointed!
Jeff

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

I never miss the chance for an Iganua shot.

 

Old San Juan Top 10 Photo Locations & Tips

Posted in Buildings/Ruins, Caribbean/Central & South America, Historical, Night Photography Also tagged , |

Palouse Photography Tips: A Guide for Visitors

The Palouse is a remote farming area in southeastern Washington state and western Idaho.  The endless softly rolling hills are home to vast wheat fields, scattered small towns and friendly folks.  It’s the type of place that evokes memories of the “Norman Rockwell” America we imagine it was long ago.

You’ve probably never heard of the Palouse…unless you are a wheat broker, a local resident or a landscape photographer.

Why landscape photographers?  Well, those hills I mentioned are blessed by a soft, flowing, nearly sensuous beauty when viewed thru a camera.  As a result, photographers from across the world flock there during the summer when the fields are covered by colorful waves of wheat.   Images of this area captivated me for years and I finally had the chance in June to experience it for myself.

And here’s what I found:

Palouse Photography Tips: A guide for visitors

“Whitman County Growers”

What do you think?  Unreal?  Surreal?  I’d never seen anything like it but for some odd reason when I first gazed upon the Palouse landscape, I was oddly reminded of a painting by Dali …

The Persistence of Memory.jpg

“Persistence of Memory” by Salvadore Dali

I thought Dali was Spanish but maybe he spent some time in western Washington before he started painting?

The Palouse seems to encourage random, strange thoughts like that…it just doesn’t seem real somehow.   It is all just so pretty…so green and the people are just so incredibly nice.  Boy, I thought the folks in my town were friendly …but the Palouse?  Have you ever had one of those road-workers that holds the “Slow/Stop” signs actually walk up to your car and start talking to you?  This happened to me twice in the Palouse.  If this occurred in some other parts of the country, I’d be rolling up my windows and frantically looking for a way to get away…but here it didn’t seem odd or threatening.  It quickly became clear that the locals just don’t seem to have the ‘shields’ that those of us from urban areas take for granted.

Palouse Photography Tips

I bet you could have seen this same scene in 1950….or even 1850. The Palouse seems to embody a classic rural ambiance of a day long gone.

Okay…okay…enough with my ramblings about how the Palouse made me feel.   What does it look like?

Well, first of all the landscape is best appreciated from the vantage point of height.  Fortunately, there is a tall hill (butte) smack dab in the middle of the best part of the Palouse.  It is called Steptoe Butte and as part of the Washington State Park system, it is open to the public.    In the hours before dusk and after dawn, the low angle of the sun creates wonderful shadows around all those curvy hills.

2015 Northwest 06 19 554 south pano

Seven frame panorama from the summit of Steptoe made right after sunrise…

Steptoe tops-out at 3612′ and you can park on the summit and see an absolutely unreal 360º vista.   Palouse Photography TipsWith a pair of binoculars you can see the occasional red barn, farm house or grain silo…but those are the exceptions.  Nearly everything you can see in every direction is just soft, curving hills covered with rippling waves of grain.

Well, you will also notice the 58 turbines of the Palouse Wind Farm built in 2012.  They are a good distance north of the butte so they don’t look huge but they are actually about 500′ tall and produce quite a bit of electricity.

 

Palouse Photography Tips

Unplanted areas contrast the lush green crops

Every direction you look reveals more details and different perspectives:

Palouse Photography Tips

This is the famous ‘Red Barn.’ Look for it when you are on the summit. I bet it has been photographed thousands of times…

If you come down from the Butte, the perspectives from ground level are still captivating…just not jaw dropping.

Palouse Photography Tips

One very lonely and very dead tree.

So, if you ever want to travel back in time to a simpler, friendlier time while being surrounded in a landscape that only a crazy Catalonian surrealist artist could envision, make your way to the Palouse next summer.  It will be a memorable experience.

Tips and suggestions for my Fellow Photographers:

When to Visit?

May and June are usually peak for the yellow and green of the fields.  A very different look can be seen in July and August when the wheat turns gold and brown. Harvesting usually begins in late August.

Where to stay?

Colfax is the town closest to Steptoe.  It is about 30 minutes south and you can choose from 4 or 5 hotel/motels.

Where should you go for your shots?

Steptoe Butte  As mentioned, Steptoe Butte is the primo place to be in the Palouse.

Palouse Photography Tips

Steptoe sticks out of the surrounding landscape like a sore toe (sorry…had to say it)

The best light is near sunrise and sunset.  Be on Steptoe for both….the same features can look totally different at the opposite ends of the day.  Plus, by visiting twice you will increase your chances of photographing during partly cloudy conditions when dappled sunlight accentuates the incredible shadows created by the low angled sunlight.

When you first get to Steptoe, pay your $10 at the unattended kiosk (or you can buy a full year pass online for $30), then drive to the summit. There is a large parking area just below the actual summit and many folks pull in here mistakenly thinking they are at the top.  The actual summit is accessed by a narrow (a little wider than a single car), unmarked road on your left as you pull into the larger pullout.  It looks like a service road used to get to the cell towers on the summit.  Once you get to the top, scout out your potential shots by using your binoculars.  Look for nice perspectives and find the farm houses, barns and silos that you will want to incorporate into your shots.

Palouse Photography Tips

Front Row Seating for Steptoe Summit Sunrise

Don’t stay at the summit the whole time.  There are a number of pullouts along the road that winds around the butte and they will give you significantly different perspectives.  It only takes a few minutes to drive from one to the other and you will be surprised how different your shots look from the lower elevations.

The park is officially open from dawn to dusk but I’ve never had an issue being there earlier or later than the posted hours.

Palouse Photography Tips

Some fields are planted with brilliant yellow canola stretching as far as your eye can see…

During the day, drive around:  Get off the paved roads, slow down and just drive.  There are some wonderful vignettes to be found.  Be respectful of private property and be aware that some big farm equipment rolls down the gravel roads.  Also be aware that most of the roads around here have sharp drop-offs right at their edge….you can’t just pull over everywhere.  You may have to drive a bit further and hike back a short ways.

Palouse Photography Tips

The famous “Wagon Wheel” fence

Dahmen Barn:  Located in Uniontown (about an hour south of Steptoe) this is an antique barn that is now a co-op for local artists.  Photographers adore the fence that surrounds the property which is made from hundreds of old metal tractor wheels, gears, etc.  Here is a link with more info and directions.

Palouse Photography Tips

Not your typical barn

T.A. Leonard Barn:  You will see a lot of quaint red barns in the Palouse, but how many round barns have you ever seen?  This beautifully restored gem is 40 minutes south of Steptoe in Pullman right off of Old Moscow Road.  It’s a private farm and not open for tours but you can photograph it from the road.  This site will give you more info and directions.

Kamiak Butte:    Actually a bit taller than Steptoe but you can’t drive to the summit. 2015 Northwest 06 20 904 There is a hiking trail to the top (about 3.5 miles roundtrip).  If you are visiting for more than a day and you have already got all the shots you want from Steptoe, then it is certainly worth a visit but if your time is limited, Steptoe is the place to be. Great place for a picnic lunch.  Kamiak is about 29 miles (55 minutes) from Steptoe.  Click this link for more info.

