Tag Archives: scenic

Today we’re going to talk about art and the Zen of processing.  There are many opinions out there on processing after you get that awesome shot in the middle of nowhere.  Some people think that the best picture is completely unedited with no modifications from Photoshop or any other software.  Some see no problem with editing and making adjustments or enhancements.  Remember as you read this that this is an opinion article.  Art is an opinion and  if you don’t agree with mine that is awesome because you aren’t following someone, you are making your own decisions in life!

I’m from the opinion that it’s ok to make adjustments or enhancements.  We are creating art here and art isn’t about everyone seeing it the same way.  When I photograph something I see a wonderful image in my head and my imagination runs wild.  I can see ideas about processing and making changes as I look through the viewfinder.  Maybe I’m odd that I can see this way but I think it’s awesome!


Art is a very opinionated subject and I really believe that you can’t take someone’s art and say it is wrong just because you don’t like it yourself. There are many many modern pieces of pop art that I think are a waste of canvas, but others love them, and the artist loves his work too.  The same goes for photography.  When I go out to work I am shooting for my enjoyment.  Sometimes if I have an assignment I have to restrict myself to fit within certain guidelines, but usually I just go out and find what inspires me.

When you go back and process you have to decide what you want your end result to be.  If you want to represent exactly what you saw that day then you will only need to make small adjustments to exposure and white balance and probably some sharpening and noise reduction.  These are probably the minimal accepted processing adjustments to give you what you saw.  However, did you represent the image with all your senses?  When you are out there you see a place and you can feel the air around you, you can smell the odors of nature, you can hear the birds.  While you can’t show smells, sounds, or some other senses; you can portray a big emotional response.

I know how I feel when I see something and I want to overwhelm  someone and get an emotional reaction when they look at my art.  Rarely with landscapes can you show that with just simple exposure  modifications.  For example,  if you darken a sky it immediately adds a more mysterious and dramatic mood.  If you take focus away from distracting objects by blurring something then you can direct attention to a cool part of your photograph.

Photoshop and software similar to it are here to stay.   Making adjustments to photography has been around forever too.  This isn’t something new to digital.  When I used to work in a darkroom I always used dodging and burning and other ideas to produce effects that I didn’t see in the viewfinder.  If you look at some of the original negatives from Ansel Adams you will see that many of them are quite flat and dull.  He spent hours in the darkroom perfecting his images to the way he wanted his art to be seen.  Today our computers are our darkrooms, it’s no different, the only difference is that modern day photographers don’t know what fixer tastes like, ha ha ha ha.


10 Tips for Better Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is one of my most favorite subjects.  From the beaches and coastlines of Big Sur, California to the lighthouses of the Northeast, landscapes make up our world.  Everyone looks at them but few can capture the magnitude. Here are some tips to help you improve your landscape work and get the most out of your time

