This is a photo of the aurora borealis over the Knik River and the Chugach Mountains near Butte Alaska.
This photo was taken August 25th, 2013 at 3:09 am. I had just arrived at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport around midnight that night on my first trip to Alaska and I was already photographing the northern lights. My purpose was to get to know Darlene first, and to photograph this amazing state second. Darlene and I had been on a couple dinner dates on a few of her trips to Oregon but we had never really spent a lot of time together doing what we both enjoy, hiking and taking photos.
From the airport we drove to her cabin on the Knik River. We were sitting at her table when she was describing where she lived, the layout of the land, mountains, proximity to the Knik River etc when I suggested that we grab our cameras and tripods and go to the river. Darlene agreed so off we went. We spent the next week travelling around from the Kenai to the Mat-Su Valley to Denali NP taking photos of the amazing landscapes there. We would eat, sleep and start over the next day with a mission.
As we left the light of her cabin and into the forest behind we followed a path, me in front with Darlene right behind explaining where to go, under a bright half moon when as my eyes adjusted I saw a green glow in the sky through the trees. I yelled "aurora!" amd started running down the trail toward the river oblivious of the chances of a bear or even worse a bull moose crossing my path.
This particular night was an amazing night for me. I fell in love that night. Within three hours I was standing on the edge of a glacial river in Alaska with a beautiful woman and a sky dancing with bands of green aurora.This is how Alaska greeted me that night and Alaska has blessed me with such amazing experiences ever since.
As we got to the river's edge, this was the view. Can you fault me for falling in love? 🙂
Have you ever been driving down a country road and glanced to the side and then slammed your brakes, put it reverse, jumped out to snap a photo and then drive on? A photographer can be the worse Sunday Driver to get behind when the light is right unless they're in a hurry to get somewhere in particular. This is not the case in this situation. On this morning I had a non photography destination in mind but decided to take the long way instead of the highway with the commuter crowd, which took me away from traffic and through rural settings about sunrise.
As I drove I glanced to my right and saw this pass by. Because I was the only one on the road at that moment I decided in a split second to pull over get the shot. I'm glad that I did. Not only did I get a nice photo that morning, but the break from driving allowed me to relax, breath in the fresh air and enjoy the rest of my journey.
This is just a simple roadside scene at sunrise on a beautiful Autumn day.
I thought that I would post one of the very first digital landscape photos that I made. Anything that I did prior to this was terrible due to the primitive cameras that I had. And the photo can't be truly appreciated without a side story about Fishing with Meadow Muffin.
This photo struck me when I looked at it on the computer. This is before I was using any post processing software on my photos, and I certainly had not discovered raw files. I took this on Auto as a jpeg. But it stirred something inside that I have yet to recover from. I've been chasing digital landscape photography with vigor ever since. This is why I tell people that settings matter little. Go out and take pictures.!!
This photo was taken in September of 2003. I was fishing on the Columbia River near Sundial Beach with my good friend Ron "Meadow Muffin" McComber. We were sturgeon fishing. As we were coming back to the boat launch the sunset exploded in this amazing red. I had to get some photos of it. My life has never been the same since that day.
Some may question Ron's nickname. Ron and I go way back. His family and my family were neighbors back when we lived in the little Columbia River Gorge town of Bridal Veil. Back then sturgeon fishing and drinking cans of Hamm's was our favorite past time, both of which we've grown out of, well Ron still fishes but his Hamm's days have passed. But either way, we all had nicknames for each other. We never called each other by our real names while we were fishing, and everyone that we went with had one. I can't attest to how he got the name because I didn't give it to him, but I can tell you how I got mine.
My nickname back then was Hairball. Yep... and back then I had short hair. The name didn't come from my hair, or any hair for that matter, but it came from the first time that I tried casting a 12 foot bank rod with 100# test nylon monofilament and a glob of rag mop (pickled herring) and some earthworms on it. For those unfamiliar with casting with a levelwind the size of a truck winch, let me try to explain.
The first thing that you have to realize is that you have to cast wayyy out there. I'm talking a cast that's about 20 or 30 yards or more, depending one one's ability usually. For that you have to really have your technique down to a science to get the fishing rod to throw the bait that far. While you're casting the line out of the reel you have to make sure that the spool doesn't get ahead of the line that's paying out because if you do you are liable to get the nickname "Hairball". The line going out meets the line wrapping the other way and you end up with this huge ball of twine and a sore thumb.
That's exactly what happened to me. Nobody warned me that the 100 pound monofilament line creates a lot of friction between it and your thumb while you're trying to keep some drag on it. It heats up to somewhere a few degrees less than the sun, and when it did I picked up my thumb from the reel and all kinds of fishing hell broke lose. I had loops of fishing line flying in all directions until it all wound up in a knot the size of my fist.