Palouse Falls:  About an 90 mile drive west of Steptoe is the magnificent 197′  Palouse Falls.  Perhaps best seen at sunset, you can also take wonderful Milky Way shots here.  I’ll be writing a full article about this location later in the fall.

Other locations:  A local photographer has put together a detailed map  showing locations of barns, old cars and other photographic points of interest.  She sells the map via the internet for $25.  It is quite detailed and worth your money if you are going to visit.  Here is a link.  And no, I don’t get a commission!   Short of hiring a full time local guide, this is the best resource I’ve found to help visiting photographers find potential locations

How long should you visit?

If your time is tight, you can cover the highlights in a day.  That will give you a sunrise and sunset on Steptoe and the middle of the day to explore the countryside.  Of course, the Palouse is a big area, so you would need to spend much longer to cover it thoroughly.  If you do decide to take a few days, I’d suggest you hire one of the local photo guides or book a photo tour.  Many of them have relationships with the farmers who will allow you to access to locations on private property that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Equipment?

Lenses: When you think of landscapes, you naturally think of wide angle lenses and they will come in handy when you are driving around the farm roads.   But on Steptoe, you need long lenses.  As I reviewed my photos taken on the butte, I noticed that nearly all of them were taken somewhere between 300-500mm on a full frame camera (450mm to 750mm on an APS-C crop sensor camera).

Polarizer:  You will often have some haze on Steptoe and a polarizer will help reduce that issue and make your colors ‘pop.’

Tripod:  The Palouse can be a bit breezy.  On Steptoe, the wind can really rip.  I have a heavy duty tripod and head that had never, ever had a problem even with my monster 200-400 beast of a zoom lens.  At least it never had a problem until I was on Steptoe.  As I checked my shots in the LCD, I noticed that some of them were not quite as sharp as others…the wind was shaking my rig ever so slightly.  I’d suggest you weigh down your tripod, take 2 or 3 shots of every scene and check every single shot fully zoomed in to ensure that your shots are sharp.Palouse Photography Tips

Post processing

Dynamic Range:  Full frame cameras, HDR, blending layers in Photoshop….many of us work hard to show the full dynamic range in our shots.  Oddly enough, the Palouse is one of those venues where that might not be necessary..or even preferred.  Those dark shadows contrasted by the brilliant crests of the hills seems to me to be a big part of the beauty of the Palouse.  Do yourself a favor and try processing some shots where you can’t see every detail in the shadows…you might like the result.

Haze:  I found that I had to use the clarity slider in Photoshop liberally to combat this issue.

That should be enough to get you started on a successful photo trip to the Palouse.  I’m sure you will enjoy yourself and feel free to email me with copies of your best images!
JeffPalouse Photography Tips

Palouse Photography Tips:  A Guide for Visitors

 

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA, Photo Tips and Guides Also tagged , , |

Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and Tips

Ask anyone who has visited Horseshoe Bend to describe it and I bet that I can predict the reaction:  They will hesitate, then a sly smile will creep across their face…they will slowly shake their head and say:  “Oh yeah…Horseshoe…Wow… you have to see it yourself.”

Horseshoe is one of those places that truly are more emotionally impactful in person than you could ever think possible if you have only seen it in photos.  Try to imagine this…you walk about 30 minutes over a featureless desert landscape…there really isn’t much to see…some mountains out in the distance…lots of sand and slickrock…maybe a Jack Rabbit or two bouncing between brown and thirsty plants.  Then, suddenly, the path ends.  Actually, it doesn’t end, it simply disappears as it abruptly ends at a sheer 1000′ drop.  No handrail, no signs, just this:

Horseshoe Bend Sunset: One of those "OMG" moments. Click on this photo to see a full resolution image.

Horseshoe Bend Sunset: One of those “OMG” moments. Click on this photo to see a full resolution image.

Look at the bottom of this photo…that is a straight drop down to the river…nothing to stop you other than a couple sandstone outcroppings that might slow you down a bit as you bounce off of them:)

Photographer at Horseshoe Bend Arizona. Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

Check out the front leg of the tripod…next step: 1,000 feet straight down!

This vista WILL get your heart kicked into overdrive.  In fact, I’ve seen some folks actually crawl up to the edge on their bellies to take photos because they didn’t trust their legs. But in all fairness, I won’t deny that I had second thoughts as I set up my tripod on the edge. If you are ever near Page Arizona, then this is a stop that you really have to make…it is a visual and emotional powerhouse!  Interested?  if so, then read further for my Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips.

The Basics:

  1. Horseshoe Bend is a loop of the Colorado River 5 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell (just south of the Utah line).  It has its own parking area on the west side of US 89 about 4 miles south of Page, Arizona.  The GPS coordinates are: 36.876246,-111.502788.  This link will show you the parking lot location on Google maps.
  2. There is a (small) sign for Horseshoe Bend, but it is easy to miss.  However, if you keep looking to the west you will see the parking lot…there isn’t a whole lot else out there.
  3. The path to Horseshoe is very easy to follow.  It is about 3/4 of a mile but much of it is over loose sand, so the going is slow.  It is mostly downhill (something to remember for the walk back).  It should take you about 30 minutes depending on your pace.
  4. There is no shade, no water, no bathrooms.  If you are there in the middle of the day during summer, you will need to bring plenty of water.  A hat and sunscreen would be good to have with you too.
  5. It can be pretty windy…bring your sunglasses
  6. Be prepared to meet folks from all over the world!  I had two guys from France on my right a German to my left and a photographer from Mumbai India spent twenty minutes asking about my camera.  You will be surprised how friendly and talkative folks can be when they have this scene before them.

    "Sunset Self-Portrait"

    “Sunset Self-Portrait”

Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips for my fellow Photographers:

  1. Most photographers are going to visit Page because of Antelope Canyon.  The nice thing about Horseshoe is that you can photograph it before or after your day at Antelope.
  2. How much time should you schedule?  Well, if you jumped in your car in Page, drove to the parking lot, hiked to the site, snapped off a dozen shots and hoofed it back to your car, you would be back in Page in less than a total of 2 hours.  If that is all the time you have, then fine.   However, if your schedule isn’t too tight or if you are blessed with a killer sunset, you can easily spend twice that amount of time.
  3. Bring a steady Tripod.
  4. Where to set up:
    1. Once you get to the edge, most photographers just set up their tripods and go to town.  I’d bet that 99.8% of all Horseshoe photos have been taken with 100′ of each other.
    2. Do yourself a favor and show up a bit early and scout around a bit to the left and right.  You just might find a nice bush or a landscape feature that will make your shot stand out from the crowd.  The photo above, with the nice “V” in the rim that focuses your attention on the butte is probably no more than 300′ to the right of the end of the trail.
  5. Lenses:
    1. A 14-16mm lens on a full frame camera will let you capture the whole panorama in a single frame (you will need a 10mm lens on a APS-C, cropped sensor camera).
    2. If you have a fisheye lens, you can have fun with it at this location.  My 15mm fisheye came in handy here.
  6. If you don’t have a wide lens (or if you want a super-high resolution image), you can stitch together a panorama in Photoshop.
  7. Time of Day:
    1. To get an idea about how the light at Horseshoe changes over a day, check out this link.  It shows a wonderful series of photos by Brian Klimowski from pre-dawn to late evening.
    2. My personal favorite time of the day here is sunset.  One hint: most of the scene won’t be in direct light, you will need to use HDR or a strong ND filter to tame the dynamic range.
    3. If you can’t schedule this for a sunset shot, morning can be good as well…
    4. Mid-Day will light up the full scene.  For example here is an afternoon shot I got a few years back:

      Horseshoe Bend Arizona. Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

      Mid-Day perspective

  8. Time of year:
    1. The drama of this scene is undiminished no matter what season you get to see it, however, summer during the rainy (monsoon) season can provide dramatic clouds (see the first shot above…taken in July).  I’d bet this would be an incredible to see covered in snow, but I haven’t been able to capture that shot yet
  9.  HDR tip.  If you are shooting at sunset, you will need at least a full 7 stops of exposure to capture the full dynamic range.
  10. A polarizer will come in handy except at sunrise or sunset.
  11. Be careful of your focus.  With a wide angle or fisheye lens, the lip of the cliff right in front of your tripod will be in your frame, so you will want to either crop that out of your final shot or set your focus accordingly.

