The Magic of a Mexico Sunrise

I don’t know what it is about a Mexico sunrise that makes them so unique but they are unlike any other sunrise I’ve ever shot.

On all my trips I make sure I’m up to watch the sun come up at least once while I’m there, my recent trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico was no different. Sometimes it’s a bust and there isn’t much to see, but the experience of watching the world come to life in a new place is still amazing. Occasionally, though, my early morning wake up is rewarded with an incredible show of light and color. That’s what my wife and I were rewarded with on our most recent trip to Mexico.

Puerto Penasco Sunrise

 

We were lucky enough to get to stay in a great little condo rental at the Sonoran Sun, right on the beach with great balconies overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Both mornings I managed to get up in time to see some of the great, soft pastels that seem to be unique to Mexico. The gradual transformation from star lit dark, to soft light with deep blues, to a dome of changing colors spotted by puffs of softly colored clouds makes for quite a show over a hot cup of coffee. It’s especially fun in these coastal fishing towns where the quiet surface of the water is dotted with boats of all shapes and sizes collecting the morning’s bounty for the fish market.

Puerto Penasco Mexico Sunrise

 

Puerto Penasco Mexico Sunrise-1

 

We used to go to Puerto Penasco all the time, at least a couple times a year, but it has been a long while since I’ve been down there. It has changed quite a bit, but there are still aspects of it that are familiar and remind me of why I love Mexico so much. It’s close enough to us here in Arizona that there really is no good reason why we don’t go more often. I’ll have to make more effort to get us down there again soon.

Thanks to Seaside Reservations for setting up the trip and providing the condo. They were great to work with and we will use them again.

If you are interested in seeing more images from this Mexico trip you can visit my travel gallery here.

Finding diversity in Hawaii…

The trip was doomed before it even began.  My wife and I (mostly my wife) had been planning our first anniversary trip to Hawaii with focus on spending time in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  We poured over places to stay and tried to compile a list of things to do inside the National Park as well as outside the park.  We settled on a promising little cottage just outside the park in the village of Volcano where we would be close enough to the park entrance that we could easily get in early and have no trouble staying late (so I could get my sunrise and sunset opportunities).  But things began to unravel early…

Two weeks before our departure from the mainland my knee decided to fail me.  I had been training again trying to get in shape from my foot being broken nearly all Summer.  Miserable as that was, I was excited to be out again and getting in shape in time for some Winter fun and our anniversary trip.  My knee thought otherwise and I was reduced (once again) to painfully hobbling around the house with limited mobility.  Awesome…Hawaii here we come!

Also looming on the horizon was the giant black cloud of the government shutdown.  In my mind, it would be a game of chicken until the 11th hour and then someone would give in and the crisis would be averted.  Never did I expect it to actually happen and, even if it did, I didn’t expect the National Parks to shut down.  I guess that’s the naturalist in me that considers the National Parks and Monuments part of the “essential” services that would be untouchable during a shutdown.  I also, naively, thought of the National Parks as truly public spaces that would still be accessible even if the Park’s services were closed.  But clearly I was mistaken…

Honolulu and the North Shore

North Shore of Oahu

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii

We arrived in Honolulu for the first leg of our trip.  We would be staying one evening here before moving on to the Big Island so that I would get to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  My wife has been, but since this was my first trip to the islands we made time to make sure I would be able to see the Memorial.

The long flight had been hard on my miserable knee so we reluctantly chose to push Pearl Harbor off to the next morning and explore the North Shore a little bit and maybe catch the sunset.  We fought our way through afternoon traffic to get outside Honolulu and head toward the beaches.  Still pretty sore and stiff from the long flight, I had a hard time getting around but luckily the road pretty much follows the shoreline and there wasn’t much hiking to get to the beaches along the North Shore.

Turtle Beach on OahuWe stopped at a few places, got to see some turtles, had a little snack and waited out the sun as it slowly settled to the horizon.  We stopped at Sunset Beach and while my wife got out the beach towel to lay in the sand and soak up the last hour or so of sunlight, I hauled out the camera gear and set up to catch the fading light.  The weather was nice, there was a slight breeze and a nice set of clouds in the west for the sun to play with as it set.  The sunset wasn’t spectacular but it was pretty nice and it allowed me to get the equipment dialed in.

After sunset we headed back to Honolulu for a nice sushi dinner and some much needed rest.  My knee kept me from getting much rest, but we were excited to get out to the National Memorial before our flight to Hawaii.  My wife turned on the news as we were getting ready and that’s when we found out about the closure of the National Parks.  Blindsided and somewhat devastated that we were going to be denied access to the only reason we stayed in Honolulu AND potentially miss out on the main reason we were visiting Hawaii we scrambled for some answers.  I called the number listed for the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center and spoke with a woman who assured me that the memorial, or at least most of it, was still open.

She was partially right, the collection of memorials and monuments at Pearl Harbor are managed by the NPS but some of them, like the Pacific Aviation Museum are actually on the military base property and were therefore still open.  DOD funding was intact, so the USS Missouri and the museum were still open but access was now cut off so they were shuttling visitors onto the military base to access these memorials.  It was a mess and no one really knew what was going on.  We spoke with some very helpful NPS Rangers stationed in front of the visitor’s center, but their news was grim.  This would not be a quick resolution, the parks would likely be closed for a while.