Needless to say I had a mess to sort out. Luckily a sturgeon didn't grab the bait or it would have brought me in... or most likely my friend's fishing rod. I learned quickly why Ron had a crochet hook in his fishing tackle box. They come in handy when trying to disassemble a hairball in a fish reel.
I need to call up my buddy Meadow Muffin and see how he's doing. We always have fun dredging up the past.
With the Spring and Summer months behind us and the Fall and Winter months ahead many people start planning ahead for the next season’s warm weather activities. Many of these plans will revolve around weddings and wedding engagements. Because of that I’ve decided to try to provide some information that will help in deciding what photographer would be best for you from a photographer’s point of view. So here is A Primer on Wedding Photography.
First and foremost is the misconception that all that a photographer does is show up, take pictures, go home and send them in an email. That’s no different than thinking that all that the caterer does is show up and put some food on a table, serve it up and throw away the paper plates. That food needs to be carefully prepared, delivered carefully and served in a beautiful way and then the dishes need to be done. It’s a process as photography is a process. It’s certainly true that you can hire someone to come and take pictures inexpensively, you can also hire a caterer that will serve TV dinners.
When you hire a professional photographer you will expect more than snapshots of the wedding. A photographer can take hundreds or sometimes a thousand or more photos at a single event. Once back at the studio they will need to sort out all of the stinkers before starting the processing phase of the project. Out of focus, closed eyes, redundancy etc are all considered in this phase. This all takes time. After the initial sorting of the photos there are still many more left to consider whether they’re worthy of being a final photo.
If the photographer is using film, which some still do, they will have shooting time plus processing/developing time. If they shoot digital they will also have processing time. Modern professional photographers photograph their images in what’s called a RAW file which is considered a digital negative as it will need to be converted into a usable image format for printing or digital display. This RAW format gives the photographer the same form of adjustment ability that the film photographer does in a darkroom, primarily brightness, contrast and color adjustments such as white balance and saturation, plus a lot more. Because each photo is unique each will typically require separate attention from the rest. In other words each photo is typically processed in its own unique way.
In many cases a professional photographer will have a second or third photographer at the event. The second, or assistant photographer, is helpful in capturing fleeting moments that come and are gone in a flash. This assistant is also helpful in setting up any equipment such as lighting and backdrops as well as posing people, seeing overlooked details as well as sorting the photos after the event. Once sorted the primary photographer will process the final photos. A second shooter will also help with any video captures of the event. Today most professional wedding photographers provide video service as well.
A professional will also have a backup photographer who will cover for him if he becomes ill or is unable to photograph the wedding for unforeseen reasons. The last thing that you want is a sick photographer at the event or one that’s too ill to attend.
What do you get for your money?
All of this can add up when considering cost. Generally speaking one can expect to pay from $2500 - $10,000 for a true professional wedding photographer. Most photographers will have packages at different levels of pricing. The packages will typically provide a specified amount of final photos provided as well as other products such as specialty printing like canvas or acrylic prints, a hard bound portfolio album or a video of the event.
I know what you’re thinking. Holy macaroni, right? I know because I’m asked a lot about photographing weddings and have seen the look in a few faces when they start to think about their budget. First consider this. Will you remember or enjoy or remember the catered food in twenty years? Will you remember the DJ or the wedding planner or the venue manager? In my mind photography is the most important part of the wedding besides the vows. The photos will be with you for the rest of your lives and will help you to remember the details like the fabulous food and great music. Why compromise on what will truly be heirlooms for you and your family?
I also understand that a professional, in many cases, is impractical. In those cases my advice is to look for a photographer who is trying to make a mark for themselves or one who is trying to gain experience and a professional portfolio. Most aspiring photographers are not only willing to work for less they’re also usually enthusiastic. In this day and age, in many cases, one will know someone that’s either a friend or a family member that has a nice camera that would be willing to do this, sometimes for free. Ask to see their photos. You may be surprised.
And a final word concerning attendees with their own cameras or cell phone cameras who are tempted to snap photos during the ceremony or during the professional photographers time. Please consider that if there’s a hired photographer working please allow them the freedom to work. There have been many times where I’m unable to get the photo through or between guests trying to get the same photo. It also makes it difficult when eyes are straying while a group of people are all looking at different cameras all at once. Many weddings ask attendees to not take photos during the ceremony and to relax and enjoy the event. If the bride and groom ask or if there’s not a professional working photographer there some brides and grooms want their attendees to snap photos. They figure that 25 photographers working for free are better than one or two pros working for a wage. That’s a valid approach which I give as an option when I discuss a job with a potential client.
I hope that this helps those who are considering hiring a photographer for their wedding. And may I be the first to congratulate you.