There is a whole lot more to photograph in the area (Antelope Canyon, Bryce, Zion, the Wave, etc.)  If you have more than a couple hours to spend in Page, then you might want to check out this blog which gives you pointers on how to best schedule your day to maximize the photographic potential!.

You will enjoy (and certainly always remember) your time at Horseshoe bend. Have fun!

Jeff

PS:  When my son was taking this shot of the photographers lined up on the cliff’s edge he thought:  “You know…one good gust of wind and these guys will be the lead story on the TV news tonight”

Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

One little push…

 

 Horseshoe Bend Photo Guide and tips

 

Posted in Landscape Photography, Southwest U.S.A. Also tagged , |

House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips: Burning Down the House!

I can’t remember when I saw my first image of the Anasazi ruins called “House on Fire” (HOF).  Maybe it was in the near-legendary “Photographing the Southwest” books by Laurent Martres or perhaps the famous David Muensch photo…but no matter what the source, what I do remember is being awestruck by the image of an ancient cliff dwelling seemingly being engulfed by fire.   Not only was it an incredible visual but it also appealed to my life-long interest in ancient history and American Indians.  Well, a few weeks ago I had the chance to visit this iconic site and I’d like to share with you my House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips:  Burning Down the House!  (My compliments to the “Talking Heads”)

My first impression when I stood before the ruin was that, yes, by God…it really does look like the ruin has fire roaring out of its roof!  I had to take a few moments and ponder about the ancient Anasazi who choose this spot to build…was it simply because this was a south facing alcove that would be cool in the summer and warmed by the sun in winter?  Or did that builder appreciate the incredible way the light reflected off the roof of the alcove and decided that this would be his home.  How many generations lived here over the centuries…how many hours did they spend gazing at the ceiling enjoying the spectacle?

The " Classic Shot"

The ” Classic Shot”

After a few minutes of sitting with my son in front of the ruin taking it all in, I finally started to concentrate on photography.  Once I did so, it didn’t take me long to realize why all the shots I’d seen before of House on Fire are so darn similar.  It’s because that the perception of fire shooting out of the roof of the house is really only apparent from a very limited location…even moving a couple feet from the ‘sweet spot’ degrades the illusion.  I took hundreds of shots from different locations around the site but after reviewing them, there are only a few that I thought were outstanding…and yes, everyone of them turned out to be taken from that same specific spot…like the shot above.

So as a photographer, well… this location is a ‘one-trick-pony’.   Don’t get me wrong, you can get an incredible shot here…you would swear that the stone ruins are blazing when the reflective light hits it just right.  However, you will be hard-pressed to come up with a stunning image that is significantly different from the ‘standard’ shot…but don’t let that stop you, the ‘standard’ shot is amazing and what photographer wouldn’t want it in their portfolio?!

Directions to the site and photo tips for my fellow photographers:

House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips

A bit of experimentation with your contrast and adjusting the saturation/exposure of your reds and yellows will quickly coax the ember in your image into a full throated blaze.

  1. The most important thing is to be here at the right time. The perception of ‘fire’ is the result of sunlight reflecting off of the wall on the opposite side of the wash.  This reflected light only occurs in late morning.  If you get there too early, the light won’t yet be on the opposite wall and if you are too late the site will be in direct sunlight, which will ‘wash-out’ the fire effect.
    • In July, the light is perfect about 11am and it lasts about an hour.
  2. The second pre-requisite is that the weather has to be clear.  If clouds are obstructing the sun, you will loose the reflected light which is critical for the shot.
  3. My third tip would be to photograph the nearby “Fallen House Ruin” first in the morning and then drive to House on Fire (26 miles/30 minutes travel time from trailhead to trailhead).  You should be able to do so and still be at HOF before 11am.
  4. If you haven’t made this hike before and you aren’t on a tour with a guide, then I would suggest that have GPS with you.
  5. The closest town is Blanding (about 25 miles away).  There are a couple of hotels here you could stay at.  The next nearest town is Mexican Hat, about 40 miles away.
  6. House on Fireis located just off of UT 95 about halfwaybetweenBlanding and Natural Bridges National Monument on County Road 263.  When driving on UT 95, look for CR263 just east of mile marker 102 on the north side of the road.
    • Don’t be tricked by a sign for ‘Mule Canyon Ruins‘- this is NOT the right spot.
  7. Turn north ontoCR263 (it is a dirt road) and you will immediately see a BLM sign and kiosk on the left.
    • Stop and pay your fee ($2/person as of July 2013).
  8. There is a small car parking area less than 3/10 of a mile down CR263 on the right.  You can park here or you can continue a few hundred yards to the bottom of the hill where there is parallel parking available for a couple vehicles.
  9. At the bottom of the hill, you will find a small trailhead marker (on your left).
    • Geographic coordinates at the trailhead: N37.53739 – W109.73203
    • Here is a link to the trailhead on Google Maps.
  10. Start your hike by descending into the wash (on the left/west side of the road) and walk west along the stream bed.  The trail meanders to the west/northwest.
    • House on Fire is about one mile from the trailhead (about 40 minutes) just before the canyon turns due north.  It is located on a ledge to your right (north) about 60 feet above the floor of the wash.  It can be hard to see from the bottom, so just keep looking up and to your right.
    • You have to scramble a bit up some slickrock to reach the ledge but there are some rock cairns to show you the way.
  11. So, where exactly is the ‘sweet spot’ that I’m talking about?  The photo below shows where to set up.
    House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips

    “X” marks the spot! This shot is from the far left (west) of the ledge. You can see the photographers aiming at the structure to the FAR right.

    House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips

    View from the eastern side of the ledge. The window on the far right in this shot is part of the ruin you will photograph.

    I’d suggest taking a copy of a HOF photo with you…then walk around the site with the picture in front of you until you find where you need to set your tripod.