We reluctantly gave in and headed to the airport.  After a pretty rough flight (my knee was really having a fit with all this travel) we landed in Hilo, grabbed our car and headed to Volcano to check in to our cottage.  We rented a private cottage from Hale Ohai cottages in Volcano.  Our place was awesome and set back in the thick jungle vegetation making for a beautiful setting.  Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get a chance to spend much time there.

As most everyone knows now, the National Parks stayed closed for over two weeks which meant that our 5 day adventure in Volcanoes NP was spent outside of Volcanoes NP.  Every morning we woke up hoping that the shutdown was over the park would be reopened.  It was sort of our obsession throughout the trip.  The upside of being locked out of the National Park was that we got to see much more of the rest of the island than we had originally planned.

There is so much to see on the Big Island.  Even being limited by my meager mobility we still got to see a ton of diversity in Hawaii as we ventured out from our home base in Volcano.  Exploring the gardens and waterfalls around Hilo, the rough and rugged coastlines around the southern tip of the island, the high grasslands between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and various beaches.  Ultimately we had a great time driving around the island exploring State Parks, beaches and old lava flows.  We had some great meals in Kona and Waimea and found some amazing little roadside mom-and-pop restaurants.  Parks closed or not, we still had a great time exploring the diversity in Hawaii and spending time with each other on our anniversary.

Cape Kumukahi

Cape Kumukahi near Hilo

Cape Kumukahi is just outside Hilo near Puna and was a rough and tortured coastline of old lava flows broken and twisted by the relentless action of the waves.  Throughout our trip, this area was usually cloudy and raining but we happened to catch it one morning when the sun was out and the clouds were still gathering in the distance.  It’s beauty is in it’s hostility, the sharp black lava rock with very little vegetation and the hard crash of the waves on this side of the island.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls near Hilo

Just minutes outside of Hilo is Ranbow Falls, one of the most visited falls on the island from what I’ve read.  It’s really easy to access and there are paved walks to view points to see the falls.  Many tour buses drop off loads of cruise ship tourists to come in and snap some pictures and gawk at the dramatic falls and lush vegetation.  It is no doubt a beautiful spot, and the falls is much larger and more dramatic during other seasons but I would have liked to visit more remote falls had I been more ambulatory.

Lava Tree Gardens State Park

Lava Tree Gardens outside Hilo

Lava Tree State Park is also near Puna and hosts a unique feature on the island.  Vertical lava tubes dot the park.  These unique features were created when molten lava washed through the area in the 1790s and cooled faster around the large trees as it washed over the land.  The trees burnt out leaving hollow vertical tubes that still stand today.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Black lava shores of Punalu'u beach

Past the south end of the National Park is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach County Park.  It’s a small protected black sand beach area with some cool lava formations and a small section of black sand beach where we saw another turtle on the shoreline.  We actually visited this spot a couple of times during our trip because it was close enough to Volcano to be an easy drive.

Southern Tip of Hawaii

Southernmost tip of the US

The southernmost tip of the Big Island is also the southernmost tip of the United States and is a pretty harsh area.  The seas are calmer here but the currents are still strong.  If you can brave the undertow, there is supposed to be some excellent snorkeling at the base of the shear cliffs.  There was a lot of long-line fishing going on here when we stopped by.  The rugged, windswept cliffs and the expanse of endless ocean beyond really do make this spot feel like the “edge of the world”.

Grasslands outside Waimea

Grassy hills outside Waimea - diversity in Hawaii

Totally unexpected to me were the rolling hills and open grasslands dotted with cattle.  I never expected to see expansive wild grasslands in Hawaii and I found myself staring out at it every time we drove through these areas.  It was different than anything I expected to find on a Pacific Island I was slightly in awe of it.  We stopped one evening on our way from Kona to Waimea as the sun was setting to grab some pictures at the edge of the highway and these ended up being some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

As disappointed as we were to NOT make our trip about the National Park in Hawaii, we still made the best of it and had a great time checking out all that Hawaii had to offer.  As I said to my wife several times throughout the trip, there’s no way to see it all in a week.  We could spend years out here and never get to see it all.

We are already talking about getting back to Hawaii soon to handle some unfinished business.  Keep those parks open, Hawaii, and we’ll be back soon!

Failure on Mount Graham…

Two years ago I made a trip out to Mount Graham in eastern Arizona to see the Perseid meteor shower.  On that trip, we arrived late as a storm had rolled in and set up camp in the rain.  It rained all night and was a soggy mess in the morning, but we hiked, bagged some peaks, got in trouble with the feds, took a few pictures, slept through a second night of rain and clouds and came home.  I never got a chance to see the meteor shower, or much of the night sky at all.  Bummer.

