Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shoot Fall Colors Like a Pro

Here are some of the things that I do to capture nice Fall shots:

1. If the sun is shining, use a circular polarizer and carefully orient it to cut glare reflecting off of the leaves. It'll expand the color in your shot, improve saturation, and enable a more accurate and appropriate exposure. It can make the sky a deep shade of blue as well, which looks good alongside the bright leaves.

2. Shoot close/detail shots early to avoid wind, especially if you're shooting aspen trees.

3. Shoot in RAW format if possible to enable you to adjust white balance of your shots towards warm as appropriate to reproduce the warm yellow, orange and red leaf tones you experience.

4. Use a small aperture such as f/22 for maximum depth of field.

5. Try some shots of backlit leaves, as they can be very intense in color.

6. Pick some westward and eastward views and plan ahead to catch sunrise or sunset over colorful trees.

7. Pick up some of the most colorful and interesting leaves you find and put them in your pocket. Arrange them as a still life shot on a rock, or when you come to an interesting object (stump, rock) or stream scene, scatter them around to enhance the color in the shot. In a pool in a large stream or river, sometimes you can find a circulating eddy to throw leaves into to take long exposures with the leaves swirling around.

8. Use a tripod.

9. Get into a dense stand of trees and shoot straight up towards the sky.

10. Try some 10-20 minute night shots under a full moon. You'll get Fall colros shots with star trails!

11. Shoot a lot of Automatic Exposure Bracketing sequences with 1 1/3 stop to 2 stop spacing. Even if you're not using HDR postprocessing software yet, you can come back 1-2 years from now and benefit later from your investment of time shooting today.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Yosemite in the Rain

Evaporating rain condenses into clouds as wind currents pass the two thousand foot face of Yosemite's El Capitan. It takes most climbers about 3-4 days to climb Yosemite's El Capitan in good weather. On this rainy weekend, many spent a couple of extra rainy days and cold nights on their small cot-like shelters suspended on the sheer face. In a particularly bad storm, the summit attempt can take climbers the rest of their lives. The descent involves a short hike to a 600 foot rappel.

I enter Yosemite Valley through the smoke of a control burn, and arrive at the Upper Pines campground at 2am, and hit my brakes to avoid hitting a large black bear crossing the road towards another campground. The bears in Yosemite have learned that people mean food, and that people are careless and leave their food out on tables, in campfire pits, and store it in vehicles. Bears roam the campgrounds at night, and rangers patrol the campgrounds all night as well, shining spotlights around the tents and tables to find the bears and to see if anyone has left food out. Signs announce how many cars have been broken into, and that season's running total of damage to them. The score for this season so far involves over 1300 incidents, several hundred vehicles damaged, and over $75,000 in estimated costs. In other words, there are several problems between people and bears every day.

Fortunately the light rains over the past couple of days have stopped for the moment, and I have the tent set up and the kids into it by 3am.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Photo of the Year"!

A few moments ago I was building my "Places Visited" links in the right margin of this blog, and as I entered the very last link to my Zion National Park, I saw my "Delicate Veil" shot with an extra award under it: "POTY" - Photo Of The Year!

It's one of only two shots that I have on my own wall at the moment printed at 20" x 30" size, and as good as the online thumbnail or file may look, with the way the light is distributed and with its blend of geometric elegance with natural lines and texture, it seems to look better the bigger I print it. More than the photo, though, the site is unreachable by most people, so although it's in a busy area of Zion National Park, when you get into the small 8 foot round alcove that this 12' waterfall has carved out, you're in an entirely isolated environment, a coccoon of rock and thunderous sound, a private cathedral dedicated to you and your thoughts.

The award doesn't involve a large cash or equipment prize, a book and free site membership (for life!), but the site is populated by many creative, talented, and dedicated photographers, and it's an honor to have my work recognized alongside theirs.

Coincidentally though I was wondering if I would be able to renew my paid membership next month. It may be the best site on the Internet to find quality examples of the shots that I can aspire to find as I visit new places, but without any income, I was thinking of getting on the road again and vacating my apartment to save money. For the second time in a couple of months photography site membership dues have been taken care of, right when I needed to renew. Fate, destiny, divine providence, or just dumb luck, it's one whopper of a coincidence. Perhaps the forces calling me to get on the road are all part of that big picture. I can afford to indulge in hope for at least another month and see where that path leads.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Photo Contest 2nd for Nicole Sullivan

September 19, Roseville, California - Nicole Sullivan placed 2nd in the "Color, Under 18" category in the Roseville Photo Contest today. Major Jim Gray presented Nicole with her award, and she was interviewed for the Roseville cable TV channel.

Asked how she captured her shot, she replied, "Well we were going out fishing that day, and when we got back to the car we saw this beautiful sunset. We pretty much always have our cameras with us, so we took some pictures of it." This is Nicole's second consecutive time placing in the contest.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Active Sole" Blog Nominated for Award!