I'm proud to announce that I have received a Silver Medal award from the Professional Photographers Association 2017 International Photographic Competition. I entered four photos and had three merit and one go to the loan collection for display.
What Lens Should I Use? - The most asked question of me is typically advice in what camera that one should get. I have addressed this in a previous blog post. The second most asked question may be what lens to choose.
In SLR (single lens reflex) photography there are basically two types of lenses that one can choose. Fixed focal length (prime lenses) and zoom lenses. It was common back in the old days when I first started for photographers to have a whole set of fixed focal length lenses. A full set typically consisted is a 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro. Beyond those focal lengths one bought large telephoto lenses such as a 200mm or a 300mm. We had zooms back then but they were of poor quality. After the 1970’s zoom lenses became much better and eventually became the choice of most photographers, especially hobbyists. Today the quality of a zoom lens is fantastic.
A zoom lens allows you to magnify the scene that you’re photographing, enlarging an area to give a closer view. It will also help in aiding your composition. You can start wide and zoom in until you have removed all that you don’t want in the shot creating a much more solid and stronger composition. A zoom lens is very handy as it allows you to have one lens instead of a set. Zooms are available that will allow a range from 28mm-300mm in one lens.
The most valuable tool in my bag is the right lens for the right purpose. In landscape photography the most common lens used is a wide angle lens. A focal length range from 24-70mm on a 35mm camera or a full frame digital camera, or 18-55mm on a cropped sensor camera, is the most effective and most used range for landscape work. Although it’s the most commonly used range it’s certainly not the only one that a landscape photographer can use. I love to use my 70-200mm zoom to get some details of the scene of more abstract interpretations of the
scene as well as my 14mm and 20mm ultra wide angle lenses, both being “fast” prime lenses.
The next consideration in choosing a lens is how fast the lens is. Fast meaning how wide that you’re able to open your aperture. The most common maximum aperture setting is f/3.5, but better lenses typically will allow f/2.8 to f/1.8. This means that you can use a faster shutter with more light coming through the lens at the maximum aperture setting. The wider the opening the more light that’s able to make it inside the camera. Another consequence of the wider maximum aperture opening is a narrowing or decrease in the depth of field which will allow one to separate the subject from the background by keeping the subject sharp while blurring the background. The better lenses will usually have a wider maximum aperture but with the quality and extra feature comes an increase in cost.
I have been talking a lot about landscape photography but the same principles apply in all forms including portraiture, for instance. A typical prime focal length for portraiture is 85-105mm. When you own a zoom lens, you have that range. A note concerning portraiture use a wider aperture to narrow the DOF to separate your subject from the background by blurring the background as described above.
For those who don’t own a camera with removable lenses, all of this applies to your camera as well. A typical prosumer camera will have a built in zoom as well as the ability to switch to manual and set your aperture. Learn to manually adjust your camera and use the aperture to control the DOF to allow you to enhance the look and quality of your photos.
It’s easy to complicate photography in one’s mind with the perception of mathematical complication. I leave the math to the engineers and learn simple practical application. Experiment, practice, make mistakes, experiment more and in time it will all come together into an instinctual understanding. In this day and age of digital photography film is cheap. Take a lot of pictures.
Photographing Lightning - With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most.
A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.
Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand
Of course when we're trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.
When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.
You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.
Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.
Daytime or Nighttime
When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.
It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.
Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.
High Tech Toys
Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.
A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.
Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.
Have Fun - Be Safe
The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.
I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.
Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.
The Oregon Rain Forest - This photograph speaks of what Oregon means to me. My earliest memories are of sitting at the edge of an Oregon creek fishing for trout with my father and the smell of the forest and the sound of the creek as it tumbles over the top of mossy rocks and logs. It hasn't mattered where I have been in the world in my life Oregon was still home to me. These creek side memories had a lot to do with my yearning to return home. They're a peaceful place and make wonderful landscape photos.
This photograph was taken in the Mt Hood National Forest near the little town of Rhododendron Oregon. It was made on May 21st of 2016. This shows the lush green moss covered forest at it's Springtime prime. It's a time of the year that the forest is the most alive. It's as if everything that lives there is celebrating the warmer weather and the passing of Winter. Everything from the smallest insect to the largest bear, moss to trees they all are reaching for the light. It's the lushest and the greenest. The creeks are full and the leaves fill the voids of every corner and every gully. I love photographing the forest in the Spring time.
This shot was made with my Nikon D810 with a 24-85 f/3.5. The exposure was 0.8 sec at an aperture of f/20 and 800 ISO. I used a polarizing filter to reduce glare. Raw conversion was in Lightroom with basic exposure and contrast adjustments, lens correction, CA correction and basic sharpening and NR, and the processing was then finished in Photoshop with a thin Orton layer and final sizing and sharpening.
Contact me for photography instruction including private workshops for camera operation or processing.