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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

 

 

Editing a 2-day Shoot from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico. Photographer at sunset with incoming flock of snow geese

I can’t think of a better place to practice action photography on birds than the Bosque del Apache NWR during the winter season.  When we were there on Dec. 17 and 18, the snow geese count was 51K and the cranes were only 4400 – a little thin based on past experience in mid December.   If you go to shoot commercially (i.e. make stock sales of cranes, geese, and other waterfowl) it is pretty much low hanging fruit as supply of crane and geese images is astronomically greater than demand.  However, if you go there for fun (which I do now) it is just a blast to hang with the wintering birds and shoot like there is no tomorrow.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, snow geese and sandhill cranes crowded together at sunrise

To get great shots here you need to learn the daily patterns of the birds, shoot at sunrise and sunset, pay attention to your lighting and background, and employ a solid action photography technique.   Just like salmon fishing on the Kenai Peninsula (fish with the crowds ’cause that’s where the fish are!), you can’t go wrong following around the crowds of tripods and big lenses–if you can see them.   (And now to poke a little fun at my fellow photos.)   Apparently many shooters also believe that you need to have your lenses, tripod legs and body wrapped in camoflauge to get good shots here.  Fortunately I didn’t notice the birds flying any closer to decked out in camo dude with mondo lens than they did to Lauri and me.  Well, regardless of the gear or garb, in the 20 years I’ve been going there, virtually all of the shooters are cooperative and respectful of other photographers.  I wouldn’t call the photo experience here “combat” photography but more of a festive “social” photography scene.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico. Shooting sunrise with a Canon 400/F4 DO from the Flight Deck

Most of my shots are with a Canon 1D Mark IV and a 400/F4 lens, sometimes with a 1.4X version 3, but mostly without.  For mass fly-offs, people shots and most video clips, I used the 5D Mark III with 24-70/f2.8.  We shot for two days – mostly 2 sunrise and 2 sunset sessions.   Shooting flying birds results in a high failure rate (at least for me it does) especially when trying to keep a focus sensor on a fast flying crane’s head and when you are shooting at 1/125 or 1/250 second to get some wing motion blur while maintaining a sharp head.  I could easily shoot everything at 1/1000 second but why play it safe?  Go for something more artistic!  And as usual, I seem to be the only photographer there that makes any serious attempt to include the human element while photographing the birds.

Screenshot of Lightroom showing total import from a 2 day shoot

Screenshot of Lightroom showing total import from a 2 day shoot

Back to the editing.  From those shoots I imported 4,045 images.  That included 102 motion clips so the still count was 3,943.   I do practice what I preach when I say I eliminate up to 90% without batting an eye.  My initial edit, which took about 2 hours after all were imported, reduced it down to 561 stills.  I have not edited the motion clips yet.   My normal workflow is to walk away from a shoot for a few days so the “newness” wears off and I can do a more objective second edit.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t have a few days.  So, the next day I sat down again for about an hour and the second edit put the still image count at 266.  After 2 relatively quick edits I am down to 6.7% of what I shot.

Screenshot of Lightroom showing second edit count

Screenshot of Lightroom showing second edit count of 266 still image selects

Here are a few shots from the shoot.

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, sandhill crane taking off in early morning

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, full frame image of sandhill crane in flight

Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, near Soccoro, New Mexico, winter moonrise from the Flight Deck

 

 

A Fitness Shoot I Just Had To Take It Outside

I don’t do much indoor work.  But I do like to shake it up once in a while, come out of my comfort zone, and photograph something different.   As with any shoot I do, I like to use people who are the “real deal.”  So I asked our awesome senior fitness trainer, Tristin, who we know from the Northside Health and Fitness in Taos  if we could do a shoot in her studio with one of her clients.  Her client, Teresa, is also the real deal who works at keeping herself fit.

Personal trainer with client in home studio, Taos New Mexico doing Basu shuffle sqats.

Personal trainer with client in home studio – Taos, New Mexico – doing Bosu shuffle squats.

Well wouldn’t you know it.  The day the shoot was scheduled it snowed.  And the snow stuck to the trees and sagebrush.  This is an uncommon event in Taos because typically the snow is light and dry and most snowstorms come with wind.  This snow was wet, sticky and windless which made for a beautiful wintery landscape.  After a couple of hours of studio work, I just couldn’t take it anymore!  It didn’t take much to convince Tristin and Teresa to do a few rounds outside, doing walking lunges and power walking in the snowy landscape.

Personal Trainer and client doing walking lunges with weights in Taos, New Mexico

Personal Trainer and client doing walking lunges with weights in Taos, New Mexico

For the indoor work, the lighting was ganged speedlights through an umbrella and one speedlight for fill.  The trick was to keep the lights from reflecting in the glass.  Outside, because of the overcast skies and white landscape, it was just point and shoot baby!  Can’t get much easier or more flattering for my seasoned fitness models.  You know my motto:  Shoot what’s happening.  We can shoot indoors almost anytime but this kind of landscape, especially this early in the season, is rare.  Always wish I could have shot longer.

Personal Trainer and client power walking with weights, Taos New Mexico

Personal Trainer and client power walking with weights – Taos,  New Mexico

Sunrise Photography in the Zion Backcountry

hiking in Zion National Park, Utah

Hiker walks up a slickrock pool as first light hits cliffs above, Zion National Park, Utah

The first week of November is usually my favorite week to be in Zion Canyon in Zion National Park for the peak of fall colors.  There are many other photographers who like this week as well.  I saw more tripods in Zion last week than ever before!  Trouble is, few (to my advantage) venture very far from the road.   On our way up to the east end above the tunnel, we made a quick pit stop at the Human History Museum (the old visitor center.)  Already there were some 20 vehicles parked and 30 shooters lined up to catch first light on the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin.  This is probably the most popular sunrise spot in the park.  While you can get some very good shots from here and other roadside pullouts, Zion offers equally as outstanding off road and off trail photo ops at sunrise and sunset.   All ya gotta do is get up early and hoof it a little bit with your headlamp.

This year the colors were well past their peak during this time.  Time to adjust your thinking and “shoot what is happening.”  Recent rains and an approaching cold front told me to get up early and catch a colorful sunrise and reflections in slickrock pools.  We scouted one of our  “go to” canyons on the eastern end of the park the day before.   Sure enough, plenty of water in the pools – except this morning they were frozen!   OK, I had to break up the ice a bit with my tripod before I managed to catch Lauri hiking as first light hit the cliffs on the north side of the park road.  A little pop with an off-camera speedlight makes the shot.  In ten minutes it was over.  Light was ho-hum the rest of the day.

fall colors in Zion National Park

The Virgin River and The Watchman in afternoon light with waning fall colors, Zion National Park, Utah.

What To Do At A Portfolio Review From A Photographer’s Perspective

There are plenty of blogs about photographer portfolio reviews.  Most blogs on reviews are from art buyers, reps and agencies like PhotoShelter and they all have good things to say.  I’ve listed several of them with links at the bottom of this blog.

What I’ll talk about here are my observations on what worked during my reviews with real clients working on accounts that hire photographers and who are meeting with you during their normal hectic work days, and NOT at a scheduled portfolio review event, like at Palm Springs Photo Festival.

women camping with iPad

Ladies campout getaway. Four women looking at iPad at camp in South Fork Eagle River Valley, Chugach State Park, Alaska.

I’ve done 10 reviews in the past year, mostly in cities far from home.  I just did 2 last week, one in Denver and another in Santa Fe.  I’ll be completely honest.   None of my reviews in the past year have resulted in an assignment … yet.  While this can seem demoralizing I recognize that here are too many possible reasons for that – none of which are that I am not a capable photographer.  One review has lead to asking for an estimate which is good.  It was for a potential job later this winter that hasn’t been approved yet.   They tell me I’m still a contender if they do a campaign.

It boils down to this.  Regardless of how “connected” you are on social media, art buyers still want to work with those they feel they can work with and trust.  And the best way to get someone to know you and trust you is with vintage social media – old school face to face time – not Facebook time.   A portfolio review is simply an introduction and a first step to building a working relationship.

And just to throw a curve, it is still possible to receive a job simply based on your website and phone interviews.

Our meetings have mostly been with advertising agencies who have accounts that we feel we are a good fit for.  Two were client direct meetings. Don’t contact a prospective client and request a meeting until you’ve  sent them some promotional material first.   Usually it is at least a couple of eblasts, a direct mail promo or a targeted and personalized email letter of introduction along with some recent samples of work.

HELPFUL TIPS BASED ON MY OBSERVATIONS

BE PREPARED TO MEET WITH MORE THAN ONE CREATIVE.  Even though we made an appointment with one person, in more than half of my reviews my reviewer ended up bringing several other creatives to the meeting.  This was horrifying the first time.  Now I welcome it and consider it a compliment!  It means more creatives to introduce your work to.  I now bring several business cards and leave behind pieces with me.  (SIDEBAR:  If others at the meeting are interns or not “decision makers” treat them as equals.  One day they may become art buyers.  Remember, people may forget  what you said or what you did but they will NEVER forget how you made them feel.)

BRING SOME GOODIES.  My favorite is a small box of fine chocolates and truffles. Skip Walgreens, and buy from a popular local fine bakery or chocolatier.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF.  Practice your 30 second elevator speech:  who you are, what you love to shoot, maybe who you’ve worked for recently, and tell them why you wanted to meet with them!   If you’ve done a little research, mention a campaign you liked that they worked on, or, in the absence of that, mention something you may have in common that you  found out from their bio or LinkedIn profile.  Keep it short!  Like literally a minute!

OFFER A CHOICE OF PORTFOLIOS.  Truth is, a book is still king!  Creatives look at computers all day.  A well done  book is still the best presentation method.   My book is 10×15, contains 18 spreads with lay flat pages that are 30″ across.  I also offer my iPad with a collection of images tailored to them or brand new relevant work  shot since the book.   More often than not creatives looked at both portfolios.

LET THEM DRIVE THE MEETING:  But do ask a relevant question or two.  If you really want to shoot for a particular campaign it is OK to ask how to improve your chances to be considered.  If nothing else I ask how they would describe their ideal working relationship with a photographer.  I get a lot of good information this way.  If they are pressed for time they will let you know.  If they like you and want to chat,  take all the time they will give you.  I’ve had meetings last from 5 to 60 minutes.

CLOSING THE MEETING.  At the end of the meeting thank them for their time and hand them a leave behind piece.  Ask how they prefer to be contacted  and if you can continue to send them future promotions.  Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn if you have not done so already.  Don’t expect a job offer.  Remember, this is simply an interview and a first step to building a potential relationship.

FOLLOW UP.  With in a week follow up with a short but handwritten real thank you card, not an email.  For really special or dream clients, consider sending a nice print, especially if it is a shot from your book they really liked.  I like ready to hang aluminum prints.  Keep it small, like 8×10.  Most creatives sit in cramped offices and don’t have room for posters.

TRENDS. I’ve noticed the trends are consistent with what my stock agencies have been telling us.  There is definitely a desire for more authenticity in images.  Creatives understand you are setting up scenarios but the images need to have expressions and movements that look natural, real and not forced.  This just reinforces how critical casting is.  For the most part I feel I am doing a good job with that but it has made me re-think some of my shooting and portfolio choices.  I  always strive to show the most on target photography.  Even in advertising and promotion, clients are looking for a more editorial feel.

skiers-climb-taos-ski-valley

skiers and boarders climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley in gusty ridgetop winds.

Here are some blogs about reviews.  My fav is from fellow photographer Todd Owyoung.  Todd designed our current website and its integration with our Photoshelter account and is an all around great guy.  I love that Todd, such a young guy, has great shots of KISS, a band from my generation.  OK, I just dated myself.  Good luck out there.  Feel free to share back any tips you have that have helped you!

http://www.ishootshows.com/2008/01/10/8-tips-for-a-great-photography-portfolio/

http://blog.photoshelter.com/2012/05/7-myths-about-portfolio-reviews-debunked/

http://www.jasminedefoore.com/portfolio-review-dos-and-donts/

 

New Work – On Assignment In Talkeetna, Alaska

TALKEETNA, ALASKA  was one of three places I was sent to on assignment to promote Alaska as a vacation destination.   Talkeetna, with a laid back funky vibe seemingly lost in time, has an eclectic mix of free spirits, rugged individualists, hard-core climbers and river junkies, and in summer, bus loads of cruise ship tourists.  It operates at warp speed for three months and then in near hibernation the rest of the year.   Lying at the end of a 14 mile spur road off the Parks Highway along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna is the hub for the last flag stop train in the U.S.  The sweeping panoramic views of the perpetually snow covered Alaska Range, particularly Mt. McKinley (Denali), dominates the skyline.

strolling in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska near the famous Roadhouse Inn.

Strolling in downtown Talkeetna, Alaska near the famous Roadhouse Inn.

THE PERCEPTION.  Here’s the thing.  The general public always see Lauri and I working with people in beautiful locations.  This gives the impression that our job as a photographer/assistant-producer team is a “vacation.”   Of course I tell them that is what I WISHED we did all the time.

THE REALITY.  The actual location shooting is about 23.3% of the effort involved to make the shoot a success.   So this is sort of “a day in the life of a photographer” blog.  Not complaining at all.  These shoots are exhausting but very rewarding.  Here’s why.

Chillin with the locals in Talkeetna at Coffee a la  Mar.

Chilling with the locals in Talkeetna at Coffee a la Mar.

IT’S THE PEOPLE.  We knew casting, like on any shoot, was paramount.   It took 3 weeks of emails, phone calls, phone tag, and coffee shop interviews to get 8 people with busy summer Alaskan lives and jobs to go to Talkeetna, 3 hours away from Anchorage (with some road construction) to shoot at insane hours when “the Mountain” (what Alaskans call Mt. McKinley or Denali) was out.  Then there was scouting and securing permissions and property releases for several locations.   Last but not least, I arranged a flight see and glacier landing but it was on a space available and ONLY if the mountain was out.