  1. 1. Wake up before the sun comes up.  It sucks, I don’t know anyone that likes to wake up early but that’s when you get those great shots.  The fog is still in the valley, nobody else with half a brain is awake, and the world is at peace.  The lighting at sunrise is spectacular, you can actually watch the sunlight move across the ground and expose colors that you never see in midday.
  2. 2. Equipment; don’t think that all your landscape work needs to be done with a wide angle lens.  I frequently use a 70-200 with great results.  A good wide angle zoom lens is a great choice.  18-200 is an awesome range.  You can play with composition and observe all sorts of different options.
  3. 3. Panoramas are becoming more and more common these days.  This is one thing where it’s ok to join the pack and do the same as everyone else.  Photoshop has an incredible panorama tool, use it.  The days of 8×10 are gone, don’t worry about what the dimensions of your image are.  It’s your photograph, show that entire mountain range with the ocean leading out the side.  Your eyes see it, show it in your photography.
  4. 4. Go where nobody else goes.  As I drive up and down the California coast I always see signs that say “no trespassing” and that’s a good rule to follow.  However, go up to someone’s house and ask if you can walk on their land and take some pictures.  Just explain what you want to do and offer to email something to them when you get back home.  I’ve never been told to go away and have never been denied admission after I ask.  Just remember, some of the people that have beautiful views are rich and powerful, so when John Travolta answers the door don’t become a stupid goofy groupie.
  5. 5. Get on the ground.  The true mark of a good photographer is that we’re not afraid to get dirty.  Get down on your stomach and try some shots with a different perspective.  Or get high up on something, climb a tree, hang off the side of a mountain.  Find a new way to approach your subject.  Think of the Golden Gate Bridge; millions of pictures are take of it each year, but how many people take the extra 10 mins to climb down to the shore and get the water’s edge in the foreground?
  6. 6. Take pictures of cloudy skies.  It always happens, I’ve got a great picture with no clouds in the sky, and I’m not local to the area so I can’t go back and reshoot another day.  Well, it’s cheating, but if you have a big collection of just cloudy sky pictures you can Photoshop in some clouds and make that dull sky come alive again.
  7. 7. Travel alone without your assistant.  For me this is the best way to inspire myself.  When I travel alone my mind is 100% on photography.  I don’t get distracted and I don’t have to keep someone else company.  If I have someone else in the car there is lots of useless babble and then you have to worry about if they are hungry and they always have to find a bathroom at the wrong moment.  Also, they won’t want to sit for an hour waiting for the light to get perfect.  You will compromise your quality to make your partner happy.  Keep your quality and inspiration at the top, leave them at home.
  8. 8. Take several different exposures of the same image. This is called bracketing, and while most people reading this know all about it few do it anymore.  Most cameras today have an auto bracketing setting.  I use mine all the time. I’ll often take 5 or 7 different exposures of the image.  90% of the time I use just the normal regularly exposed image, but if I decide I want to have greater highlights or shadows all the information is there in a different picture.  This also leads to the HDR world, which I’m not going to even go near in this article, but HDR is here to stay and multiple exposures are a necessity for it.
  9. 9. Pay the extra money to get into parks and travel on scenic roads.  For example the 17 mile drive at pebble beach, California.  It’s $9 to drive along this road and I almost didn’t go the first time I was there.  Well, I’m glad I paid the money, it’s one of the most scenic places along the California coast and if I never paid the toll I would have missed out on some of the greatest pictures on that whole trip.  The same goes for state and national parks.
  10. 10. Finally, be prepared; bring food and water with you in the car.  If you are hungry then your creativity will suffer.  Make sure you have a full tank of gas.  Nothing will screw with your brain more than running near the E and looking for a gas station instead of a great landscape.
  11. 11. Ok, one more.  Find your sunset image way before sunset.  I start looking for my sunset place about 3 hours before the sun sets.  It sounds like a long time but remember, you might have to hike a half-mile to get that unique vantage point, or it might take you an hour just to find a good location.  Once I find my location I can sit and wait and relax.  I get on my iPhone and start looking for hotels in my area so as soon as the sun is down and it’s dark I can just drive strait there and relax for the rest of the night before I have to wake up at that horrid time before daylight, ha ha ha.











Death Valley Photography Travel

Death Valley is one of the most unique places on the earth.  The colors and landscapes you can see there are amazing and I haven’t found anywhere else where you can photograph all of them in such close proximity.   Death valley is huge and without good planning you can easily get stranded without gas in the middle of literally nowhere.

I’ve been there several times and even with my knowledge of the roads and trails I’ve had my share of close calls.  I’m going to share some of my tips and tricks to see the most sights and avoid the common mistakes as well.  Death valley has many many things to see but some are more spectacular than others.  It’s a real let down to travel 2 hours to see something and get there and say to yourself “that’s it?”  This guide will help you to plan a good trip and keep you safe.

For most people your adventure will start in Las Vegas where you pick up your rental car.  Anything four wheel drive is fine for the trip you don’t need a hummer, but the luxury is nice.  My first trip I had a small jeep, remember, you are in a desert and dust gets everywhere!  Jeeps are great off road and durable but they do not keep out the dust.  It takes about 2 hours to drive from Vegas to Death Valley.  Before you leave Vegas make sure you stock up on food and water. The stores in Death Valley are not well stocked and the prices are outrageous.  A can of chili was $4.29!!  Gasoline prices are a bit higher than civilized areas but not too crazy, just make sure you fill up any time you pass a gas station.

As you drive towards Death Valley from the town of Pahrump you will see a sign for Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge.  This is a nice place to stop and stretch your legs.  There isn’t too much to see there but it’s a nice little creek and some birds that are unique to the area.  I haven’t ever seen any other wildlife in this “wildlife refuge” however.

Camping is the best way to see things on this trip.  You can camp virtually anywhere in the park and you’re not restricted to campgrounds.  If camping isn’t your thing there are several motels in the park.  They are about a 1 or 2 star hotel quality.  The motel at Stovepipe Wells is the most centrally located and if you use that as your base you can see many things going back and forth each day.  The advantage of camping is that you can camp in close proximity to great views for the sunrise and sunset hours.  Driving in Death Valley in the dark is not something I would advise except on the paved roads.

