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Broadening Horizons; 1997

1997 held “more of the same” (flowers and wildlife locally). But it turned out to be a big year for me (perhaps one of the biggest and certainly a turning-point in my photographic journey).  I made my first “photography-dedicated” trip (the first of 2 that year), spending a week in New Mexico.  That fall, I made my first fall-foliage trip to Michigan’s U.P.  I also photographed some of the beach areas of Nags Head, North Carolina, where we vacationed every summer for a number of years.  By now, I had been stricken with a serious case of NAS (“Nikon Acquisition Syndrome), exacerbated by NLAS (New Lens Acquisition Syndrome).  By now, I was carrying the “prosumer” Nikon N90s and an old F2 as my backup body.  For different reasons, those two bodies will remain in my memory as the very best Nikon gear I ever owned.  I had also managed a collection of lenses (perhaps the best of which was the Nikkor 60mm “micro” prime lens).  Most of my flower images were made with that lens.

Redrock Formation Jemez, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Redrock Formation
Jemez, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

1997 turned out to be a big year for me, photographically

My sister and brother-in-law had moved to New Mexico recently, and she and I talked about me making a trip out there.  In the Spring that year, I traveled to Albuquerque, and spent a week touring the state, with my sister as my guide.  We covered much of the state and saw some of the best of America’s outdoor beauty.  It was a trip that opened my eyes to the photographic opportunities there, and at the same time, underscored the limitations of my skills and experience.  The Jemez red rock shot is a prime example.  While I carried a split neutral-density filter by this time, I really didn’t have it down well and it takes some skill and patience to use it properly.  I don’t have the data and don’t remember specifically, but I suspect this image was shot with Fuji Velvia film, which was a very contrasty color negative film.  I didn’t get the exposure right here and the split ND filter rendered the sky much too dark.  While I tried to have a print of this made using a silver masking technique used in color printing labs in those days, the result was not what I would have liked.  It was not until many years later, when I was able to use Photoshop on scanned digital file of this image that I was able to finally make an acceptable print.

Ground Squirrel Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Albert’s Squirrel
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I was fascinated by the pointy ears on these ground squirrels which were all over Bandolier National Park.  A little quick research enlightens.  They are called Albert’s Squirrels and are pretty common from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico.  The ruins and the old cave dwellings once inhabited by the native population there, were a wonder to behold.  I didn’t do them justice.  If you are a fan, you might want to stop over at my Upper Peninsula eBook co-author, Kerry Leibowitz’s site, Lightscapes, and see some of his work.  He has some magnificent imagery of Bandolier.  We saw many great places in New Mexico and I made many images.  However, I returned to New Mexico for a week in October of 2008 and returned to many of the places.  It was a much more photographically successful trip, so I will save the remaining NM images for later.

Bandolier National Monument Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Bandolier National Monument
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

I have come to see all but a few filters as gimmicky

My family had tradition from sometime in the 1980s, of spending a week on the Beach at the Atlantic Ocean.  My wife and her brother and his in-laws all lived in the Washington, D.C. area, and we ranged from Delaware, to Ocean City, Maryland for the first few of those year.  Eventually, as families grew and the need for larger rentals became an issue, we migrated this summer trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  By now, my photography “fire” had been restarted, and I was not about to travel to a new place without my gear and some planned early morning excursions.  I took a number of images during those years.  This year, I was playing around with filters, and had an orange split-density filter.  I made the image here with it (I also made the image without the filter).  Perhaps including this one, I have come to see filters — by and large — to be gimmicky.  My own rule of thumb is to never put anything in front of a lens unless you need it to enhance the image.  To me that means a polarizing filter or a neutral density (full and/or split).  I do not use other filters in most cases.  But for some reason I kept this one.  Maybe I was just “feeling orange,” when I was culling.  :-).