    • There are actually three or so structures under the ledge, but the one on the far right has the best “flames” over it
    • Personally, I think a vertical orientation for your composition is the best way to emphasize the ‘flames’ in the sandstone ceiling
  12. Lenses:  A fisheye can be fun to use here.  I also used 16-35mm zoom (most shots were taken at about 21mm).  Note..these lenses were used on a full frame sensor DSLR…you will need to account for the crop factor if you are using a camera with a smaller sensor.
  13. HDR is useful here to fully capture the highlights and shadows.  Even with HDR, it will be difficult to include the sky in your shot and frankly, I think the shot is best with it excluded.
  14. Take your time and use your camera’s Live View feature to ensure that your focus is sharp from front to back.
  15. There are some handprints painted on the wall in a small alcove to the left of the ruins…worth a look.
  16. A green rectangular metal register box (actually a surplus Army ammo box) is chained to a tree near the ledge’s edge.  It is interesting to look thru it and see what other hikers have written and see how many countries they had come from.  Don’t forget to jot a note down yourself!
  17. If you have time after photographing HOF, there are at least 5 more ruins I know of within the next 3 miles further down the wash.  None of them are necessarily photogenic, but they are interesting nonetheless.
  18. Post-processing:  If you catch the reflected light on a cloudless day, you will likely be pretty happy with the colors and saturation.  However, by increasing the contrast and adjusting the brightness/darkness of your color palette, you can easily enhance the ‘fire.’  Have fun with it!

As I was packing up to leave, a local guide,  Jon Fuller of  Moab Photo Tours and two clients also arrived at the site.  Jon was very friendly and readily shared some tips and stories.  I think my son enjoyed listening to Jon more than he did exploring the site, but then again, photography should be about much more than just pictures, right?

Have fun and keep shooting!
Jeff

House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips

One last perspective…

 

 

 House on Fire Ruins Photo Guide and Tips

 

Posted in Buildings/Ruins, Historical, Photo Tips and Guides, Southwest U.S.A. Also tagged |

Sedona’s Towers of the Virgin: A Surprising Sedona Sunrise Photo Location!

I spent three days shooting in Sedona, Arizona last week and I have some great images and tips that I will be sharing over the next weeks about the area’s iconic locations (Cathedral Rock, Devil’s Arch, Bell Rock, etc.)  However, first I’d like to let you know about a Sedona sunrise photo location that I’ve never seen discussed before…and it surprises me because I think it bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous Towers of the Virgin at Zion National Park.  I’m going to call it Sedona’s Towers of the Virgin, but I just made the name up this afternoon, so don’t ask anyone in Sedona about it…they will just look at you like you were another crazy tourist.

A 'mini' Towers of the Virgin?

A ‘mini’ Towers of the Virgin?

Okay, now it certainly isn’t as large as the real thing, but it’s a wonderful vista just the same.  And, unlike the shot at Zion, I wasn’t in a field filled with other photographers taking the same shot!  For the sake of comparison, here is an image of the “Virgins” at Zion:

The 'real' Towers of the Virgin at Zion

The ‘real’ Towers of the Virgin at Zion

Like the location at Zion, the Sedona ridgeline is lit by the rising sun as it clears the horizon and the red rock just glows as it warms up.  Wonderful spot to spend a morning.

If you would like to visit this location, here are the directions and photo tips:

  1. From the “Y” in ‘downtown Sedona (this the roundabout intersection where 89A and 179 meet), just head south 4.9 miles on Highway 179.  Here is a map on Google Maps.   GPS Coordinates for the trailhead are 34.807336,-111.769574
  2. There will be a ‘scenic overlook’ sign on the right (west).  This is the only scenic overlook on the right…all the others are on the left, so you can’t miss it.  Park and pay $5 at the automated kiosk.  This location is called Yavapai Point (not to be confused with the location with the same name at the Grand Canyon:)
  3. The trail is well marked.  Follow the one called Yavapai Vista Trail.
  4. The trail will twist and turn and will have a slight elevation gain.  In about .2 of a mile you will come to a large slick rock shelf from which you will see the ridgeline I photographed.
  5. The sun will start hitting the ridge about ten minutes after the “official” sunrise time.
  6. Take a tripod.
  7. You will need a 35-50mm lens on a full sized sensor camera…or a 57mm-75mm on a cropped’ sensor DSLR.
  8. The dynamic range of the sunrise is best captured via HDR.  If you don’t use HDR, bracket your shots and merge them in Photoshop so you avoid blown-out highlights and totally black shadows.
  9. There are great shots to be had here of Bell Rock as well, just look to the east:

    Photo of Sedona's Bell Rock at sunrise

    This location provides you with a perspective of Bell Rock that is different from the ‘standard’ shot.

If you are in Sedona, this is a great sunrise spot.  Personally, I like it better than the popular Airport mesa.  Hope you enjoy it!

Good luck and good shooting!
Jeff

PS:  Here is a final shot:

Red Rock in it's morning glory!

Red Rock in it’s morning glory!

Posted in Landscape Photography, Southwest U.S.A. Also tagged , |

Hummingbird Photography: A 6 Step Guide with Hummingbird Photo Tips

Hummingbirds are one of those incredible marvels of nature that seem to make everyone smile in wonder. These amazing flying jewels zip and dart around like god’s own miniature UFOs leaving a trail of excited and happy people behind them.  Being a shutterbug, I had occasionally tried to photograph them over the years… but with less than impressive results.   One spring day a hummer flew up to me while I was in the backyard, hovered 3 feet in front of my nose and took a good long look at me before she scooted off.  Right then I decided that my next goal in photography would be to learn how to take a decent photo of these little marvels.  It turned out to be more challenging than anticipated, but I’ve come up with a system that works for me.   I’ll share what I’ve learned with you in this article.

First of all, there are two basic ways you can try to photograph hummingbirds.

The first method is to get a chair, set it up near a Hummingbird feeder or flowering plant, put on a long telephoto lens on your camera and go for it.  This is how I started out and it can get nice results, especially if you like to shoot perched birds (this link will take you to great article that has tips on how to use this system). 

Handheld shots of perched hummers can yield beautiful results. I shot this Antillean Crested Hummingbird on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia with a Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 with a 1.4 tele-converter mounted on a Nikon D500

However, if you want to shoot hummingbirds in flight, then it is difficult to get full frame, well exposed, perfectly focused shots this way.  Not impossible, but my success rate was pretty pathetic…which motivated me to develop the system described below. 

My 6 step system for photographing hummingbirds in flight:


STEP 1:  Come to America 🙂

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species I usually see at my home in Florida, but I’m lucky that it is a beautiful photographic subject!

First of all, you have to be where the Hummingbirds are. If you are in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia, then sorry, but you are out of luck.  Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere.  Their range extends from Alaska to the tip of Chile during the summer but they do migrate to warmer locations during winter.

Central America is ‘ground-zero’ for hummingbird photography.  Some countries, like Costa Rica have over 50 species of hummers.  The further from Central America you travel, the fewer species you will find.   

But the good news is that if you live nearly anywhere in the western hemisphere, hummers are probably nearby.  Even if you live in an urban area and have never seen a hummingbird near your home, I’ll bet you can attract them with a tad of effort.

STEP 2:  Invite the Hummingbirds to your party (Make them come to you!)

You can grab your camera, put on your hat and hike around gardens looking for hummingbirds…but I’ve found that it is a lot more productive to set out a feeder and simply let them come to you.

There are dozens of feeders available and the article attached to this link provides an excellent recap of features you should look for in a feeder as well as what type of nectar you will want to have.  You can also plant hummingbird attracting flowers in your yard…but if you really just want to take photos, a feeder will likely bring in all the hummers you need.  My favorite feeder is inexpensive, easy to clean and its low silhouette doesn’t block the birds when photographing.

