A Working Pro’s Transition To Mirrorless Cameras. Are You Ready To Make The Switch?

Ike shooting the stars with his A6000 from camp on the Tonto Trail in Grand Canyon National Park. I shot this at ISO3200 at 15sec. @F/4. Focusing at night is a little tricky with an electronic view finder (EVF). In low light there is a lot of noise and I used the MF mode which magnifies the image for focus assist. It helps a lot but takes getting used to. Ike is illuminated by his Sony’s LCD. My image at ISO 3200 looked amazing and moving the luminance and color noise sliders to about 45 in Lightroom resulted in a beautiful image. The smaller lenses allow more depth of field than the equivalent full frame focal length.

There is a wealth of reviews of virtually every piece of photo gear made, both on dedicated review sites as well as thousands of customer reviews on retail sites such as B&H. My review is not meant to re-hash what’s already been revealed. My goal is to offer a performance perspective from a working pro with broad outdoor photography interests. This is non-scientific review about quality and performance of this camera. Is this $1000 smallish camera body a serious professional tool capable of performing and delivering pro results?

The short answer? Yes. But it takes some getting used to. Don’t want to read much further? Then here is my Sony A6300 (with Zeiss 16-70F/4) Report Card.

  • Image quality (compared to Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70F/4 L): A+. Pound for pound, across the aperture and zoom range, I find no noticeable difference in image quality and sharpness. There are some minor differences in auto white balance performance and contrast. I still like the Canon 5D files a little better but that is very subjective. The A6300 has the best APS-C sensor I’ve used.
  • Price: A. You really get a lot of features for a $1000 body.
  • Autofocus performance: Manual and single shot: A. Continuous: A or D. Seriously, there is no in-between. When it’s on, like tracking skiers flying through trees in flat light, it is dead nuts on with a 90% keep rate. When it’s off, it’s WAY off, like not just a little soft, but like, it can’t lock onto a subject in bright backlight (in servo mode) to save its life resulting in an entire series of blur!
  • Metering accuracy: A. Maybe even slightly better than the 5D3.
  • Ergonomics: C. I can’t make my hands smaller. Please, some more thought into button layout. This is where they need the most help in my opinion.
  • Customization: like being able to change settings quickly from landscape shooting to action shooting (or visa versa): D.
  • Image Stabilization: B. No better than Canon, although it’s in the camera body not the lens. It doesn’t work with all lenses. Disappointingly, IS is not available with my new dedicated 12mm/F2.8 Touit.

 
 
Last spring I knew I had to get a different outfit for the type of hiking, canyoneering and skiing I do. I was tired of carrying heavy Canon gear long distances along with all the other gear I needed. Every pound adds up. With my plans to hike long sections of the Pacific Crest Trail getting a lighter outfit without sacrificing pro results and performance was critically important to me. I looked at a lot of options including using a lighter entry level Canon DSLR with my existing lenses. That option seemed to offer very little in weight or cost savings.

Self portrait on the PCT in Washington’s North Cascades, 4 miles from the US-Canada border. The camera is on a mini tripod with 10 second self timer. The first 10-days of my hike were wet and cold. The Sony in the f-stop’s Navin Pack mounted on my chest remained pretty resistant to the near constant wet and cold. I never had any condensation problems in the lens.

This was an agonizing decision. I looked hard at the modern crop of 1” sensor point and shoot cameras. They are fantastic, fun to use travel photography tools with great optics and zoom ranges. I just wasn’t ready to go that small and sacrifice not having files I felt were suitable for large prints and large magazine use. Going with the full frame Sony A7R only saved weight on the body. The full frame lenses are as heavy as the Canon L lenses, so no real savings with a Sony full frame system. So I settled on the mirrorless APS-C system.

After all the years of shooting pro level Canon DSLRs with L series lenses, it was hard to believe that now I was holding a camera and lens (24mp with equivalent to a 24-105F/4) literally a third of the weight, size and cost that was capable of delivering images of equal quality. Since acquiring the A6300 with 16-70F/4 last I have landed a 1.5 page spread and cover of Backpacker Magazine with this camera/lens.

My Pacific Crest Trail camera outfit. Sony Alpha6300, Sony-Zeiss 16-70F4 lens, Really Right Stuff compact tripod and mini ballhead, 55mm B+W polarizer, Singh-Ray 3-stop hard step, 100mmx150mm graduated ND, extra battery and wall charger, lens pen, 2 extra SD cards and F-Stop Navin chest holster case. The camera and lens with the Really Right Stuff camera plate with battery and SD card weighs 1.8 pounds. The whole ensemble was 3.2 pounds.

Initially purchased for a niche landscape outfit for personal backpacking trips I have since used it on ski action and backcountry adventure work for both stock projects and on assignment. More on that later. With a smaller base outfit, everything else I need is also smaller like filters, cases, tripod head and camera plate.

Prior to the A6300 I was not a big fan of cropped sensors. In fact, I sold my Canon 7D and 50D a month after purchasing it. The files were inferior to me compared to the original 5D. I don’t know what Sony did with their cropped sensors, but they are considerably better than the earlier Canon cropped sensors.

When new cameras come out, reviewers go hog wild with descriptions of all the technological advancements. No camera/lens combination gets any consideration from me unless the optical quality for big prints and pro results is there. That’s the foundation. Beyond that, I try to see through all the hoopla and remind myself that ALL cameras are still the same basic thing: a light proof box with 2 functions – exposure and focus. The ease and accuracy of the 2 basic functions determines performance. I value performance and practical function over whiz-bang bells and whistles, most of which I never use.

There are 5 functions and operations I use and change regularly when my eye is to the viewfinder. They are:

  1. Changing the aperture and shutter in manual.
  2. Applying exposure compensation in aperture or shutter priority mode.
  3. Changing focus points on the fly.
  4. Using manual focus override, or changing focus modes (servo to one shot AF).
  5. Changing ISO.

 
The ease of using the 5 functions mentioned above is why I chose Canon in the first place years ago. The layout and ergonomics just made sense to me. The A6300 has some serious performance and ergonomic design issues to improve upon. I can’t reduce the size of my hands without serious loss of blood, so I don’t know how much smaller they can make camera bodies. Sony can, however, put a little more thought into button and dial layout. For example, I operate mainly in Aperture Priority mode. I change the aperture setting by spinning a wheel with my right thumb. It is easy to accidentally change the shooting mode as that wheel is close and similar in feel when your eye is in the viewfinder concentrating on the image! The thumb wheel is too small and often jumps functions. I can’t just change focus points unless I turn the focus point selection on.

My friend Catrin shot this image of me using the A6300 with 16-70F/4 lens (24-105 full frame equivalent) on the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park Utah. She shot this with my 5D Mark III with the 24-70F2.8L. The next image shows what I shot of her while she shot this of me.

This is my friend Catrin, with my Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 24-70F/2.8 L on the Really Right Stuff tripod and head. This is what I saw while lying on my side in the previous image. The Sony A6300 has liberated me somewhat allowing enjoyable photography when I need to be light and mobile. HOWEVER, I am not ready to sell off my Canon system. On important assignments and all day shoots, the Canon still reigns supreme.

Performance as a landscape camera. The Sony A6300 has everything you need to create excellent landscape images. And you never have to lock up the mirror. My favorite mode is DMF (Direct Manual Focus) where the camera lets you set a focus point, and uses a keyed color display to tell you what is in focus and what is not. I find this very useful. I can turn the focus ring and the camera will do a 5X magnification to assist with critical focus. This has been helpful in twilight shooting. When on a tripod, Sony recommends turning IS off. On the Canon, this is a nano-second flip of a switch on the lens barrel. On the Sony, I have to press 3 buttons needing reading glasses to get to the same point. Again, they have all the right stuff. They just need to improve performance. Switching IS modes should be a one button function.

Sunrise over the Inner Gorge along the Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon. 16-70 lens at 16mm. ISO400. 1/60th sec at F16

Emily and Jordan Star gazing in the Zion backcountry near Northgate Peaks. Sony A6300 with Sony-Zeiss 16-70F4 lens at 16mm. ISO1250, 8 seconds @ F4. The DMF (Direct Manual Focus) mode was the most helpful. By pressing down the focus button while turning the manual focus ring, the camera does a 5X magnification, allowing easier focus on the tent and couple in low light.

Performance as an action camera. All new camera systems seem cumbersome at first. Thankfully, I stuck to the golden rule of never using an unfamiliar camera on an assignment. I am also glad I waited until I’ve used this camera for 10 months before writing about its capability as an action camera. I wanted to rule out the bias of newness and learning how the camera functions. Although I’ve used the A6300 on a ski action assignment and a backpack assignment with success, I still believe the A6300 really needs help as a performance action camera.

This is from my first winter stock shoot with the Sony. We had single digit temperatures and the Sony battery, NP-FW50, drained fast. But, the AF-C focus mode did will tracking this skier in the trees in flat light. 16-70 Zeiss lens, 1/400th second @F5.6, 400 ISO

I did a few stock shoots with the Sony before even considering using it on a paid assignment. This camera has trouble locking focus in strong backlight in continuous (AF-C) mode. With grainless images at ISO 400 and with lots of bright light I was able to zone focus this image using the DMF (direct manual focus) mode with the viewfinder indicating what was focused and what was not, using a keyed color display, at 1/1000 second at F/11 at 16mm (24mm full frame equivalent)

These were shot on assignment where I finally had some confidence in the AF-C focus mode. We had a very advanced skier flying downhill with trees between him and the camera. I shoot in conditions like this frequently and have developed the motor skills to keep up with my subject. The sensor stayed locked on the skier on this sequence even though trees were moving rapidly in front of the selected focus point.

They boast about their fast frame rate (11fps, almost double the 5D3) and speed and accuracy of their hybrid phase and contrast detection focus systems. You have more of the sensor available to you for focus points allowing more flexibility in image composition with moving subjects. The focus tracking accuracy (AF-C) in backlight is dismal. In most other situations, it is great. With phase detection, the camera doesn’t “search.” It knows it needs to focus closer or further and it locks on very fast. Like any other system, focus performance accuracy varies from lens to lens. The 16-70/F4 Sony-Zeiss is much better than the 12/F2.8 Zeiss Touit.

The small Zeiss 12mmF2.8 Touit is great in narrow slot canyons. This is one of our canyoneers near Zion in mid-May. As a prime lens I am surprised at how much flare I get. But it is sharp. Touit 12mmF2.8 ISO800, 1/20th second, hand held, @F16.

I had to learn to turn off the auto review feature so I can track my subject live as I’m shooting an action sequence. They don’t make it obvious or easy to do this and at first I couldn’t track a subject because all I saw in the electronic viewfinder was a review of the first shot I took. The Sony does everything you need to do for action work. It is just more clunky than using pro level 1 or 5 series Canons.

I’ve witnessed 2 major camera technology revolutions in my career as a photographer. The first was autofocus lenses in the early 1990’s. First seen as gimmicky and a crutch for hobbyists, predictive autofocus with multiple focus point selection changed action photography standards forever. The next tectonic shift was, of course, the transition from film to digital SLR cameras. No elaboration needed. In a practical sense, mainly for commercial work, film is long gone. I think we are on the verge of a third major shift. I believe mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses along with the evolution of smartphone cameras will make the digital SLR near obsolete.