Nikon N90s Fuji Velvia Nikkor 60mm Micro f16; 1/6 sec. Sunset Grad

Nikon N90s
Fuji Velvia
Nikkor 60mm Micro
f16; 1/6 sec. Sunset Grad

Because my in-laws lived in the Washington, D.C. area, we generally combined a trip to visit them with the beach trip, driving to D.C. for a few days; then to the beach; then back to D.C. before returning to Michigan.  The D.C. area has a lot of natural wonder of its own, not to mention historical areas.  Over the years, I was able to visit a number of (mostly Northern Virginia) places to shoot.  One of them was Great Falls National Park on the Potomac River.  There is a Virginia side and a Maryland side.  Each has some pretty photogenic views.  In 1997, I visited the park on the Virginia Side.  One of the most impressive drops I have ever seen is at Great Falls on this side of the Park.

he Spout, Potomac River Great Falls National Park Copyright Andy Richards 1997

he Spout, Potomac River
Great Falls National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Sometimes luck plays a big part in imagery

Known as “The Spout,” it is a favorite for thrill-seeking kayakers.  As you can see, it is not for the unskilled or for the faint of heart.  I had just finished shooting the “scenic” shown here, when I saw a flash in the sunlight.  A couple kayakers were in the water and heading directly for the spout.  I didn’t have the longer lens on at the time and knowing that a scramble to change quickly would be futile, I missed any real opportunity of capture.  But for a heart-stopping few seconds, the kayaks, one by one, completely disappeard in that water.  And then, out they squirted.  What a ride.  Opportunity missed?  I went back to my framing and shooting of the “scenic.”  Sometimes luck plays a big part in imagery.  A couple minutes later, I saw some activity down the bank.  One of the kayakers was climbing up to me and hailed me, asking if I had gotten a shot.  I explained that I didn’t have the correct equipment set up.  He said, “I can do it again if you want.”  Sure!  The only thing he asked was for a copy of the image.  What you see here is the result of luck and patience.

"The Spout" Great Falls National Park Copyright Andy Richards 2012

“The Spout”
Great Falls National Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

1997 was a “turning point” for me because I began to have some success with my imagery.My trip the the “U.P.” was over a long weekend with some good weather for a couple days and then “bust” for the rest.  I may have been my last ever “bad-weather” trip.  I have been very blessed with good weather on almost all of my photography trips over the years, since.  Both trip yielded some successes and some shots I wished I could repeat.  I did have a second opportunity to shoot New Mexico in later years, and many opportunities to shoot the “U.P.”

Nikon N90s Nikkor 28mm; polarizer Fuji Sensia II 100 f16; 1/5 Scenic, Vol. 2, #85

Nikon N90s
Nikkor 28mm; polarizer
Fuji Sensia II 100

In early October, I made a long weekend trip (my first since I was 11) to Michigan’s upper peninsula (we “Michiganders” have always just called it “the UP.” [“youpee“].  Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula is pretty commonly known.  If you have never been to the area, you may not know that there is “another Michigan” which is long and narrow east to west, and spans portion of 3 Great Lakes (Michigan, Huron, and Superior).  Over the years, I have come to know this peninsula fairly well.  And yet, I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of its photographic potential.  The trip began a life-long love of  this photographic wonderland, and I have made many trips up “over the bridge” (The Mackinac Bridge spans “The Straits of Mackinaw,” a narrow transition between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and the separation between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan).   One of my pro friends often quotes one of his mentors:  “To shoot great images you have to stand in front of great things” (I am sure my paraphrase is a bit off, but you get the idea 🙂 ).  That has certainly been a factor in my success.  And the UP has a number of different natural phenomena, depending on whether you are near the lakeshore or inland.  Along about 1/2 of its northern border (the entirety of which borders the southern shore of Lake Superior), has been dedicated as National Park land, and is known as “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.”  These very accessible area has some really photo-friendly locations.  Inland are some truly wondrous ponds set in a National Forest setting.  Waterfalls abound.  On the lake shores there are Lighthouses and Marinas.  My travels up there, and my note keeping, together with a dearth of available research materials led me to write my second photography eBook, Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, (co-written with my friend and talented photographer, Kerry Leibowitz) .

Known for its sandstone cliffs, perhaps its most famous formation is “Miner’s Castle,” right outside of Munising, Michigan.  Munising has become my primary “headquarters” for most of my U.P. shooting excursions.  I arrived here late Friday afternoon on a warm, sunny fall day and stood and waited for the late afternoon sun to light this up.  There is a viewing platform from which this perspective can be easily shot (an thus, you will see this image repeated many times if you do a Google search for it).  This image is dissappointingly soft (which may be a function of the scan).  But it is unique today for one reason.  The view can see the 2 “turrets” on the so-called castle here.  If you visit this site today to photograph it, you will no longer see the turret on the right.  A few years ago, natural erosion of the sandstone caused it to fall in.  In some future blogs I will show images of it as it occurs today.