As you drive in you will see Zabrinskie point on your left.  This is probably the most photographed place in the entire park.  The colors of the mountains are spectacular at dusk as the sun shines down on the valley.  Keep driving into the park and make sure you stop at the Furnace Creek visitor center to get a map of the backcountry roads.  This is not the normal map; you have to ask for it specifically from a ranger. Without this map you WILL get lost.

Death Valley is all about the backcountry roads.  You can see some of the sites from the paved roads and even these sites are amazing.  However to see the very unique things you need to get off the pavement and start exploring. The majority of the roads are well maintained and you will see people driving them with normal cars.  Just remember it’s a dirt road so it takes longer to stop than it will on pavement, and keep your speed low to reduce dust.

Some of the best things to see in the park are hidden and I think that is a good thing.  You have to travel and earn the right to see some of these spectacular sites.  Titus canyon is one of these for sure.  Take the one-way road from Rhyolite ghost town and you will be treated to spectacular mountain views and canyons reaching to the sky on both sides as you travel through.

The racetrack is the famous Death Valley moving rocks site.  This is a good place to camp and get some really spectacular sunrise or sunset photographs.  The drive there also gives you a chance to see a very dramatic cactus forest that just appears suddenly and then ends the same way.

Travel north from the start of the racetrack road and work your way to Eureka Sand dunes, the tallest sand dunes in California.  I’ve never made it to the top yet but I keep getting higher each time. Someday…  On the way there you will see a huge sulfur mine on your right side. Very dramatic orange and white colors and a huge opportunity for photography in the whole area.  You can easily spend a day there.  If your timing is right when you are at the sand dunes you can have a jet from the nearby air force base fly overhead.  The dunes are so high that you feel like you could hit the plane by throwing a rock at it!

If you have the off road driving skills then continue from the Eureka dunes through steel pass and end up at the Saline Valley Dunes and Salt Flats.  These dunes and flats are well out of the way for most people and receive few visitors.  You can reach it from the main road but using the main road will add many many more miles and hours.

A final out of the way thing to see is Darwin Falls.  The turnoff is just after Panamint springs.  Panamint springs has a great little restaurant with thousands of pictures on the walls and honestly this is probably the best little hidden restaurant in the park.  Darwin falls is nestled at the end of a nice walking trail in a green leafy forest.  It’s amazing how such a place can exist in a desert.  There is a 2nd waterfall above the first you can reach by taking a very narrow and somewhat dangerous trail.  I would estimate only about 500 people a year see the 2nd waterfall because of the difficulty getting to it.

There are many many many more things to see in Death Valley but these are just a few.  There are entire books written on the park so there is no way to mention it all here.  Make sure you see the salt flats below sea level, that’s easy to find just south of the furnace creek ranch.  Almost everything there is 500% better when photographed at dawn or dusk so try to plan ahead to be at your locations safely at the right time.

If you want a really interesting sight and you have a very clear day, go to Furnace Creek Ranch and look towards the Panamint Mountains.  If you have a very good telescope or binoculars you will see what looks like two large dark caves or holes in the mountains.  These are rumored to be the windows of a long ago abandoned government alien research station.

Safety is important there, drink a lot of water, about a gallon a day per person.  Most modern rental cars have no problems with overheating. Make sure you have a spare and a jack and know how to change the tire.  Flat tires are the most common mechanical breakdowns in the park.  There is a repair station in Furnace Creek.  If you do get a flat and are driving on the spare make sure you get the old tire fixed before you head out on the trail the next day.

Warning, when a sign says “advanced four wheel skills needed” believe the sign.  This is the only place in the world where I’ve actually agreed with this sort of sign.  Death valley has death in the name for a reason.  If you are not someone with advanced off road skills then do not go on the advanced roads or you will probably have an accident and fall off the side of the mountain and be seriously injured or die.  If you want to know why then park your car and walk for a mile on the trail.  You will understand, and it only gets worse as you go on.  The advanced trails are narrow with no room to turn around and there is no turning back, so once you start you have to go all the way.  Luckily there are few of these roads and there are always long ways around to see the same thing at the end.

Death Valley is home to thousands of abandoned mines.  Please remember to stay out of the mines, as they are dangerous.  There can be poison cyanide inside, unstable rafters and floors.  If you enter and get hurt it can be days or never before someone finds you.

Zion National Park

mountains, originally uploaded by Michael Leggero.

Zion National Park

mountains, originally uploaded by Michael Leggero.

Winter Photography Preperation

Winter is coming and we need to get ready for winter photography.  There are several different challenges that a photographer needs to overcome to produce good images. Cameras, lenses, batteries and all sorts of equipment behaves differently in the cold and we will go over the best ways to adjust to the weather and have good results.