Since that trip, I’ve become much more serious about photography and really, really wanted to do a night sky shoot.  With the meteor shower reaching a peak this weekend I wanted to get back out to Mount Graham and try to not just see the celestial event but capture images of it.  So I packed up some basics and headed out Sunday morning to make the 4 hour drive to Mount Graham.

Mount Graham and the Pinaleno Mountains are one of the Southeastern Arizona “Sky Islands”, a collection of isolated, high elevation peaks that are throwbacks to Arizona’s ancient past.  As the climate has changed and the Ponderosa Pine forests have been pushed higher in elevation these mountains have become the island homes for many species that can’t survive the desert.  The Sky Island Alliance has boasted, “the region harbors a diversity exceeding anywhere else in the U.S., supporting well over half the bird species of North America, 29 bat species, over 3,000 species of plants, and 104 species of mammals.”

Mount Graham photography view

These mountains also have pretty crazy weather.  At nearly 11,000 ft they tower over the desert floor and clouds tend to pile up against them and then let loose.  This is what caught me two years ago.  And this is what was in store for me this weekend.  A perfectly clear pleasant afternoon soon hinted at a cranky, grumbly storm as I drove up the twisting mountain road to camp.  I stopped to take some pictures as the storm approached and built up steam.

Mount Graham photography camp

Just as I reached camp and started to set up, the storm bullied it’s way over the mountain and let loose with a massive downpour.  The camp host said it hadn’t rained for a week or so but the last time a storm came over lightning struck a tree at one of the campsites convincing the temporary residents to pack up and go home.  This storm rolled right over the top of camp with thick walls of rain and hail, lightning striking so close I could smell it and thunder that seemed to crashing right between my ears.

Luckily I had the light rain jacket from Columbia to keep me dry as I scrambled to set up camp.  I got the tent up in a hurry then decided I didn’t want to be stuck in the tent and set up the tarp I normally reserve for hammock camping.  This allowed me to set up a nice little dry area where I could cook, hang out and watch the storm.  The storm blasted camp for a good two hours, causing torrents of runoff to carve a path through camp.  I took a stick and dug in a channel next to the tent to divert the drainage around the tent instead of under it…it helped.

Mount Graham photography camp

Once the rain had stopped, I pulled out the camera to see if I could get a few post rain shots during the sunset.  I didn’t get much and what I got seemed off but I didn’t know why.  I waited out the sun busying myself with other camp duties.  The moon would set around 9PM offering a nice dark sky for night shooting.  I got the camera out and set up to do some long exposures and catch the Milky Way while I waiting for the meteor shower.

Mount Graham photography night shotsThis was my first attempt at night shooting, my first attempt to do open shutter captures…and I couldn’t figure it out.  It took me close to an hour to figure out how to lock the shutter open on the damn camera (I know, I felt like an idiot).  Once I finally got it to work, I was having a really hard time capturing anything.  Even keeping the shutter open for 3 or 4 minutes and with the ISO pushed up I was having no real success.  Then I noticed that when I did get something in the viewfinder it looked weird.

Everything, and I mean everything, was wet from the storm.  The storm had dropped so much water that as it got cold there was not a single dry surface anywhere…that included the lens!  Dammit!  I have been struggling to get these long exposure shots and all I was doing was shooting through a foggy, wet lens.  After some necessary swearing, I finally found a cloth I could try to clean the lens with.  I hoped I could get it clean and then get some shots.  The problem was, the shots would take anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes to shoot and the mist would collect on the lens in less than 2 minutes.  Ugh!

Mount Graham photography night shotsBut I tried.  I would set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter…wait.  I would also have to hold my breath when setting up the camera because the steam from my breathing would fog the lens immediately.  So I would hold my breath, set up the shot, clean the lens, open the shutter, then scurry far enough away to exhale and take a breath.  Seriously….?

It was about the time I got this system down that I realized my battery was dying and eventually wouldn’t let me take a shot.  How the hell did I take off for two days of shooting without charging the battery??  Good thing I had a backup.  I swapped the batteries and, nope, that one was dead too.  GOD DAMMIT!!  What the hell?  I could have sworn I had charged the batteries after my last trip…but I guess I hadn’t.

So, dead batteries, wet lens, battery going dead on my headlamp and the cold starting to get to me…I put the camera away just as the meteor shower was supposed to get going.  At least I will get to watch it, even if I can’t try to shoot it.  I waited.  1AM…not much to see, a couple of streaks but not much of a show.  1:30AM…still nothin.  Peak show is supposed to be from 1AM to 3AM…where is it?  2AM…Do I have to buy a ticket?  Is that why I’m not seeing much of anything?

At about 2:30AM I got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing much.  I was cold, tired, wet and my foot was killing me from stumbling around camp all night.  I called it and went to bed.

With the good camera useless, I decided to pack up and head home instead of doing a second night.  If my busted foot wasn’t feeling so sore I might have stayed just to hike around the mountain a little bit.  It’s a beautiful place.  But I had come out for the photography and my equipment was shot.  The upside was that I did get to use my new Induro tripod and I really liked it.  So much lighter and easier than my older tripod.  Very impressed with it.

