Alabama Jubilee

Every weekend before Memorial Day is the Alabama Jubilee in Decatur, AL, which is not very far from where I live.  The Alabama Jubilee has many things to offer, but the biggest draw, for me, is always the hot air balloons.  They average about 60 balloons each year for the balloon events.  They offer many different balloon events, but the most popular is the "Hare and Hound" Race.  During the race one balloon designated as the "hare" will launch first.  Then a signal is given to the other balloons that they are allowed to inflate and launch.  Once in the air they try to follow the "hare".  After a time the "hare" will land and put-out a large fabric 'X' on which the following balloons will try to drop a bean-bag marker onto the center.  Whoever is closest wins.

I have been going to this event for 6 or 7 years now and many times the weather will keep the balloons from flying.  This year the weather was very iffy.  It had rained a ton the night before and it was pretty cloudy, and very wet Saturday morning.   The low clouds cause the postpone of the launch by an hour or so.  When they finally announced the race was on, many pilots still choose not to fly because of the weather conditions.  The balloons that did not fly still inflated and put on a show for the crowd.

Every year talking with photographers before the event, there are always a few things that come up.  First is the old "I didn't know which lens to bring"  and then, for those that have been there before, it's the "I hope I can get something different than before". 

The first is an easy choice for me.  Instead of trying to switch lenses back and forth, of carry multiple bodies around, I simply choose the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD with my Nikon D500.  Using this lens gives me the ability to shoot wide and long in a simple twist of the lens barrel and saves me from fumbling around with multiple lenses or bodies.  

The second topic of discussion about finding something different was a bit easier to deal with this year, too.  The low clouds were fantastic because once the balloons launched into the clouds, it looked as if they were simply disappearing.  Another thing were the rain puddles left over from the night before.  They made for a lot of soggy feet, but the trade off was some pretty great reflections of the balloons.  So, for those photographers that got up and gambled on the weather, they were rewarded with conditions you don't normally get for this event.

This image is one where the balloons looked as if they are simply disappearing into the clouds.  I really liked these images simply because it was something I had not seen or photographed at this event.  It was a very nice treat!

Equipment list: Nikon D500 and Tamron 18-400 F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD

EXIF Info: Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 400, Compensation: +1

Portland Head Light

When we arrived in Boston on our way to Maine, we knew one of our first stops was going to be Portland Head Light.  In fact, we shot it once at sunset, went back the next morning for sunrise and again on our way back home when it was in immense fog.  We certainly got our chances at it, but I think sunrise offered the best opportunity.

Portland Head light is the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine. It's also probably the most photographed lighthouse in the USA. 

Aperture Priority, F/8, 30 seconds, ISO 1250

This image was made before the sun had risen.  If you look closely you can still see several stars in the sky.  You can also see another lighthouse way off in the distance.  That is Ram Island Ledge Light, which is now a privately owned lighthouse.

I created this image using my Canon 5D III, Tamron 24-70mm Lens and Sirui W-2204 Tripod.

 

An Incredible Sunset

Today I am sharing another image from The Rock Factory.  Yesterday I mentioned how incredible the sunset was that evening.  It was the best I had seen in quite some time.

The Rock Factory has a bunch of these hoodoos that are very interesting.  A hoodoo is a rock formation that usually consist of soft rock topped by a harder rock that doesn't erode as easily.  The less eroded stone on top then protects the softer rock that forms the column form further erosion, too.  When you look at these formations, you think "How in the heck does that giant rock balance up there?".  That's how.  

This is such an amazing location, but despite all it has to offer the thing I enjoyed most was shooting with a few friends and avoiding the massive crowds that were at all of the popular, iconic spots.  

Aperture Priority, F/11, ISO 100, 0.4 seconds, Exposure Compensation -1EV, 15mm

These giant rocks resting on the ground made perfect foreground elements that serve a few purposes.  First, they help anchor the image, which, in turn gives the image depth.  They also, in conjunction with the hoodoo, help to lead you to the real subject...the sunset.

This image was made with my Canon 5D III and Tamron 15-30mm Lens.  This combo was mounted on my Sirui N-3204X Tripod and K-30X Ballhead.

Schwabachers Landing

One of the most iconic spots in all of Grand Teton National Park is Schwabachers Landing.  