Cold plays havoc on our equipment.  First of all, batteries will not last as long in the cold, it drains them much faster than normal.  Make sure you have a few spare batteries and store them in your vehicle or in your front pocket where they will stay warm.  That way when your battery in the camera runs down you can have a fresh one that wont’ be drained.  This isn’t’ as much of a factor if you are working out of your car because the car will keep things warm, but if you are out hiking it will drain fast.

In the extreme cold you have to remember that things will work slower as well. Autofocus will slow down and sometimes your memory card won’t write as fast.  Make sure you remember this when you are choosing your subject.

When you take your camera out in the cold it gets cold.  You have to be very careful when you bring it back inside.  Everyone knows that when you wear your glasses outside and then come back in they get all fogged up.  Same thing can happen to your camera and lenses.  Condensation or moisture forming on the camera when it warms up is obviously a bad thing because it will form on the outside AND the inside where you can’t see it.  This is actually simple to avoid.  BEFORE you go inside, take a zip lock bag and put your camera inside it.  As the camera warms up the condensation will form on the outside of the bag and your camera will be dry inside.  Make sure you have the bags with you and make sure you have bags that are big enough to fit the whole camera and lenses all at once.  A garbage bag will work as well but you have to make sure you have it sealed well.

It usually goes without saying make sure you are prepared for the weather yourself, but many photographers are more concerned with getting their equipment ready that they forget about themselves.  I’m a big one for comfort, I like to be warm and not freezing.  I live near an army base so I can get some really cool clothing. To explain things easier I will start at the feet and move up, ha ha.

Boots are super important, you never know where you will be and what’s ahead of you.  There are many times where I have been walking along and my foot crashed through some ice into water.  Make sure you have a good pair of boots, waterproof them with mink oil.  If they are high enough tuck your pants into the boots before you lace them up, then you wont’ get snow in  your socks.  Socks are critical, I have an extra pair in my car for those water mistakes.  Wool is your friend when it comes to socks.

Pants are pants, we’re not talking about Arctic tundra expeditions here, just a normal pair of jeans work good, same for a shirt.  Your coat is super important though.  I wear an army gortex parka.  You can find them on ebay.  They have huge pockets everywhere and zippers, velcro, drawstrings, and the hood is functional, not just for decoration.  Gortex will keep out the water and let your sweat out, and if you sweat and get wet from it you can get hypothermia fast–very bad.  These coats are not usually insulated well because the army uses a theory of wearing layers.  So under the coat I usually have polartec fleece on.  I don’t know what we ever did before fleece.

Hats and gloves are last on the list.  Gloves and photography don’t mix, but sometimes you have to wear them.  Thinsulate gloves seem to be the best I’ve found so far.  There are also some gloves where the fingertip comes off, those work good too.  As far as a hat, I wear the goofiest looking hat in the world.  Basically I have an elmer fudd hunting cap.  Go to your hunting and fishing store and get one of those horrid bright orange hats that has the flaps that go down around your face.  They are usually fur lined and they are sooo warm.  If you are lucky  you can find one that isn’t bright orange.

Some other small things that make it easier, cross country ski’s work well and there are tons of established trails all over the place in the winter.  Most of the trails are beautiful and wind through a forest giving you limitless photo opportunities.  Snowshoes are a great way to get around as well, and today’s snowshoes are easy to put on and very lightweight.

Don’t drive beyond the ability of your car.  It’s easy to get distracted and keep going “just a bit further” on that unplowed road. But it’s a real pain when you have to dig out for an hour just cause you drove 10 feet too far.. Carry a small shovel in your trunk just incase.  Also, if you are anything like me you are often out of cell phone range and that’s the only time anything will go wrong.  If the car dies and you are stuck there don’t try to walk out in the dark.  Make sure you have the necessary supplies if you have to sleep in your car, blanket, food, water.   Then the next day when you have to walk, make sure you leave a note in your car where you are walking to so the rescuers can find you.

Winter photography is a lot of fun and very rewarding. The images are stunning. This seems like a lot of preparation but it’s pretty simple once you have it set up the first time, after it’s all in place you just get in the car and drive and enjoy the day.


Florida Bird Photography

The time of year has come when the weather is just horrible.  At least in Northern New York it is horrible.  Up  here the skies are gray, it’s rainy, it’s cold, just no fun to be outside at all.  Many of us are faced with a similar problem, it’s discouraging and you just don’t want to get up and go out and photograph things.  Now is the time to go to florida!  If you time it right you can save a ton of money going down there and avoid all the tourists as well.