Mount Graham photography

 

Mount Graham photography

The next morning I walked around a little with my smaller camera and tried to shoot some of the scenery in the morning light.  There really is an abundance of stuff to shoot in the mountains.  Especially for late Summer, this is the place to find some amazing plants and animals to capture.  I really wish I been better prepared and in better shape to hike around the mountain this weekend, but I will go back.

That’s two failed trips to Mount Graham…one of these days I’ll do it right.  I promise!

An Exciting New Project…

A few months ago, after returning from Zion National Park I started a project inside the Trail Sherpa Network.  We collectively submitted photos from the National Parks and I processed them to be a part of a collection…an ever growing collection…of prime photos from our National Parks.  The idea was to use the best images from within our group of bloggers to create an amazing collection representing as many National Parks as we could collect.

National Park Series - Grand Canyon

I was really happy with the result.  We collected amazing photos representing a dozen Parks.  I hope to eventually have a Trail Sherpa Network photograph for every National Park to fill out the collection.  There are still a few of the bloggers that have said they have photos to submit for the collection but haven’t gotten around to sending them yet.

This led to another really cool project that we’ve been working on.

I’m really excited about it and I can’t wait to launch.  The project is in beta right now, but we are hoping to go public on August 25th…the National Parks Service’s 98th Birthday!

If you have a favorite National Park photo or story…we will want to hear from you!  August 25th!

Photograph of the Week: Sunset in Grand Canyon…

I know, I know…I haven’t done a Photograph of the Week in a long time.  Everything blog-related was pretty much put on hold while I was recovering from my busted foot.  Now that I can get around a little bit I feel more motivated to post AND I actually have a few things to post about.  So, to kick things off again I wanted to post a collection of pictures from my recent trip to Grand Canyon National Park showing four consecutive days of Sunset in Grand Canyon.

First Sunset: Bedrock City, Arizona…

Somehow, there’s always a lot to do the day of a trip.  Without fail, it seems like I’m overwhelmed with last minute random chores to get done when we are trying to get out of town.  Another reason why flexibility is the overriding theme to all my travel plans.  We didn’t make it all the way to the Grand Canyon on the first day and decided to stop for the night in Bedrock City just outside of Williams.  This was a fun, spontaneous decision that felt much more adventurous than the local KOA.  That first night we set up the teardrop, busted out the camp stove and made dinner as the sun was bearing down on the horizon.  While dinner was cooking, I grabbed the camera and snapped off a few shots of the sunset.

first night sunset- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 24-105 Lens – f6.3 – 1/160sec – ISO 200 – 35mm

 

Second Sunset: The Watchtower…

We camped at Desert View Campground, about 28 miles east of the main entrance to the park and Grand Canyon Village.  After driving through the main section and seeing what kind of circus Mather Campground is I was really happy we had made the decision to check out Desert View.  It’s a first-come-first-served campground so timing is key if you’re going to find a spot.  We got lucky and managed to grab what I believe was the best spot in the campground.  That first night in Grand Canyon we decided to check out the sunset view from The Watchtower, which is only a quarter mile or so from camp.  We hiked along the rim a ways to stake out a spot away from the crowds.  As sunset approached we still had a sporadic groups of tourists jockeying for a spot along the rim to snap shots of the sunset with their cell phones.

I set up on a promontory that got me out enough to be able to shoot the sunset without the tourists in the frame (I know, I keep saying “tourist” like I wasn’t one…hehe).  We waited…and waited…I was looking for a nice show.  There were nice clouds in the sky, the canyon was clear, visibility was great…we just needed the light to break through.  It never really happened.  That first night was a bust and the sunset fizzled out like a match that burned itself out.  The images for that night were more moody, with subtle light in the clouds and a misty stacked silhouette of purple canyon walls.

Watch Tower Sunset Day 1- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f29 – 1.3sec – ISO 320 – 22mm

 

Third Sunset: Return to The Watchtower…

We tried to take it easy for the second day in the canyon, I didn’t want to overwork my busted foot since I was just getting used to walking again.  We got up early that day and got to shoot the sunrise at from the cliffs at Desert View just a short walk from camp.  That night I wanted to get back to The Watchtower for sunset, I felt robbed the night before.  It is a great vantage point and the canyon view from there made for great photos but the show the night before was weak.  I wanted another shot at it and the sky was shaping up to have a lot of potential.

We came out a little later than the night before, it had been cold and windy the first night and we waited for a long time with nothing much to show for it.  Arriving later meant I lost my spot though, as it had been taken over by a large group of Asian tourists.  We hiked further down the trail looking for a quiet spot to set up and found a great little overlook.  That night the sun cooperated and gave us a little more of the display I was looking for.  My expectations were high, so even with a “nice” sunset I felt like the canyon was holding back.  We would have one more shot after this, but I was still happy with at least a couple of the sunset images we got that night.  My wife was shooting the D70s with the 24-105 lens and had much better luck since she could get in tighter on the scene we had that night.