It is actually a boat landing used to gain access to the Snake River.  It is a popular wildlife viewing area, as well.  A quick, quarter of a mile walk from the parking lot leads you to the area seen in today's photograph.  This is one of the most popular photographic spots in the park.  And why not? You get the majestic mountains framed by evergreen trees on both sides and the still water reflects everything perfectly.  That being said, I've never been too fond of this shooting location.  Oddly enough, I think it photographs better from the parking area (this is just personal preference).  However, on the morning we were there, it really didn't matter where you photographed it from.  The light was pretty amazing that morning.  The clouds above and behind the mountains lit up very nicely and there was a nice cloud inversion in the valley, too. The water was still and gave a magnificent reflection of all of it.  It was tough to take a "bad" photograph on this morning.

Aperture Priority, 0.3 seconds, F/11, ISO 100, Exposure Compensation -2/3, 38mm

I recently read a discussion on Facebook about iconic, or popular photographic destinations.  The argument was more concerning the number of people that show up before sunrise at these locations.  Someone then said "I don't want to be that crowded to get the same shot millions of people have already.".  I myself am not a huge fan of the crowds, either, however I disagree with the "same shot as millions of people have already" part.  You can never take the same landscape photograph twice.  Simply cannot.  The light is always different, the clouds, wind, etc.  The location may be the same, but the images from day to day never are.  That's why photographers go to the same locations over and over.  I've shot the same scenes many, many times and always have different results.  The image above is now my favorite image from this particular location.

This image was made using my Canon 5D Mk III and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All resting atop my Sirui tripod and K-40X Ballhead.

Another From Mesa Arch

What a week last week was!  First, it started in Moab, UT in Arches National Park and Canyonland National Park, then a long drive up to Pinedale, WY to tour the Wind River Mountain Range, finally on to Jackson for the next 5 days for our workshop in Grand Teton National Park.  It was a week of almost no sleep and no reliable internet, so you didn't hear from me much at all.  It was also a blast!

Last week I shared an image with you form Mesa Arch.  That one was just after that sun had risen above the horizon.  This image was before that.  The sky and clouds are awesome but the arch hadn't lit up underneath just yet.  I'll show you that one tomorrow ;).

If you ever get the chance to shoot this scene at sunrise, get there early!  We were there at 3:30 am.  There is only about 8 feet or so of "prime" real estate to shoot from so you need to be there first to get it.  After sunrise and we packed up to leave there were at least 100 other people behind us.  Not all of them were photographers, but we couldn't have photographed with them in front of us regardless.

Aperture Priority, F/8, ISO 100, 5 seconds.

Image captured with my Canon 5D Mk III and Tamron 15-30mm Lens.  That combo was resting atop my Sirui tripod and K-40X Ballhead.

Taking a break from birds

Several months back I was asked to do an article about long exposures using Tiffen ND (neutral density) filters, more specifically, the Tiffen Apex ND filter from their XLE Filter series.  The Apex is a 10 stop ND filter.  It is also equipped with a standard near IR blocker and a hot mirror to eliminate all IR pollution that you might normally get with long exposures.

This image was made at a lake close to my home.  It was taken near mid day, but using the filter I was able to get the exposure over a minute.  Which allowed me to show some movement in the clouds and water, leaving it looking much smoother than it was.

ISO 50, 24mm, F/22 @ 1 minute 14 seconds

Hover over the image to see camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

If you aren't familiar with using Solid ND Filters there are a few things to keep in mind.  You will need to compose and focus before attaching your filter.  Most likely you won't even be able to see through the camera after attaching the filter.  Be sure to switch your lens to manual focus.  If not, your camera will try to auto focus, which it will never be able to do, with the filter attached.  Another good tool to have is a ND Filter Calculator app to keep on your smartphone.  There are several of them that you can download for free and they all do the same thing.  You can put in your base exposure (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) and the number of stops of your ND filter and it does the math to calculate your new shutter speed.  It's super simple.  Even I can use it!

This image was made using my Sony A7R II, Tamron 24-70mm Lens and Tiffen Apex ND Filter.  Of course, a minute long exposure requires a very stable tripod.  For this shot I used my Sirui T-2205X and G-20X Ballhead.  Although this is designed to be more of a "travel" setup, it is more than sturdy enough to hold your wide angle lens for long exposure photography.