An important note:  Keep the feeder clean and replace the nectar every few days!  You also need to wash the feeder at least a couple times per week (more often if it is in direct sun).  The nectar can breed bacteria quickly and if it does, the hummers will know and they will avoid your feeder like the plague.  Seriously…you can waste a lot of time watching a feeder that hummers have no interest in because they know the nectar is spoiled. Also, once you mix up a batch of sugar water, use it within a couple of weeks…even if refrigerated, it can go bad that quickly (I learned this one the hard way).

STEP 3: Get the right Equipment

There is no way around it…to take world class hummingbird photos, you have to have the right tools.  Fortunately, some of the stuff is cheap and there’s a good chance that you already have some of the more expensive items.

Flashes

This is the one area where most folks will have to shell out some money because the most important equipment for killer hummingbird shots are your flashes (yes, plural).   Two flashes are really the absolute minimum for good shots and three flashes will allow you to take best-in-class photos.  Some folks use as many as eight flashes, but there are diminishing returns once you get past three.

So, why so many flashes?

  1. Two distinguishing hummingbird characteristics are that they are small and they are fast.  If you shoot without flash, you can compensate for one or the other of these characteristics, but rarely for both.
    • Unless you are satisfied with shots that show the wings as a total blur, you are going to need exposures that are between 1/1000 sec to 1/10,000 of a sec (yes…that is one ten thousandth of a second!). The problem is that if you set your shutter speed that high, you will have to open your lens aperture up wide…which unfortunately will minimize your depth of field (DOF) resulting in most of the hummer being out of focus.
    • On the other hand, if you reduce your aperture (to increase your DOF and keep the whole bird in focus), you will have to reduce your shutter speed to the point that the wings will seem to nearly disappear, which isn’t an attractive look to many folks.
  2. You want the hummer to ‘sparkle.’   Hummingbirds get their ‘jewel-like” quality from the iridescence in their feathers.  If you use only a single source of light, then the iridescent effect can appear flat or irregular.  For an in-depth review of this topic you can see this link, otherwise, just trust me that a second flash will put your hummer photos into a whole new category.
  3. Hummingbird Heaven: A 5 Step Guide with Hummingbird Photo Tips

    Without a flash dedicated to the background, your hummer will look like she was out after curfew!

    If your flashes are all pointed directly at the hummer, you will notice that your photos look like they were taken at night (see photo to the right).  It actually looks pretty neat but if you want photos that look like they were taken during the day, you will need at least one more flash specifically to illuminate the background.

Hummingbird Heaven: Six Step Guide to Hummingbird Photography: Hummingbird Photo tips

Now, isn’t that better?! A background flash will allow your hummer to look like she is out enjoying a sunny day! (Click on photo to see it in full resolution)

How should I set up my flashes?

This aspect of hummingbird photography can get very technical and frankly, there are multiple systems and techniques you can use to successfully illuminate your photo.  I’ve tried most of them and I’m going to tell you the system I use.  It is relatively inexpensive, it is simple and it works.

  • Commander/Slave
    • More than likely, your DSLR’s pop-up flash (or an external flash mounted to your camera’s hot shoe) can be set up so it will wirelessly and automatically trigger your other, off-camera flashes (the flash on the camera is called the ‘master’ (Canon) or the ‘commander’ (Nikon) and the other flashes are called ‘slaves’).  I have a Nikon and this system works flawlessly (I’m going to assume that the similar systems used by other major manufacturers are also effective).
    • It seems every camera/flash combo is different, so I’d suggest you do a quick google search (or, God-forbid, read your manual:) to see how to set up your particular system.  If you own a Nikon system, take a look at this article by Ken Rockwell which clearly explains how to use a Commander/Slave set-up.
    • Important Point:  If your camera’s pop-up flash isn’t able to be used as a ‘commander’ you will have to buy a separate flash for that purpose.
    • NOT ALL EXTERNAL FLASHES HAVE THE ABILITY TO BE A COMMANDER…so you need to confirm this before you buy one.
    • A money saving hint:  Your ‘slave’ flashes do not have to be top-of-the-line models made by the same company that made your camera.  I picked up my slaves second hand on eBay.
  • High Speed Sync Mode
    • Another thing you are going to want to do is set up your camera on auto high speed flash sync.  This is because most cameras are limited to a max sync flash speed of 1/250 (which is way too slow for most hummer shots).  By using the high speed flash sync mode, you will be able to use much faster shutter speeds.  Personally, I found this topic very confusing until I read a great blog by Darrell Young.  This link will take you to this insightful article.
    • To be honest, mastering High Speed Sync was the single most frustrating technical issue I had.  I seemed that sometimes I could get the Commander/Slave system to work, but then I couldn’t take shots faster than 1/320th.  Other times, it was just the opposite!  It wasn’t until I read this article by John Adkins, that I understood the problem.  Here is the solution (for Nikon anyway)
      • On the back of your Nikon, hit the
        • Mode button, then arrow down to the
        • Custom Setting Menu then arrow down to and select
        • e Bracketing/flash  then scroll down to and select
        • e3 Flash control for built-in Flash  then scroll down and select
        • Commander Mode the under the
        • Built-in flash, change the output mode to “–”   then
          • Change the Mode under Group A to “TTL”
            • Your speedlights will also need to be set on Group A
          • Finally, change Channel to “3” and set your speedlights to channel “3” also.
      • After I did this, I had no more problems.

Flash Stands

1/8000 sec, ISO 140/ f/29, Nikon D800E/Nikkor 105 Macro lens

Flash stands will allow you to precisely position your speedlites/strobes.  I got a couple of these inexpensive stands  from Amazon for less than $30 each that get the job done just fine.  Just make sure that your stand will allow you to get the flash at least 6 feet off the ground and have wide, stable bases..

Wireless Remote Shutter Release

For me personally, a wireless shutter release is the second most important piece of equipment for taking quality hummingbird shots.  The use of a wireless remote allows you to set your camera up very close to the feeder and trigger the shutter from far enough away that small movements on your part won’t scare the hummers

Initially I used a remote shutter unit that connected to my camera with a cable, but my cable was only 3 feet long, so I still needed to stay pretty close to the camera.   That meant I had to sit perfectly still or shoot hummers from a blind.  You might be able to find a remote with a long cord but trust me, a wireless shutter release for photographing hummers is a godsend.  Most of them are cheap (Amazon has a couple units for less than 20 bucks that fit many cameras).

I’ve taken most of my hummingbird photos while comfortably seated in my air-conditioned office about 15 feet from the feeder.  Usually I just glance thru my window every couple of minutes to see if a hummer is visiting  (who says you can’t do two things at once?). This sure beats hiding in a cramped blind in the Florida heat fighting off mosquitoes!

Lenses

One of my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments was realising that you don’t need a telephoto lens to take great hummingbird shots.  If you have a $10K 600mm 2.8 lens, then by all means, use it.  However hummers quickly grow tolerant of tripods and cameras placed close to the feeder.

Ideally, you want a lens that is fast, sharp and can focus close to the camera.  My best shots have been taken with a 105mm Nikon Micro lens…which is fast (f2.8), insanely sharp and can focus at subjects within a couple feet.  However,  I’ve also used much cheaper ‘prosumer’ lenses and gotten fine results.   The bottom line is that the ability to shoot very close to hummingbirds means that you can get pro quality results without pro quality glass.