Watchtower Sunset Day 2- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f4.2 – 1/40sec – ISO 320 – 19mm

 

Last Sunset: ShoShone Point…

We got the inside scoop about Shoshone Point from one of the Park Rangers working at The Watchtower.  He gave us clear directions and told us it was the perfect short, easy hike that I could do with my limited mobility and would give us a stellar view of The Canyon for sunset.  He added that Shoshone Point is one of his personal favorite vantage points on the South Rim and it is never crowded.  Sounded like the perfect spot!  What he didn’t tell us is that the location is available for events and we got there just as a full blown wedding was wrapping up.  The bridal party had taken over the point for wedding photos!

Luckily they wrapped up before sunset and everyone headed out leaving the point to Merelyn and I.  Shortly after that we were joined by an eccentric local photographer that seemed to be happy to have some folks to talk to.  We sat and waited.  Things were shaping up nicely but you never know, the clouds move one way or another and can blow the whole thing.  Then the show started and for the next 40 minutes or so I hopped and shuffled all over the point shooting the changes in The Canyon as the light moved.  The sun cast intense rays across The Canyon catching corners and edges and making for some dramatic shooting.  I shot with the wide-angle and my wife shot with the 24-105 and we both captured some great stuff.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f22 – 1/15sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

When the Sun finally did drop behind the cliff the color in the sky changed completely and I dropped the exposure a little.  I had promised Merelyn we wouldn’t stay too long so we wouldn’t be hiking back to the truck in the dark, but I couldn’t leave the sunset before it was done and it had more story to tell.  Our photographer friend was there to the bitter end shooting a time-lapse of the sunset, so as the last of the viable shots for me slipped away we said goodbye and headed back down the dark trail to the truck.  Luckily it wasn’t much of a hike back and we did just fine.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in the Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f/14 – 1/5sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

Prints of any of these shots and more from my Grand Canyon trip can be ordered from the Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery site.

Photograph of the Week: Graduated Filtering…

My wife and I recently visited California to see some friends and family.  We spent Saturday afternoon driving down the coast from Monterey through Big Sur on the scenic Highway 1.  We stopped several times along the way to hike, take pictures and get riddled with Poison Oak (not so much fun).  As the afternoon wore on the fog got thick and it looked like the sunset would be a bust.  I had been hoping to get a nice coastal sunset in this scenic area but nothing is guaranteed in nature.

A little over an hour before true sunset, the sun started to break through the clouds and offer a little pre-sunset drama.  We quickly pulled off the highway at a scenic overlook and I hopped out with the tripod to grab a few shots of the light display.  This was going to be a narrow window and a slightly challenging shot.

I knew I would be looking to shoot a sunset along the coast and had been trying to get myself a nice Neutral Density Graduated Filter for the job.  This would allow me to shoot a little slower to expose the darker ocean and maybe even get some motion blur without over exposing the sky.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the filter I wanted before the trip.  So I would have to get the shot and figure it out later.

Photograph of the Week: The RAW shot…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur cliffs RAW

The challenge is balancing the exposure.  You don’t want to overexpose the sky so that the clouds and light still holds detail.  But at the same time you don’t want to underexpose the landscape (ocean) and risk losing detail there either.  Since the clouds only broke in a small part of the sky the entire shot would be very dark except for the light shining through the clouds.  I managed to get a couple of images that struck the balance between exposures allowing me to process them as if I were working with a real filter.

Photograph of the Week: Processing in Lightroom…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Lightroom

The first thing I did was adjust the exposure so the darker areas were exposed properly.  This blew out the light in the sky and the glow of the clouds but I’d fix that later.  Once the exposure was corrected I did my usual work of pulling shadows and creating deeper blacks to add depth.  I then pushed on the Clarity and Vibrance to create sharper contrast and pull more vivid color.  Color would be important but I didn’t want to oversaturate the image, so I only made a slight adjustment to the Saturation.

This got me away from a very gray and underexposed image, but the sky was now over exposed.  I applied a Gradient Filter to the top of the image allowing me to adjust the sky without effecting the ocean and landscape.  With the filter in place I was able to bring the exposure of the sky back down a couple of steps where it was more natural and the detail returned.  I still had a very gray sky so I pushed the Temp setting slightly toward the cooler side.  The result gave me a better setting for the warm light that was pouring through the clouds.

I finished my adjustments by pushing the Sharpness as far as I dared, then smoothing the noise by increasing the Luminance.  This is something I’ve been doing on almost every image because it allows me to get crisp detail and sharp edges with almost no noise at all.

Photograph of the Week: Magic from Color Efex Pro…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

I tried to keep it simple in Color Efex Pro.  I just wanted a little warmth to the light and maybe a little sharper detail.  I started by applying the basic Brilliance/Warmth filter which gives a nice warm glow to the light in the image, but won’t overly warm the cooler colors.  Then I wanted to punch the light in the sky up a little, so I applied the Skylight filter and the Sunlight filter.  Both of those seem only to enhance existing light in an image without doing too much to mid tones and shadows.  These filters also seemed to bring some luminosity and warms to the reflected light on the ocean surface.