Hula hoopin on a scorching hot day along the Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range

Hula hooping on a scorching hot day along the Susitna River below Denali and the Alaska Range

THE MOUNTAIN HAS TO BE OUT!   No mountain, no shoot.  End of story!  Client wants the million-dollar view.  Best light is in the morning.  Lucky me, I needed two mornings with The Mountain out!   Denali is generally only visible 4-5 days on average in July.  Got lucky this summer with a great stretch of warm, clear weather.  It helps being a meteorologist, but, after committing to  multiple people and several grand in production expenses, you bet I was shitting bricks up until the start of the shoot on both days!

Mt McKinley (Denali) view from the Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska

Mt McKinley (Denali) view from the Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska

SLEEP IS OVERRATED.  At 62 north in July, the days are long and the nights, when you are supposed to sleep, almost non-existent.  The night before the first shoot day, Lauri and I are standing at river’s edge catching up with an old friend and Talkeetna transplant, watching the sunset over the Alaska Range at 11:50.  Tomorrow starts in 10 minutes.  I think I’m ready.

Lauri and Rich Crain on a pleasant sunset at 11:50pm along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna, Alaska

Lauri and Rich Crain on a pleasant sunset at 11:50pm along the banks of the Susitna River, Talkeetna, Alaska

HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN.   Don’t worry.  Not gonna do a play by play of two days of shooting.  Day 1:  Mountain is clear at 6AM.  All 4 talent shows up including one of my favorites, Heidi.   The day was long as usual but went off mostly without a hitch.  We had the usual problems like dealing with hard clear day light and harsh shadows, crowds and surprisingly, the heat!  At 4PM it was near 86 and we just had to siesta.  This is a rare occurrence in Alaska.  Sunny days don’t always mean the best light.  But the Mountain was out.  I was happy.  The client will be happy too.

Breakfast with a view!  At the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with views of the Alaska Range including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.

Breakfast with a view! At the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge with views of the Alaska Range including Denali, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker.

 

Talkeetna, Alaska, where the road ends and life begins

Talkeetna, Alaska, where the road ends and life begins

But I gotta tell you about our super talent Melody on day 2.  What a pro!  Day started a little rough.  First, there was the message at 4AM saying that 2 of her family members couldn’t make it at the last minute and that she would be late.  Shit!  The sun waits for nobody!  We have a one hour drive to the trailhead, a two hour one-way hike and 1500 foot climb to get to where I wanted to shoot hikers with Denali in the background.  Working with Melody and her son Adam for the first time we pushed hard on the hike to get the shots before the light completely tanked and cumulus clouds blocked the Mountain.  Needed to be at the flight service for the last glacier landing of the day.   Had to race back down the trail and boogie back to town.  There was only room for two which meant only Melody and I could go.   Lauri had to sit this out.  The pilot basically said I had 15 minutes on the glacier.  That’s it!   No problem,  all I need is 10.   OK Melody, I know you’ve already had a 12 hour day with little sleep and got sick twice but you have to be “on” and pull off being enthralled with Alaska’s grandeur in 15 minutes.  It is times like this where a real pro comes through and she did.  I just had to make sure I didn’t screw it up technically.  Got back to Talkeetna around 7:30 and did a couple more hours of shooting around town.

Hiking in Denali State Park with views of Chulitna River and the south side of Denali

Hiking in Denali State Park with views of Chulitna River and the south side of Denali

 

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Taking it all in on the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Walking around the snow in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

Walking around the snow in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater on a Talkeetna Air Taxi flight see around Mt. McKinley and glacier landing.

BONUS DAY.  Late in the evening when saying goodbye to Melody, we met Warren Redfearn, the conductor on the Hurricane Gulch train.  (www.facebook.com/hurricaneturn)  He invited us on board the next day which turned out to be another clear day with sweeping views of Denali and the Susitna River.   Since we were on assignment, Warren stopped the train for us to get out and get a few choice shots for our client.   Riding Warren’s  flag stop train to Hurricane Gulch really gave me the sense of Alaska really being the last frontier.  Everyone should ride this train at some point!

Alaska Railroad, Hurricane Gulch Train along the Susitna River with fireweed and views of Denali

Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Gulch Train along the Susitna River with fireweed and views of Denali

Conductor Warren Redfearn of the Alaska Railroad on the Hurricane Gulch Train, the last flag stop train in America that personifies life on the last frontier.  You should ride Warren's train if you visit Alaska.

Conductor Warren Redfearn of the Alaska Railroad on the Hurricane Gulch Train, the last flag stop train in America that personifies life on the last frontier. You should ride Warren’s train if you visit Alaska.

IT AIN’T OVER YET.  With three exhausting days I now had 3500 images to edit.  For every 1000 image day in the field creates at least 1 day of post production work to get presentation-ready images to the client.  Talkeetna alone meant I had at least 3 days of post production work.  Not much of a vacation.  No worries.  It’s all part of the process.  As I edit, I keep my new bumper sticker nearby which reads:  “Talkeetna, Alaska Where the Road Ends and Life Begins.”

Young grizzly walks the Denali National Park road in early morning near Reflection Pond.

Young grizzly walks the Denali National Park road in early morning near Reflection Pond.

Work the Golden Hour. Don’t Leave Good Light to Find Good Light.

My long time good friend, flyfishing guide and award winning author Pudge Kleinkauf of Women’s Flyfishing once said to me while grayling fishing in Lake Clark:  “Don’t leave fish to find fish.”  I have always carried that with me with my photography.

Earlier this month we were at Molas Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  The aspen colors at lower elevations were not that good  so I came upon Little Molas Lake earlier in the day and decided to shoot sunset here.  With recent snow on the peaks, light winds and a sky full of dense cirrus clouds, this seemed like the best place to shoot later that day.  Besides, I’m always a sucker for water and reflections in my landscape photography.

I returned about an hour before sunset and found 10 other photographers there with tripods and pro level gear.  Fortunately  no other shooter occupied the spot I scouted earlier in the day.  The sky was clear on the western horizon but the rest of the sky still contained dense cirrus clouds.  This scenario usually means colorful clouds.  Cirrus, regardless of the season, are  ice crystals and almost always produce pink to orange colors pre sunrise or post sunset.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013.

About 10 minutes before sunset, about half of the others packed up to “go somewhere else.”  I’m thinking, really?  Go where?  Beautiful lake, reflections, and good color to come meant stay put and be patient.   Don’t leave good light to find good light!   I never leave when the sun hits the horizon.  Sure enough, 15 minutes after sunset the sky exploded with color.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, minutes before the setting sun.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, minutes before the setting sun.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, 15 minutes after sunset with glowing dense cirrus and altocumulus clouds all comprised of ice crystals which produces the pink colors.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, 15 minutes after sunset with glowing dense cirrus and altocumulus clouds all comprised of ice crystals which produces the pink colors.

These 4 shots are less than an hour apart.  The first shot was about 15 minutes before sunset.  Sunset was to camera right so a polarizer helped to punch up the colors.  The last shot is 30 minutes later and a little into the “blue hour”

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, into the Blue Hour about 25 minutes after sunset.

Little Molas Lake with recent snow on surrounding peaks, San Juan Mountains, Colorado on October 2, 2013, into the Blue Hour about 25 minutes after sunset.

Backpacking With Your Dog

Senior lab mix with saddle bags on trail to Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Senior lab mix with saddle bags on trail to Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Kyia near Ice Basin Trail on Oct. 1, 2013.  She’s been backpacking with us ever since we rescued her.  She is 12 now, had 2 knee surgeries and it’s heartbreaking to see her slow down so much even though she still wants to go.   We are very patient with her.  It took her three hours with frequent shade stops (below timberline) to climb the 2,800 feet and 3 miles to Ice Lake where we camped at 12, 300 feet.  We camped on a ridge top where she was content to lay in the bug-free cool tundra and overlook the massive valley below to South Mineral Creek.

My mission was to get sunrise shots of Ice Lake.  It was a little late in the season as fall was well past its peak at this altitude. Fortunately, there was some new snow to provide some visual interest.

tent at Ice Lake Basin, Colorado

Camp in dawn light, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

Ice Lake Basin, Colorado

Sunrise, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

 September hiking/backpacking at Ice Lake, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

September hiking/backpacking at Ice Lake, Ice Lake Basin, San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado

 

 

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.

 

Assignment Shoot Marathon

young-adults-adventure-boat-prince-william-sound-alaska

End of day ride back to Whittier, Alaska after a full day of adventure in Prince William Sound

Three days after arriving in Alaska a shoot we’d been planning for weeks luckily fell into place.  Talent, available boat, and weather all aligned in our favor.  Operating on the typical Alaska summer sleep deprivation, we shot 3,600 frames in 30 hours at 3 locations with 8 talent.  Great shoots!  Looking forward to more shoots like that.

family-jump-on-snow-alyeska-resort-alaska1

Family jumping onto lingering summer snow on top of Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska

Our 12-hour day in Prince William Sound with Captain Mike of Lazy Otter Charters had to be one of the best days ever in Prince William Sound.  We had three fine folks for talent for a variety of adventure and tourism themes to create.

 

wo-couples-sea-kayaking-glacier-prince-william-sound-alaska

Kayaking in front of Coxe Glacier in Harriman fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Keeping mental focus.  I am very fortunate to have a client that gives me a lot of creative freedom.  Investing the money and time I did without a shot list seems risky or foolish but it works.  The challenge was to have fresh ideas and sharp focus and keep the talent motivated all day.  Here is how I stack the odds in my favor.

women-icebergs-glacier-alaska

Checking out glacial ice and icebergs at low tide on the beach at Harriman Fjord, Prince William Sound, Alaska

First, casting dependable and self-motivated talent, most of whom I’ve worked with before was a huge step toward a successful shoot.  Knowing the area and light was also a key component.  The only uncertainty is, as always, dealing with weather conditions that are not favorable to what the client wants.  We had a bit of flat light and ominous clouds in late morning.  Remaining flexible I was able to adjust my shoot ideas to work around this.  The rest of the day was just grand.

man-jumping-beach-glacier-alaska

Hiker hitting the beach in Harriman Fjord in Prince William Sound with Lazy Otter Charters from Whittier

Instead of a shoot list, I come up with a “concept” list short enough to keep in my head.  This allows me to take in the environment, the light and mood of the talent to generate ideas on the fly that convey the client’s visual message.  I also go after the ideas they want shot the most first while we are all fresh.  This approach along with good planning resulted in a successful but exhausting shoot.

woman-portage-glacier-alaska

Sunrise at Portage Lake, Alaska enroute to Whittier

women-sunbathing-grass-prince-william-sound-alaska

A rare sight: sunbathing in Harriman Fjord in Prince William Sound, Alaska

 

 

If Things Aren’t Going Well, Keep Shooting!

salt_lake_family_stand_up_paddle1

Family stand up paddling on the Great Salt Lake near Ogden, Utah.

My first stand up paddling shoot last summer seemed like it was circling the drain before it even started. I arrived at the Great Salt Lake about an hour before the talent (a family of 3) did. Forest fire smoke and thick high clouds delivered flat lifeless light and the mountain vistas that I was envisioning as a backdrop just were not going to happen. On top of that is was miserably hot like 100 degrees even with overcast skies! Understandably, my talent seemed sluggish at first to take to the boards. I began to question my judgment of doing a shoot with people who’ve never been on stand up paddle boards. The heat was getting to me. They were amazing athletes and after a half hour or so they began to take to the boards.

I still was not convinced at the time that I’d produced anything worthwhile and creative – mainly due to the normal stress that comes with every production on top of the heat stress. From past experience I new better than to edit in the field. Something inside my head that could not be articulated at that moment told me to just keep on shooting. And that’s what I did.

For about half an hour the air became very still and surreal and the reflections were amazing. The near sunset sky became slightly warmed and very pastel like. The talent was relaxed and had a rhythm going. All I had to do now was apply some skillful off-camera speed light and I had a fighting chance of getting something decent.

Another shot from this series is a finalist in a national contest, the Great Outdoors Photo Contest. I won’t know where I placed until the August issue of PDN comes out.

Even after 20 plus years of shooting I rarely know how successful a shoot will be until I look at the results on the computer. Sometimes it goes the other way. On another recent stand up paddle shoot I had great talent, great light at a location I was familiar with and I had half a dozen pre-visualized shots in my memory bank. I was just not on top of my game that morning. Shit happens. To all of us, pro and hobbyist alike.

Let the outcome be what it will be. Just remember – DON’T edit in the field and DON’T give up until the light is gone.

New Work: Grand Canyon National Park Backpacking Adventure

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Standing beneath the Royal Arch, a view seen by few visitors.

In addition to showing new adventure images, I address degree of difficulty and creativity as well as sacrifice and compromise with respect to photography.

Lauri and I completed our second weeklong trip on the Royal Arch Loop with longtime friend and backpacking companion John Hoffer.  The Royal Arch is a special and beautiful place seen by few because it is a difficult multi day hike.

I feel fortunate that at 50+ I am still capable of making physically demanding treks to create images.  They are not without pain.  There are times I wish I had a normal mid life crisis like owning a Corvette and whooping it up in Vegas but no!  Instead, I do brutal backpack trips to remote places like the Royal Arch.   When I go to places like this I never lose sight of a principle of photography that has stuck with me for many years: Degree of difficulty does not correlate to creativity.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Descending the upper Royal Arch Creek.

 

Going to expensive exotic places, or places that are difficult to get to or require special skills (in this case rappelling and canyoneering skills) does not mean you will get great photography.  Your viewers, unless they were there with you, cannot relate to the physical or emotional pain and investment you make in your photographs.  Your images are judged solely on their creative merits.  And it should be that way.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Day hiking to the Royal Arch from camp.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Rappelling through the Muav Limestone above Toltec Beach

 

Photography on a backpack trip requires sacrifice but not compromise.  I’ll explain.  Sacrifice on this trip was severely limiting my equipment for obvious reasons.  I took a Canon 5D, Mark 3, 24/f2.8 lens, Sigma 15/f2.8 fisheye, a 600RT speedlight with a couple of gels and the ST-E3 transmitter.  For the first time in a long time, I went without a tripod.  That was the biggest sacrifice on this trip.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Climbing through the Tapeats Sandstone in Garnet Canyon.