Over time, Sony will hopefully improve the current ergonomic and performance shortcomings and mirrorless image making bodies will out perform the top pro bodies we know today. This is just a prediction and I don’t know when this will happen. It’s not going to be in the next 12 months but probably within 10 years. Glad I jumped in on the upward emergence of mirrorless cameras as serious professional image making tools.

This is a screen grab from Lightroom showing how an image looks with my default develop preset I made for this camera. In normal daylight, the focus tracking, or zone focus, worked great with a distant action shot of Lauri hiking the High Sierra last fall.

THE GOOD:

  • Compact weight.
  • Excellent optical quality in smaller package.
  • Lower price point than comparable DSLR’s.
  • More focus point options.
  • Fast motor drive.
  • Image stabilization built into camera.
  • Depth of field verification system in Manual and Direct Manual focus modes.
  • No mirror lock up needed!

 
THE BAD:

  • Poor instruction manual from Sony. (I recommend David Busch’s Sony Alpha/ILCE-6300 Guide to Digital Photography.)
  • Lack of smaller, fast aperture telephotos specifically designed for the APS-C format. How about a 45-135F2.8 (70-200 full frame) smaller than a Canon 70-200F/4?
  • Very slow start up time to the point where you will miss shots.
  • Buttons and dials with competing functions too close together.
  • Reconfiguring the camera for different shooting styles (landscape/macro to action) is clunky at best.
  • No quick AF to MF on the lens.
  • No full time MF override in ANY focus mode like Canon.

 
THE UGLY:

  • Battery life sucks big time! I change batteries for every 16gb card in temperate weather. I don’t chimp much. I have auto review and wifi turned off. And they are expensive ($78 when this blog was written.)
  • They put the media card slot in the battery compartment so you have to turn the camera upside to change cards. The media card should have its own easy to reach compartment when the camera is upright with a one-touch formatting function.

 

The smaller Sony has made it much nicer to shoot in tight spaces with low light such as in slot canyons near Zion. A lighter load with smaller camera pack makes rappelling and down climbing in narrow walls easier. 16-70 lens at 43mm. ISO800, 1/100th second @F4.5

Best Of 2016 – New Mexico to Alaska and Points In Between

In this post I am showcasing a selection of my most memorable images of 2016. Each one has an expanded caption providing context on how the image came to be.

Are these really my “best” images of the year? Hard to say. The hardest part in doing a “best of” series is narrowing your selects down to a reasonable number. Photographers, even with 20+ years of commercial experience, are still their own worst editors. To help with my selection, I relied on the opinion of others. First, I chose 6 of my top 10 Instagram posts of 2016. Next, I chose several selects from 4 memorable assignments. The remainder are personal favorites with little regard for their commercial potential. They are shots that represent milestones for me or just shots I really dig. My personal favorites include a mix of Alaska and Southwest landscapes and some from my Zion workshops.

Instagram Top 10 – Spring photo workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/4L IS at 28mm ISO800 1/40 sec @f6.3 hand held with Image Stabilization.
This is Roxanne, one of my Alaskan friends that took my spring workshop. After the workshop, she hung around so we could go to places that we can’t go to during the workshop like hidden slot canyons that I don’t reveal. This shot is a bit cliche’ but it is my top Instagram post for the year. It also got picked up by Canon USA and Canon UK where it received thousands of likes.

I always try to challenge my photographic weaknesses, mostly shooting candid portraits. I define “weakness” as being uncomfortable or unconfident that I am making good images in a genre that I normally don’t shoot much of. I like action and environmental portraits better than static ones. I tried this mainly on the trail as I anticipated instant camaraderie with fellow trail hikers. Even then, I only “clicked” with a few fellow hikers that I felt comfortable photographing at close range. Fortunately, 2 of my action portraits, one from the PCT, made my Instagram top 10. That gives me some validation that I am getting better at portraits!

Sometimes great images just fall into your lap. But that is the exception, not the rule. There are a few here where that happened. For example, on a foggy ridge just outside the Glacier Peaks Wilderness on my southbound Pacific Crest Trail hike through Washington, I almost literally “ran into” Hummingbird, a northbound hiker. 5-minutes later, I made an on-the-spot action portrait of her that became my favorite trail portrait and my second most popular Instagram post of 2016.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70/F4 at 26mm ISO400 1/25sec @f6.3, with B+W polarizer, hand held.
This shot exemplifies the ideal of spending more time finding the image than actually shooting it. We arrived at this location at Island Pass in the Sierra in mid-afternoon with the mountains you see in harsh backlight with a stiff breeze across the lake. This is Banner Peak, an icon around Mammoth Lakes and the Minaret Range. Most people shoot this from the well-known Thousand Island Lakes which was 2 miles further down trail. After analyzing where the morning light would be, we decided to stay here to make sunrise shots. When my iPhone alarm went off on this frosty fall morning, we were blessed with clear skies and calm winds. Lauri knew exactly what to wear and where to go. I knew exactly where to shoot from to frame up a pleasing horizontal and vertical versions of this image.

More often than not, great images are the result of spending more time finding the image than the actual shooting. Your ability to find and exploit great light, to make light when Mother Nature isn’t helping, and to read your subject’s emotions and personalities directing and motivating them to get what you are after visually are all important skills beyond your technical mastery that define who you are as a photographer. They define your vision and it is your vision, not your equipment, that gets you hired. On assignments and personal productions alike, there are always problems to solve and creative soul searching to do that lead to great imagery.

As a workshop leader and instructor, teaching and motivating others on how to take better images, I am careful to make sure I always practice what I preach, placing more emphasis on vision and creativity than on technique or equipment. Focusing and improving on your life skills and creative vision make it possible to fully exploit unforeseen, “fall into your lap” photo opportunities even when you are on assignment executing a shot list. It sure helps keep photography fun!

Personal Favorite – Turnagain Arm, Alaska
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 29mm ISO100 1/3 sec @f16 with Singh-Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter
Lupine wildflowers at sunset along Turnagain Arm, near Girdwood, AK. Been shooting these for decades. Never gets old. I just keep updating my landscapes on newer digital sensors. The sky, the water level and color, and feel of the light are always different.

Assignment Image – Clovis, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F/2.8L at 40mm ISO320 1/500 sec @f7.1 with ST-E3 transmitter and 600RT speedlite with Spinlight 360 grid.
I got another chance to make some sports portraits using our strobes and mixing the light with the waning sunset colors and stadium lights at the Clovis High School. This was Rohan, a Wendy’s High School Heisman 2016 national finalist.

Personal Favorite – Tonto Trail backpacking, South Kiabab Trail to Grandview, Grand Canyon National Park.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 16mm ISO3200 15 seconds @f4
This is our friend and fellow photographer Ike on a November backpack trip. At an at-large camp above the Inner Gorge with virtually no light pollution, we were shooting lit tents (Lauri painting with a headlamp) when I noticed his LCD screen illuminating his face. So I made him next to his tent my subject allowing the very low intensity light from his camera LCD to paint him with light. Ike did great holding still for 15 seconds. I shot this with my new backpack camera, the Sony A6300 mirrorless with Zeiss 16-70F/4 lens.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Subway, Zion National Park, Utah
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO100 1/20sec @F/16 with B+W circular polarizer
After our Zion Fall Landscape Workshop, I got a permit for the Subway, a 6 mile hike to this very spot. We can’t go here during the workshop so I went here the day after it ended and one of my participants went with me. I’ve been at the Subway multiple times but the last 5 times has been from the top down, which most photographer’s don’t do since the top-down route is technical and involves swims and rappels. When I do that I focus on the adventure side of the Subway. I wanted to go back and re-do a lot of landscapes on newer cameras. When we got here there was a group of 6 people lined up all across this scene. But no other shooter saw this angle. When one photographer pulled out I went to his spot but I decided to stand in the waist deep pool behind me and shoot this low angle. I asked the photographer to my right to move over slightly (which he obliged) but I still got a piece of his tripod in the image.

Assignment Image and Instagram top 10, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 20mm ISO200 1/125sec @f16 with St-E3 on camera and 600RT with Spinlight 360 with half cut CTO and 1/4″ grid
This is from the La Tierra Trails in Santa Fe. I love working action with more than one person and using off camera lighting and making it all work. I prefer to shoot into the light with some sort of natural fill light (snow, sand, light colored dirt or walls) and then using off camera strobes to supplement the light. This is the type of assignment shooting I love doing the most.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Cascade Mountains, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 44mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f7.1
Southbound (SOBO) thru hiker trail name, “Neemore” (need less, want more), hiking in early morning at Scout Pass with Mt. Rainier in background. I met Neemore at like 6:30 am at Scout Pass as I was frantically looking for my lost spoon, my only eating utensil. He simply gave me his spoon (which was identical to the one I lost) saying he wasn’t using it and thanking me for lightening his pack. People rarely look good with direct sunlight but the sun was just on the horizon and still soft enough to make a decent front lit portrait.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 19mm ISO400 1/20sec @f8 with B+W circular polarizer
First light on peaks above Lemah Valley with reflection on small nameless pond near timberline. This was the first location on the trail where I had to remind myself that this hike was not just about making miles. I stopped here in mid-afternoon and stayed predicting that I would get nice first light on these peaks. The altocumulus clouds were a plus. I did not bring a tripod on this stretch so I relied on the image stabilization in the camera to help. It did great.

Instagram top 10 – PCT, Washington
Sony A6300 Zeiss16-70F/4at 70mm ISO400 1/80sec @f9
Most long distance hikers adopt trail names. Somebody else gives you one and you can choose to accept it. They are often funny and easier to remember than real names. But, I do know her real name as well. This is northbound PCT hiker, “Hummingbird”, walking in the fog as she was approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness. We talked for a good 5 minutes. She has a warm and outgoing personality and she was the first person on trail that I asked to photograph. I could not pass up such a great subject in soft light that makes everyone look good. She is the real deal and about as authentic as you can be as a thru hiker. This is my favorite trail portrait from all of my hike.

Personal Favorite – PCT, Washington Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Sony A6300 Zeiss 16-70F/4 at 41mm ISO400 1/60 sec @f9 hand held
After a frustrating week of wet, cold weather with very little good light, in July, I awoke on the summit of Grizzly Peak in fog. But this time I rejoiced knowing that at some point the fog would thin and I would get some great sun shafts. This was quite a treat after a week dry spell in photos.