An additional disappointment for that trip was that, although the scene is photogenic, I wanted to see ripple free water (as you can observe here, you can see to the bottom), good light, and some interest in the sky.  It would take me many trips before I finally got that combination.  But I did, and that image is the cover image on on the Upper Peninsula ebook.

Munising Falls Fuji Velvia Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Munising Falls
Fuji Velvia
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Waterfalls abound in the U.P.  I have made a run at about 60% of them.  Some are not really photogenic.  Some are difficult to get to.  Most of the falls I have shot are either in and around Munising, around Escanaba on the southwest border of Michigan and Wisconsin, and to the far western side of the U.P.  I have yet to tackle the western rivers.  They are on the “bucket list.”  There is one that is probably the “granddaddy” of all midwestern waterfalls that is on the northestern corner of the U.P.; Tahquamenon Falls (the Niagara Falls of the west).  I made several trips there in later years and it will be featured.

The last part of my trip was ALMOST a bust

But perhaps my favorite of all the shots I have made over the years is the image here, of Munising Falls.  I got the lighting just right and have taken others here a number of times and not been able to duplicate it.

Presque Isle River Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Presque Isle River
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness SP, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

The last part of my trip was almost a bust.  The northwestern part of the U.P. was my “main attraction.”  My destination was Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park.”  There is an iconic shot there of a wide spot in The Presque Isle River flowing through the park, from way up high, surrounded with foliage.  It is aptly named, “Lake of The Clouds.”  A google search will reveal some pretty impressive images of this scene.  But none of them are mine :-).  It is a long shot from my home in Michigan and a long shot even from Munising.  To date, I have made one trip there.  And as I approached the escarpment from which you see this scene, the weather had deteriorated, bringing in clouds and a steady 30-mph wind.  Conditions were difficult and I had to literally lean on my tripod to get a still enough base to shoot.  Also, the fall color was still in its infancy — not the conditions I had hoped for.   I made some shots, and decided I could only hope for a better chance at sunrise.  This chance never materialized as I awoke before sunrise to a steady, hard rain that showed no signs of abating.  But before I left the escarpment that night, I scouted around and saw the image shown here.  I really liked the composition, but again, had been looking for better foliage turn.  I took a couple “for the record,” not really being overwhelmed by them.  But back home, on the light table, they jumped at me.  There was some real interest here with just a few “firecracker” trees turned in a relative sea of green.  This image is my best selling image, has been sold for use on websites, printed and hung in several offices around Michigan and continues to garner interest, almost 20 years later.  This was one of those instances when I was looking for the iconic shot and found my own (arguably better) image.

Note that on a number of the images in the last couple blogs I have included technical information.  I promise to stop doing that when we transition to digital.  But since I have commented on film and film-based bodies, I thought it might be interesting information for these few blogs.

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Don’t Be Late!

Sunrise, Otter Beach, Acadia NP, Bar Harbor, ME copyright 2009 Andy Richards

I set out early one morning recently to shoot a scene I have passed by daily on my way to work lately. I had observed the time schedules and knew what time to be there. But as I was driving to the location, sunrise broke and for about 8 minutes, produced the most beautiful, orange hue, lighting the surroundings with warm, low-angled light that photographers wait for. 8 minutes!

My shot would not have been lit, by this beautiful light, as it was a downtown building scene that would have been blocked until about 20 minutes later. I arrived at my scene on time and captured the best light I was going to get for the scene. But oh, to have been bathed in that wonderful, warm, soft orange light!

You must be on site and ready, before the light happens!

The point is this. If my scene had been subject to that wonderful lighting, I would not have been there!I would have been racing to get there—and I would simply have missed it (instead, I lamented that I didn’t have a scene nearby for that light). Even if I had made it to the scene before the light changed, I would have been fumbling around with gear–not the way we want to remember and capture that scene.

Dawn, Horseshoe Lake, Huron NF, MI copyright Andy Richards

There is an old, cliche that photographers like to cleverly repeat: “F8 and be there.” But there is a key to “being there.” You must be there before the image happens. For landscape images, that usually means before the light happens. While it may not always be possible, in the best of all worlds, you will have done your homework and thoroughly planned your shoot. If possible, that means you will already have been to the scene (especially if it is a scene you have not been to before). There is only one thing more frustrating than fumbling around, trying to find a spot to park, or the trail to the shooting location, often in the twilight or even dark, while knowing that you are losing time. That one more frustrating thing is knowing all of the above, and that you are not going to be there on time! Study maps, but then, make a trial run to the scene.