 

I had to sacrifice some sweet photo ops.  As long as I stayed within the limitations of the equipment I had I didn’t have to compromise on the principles of making compelling imagery.  My focus would be on the hiking and at camp experience and making images where it was still possible to get sharp, hand held shots and shots that still looked well lit with simple fill flash skillfully applied.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Backcountry meal on the Esplanade

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Elves Chasm, below Royal Arch near the Colorado River.

 

Without a tripod and with only wide angle lenses I had to give up landscapes and many telephoto and macro ops.  I really felt the pain of what I sacrificed one evening when we had a blazing pink sunset.   I did however improvise on a full moon tent scene.  With plenty of rocks and a ziplock bag full of sand made a great stabilizer for a 2-3 minute exposure.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Camp on the Esplanade under moonlight.

 

The 15mm fisheye really came in handy as the noon sun was cresting the Royal Arch.  It is such a fun lens to shoot into the sun with and I did that a lot.

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Standing beneath the Royal Arch, a view seen by few visitors.

 

Sacrifice without compromise of solid photography principles and remembering that degree of difficulty does not guarantee good imagery has hopefully resulted in a few marketable shots from a difficult to reach and seldom seen location that holds a special place in my memory.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Lunch stop along the Tonto Trail near Bass Canyon.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Second wind at sunset along the Esplanade.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Claret cup cacti in bloom along the Tonto Trail near Bass Canyon.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Clean up in the Colorado River at Toltec Beach

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Donning boots for the hike out.

 

Backpacking/hiking Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park. Backpacking the Royal Arch Loop. Elves Chasm, below Royal Arch near the Colorado River. Taking a break from the camera for a cold bath.

 

A Successful Shoot: 70% planning, 20% camera operation, 10% spontaneous creative thinking.

All season long I’ve visualized a series of action images of a small child having fun, skiing down the mountain under the watchful eye of a parent. It took me two attempts to get something I’m satisfied with. I think success is directly connected to action and planning. The more you learn about your location, your subject, and your camera gear the more successful your images will be.

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Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. 7-year old boy skis in front of his father on a groomed intermediate run.

70% planning. Scouting the slopes and figuring out which runs were best in morning light for shooting uphill with the least amount of clutter was my first concern. Fortunately, I ski at Taos frequently enough to have learned most of the runs and lighting correlations. Casting the right family where everyone skis, has all the gear, looks good and coordinating their schedule with yours and optimal weather (kids get cold easily) took two months.

20% camera mechanics. Knowing your camera equipment intimately makes all the difference in the world when working with small children with a limited attention span. Fumble too much with your gear and you miss candid opportunities and run out of time. You have an hour or two at the most before they lose interest. Out of the gate I knew my lens, my focus point and exposure settings. On earlier shoots I tried positioning my talent uphill and having them ski a line toward me to get candid action shots. That works OK with older kids and adults who are precision skiers. Doesn’t work well with smaller kids.

To get the most spontaneous shot possible I had to get a rhythm going with the skiers and ski with them while shooting. So at the end of a 4’ boom with a Really Right Stuff BH30 head was my Mark IV and Sigma 15mm fisheye triggered remotely with my top hand. The camera ensemble is upside down and inches from the snow as we are all flying down the slope. It is situations like this I’m thankful for rugged pro gear. It took several trial and error shoots with this technique to estimate the framing more accurately.

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Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. Mom and 5 year old girl and 7 year old boy on chairlift.

The 10% spontaneous creativity came from the game of chasing “Mr. Fish” down the mountain. Earlier on the chairlift I told Sofia I was using a “fisheye” lens and to say hello to it. So I asked her to look at and say hello to “Mr. Fish” while skiing. I think that helped her take her mind off the 200lb guy skiing 6 feet in front of her. Shot about 500 frames of this scenario with mother-daughter and father-son combinations. Got about a dozen frames that really worked. A good take.

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Family skiing at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico. 5-year old girl skis in front of her mother on a groomed intermediate run.

Ski Action Photography With a Fisheye Lens

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Ryan taking some air off HIghline Ridge at Taos Ski Valley. Shot with a Canon 1D Mark IV and Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye at 1/1000 second at f8 at 200 ISO.

Until recently, I’ve never been a big fan of fisheye lenses.  They look cool for an occasional shot where the distortion really adds to the visual interest of the image.  My first test with Sigma’s 15mm f2.8 fisheye for Canon was on a ski shoot at Taos Ski Valley close to home in northern New Mexico. The lens is solidly made and has a nice feel to it.  It is easy to focus and has a decent hyperfocal scale on the focus ring.  I’m not too concerned about its focus speed  because with a super wide lens I use hyperfocal manual focus anyway.  I used this lens on my Canon 1D, Mark IV.  With a 1.3x  sensor the 15mm fisheye became just short of a 20mm on this camera and it didn’t produce the full fisheye distortion.

For ski action work at close range to my subject, I set the focus to a little beyond 4 feet and everything from about 3 feet to infinity is in focus at f8.   This lens produces a beautiful diffraction star when shooting into the sun.  In fact it is better than my Canon EF 20/f2.8.  Shooting at 1/1000 second at f8 produced very sharp and contrasty images.  There is noticeable chromatic aberration but it was easy to correct with a simple checkbox in Lightroom 4.  In most instances, I actually preferred the distortion.  This lens has a profile built in to Lightroom 4 and correcting for distortion is as easy as checking a box.  The 2 images below show the uncorrected image on top and the same image corrected for distortion beneath it. The corrected one chops too much off the corners but it makes the skier look taller and Lauri likes that!

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge.  Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye.   This shot shows some fisheye distortion.  The shot below was corrected for lens distortion in the built in profiles in Lightroom 4.

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge. Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye. This shot shows some fisheye distortion. The shot below was corrected for lens distortion in the built in profiles in Lightroom 4.

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge.  Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye.  Distortion correction was applied in RAW processing in Lightroom 4.

Lauri skiing across a rare flat section at Taos Ski Valley off of Highline Ridge. Shot with a Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye. Distortion correction was applied in RAW processing in Lightroom 4.

 

All in all this is a great lens especially for shooting into the sun with lots of depth of field, contrast and sharpness.  I know fisheyes are popular for landscape photography but I can see using this lens just as much for unique sports action shooting too.  Definitely a worthwhile pro lens.

taos-chair-2-sun

Lauri and I riding up chair 2 at Taos Ski Valley with the morning sun cresting the ridge. Shot with Canon 1D Mark IV with Sigma 15mm/f2.8 fisheye.

WEATHER, LIGHT and PHOTOGRAPHY Series: Photographing Snow

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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

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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.

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Snow covered ice floes at sunset, Turnagain Arm, Alaska

 

WEATHER, LIGHT and PHOTOGRAPHY Series: Photographing Fog

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.

fog-alaganik-slough-cordova

Dissipating fog over Alaganik Slough on the Copper River Delta near Cordova, Alaska. Fair weather altocumulus clouds above the Chugach Mountains.

Photographing Fog.  Don’t get bummed out if you wake up to dense fog with cold flat light.  If no precipitation is falling chances are that magic light and golden photo ops are close by.  The keywords with fog are:  live on the edge and get high.  (Hopefully, this last phrase will make sense after reading this blog.)  There are two parts to this blog.  The first is the long-winded Geek Speak on fog.  The second part is tips and advice for photographing fog.

Swans in fog, Anchorage, Alaska

Trumpeter swans on Six-Mile Lake with morning radiation fog, Anchorage, Alaska

Meteorological Geek Speak on Fog.   Fog is a ground based cloud and along with its sister cloud, stratus, which is off the ground but very low, is ALWAYS trapped below a temperature inversion.   Fog can and does form during and after widespread precipitation events with precipitation falling from thicker clouds above such as nimbostratus.  But many times fog forms as a very shallow layer under clear skies.  It is under these conditions that fog can create great light and photo ops.  Fog and stratus not associated with precipitation are stable atmosphere clouds that form under high pressure.  Pacific high pressure during winter is the main culprit for fog in western North America.  Sometimes fog can be really thick vertically especially when there is an “upslope” wind flow into a mountain range.  In fact when fog/stratus reaches about 2000 feet in depth it produces drizzle, freezing drizzle or snow grains.

stratus clouds and clearing storm, Trail Lakes, Alaska

Stratus clouds cling to the shores of Upper Trail Lakes on the Kenai Peninsula. These clouds were the result of widespread and prolonged rain. Image made in a clearing storm scenario.

There are 3 types of fog: radiation, advection and ice fog.  Radiation fog is the most common type and occurs everywhere even in deserts.   Radiation fog forms when the sky is mostly clear but a shallow layer of air at the surface is very moist.  Cooling at night brings the air to close to saturation (close to the dewpoint temperature) and traps the shallow moisture under a temperature inversion.  A very light wind  (2-5mph) at or just above the surface mixes it up and presto, fog forms.  Let’s say it rained all day, the ground is soaked, and skies clear toward sunset with very light winds.  This is a good prescription for morning radiation fog.  In winter, radiation fog gets trapped in many western valleys for weeks.

salmon-river-idaho-fog

View of Salmon River and Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho. Stratus clouds frame sunlit peaks

Our coastal friends often get advection fog.  This is when fog over the water is drawn inland.  When you breathe on a cold window and it “fogs” up you are essentially creating advection fog.  This same mechanism happens on a large scale, when moist, relatively warm ocean air moves over a colder landmass. In the Cook Inlet region of Alaska, low tides exposes massive amounts of super cooled moisture in mudflats which is the principle cause of winter fog in Anchorage.  On the North Slope, open leads of ocean water called polynyas are the source of dense fog and even precipitation.

During summer air simply flowing from warmer water to colder waters can cause advection fog and this is a common occurrence off the west and northern coasts.   Mountainous coastal areas are subject to a double whammy of advection and radiation fogs that are often enhanced by orographic lift, where low level winds flow into higher terrain where air is forced to rise and condense.

When fog forms in winter at well below freezing temperatures it is referred to as freezing fog.  This is a natural phenomenon and is often mistaken for ice fog.  Water droplets can be “super-cooled” meaning they are liquid but below 32 degrees.  When moisture in the fog/stratus contacts very cold surfaces (roads, trees, anything) it will cause icing.  This causes the beautiful white cloaked forests after a fog event.

Frozen birch trees at sunset

Birch trees cloaked in rime ice and snow glow light pink near sunset, Anchorage, Alaska

True ice fog is a purely man made phenomena.  It forms in arctic air at -22F or colder.  Air at those temperatures can hold almost no moisture, so very little can saturate an airmass.  In winter in interior valleys of mainland Alaska and northern Canada, under extreme inversions, ice fog forms in villages and settlements.  The minute amount of moisture that comes from exhaust from internal combustion engines and building furnaces is enough to create fog at extreme temperatures, say like -40 and colder.  Ice fog is often less than 100 vertically where you can see stars above but can restrict horizontal visibility to almost zero!

 

Tips and Advice for Photographing Fog.   No need to get bummed out if you wake up to a thick fog and cold flat light.  You now know that chances are you can get high or to the edge where the light can be magical.  Or it can change right were you are.  Fog usually dissipates from the edges inward so start your photos near the edge if possible.  Fog often lifts into stratus and the tops can become a ragged edge.   The edges of the sun or moon are sharp and clearly discernible when seen through fog/stratus.   If the sun/moon edges are diffused or hidden, then that indicates there are higher clouds above the fog/stratus layer.  Any yes, there are times when none of this works and the whole day is shroud in thick cold fog.  Being on the edge or top of fog with the sun above means the brightest fog possible and this is where the light is absolutely lovely.  Like snow, fog is bright, relative to terrestrial subjects even if it looks grey to the eye.  This means it can fool meters into rendering underexposure.  I mainly meter manually but if you prefer aperture priority go with about +2/3 exposure comp.  Fog both diffuses and scatters light making a beautiful wrapping soft light on close-up subjects.  I rarely use a filter or strobe in the fog.  The exception would be if I’m above it and shooting backlit, I might use a grad ND (neutral density).

chairlift-in-fog-taos

Portrait of skiers on Taos Ski Valley chairlift. Image made near the top of a fog bank.

photographer-skiers-chairlift-taos

Michael DeYoung photographing skiers on Chair 4 at Taos Ski Valley. As we ascended above the fog into the sun, lighting became much harsher and unflattering than the shot in the fog below.

Here’s what I like to go after in fog.

Forest:  No better time for inside the forest photography than during a fog.  It helps exaggerate distances between near and far with close up subjects sharp and distant subjects fading into the mist.  The best scenario is when the sun shines through trees with lingering fog creating magical shafts of light in an alluvial fan pattern-pure magic.  Anyone who has been to the coastal redwood forests, or seen images from there, can attest to this.

Sun rays and fog, Kodiak Island

The last of marine fog scatters the morning sun through a Sitka spruce tree on Kodiak Island, Alaska

Moose in foggy forest, Alaska

Young moose in birch forest on a foggy autumn morning, Anchorage, Alaska

Anything macro:  great saturated colors and even tones and contrast.

Portraits:  No better natural beauty light than a bright fog and it can produce a better bokeh effect than any lens.

Teen skiers portrait, Taos

Teen girls portrait in the fog at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Landscapes with fog in the foreground:  This is when you are in the clear with a fog bank or stratus clouds all around you in the distance:  I love fog banks where mountain tops or tree tops rise above.  I think this effect makes mountains look taller.  Better yet if you can shoot it in backlight.  There have been several times when a fog bank has hidden buildings and power lines creating unique opportunities.   Fog also can create a horizonless landscape which is pretty ethereal.