I finished off my adjustments by adding another Graduated Neutral Density Filter to the image creating more contrast in the cloudy sky.  Graduated filters in both Lightroom and Color Efex Pro allowed me to balance out the exposure on a very unbalanced scene.  I can’t wait to get a real physical Neutral Density Filter so I can try some other tricks.

Once the adjusted TIFF file was back in Lightroom I increased the Sharpness and Luminosity again, kinda just to see what would happen. It gave the image a very painterly quality, but on such a small scale it’s hard to see without blowing it up.  But enlarged, the image has no noise and very clean edges, the textures also came in super clean.  I might start doing this final step regularly.

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-24mm lens.
  • Exp: 1/20 sec, F/22, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom and finished in NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

This image and images from this set are available at my Virtual Gallery for download or to order prints.  Please visit.

Photograph of the Week: Subtle Coloring…

My camera was in the shop.  My D300 and wide angle lens had to go in for deep cleaning after my recent trip to Zion.  It needed it.  It just so happened that while my Nikon was having a spa weekend, there were wondrous things taking place at my neighbor’s house.

I have been working on a collection of photographs of Cacti in Bloom, taking advantage of what is expected to be a unusually showy season for cactus around Southern Arizona.  Some of the shots I can get from the trail, but there are many varieties concentrated in private yards around town.  I have a couple of neighbors who have nice collections and I’ve been watching them for blooms.  One particular neighbor has a couple of nice Easter Lily Cactus specimens in his yard which produce a gorgeous bloom.  I watched and waited, studied the light and took note of the best times to shoot so I’d be ready when the flowers came in.

Then they arrived.  Tall trumpet shaped flutes stood tall and opened wide revealing beautiful, delicate pinkish-purple petals.  The blooms came during the night, and were boldly welcoming the sunrise the next day.  As the sun climbed, it cast it’s rays toward the flowers and they seemed to glow with the morning light.  I walked over several times that morning to watch, to study…but my camera was in the shop.  Damn it!

Thinking I would get my camera back soon, I watched the flowers all day.  It could make for a dramatic sunset shot if the light was right.  This was an exciting prospect.  As the day wore on I anxiously waited for my camera, I even considered taking shots with the D70 but felt that wasn’t going to cut it.  Late in the afternoon I still hadn’t heard from the camera shop and disaster struck.  The beautiful blooms were wilting.  The flowers closed and drooped in a tired, spent surrender to the midday heat.  There would be no sunset shots, maybe no shots at all if this cactus didn’t have the resources to bloom again this season.

My camera returned from it’s luxurious spa treatment the next day, but there was nothing to shoot.  But I kept my eyes on the cactus and eventually it bloomed again.  This time even bigger and better.  I caught them in the morning again and quickly scrambled to collect my gear and run to the neighbor’s house to catch it early while the light was still nice.  I took a series of shots, most with the tripod…but a few required me to contort myself into odd positions with my head and hands precariously close to other cacti in the yard.  I was really happy with the results.

Photograph of the Week: Adjustments in Lightroom

I’ve asked around and it seems that people really do like the “process” side of the Photograph of the Week just as much as the story side, so I’ll walk through the process a little more on this one to show how I treated the image.  I shoot in RAW on my Nikon so I can work the fine details in Lightroom.  Shooting RAW generally delivers a very dull image as it essentially ignores basic camera settings that would normally apply to tiff or jpg images (no in-camera processing for white balance, hue, tone and sharpening are applied to the NEF file).  It’s a digital negative, and requires processing (developing) just like film would.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - RAW Image

You can see the RAW image for this shot is dark, flat and doesn’t have any vibrance of color to it.  One of the first things I do in my developing process is to create contrast and depth by reducing the Shadows and increasing the Blacks.  I will then adjust the Clarity setting for the image and see if I need to fine tune Shadows, Highlights, Blacks or Whites to balance the image.  Once I’ve got those basics dialed in I play with the Vibrance and Saturation settings if needed.  Sometimes, these don’t need to be adjusted but I will often boost at least the Vibrance setting which works well to bring out the glow of morning or evening light.

On most images, there isn’t much else I have to do.  In the case of this photo, I didn’t touch anything else except the Sharpness (I always push for heightened sharpness in landscape images).  With all of that dialed in I had a really nice, sharp, clean, colorful image.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - Lightroom Image

Photograph of the Week: Finishing in Color Efex Pro

I recently started playing with the Nik Software plugins for Lightroom.  These were recommended to me by Moab based photographer Bret Edge who has talked about his workflow using Nik Plugins on his blog.

In order to edit the file in any of the plugins it must export to a TIFF file.  Then it opens in the selected plugin allowing you to make your fine adjustments.  I opened this file in Color Efex Pro to drop a couple of filters on it and create some subtle enhancements.  I played with a few things, but I created a nice recipe that worked for this set of images.

I wanted a couple of subtle adjustments, nothing too dramatic since I was really happy with everything I did in Lightroom.  Anything too heavy would overpower and ruin the image.  But I wanted to help boost the “sunrise glow” the morning had and I felt like I wanted to slightly adjust the color to bring out the flower’s natural hue.