A huge challenge is depth of field (DOF).  Hummers are only about 3 inches long, so we aren’t talking about a huge amount of space…but you might be surprised how shallow your depth of field is, even when using your smallest aperture. For example, the DOF for my 105mm is only about 3 inches deep when set up 30″ away with the aperture set at f25! Since most hummers are only a few inches long, keeping the whole bird in focus takes some practice.

Important Tip:   You can waste a LOT of time taking photos that have only part of the hummer focused unless you take the time to figure out your DOF ahead of time.  If you don’t have a DOF calculator, there are a couple great ones available for your smartphone.  The app I use cost $2 and is easy to operate and understand.

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird with ant in beak

Harriett’s Breakfast (click for full resolution)

Tripod

Some folks photograph hummers hand-held.  God bless them…those folks must have incredible patience.  But for me, hand-held hummingbird photography is often frustrating and unproductive.

Mounting your camera on a tripod will dramatically increase your percentage of great photos:

1)  You will able to pre-calculate your DOF and prefocus your lens on the EXACT spot where the bird will be.  Which means that many/most of your shots will be perfectly focused and the entire hummer will be sharp.

2)  You can set up your camera very close to the hummers.  This will allow you avoid cropping.  In other words, you will maximize your resolution and sharpness by using nearly all of your sensor.

3)  Hummers, are usually not very tolerant of movement close to their feeder.  Even the slight movement of lifting your camera a couple inches while you are seated ten feet away will often scare them off.  However, if your camera is on a tripod and you are using a remote shutter release, they won’t see any motion.

Camera

As long as your camera has a ‘hot shoe” or has a pop-up flash that can serve as a commander, then you should be good to go.  Nearly any high quality DSLR should work.

Backdrop/Posterboard

You will want to set up a backdrop behind your feeder to avoid the ‘night-time’ look I mentioned before.  I use a piece of posterboard that I painted a nice sky blue.  You can also try spray-painting hazy patterns that imitate an attractive bokeh in the background of your shot.

Your backdrop won’t have to be very large.  For my current set-up, a 24″ x 12″ backdrop completely fills up the background in my photos.  Yours will likely need a somewhat different size depending on your camera/lens combo.

Flower Props

Shots of hummers flying with nothing else in the frame start looking kind of stark, so I like to include some flowers in the same plane of focus as the hummer.  Use local plants, especially ones the hummers feed on if possible.   If you don’t have some in your yard you can cut, just pick up some at your local nursery or home improvement store.

STEP 4:  Set the Stage.

A 4 Step Guide with Hummingbird photo tips

Diagram 1: Hummingbird Photo Studio

Basically, you are going to set up an outdoor photo studio in which you control all aspects of the photograph.

A 5 step buide with Hummingbird photo tips

Diagram 2: Photo of my Hummingbird Studio

The Feeder

Hummingbird Photo tips

Diagram 3: Feeder detail

Hummingbirds really don’t care where you put the feeder, they will find it and flock to it.  So, find a location that is perfect for YOU.

  • I like to put my feeder on the porch, that way my camera won’t get wet when it rains (happens a lot here during Florida summers).  
  • Put the feeder in a shady location.  This way the food won’t spoil quickly and and it will ensure that you control the light (with your flashes)
  • Attach cut flowers (I particularly like orchids) to the feeder so they will appear in the photo.
  • You can also put potted plants and/or flowers on a stand slightly behind the feeder out of the prefocus area…they will be a bit blurry which will add a nice sense of depth.
  • Put masking tape over all the feeding holes except the one you want the birds to use.  This ensures that when they come to feed, they will do so at exactly the location you want them to (more about this later).
  • Next modify your feeder by removing the ‘foot rests’ in front of the hole you left open (this way you get shots of hummers flying, not standing on the plastic foot rests.)
  • When I’m not photographing, I leave my feeder hanging by the supplied hook .  However, when it is time to photograph, I place the feeder on a piece of PCV and remove the hook (see Diagram 3).  This way there is nothing over the feeder that will be in the photo except the hummer and any flowers that I might be using as props.
  • One last thing, if you have multiple feeders, take down all of them except the one you are actually photographing.  Why give your models any reason to go anywhere else?
  • A sneaky trick:  Put the stem of a flower of your choice in the feeding hole you left open and then put a bit of nectar into the flower with an eyedropper or a syringe.  Since the hummers will become conditioned to come to that particular feeding hole, the next time they come back, they usually adapt quickly and try the flower.  Now you will be able to get killer shots of a hummer feeding from a flower, rather than from your feeder.

The Flashes

Positioning of your flashes is one of most critical decisions you will make.  Trial and error is the key, but my preference is to set up two flashes about 45 degrees from one another with one flash shooting up at the hummer and the other shooting down.  I also set  these two flashes so that neither one of them is pointing directly at the posterboard background …this will prevent them from throwing shadows from the bird or flower props onto the posterboard (See diagram 1).

The flashes need to be CLOSE to the feeder.  I often set them up within two feet of the feeder.  This is necessary because as you increase your shutter speed, the amount of illumination in your shots will be progressively reduced.

Some hummingbird species (like the Ruby-Thoated I often photograph) have white underbellies so I typically use a diffuser on the flash shooting from below the bird…this helps soften the flash so the highlights don’t get  ‘blown-out.’  However, I usually don’t use a diffuser on the flash that is shooting down..this helps make the iridescent feathers on top of the hummer ‘sparkle.’  

The third flash will be positioned close to the posterboard shooting from the side.  By placing the flash off to the side, the backboard will be more illuminated on one side than the other…I find this to be an attractive look since it simulates the effect of the ‘sun’ brightening part of the ‘sky.’  However, if this isn’t appealing to you, adding another flash on the other side of your backdrop will even out illumination (but now you are up to 4 flashes!)

 

The backdrop/posterboard

1/8000 sec, ISO 200/ f/22, Nikon D800E/Nikkor 105 Macro lens

You want to position the posterboard far enough behind the feeder so that it is completely out-of-focus, but not so far that it is too dark in your photograph.  I typically set it about 30″ behind the feeder but your distance will depend on your lens and the aperture you select.

The Camera

  • I position my camera tripod at about a 90 degree angle from the flashes (see diagram 1).
  • Shoot in Raw, not jpeg.  Often I have to underexpose my shots because of the combination of a fast shutter but small aperture.  Shooting in Raw will allow you to boost the exposure in postprocessing.
  • Switch off the Vibration Reduction
  • Turn off the autofocus.
  • Select Manual Mode on the camera
  • Prefocus.  In the diagrams in this blog, I use the spot where the hummer usually ‘hovers’ after taking a sip but you can also select the feeding hole.
    • I just hold my hand in the exact spot I want to photograph the hummer and manually focus on it using Live View.
    • If you want to learn more about using your camera’s Live View function, this article by Ian Plant is a great start.
  • Play with your ISO to find the lowest setting you can use and still be able to increase the exposure in post production without excessive noise.  With my current Nikon full frame camera, I use an ISO 2oo or so.
  • Set your aperture to the setting you selected after reviewing your DOF (see Lens section above)
  • Set your camera speed.  I can tell you that even at 1/5000 of a second, you will still see movement in the wings (you need nearly 1/10,000 of a second to totally freeze those little wings).  However, I actually like to see some wing blur, so I usually select either 1/3200 or 1/4000.
  • If you camera has one of those little pre-focus or ‘red-eye’ lamps that illuminate the subject, turn it off.