Florida is traditionally a tourist destination, but early to mid November and most of January it’s dead there.  The hotels are empty and traffic is light.  The locals are in a better mood as well which is a huge advantage!

Bird photography in Florida is simply the best in the United States without question.  There are more species there than anywhere else and they are completely comfortable with people approaching them.  You don’t need blinds, camouflage, or any sort of difficult equipment.  Simply get out of your car and go watch them and shoot away.

And if bird photography isn’t your favorite thing there are great coastlines, docks, lighthouses, marinas, the possibilities are endless.  I’m a nature photographer so I’m going to share with you some of the best places I’ve found to get some great bird images.


viera wetlands, brevard county waste water treatment facility   many birds and eagles and aligators and stuff N wickham rd  rockledge, fl

wakodahatchee wetlands   wastewater treatment facility  many birds and aligators and stuff 13042 jog rd, delray beach

1200 lakeshore blvd  st. cloud  spoon bill cranes and chicks walking   take trails from boat ramp

900 joe overstreet rd. kenansville  driving along road, pond on left, and marsh on right at end of road… tons of birds, eagles, owls, cranes

601 lakeshore blvd  kissimme  many wading birds

cape coral burrowing owls at library

922 sw 39th terrace  cape coral

laurel road dump   sign in at office… eagles, hawks, aligators

knights trail rd, nokomis

Honeymoon island state park  ospreys and possibly owls  1 causeway boulevard, dunedin, fl


Those are just a few specific places that will get you started, but there are tons more around.  Everglades national park is there too,  you can spend a day there easily at just one small section of the park.

Bird photography is tricky, you can spend years til you get it right so practice practice practice.  With the amount of birds around you can try all sorts of techniques as well.  Birds in flight are one of the biggest challenges most of us face.  Practice on simple shore birds and sea gulls.  You can sit for a few hours and work on tracking them in flight and figure out how they move and the best ways to take the picture.  After working on them for a while you have become much better at photographing birds in flight so you will have a much easier time when you see those eagles, owls, or cranes that look much cooler than an ugly sea gull.

Also, remember that you want to blur the background as much as possible.  Try to keep your aperture around 2.8 or 4.0.  Don’t be afraid to use a higher ISO if necessary, a picture with some noise is better than no picture at all.

As far as equipment this is one type of photography where bigger and more expensive IS better.  Sorry, but hands down, a 600mm F4 is going to do things that are impossible to do with a 70-300 with a teleconverter.  Now, I understand most people are on a budget and not everyone can buy the big glass, but don’t get discouraged.  Try to think of different ways to get the shot if you are limited on the lenses you have.  You might have to get your feet wet walking in the water to get closer, or you might have to use a bit of stealth and sneak up some.

The main equipment I use for birds is either a 600mm or the sigma 300-800mm.  I do keep a smaller 70-200 attached to a body all the time and this is the one I have closest to me.  Think of it this way, you are driving along, or walking on a trail and suddenly 10 feet ahead you see your subject.  A spur of the moment image is not something you will need big lenses for.  This is something you will need to click fast before it flies off.  Anything beyond 10 feet and you will have time to set up the tripod and bigger lens.

Teleconverters are also very important.  Even with huge lenses sometimes you just can’t get close enough.  I’ve seen photographers with 600’s and 2 teleconverters stacked behind it.. I’ve done it myself, ha ha.  The problem with using all those converters is you lose light and autofocus speed, sometimes you won’t be able to autofocus at all.   All my cameras and lenses will autofocus with a 2x converter but that may differ depending on what body and lens you are using at the time.

No matter which setup you choose, stability is key.  Tripods are your friend.  Live view mode is your friend.  Your tripod is just as important as the expensive lens you have with you, get a big heavy duty one, period.  Ball heads do not work for bird photography, you need a wimberly style head.  It allows you to pan and follow the bird in flight and has no trouble supporting 15lbs of camera and lens.

Live view is also a huge help, I’ve written articles on the advantage of live view, but essentially it’s a mirror lockup and still allows you to watch your subject.  A remote shutter release either infrared, radio or cable is important too.  If you are set up watching a nest with two teleconverters on a big lens, the slightest touch will give you camera shake, so some sort of remote shutter release is important.

It sounds like bird photography is expensive.  Well, it is.  Sorry but it’s not a type of photography that will be something you can just pick up and do cheaply but the rewards are amazing.  There are exceptions to every rule and even if you can’t afford all the expensive equipment you can still get out there and enjoy it though.  Don’t get discouraged wishing you had the biggest best lens. Have fun with the birds you can work with and then when you can afford more you can step up to the “advanced birds”.