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 200mm ISO400 1/500 sec @f4
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Instagram Top 10 – Hikers on Portage Pass, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f9 with Singh_Ray LB polarizer.
I put together the 3 things needed to get a good image. We went to a target rich scenic area, I was with amazing and photogenic talent, Lila and Kelly (both of whom are life long Alaskans and intrepid hikers), and be there in good light. With all that, everything else just falls into place. Hiking Portage Pass with views of Portage Glacier and Passage Canal, Prince William Sound, Chugach NF, Alaska

Personal Favorite – Stock production.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4 at 17mm ISO400 1/640 sec @f8
This was completely different from what I planned on shooting and I am glad I have the ability to be adaptable and think outside the box. I planned on doing hiking scenarios with a young couple at Byron Glacier. But Whitney, one of my favorite people to work with, shows up with a new, clean car with a sun roof. If anyone can pull off still looking good with a 17mm lens in their face it’s Whitney. I knew she excels at enthusiastic expressions. I quickly summed up the resources I had in front of me and remembering the credo of “shoot what’s happening”, I abandoned, or rather postponed our hiking plans to shoot this concept on a beautiful early evening in Portage Valley. Please, no comments about how I am promoting unsafe activities. We were well aware of the Bear Valley to Whittier tunnel schedule and we did this on a half mile stretch with virtually no other vehicles on this side road.

Assignment Image – Chartered Sport fishing from Seward, Alaska.
Canon 5DIII 24-70F2.8L at 42mm ISO400 1/400 sec @f10
Photos can be made more compelling by finding interesting and unique perspectives. Being a fisherman myself, one of the crew members brought a flyfishing float tube and fins so I could get in the water and get this nice low angle of a charter fishing boat in Thumb Cove. The tides are always changing so I am shooting while kicking with my fins to keep from spinning around and drifting too far from the boat. And, yes, even with thick fleece pants and waterproof chest waders, this glacial water is still damn cold!

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Buckskin Canyon, Paria Wilderness, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 176mm ISO1600 1/160 sec @F4.5
After our Spring Landscape workshop in Zion, I took some friends and fellow photographers to Buckskin Canyon – a well known and popular place amongst photographers. It was a great day. Remembering Jay Maisel’s words, “If you are shooting something everyone else shoots, make it your own.” So I began keying in on people’s expressions and emotions seeing this magical place for the first time. This is our friend and fellow photographer Tammy. I’ve worked with her before as talent and I saw that she was very impressed with this location and experience so I asked her to re-create her expressions I saw earlier. The best part was that others got to see my whole creative process from coming up with the idea to creating the shot to the post processing.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F4 at 17mm ISO100 1/15 sec @f16 with Singh_Ray 3 stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter.
When I find a place I really like I go back there multiple times at different times of the year, if feasible. This is one of my “go to” sunset locations overlooking Hop Valley. The clouds, and sun position are always different. My favorite landscape technique is to shoot backlight with reflective subject matter, like the light sandstone which helps bounce warm light around. After our Spring Landscape Workshop, I took a few participants to this location where we can’t legally go to on a commercial workshop.

Instagram Top 10 – Sunset over Hop Valley, Zion National Park, Utah.
Canon 5DIII 17-40F/4L at 17mm ISO400 1/20sec @f16 with 3-stop soft step graduated neutral density filter.
This is how we ended the day on a very challenging shoot. This is Heidi who has shot for us for years in Alaska. This was her first shoot with us in Utah. I was in a funk because Lauri had broken her leg earlier in the day. (We didn’t know it was broken at the time.) She was resting comfortably at our friends house in Springdale and encouraged me to go out and do our planned shoot. Heidi is just awesome and has time after time saved a shoot when my creativity wasn’t where it needed to be. Luckily, I knew the location and we shot a bunch of stuff earlier with her partner, Hunter, as a couple. When she did this I knew it was golden. Getting great talent is half the battle.

Personal Favorite – Winter trail runner, West Rim Trail, Taos, New Mexico.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4 at 155mm ISO400 1/1000 sec @f7.1
It is rare when I can get someone doing something while there are big flakes falling with no wind. Usually, it’s too cold, windy, or no talent is available when soft snow is falling. This is Kendra who is the real deal and hikes and or runs daily. She is on the very popular West Rim Trail, a 7-mile trail with a gentle grade that has great views into the Rio Grande Gorge. I almost always use a telephoto to help emphasize the snow. This one was tough to choose as Kendra is really photogenic and I wanted to show her face. But the running away from the camera and the contrast of the trail unfolding in front of her captured my imagination more.

Personal Favorite – Workshop, Emerald Pools, Zion National Park, Utah in winter.
Canon 5DIII 70-200F/4L at 70mm ISO100 1/2sec @f16 with circular polarizer
This is another example of bad weather = good images. The falls don’t run all the time. With the sun out, the light would be harsh and contrasty. With the new snow melting, the falls were running strong, and great colors and saturation were happening. I love snow in the desert! A similar to this was selected for a State of Utah Calendar.

Favorite Images of 2013

Favorite Images of 2013 shot by Adventure Photographer Michael DeYoung

 

This is the longest blog I’ve put out so far. Hopefully it is broken down into easy to read segments. It is about my favorite images for 2013.

Usually my editors or my clients choose the best of my images and trust me, this is a good thing. This time I am choosing my favorite images for 2013 with a brief description as to why. This was a good exercise in practicing what I preach and doing a tight edit. Most photographers struggle with objectively editing their best work. That’s why this blog is about my “favorite” not necessarily my “best” work.   I mean I would like to think my favorite work is my best work, but that isn’t reality.  I will still show deference to my editors.

With nearly 42k images shot in 2013 and edited down to 10.3k in my Lightroom master catalog, it was tough to narrow them down to 13. (OK, I’m stretching the truth a little. I’m counting 3 very closely related pairs as 1 photo so total is 17.) Why 13? It’s not because it was 2013 but more because I’m feeling “anti 10.” Too many things seem to be “top 10 this” or “best 10 that.” Why is “10” the most popular number for a collective? Who knows? It could be due to the metric system or Moses. If Moses had come down the mountain with 9 commandments our magazine world might be different today. Magazine articles or blogs that read: “9 best whatever” don’t sound all that bad to me. Well, baseball and golf courses like 9 so it can’t be all that bad. How does 9 “whatever” relate to 13 photos? It doesn’t. It’s just silly thinking. Let’s look at some photos. Hope you enjoy them.

Skiers hiking up Kachina Peak to ski down Main Street, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Skiers hiking up Kachina Peak to ski down Main Street, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

PEAK EXPERIENCE. Sometimes timing is everything when going after the “killer shot” It takes me about an hour to hike from the top of Chair 2 at Taos Ski Valley to the top of 12, 400′ Kachina Peak. We picked a great day with fresh snow, blue skies, light winds and two great skiers. Everyone expects killer ski shots to involve air and exploding powder. For me pulling off a good ski lifestyle shot is more difficult. Hiking up Kachina slows me down and, as my lungs are searching for oxygen, it gives me time to think about crafting different shots. This shot is being used in an ad campaign to promote Taos as a winter destination. About a half hour later we started doing ski action shots with my two great skiers, Matt Gresham and Andrea Krejci.

On this action shot, shooting into the sun with a fixed 20mm lens, I asked Andrea to ski right at me and do a sudden stop about 5 feet in front of me. This is where I trusted her ability to execute a precision move and not mow me over. The reason I had her do this is because the terrain opposite the sun sloped downhill and away from me and thus not providing enough natural fill. I knew that if Andrea executed this move the way I envisioned (which she did – several times) she would create her own fill light at the last second.  It worked. This shot was used by the original client for the cover of the Taos Ski Valley Visitor Guide.

Skier carving a hard left turn on Main Street off Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Skier carving a hard left turn on Main Street off Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

THE GRAND ROYAL HIKE. Good friend John Hoffer, Lauri and I got to go where few people go to and what could be the most awesome and moving spot in the Grand Canyon – the Royal Arch. It took three days of backpacking to get here. As the sun was cresting over the top of the arch, I laid on my back and captured my two hiking companions with the 15mm fisheye. Leaving the arch involved a precipitous hike out and gnarly descent with a 20 foot rappel (with backpacks) down to the Colorado River and a two-day hike out along the Western Tonto and out Bass Canyon.

Hikers/backpackers standing beneath the Royal Arch in Royal Arch Creek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Hikers/backpackers standing beneath the Royal Arch in Royal Arch Creek, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

BRING EARPLUGS NEXT TIME! This is a mental note I made to myself after sitting in a raft, 4 feet away from screaming 8 and 9 year old girls. This is a shot I had envisioned for several years but was never able to pull it off due to timing and scheduling. The original concept was to cast a group of college age women all enjoying the thrill of a raft trip. I still plan to do that. In this shot, all five people in the raft, the guide, Matt, and the four girls are all skiers and I worked with all of them the previously at Taos Ski Valley. When I saw how well the girls worked together I knew they would be a hoot in a raft. With the water being really low last summer, it seemed more fitting to have a younger crew based on the smaller rapids. We scheduled the shoot for later in the day for better light and I sat on the bow with my rig in a housing. This shot is a fav because of the girls and their energy and because I had envisioned this for a long time. This is a classic case where literally the success of this was 90% planning, 10% shooting.

group of four 8 and 9 year old girls screaming through a rapid on guided raft trip, Racecourse Run, Rio Grande, New Mexico

group of four 8 and 9 year old girls screaming through a rapid on guided raft trip, Racecourse Run, Rio Grande, New Mexico

GLACIER EXPRESS. These 2 were part of my assignment for the State of Alaska covering tourism in the Portage-Whittier area. Our tour included taking my two super models, Melody and her son, Adam, both lifelong Alaskans, out to Spencer Glacier were we would be in the very capable hands of Matt Szundy, owner of The Ascending Path, for a short paddle and glacier hike. I really wanted to capture a shot of a person feeling the wind and being enthralled with the scenery as the train whisked along through jaw dropping Placer River Valley. This was a very tight space as both Melody and I had to squeeze in the 4 foot space between rocking and rolling train cars. I have my back slammed up against the car opposite of Melody with my arm stretched out as far as possible blazing away. I knew that shooting really wide at such close distance would create facial distortion. I did not want to ruin her pretty face with the brutality of 17mm lens. This is one of my favs because it was a “longshot” and it is all Melody. She really pulled off a nice look that I was after and she held up well against the 17mm lens.

Passenger on Alaska Railroad's Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

Passenger on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

After several near backbreaking sessions to get the shot I really wanted Melody stuck her head with her hair down completely out the window and I loved her long black hair flying forward. A quick re-positioning of the strobe and I got a light hearted shot I liked even better.

Passenger on Alaska Railroad's Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

Passenger on Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Express peers out window between cars traveling up the Placer River Valley toward Spencer Glacier

CLASSIC TURNAGAIN ARM IN JUNE. The great thing about tourism assignments is they can involve landscape images in addition to the recreation, adventure and portraits involved in travel photography. Literally the day after we arrived in Alaska and not even fully unpacked we were down on Turnagain Arm where every few years there are epic blooms of lupine. Wait for a high tide around sunset (near 11:30pm here), employ 3 strobes and a 3-stop ND grad and presto, lupine at sunset shot. In full disclosure, since I am a commercial shooter I use all tools available to maximize visual impact. I strive to do as much as I can in the field. To fill in the sky I added some low clouds I shot a few days later near the same location at sunset.