Fog bank, Portage Valley, Alaska

Turnagain Arm near Portage Valley in spring with fog bank, Alaska

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Radiational fog obscures the Salmon River and the town of Stanley below sunlit peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Being above it all:  My very favorite place to be is at the edge of the fog assuming it is sunny above.  Obviously you have to live in an area that has some vertical relief if you want to get above it. One of my favorite images took place while hiking above the fog.  Near the end of an 8-day Kongakut River trip in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Lauri and I hiked above fog advancing south off the Arctic Coastal Plain.  We spent midnight at the edge of the foothills of the North Slope of the Brooks Range watching fog dance in and out of ridges and valleys as the warm midnight sun never set.

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Hiker standing above Arctic Ocean fog above Kongakut River near Caribou Pass, Arctic National Wildlife Reguge, Alaska. Image about 1am showing the midnight sun

Most often for efficiency, I drive above it. On occasion, a ski resort chair lift has carried me above the fog.  I really love low angle sun skimming across tops of fog.  Shooting mountains with fog in valleys below can hide otherwise distracting elements and creates a heightened sense of well, height.  Being at or above the fog’s edge at sunrise or sunset – well it doesn’t get much better.

morning-fog-stanley-idaho

Radiational fog and stratus in early morning in the Upper Salmon River valley near Stanley, Idaho.

DeYoung Featured In Jan/Feb 2013 Issue of Outdoor Photographer: “Chugach Adventure”

Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

Explorer Glacier from Moose Pond in the Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska

Adventure, landscape, and lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung is featured in the January/February 2013 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.

A former Alaska resident, DeYoung shares his 24+ years of knowledge and experience photographing his former backyard, Chugach State Park and surrounding area. In the interview-style article he offers advice on photographing the many landscape and wildlife opportunities in and around the Chugach.

“The Chugach are different and unique from what I was used to seeing in the Rockies. The sheer scale of endless peaks, vast deciduous forest, and steep cliffs and glaciers that come down to sea level have always captured my imagination.”

Read the full online article at Outdoor Photographer.

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.

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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

 

Gear Review: Nice New Adventure Pack from MindShift Gear

Canyoneer on rappel in Zion National Park, Utah

Photo backpacks are not really designed for serious backcountry use. Lauri about to rappel 180 feet in a remote Zion canyon. She is carrying our trusty backcountry Gitzo mini tripod.

Never been a big fan of photo backpacks.   On hike-in shoots I will carry the photo gear I need for the trip in a performance pack designed for real trail use.  Photo backpacks are best suited for schlepping your gear from the parking lot to the overhead bin on the plane and fall short of being serious trail packs.

There are several reasons for this.  To satisfy marketing needs, most photo backpacks meet airline carry-on regulations which means the suspension system is too short for taller people.   Most have too much padding making them too stiff and heavy for a performance pack.  This means the pack doesn’t flex and contour your body well on uneven and difficult terrain.  Camera gear is heavy enough without the pack itself feeling like lead too.   I wish some manufacturer would abandon the airline carry on size limit and make a taller narrower pack that has a more versatile suspension system.  After all, I wear a pack more often on the trail than going to and from the airport.

Other limitations of a photo backpack are that you have to take the pack off to get access to your camera and most don’t have a really good external tripod carrying system.

I got a first glance at a great new pack for adventure shooters from MindShift Gear at Photo Plus Expo 2012 in NYC.  (MindShift Gear is founded by the creators of Think Tank Photo and conservation photographer Daniel Beltra.) The pack is due out in the spring of 2013.

The MindShift has an integral fanny pack that holds a pro body with 70-200/f2.8.  The fanny pack spins around to the front for quick access to your camera without having to take your pack off.   That’s definitely a nice feature! It’s nice not having to worry about where to place your pack to avoid mud or snow just to get access to your camera. Demo’ing this on the show floor, this seems like a very well designed pack.  Some other nice features include optional padding in the top compartment that’s easily removable.  The adjustment straps on the well padded hip belt pull inward like they do on performance packs.

I also would like to see them design a chest holster similar to the Clik Elite model that easily clips on and off the pack.  (I’ve been using this chest pack for a couple of years and it is a great way to carry a camera at the ready with other packs.)  Overall this may be the best photo backpack for real trail shooting yet.

I really look forward to trying one out in the field when they come out this spring!

skier-climbing-taos

Photographer Michael DeYoung climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley with a photo chest pack from Clik Elite. The pack is holding a Canon 1D, MK IV with a 24-70/f2.8 lens

 

skiers-climb-taos-ski-valley

Skiers and boarders climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley in gusty ridgetop winds. Quick access to my camera made this shot possible. I also was able to get my camera sheltered quickly again before being pounded by wind driven snow.

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

Featured As One of ASMP’s ‘Best of 2012′ For South Carolina Ad Campaign

Adventure lifestyle and landscape photographer Michael DeYoung is featured as one of American Society of Media Photographer’s (ASMP) ‘Best of 2012′ for an ad campaign to promote South Carolina tourism, assigned by an agency representing South Carolina’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism office.

South_Carolina_Sailing

De Young, a New Mexico-based adventure and lifestyle photographer who never set foot in South Carolina before, was contacted directly through his Web site.  “Originally I thought my Alaska and Taos assignment experience had a lot to do with my being awarded this job. The art director told me it was mostly my style and ability to depict action and emotion and my adventure experience.”

Read more of the interview at ASMP’s ‘Best of 2012′

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Adventure Hike and Shoot in “The Subway”, Zion National Park, Utah.

Young female hiker hiking by the often photographed log located in the upper portion of the Subway (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan hiking by the often photographed log in the upper Subway. Hiking adventure in “The Subway” Zion National Park that involves route finding, downclimbing, swimming, and rappeling on a 9 mile one-way hike from the top down the Left Fork of North Creek.

I love this hike and love shooting in this kind of environment. We spent 12 hours, hiking, swimming, downclimbing, and rappelling with lots of gear (wetsuits, helmets, climbing harnesses and hardware, food, water, dry bags, rope, and camera and lighting gear.) At least 5 of those hours were devoted to just photography. With swimming and rappelling down a waterfall we had to pay close attention to keeping your gear dry. On many of the shots we employed wireless TTL strobe lighting. With everything in dry bags, getting gear out for our shots was a labor intensive process. Even though it was in the 90’s in Zion that day, the water in the Subway is frigid and the wetsuits were a must. The slow pace worked out great as we hit the top of the Subway in the desired warm reflected light.

Young female hiker wading the first of several very cold pools of water in the Subway (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan wading the first of very cold pools.

With Lauri and I on this trip was Brooke Bryner who used to model for us and is now an emerging family and portrait photographer near Ogden, Utah. My images of her have appeared in a few catalogs and calendars. Brooke’s younger sisters, Jordan and Madison, were great talent and assistants on this adventure. The day was a great combination of a shoot with very helpful assistants, a good workout, and a sister’s day getaway.

Three 20-something year old sisters having fun splashing through water in the middle of their Subway hiking adventure in Zion National Park

Three sisters having a blast on the upper Right Fork before needing a wetsuit.

Three sisters holding some of the mating frogs found in the Subway hike (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Checking out some of the many mating frogs.

Young female hiker on the last rappel in the Subway hike (Left Fork of North Creek) in Zion National Park

Jordan on the last rappel.

Female hiker walking by pools in the Subway section of the Left Fork of North Creek hike in Zion National Park

Jordan on the lower part of the Subway.

Rocky Mountain School of Photography Writes About Popular Photography Interview with Michael DeYoung

Popular Photography Magazine Best Place to Photograph in Alaska that is proximate to well-known tourist destinations

Popular Photography magazine’s interview with Michael DeYoung about best place to photograph in Alaska that is proximate to well-known tourist destinations – May 2012 issue

Rocky Mountain School of Photography has a nice write-up about my interview and feature image (shown above) in the May 2012 issue of Popular Photography. Read more at ‘Paper Airplanes’, Rocky Mountain School of Photography’s renown blog.

Thank you Rocky Mountain School of Photography for the ‘kudos’.

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.

Behind the Lens – Sheri, an Inupiat Eskimo, as a full page in Alaska Vacation Planner

I only spent a few hours photographing Sheri on a typical cool, wet, and windy July day near Nome, Alaska. Of the hundreds of folks we meet on the long assignments we’ve done for the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA), Sheri was one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable people we’ve worked with. I’m glad to see her featured in a full page image in the 2012 Alaska Vacation Planner.

Female Inupiat Eskimo artist from Nome, Alaska wearing traditional kuspik dress

Sheri, an Inupiat Eskimo artist in Nome, Alaska appears as a full page image in the 2012 Alaska State Vacation Planner. Shot on assignment in 2011

A kind and gentle soul with a soft pretty face, Sheri had a striking presence about her. At the time she was working at the Nome Visitor Center. She agreed to model for us in a traditional Kuspuk and with some of her artwork which consisted of her handmade sealskin purses and boots. An Inupiat Eskimo from Northwest Alaska, she is an amazingly talented artist.

Sheri is from the village of Shishmaref, 100 miles north of Nome on the windswept shores of the Chukchi Sea about 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Summer here is a mere fantasy, more accurately described as a “thaw season” where waters turn to liquid for 8 weeks. Shishmaref is a “bush” village meaning it is not connected to the road system. The nearest contiguous road is the Dalton Highway some 500 miles east. Shishmaref is close to where it all began some 20,000 years ago when native peoples walked across the Bering Land Bridge to inhabit North America.

The subsistence lifestyle, primitive infrastructure (many homes without modern pluming) and extreme isolation she grew up in is simply unimaginable to most people – including me. She grew up among caribou, musk ox, wolves, grizzlies and the occasional polar bear.

With her upbringing, I thought nothing I would ask could phase her. I was wrong. When I asked her to sit among the beautiful field of wild iris, she was reluctant and concerned about mice being down there. I had a warm fuzzy chuckle, thinking up to this point, that only “city” girls would be concerned over the possibility of a cute little rodent running around your feet. Luckily I was able to stomp out the area where I wanted her to sit which she eventually did and we made some great images.

The technical aspects of the shot were quite simple. More often than not in Alaska, you are shooting in flat light. The flat terrain meant not much background to work with. (Unfortunately, Russia was not visible from where we were.) The flat light meant soft skin tones but limited contrast. All I could do was fill the frame with Sheri and let her presence and the colors of her kuspuk and iris carry the shot. The breeze lifting some of her hair was icing on the cake. This image is a good example of the 80/20 rule where 80% of the success of the shot took place before the camera even came out of the bag.

Like most of the fine people we’ve met and photographed on our Alaska assignments, our paths are not likely to cross again. I wish Sheri the very best and I hope she continues pursuing her artwork.

Horsing Around With The New Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites

I got a chance to take my new Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT’s on a shoot. The location was Music Meadows Ranch near Westcliffe, Colorado. I was there to create some images to promote a new workshop I am teaching this fall. The workshop is “Western Landscape and Action” and hosted by Twin Compass (www.twincompass.com).

Backlit shot of horses running towards camera shortly after sunrise in Music Meadows Ranch in Westcliffe, Colorado

This was not lit with any artificial light. It is just a cool backlit shot of horses coming at the camera shortly after sunrise. Shot with a Canon 1Ds Mark III and Canon 400/f4 DO

I bought the last two 600EX-RT’s that Samy’s Camera had at the Palm Springs Photo Festival earlier this April. After a 10 minute lesson from a Canon rep at PSPF I found the menu buttons more intuitive than the 580EX-II’s I have been using.

I was still feeling the pain of sticker shock from this purchase a week later. These units are expensive and the system is not worth investing in unless you have at least 2 units. Even with a minimalist system of one 600EX-RT and one ST-E3 you are out $950-$1,000. The pain quickly faded when we put them to use and after two shoots they have performed very well with ease.

I have not been able to get a ST-E3 transmitter that works with the radio wireless system with these new speedlites yet. So for now I have to use one unit as a transmitter limiting my lighting options to very simple, one light, off-camera set ups.

Here’s what I really like about them: It takes less time to get operational on wireless radio mode than it does attaching Radio Poppers to the older 580 series speedlites. The Radio Poppers have been a savior for me the past few years giving me what I needed: a wireless flash system that works in any light and behind walls, trees, etc. The 600’s simplify and streamline the wireless speedlite workflow. This is a great asset under high pressure situations like some assignments and fast breaking photo ops where a speedlite is needed. No more carrying different size batteries or working with mounting brackets that often break and having to turn on two electronic units.

Upon turning the power on the two 600EX units and pushing 4 or 5 menu buttons we were up and running in wireless RT mode using the “Auto” channel mode in about 10 seconds. Being able to zoom to 200mm is long overdue. Zooming in to 200mm gives a little more “horsepower” using high speed sync, which I do often, and being better able to focus the light on a subject in a wide angle scene without needing a light robbing grid.

There are a few things I don’t like. First, they are bigger and don’t really recycle any faster than the 580-IIs. Second, the new radio system does not work with the 580-IIs with Radio Poppers attached. At over $600 each I think they are priced too high and again you really need at least two if you are going to use the wireless RT system. What is most disturbing is the manual claims these units can’t be used in wireless radio transmission mode with cameras older than 2012 models. (Nothing like Canon trying to sell new product at every turn.) However, on my Canon 1D Mark IV and 1Ds Mark III they worked fine in TTL and synched at all speeds. No need to rush out and get a 1Dx or 5D Mark III to use these new units in wireless radio transmission mode.

Horse sniffing photographer assistant's tripod

Lauri being “screened” by a horse checking out the tripod and a Canon 600EX-RT attached to a Dynalite Jackrabbit II battery pack

As usual when working with animals we first did a familiarization tour letting the “subjects” see and sniff all this fancy new stuff. They quickly ignored the lights when we began shooting for real.