In mid-October, my buddy, Rich and I have a planned trip to Babcock State Park in West Virginia to photograph the iconic Grist Mill that is the central feature of the park. While we have been assured that the “right light” for this image is early morning, we will arrive in the park on the afternoon before our planned shoot. While we will try to find some subject to shoot that afternoon, if necessary, we will gladly forego the afternoon/evening shot in order to plan how to arrive and where our best “setup” perspective will be. We also want to know where to park and how far we need to walk to get to that setup position. This is not something we will want to be doing in the dark for the first time the following morning.

You must meticulously plan your shot in advance.

Another part of the homework is knowing what lens we want to shoot with, and where the light will be coming from. These are all things that we can – and will – plan in advance of the shoot. By arriving the afternoon before, we can explore perspectives and composition, even though we are not there in the best light. One of the great advantages of digital capture is that we can shoot specimen images for review later that evening. We should be able to go into the park the following morning knowing what lens or different lens combinations we will need and the best perspectives for the shot.

This doesn’t mean we won’t deviate from those things, or try different combinations when on site. But if we have a very short window of “good light” we need to have made those fundamental decisions prior to arriving.

Sunrise Over Pond, Barton, VT copyright Andy Richards 2010

What about light angles? If you have never been to a scene before, you may have to make your best calculated guess, knowing where the sun rises at that time of year, and what time to expect that. There are some great tools out there on the internet. Sunrise/sunset calculators are easily found. A friend and participant on the SOV forums, professional photographer, Brandt Bolding, pointed out “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” (TPE), which is a free website designed for photographers. The site allows you to save “favorite places” and gives gps coordinates. It interfaces with what looks like Google Maps, including the hybrid mapping functions, and shows sunrise, sunset times, as well as the angle of the sun at different times of the day and the angle of the moon, also at different times of the day. TPE is an incredible tool that really is worth paying $$ for. Thank you, TPE author, for your generosity! Take a look at it and try it! I have used it to great advantage.

These are all controllable issues. What you cannot control is weather, and changes in conditions. In 2005, armed with the pamphlet prepared by 90 + year old pro photographer (and, I am proud to call friend), Arnold Jon Kaplan, I excitedly traveled to numerous destinations in Vermont, only to find that a number of them had incurred significant tree growth in the ensuing years, obscuring the views that Kaplan had making his iconic images. This is another reason why pre-scouting is so important!

Sunrise, Hateras National Seashore, Hateras, NC copyright Andy Richards

In the final analysis, though, those heart-stopping images you often seen in magazines, calendars, and occasionally on line, usually derive their pzazz from being there in the right light! The only way that can happen – especially in the morning (and in my view, that is when the most dramatic light usually happens), is to get out of bed early and be there before twilight and before the light happens!

Making “Sense” Of Photography

The blue cast, fog, snow and water convey "cold" in this photo of Icy Straits, Alaska

As photographers, we often try to “depict” or illustrate nature as we see it. Sometimes this yields very dramatic images. Other times, the images just don’t seem to justify what we saw and experienced when on site. I believe each of our senses influence what we experience as a photographer when we are at the scene. How do we effectively re-create some of these sensory observations in a digital image, or on film? The viewer cannot actually experience the sounds, smells, and physical feelings we experience at the scene, so our challenge is using elements in our images that imply those sensory experiences.

Hazy sun and warm orange and yellow color conveys a humid, warm feeling in this Atlantic Ocean image.

Sight is obviously the sense we can easily re-create (even manipulate) photographically. We use colors and contrast to please the eye and exposure techniques to suggest motion. We use perspective and objects strategically placed in the frame to give a sense of size and place. We use familiar objects to create visual or emotional perspective. These are all tools that deal with photography’s primary sense – vision or sight. And, they are commonly the discussion of photographic texts.

But what about the other senses? Can we photographically depict them? It probably requires a prior sensory experience the viewer had from which she can either directly relate or extrapolate. However, I don’t think is has to be an identical experience. We can all think of familiar scenes which can conjure some of the other senses. Photographs of a carnival or a fair, especially if it includes elements we relate to familiar sounds, or foods may trigger our sense of hearing or smell. When photographing those types of scenes, will it benefit the photographer’s photographic “vision” to consider those elements? I know that if I see a steaming cup of coffee, my mind can image the smell of fresh hot coffee. Likewise, a steaming bowl of soup, or a hot dog or burger on a flaming grill, can suggest a sense of smell and taste.