If you enjoy this site, please follow this link to vote for it! (The site asks for registration and sends a confirmation email to reduce voting fraud. I've received no additional emails and no spam since registering.) Nominees are featured on, which also helps this site show up in search engine rankings. Thank you for your support!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lessons Learned: Photographing the 2007 Great Reno Balloon Race

The Great Reno Balloon Race is an annual event that attracts over 100 pilots and their crews to Reno, Nevada each year. I enjoyed attending the Great Reno Balloon Race for the first time this year. My main regret is that I wasn't able to move around much or very quickly due to an ankle sprain, but I'm recording additional thoughts here so I'll remember what I'd like to do at the event next year.

The first thing on my wish list for next year will be to try to go to Friday and Sunday events. I attended Saturday this year and after getting up in Truckee around 2:30am and exploring the Reno/Tahoe area until sunset, I was too tired to make it before dawn again on Sunday. Who knows if I'll have Friday free next year, but anything's fair game on a wish list.

For this year's event I arrived by 4:30am and started taking pictures as the balloons that were to participate in the Glow Show were inflating, with a 30 second exposure. I set the ISO up a bit, and the shot turned out surprisingly well, with the contellation Orion appearing in the shot as a bonus.

The 5am Glow Show only had two or three brief times when all four balloons were lit at once, so you really had to be ready for it. I'd like to get a straight-on and a diagonal side angle, so I'll sprint to a new location after the first all-balloon glow. The rest of the time while they're alternating which balloon burns I'll run in and catch shots of the crew and of the propane flames.

For the Dawn Patrol flight, again there were few times when all balloons were lit at once, so plan for your location and framing for those two shots and catch them quickly while you can. I tried some time exposures hoping to get the balloons all lit over time, but the wind moves them too fast and those shots are blurry.

As the balloons were preparing for the mass ascension, I really liked my position by some modest wetlands northeast of the field towards McCarran Blvd. The rising sun cleared the horizon just as the first balloons were airborne, so it was a great angle to get the warm early morning light hitting the balloons. Next year I'll probably start closer to the balloons and get the pilots walking inside to inspect the canopies, get the flames and the inside of the balloons, and get some detail shots of the colorful balloons crowded together, then head back out to get the whole field of action. The cars parked up on McCarran Blvd. however had my same angle but gained an interesting birds-eye view looking down on the field. Some people scooted under the chain link permimeter fence... maybe it would be worthwhile to wear grubby clothes to gain access to that higher perspective for a shot or two. I guess the only other thing I'd like to get around this time would be a shot or two towards sunrise, so I'll have to weigh shooting from the West side 10 to 5 minutes before the sun rises against wanting to be on the East or Northeast side of the field a few minutes later. If it's a boring clear sky I can probably skip sunrise, or maybe I can try both on different days.

Then as the Mass Ascension got underway the wind carried balloons towards the East. The wet area I was near provided some nice reflection shots, but frankly the lighting was not ideal... the balloons were drifting past my position towards the rising sun, and although it was behind a tree the shady side of the ballons lacks color saturation. (The haze in the sky from the Plumas fire also detracted from the overall color, but I'd rather than err towards realistic color than to unrealistically correct or oversaturate.) Next year one thing I can do to react to this would be to move to the far/east side of the large pond that lies due East of the takeoff field. It was calm and would have offered more sturated colors of balloons lit in full sun, plus their reflections. I'll have to move here early in the Mass Ascension because the balloons quickly drift overhead and continue Eastward.

Next the ballons started playing various games and contests, with the key weather change being a change in drift direction westward, so the balloons come back over the field. I can stay down by the pond or continue around the field clockwise, as I see from other pictures that there was a small decorative pond or fountain to the south of the field that might offer yet another reflection site and the sun moves towards the south, following it around and shooting northward can keep the balloons well lit.

One thing I forgot to do after the Glow Show and Dawn Patrol was to set my ISO back down, so my shot from the 6:30am Mass Ascension on are slightly grainy. I did determine some time ago that for hot air balloon photos turning a polarizer to cut glare on the shiny fabric can be critical to getting a proper exposure, increasing color accuracy and saturation, and cutting haze in the sky. The benefit didn't seem as noticeable as usual in the smoke-filled sky on Saturday. I also held a graduated neutral density filter in front of my lens for the reflection shots to bring the exposures of the direct and reflected areas of the scene into balance.

I guess the last thing I'll do in the future is not head down to Virginia City for the International Camel Races, and to take it easy during the day so maybe I can return for the next day's balloon flights.

I had been thinking of heading to Albuquerque for the International Balloon Fiesta Oct 6-14, but I think I may try to return to Reno's event next year instead!

From Virginia City I headed back to Truckee via Lake Tahoe so I could catch sunset from the Sand Harbor area. I arrived back in Truckee around 8:30pm. After being on the move since 2:30am, I was ready for a break.