In the horse crashing through the creek scenario, our light was flat with thick clouds over the Sangre de Cristo. Employing the speedlite enabled me to punch up the colors on Elin, the rider, and Rocky, the horse, while maintaining some rich detail in the background. Lauri was about 30 feet away from me with the strobe on a tall boom to place it just under Elin’s hat brim.

Westcliffe Colorado's Music Meadows Ranch woman owner riding a horse through a creek

Elin and Rocky riding through a creek at Music Meadows Ranch in Colorado. Scene is lit with the 600EX-RT in radio slave mode with the light on a boom about 8 feet high slightly to camera left.

At sunrise the next morning with Elin and Rocky riding in a patch of spring green grass the sun was absent on them but lighting the background mountains. I had Lauri about 75 feet in front of me so I could get a telephoto perspective. The units worked fine at that distance.

Westcliffe Colorado's Music Meadows Ranch woman owner riding a horse with Sangre De Cristo range in background

Elin, owner of Music Meadows Ranch in Colorado riding Rocky as the first rays of light hit the Sangre de Cristo. The sun was not up yet where Elin is riding so she is lit with a 600EX-RT on radio slave mode. Camera to subject distance is about 200 feet and shot with a 70-200 zoom. The flash to subject distance is about 20-30 feet.

For the saddle portrait, the slave speedlite had no problem firing through the wood walls of the barn.

Westcliffe Colorado's Music Meadows Ranch woman owner carrying saddle back to barn

Stay Out A Little Longer And Break Out The Strobe

Hispanic family mountain biking on West Rim trail along Rio Grande Gorge in Taos, New Mexico

Mountain biking along West Rim Trail, Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, New Mexico.

On a recent mountain biking shoot we stopped at one of my favorite overlooks of the Rio Grande Gorge.  The sun was below a nearby ridge so all my foreground and most of the canyon was in deep shadow.  The low angle sun about 10 minutes from sunset was basking the west slopes of the mountains and the upper part of the opposite rim.

Just the way I wanted it.  Been here before and anticipated the lighting scenario.  No problem.  Break out the strobe, attach an orange gel and use my mobile light stand (Lauri) to position the light at about the same angle the sun was hitting the background.

First shot is OK but too much light on the rock below the cyclists.  Thanks to digital we can see that now on the spot.  It’s usually a good idea anyway to shoot on the edge of your light source feathering the light up.  The second shot matches more of the light on the opposite side of the canyon and was closer to what I wanted.

Hispanic family (father and his two daughters) with mountain bikes overlooking Rio Grande Gorge along West Rim Trail in Taos, New Mexico

Family mountain biking post ride scene overlooking the Rio Grande from the West Rim Trail. Lighting on subjects from Canon 580EX2′s with warming gels and fired off camera.

Hispanic family with mountain bikes overlooking Rio Grande Gorge along West Rim Trail in Taos, New Mexico

Same lighting in this image as the one above. Flagging the flash and blocking light from spilling on the rocks in front of the cyclists came closer to emulating the late sunlight on the other side of the canyon though not as bright. In retrospect I could have gone stronger with the orange gel to a full cut CTO. I would have preferred to get a little closer to the subjects with the strobe but couldn’t because of terrain and getting the speedlite showing up in the frame. There is a limit to a speedlite’s power with a gel and grid attached. Seems like I usually shoot on the margins of the speedlite’s capability which is a good exercise.

I’ve heard too many times from shooters that “no clouds, no color in the sky” so they pack it up after the sun goes down.  I say stay a little longer and play with your strobes.  Warmly lit subject against a cool background is a tried and true formula.

The sisters on their bikes portrait was simple to do.  No color in the sky?  No problem.  A little underexposure and a cool shift in white balance fixes that.  For the girls,  one light for each girl softened with a Gary Fong Lightsphere and a half cut CTO to compensate for the cool white balance creates a pleasing light on their faces.  Here’s a tip to remember:  A big dark background will fool your flash into putting out too much light.  So I dialed my flash exposure down -1 stop.  The opposite is true for bright backgrounds.  Say you shooting into the sun and you want to light your small subject who is not lit by the sun.  You will need to pump out more light than your flash thinks it will.

Portrait of Hispanic sisters mountain biking on West Rim trail along Rio Grande Gorge in Taos, New Mexico

Sisters on mountain bikes on the West Rim Trail near Taos, New Mexico. Usually on clear days there is little color in the dawn or dusk sky. So I make it go bluer with a bit of underexposure and white balance shift toward tungsten. They were lit with 2 off camera 580 EX 2′s softened with Gary Fong Lightspheres. All this lighting gear is portable in a pack while hiking or riding. This was a great way to end an afternoon/evening shoot.

Sometimes The Fun Shots Turn Out The Best

Mature woman (baby boomer generation) skiing through powder at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Stevie floating on fresh powder in the fog at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

With almost a foot of new snow, no wind or crowds on a Sunday morning at Taos Ski Valley it was real hard to resist pounding powder action for as long as it lasts.  I had a trio of age 60+ ladies who were all good skiers.  Although they would not be doing any extreme stuff, I knew I would get good ski action shots from them.  What was better though was the energy and enthusiasm between these three long time friends.  This dynamic, along with flattering light, was a perfect recipe for some “fun” lifestyle shots. I know this is not as exciting as skiers crashing through trees and powder or jumping off something that could put you in a body cast for three months.  These are stunt shots and for me less challenging than getting really fun non-ski action lifestyle shots.  I did get in a few rounds of powder pounding but I’m jazzed with the “fun” shot results.

 

Lifestyle portrait of two mature women (baby boomer generation) walking and laughing with skis at Taos Ski Valley, NM

Happy skiers after a morning of fresh powder skiing at Taos Ski Valley New Mexico

Initially, they thought I’d be bummed out with fog on the lower slopes.  Little did they know I could hardly contain my excitement.  I LOVE FOG!   It is great at a ski resort when you can ride the lift above the fog then ski to the edge and shoot.  It simplifies the background and is very flattering for facial detail as you can see from the chairlift shot.  Literally 30 seconds after this shot we broke out into the harsh sun.  Shot over.

 

Ski lifestyle portrait of three mature women (baby boomer generation) skiers on chairlift at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

3 veteran mature skiers share a jovial ride on chair 4 through the fog at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

A monopod does not make a good ski pole but it sure came in handy for the fun chairlift shot.  With my 1D, Mark IV and a 20mm lens I’m holding my monopod out and up as far as I can reach.  I’m guessing at the framing.  I have a Microsync Digital receiver on the camera gaffer taped to the camera strap.  Carol, the skier on the right, has the transmitter in her glove and she’s just firing away at my command.

 Photographer with three mature female (baby boomer) skiers on chairlift

Photographer Michael DeYoung photographing talent on chair 4 (Kachina Lift)at Taos Ski Valley with camera mounted on a monopod and fired with a remote release. Carol, the skier in brown coat is triggering the shots with a Microsync Digital. The framing is just guess work. The resultant shot above was done while still in the fog. Notice how the lighting above the fog in the harsh sun is not as flattering on the women’s faces. As for me, I’m a lost cause..

Canon Finally Offers New Speedlite But Few Are Talking About It

There’s been a lot of buzz on web groups about the new 5DMarkIII but almost nothing about a new speedlite – the 600EX-RT. I am far more jazzed about a new and more capable flash than another camera body. Why? Having a few more megapixels and frames per second will not improve your photography. But, an investment in more lighting capability, if used effectively, definitely will.

Wilderness canoe trip in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Lauri at camp in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska. This 3 day trip involved a boat taxi to a remote beach, then lining our canoe up a river that drains the lake we are camped on to the ocean. All my camera gear including 3 flashes with RadioPoppers had to be packed in waterproof cases and carried in the canoe with the rest of our camping gear.

 

  • Photographer: Michael DeYoung
  • Location: Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Client: stock shoot
  • Lighting: 2 Canon 580EXII’s with RadioPoppers
  • Technique: Group A light in canoe with Honl grid lighting subject’s right. Group B in tent lighting tent and providing fill to subject’s left.

This new speedlite, though shockingly expensive, could really expand your lighting options. It’s true that for $630 (and you need at least 2 to have a working system) you could get an Alien Bees mono light and a Vagabond battery (which I have) that would throw out a lot more light. So you get more watts per dollar. But try carrying 2 AB’s with Vagabond and stands 3 miles up a trail. If you are an outdoor shooter like me who frequently carries their gear on their back or has to stuff their camera gear among a pile of other gear on a 2 week raft trip then size, portability and performance are worth paying for.

Currently I use 580EX II’s with RadioPoppers and the system has performed well in many situations. I’ve been frustrated at only having 105mm zoom capability and having to set up Radio Poppers with brackets (which break easily) on each flash with the transmitter flimsily attached to the master flash or ST-E2 with velcro. I also have to carry an additional set of batteries for the Radio Poppers.

For me, the 200mm zoom capability and built in radio wave wireless system alone is worth the investment.

You can read more about the 600EX-RT on the Canon site.

The Canon speedlite guru who’s really been testing the 600EX is Syl Arena. On his blog, you get the full scoop and a lot more information about the new speedlite than you’ll get on the Canon site.

Young adult male on a glacier hiking adventure under Wrangell-St. Elias National Park's Root Glacier, Alaska

Hiking in an ice cave under the Root Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska. The approach to the underside of the glacier was steep with loose footing. We had to pack camera gear including 2 speedlites with RadioPoppers in our daypacks.

 

  • Photographer: Michael DeYoung
  • Location: Root Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
  • Client: Alaska Travel Industry Association
  • Lighting: 2 Canon 580EXII’s with RadioPoppers
  • Technique: Group A on master flash at reduced ratio for overall fill light.
  • Group B with Honl grid held by assistant on camera left using “hand gobo” to focus light on hiker and keep it off the ice.

Working With Creative and Capable Talent Saves The Shoot

Woman skier jumping in air Utah

Jaqueline in telemark ski gear jumping on a trampoline near sunset.

Several years ago I was doing a winter catalog shoot in April. On the shot list was a skier jumping in a particular jacket. Samples arrived on Friday. The local ski resort closed for the season on Sunday. Saturday brought a blizzard with near hurricane force winds on the ridge tops and we were shooting the other catalog shots at lower elevation in the wet, spring snow. Sunday was bright, clear and warm and I was ready to rock and roll on the ski shots.

Enter an unforeseen problem: My ski model got pinned down and disoriented in Saturday’s snowstorm while backcountry skiing and spent the night in the wilderness, returning too late and exhausted on Sunday to shoot. Understandable.

For the first time I am faced with the horror of calling the client and explaining how they would have to pay an extra 1K to get crew and talent to a ski area 250 miles away that was still open. My model also worked so the client would possibly have to approve of new talent. Really didn’t want to make that call. Time to think outside the ski area box and test your problem solving skills.

We tried to get some jumps in on back-country trails. No luck. Spent half the time climbing uphill. Warm day. Heavy slushy snow made it difficult to get any “air time”. Aha! Our model lived near 9,000 feet on the mountain above town and a neighbor had a trampoline. She had a strong husband with a snow shovel. Viola! Ski jump shot. Just had to crop out the trampoline. Never told the client anything. Just submitted the images. They ran the back-lit shot (they use a lot of rear view shots) but I really liked the front-lit version because of Jaqueline’s great facial expression.

Woman skier in telemark ski gear taking air

Jaqueline in telemark ski gear jumping on a trampoline.

 

  • Photographer: Michael DeYoung
  • Client: Title Nine Sports
  • Location: Cedar City, Utah
  • Lighting: Natural late afternoon light

Fast-forward seven years to this February. Good talent saves the day again on a ski shoot. My assignment is at Taos Ski Valley. I’m shooting action ski shots on Taos’ famous expert terrain off of Highline Ridge. Needed to make it look fun and dynamic but not death defying.

Advanced female skier at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Andrea skiing off a cornice on Hildalgo, a double black run off Highline Ridge, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico.

There was plenty of ski season left but due to scheduling and talent availability this cold morning with a biting north wind was the slated day to make something work. The previous day brought hurricane force winds and wind scoured peaks. The snow was difficult being wind packed and fast and Lauri and I basically resorted to “survival” skiing to negotiate the slope – quite embarrassing in the company of six, young expert skiers and boarders. My background setting is less than ideal, but the light was decent and my expert, well-styled and capable talent carried the shots making the difficult look easy and fun as experts often do. I went with tried and true composition and design techniques (like a strong diagonal line and clean foreground) to get some solid shots. The talent made my day and hopefully the client’s too.

Skiers skiing down Hildalgo run off of Highline Ridge at Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Andrea and Matt ski Hildalgo off of Highline Ridge, Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico.

 

  • Photographer: Michael DeYoung
  • Client: Taos Ski Valley Chamber of Commerce
  • Location: Taos Ski Valley
  • Lighting: Natural 3/4 backlight with fill light from the snow

What Does Minus 40 Look Like? Warm Memories of Extreme Cold.

Winter frosted trees, setting moon, and morning alpenglow in Copper River Basin near Glenallen, Alaska

My “coldest” image, I think. This was a moonset and morning alpenglow at about minus 50 west of Glenallen, Alaska in the Copper River Basin. The soft arctic alpenglow at high latitudes is the most ethereal I’ve seen. I had an auxiliary battery pack that I had to keep under my parka. This was hard wired to the camera. This is the only way to keep the camera operating in extreme cold.

First, a little background story about my early Alaska days.

A client recently expressed interest in images of bitter cold. Not much of that in Northern New Mexico and western Colorado Valley this winter. I am planning a late winter trip to Alaska this year. But, I always keep up with what’s happening with winter up there.

I saw something I hadn’t seen in a while. Interior temperatures hit minus 60 the last few days of January. Minus 40’s and 50’s are common but minus 60’s have been rare in this era of climate change. The National Weather Service office even mentioned how this January was similar to the winter of 89-90.