I started with the Reflector Efex filter giving the highlights a soft golden glow, fine tuning the settings to keep it subtle.  Then I dropped a purple graduated Bi-Color Filter over the whole image setting the opacity very low.  This solidified the pinks but also further softened the glow from the Reflector Efex by giving the golden highlights an extra dose of purple color.  I toyed with tonal contrast, but dropped it as it seemed to create too harsh of an effect.  Then looked at what the Detail Extractor would do and ultimately left it out as well.

In the end, I feel like I managed to develop an image that highlights the delicate beauty of the bloom and really creates the feeling of a warm sunrise.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - Final Image

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 24-120mm lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/6.3, ISO-200, 45mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom and finished in NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

Here’s the full Cacti in Bloom Gallery 

Cacti in Bloom – Images by David Creech

Photograph of the Week: Entering Zion…

I’ve spent the last two days editing and fine tuning photographs from this weekend’s trip to Zion National Park.  I’m very tired, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.  I feel like I have some great images in spite of being overwhelmed by the enormity of such a small park.

I tried not to approach my visit to this park with any specific photographic goals.  Normally I research a location before I visit so that I can figure out which shots have been overdone, which iconic features are “must see”, or if sunrise or sunset are better times to shoot.  With Zion I let all of that go and figured I would simply drive to the park and see what there was to see.  I even resisted the urge to purchase a map of the park before my visit.

I chose to drive in from the lonely east side of Zion.  Coming from Phoenix, the route up through Northern Arizona and across Southern Utah seemed more adventurous and intriguing than zooming along major highways through Las Vegas.  This route meant less traffic and rare views of the Colorado River, Marble Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau.  It also meant there were no lines to get into the park.  The east entrance was eerily quiet.

As soon as I entered Zion, my truck slowed to a crawl.  I’m sure there were the obligatory posted speed limits, but they were unnecessary as it is impossible to drive through Zion without slowing to look at the dramatic scenery.  I don’t think I was inside the park boundary for more than five minutes before I was wheeling my grumbling truck to a dusty pullout and clawing at my camera equipment.  My truck left idling restlessly with the rear door thrown open, I scrambled up a loose, sandy slope to capture my first shots of Zion National Park.

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

I was not alone, other vehicles were strewn at random angles in haste as eager photographers abandoned their cars, trucks and rented RVs to point their lenses toward a dramatic, alien landscape.  I pushed on, stopping here and there, but forcing myself toward camp.

My adventure was just getting started and I had a partner-in-crime for the weekend that I had yet to meet.

 

To see more of my images from Zion National Park visit my gallery.

Photograph of the Week: Working the details…

Back in December, I shot up to Sedona to catch the first snow of the season.  It was a truly amazing day trip that resulted in some really beautiful shots.  The day was just perfect for photography.  The sunrise was bright and clean, the low wispy clouds clung to the base of the mountains and everything had a dusting of snow and frost.  Sedona photography at it’s best and we took advantage of it.

One of my favorite shots from the trip was not one of the spectacular sunrise directly, or one of the iconic rock features.  It was a simple shot, just north of the Bell Rock feature.  It was sort of a quiet moment for me in the frantic shooting that morning.  We had been scampering around since the sun first crested the horizon, dashing about to catch different angles while we had the window of opportunity.  Then I took a moment…just to take it all in.  It was a beautiful moment and I smiled at the pure, simple pleasure of being there.

As I took in my surroundings I turned away from the sunrise, something I hadn’t done yet, and there was this whole amazing scene behind me bathed in a warm glow.  I took a couple of short steps to frame a few branches from a nearby tree into the shot.  Shortly after that, I resumed my frantic shooting to grab what I could before the day pushed on.

Shooting in low light (sunrise/sunset) can be difficult.  The low angle light creates high contrast and vibrant colors but can be difficult to show without some “dark room” adjustments.  Our eyes do a much better job of working with high contrast than the camera does, so to get a photograph that mimics the experience it can take a little work.  For me, the biggest thing is to bring the shadows forward so that we can see what is hidden there.  To do this (in Lightroom) I push light into the shadows, then immediately increase the Black to restore contrast.  Increasing the clarity will also help bring detail out of the shadows and create contrast.  I rarely have to adjust the contrast directly as the shadow and clarity adjustments do it for me.

The problem with boosting light into the shadows is that you can lose detail in the highlighted areas.  In this piece, the low clouds on the right became a white blob, but by playing with adjustments to the Highlights I was able to get the detail back.  I don’t always boost the Saturation because it’s very easy to get a photograph that looks unnatural.  However, adjusting the Vibrance setting (especially in sunrise/sunset shots) will bring out the vivid colors that make low light shooting so fun.

Photograph of the Week - Original

At this point in the editing process Lightroom lets you fine tune the saturation and hue by color.  I don’t play with this often as it will also easily create a look that is unnatural and “over processed”.  But in some cases (like Red Rock country) where the colors can become either muted or oversaturated depending on the natural light, I will use these tools to push and pull to recreate what the scene felt like.

You can see from the original shot that the details are all there.  The light is much more subtle and the shadows disguise much of the section of trees in the middle.  You also don’t get the feel of the sunrise which was much more vivid in person.