STEP 4:  Trial Shots

I am always anxious to start shooting in the morning…especially if hummers are already stopping by while I am setting up.   But I’ve learned that it pays to take your time in the morning and take trial shots after you set up to make sure that everything is perfect.  I review the first trial shot for focus, evenness of flash coverage, how my flower ‘props’ look in the frame and then make adjustments and shoot again.  I continue until I can get an absolutely perfect photo.  Then I go and get my coffee, sit in my chair, put my thumb on the remote shuttle release and wait for the party to start!

STEP 5:  Party Time!

  • Hummers have a predictable pattern when dining at your server…Zip In…Slurp…Back Away…Hover…Repeat.   Once you know this pattern, you simply wait for them to fly into the spot you prefocused on and trip the shutter.

    1/8000 sec, ISO 100/ f/29, Nikon D800E/Nikkor 105 Macro lens

  • Take the feeder down at night and don’t set it back out until you are ready to photograph the next morning. The hummers will know when the food is back and you will likely get a rush of activity.  In addition, the first feedings in the morning will be long.  This first rush in the morning is my most productive time for photography.
  • Don’t photograph your hummingbird the first time it hits your feeder.  This way they get a taste of the nectar before you surprise them with the flash.  They may not like the flash, but once they have a taste of that nectar, they will probably put up with it without taking off.
  • As I mentioned hummers don’t like sudden movements, so even if you are a good distance away, move slowly.

STEP 6:  Postproduction

Once I import my shots into Photoshop, I open them in the RAW format and use the following workflow:

  1. Adjust exposure.  Don’t be surprised that the raw, unprocessed images may look quite dark.   That is due to the high shutter speed, low ISO and small aperture.  So the first thing I have to do is increase the exposure (sometimes by nearly 4 stops)

    BEFORE: This is what your raw shot will often look like right out of your camera.

    .

    AFTER: A little work in Photoshop and here is what you will have!

     

  2. Adjust the shadow slider as needed
  3. Tweak sharpness and luminance to reduce noise
  4. If the background is still too dark, I will put the targeted adjustment cursor on the background and adjust the luminance slider up.  This will lighten the ‘sky’ but not colors in the bird or the flower props (unless they are the same color as your background).

Once I’ve completed the Raw adjustments, I save the file and reopen in regular Photoshop, then:

  1. If there is residual noise in the background of the shot, I cut out the hummingbird and put it on it’s own layer.  I then use the noise filter to clean-up the background layer.  You can also add some Gaussian blur to the background.
  2. I often change the color of the white orchids attached to my feeder to a subtle hue.  Select a hue that contrasts and compliments the color of the sky and the hummer (like in the photo below).

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Hummingbird Photography: A 6 Step Guide with Hummingbird Photo Tips

Final thoughts:

Although this article is a lot longer than your average blog, it certainly isn’t an exhaustive review of the subject…that would take a full book!  Actually, my goal was pretty modest:   I simply hoped to inspire you to give hummingbird photography a try and explain the basic techniques that would give you a good, solid start.   With a bit of practice and patience you will soon be showing your friends photos that will amaze them.

As your hummingbird photography skills improve and you learn techniques and tips that are not covered in this article, please share your learnings with me by noting them in the comments section at the end of this article (I reserve the right to get better!)

Thanks…now get out there and photograph some hummers!
Jeff

PS:  A note about the photos you see on this blog:

Unfortunately, I have to reduce the resolution of my photos by 80% when I insert them in this blog.  If you would like to see them in their full glory and resolution, check out my Flickr Hummingbird album.

PSS:  If you want to see great hand-held shots:

Checkout these photos by Dan Ripplinger.   You will be impressed!

PSSS:  Hummingbird Trivia  (Source: Wikipedia, etc.)

  • Hummers get their name because of the humming sound created by their beating wings, which sometimes sounds like bees or other insects.
  • Hummers can fly at speeds exceeding 15 m/s (54 km/h; 34 mph);
  • Hummers are the fastest animal on the planet (if you measure speed in body lengths per second).
  • Hummers are the only group of birds with the ability to fly backwards
  • Hummers have the largest brain, proportionate to their size, of any animal.
  • Hummers in flight have the highest metabolism of all animals (excepting insects), a necessity in order to support the rapid beating of their wings. Their heart rate can reach as high as 1,260 beats per minute.
  • Hummers hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings 12–80 times per second (depending on the species).
  • Hummers consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, and to do so they must visit hundreds of flowers daily.
  • Hummers are continuously hours away from starving to death, and are able to store just enough energy to survive overnight.
  • Hummers are capable of slowing down their metabolism at night or any other time food is not readily available. They enter a hibernation-like state known as torpor.
  • When the nights get colder, their body temperature can drop significantly which slows down their heart and breathing rate, thus burning much less energy overnight. As the day heats back up, the hummingbird’s body temperature will come back up and they resume their normal activity
  • Hummers are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring in the 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in) range. Indeed, the smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5-cm Bee Hummingbird.
  • Individuals from some species of hummingbirds weigh less than a penny
  • A group of hummingbirds is called a “choir.”

    Purple-throated Carib Hummingbird photographed in the Caribbean

  •  

Hummingbird Photo tips

Hummingbird Photography:  A 6 Step Guide with Photo Tips

 

 

Posted in Hummingbirds, Photo Tips and Guides, Wildlife Also tagged , , |

Sun ‘n Fun Airshow Photo Tips & Guide

Okay, I know most of you read this site because of your interest in landscape and/or wildlife photography.  So, why is this blog about an airshow?  Well, I’ve had a passion about aviation since I was a kid and the Sun N Fun Airshow is a world class event that is located only about an hour from my home…so I just had to go!  And to be honest, a number of my readers are interested in ANY interesting photo location in Central Florida….and this one big Photo Op!  If this interests you, read on and I’ll share with you my Sun ‘n Fun Airshow photo tips & guide.

Sun 'n Fun Airshow Photo Vultee Vibrator

This beautifully polished and photogenic Vultee “Vibrator” was proudly displayed in the ‘Warbirds’ area.

If you have never been to an airshow, it’s kinda like Woodstock…for airplane nuts.  First of all, there is the airshow itself, in which aerobatic planes, wing-walkers and precision flying teams perform (like the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds).  Second, there are a lot of vintage and high performance aircraft parked on the flight-line that you can walk right up to and photograph (but be careful not to touch…a careless scrape of a camera could ruin a very expensive paint job).  Finally, there are exhibits where aviation vendors try to sell their goods.   Not only that, but you will find flight simulators, video games, food stations and lots of things to keep non-photographers happy.

photo tips & guide for Sun 'n Fun Airshow

B-25 Nose Art

Logistics:

  1. First of all, the show runs thru this Sunday, April 14, so if you want to go this year, you have to make some quick plans!
  2. Tickets are $37 for regular 1 day admission.  There is also a preferred ticket available for an additional $20.  I bought one of these but it really wasn’t worth it (you get a plastic chair, free water and nice bathrooms located at the center of the runway).
  3. The airshow is located at the Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland.  Link with directions: http://www.sun-n-fun.org/FlyIn/GettingHere/driving/directionsDrive.aspx
  4. The gates open at 8am.  The airshow runs from 3-6pm.
  5. There are a lot of affordable food and drinks vendors.
  6. Here is a link to the Sun ‘n Fun site for additional details: http://www.sun-n-fun.org/getdoc/4d0ac40c-4330-4be2-a5e3-6266d5feb194/Admission-Rates.aspx
  7. They also have an Iphone and Android Ap you can download that provided schedules, maps and other helpful info.