Sunrises and Seafood

Next week I will be in Apalachicola, FL conducting two separate workshops during the week for Nature In Focus Workshops.

I am really looking forward to getting back down there.  I enjoy the area so much.  It really offers some great sunrises and sunsets, too.  I am getting to try out some new products...and there is the seafood. ;)

Here is one of the many scenes from the area.  Oyster boats at sunrise.  

ISO 100, 15mm, F/11 @ 1/15th

I took this image using a borrowed Tamron 10-24mm Lens.  It worked out wonderfully for this scene.

Shooting the Same Locations Multiple Times

I'm sure you've heard someone say before "Technically, you could never shoot the same photo twice.".  That couldn't be more true in nature or landscape photography.

Let's take this barn in GTNP on Mormon Row for instance.  It's been photographed a zillion times.  I've photographed it about 10 or more times now myself.  While, I still don't think I have the best shot I'll get of it, I got the one I am most happy with, so far, this past spring.  This is one of the reasons I will shoot the same locations multiple times.  There is always something different with Mother Nature.  If you photographed this same scene every day you would get a different image each time.

I always enjoy photographing a new location but many times I will revisit the same locations multiple times before I get a shot I'm pleased with.  I may be pleased with an image I take at a location then when I return I may have a better sky, or warmer light that I think makes my new image better. 

ISO 100, 24mm, F/16 @ 1/20th second

This image was made using my Sony A7R, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.

Sunset at Cunningham Cabin

Whenever I go to the Tetons, I always try to visit Cunningham Cabin.  It seems like I generally have much better luck with sunrises than sunsets in the Tetons, but I always try to get to Cunningham Cabin for at least one sunset.

ISO 100, 35mm, F/16 @ 1/15 second

Now, I'm always a fan of the sunstars, so when I can, I usually include them.  If you want to get a nice sunstar all you have to do is shoot at a lower aperture, like F/16 or lower.  Then once you've got your aperture selected, wait for the sun to just touch the horizon.  Once it first hits the horizon you only have a matter of a couple of minutes before the ability to get that sunstar is gone.

In the old days, I used to take bracketed photos of a scene like this.  What I mean is, I would take a photo that exposes for the foreground, then I would take a photo that exposes for the background, then I would blend them together in Photoshop.  This is the same effect you would get if you were using a Graduated Neutral Density Filter in the field.  

Over the last year and a half or so I've had with my Sony A7R, I began to notice that I could just take one shot and the sensor in that camera captures so much detail, that I can pull all of the detail I need out of one picture.

I processed this image in Lightroom then jumped into On1's Perfect Effects to finish it off.  Images like this benefit greatly from the "Golden Hour Enhancer" plugin found in On1's Perfect Effect Suite.  After applying that preset, I added another one of their presets for a vignette, "Big Softy".  "Big Softy" is by far my favorite preset for a vignette, however it was a little too strong for my taste on this image.  That's ok though, because I have the ability to dial down the opacity of each preset...just like you would do in Photoshop.

The image was made with my Sony A7R, LA-EA4 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens. 

More Yellowstone Sunset

Keeping with the theme of the last few posts...

Here's another sunset image I made in Yellowstone.  I was super excited to get these sunset images at Yellowstone.  I had this conversation with more than a handful of people that Yellowstone isn't really a "landscape" park.  Meaning, it's real tough to find a good landscape image there.  The people that had been there, totally agreed, while the folks that hadn't visited the park before couldn't figure out why I would say such a thing.  

The Yellowstone area is a lot of thick forest, which makes things a bit difficult.  The other thing about the park is if you want to include any of the geysers into your image, then you have to work on the geyser's schedule.  Many times that isn't the same as the sun's or yours.  

So, being able to get a few landscape images of sunset in Yellowstone I was super excited.  Here's one of those.

ISO 100, 35mm, F/16 @ 1/10th second

This area was one of the many pools scattered along the Upper Geyser Basin in The Old Faithful area.  I'm not even sure this pool had a name.  It should be called The "this is where I knew sunset was going to be awesome" Pool.

This image was made with my Sony A7R, LA-EA4 Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All mounted a top my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod and BBH-200 Ballhead.