Lupine along Turnagain Arm at high tide at sunset, Southcentral Alaska

Lupine along Turnagain Arm at high tide at sunset, Southcentral Alaska

BEARFOOT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD? I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked Denali Park and have driven the 90 mile road on permit and assignments for 20 years. Even though I focus primarily on landscape images there I still have a healthy file of wildlife – including bears from Denali. I am not a big fan of “wildlife on the road” shots either. This is my only decent shot from Denali this summer. Because of assignment demands I was only able to use 2 of my 10 allotted days and we were basically weathered out, as in no mountain. We followed this young bear early one morning as we were heading west for Wonder Lake. Park rules say you can’t force wildlife off the road. Generally, they leave the road in a few minutes anyway but not this fella. No, we crawled behind him for 45 minutes stopping and shooting whenever I saw a decent composition. We could have pushed him off the road. It was just us and the bear but we behaved and just let it go. The foot makes the shot. In post I brought back a little of the dusty backlit morning sun feel that we sometimes see there. It was just a subtle tweak.

Young grizzly bear walking on road in morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

Young grizzly bear walking on road in morning, Denali National Park, Alaska

NEVER TIRE OF THAT MOUNTAIN. I always look for new ways (at least new to me) to show North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley (a.k.a. Denali). Believe it or not I have never shot much in Denali State Park. I was astounded how quick it was to get to this location from the road. The thing is, you can’t see this from the Parks Highway. Last summer we had an exceptionally long stretch of clear and I mean HOT days. In an hour and a half we were able to walk through the horrifying mosquitos in the bog and forest below to the less horrifying mosquitos on the tundra of Ermine Hill with this commanding view of Mt. McKinley towering above the rest of the Alaska Range. We went up here a few days earlier and shot on assignment with 2 hikers for the State of Alaska tourism. On this shot, Lauri and I went by ourselves and ventured higher and off trail to this little knoll. We went early to avoid cumulus clouds obscuring the 20, 320′ peak. The light is “good” not “great” but I am always a sucker for a good shot showing the scale of Denali relative to a hiker. It is not as easy as you think and I just love this south side view.

Lauri on Ermine Hill in Denali State Park dwarfed by Denali viewed from the south

Lauri on Ermine Hill in Denali State Park dwarfed by Denali viewed from the south

MY FAVORITE SHOT OF THE SUMMER with some super outdoor ladies. This is another case where talent and timing are EVERYTHING! A couple of years ago I did a ladies getaway as part of a campaign promoting South Carolina. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to do this my way. Well, after dealing with assignment pressures all summer I was able to get a group of outdoor, lifelong Alaska ladies together who just have GREAT synergy. Meeting after work, my crack team of Lauri and our hard core talent hiked 5 miles in one of my favorite haunts, the South Fork of Eagle River Valley, to shoot an hour of a ladies backcountry getaway, pack up and hoof it back to the car after 10pm returning in the waning August light. My plans to shoot with a warmly lit alpine peak backdrop quickly eroded when low clouds off Cook Inlet started invading the valley. So I turned into the setting sun, employed our speed lighting skills and captured this shot of the ladies enjoying a glass of wine at camp perched on this rock. I would never tire of doing shoots like this. Too bad it rains so much and people have to work all the time!

Four women camping and conversing with drinks at sunset, Chugach State Park, Alaska

Four women camping and conversing with drinks at sunset, Chugach State Park, Alaska

LEAP INTO THE LIGHT.  Sometimes you just gotta play and test some lights.  I was getting ready for my Speedlights,  Camera,  Action workshop that I teach and thought it would be a good idea to just test all the lights and sharpen up what I wanted to demonstrate.   So we took Lila and 3 speed lights, 2 on stands with 1/8″ grids, and one overhead with a soft box and lit Lila up as she is running along a hill in the dark green woods surrounding Anchorage.   Love the woods and all the devil’s club but man, is it dark in there!  So thankful for portable, wireless, TTL speedlight systems.

Trail runner leaping over log, Coastal Trail near Anchorage, Alaska

Trail runner leaping over log, Coastal Trail near Anchorage, Alaska

 

WELCOME TO MY WORLD. This shot is from the Business of Outdoor Photography class that I teach at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. This was our last field shoot and I got to take my group to Holland Lake to do a sunset shoot DeYoung style. We hiked out to Holland Falls late afternoon dealing with forest fire smoke, rain, hail, thunder and lighting. Those who were patient were rewarded with this well above average sunset overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains. Then we hiked back returning to the trailhead under headlamp. All in a day’s work.

Photographer at sunset, overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains, Montana

Photographer at sunset, overlooking Holland Lake and the Mission Mountains, Montana

ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES. This is out of the box for me, or should I say, “in the box.” I’m not an indoor shooter but my awesome editor at one of my agencies worked with me on doing a series of personal trainer and client fitness shoots. Well, fitness is right up my alley so why not take it indoors once in a while and stretch my lighting skills. Why this shot is a fav is because I was able to actually execute what I visualized. When I saw what Jennifer was capable of, I wanted to focus on her intensity as she threw a punch with trainer David Garver at Aura Fitness in Taos, New Mexico. I am programmed to usually use big soft boxes or scrims when photographing women. To keep it real and show a more raw training environment including some real sweat, I kept my light on the harder side. I think Jennifer still looks great. How can you go wrong with those eyes! I took a related shot that focused on David after the training session.

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

Fitness training, Taos, New Mexico, trainer with female client doing boxing/cardio training

25th CELEBRATION IN THE DOLOMITES. Lauri and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary hiking Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites and I’ve blogged about that earlier. Yes, this was a personal trip but to do it without bringing a camera ensemble and at least trying to capture pro images would be unthinkable especially in a place like the Dolomites. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good feel for knowing when to put the camera down and enjoy the moment and the company you are with and when to get serious and make an image. Any place I go be it on assignment, shooting stock or just personal I at least try to capture that one shot that sums up the essence of the place and why we are there. We were only at each place for a day so I have to make use of all my skills to make compelling shots. This is our second morning leaving Prato Piazza. I loved the pastoral nature of the valley beneath these towering peaks. We went out early, before breakfast to catch sunrise light on the trail we would eventually leave on. I was blessed to get some radiation fog below us as I had Lauri walk toward the trail sign. There were clouds to the east blocking light on the foreground. The way the terrain was situated didn’t lend itself well to using a graduated ND. So I took separate exposures and blended them in post to capture the feel I wanted. Of the thousands of shots I took documenting our trip in the Dolomites, this one says it all to me.

Hiker leaving Prato Piazza Rifugio along Alta Via 1 route at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

Hiker leaving Prato Piazza Rifugio along Alta Via 1 route at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

FIVE MINUTE SUNRISE SHOOT AT ZION. In the mid latitudes or prevailing westerlies (the westerlies shift seasonally) there are two scenarios that predictably produce dramatic light. They are approaching storms at sunrise and clearing storms at sunset. This was shot on the morning of an approaching cold front and Lauri and I raced from Springdale up to one of our familiar valleys on the East Mesa section of Zion National Park. We had scouted this the morning before. The light on the cliffs and the color in the clouds lasted maybe five minutes but we were ready for it. Off camera speed light with a grid was used to pull Lauri away from the dark background. Five minutes done. Flat stormy light the rest of the day. This was the first week of November and due to unseasonably cold temps, we were late for fall color this year in Zion Canyon. This shot was the best we got.

Hiker on slickrock on East Mesa at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

Hiker on slickrock on East Mesa at sunrise, Zion National Park, Utah

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME, OR NEAR ANYTHING FLAMMABLE.  I love it when an unplanned street shot works out.  I don’t do that a lot.  Such was the case with a Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration on Bent Street and the John Dunn Plazza in Taos.  Melarie Roller was out twirling her flaming firestick or baton.  Even though we are shooting from the hip, we don’t sacrifice good technique.  Lauri was working the gridded speedlight off camera and I was using a slow shutter to blur the motion of the baton while the strobe rendered her sharp.  During a break prior to this shot I had asked her to stand closer to this group of kids and face the camera so I could make this shot.  No model releases, nothing serious, just out having fun and celebrating the holidays.

Melarie Roller performing at Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration in Taos, New Mexico

Melarie Roller performing at Bonfires on Bent Street holiday celebration in Taos, New Mexico

 

 

New Work: On Vacation Hiking in the Dolomites of Italy

hiker on Alta Via 1, Dolomites

Hiker along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

This is brand new personal work from our 11-day hike in the Dolomites of Italy. This trip was the closest I’ve ever come to having a real vacation since becoming a full time pro in 1992. Taking a break from the weight and effort of backpacking, we hiked from inn to inn or hut to hut with meals, beer and wine, warm bed and usually a hot shower. That is what made it more of a holiday than a “shoot.”

citta_di_fiume_rifugio, Dolomites

Lauri relaxing in the morning sun at Rifugio Cita di Fiume, along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

hiker on Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit, Dolomites

Lauri hiking from Rifugio Pian di Cengia below Cima Tre Scarperi in the Tre Cime area

For a photographer to truly be on holiday would mean no camera, right? Going to the Dolomites without a camera? Yeah right. I admit it, I’m as bad as the person who has to bring their work laptop with them on “vacation.” I’m cursed as a photographer and perfectionist. It’s unthinkable to go to a place like the Dolomites, holiday or not, without a tripod and a 70-200 lens  (my workhorse mountain landscape lens). The rest of the gear included a 5D-3, 17-40 lens, 600RT and a few accessories. All of this I carried in my pack every inch of the trail.

 cascading stream, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

cascading stream, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

My pack weighed in at 30lbs in which half this weight was photo gear. This was lighter than my standard week-long wilderness backpack but much heavier than most of the packs of other trekkers. I forgot that without the time needed to set up and break down camp and cooking meant longer hiking days when doing inn to inn style trekking. I (and Lauri too) felt the burden of our packs on some of the longer hikes with long and steep climbs.

Lauri greeting the locals at Ucia de Gran Fanes Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

Lauri greeting the locals at Ucia de Gran Fanes Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

hiker at Sennes Hut along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Checking in to the Senes Hut, Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy. This is a private hut instead of an Italian Alpine Club hut. We had a private room here but with typical communal bathrooms or “water closets” All of our rooms were small but cozy and warm with a nice down comforter. Pretty posh after pounding the trail all day.

lunch at a rifugio in the Dolomites

Stopping for lunch of fresh hand made spinach ravioli and local bottled water at Rifugio Scotoni along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

 

We basically did the Alta Via 1 to Passo Duran and the Tre Cime-Lavaredo circuit. I won’t go into day to day detail of our route since this information is widely available on the web. The Tre Cime is the iconic image of the Dolomites, and every photographer and their brother shoots there. It is similar in popularity to North American photo icons like Delicate Arch, the Tetons from Oxbow Bend, and the Maroon Bells.

The Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen formation at sunset, Dolomites, Italyy

The Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen formation at sunset, Dolomites, Italy

Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Dolomites, Italy

sunset from Rifugio Locatelli, Tre Cime area, Dolomites, Italy

The photo potential in the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is simply stunning but it was far more crowded than I expected. Next time I’ll skip the Locatelli Hut as that was the most run down, most crowded and noisiest hut we had on our trip.  I’ll hike the extra hour to the smaller and quainter Cengia Hut.  I thought the other peaks around the area were more visually interesting than the Tre Cime. We planned two days to capture some of the landscapes but unfortunately it was windy and very unseasonably cold while there.