The winter of 1989/1990 was my second winter in Alaska and I remember it well. The Army sent me camping in the Interior in January and again in March! And the coldest air of the winter hit while we were camping. I should know. I was part of an Air Force weather detachment that participated in Army exercises and made official weather observations.

The first night was only like minus 45 and we had minus 40 and colder for the entire two weeks we were out. We were lucky as we were in the hills above Delta Junction and thus a little warmer. Some of the lowest valley locations, like Nenana, south of Fairbanks, hit minus 71. Even east Anchorage got close to minus 40 that January.

Being in air that cold is just painful. It hurts to breath. It feels like slivers of broken glass in your nostrils when you inhale. When you walk it feels like the wind is blowing because the air is incredibly dense. Normally cushy vehicle seats feel like slabs of concrete. Alkaline batteries don’t work. For cheap amusement we’d throw a cup of hot liquid up in the air and it would never hit the ground as it would just freeze into ice crystals.

What does all this have to do with photography? Well something happened that first night I’ll never forget. I saw my first real aurora borealis display and it blew me away. It was a brilliant emerald green display over a moonlit landscape of fresh sparkling arctic snow.

I tried photographing them. They sucked. It was my first time. It was 40 below. I was still an amateur and I was working the graveyard shift out of a tent on an Army field trip – not exactly ideal conditions for photography. But, it sealed my interest in photographing the aurora borealis.

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over Kathleen River, Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada

This is one of my favorite and my most commercially successful aurora borealis image. This is from Kluane National Park in the Yukon the 3rd week of March. This is the Kathleen River just downstream from the outlet of Kathleen Lake. The lake is very deep and upwelling prevents the first stretch of river from freezing. The shot took place around 3AM on a full moon night. It was balmy and only a few degrees below zero.

After active duty was over in 1992 I made journeys into the extreme cold of Interior Alaska on my own terms trying to photograph the aurora.

I’ve made some successful aurora images in winter, but my favorite and coldest photo was of a morning moon and alpenglow in a black spruce forest east of Glenallen which was minus 50 that morning. I’d been up most of the night waiting for an aurora that never materialized.

For a while there was something alluring about enduring extreme weather painful as it was. But I learned this long ago: Simply enduring adverse conditions doesn’t make your images more creative. There is no correlation between degree of difficulty and creativity. However, when you make a great or even good image during challenging environmental conditions it makes it more satisfying.

P.S: Here are some geeky weather facts.

Arctic airmasses are very shallow and dense, usually having extreme temperature inversions. So the coldest air is in the LOWEST elevations such as valley floors.

Minus 40 is where Celsius and Fahrenheit are equal i.e. -40F = -40C

Ice fog is a purely man made phenomena occurring during arctic air in settlements, villages and urban areas. At temperatures in the minus 20’s and colder air cannot hold any moisture. So moisture from internal combustion engine exhaust and exhaust from residential and commercial gas fired furnaces is enough to generate incapacitating fog that remains trapped under sharp inversions. Ice fog can reduce visibility to no more than 100 meters sometimes, but is usually no more than a hundred feet thick vertically.

At minus 20 and colder, exposed flesh can literally freeze, i.e. your nose and finger tips can turn into blocks of ice—not good!

Need more? Check out Jim Green’s Alaska Weather blog. He produces a yearly wall calendar called ‘Alaska Weather Calendar’.

Handy Cold Weather Photography Tips

New Mexico and Alaska Adventure, Landscape, Lifestyle photographer

Michael DeYoung shooting with liner gloves and fleece windbloc fingerless gloves

I love winter light, especially fresh snow clinging to trees on a crisp winter morning! The hardest thing about winter shooting for me has always been keeping my hands warm while operating the camera system, including the tripod. Even with the big pro bodies I just don’t have the dexterity to operate the camera/lens the way I prefer with big warm gloves. So over the many years of winter sports and landscape photography in Alaska, the Yukon and the Rockies, I’ve developed a 3 glove system that works well and will keep your hands functioning for hours in moderate cold – say single digit and teen temperatures. Hopefully, these tips come in handy.

First, not to sound like I’m preaching, you must keep your head and neck warm. This is where you lose a majority of your body heat. Keeping your head and neck covered is the first step to minimizing cold fingers. When your body is trying to keep its core warm it starts by cutting off warm blood flow to your extremities.

Liners. I’m always searching for the perfect liner glove. My current favorite is the Atlas 370 which has an amazing grip on the palm and fingers. Sizing is critical. Too tight and your fingers will get cold quickly. Too big and you don’t get maximum dexterity.

Fleece Fingerless Gloves. Over the liners go a high quality Windstopper™ fleece fingerless gloves. Glacier Gloves are good. I currently use Simms that cover everything except my finger tips. They easily slide over the liner gloves. I got both of these at a flyfishing store. Steelhead anglers know all about needing dexterity in typical wet cold steelhead fishing weather. Ever try tying a blood knot with cold fingers?

New Mexico and Alaska Adventure, Landscape, Lifestyle photographer

Atlas 370 liner glove has a great synthetic palm grip that grips great on focus rings and CF tripods

A Little Chemical Help. Here’s a trick that helps most people. Place a chemical hand warmer in your palm, between the liner and the fleece windblock glove. This will help warm the blood and you can close your hand around the warmer to warm your finger tips. Remember, these things only work when they are enclosed in something.

Backcountry Christmas Holiday lit tent in Wyoming

Winter holiday scene in Wyoming. Temps were near 10F. Glove system worked well in setting up tent, props and working the camera. This image is a Palm Press Holiday Card available at REI

Big Mittens. For ski photography or traveling on foot in between locations in really cold weather, the first two gloves easily slide into a heavy mitten, the kind you can get from REI. Most high end expedition mittens will have a retainer cord. And most high end parkas will have a small d-ring about 6 inches up the sleeve. So on a ski shoot, I’m skiing to my next location keeping my hands toasty in the mittens. When I’m ready to grab the camera and shoot, I just slide off the mittens as they just dangle from my parka. With my liners and fingerless gloves, I’m ready to rock and roll.

Michael DeYoung is an adventure lifestyle photographer based out of the ski town of Taos, New Mexico and Anchorage, Alaska

Caribou and Mt. McKinley Wins First Place in 2011 PDN Great Outdoors Photography Contest

Caribou and Mt. McKinley - 1st Place winner in PDN's 2011 Great Outdoor Photo contest

Michael DeYoung’s Caribou and Mt. McKinley image: The winner of PDN’s 2011 Great Outdoors photo contest

I was excited to learn that my caribou and Mt. McKinley image won first place in the 2011 Great Outdoors (Parks & Safaris) photography contest held by Photo District News. Photo District News (PDN), a Nielsen Business Media publication, is a leading photo industry magazine and is seen by thousands of photography industry creatives.

I have spent more time photographing in Denali National Park, 23 years, than just about any other place. This image was the result of luck, intimate working knowledge of the area and plain old persistence. I typically work the west end of the park from Grassy Pass to Wonder Lake where caribou and moose tend to be seen more frequently toward late summer and fall. My typical sleep deprived day starts very early trying to catch the early morning light on Mt. McKinley from Wonder Lake. The lake was in thick fog and after it seemed it wouldn’t burn off anytime soon, we drove east, climbing to near the top of the fog layer above the McKinley Bar when I spotted a bull caribou we’ve been seeing around for several days. Fortunately, I was able to position myself and sit tight while the lone bull moseyed on by where he would line him up with the mountain which was in and out of the rapidly moving fog. I got maybe 6 shots before he dropped out of sight over the ridge.

The judges in this year’s contest were Amy Berkley (Field & Stream), Grant Ellis (Surfer Magazine), Amy Feitelberg (Outside), Nick Hamilton (TransWorld SNOWboarding), and Elayna Rocha (Y&R Brands Irvine).

Sometimes Adventure Photography Begins at Home

This week is a short one. The routine is familiar. We frantically pack for another 10-day adventure 500 miles from home while tying up loose business ends prior to our departure. It is stressful but I’m excited about our upcoming Zion shoot. It is early May and we are thinking spring. Can’t wait to see the explosion of vibrant spring greens and hopefully blooming cacti against the warm colored Colorado Plateau sandstone.

The Gulf of Alaska sent the Southern Rockies a different plan as the last day of April rolled into May first. Snow. And near record cold. Drove home Sunday from Westcliffe, Colorado. Snowed most of the way. Snowed all afternoon at home with sub-freezing temperatures, yes in May! Monday morning looked and felt more like January. Four inches of new snow cloaked the landscape with our mercury at 18 degrees at sunrise. Beautiful, but not spring like.

Never seen so many songbirds at the feeders during the heavy snow Sunday and Monday morning. The seed eaters had plenty of grub but I was concerned about our resident nesting bluebirds. Insect life was all but shut down the previous afternoon so they probably had very little to eat. They sat on a feeder perch for over an hour Monday morning making me wonder if they were just warming themselves in the sun.

In the past, we’ve offered them mealworms, soaked raisins and insect suet on snowy spring days but they never ate it so I guess they were fine weathering out the storm with little or nothing to eat. But that was March and April, not May with 5 new eggs in their nest.

Reminded myself of a lesson I stress in my workshops. Don’t forget to shoot close to home. I’ve always felt that if you can’t make good images in your backyard, you won’t make good images in some exotic and far away place. That morning was an opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

So we took a break from our business tasks and packing to shoot stills and motion. Shot the bluebirds on the perch and shot Lauri behind the camera and lens that was used to photograph Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird on said perch.

Photographing mountain bluebirds image

Lauri photographing mountain bluebirds on a perch at our feeding station.

 

Pair of mountain bluebirds in winter portrait image

Our resident and nesting pair of mountain bluebirds

 

Female mountain bluebird portrait image, Taos New Mexico

Mrs. Bluebird on a perch at our seed feeder. Shot details: Canon 1D, Mark IV, 400/F4 lens with 1.4X extender, 580EX II speedlite mounted on a Really Right Stuff flash bracket.

Normally, we sweep new snow from our solar panels at first light to maximize power on winter days. The days are long now, the sun is up before we are and we could afford to wait a bit to see if a photo idea I had would pan out. The wetter spring snow and a little more morning heat could create a thin layer of melt water on the panels. That could make some cool reflections of Lauri as she swept the snow off. Also with a backlit and sidelit scene the huge angled array with fresh snow made one heck of a fill light.

Sweeping new snow off home solar panels Taos New Mexico image

Sweeping new May snow off solar panels, photovoltaic array outside of Taos, New Mexico

 

Sweeping new snow off home solar panels Taos New Mexico image

Sweeping new May snow off solar panels, photovoltaic array outside of Taos, New Mexico

Our mountain bluebird parents are just fine and I’m glad that I had a chance to make some nice images from home. Now back to spring.
Pair of mountain bluebird portrait image

Adventure Photography While Backpacking – Grand Canyon Style

Recently I wrote a post about bare bones photo outfits for adventure photography. Since I just completed another multi-day backpack adventure in the Grand Canyon, I thought I would expand upon backpacking photography gear and share some images from the trip.

THE HIKE was 5 days starting from Lipan Point, down the Tanner Trail, following the Escalante Route downriver to Hance Rapids, then up the Tonto/Grandview Trail to Grandview Point. There were three of us, myself, Lauri – my super tough wife, assistant, and ultimate companion – and long time good friend John from Seattle. This is a backcountry route on unmaintained and unmarked trails with steep and exposed sections. We had 2 very nice camps along the river and two nice dry camps on the Tonto platform.

self portrait of photography team at backpacking camp on the western Tonto Trail in the Grand Canyon

self portrait at camp on the western Tonto Trail with signature scratched legs

 

BACKPACKING PHOTOGRAPHY is always the most challenging with respect to what gear to take without breaking your back but still having enough gear to produce professional results. I’ve made some reasonably good stock sales from prior Grand Canyon backpack trips so I always take professional gear with me. Lauri and I are moderate ultra-lighters with our regular backpack gear. This allows me to carry a capable camera load without killing my back so long as I train for the trip – which I did this time.

 

Man photographing sunset on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Photographing sunset on the South Rim, Grand Canyon

 

Man photographing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Michael DeYoung photographing on the South Rim, Grand Canyon

 

ULTRA LIGHT SUPPORT. I pack the lightest weight Gitzo carbon fiber tripod (1.6lbs) the Mountaineer 0. On top is a Really Right Stuff B-25 head (7oz.) with quick release lever. This is their smallest head and the best head I’ve ever used for lightweight applications. At a little over 2 lbs. the tripod and ball head easily rides on the side of my pack similar to where you would place tent poles carried externally. The tripod allowed me to capture some nice moonlit camp scenes and low light landscapes which you will see below. It easily held a pro body with wide angle zoom in moderate winds. The key is to use a remote release to eliminate any possible shutter shake.

Man backpacking on the Tanner Trail on the south rim of the Grand Canyon with Think Tank Digital holster pack

On the Tanner Trail with Think Tank Digital Holster pack on my chest

 

WHAT’S IN THE BAG? For camera gear, I limit myself to one body and lens. Being a Grand Canyon veteran, I find the best lens is the 17-40 on a full frame body. I was planning on taking the Canon 50D but at the last minute took my Canon 1Ds Mark III. The rest of my pack was not that heavy so I opted to carry the extra 1.5 lbs for the full frame, 21 mega-pixel body. In the end I’m glad I did. The canyon is a brutal environment and dealt out a potentially damaging dose of wind, dust, sand, and river spray. The 1D series are built like tanks with weather sealed buttons and the 1Ds, III scoffed at the elements. Lesser bodies may have failed. In addition to the body and lens, I took one strobe – a 580EXII with off camera cord, some gels, and a Honl 1/8 grid. Accessories included a polarizer and a Singh_Ray 3 stop hard step graduated ND filter, extra batteries, a remote release and four 8gb and 16gb compact flash cards.