Sun ‘n Fun Airshow photo tips & guide for my fellow photographers:

Self-Portrait in reflection of prop spinner on a Beechcraft Staggerwing

  1. Get there at 8am!  This will allow you to get some great low sun angle shots of the parked aircraft. Also, clouds tend to form as the day progresses, so if you want some of those beautiful deep blue skies in the background of your shots, get there early.
  2. Wear comfortable sneakers.  You will be walking much of the day.  You don’t need hiking boots.
  3. Bring a hat, refillable water bottle and sunscreen..obviously there isn’t much shade:)
  4. Check out the weather report.  If you are lucky there will be a forecast of clear skies.  Not that you can’t get good shots if it is overcast, but it isn’t ideal.
  5. Unlike a lot of airshows, Sun ‘n Fun does allow you to bring backpacks and tripods.
  6. Bring a lightweight tripod.  If you aren’t blessed with clear skies or if you want to maximize your depth of field for your shots of static aircraft, it will come in handy.  It can get crowded so yes, a tripod can be awkward, but if you going to the show, why not ensure that you don’t miss that one great shot because you didn’t bring it with you?
  7. Sun 'n Fun Airshow Photo Tips

    I had a ball photographing reflections on this Lockheed Electra!

  8. Take a wide angle lens for your upclose shots of the parked planes.  A fisheye would be fun to bring as well.
  9. You will need a fast telephoto (300mm MINIMUM) for the airshow.  Set it on Shutter Priority at 1/400 second (this will be fast enough to freeze the aircraft but slow enough to give you that nice ‘blur’ on the propeller).  If jets are performing, you might need to increase to 1/000 to account for their greater speed.
  10. If you don’t splurge for the Preferred Seating, bring a lightweight folding chair.  By the time the airshow starts at 3 your legs should be getting tired and standing for all 180 minutes of the airshow wouldn’t be a lot of fun!
  11. Bring your Polarizer!  You will use this filter all day long and it will ensure that you get those rich blue skies..it will also help you manage reflections off of polished aluminum.
  12. For the actual airshow, find a location near the Announcer’s Booth (this is the center of the action).  Nearly all the action is overhead, so it isn’t critical that you get right up front.  It wasn’t terribly crowded on Tuesday when I went, so it wasn’t necessary to find a seat well in advance of the 3pm start for the airshow.  However, the weekend will be busier.

Even if you don’t have a passion for aviation, I’d encourage you to expand your photographic horizons and attend Sun ‘n Fun.  Some of the aircraft are just absolutely beautiful…bright colors, polished metal, framed by blue skies…lots of possibilities!Sun 'n Fun Airshow photo tips & guide

 

Sun n fun photo

PS:

One last thought, if you’ve never photographed the iconic Airstream Ranch, it is only about 20 minutes from the airfield.  Even better, if you are planning to be at the airshow at 8, why not get a daybreak shot of the Ranch (sunrise is just a bit after 7am now).

Photo of Airstream Ranch

Daybreak at Airstream Ranch

For details about how to get to the Airstream Ranch, you should check out the great blog by my fellow Central Florida Photographer Ed Rosack .http://edrosack.com/wordpress/2013/03/08/airstream-ranch/

Have fun!
Jeff

This photo is dedicated to the memory of Jane Wicker and her pilot, Charlie Schwenker (shown here performing at the Sun 'n Fun airshow in Lakeland Florida in April of 2013s year).

Jane and Charlie

PS:  This article is dedicated to the memory of Jane Wicker and her pilot, Charlie Schwenker (shown above & below performing at the 2013 Sun ‘n Fun airshow).
Jane and Charlie were killed on June 22, 2013 when their Stearman biplane crashed at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
I met and briefly spoke with Jane and Charlie at Sun ‘n Fun…they clearly loved what they did and performed with passion and enthusiasm.
Rest in Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aerial Photography, Central Florida Photo Locations, Military, Photo Tips and Guides Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Central Florida Zoo: A great Central Florida Photo Location…Guide & Photo Tips

Hi there,
For years I have used the internet to plan for my photo excursions. I would type in “photo tips for Bryce Canyon” and off I’d go!   Well, now comes the time for me to “Pay it Forward” and start putting some info out there for others to use. This will be my first attempt…

Central Florida doesn’t have a world class public zoo…frankly, Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Busch Gardens have a lot more to see than the Central Florida Zoo. However, there are a lot of solid photo opportunities at this little zoo and the crowds (and ticket prices) are a lot more reasonable. The compactness of this zoo is what makes it unique and great for photographers.  The exhibits for the Mountain Lion and Leopard for example, might not be the huge enclosures you would see at state-of-the-art zoos, but for a photographer, it means you can shoot from 20 feet away or less and get some killer shots.

photo of Mountain Lion at Central Florida Zoo  Central Florida photo locations guide photo tips

With a 300mm lens at 15 ‘ you can see the whiskers on this tabby!

Photo Tips for my fellow Photographers:

  •  Most of the big cats and a lot of the other critters are in cages that have a kind of supersized chicken wire enclosing them. The challenge you will have is shooting thru the wire.  After a bit of experimentation, here is what will help:
    •  Only shoot thru the wire that is in the shade…if it is illuminated by the sun, it will be impossible to hide in your shot
    • Shoot with your widest aperture (this will put the wire out of focus)
    • Wait for the animal to be as far away from the wire as possible (this will also ensure the wire is out of focus)
    • Be patient…your subject won’t necessarily be in the primo spot for your photo the first time you check..

Now, I’d be the first to admit that I HATE snakes, but the little serpentarium they have here is a great photo op.  Check this out:

Photo of Copperhead at Central Florida Zoo Photo tips

If it wasn’t for a quarter inch of glass, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to get this close to a copperhead…even with a long lens.

  • You can put your lens right up against the glass and although it is dimly lit, the snakes don’t move a lot (if at all), so you can get some shots that you would never consider if you saw these guys in the wild.
    • Use your quickest lens (I used my 105mm Nikon Macro at 2.8)
    • You might have to set your ISA up a bit, but I was able to shoot at 200

The Zoo also recently added an otter exhibit.  That little guy didn’t cooperate much with me the morning I was there but I did manage to get a couple decent shots:

Photo of Otter at Central Florida Zoo  Photo tips

Some last thoughts:

  • Arrive early…the zoo opens at 9am and the animals are a lot livelier before the place gets busy.
  • If you are coming during Central Florida’s summer (say the five months from May thru Sept), it will be hot…sunscreen, a hat and some comfortable clothes will make your day more pleasant.
  •  Here is a link for directions, etc:   www.centralfloridazoo.org/
  • All in all, this a a great Central Florida Photo location.

So…there is my first post!  I hope you find this guide and the photo tips helpful.  Next week I’m going to check out the wildflower fields near Lake Jessup…more to come on that.

Jeff

The Amur Leopard is as breathtaking as it is rare.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Central Florida Photo Locations Also tagged , , , |