We woke up to 4 inches of new snow the morning we hiked out of Fanes hut to Lagazoui. We were prepared for it and had no problem keeping comfy in the winter like weather that dominated our trip. It started out windy, overcast and cold but luckily the wind calmed down and the sun came mid morning where we stopped for an hour and did some nice winterish hiking and landscape photography. This was the second day we hiked nearly all day with snow on the ground.

hiker in autumn snow, Dolomites, Italy

Hiking in fresh snow along Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

hiker in autumn snow, Dolomites, Italy

Hiking in fresh snow along Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

Along the Alta Via 1 my favorite section and day hike was from Passo Giau to the Cita di Fiume Hut. This section was dominated by verdant green rolling alpine meadows surrounded by classic Dolomite big limestone cliffs and peaks. This was the day the snow melted and it finally started to warm up to very pleasant mid September conditions.

hiker along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Hiker along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

The final descent to the Cita di Fiume hut with a commanding view of the Pelmo in evening light was almost storybook like.

hiker above Rifugio Cita di Fiume, Dolomites, Italy

Lauri on final descent Rifugio Cita di Fiume, below the Pelmo along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Our one and only decent mountain sunrise with glowing orange Dolomite peaks was here at Cita di Fiume. Like every other morning, I was up at 6AM to get ready for possible morning light. Doesn’t everyone on holiday do that?

sunrise, Dolomites, Italy

Sunrise on Monte Civetta from Rifugio Cita di Fiume, along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

hikers along Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

Dutch hikers Dolf and Dianne, just 2 of the many nice and interesting European hikers we met along the way. Alta Via 1, NaturPark Fanes-Senes, Dolomites, Italy

dog at Rifugio Stulanza, Dolomites

Sioux, the golden retriever at Rifugio Staulanza, Dolomites, along Alta Via 1

hikers at a rifugio, Dolomites

Self Portrait of Lauri and I at Rifugio Staulanza, our last night in the Dolomites

 

hiker on Alta Via 1, Dolomites

Lauri along the Alta Via 1, Dolomites, Italy

 

 

 

 

Don’t Save the Best for Last!

photographer-lupines-anchorage-alaska

Photographer among lupines along Turnagain Arm, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Saving the best for last may be a good way to view a decadent desert but this philosophy has no place in photography!  In fact my philosophy is “Shoot the best first!”  Whenever possible, I first go after the shots the client wants most, that I want most or those that are the most challenging.  Sometimes they are one in the same.   Your “best” or “hardest” shot may not mean the most physically demanding for you or the talent.  In most cases, for me at least, it is the most creatively challenging.  It could simply be an elusive expression or gesture that conveys the ” in the moment” feel or “sense of place” I’m looking for.

I do this while I am fresh, the talent is fresh and I have time to craft the shot and work through communication, creative and technical challenges.

This obviously doesn’t work if you don’t have a shoot list, or you don’t know what your “best” or most challenging shot is going to be.   That’s OK.  I certainly have shoots in that category.   It may also seem counter intuitive if you are shooting in the evening, knowing the best light may be at or just after sunset.

woman-hike-winner-creek-alaska1

Hiker along the Winner Creek Trail near Alyeska Resort. I’ve always loved the lush green forests around Girdwood and the inviting boardwalk. For years I’ve tried to capture the essence of what it is like to be here. And, yes, you can get good images on an overcast day!

Even on a sunset shoot, I still try to shoot what I perceive as the best first.  If the light is good an hour or two before, I’m shootin’!  I can’t tell you how many times I thought a sunset would be “epic” only to have it turn out to be a dud.   If the light gets magical at sunset, then I can repeat my “A” shots in the sunset light with greater chance of success since I’ve already worked through the creative challenges earlier.

sunset-lupines-anchorage-alaska1

Sunset over lupines and Chugach Mountains along Turnagain Arm at high tide. It took about 10 tries with 2 strobes to get the lighting close to what I wanted. When the sun hit the horizon we had our lighting formula dialied in.

 

WEATHER, LIGHT and PHOTOGRAPHY Series: Photographing Snow

tent-aurora-borealis-alaska

Tent lit by stone on fresh snow lit by moonlight with aurora borealis display, Copper River Basin, Alaska

Intro:  Outdoor photographers all know that weather determines the quality, quantity, color, feel and mood of light, and light is the language of our art and craft.  Former weather forecaster Michael DeYoung shares his knowledge on weather, atmospheric phenomena and their effects on light and photography.

Photographing on and in Snow.  Snow and ice environments have obvious challenges like staying warm, keeping gear dry and out of the snow and getting firm footing under your tripod in deep snow.  However, in terms of quality and quantity of light nothing is better to me than a fresh snowy environment.  Snow is nature’s best reflector and the easiest environment to work with natural light in.  Even on flat terrain the snow becomes a light source beneath your subject and provides some fill regardless of whether your subject is a skier or moose.  Forest photography, especially in dark spruce or pines is virtually impossible on clear snowless days.  Cover the ground and better yet the trees with fresh white and magic happens.

matt-twin-trees2

Matt sking through Twin Trees at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. A similar scenario without snow cover would not have been within dynamic range to make a good image.

moose-in-river1

Cow moose feeding in the Teton River near Jackson, Wyoming. Light snowfall added some nice contrast to the dark fur of the moose

Even on cloudy days in a snow covered mountain environment I can shoot action at decent shutter speeds and aperture.  This shot of a skier jumping in overcast skies was shot at 1000 at f8 at ISO 200.  The same cloud cover at this same location on a snowless green/brown landscape might yield only a third of the exposure I got here.

Jimmy jumping off of Two-Bucks, Taos Ski Valley.  It was an overcast day but because of the fresh snow enough light gathered to give a 1/1000 shutter at F8

Jimmy jumping off of Two-Bucks, Taos Ski Valley. It was an overcast day but because of the fresh snow enough light gathered to give a 1/1000 shutter at F8

 

Meteorological Geek Speak on Snow.

Not much geek speak on the atmospheric dynamics of snow this blog.  It would create a far too complex and long blog.  Forecast models are better today than when I was actively forecasting at predicting snowfall amounts but there is still a fair degree of uncertainty particularly in the moisture starved west with highly variable elevations.  The ratio between snowfall and its liquid water equivalent is highly variable.  A quarter inch of water may only produce 2.5 inches (10:1 ratio) of wet snow at a location that is only marginally cold enough to support accumulating snow.  That same location after being sub-freezing for a long time and under different upper air dynamics can get 5 inches (20:1) of dry snow from the same quarter inch of precipitable water.

crested-butte-colorado1

View of Crested Butte and Gothic Mountain at dusk on a heavy snow winter. Cold interior and high elevation locations are known for dry powder snow. They often get 20:1 or higher snow to water equivalent ratios.

Snowfall is determined by available moisture, cold air and lift.  The mechanical lifting of air caused by fronts and upper level lows and short waves can be enhanced by orographic lift which is air forced to rise by terrain.  Many winter systems will bring in ocean moisture and transport it (advection) over inland regions where mountain ranges wring most of it out.  Some systems develop inland (like Alberta clippers) and don’t transport ocean moisture.  They work with moisture that is already in place over the region it is moving over which can be limited.   Interior moisture sources like the Great Lakes can produce local enhanced bands of “lake effect” snow.

stop-sign-in-snow

Stop sign buried in snow in downtown Crested Butte, Colorado.

The Great Lakes is not the only place where lake effect takes place.  The western slopes of the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City regularly get enhanced snowfalls from North Pacific fronts because of lake effect off the Great Salt Lake AND orographic lift from winds with a westerly component flowing off the lake and forced up by the terrain.  There is a reason why some of the best skiing is located here.

“Lake effect” is not limited to lakes.  The coastal mountains of Alaska receive copious amounts of ocean moisture enhanced by strong orographic lift that overruns the high elevation and high latitude cold air that clings to these mountains.  This is why the coastal mountains from Prince William Sound to Glacier Bay in the panhandle became most glaciated mountains on earth in modern geological time.

winter-sunset-anchorage-alaska

Winter sunset over Knik Arm, Anchorage, Alaska

 

Snow Photography Tips.

Exposure:   Snow, especially fresh snow, is the easiest background to expose for.  I was always perplexed in the film days over how many photographers struggled with exposures in snow and consistently came out with dark snow images.  My exposure for snow is simple:  I usually meter the brightest snow and open up 1 and 2/3 stops.  If you are shooting RAW you can tweak your exposures during processing and adjust how much you open up based on your taste and camera’s bias.  Digital cameras today are better at matrix metering but they can still underexpose snow scenes.  In aperture priority mode, I usually set my exposure compensation to +2/3 to +1 stop.  Done.  Shoot.

skier-hiking-taos-new-mexico

Amber beginning her hike up Highline Ridge at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico.

Backlight:   Snowy landscapes make it fun and possible to shoot into the light even making the sun part of your composition.  I always look for a sloped hill or mountainside opposite of the sun.  Then I can shoot into the light and have decent fill without resorting to strobes.  On this action ski shot at Taos I didn’t have a nearby hill for decent fill and the sunlight was basically parallel to the slope of the Mainstreet off of Kachina Peak.  So there was another reason, other than it looking cool for having my skier kick up some snow when she got close to me.  I knew it would create a reflector bringing additional fill light to hit her face.  (This technique also works with paddlers in foaming whitewater.)

skier-kachina-peak-new-mexico

Andrea skiing off of Kachina Peak, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. Having her kick up snow created fill light to add detail to her face.

Snowshoers at sunset, Turnagain Pass, Alaska.  Snow takes on the color of what is above it.  Purple/pink alpenglow of the sky reflects in the shadowed snow and contrasts the warmly lit snow of the setting sun

Snowshoers at sunset, Turnagain Pass, Alaska. Snow takes on the color of what is above it. Purple/pink alpenglow of the sky reflects in the shadowed snow and contrasts the warmly lit snow of the setting sun

 

While it is Snowing:  Billions of snowflakes in the air below cloud cover means maximum scattering and diffusion of light.  While this is not good for panoramic landscapes, this softbox effect, similar to fog, is great for portraits.

RUNNER IN EXTEME COLD, IDAHO

Portrait of runner with frosted face on a snowy morning in Idaho.

When the snow is flying, break out the telephoto.  Long focal length compression really enhances falling snow visually.  Better yet, look for a dark background like dark trees or even water.  I almost NEVER use flash when snow is falling because you risk having blown out snowflakes in front of your subject.

winter-hiker-south-kaibab-trail1

Lauri hiking up the South Kaibab Trail in December during a snowshower

Using Speedlights on Snow.    Sometimes, action and portraits on the snow will benefit from the use of a speedlight.   The light could be flat, the sun below the horizon or your setting lacks a big bank of snow opposite of the natural light source to use as fill.  The key to using strobes in the snow is to absolutely keep stray light off the snow and focused on your subject.  Blown out foreground snow is very distracting, amateurish and usually indicates direct on camera flash use – a big no-no for snow.  I use grids and snoots (my favorite is the Spinlight 360 system) to control and focus the light on my subject and keep it off the snow.  In most instances, it takes a little trial and error and tweaking to get your light right when dealing with snow especially when using more than one off camera strobe.