Landscape scenic image of the Colorado River just above Tanner Rapids in the Grand Canyon

Scenic along the Colorado River just above Tanner Rapids

THE BAG ITSELF. The body and lens, flash, filters, compact flash cards in a tethered Think Tank card wallet, and lens cloth all fit in a Think Tank Digital Holster 50. I carried this bag on my chest, attached to the shoulder straps and hip belt with mini caribiners. In the photo it looks awkward and large but is actually quite comfortable and provides some welcome counterbalance with all the weight on my back. For day shooting, I could quickly pull out the camera and strobe for hiking shots. The small Think Tank Lightning Fast flash bag attached to the side of my pack held the lightweight accessories and batteries that I couldn’t fit in the chest holster bag. There are similar bags on the market designed to be used with backpacks such as the Clik adventure bags. From what I’ve seen they have a better designed system for attaching a chest holster to your backpack. And they offer other than black bags – much better for hot desert conditions. But I invested in the Think Tank before Clik adventure packs were on the market.

THE WHOLE KIT AND KABUDLE. My entire Grand Canyon backpacking photography ensemble was 7.5 lbs. If we weren’t seasoned backpackers and good at getting the rest of the load down to a reasonable weight, 7.5 lbs would seem cumbersome.

 

Image of a couple backpackers resting along Colorado River just above Tanner Rapids in the Grand Canyon

Backpackers Lauri and John resting in shade as rafts approach Tanner Rapids

 

CAN I GET THE WEIGHT DOWN EVEN MORE? If money were no object, I would opt for a Canon 5D, Mark II vs. the heavier 1Ds Mark III as the best Canon full frame pro body for backpacking. Then again if money were no object I would have hired a college student with a strong back in desperate need of cash to schlep my camera gear for me. Next trip. I wouldn’t even think of leaving a strobe and accessories behind even though that would shave another pound. There are so many situations where carefully crafted artificial light was useful for hiking and camping lifestyle photography. The strobe and the ability to shape and warm the light it produces makes or breaks the difference between amateur and professional results.

Mature woman prepares backpacker breakfast of oatmeal at backpacking camp along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Lauri prepares backpacker breakfast of oatmeal and blueberries at backpacking camp along the Colorado River.

Mature male primes a backpacker stove at camp along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

John priming a MSR Whisperlite backpack stove at sunrise along the Colorado River

 

I could scrap the tripod but that would mean no night time or low light landscapes with lots of depth of field images. I’m not ready to make that sacrifice yet. As I look at the results from the trip, it makes all the back and joint pain of carrying my photo gear worthwhile.

 

Mature couple hiking along the Escalante Route above Cardenas Creek in the cooler, early evening hours Grand Canyon National Park

Lauri and John hiking in cooler evening hours along the Escalante Route, hiking above Cardenas Creek.

 

Moonlit tent and camp along the Escalante Route of the Grand Canyon above Unkar Rapids on the Colorado River

Moonlit camp above Unkar Rapids along the Escalante Route. Lauri is lighting the tent with the 580EX II with a green gel. The tent is an MSR Hubba Hubba without the rainfly for star/moon gazing

 

Close up portrait of woman hiking boots overlooking Colorado River along the Grand Canyon Escalante Route

close up of hiking boots along the Escalante Route

Woman backpacker writing in her journal at Hance Rapids on the Colorado River, Grand Canyon

Marie, another backpacker we met on the trail, writing in her journal in the morning sun at Hance Rapids.

Group of river rafters from Alaska scouting Hance Rapids along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park

A group of rafters from Alaska, one of whom I knew from my Alaska days and involvement with the Knik Canoers and Kayakers, stopped to scout Hance Rapids.

River rafters run Hance Rapids on the Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park

Rafters running Hance Rapids, entering on river left. With only a 40mm focal length, this is as close as I could get without swimming. This is one of the limitations of only having one lens, a wide angle zoom

Mature male backpacker descending steep rockslide to get around Popago Creek on the Escalante Route of the Grand Canyon

John descending a steep rockslide to get around Popago Creek just a half mile upstream from Hance Rapids

Mature male backpacker stargazing in his backpacking bivy sack above Hance Creek on the Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

John stargazing in his bivy sack at a very nice dry camp on the Tonto about a mile above Hance Creek. This type of shot is what makes hauling a tripod and remote trigger that lets me do long exposures worthwhile. This is a 4 minute exposure with the foreground lit with a LED headlamp. This was our last and fourth night on the trail.

Do Pros Still Take Photo Workshops?

by New Mexico adventure lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung

It seems that a common characteristic of all good teachers and true “masters” is that they remain life long students and learners. Taking that to heart as a workshop instructor, and seasoned pro shooter I still see great value in taking photography workshops.

The last one I attended was a day long seminar called the Flashbus taught by 2 masters of speedlight location lighting, Joe McNally and David Hobby. Hobby has one of the most popular photography blogs called the Strobist. I’ll bet that most people reading this are already aware of the strobist blog. Joe McNally, a well sought after workshop leader (I took one of his workshops in Santa Fe, 80 miles from my home), wrote two of the best books on digital flash photography that I’ve read. They are: The Hot Shoe Diaries and The Moment it Clicks.

The Flashbus was a great deal at $99 even for a working pro who is familiar with most of the material they were presenting. This year’s tour is half over. I hope they will do something similar next year. As usual, I picked up a tip or two. Also as a workshop instructor always striving to improve my own presentation, these are 2 guys to emulate.

The capabilities of camera flashes today are astonishing compared to when I first started photography in the early 80’s. In fact, after some early trial and errors, I mainly avoided the use of flash other than basic fill lighting until a few years ago. I discovered a monumental change in hot-shoe strobe capabilities. The array of effective, portable light shaping tools on the market today is also amazing. Mastering the use of portable strobes is a great growth area for expanding your creativity. It is also right up my alley, since I often schlep gear into hard to reach locations for adventure photography, fitness photography and wilderness travel photography. So the capability to get studio quality lighting to remote places has greatly enhanced the value of my imagery. I wrote about such an adventure photography shoot in a previous blog post.

Adventure lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung lighting his subjects under Wrangell-St. Elias National Park's Root Glacier located in Kennicott, Alaska

Michael DeYoung lighting his subjects under the Root Glacier with a Canon 580 EXII with wireless TTL triggered by a Radio Popper. A Honl grid was used to focus the light on the subjects and keep it off the ice walls. The camera on a tripod was triggered with a 10 second timer.

I am moving more in the direction of teaching more workshops. This summer I am scheduled to do my third weekend long workshop – Creative Outdoor Photography Workshop – in Alaska for the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers. I have done evening presentations for the ASMP Alaska chapter and for NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association. I am scheduled to lead a10 day Alaska workshop next summer (2012) for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

Learning from the masters is the time honored way to helping yourself become one. I’m still a way’s off from being a master. Like many masters I admire, I will always remain willing to pass my knowledge on and give back to the photography community that has given so much to me.

Technical Canyon Hike in Zion National Park’s “The Subway”

by New Mexico adventure photographer Michael DeYoung

I’m also always searching for the ultimate lightweight adventure photographer outfit that gets me into hard to reach places without sacrificing professional results. I haven’t found it yet but I’ll keep trying. An all day hike in Zion National Park’s Subway from the top down put my “bare bones” outfit to the test.

The top-down Subway trip is a 9 mile hike that involves cross country route finding, steep down climbing, rappelling, jewel numbing swims, a brutal nearly continuously wet 6 mile hike out, ending with a punishing 1000 foot ascent to the bottom trail head. In addition to photo gear we packed a wetsuit, canyoneering shoes, harness, rope and rappelling hardware, and all the normal day hiking gear of extra dry clothes, food, water, etc. Though we have most of our own gear, you can get all the top quality gear you need for this hike, including the wetsuits, shoes, rappelling gear, canyoneering pack, good advice, and directions – and even a shuttle – from Zion Adventure Company in Springdale.

Young couple play around on the slickrock while heading toward the entrance to the Subway hike decent, Zion National Park

Youthful energy early in the day. Hiking cross country on slickrock heading toward the entrance of the Subway

Because this was a shoot and I took two hikers that had never done this before, the day took 13 hours. In mid-October that meant all available daylight with a crack of dawn departure starting at 8000 feet at a chilly 28 degrees.

 

The lightest one body and lens outfit I have is a Canon 50D with the 10-22 EF-S. Remember that not sacrificing quality thing? The quality of this outfit just doesn’t hold a candle to the pro full-frame bodies and L lenses. So, it stays home.

The best body for this shoot would have been a 5D Mark II. Problem is I don’t have a 5D Mark II so I hauled the much heavier and trusty 1Ds Mark III. Canyon shooting is wide angle country so a full frame body is the only option for me. Canyons are a brutal environment for cameras too. There’s a constant threat of getting wet, exposed to windblown sand, and falling and banging around. This may not sound like the smartest place to bring a $6,000 camera. But the 1Ds is made for putting up with this kind of punishment. In retrospect, I’m glad I brought it.

Young couple check the topo map at the beginning of the Subway hike ,Zion National Park

Above the entrance to the Subway from the top. Checking the map for our position. Following visual clues from the guidebook instructions proved to be more useful than the map and GPS for route finding. The “old fashion” way worked better!

I went with only one lens my 17-40 mm and 2 580EX II flashes. The strobes were outfitted with the indispensable and lightweight Radio Poppers which let me place a light with wireless TTL almost anywhere I want. Completing the strobe accessories were a Honl 1/8” grid and some warming gels. Instead of a second lens, I would rather have the lighting capability of the 2 strobes. Unfortunately, one of the strobes went down early in the day so I only had one light that I could fire wirelessly from the Canon ST-E2 transmitter.

Young couple hike around deep pool of cold water in the Subway hike, Zion National Park

After downclimbing into the canyon this was our last pool we were able to skirt around before donning wetsuits and canyoneering shoes.

For support I brought my Gitzo backpack carbon fiber tripod with the Really Right Stuff B-25 ball head. The whole thing is 2.3 pounds. I love that little ball head and it’s amazing how well it holds the 1Ds with 17-40 attached. I wouldn’t use it for general purpose shooting but in tight spots where weight and size is an issue, this tripod and head combo get the job done. All the gear gets packed in a Watershed dry bag. Because we had to keep all the gear waterproof for the 2 mile technical section, every time I stopped to shoot it was 10-15 minutes just unpacking and repacking gear.

Image of male hiker holding day pack over his head while crossing a waist deep pool of cold water in the Subway hike, Zion National Park

Brigham wades an icy pool without a wetsuit.

It’s good that you easily forget about sore backs and aging aching joints after a pizza and a good brew. Already hit the reset button in my brain. I’ll be back for another punishing Subway adventure photography hike in a heartbeat.

Young couple swimming through deep pool in the Subway hike, Zion National Park, canyoneering

Brigham and Madison swimming an over the head deep pool in the upper Subway.

Female canyoneer rappelling in the uppoer portion of the Subway, Zion National Park

Madison rappelling in the upper Subway. The drops are short and easy but this one put us into a chest deep pool.

Young couple hold their backpacks over their heads while walking through deep pool in their wetsuits in the Subway, Zion National Park

Wading in wetsuits in the upper Subway.

Young couple walk through shallow water in one of Zion National Park's Subway hike pools

The Subway gets deeper and more interesting as you descend past the second rappel.

Male wading in a narrow pool in Zion National Park's Subway hike

Brigham wading in a narrow pool in the Subway.

Young couple of hikers hiking in Zion National Park's Subway

Brigham and Madison standing at the entrance of the Subway after changing into dry clothes. You can reach as far as this point from a round trip hike from the bottom up.

What is The Best Way To Carry 10 Essential Photo Accessories?

On every shoot, whether it is landscapes for a personal project or a high pressure adventure assignment, there is a group of small “essential photo accessories” that you need to have regardless of what bodies and lenses you’re using. I think the best “carrying case” for my “essential accessories” is a vest. But I never liked photo vests. They seemed best designed for press core and stadium-arena sport shooters and not for outdoor adventure shooters.

Instead I use a fly-fishing vest from Patagonia. It is made of a non absorbent fabric, has a padded neck, lots of pockets, and ends about mid rib cage. It was designed for those wading in deep water – something I commonly do. The short length of the vest doesn’t interfere with a pack’s waist belt and I’m always wearing a pack of some kind. Most photo vests are longer and do get in the way of a waist belt. Forget the padded photo vests unless you like the feel of wearing a flak vest. I mean seriously, if you really need to pad your gear, keep it in an adequately padded camera bag.

Production image of adventure photographer on a rock climbing shoot with his female climber at Tres Piedras, New Mexico

Photographer Michael DeYoung on a climbing shoot at Tres Piedras, New Mexico. Equipment used is a Canon 50D with 17-40 lens, wearing the Patagonia fly fishing vest, with a Think Tank Speed Racer fanny photo bag.

Yes, I get some strange looks sometimes like when walking down a desert trail or an urban downtown setting wearing a fishing vest. Hey, it makes a good conversation starter if nothing else. What about what I usually carry inside? Here are my 10 photo vest essentials.

1. Media Cards in a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket. This is the best CF card carrier on the market. It comes with a tether so it is always attached to a D ring on the vest.

2. Hoodman Loupe for viewing your LCD in bright conditions.

3. Electronic cable release in a heavy duty soft waterproof bag you can get at REI.

4. Lens pen, microfiber cloth, blower brush: I included these as one item since they are all related to cleaning lenses and viewfinders in one way or another.

5. Singh-Ray thin mount Lighter Brighter Circular polarizer: You still can’t duplicate the effects of a polarizer in “post.”

6. Singh-Ray 3 Stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter. I use the gradient filter a lot in Lightroom 3 but nothing is better than doing it right in the field. Still an essential filter for many location situations.

7. Singh-Ray Variable Neutral Density filter. Want silky water in bright daylight? Shooting more HD video in daylight? This filter is indispensable.