The last thing I do once I have the colors and shadows adjusted is focus on detail.  Lightroom has fine detail adjustments that let me strip out some of the noise and Sharpen the finer details.  Sharpening the image will usually bring out even more noise, but by also increasing the Luminance to match the Sharpening I can drop the rough noise out.  This, to me, results in a much cleaner and more readable image.

Photograph of the Week - Sedona Sunrise

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/9, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

 

…And the big announcement!

I finally created a virtual gallery for my work!  I’m really excited to introduce Wilderness Dave Photography where you can see (and purchase) the top photos from my outdoor travel sets.

Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery

Go check it out, I’d love some comments and feedback.  The gallery will be updated with new work as it is produced.  Every week I will feature a special price on the Photograph of the Week for my readers if anyone would like to purchase a print.  This week, use coupon code POTW4413 to get 40% off your purchase.

Photograph of the Week: Plan B in Boulder Creek…

The plan was to hike a 12-13 mile loop down Second Water to Boulder Creek then up the trail along the creek to return via Lost Dutchman Trail.  I was looking forward to hiking the creek and shooting some fun angles in Boulder Creek Canyon.

Normally, Boulder Creek is a thin stream that casually babbles it’s way down the canyon.  Crossing is not terribly difficult and the multiple creek crossings are part of the fun.  What I hadn’t really planned for the was the late Winter storm that rolled through Arizona (and much of the southwest) dumping tons of rain and dusting the local peaks with snow.  I stuck to my plan and headed out to Lost Dutchman State Park figuring I’d hike my designated route, in the rain if need be, and explore this part of the Superstition Mountain Wilderness.

When I hike, the “plan” isn’t much more than a loose sketch…an idea of where I’d like to end up depending entirely on what I might find along the way.  I try to allow a lot of wiggle-room in my agenda and very rarely think of my proposed route as “set in stone”.  Adaptability and flexibility are the name of the game.  My dad used to say something to the effect of, “Plan B makes for better stories”.  He was usually right.

I had to slog through muddy, mucky trails and cross many drainage washes running with water.  There had been so much rain, the ground was soft enough for me to sink a couple of inches with each step in places.  For a good section of the downhill side heading into Boulder Creek Canyon the drainage ran down the trail itself (very happy I had my waterproof boots with me on this one).  Once I reached Boulder Creek I realized I might need to rethink my plans.  The creek was swollen and brown with runoff and moving fast.  I had already passed one group that had turned back at the creek, but I wanted to see it for myself.

I tried desperately to follow my side of the creek looking for any sign of a trail, or a safe place to cross.  I followed a sole set of footprints up the boulder strewn creek fighting through vegetation until I was finally choked out.  I sat on a large boulder in the middle of the creek for a long time thinking about what I wanted to do.  As I munched on a snack bar, I considered the option of crossing the creek to look for the trail.  I considered heading up the canyon wall on my side to see if there was a trail higher up.  All of these considerations were sketchy at best and if the storm decided to let loose with another downpour I could find myself trapped on the wrong side of the creek or, worse, caught in a flash flood.

Eventually, I succumbed to reason and figured the smart thing for me (or anyone) hiking solo out in these conditions was to head back.  I reluctantly headed back the way I came, fighting through the same brush and still looking for a missed opportunity to cross the creek.  When I came back to where the original trail met the creek I tried my luck at crossing again but found nothing I deemed safe.  So I decided to make the best of it and get the camera equipment out to play with.

The storm hadn’t given me much of a sky to shoot.  It was very gray and overcast, very little definition and the light was diffused and too soft to create dramatic shadows.  My immediate thought was that it might be a good opportunity to play with slow exposure shots.  A slow exposure might give me a little boost of light in the scenery.  It would also allow me to play with the moving water effects that I always thought looked so cool.  I shot a few canyon shots then started playing with exposure times.  I took a few shots right down by the creek repeating the same shot with different exposure times to see what I would get.  The new shutter remote I got worked perfectly for being able to stabilize the camera on the tripod and get the shot without the risk of shaking the camera.

Photograph of the Week - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/5sec, F/29, ISO-200, 18mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

I eventually climbed up a small boulder cliff adjacent to the creek to get a better view of the canyon downstream.  I snapped a couple of shots then turned the camera around and shot almost directly below me catching a scene where the creek was choked with smaller, colored rocks and desert riparian shrubs.  The chocolate milk color of the storm-swollen creek softened the scene and when I slowed the exposure the movement of the water created a nice silky effect.  The result was magical.

This really turned out to be my personal favorite of this entire set.  I love the colors, I love the contrasts, I love the composition.  The lichen on the granite rock below me provided some really nice interest and texture to balance out the detail in the rocky side of the creek.  The movement of the water flows nicely in a diagonal across the composition dividing the two opposing scenes.  It just feels really nice to me.  I intend to have this one blown up on a tall canvas wrap for my office.

If I had not been forced to abandon Plan A and turn back, this shot would never have happened.  I’m happy to see where Plan B took me.

More Images from Boulder Creek…

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from my Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.