Dog musher and sled dogs at sunset.  2 speedlights with warming gels and shoots were used to separate the dogs and musher from the shadowed snow, near Willow Alaska

Dog musher and sled dogs at sunset. 2 speedlights with warming gels and shoots were used to separate the dogs and musher from the shadowed snow, near Willow Alaska

 

man-snowshoeing-utah

Brandon out for a snowshoe/jog near Park City, Utah. Strobe was used to add detail to the subject

winter-mono-lake1

Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra on a winter dawn. A strobe with a warm gel was used to light the foreground rock and aimed to match the direction of the first light hitting the peaks

Snow, Color and Depth.  Snow, like liquid water, can take on the color cast of what is above it.  Use this to your advantage.   Colorful skies at sunrise and sunsets can create beautiful reflective pastel colors on the snow.   The warm colors of this Utah sunset reflected both in the snowy slope and in the backlit flying snow behind the snowshoer.

A snowshoer jumps at sunset up on Cedar Mountain, southern Utah

A snowshoer jumps at sunset up on Cedar Mountain, southern Utah

Shadowed snow tends to go really blue and you can use this to your advantage by using a warmed strobe or a warmed reflector to make your subject really pop from the background as seen in this wolf portrait and of the musher image in the speed light section.

wolf portrait in winter

Portrait of a wolf in winter – Montana.

Environments with partial snow cover can also enhance a sense of depth and distance.

winter-scenic-turnagain-arm-alaska

Snow covered ice floes at sunset, Turnagain Arm, Alaska

 

Winter Solstice Alaska Assignment: Wireless Speedlites in Extreme Cold

Winter scenic near Anchorage, Alaska

Sun at solar noon, shot at Otter Lake near Anchorage, Alaska near winter solstice

Only 3 days from the winter solstice I was on assignment shooting environmental portraits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey near his kennels near Willow. With the sun reaching only 5 degrees above the horizon at mid-day I was lucky to be nearby a lake where the trees were far enough away to give us some beautiful open sunlight. This time of year that meant about 3 hours of unobstructed sun. This far north, clear skies in the dead of winter mean only one thing: cold. This was a short trip (only 4 full days) and luckily the weather held for another day giving me a chance to spend an afternoon shooting winter landscapes around Anchorage. It was good to get re-acquainted with the Alaska winter landscape.

Winter scenic near Anchorage Alaska

Mid day sun on Otter Lake and Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska

My main concern was the cold. It was -22F (-30C) in Willow that morning and this time of year the daily temperature range is usually 10 degrees or less.  We started shooting about 12:30 and it had warmed very little.  Being on a lake, a low spot where cold air pools, it was -15F (-25C) max.

Canon Wireless Speedlights: This shoot was the first time I would use the Canon 600EX-RT speedlights fired wirelessly with the new ST-E3 transmitter in extreme temperatures. Knowing that alkaline and my rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries would die quickly in this cold, the speedlights, the external power packs, and the transmitter were all outfitted with lithium AA batteries which have the best cold weather performance.

On assignment in Willow, Alaska in sub-zero weather. Lynn Wegener and Karen Combs with Canon 600EX-RT speedlights equiped with Spinlight 360 light modifiers with Michael DeYoung shooting environmental portaits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey.

Photographer Michael DeYoung on assignment doing environmental portraits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey near Willow, Alaska in sub-zero temperatures.

The lighting plan was simple. Use the beautiful sub-arctic sun as sidelight and backlight, and fill the shadows with the speedlights. The RT wireless system worked flawlessly in the bright light and cold for about two hours when the recycle time started getting over 20 seconds. I love being able to control the ratio and mode (Manual or ETTL) from the transmitter though I still had to take my hands out of my gloves to make the changes. In these temperatures, I got about 150 shots before the recycle time became intolerable. Luckily the shoot was winding down.

SpinLight360: This was also the first shoot that I’ve used the new SpinLight 360 Extreme light mod system in these temperatures. I was concerned with the plastic becoming brittle and breaking during my typical hard use of my strobes. This system is mainly targeted for wedding and event shooters but I have really taken a liking to this system. Once the base unit spin ring was attached to the flash with Velcro ,which is very secure, the modifiers (dome, snoot, grid, bounce cards) were easy to attach in the cold with gloves on; a big plus in extreme conditions. I used a the diffuser dome, the grid and snoot and I am really impressed with the quality of light from these mods as well as their light weight and ease in attaching and removing various mods.

Photographers with Canon Speedlites and Spinlight 360 light modifiers near Willow, Alaska

On assignment in Willow, Alaska in sub-zero weather. Lynn Wegener and Karen Combs with Canon 600EX-RT speedlights equiped with Spinlight 360 light modifiers with Michael DeYoung shooting environmental portaits of 2012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey.

Near sunset, with the temp dropping I wanted to get a shot with Dallas and two of his dogs hooked up in front of his sled. I set up my 2 speedlights with snoots with the group B:A ratio of about 3:1. Group B, operated by my assistant Lynn, lit Dallas’s face. Since this was a wide angle shot Lynn had to maintain a fair distance and thus the snoot worked better than a grid by not reducing the light output as much. I aimed group A on a separate stand at Hero and Porter, also champion athletes in the foreground. The snoots did a very good job at focusing the light on the dogs and keeping unwanted light off the snow.

Dog musher at sunset near Willow, Alaska

012 Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey with sled dogs Hero and Porter at sunset near Willow, Alaska.

I also got to spend an afternoon shooting landscapes around Anchorage where I had a mix of sun and fog. The image of Otter Lake shows the mid day sun at how low it stays in the sky. From the same vantage point is a side-lit shot of the Chugach. An hour later near sunset I found this scene –  the frozen birch forest and peaks behind Ship Creek and Arctic Valley – diffused by the lingering freezing fog and stratus.

Frozen landscape close to winter solstice near Anchorage, Alaska

Winter landscape close to sunset, frozen birch-boreal forest looking up Ship Creek Valley and Chugach Mountains near Anchorage, Alaska

This short trip reminded me of just how nice winter landscape photography can be in mainland Alaska. Here is the shot I missed: Mt. McKinley, Hunter and Foraker glowing in warm light with beautifully lit snow-covered forest near Willow in the Susitna Valley. I didn’t stop because we were running a little late for our shoot and the client was more important than a landscape. But it was probably near the best I’ve seen of a winter view of the south side of McKinley and the Alaska Range.

Favorite Locations Revisited: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photographing sunset on High Dune, Geat Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photographing sunset on High Dune in November, Geat Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Introduction to Favorite Locations.

“If it is worth shooting once, it is worth shooting multiple times.”  I’ve abided by this principle since I started photography 25 years ago and it is something I stress in my workshops.   I shake my head in disbelief when I see photographers shooting out the window of a moving car!  Years ago a fellow paddler who did a 12 day raft trip down the Grand Canyon said that she’d “seen it” and there was no need to go back.   I’ve done multiple trips there ranging 7-day hikes to a 29 day river trip and the Grand NEVER grows old. The “been there, shot that” attitude is a creativity killer!

Like most photographers there are many places I’ll only go to once and come back with decent shots.  That will continue.  But, revisiting places multiple times is more rewarding when I learn the light and discover new compositions.  Ultimately this leads to better and more creative images.  I think photographers should have “binders full of locations” to revisit. These places don’t always have to be the most iconic or most popular.  Seek out places perhaps close to home, where compelling compositions are not immediately obvious but with time and study, great images emerge.

Runner on Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Fitness athlete and competitor training on sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Digital photography makes this more exciting to do.  It’s rewarding to go back to locations I shot years ago on film or with my original 1Ds and re-shoot stuff with twice as many pixels, with new updated or new lenses, and with more capable and portable lighting equipment.   Besides the updated gear, going back with more knowledge and creativity is icing on the cake.  Never get complacent with your photography.

FAVORITE PLACES REVISITED:  Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

 

Running down sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Hiker unning down High Dune at sunset in November
, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

The Sand Dunes are real easy to get to, like amazingly easy to cruise to on wide open, mostly straight, flat highway 160 in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado.   I love the imposing views of the Sangre de Cristo as you get ever closer to the park.  There are great vistas and panoramic image possibilities of the dunes and the mountains in the background near the park boundary several miles south of the entrance booth.

You gotta get ON the dunes to really experience the feel and dynamic light that goes on here.  Climb up to High Dune which is about 45 minutes from the parking lot carrying gear, and a 650’ climb.   Great ops abound from near the top and beyond in virtually all directions with the ever changing play of light and shadow on the dunes.

hikers-on-great-sand-dunes-colorado

Hikers near High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado and Sangre de Cristo Mountains

I consider the dunes to be a “seasonless” place visually.  This is a good thing.  Except for snow, the dunes are similar color year round.  There is a splash of summer and fall color along Medano Creek.  I like coming here in the early winter when fall color is gone and winter photography in the Rockies isn’t really optimal yet.

As expected, most visitors go here in summer and it can get crowded even into fall.  That’s why I prefer to go in winter. Yes, the place is COLD.  After all, you are at about 8400’ and you can get blizzards into May.  There are several reasons why I feel winter is better.  First, the crowds are gone, meaning less tracks.  The dunes are firmer to walk on, especially if there has been recent moisture that freezes in the sand.  Mostly, the light is better since it is lower in the southern sky.  Just bring layers and keep your gear protected from the sand.

If you are lucky enough to be there after a fresh snow count your blessings.  I bring a headlamp because I’m usually getting back near dark but rarely use it.  Even 20 minutes after sunset to catch some color in the clouds if I’m lucky enough, it is fun to blast straight down the dunes at a run.  I usually make it back to the parking lot before I need to rely on my headlamp to see.

hiker with headlamp at dusk on Great Sand Dunes

 

 

 

Photography and Patience: What is The Longest You Waited to Get a Photograph?

Aerial view of Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alask

Arieal view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and Grand Plateau Glacier near Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Whenever possible, I offer my meteorological abilities and skills to my clients to advise when to shoot to get the best possible conditions.  This has been a big asset for my tourism clients.  Many shoots, however, have to be scheduled far beyond accurate forecasting range.   In Alaska, based on climatology and years of experience, I plan 7 days on location to get one evening or morning of nice light.  Getting more than one nice day in a given week is a bonus!  This is especially true anywhere in coastal Alaska and around Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park.

The longest I’ve had to wait to get a shot has been 12 days in the very inappropriately named Dry Bay!  The mission was to get a series of shots of the equally inappropriately named Fairweather Range and and the glaciers that flow into Alsek Lake in the northwest corner of Glacier Bay National Park.  Mt. Fairweather is one of the loftiest mountains rising from sea level to 15, 300’ in only a few miles.

In mid August we flew in to Dry Bay from Haines (in the rain) where we met Brabazon Expeditions to boat us up the Alsek River to the park boundary where we planned to canoe, camp and shoot for 7 days.  After 2 days of continuous rain with more rain forecast for the next 5 (we had a marine radio) we decided to paddle the 11 miles back to Dry Bay to hole up at Brabazon’s wood frame and tarp roof bunkhouse.

 

Canoeist of Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Lauri in a 14 foot inflatable whitewater canoe from Grabner in Austaralia navigating with map and GPS on Alsek Lake through icebergs toward the outlet where lake ends and the last 11 miles of the Alsek river flows into the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay.