8. Disposable hand warmers (winter) and Mosquito wipes (summer).

9. Step up ring with rubber band- so I only have to carry one size filter for all lenses.

10. Gerber or Swiss Army tool: Occasionally you have to be McGyver. Be sure to remove this if you are taking your vest on a commercial flight!

11. Emergency chocolate bar. Chocolate is not a food. It is a life essential no different than oxygen and water. Comes in handy in many situations. For example, you are at Yellowstone quietly and patiently photographing a bear with cubs. Some clown with a point and shoot comes charging up to the scene and steps in front of your lens just as the bear cubs stand up on their hind legs. You could shoot him – it would be justified – but that might spook the bears. Instead, you could offer some fine chocolate while kindly explaining how f*!#ing inconsiderate he just was! He sees you’re wearing a fishing vest and thinks you’re a cool, regular guy. I’m not an authority on this but I think the Park Service would prefer that outcome over the justified shooting. It’s less paperwork for them. Worse yet the bear is charging and this could be it for you. You might as well go out with life’s best simple pleasure. Have a piece of chocolate. Don’t let a dire situation leave a bad taste in your mouth. On that note, 90% bars are the only way to go.

If you noticed, I listed 11 items under the “10 photo vest essentials.” That just proves that there are three kinds of people in this world, those who can count and those who can’t.

Seriously, you don’t have to limit yourself to 10 vest items. Some other things I commonly carry include: 1.4X tele-converter (especially when using telephoto lenses), spare batteries (usually AA), and even a strobe or small lens. Don’t make it too heavy where you never want to carry it. Find a balance that works for you.

Finally, wearing a vest for airline travel always has allowed me to get away with carrying more photo gear than I can fit in my regulation carry on and my personal item. Seems like whatever you are “wearing” isn’t considered luggage.
Male photographer photographing Musk Ox north of Nome, Alaska

ASMP’s Strictly Business Seminar is Well Worth the Cost

I attended Strictly Business 3 in Los Angeles put on by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) in January. Wow, what an enlightening and rewarding event! I’ve been a member of ASMP since 1994 but this was the first national event I’ve attended and I can’t believe I waited this long. All the speakers, most whom are working ASMP members themselves, were very good to excellent. I really appreciated ASMP president Richard Kelly. In addition to being a natural at impromptu speaking I watched him introduce himself to new and young members making all feel welcome. I think this is a great characteristic for an organizational leader to have.

Speaking of new members, I was expecting the majority of attendees to be mostly middle aged guys like me. I was pleased to see a fair amount of younger shooters and women there and interested in learning professional practices in our industry. Strictly Business has its own blog http://www.asmp.org/strictlybusiness/ where you’ll find a few more articulate posts than this one about the LA event. As in any workshop or seminar, you get out of it what you put in. This is best $250 business investment you can make. The added camaraderie and making of new friends and acquaintances was icing on the cake.

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 Following Three Basic Photography Principles led to a Successful Assignment

As a working professional who has taught a few workshops with plans to teach more, I try to do is make sure that I practice what I preach. Some of the things I try to emphasize in a workshop aren’t just things that sound profound but are fundamentals that are used regularly, work well and lead to good photography. So I thought I’d write about an assignment I received last spring that put some basic principles I’ve taught in workshops to the test.

The assignment was from a good client who wanted me to produce to a catalog cover with a Christmas holiday theme. The shot was essentially a landscape that involved a human element. The theme would be a cozy cabin decorated with holiday lights in a gorgeous mountain setting with a fresh snow look. The ideal lighting would be dawn or dusk where the lights of the cabin would balance with the ambient light. This was not that unusual except it was the middle of March, winter was waning, Christmas decorations were in the attic, and the client needed it soon with a limited budget. Without a big travel budget the client was fortunate that I could do this in my home region. Knowing the local area reduced location-scouting fees since I could do that myself and not outsource it. The Southern Rockies would be clad in snow for a few more months but getting that fresh winter wonderland look would be a longshot and getting any decorations we didn’t have especially at stores in a rural area would be challenging.

Rustic cabin with Christmas holiday lights nestled in ponderosa pines beneath the Sneffels Range, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Cabin with holiday lights nestled in ponderosa pines beneath the Sneffels Range, San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Shot on assignment for a catalog.

As I hung up the phone, a mild panic set in thinking about how I was going to pull this off in the next week. Time to step back and think about why they hired me. I believe they trusted me to deliver their visual message regardless of what challenges I would face. Location shoots call for problem solving – a critical skill for photographic success especially when many environmental elements would be beyond my control. My production plan was based on among other things three basic tried and true principles that I’ve emphasized in my workshops.

The first principle is recognizing that 80% of the success of the shot occurs before you take the camera out of the bag. In fact I think it is closer to 90% in many cases. Our problem solving would begin here as the biggest challenge was finding a suitable cabin that lined up with great San Juan Mountain scenery. Since this was a commercial shoot that involved decorating and lighting and securing permission and a property release, this meant simply driving around and shooting something pretty we found from the road was not feasible. Many hours were spent that week doing Internet searches, contacting lodges, b &b’s, real estate agents and a production company to locate a suitable location that would be affordable. Fortunately, Lauri’s diligent research paid off. Time to make a mad dash to the chosen location.

The second principle involved taking advantage of what was already in place. This principle is demonstrating you can make compelling imagery close to home before traveling to places far away. Become an expert in photographing your “backyard.” Learn the geography, seasons, lighting patterns, and keep notes on interesting locations. (There is an excellent article about shooting close to home in the February, 2011 issue of Digital Photo by Mark Edward Harris.) I admit it is hard sometimes but I always try not to become jaded at my familiar surroundings. The “I’ve seen this a thousand times” and “been there, done that” attitudes do not serve your creative vision well at all. The client was paying in part for my local area expertise and I was not about to let them down.

The third principle was knowing how to use artificial lighting. Lighting skills aren’t just for portraits and interior photography. Learning to creatively mix natural and artificial light sources is applicable even to landscape subjects. In a less than ideal sunset or sunrise, creative lighting skills can save the day. In this instance, the cabin had rather dark wood and was somewhat nestled in a tall stand of ponderosa pines. The light from the decorations and interior lights simply wasn’t enough to make the cabin “pop” from its surroundings. Fortunately a little used mono-light that packed more power than a hot shoe flash with a portable battery pack saved the day. We used RadioPopper slaves that gave me the freedom to place lights in hidden places and fire them from a fairly long distance. For this shoot the lights were hidden behind the front porch and fired wirelessly over a hundred feet away in winter conditions.

Woman building and decorating a snowman

Lauri DeYoung building a snowman during some assignment downtime to be photographed at dusk. San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Snowman bearing presents in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado at dusk

Snowman bearing gift shot as stock after a catalog assignment shoot at the same location.

The total time committed for this shoot roughly broke down to: countless hours on the internet and communicating by email and phone, 10 hours travel time, 4 hours scavenger hunting, 3 hours setting up (including Lauri building a great snowman) and one hour taking things down and packing the truck. Shoot time for the client was about an hour. Our host let us stay and shoot other things which we did the next morning.

Heat with the Sun… It Really Works!

The first real bite of winter settled in to Northern New Mexico for the past week or so. Last week lows were in the single digits to low teens and highs were in the 30’s and 40’s. Looks like Thanksgiving will be chilly with possibly the first sub-zero lows of the season. By most American standards these temperatures mean some heating is required to keep your home comfortable. The low in the house so far since this cold snap has been 67. The house heats into the 70’s during the day. These interior temperatures at face value are not particularly remarkable since most people under normal circumstances would keep their homes in that temperature range. In fact, in our Alaska homes where we had to run heat almost year round, we kept our thermostat at 62 most of the time. What makes these temps in our home remarkable is the fact that we have no heating system. Specifically, we have no traditional furnace powered by electric or fossil fuels.

Passive solar design – when done right – has almost no user involvement or moving parts and the house just keeps itself warm. The design is pretty basic. The low winter sun heats the house through south facing windows much the same as it would heat your car interior. Thermal mass inside the house (concrete, flagstone, adobe walls, etc.) stores the heat. A well insulated shell and roof and thermal blinds over the windows that you close at night keep it from escaping at night. We do get cloudy spells and once in a while, usually in late winter/spring, the house gets cool enough to use the wood stove. Last winter was a little colder than average and we burned less than half cord of wood to heat an 1100 square foot area. The same super insulation and interior thermal mass keeps wood stove heat going long after the fire is out.

Adventure, landscape, and lifestyle photographer sustainable, solar powered, strawbale home office in New Mexico

Winter scene of a solar-powered strawbale home near Taos, New Mexico with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.

This is a change that can make a real difference and have real impact on the amount of fossil fuels used for space heat. It boggles my mind why local and even state wide building codes don’t require new construction to incorporate passive solar designs. Sure it cost more up front but the savings in energy over the long term will dwarf the initial up front increase of passive solar design and pay for itself many times over. Sadly, even in progressive Northern New Mexico county local building codes do not require new homes or buildings to meet any substantial passive solar design principles. Passive solar design is really just simple and sensible science and shouldn’t be part of an ideological or political debate, but sadly it is.

Capturing a Fleeting Moment at 32,000 Feet…Always Keep Your Camera Ready.

The last time this happened it was 1988. I was on a flight from Great Falls, Montana to Seattle. Shortly into the flight I was stunned by a commanding view of the Chinese Wall of the continental divide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Being a budding photographer back then with my Pentax K1000 and 50mm lens I tried in vein to capture the awesome scene below where in the previous summer Lauri and I spent 8 days backpacking. That was the last time I tried photographing from a commercial flight.

Fast forward 22 years. After an exhausting 8 day tourism assignment in Nome, Alaska we were on a mid afternoon flight back to Anchorage. Nothing unusual. I fly a lot but in the past 10 years I try as hard as I can to get aisle seats because of my size and the shrinking of leg room that has occurred over the years on all domestic airlines. And like the majority of air travelers I’ve become absorbed in some sort of virtual world or just try to rest when I fly. Something was different about this day. It started off as a typical Alaska flight. Low clouds, gloom and doom were present on take off. Topping off at 32k it was the typical bright and sunny with a carpet of solid white cloud below. The plane was about half full which is very unusual for any summer flight to or from or within Alaska. Start editing the shoot. Get out the laptop and iPod and get to it.

Michael DeYoung arial photo of Mt. McKinley from Alaska Airlines flight

Mt. McKinley above the clouds shot out the window of a commercial Alaska Airlines Flight.

About an hour into the flight I glance out the port side window as I gasped for air at the surreal scene below. The crown of North America and her younger brother, Mt. Foraker, towered like a guardian angel above the cellular cumulus clouds, the lesser Alaska Range peaks and the broad Susitna Valley headwaters bathed in late summer light. The summits were a mere 12 thousand feet below and perfectly side lit and positioned for a decent shot. With plenty of room to slide over to the window seat, I quickly grabbed the 1Ds with 24-105mm and plastered it flat against the new window and got probably a once in 20 year shot. Not satisfied with just the intense blue high altitude I pulled out a little used filter, the Singh Ray blue/gold polarizer. I know that the uv filter in the plane window will mess with the colors but like Wow! Now I got something! Had to tone it down a little. OK, so I’ve been photographing Denali for 20 years even doing some clear air winter aerials from military aircraft but I’ve never seen it like this, from above, towering above these beautiful cumulus clouds.

Michael DeYoung photo of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker from 32,000 feet.

Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker of the Alaska Range above cumulus clouds over the northern Susitna Valley. Phogographed from an Alaska Airlines flight from Nome to Anchorage in late July. Shot with a blue/gold polarizing filter

Thanks to dumb luck where I was able to keep my lens flat against a clean almost scratchless window I got some decent images that are sharp enough for a full page print. Once again even after shooting 5,000 images in the past week, I was thankful that I kept my camera at the ready for a fleeting moment such as this.

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

Latest adventure promotion

Here is a preview of my next print promotion and eblast due out next week. This is a double sided card. Haven’t decided which side to go with for the eblast.

Here is the story behind the images. We were on location in Kennicott and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park as part of a lengthy summer assignment for the Alaska State Vacation Planner. After shooting for several days including a hike on the Root Glacier the day before, I decided to shoot some fun stuff this day. A knowledgeable guide and photography enthusiast with St. Elias Alpine Guides took Lauri and I under the Root Glacier into some fantastic ice caves. The most dangerous part of the shoot was the steep and loose approach and dealing with my claustrophobia. The ice caves reminded me of slot canyons in the southwest. They are hidden gems whose intimate beauty is not readily seen from a distance. Like slot canyons, the caves under the Root proved to be an excellent place to shoot in the middle of the day with maximum light illuminating the underside. What a great place to use the Radio Poppers. The poppers are a great little system for firing speedlites wirelessly in TTL without relying on the line of sight of the infrared triggers. And honestly, the Canon ST-E2 transmitter system fails miserably outdoors especially in harsh cold wet environs such as under untold tons of ice! The Radio Poppers have not worked flawlessly in harsh field conditions either, however, their performance is far better than just the Canon system alone. So in a small bag, we were able to carry about $2000 in lighting gear and achieve amazing results. In both shots we are using 2 580 EX 2’s with Honl gels and one of my favorite lightweight light shaping tools, the Honl 1/8 grid.

Lauri did a great job as a “mobile light stand” (a phrase coined by Joe McNally, whom I learned a lot from about location lighting with small strobes.) So TTL light fired from 100 feet away behind a wall of ice in a cold damp cave. Presto! Gotta love it.

In the closer shot the trick was to warmly light Jacob without light spilling over to the surrounding ice. This one was a bit trickier than the more distant shot and required moving around several times. The CTO gel does a great job of warming the skin so it pops out of the deep glacier blue background. In both instances, my standard technique is to use manual exposure. I get a background ambient exposure first and generally let the TTL do it’s thing using flash exposure comp to get the strobe lighting where I want it.

I was a little apprehensive about being under a glacier even though we were never more than 100 feet from the entrance. I’m glad we didn’t become a potential archeological find 10,000 years from now.