It is easy to image motion and sound, and possible to "experience" both moisture smell from this image of Bartlett Falls, in Vermont

We use texture and color in our photographs to depict senses. Rough and smooth textures can certainly create an illusion or memory of touch. And we routinely refer to colors as “warm” (yellows and oranges) and “cool” (blues). As we use those colors and textures, it is possible to consider how they work together to convey these “senses” to the viewer. We may also use weather and atmospheric conditions to convey senses. Wind, dust, fog and waves all convey senses of smell, touch and sound. Salty air, or dust created by certain activities may also recall the sense of taste.

The dusty condition created by "chaff" in this Fall harvest image conjures both the feeling of dust in the eyes and nose, and a familiar smell (for those who have experienced agricultural production).


Water

Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Water is one of my favorite photographic subjects. Water is essential to the world we inhabit, and the one we photograph. Water covers nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s surface. So it is not surprising that water is often an obvious part of the images we capture. But there are also some very subtle ways in which water occurs photographically.

There is almost always a connection with photographic images and water

There is almost always an indirect connection with photographic images and water. Water is used in many industrial applications for heating and cooling, as a solvent and cleaning agent. Indeed, water has been referred to as “the universal solvent.” Water is also an essential nutrient for humans and most other animals, as well as the majority of plant life. Thus, whenever we photograph wildlife, people or flora, it is likely that water has played a part. Water is often the basis for recreational activity, including swimming, boating, canoeing and kayaking. And what about skiing and snowshoeing? Even when water is not a primary element, there is still an indirect connection. For example, photographs of desert sands and other arid environments signal to us the lack of water.

The water droplets on this daylily add photographic interest and suggest the healthy growth of plant life following a fresh spring rain.

Photographically (and scientifically) water takes on 3 forms, each of which present unique and inviting photographic opportunities. Water in its liquid form is perhaps what first comes to mind. As such it is probably the most often found reflective surface for reflection images. I routinely look for ponds, rivers, pools, fountains and even puddles for reflections, either as an image in and of itself, or as a foreground object of interest.

Fountain in front of Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas

Water in motion is equally captivating, in my view. One of my favorite subjects is waterfalls. Whether a steep, powerful cascade, or swirling rapids, moving water can present some intriguing compositions. We use shutter speed to control the “look” of the water. There is something beguiling about silky, dreamy, flowing water blurred by slow shutter speeds of 1/15 second or longer. Use of neutral density filters in front of the lens can achieve even slower shutter speeds, further blurring the movement of water, or controlling light conditions to produce the slow effect. Moving water can also contain swirling reflections; a double benefit in my view.

Mad River, the namesake for "Mad River Canoe," is really just a small stream, not navigable by canoe. However, this part of the river contains several series of dramatic drops and riffels, making is a wonderland for photographic images

Other times, the photographer may wish to do exactly the opposite, using very fast shutter speeds to “freeze” the powerful or whimsical motion of moving water. Thundering waterfalls or high, splashing waves are sometimes exciting subjects. I used a fast shutter speed and a burst of exposures to capture this crashing wave on the rocky shoreline of Acadia National Park.

Atlantic Ocean surf, Bar Harbor, Maine

Light is clearly the secret to compelling images. Nothing reflects and shows light at its best like water, especially if it is moving.

Bartlett Falls, Bristol, Vermont: Getting a "just right" shutter speed in difficult, but dramatic lighting conditions makes this image unique

Water takes another fascinating form as a gas. Clouds, ground fog, and steam rising off water surfaces are all mesmeric elements in photographic art. These conditions come with a combination of elements. Generally, a rapid change in temperature, preceded by extremely moist circumstances, creates fog or steam. I look for a cool, clear morning following a particularly rainy period, for example, to create these conditions. Also, a precipitous change in temperature will create fog. When in Vermont in October, 2010, I followed the remnants of a tropical Hurricane which dumped several inches of rain on the state. Cool morning temperatures created wonderful ground fog conditions every morning.

Cool early morning temperatures following a heavy rainfall created magical atmospheric conditions for this image

Foggy conditions and clouds filter sunlight and often create vivid coloration in skies. Changes in weather conditions will often yield some of the most dramatic skies one can imagine.

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont

In its frozen form, water has great photographic possibilities. The obvious is snow. However, ice, icebergs, flow ice and icicles all can be entrancing. And frozen water can even make dirt look interesting!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier National Park, Alaska

Thanks for reading………