That proved to be a good call.  On the three hour paddle back to Brabazon in a hard driving continuous rain dressed in $1200 each of high tech Gore-tex raingear and fleece base layers and we still got soaked (mainly from perspiration) and were border line hypothermic upon arrival.

 

Dry Bay and Mt. Fairweather, Alaska

Brabazon Expeditions rafters hut in Dry Bay, along the Gulf of Alaska coast below Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and the Fairweather Range. We spent 12 days waiting for a view of the peaks.

Monitoring the marine radio daily, horrified by the forecasts, we were pinned for 10 days waiting for the weather to clear!  We lived off of food left behind by rafting parties who didn’t want the weight for the flight back.  During the 10 day wait, Yakutat, the nearest reporting station 30 miles west, reported 16 inches of rainfall which is more than a year’s worth of rain in Taos!

Alaska Brown Bear, Dry Bay

Chocolate colored brown bear near our hut at Dry Bay, Alaska. These guys were digging up roots of eskimo potato roots all around the area. I stood under the covered front porch for about 30 minutes waiting for this young bear to get closer until I got a decent shot with my 300/f4. After one shutter click the bear turned and ran away.

 

On day 11 with a forecast of brief clearing, we were shuttled back up river in early afternoon.  We shot like crazy spending the night on Gateway Knob for sweeping views of the lake and Mt. Fairweather then paddling back down to Dry Bay again where FlyDrake would pick us up and return us to Haines before the weather closed in again.

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Dusk view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300), and Alsek Lake Glacier and Lake in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

 

Wilderness camp at Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Camp at Gateway Knob above Alsek Lake with view of the Fairweather Range. We hiked about 1/3 mile and 400′ above the lake from our boat to get a commanding dusk and dawn view of the lake and Fairweather Range after waiting out 12 days of rain and low clouds.

Why did we stay so long?  I am tenacious when it comes to getting my shots and just hate giving up.  Another trip would have cost more in both time and expense than just waiting it out even though our trip length doubled.  Being flexible allowed us to adjust to the prolonged wet weather regime.   In the end, we got the shots and that’s what counts the most.

Aerial view of Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Arieal view of Mt. Fairweather (15,300′) and Grand Plateau Glacier near Alsek Lake, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

 

Simplifying Life and Photography While Backpacking

Image of couple backpackers on Devil's Dome in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB148

Lauri and Michael DeYoung on Devil’s Dome in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

For a photographer who’s invested in an entire system whether you are a hobbyist, part time or full time pro it becomes difficult not to have your system with you whenever you shooting.  Every so often, maybe even on a regular basis, it is good to simplify and go with the mentality that “less is more.”

I recently read another excellent PDF by Photoshelter titled:  “Selling Nature Photography”.   One of the shooters profiled, Martin Bailey, in his “Tips from the Field” sidebar, it reads in part:  “keep your load light and you might increase your hours in the field.”

Sunset landscape image on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB131

Sunset on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

My backpacking trips force the issue of simplifying my equipment.  Besides photography what I really like about backpacking is that is also simplifies life.  At the start of a trip I’m always wondering if I can produce a compelling body of marketable images with just one lens and one strobe.   After a few days of life simplified on the trail my senses sharpen up, I’m in tune with the light and I begin seeing more clearly and creatively.  When this happens I begin feeling confident that I can make good images.

Image of group of 3 backpackers along Devil's Ridge Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB175

Lauri DeYoung, Michael DeYoung, John Hoffer along Devil’s Ridge Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

 

This latest trip to the North Cascades was put together by my good friend John Hoffer who’s been a long time resident of Washington State.  We started at Harts Pass where it intersects the Pacific Crest Trail near 7000 feet and hiked 43 miles to Ross Lake at 1600 feet finishing at Ruby Creek Trailhead along Highway 20.  Most of the time was spent in the Pasayten Wilderness.  All but the last day was spent between 4500 and 7000 feet.  I was amazed by the wildflowers still abundant in the first week of September.   In addition to some sample images, here are the particulars on my camera outfit.

 

Image of Man crossing Canyon Creek below Sky Pilot Pass in the Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB46

John Hoffer crossing Canyon Creek, below Sky Pilot Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

I take one body and lens, a Canon 24-70/2.8L.   It’s a heavy sucker but I just love the image quality of the heavy L lenses.   Yes there are times when I am frustrated, longing for a 100 macro, a 200, or my trusty 20mm.  But I force myself to see how this one lens sees, staying within its limitations.  The camera and lens, a polarizer, a 3-stop, hard edge ND grad filter, cable release, 4-16gb cards and lens cloth all fit in a Clik Elite chest pack that fits a pro body with 70-200.  It comes with a harness and 4 clips that attach to a backpack.  It rides nicely on the front of the pack and gives me easy access to my camera all day long.  I take one strobe with off camera cord with a couple of gels that weigh next to nothing.

Image of woman enjoying her morning cup of tea at camp on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB110

Morning tea at camp on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

I have the lightest Gitzo carbon fiber tripod made with a Really Right Stuff B-30 head.  On this trip, the sunset we had on Devil’s Dome with 360 degree views of the North Cascades was worth the anguish of carrying that extra 3lbs.

Image of woman walking among a tamarack forest, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB10

Lauri DeYoung walking among a tamarack forest, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of woman shaking off the frost on a chilly morning camp near Windy Pass, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB13

Shaking off the frost, chilly morning camp near Windy Pass, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of female hiker resting sore feet from a 11 mile day hike along Pacific Crest Trail near Holman Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB34

Lauri DeYoung resting sore feet on a 11 mile day, Pacific Crest Trail near Holman Pass, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of man on break among the big trees on the Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington - Michael_DeYoung_MD120908VWA_HB37

planner in chief, John Hoffer on break among the big trees, Pacific Crest Trail, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Landscape image of lupine still in bloom in September along Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lupine still in bloom in September! Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of woman standing on a lingering snowfield at sunset on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lauri standing on a lingering snowfield at sunset on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Image of Big Agnes backpacking tent at dawn on Devil's Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Big Agnes backpacking tent at dawn on Devil’s Dome, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington. The tent survived 30-40mph winds most of the night.

 

Image of woman female backpacker backpacking on Devil's Ridge Trail, Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Lauri backpacking on Devil’s Ridge Trail, Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

 

Sunrise landscape image along Devil's Ridge Trail with first light on Jack Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Sunrise landscape along Devil’s Ridge Trail with first light on Jack Mountain.

 

Michael DeYoung jumping into Ross Lake on day 6 of 7 backpacking. Photo by Lauri DeYoung

 

Image of Indian Paintbrush in bloom along Canyon Creek, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Indian Paintbrush in bloom along Canyon Creek, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Washington

Alaska’s Scenic Gems: 10 Road Accessible Landscape Photo Ops

Recently, I was featured (May, 2012) in Popular Photography and interviewed about lesser known Alaska locations for photography. Expanding upon that and drawing upon my 25 years of romping around Alaska I am profiling 10 road accessible places that offer excellent landscape photo ops. You can find all of these in the Milepost which is the best road guide for Alaska and northern Canada travel. This list is subjective and there are countless scenic views along the contiguous Alaska road system. If you are new or unfamiliar with this vast area, these locations are a good place to start.

Alaska panoramic landscape. View of the upper Matanuska River and the north face of the Chugach Mountains seen near Hicks Creek along the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Alaska panoramic landscape. View of the upper Matanuska River and the north face of the Chugach Mountains seen near Hicks Creek along the Glenn Highway north of Anchorage, Alaska.

Like all subjects photographic, your lighting is a key element to the success of your images. Skies are generally sunnier in the interior and north than they are on the coast so you have a better chance of capturing Mt. Sukakpak in the Brooks Range in nice light than you would capturing Portage Pass (which experiences some of the worst weather in Southcentral Alaska.) Mt. McKinley is only out on average of 3-4 days a month during the summer and best chances are in the morning. The north side holds the iconic view rising 18,000′ above the tundra from near Wonder Lake. I like the south side better where the mountain rises above dense boreal forest. Remember, good weather doesn’t last long in Alaska so if you happen to be at one of these locations in nice light, jump on it. My guiding principle is shoot what is happening now. There is no time like the present!

1. Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks – Eagle River Nature Center, Chugach State Park

This scenic gem of national park quality is in the Municipality of Anchorage. Take the Eagle River exit north of Anchor town (Anchorage) and follow Eagle River Road 12 miles where it ends in the parking lot of the Eagle River Nature Center. The views are incredible here but walk 10 minutes down to a boardwalk and deck overlooking the clear North Fork of Eagle River. Polar Bear and Eagle Peaks rise abruptly 6,000 feet above the valley floor. Around the solstice, the sun sets near the opening of Eagle River Valley and this is a great evening shot. In late June there is usually a great display of geranium and wild rose along the trail.

Alaska landscape. View of Polar Bear Peak rising near 6000 feet above the North Fork of Eagle River, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage

Alaska landscape. View of Polar Bear Peak rising near 6000 feet above the North Fork of Eagle River, Chugach State Park, near Anchorage around 10:30PM in June.

2. Mt. Sukapak – Brooks Range From Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot

Sukapak isn’t the tallest mountain in the Brooks, topping out at less than 5,000 feet, but it is an incredible limestone escarpment photogenic from both the south and north sides at several points along the Dalton. My favorite is its morning reflection in one of several un-named ponds visible from the highway. There are good photo ops at both sunrise and sunset (3-4 hours apart in June/July) but I prefer early morning with steam rising off the lakes and sometimes even the Koyokuk River.

Alaska landscape. Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle a view of Mt. Sukapak and reflection in early morning off the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot, Alaska.

Alaska landscape. Brooks Range, above the Arctic Circle a view of Mt. Sukapak and reflection in early morning off the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot, Alaska.

3. Mt. McKinley – South Side From Byers Lake

This is a developed state park with camping, boat rentals, and a public use cabin. What I like best about Byers Lake is that you can’t see Mt. McKinley from the developed (west) side. Take the trail to the east side or better yet, get in a canoe or touring kayak and paddle to the northeast end for a breathtaking view of McKinley and the Alaska Range. Be there at sunrise which means in July – 5am. More likely than not, you’ll get a great reflection of the range on the lake and if you are lucky one of the nesting trumpeter swans will pay you a visit.

Alaska landscape and recreation. Alaska's highest peak, Mt. McKinley rising above Byers Lake and a canoeist. Chulitna Valley, Byers Lake State Park.

Alaska landscape and recreation. Alaska’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley rising above Byers Lake and a canoeist. Chulitna Valley, Byers Lake State Park.

4. Mt. McKinley – South Side From Petersville Road

If you don’t have a boat to access Byers Lake then there are great morning views here of Denali on clear days. In fact, Denali views are nice along most of the road with lots of fireweed. Several miles in, there are some nice small ponds that offer a great morning reflection. The approach to the water’s edge is boggy and buggy. Plan on getting your feet wet and bring a bug jacket.

Alaska Landscape. View of the south side of Mt. McKinley, 20,320' rising above the Chulitna River Valley, viewed from Petersville Road.

Alaska Landscape. View of the south side of Mt. McKinley, 20,320′ rising above the Chulitna River Valley, viewed from Petersville Road.

5. Wrangell Mountains From Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge

After a decent dinner and a brew you can get a great panoramic view of the Wrangells with the expansive Copper River and Klutina River Valleys below. Stay up late as this is a great spot for a sunset panoramic. Also, nearby Willow Lake a few miles down the road offers some nice views from the parking lot but I like the high view better.

Alaska Landscape – Wrangell Mountains. Evening alpenglow view of 16,390' Mt. Blackburn of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park rising above the Copper River Valley.

Alaska Landscape. Evening alpenglow view of 16, 390′ Mt. Blackburn of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, rising above the Copper River Valley.

6. Worthington Glacier

You can see this gem coming at you for many miles as you travel south on the Richardson Highway approaching Thompson Pass towards Valdez. There is a developed State Park parking lot and outhouses with developed trails that take you down to the foot of the glacier. I like the view from further north before you get to the State Park turn off. In late June and July look for fields of lupine in meadows off to the west. Morning light is best here.

Alaska landscape. Meadow with lupine below the Worthington Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest. Seen along the Richardson Highway near Thompson Pass.

Alaska landscape. Meadow with lupine below the Worthington Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest. Seen along the Richardson Highway near Thompson Pass.

7. Keystone Canyon Waterfalls

Further down the Richardson Highway and south of Thompson Pass, the Lowe River cuts through a steep and verdant green canyon with several really nice roadside waterfalls. My favorite is Bridal Veil Falls. For many years there were great fireweed displays here in late July and August. Road crews mowed it all down a few years ago. Hopefully they will come back. This is a wet area and is one that is most photogenic during cloudy weather and even light.

Alaska landscape. Fireweed below Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, Chugach Mountains, seen off Richardson Highway near Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Alaska landscape. Fireweed below Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, Chugach Mountains, seen off Richardson Highway near Valdez, Prince William Sound, Alaska

8. Portage Glacier from Portage Pass

Portage Glacier Visitor Center is the most heavily visited tourist spot in Southcentral. You can’t see the glacier from the lake anymore as it has receded considerably. Most tourists view the glacier from a boat tour that takes you to the end of the lake. It’s a fine view but with a little effort you can leave the crowds behind. The best view of Portage Glacier is from the pass, a short but steep, 20-minute hike up a very well defined trail. Simply drive through the tunnel to Whittier and take the first right past the restrooms. Follow the signs to the trailhead. The glacier is only nicely lit in the morning. The light tanks about 9AM so be there early. The weather here sucks most of the time so if you are lucky to be there in clear conditions (check the FAA weather cams for Whittier and Portage) jump on it!

An Asian (Korean) female hiker on Portage Pass overlooking Portage Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, above Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska

A hiker on Portage Pass overlooking Portage Glacier in the Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, above Prince William Sound, Southcentral Alaska

9. North Face of the Chugach Mountains Above Hicks Creek Along The Glenn Highway

Years ago it was risky to stop here on the narrow road with guard rail and no shoulder. Now there are huge pullouts there near Milepost 100 just before the Glenn Highway descends to Hicks Creek. The Matanuska River flows between 2 cliff walls with beautiful rugged peaks in the background. The surrounding birch/aspen/poplar forest is stunning in the fall (mid September). Best time is shortly after sunrise. There are many great places to photograph this incredible mountain, river and forest scenery. The Hick’s Creek view is part of my favorite section that stretches from Chickaloon to Sheep Mountain Lodge. Along this stretch, Long and Wiener Lakes offer great photo ops.

Alaska landscape. Autumn view of the north face of the Chugach Mountains above the Matanuska Valley, Chugach National Forest. Reflection in Weiner Lake off the Glenn Highway.

Alaska landscape. Autumn view of the north face of the Chugach Mountains above the Matanuska Valley, Chugach National Forest. Reflection in Weiner Lake off the Glenn Highway.

10. Ninilchik

Many people (except salmon anglers) bypass this quaint seaside village off the Sterling Highway on their way to Homer for the classic view of the Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay. I used to really enjoy flyfishing the Ninilchik and just hanging out. The main attraction here and a photographer’s favorite is the Russian Orthodox Church that sits on the bluff on the north side of town. It is a well kept beautiful little church that has a lovely white picket fence and dazzling wildflowers – especially the fireweed and geraniums. There are several good photo ops here. You can line up the church with Mt. Illiamna and the volcanoes across Cook Inlet for a great telephoto shot at sunrise and early morning.

Alaska coastal landscape. Summer wildflowers of lupine and cow parsnip on bluff above Cook Inlet with Redoubt Volcano in background. View near Ninilchik, Alaska off the Sterling Highway.

Alaska coastal landscape. Summer wildflowers of lupine and cow parsnip on bluff above Cook Inlet with Redoubt Volcano in background. View near Ninilchik, Alaska off the Sterling Highway.

Creative Outdoor Photography Workshop in Girdwood Alaska, July 15-17, 2011

This summer I will be teaching another workshop for the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers. Thanks to our good friend and fellow photographer Cathy Hart, this will be my third workshop for the club. The workshop is July 15-17 and will be based out of Girdwood. You can get all the details when dates and places are finalized off the ASONP website. The theme will be creative outdoor photography geared toward intermediate and advanced photographers. I will be teaching an updated version of the workshop I did in 2008 at Hatcher Pass.

Today’s offerings of portable and lightweight lighting tools are amazingly useful for many outdoor subjects including landscapes, travel and adventure. Many photographers like going on adventure trips such as sea kayaking, river raft journeys and mountain trekking. I will discuss techniques and tips for greatly improving adventure and travel photography. This type of photography often takes place where compelling landscape imagery is also possible and I will be discussing to effectively do both. Other topics covered will include how to get the most out of your RAW images in Lightroom processing, advanced digital shooting techniques and, time permitting, the business side of outdoor photography. Cathy asked me to write a piece for the newsletter. So I thought I would describe an assignment where I applied principles I’ve taught in workshops to an actual job and post it here on my blog. (See “How Following Three Basic Photography Principles led to a Successful Assignment” under ‘Assignment & Production’.)

How to Create Fall Photography in Zion National Park

My favorite autumn location is usually “the last place I shot” which for fall colors is Zion National Park. Shooting here in early November evokes feelings of having saved the best for last as the peak of autumn colors occurs after the aspens have fully shed and snow is flying in the high country. Fall photography in Zion is no secret. Just drive over the Canyon Junction Bridge during the last week of October into the first week of November late in the day and you will usually see dozens of landscape photographers lined up on the bridge trying to capture a cliché shot of the Virgin River below the Watchman. You won’t find me there. I will search out my own favorite places for adventure and landscape photography. I will share a few of these locations below.

Terry Thompson (High Mesa Productions) photographing sunrise at Canyon Overlook

Photo 1 – Sunrise at Canyon Overlook in Zion National Park

There are three things that draw me to Zion in fall. First is the Virgin River. Water is my favorite landscape subject. I love the blue green hues of the Virgin in low water and its complimentary contrast to the warm sandstone cliffs. Opportunities abound for capturing reflections of fall colors on the water’s surface. Second is the canyon or bigtooth maples that are abundant here. Cottonwoods are nice too but the maples are the star tree for me as they turn yellow, orange and red. I love getting into groves of them when their colorful leaves on the ground mix with lichen colored sandstone and green grasses that create a colorful tapestry. The main attraction though is the signature light of the Southwest, warm reflected light. This is the light that creates the ethereal glow famously seen in many slot canyon photos and in images of the Narrows. Sunlit vertical sandstone walls can “bounce” reflected light onto nearby shaded trees and shaded sandstone walls.

This scenario abounds in Zion both on a small and large scale. The best example of reflected light on a large scale is evident right from the Temple of Sinewava parking lot. Go there in mid-day and look toward the river into the sun. The enormous parabolic sunlit wall behind you as you are facing the river reflects an amazing amount of light on the shaded side of the Pulpit. You just need to train your eyes to look for this reflected warm soft light. It makes for many photo opportunities during mid-day when sunlight is too harsh for panoramic style landscape images. The key to shooting subjects in reflected light is to completely eliminate any sunlit surface or open sky in your frame.

So where will you find me on a typical day of digital landscape photography in Zion? For sunrise I prefer the East end. If you start at the entrance gate you can see the low angle morning light hitting Checkerboard Mesa and other high buttes as you travel west toward Zion Canyon. If you don’t mind a short hike at dawn, try Canyon Overlook (photo 1) and watch the sun light up the West Temple. For a hardier sunrise shoot, try hiking out to Northgate Peaks off Kolob Terrace Road for a sunrise panoramic. After the sun washes out about an hour after sunrise I begin looking for tighter landscapes with reflected light. Walk in upper Pine Creek or any side drainage off East End road and you will find maples and sandstone patterns in reflected light. In mid-day, I really like the Riverside Walk. This mile plus paved trail has many river access points and usually lots of maples and again it is easy to find shaded reflected light (photo 2).

Canyon maples below the north face of  Angel’s Landing along the Virgin River

Photo 2a – Canyon maples below Angel’s Landing

Gold leaves reflecting in the Virgin River along Riverside Walk in Zion National Park

Photo 2b -Gold leaves reflecting in the Virgin River

On a separate day, hike the Narrows up to “Wall Street” making sure you are there in late morning to mid-day. The Narrows is just fantastic for unlimited reflected light photography even if you miss the peak of fall colors. Be sure to stop by Zion Adventure Company for a complete orientation, hiking guide and river hiking outfitting if needed. For sunset, especially after a clearing storm I like to head out of the park to get a bigger sky and more of a pulled back view. My favorite place is to head toward Grafton. There are several points en route to Grafton to photograph the golden cottonwoods along the Virgin and last rays of light, alpenglow and even colorful clouds on Mount Kinesava (photo 3), Bridge Mountain and the East Temple and other prominent points in the park.

Cottonwood trees below Mt. Kinesava at sunset along Grafton Road

Photo 3 – Cottonwood trees below Mt. Kinesava

There are also many other good vantage points if you head up toward Eagle Craggs or Smisthsonian Butte. Just remember wherever you go, finding and waiting for good light, using a tripod and other solid photographic technique will result in better photos than just having a super duper pro camera with many megapixels.

Photo Captions.

Zion fall photo 1: Photographer Terry Thompson (High Mesa Productions) from Taos, New Mexico, photographing sunrise from Canyon Overlook. Shot with Canon 1Ds, Mark 3, 24-105, Terry lit with a 580 EX II fired wirelessly with ½ cut CTO gel and Honl 1/8 grid.

Zion fall photo 2a: Canyon maples below the north face of Angel’s Landing along the Virgin River. Canon 1Ds, Mark 3, 17-40 lens, polarizer

Zion fall photo 2b: Gold leaves reflecting in the Virgin River along Riverside Walk. Canon 1Ds, Mark 3, 70-200 lens with polarizer

Zion fall photo 3: Cottonwood trees below Mt. Kinesava at sunset along Grafton Road. Canon 1Ds, Mark 3, 24-105 lens, 3 stop graduated neutral density filter