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Odds & Ends

My recent series on my “evolution” got me thinking a little more about “gear.” I have done this before, in perhaps a different way.

Sirui 3023 carbon fiber tripod

As photographers, we spend a fair amount of time on art and a fair amount of time on gear. But the gear tends to be heavily stilted toward cameras and sensors. And there certainly has been no shortage of new developments in camera and sensor technology to discuss. But there are some other “odds and ends” which I think are pretty essential toward our craft. There is a lot of shooting that I do these days with just a camera in hand – and in the end – that is the essence of photography: making images with a camera. But whenever possible, I use aids to assist in the craft. One item I have been pedantic about over the years has been tripods. I try to shoot from one when circumstances allow – or demand.

Surui 3021

Surui 3021 small tripod

I have two tripods I regularly use these days. The primary tripod is a medium large, carbon fiber tripod. I use a Sirui 3023, but there are many affordable and similar models available. I also use a very small (also Sirui – 3021)) tripod, which works not only wonderfully well for travel and for my very small Sony RX100-4 camera, but also for the larger gear, in a pinch (especially during travel). The beauty of the small tripod is that it folds to around 12 inches, and is very light, while still being reasonably stiff. It can require some bracing technique though, particularly with heavier equipment mounted. There are other, more affordable small setups (notably the MeFoto aluminum model, which is slightly larger, heavier, and pound for pound, not a rigid a base as my carbon fiber setup). Here are some of the items I consider essential aids to shooting from a tripod.

Heads

As I noted recently, the tripod head de-rigueur, for many years now, is the ball head. Again there are various models of ball head available. The heads were popularized by action shooters, as it is much easier to move the camera around to stay with any moving target. The biggest problem with ballheads is that it is difficult to make them firm enough to avoid “creep” when setting up an image. Generally, it is a function of the size of the ball, and the construction of the clamping mechanism. The larger the ball, generally, the more rigid and stable the operation. Particularly if you are shooting large bodies/lens combinations, if you don’t use a fairly large ball, you will experience “creep,” which makes it difficult to compose a still scene in which you are being picky about composition. I learned I had to almost anticipate that it would creep downward a bit and tighten the ball head above where I wanted it to end up. My former, Induro tripod had a very large ball and it worked better. But none of them – in my view – work as precisely and surely as the old 3-way heads.

The biggest problem with ballheads is that it is difficult to make them firm enough to avoid “creep” when setting up an image

Even better, is a “geared” 3-way head, which essentially allows micro-adjustment in each direction. The problem has been – until recently, the available solutions were limited. Bogen/Manfrotto has made a nice, lightweight geared head – the Manfrotto 405. There are two major problems with it for me. First, it costs about $560 dollars. That is a budget issue. Second, and the real deal-buster, is that it has the clunky and insecure (in my opinion) Manfrotto quick-release system cast onto the head. For the more budget conscious, they do also offer the “Jr” model, (the 410) at $299 – but still with the QR system. I couldn’t make that work for me.

Benro Arca-Swiss compatible 3-way tripod head

To solve the QR issue, I could have purchased the very nice, well-built and sturdy Arca-Swiss geared head, with the dovetail QR system I prefer. Now we are in a range from about $1,500 to $850! Still couldn’t justify that cost. I have been perplexed for some time why other manufacturers haven’t produced a dovetail QR system geared head. Finally, in 2018, Benro introduced a 3-way geared head, at a comparatively reasonable, $200. After some research, I bought one. While I haven’t thoroughly field tested it yet, I have it on my large Sirui legs, and have used it enough to know it is what I had been waiting for. To each his own, but for landscape and architectural shooting, this is really a winner for me. I kept the Sirui Ball Head in the bag in case I wanted it for some action shooting – but not really being my shooting style, I doubt it will see much use. For portability, I will keep the ball head on the small legs and live with it for travel.

L-Brackets

The L-Bracket is an ingenious contraption that has become – for me – an indispensable item. It replaces the dovetail plate on all my cameras. The design is such that you can remove the camera from the tripod, rotate it 90 degrees, and re-attach it, keeping the image plane on the same axis. It makes shifting from landscape to portrait mode for the same scene very easy, with no adjustment necessary to the horizontal axis. I do that a lot, and wondered, after finally obtaining one, why I didn’t do so much sooner.

Dovetail L-Bracket

Like any equipment item, there are certainly disadvantages to L-Brackets. They add some bulk and weight to the outfit. These days, however, the extruded and cast aluminum and magnesium manufacturing and engineering processes have allowed for some very small and light pieces. I have a bracket on my Sony 7r that is barely noticeable.

Another major drawback to these brackets is that they tend to be expensive. They were, at first, produced as specialty items by companies like Kirk and Really Right Stuff. Both companies are small, U.S. based companies, and their costs – as well as the R&D for these items make them an expensive choice. Also, the majority of them are camera-specific, meaning each new body design begets another needed re-tooling and design of the brackets. Of course, this also means you have to add the cost of acquisition of one of these, each time you change camera bodies. And, for effective use, you really need to have one attached to each camera you carry. There are some universal brackets on the market, but in my experience (I have tried them) they are ineffective because they allow the camera to turn. An effective bracket must be physically married to the body in a way that it seems integral and doesn’t allow for even a fraction of movement.

All said and done, an L-bracket is an item I wouldn’t be without

Competition (and perhaps either the expiration of – or bypassing by unique design – of patents) means that today, there are dozens of these items available by different sellers (a quick Amazon search produced at least 20 pages of them there). While you have to do your research, many – if not most – of them are well made, lightweight, and much more reasonably priced. I have used the Sunway brand (I am sure, just an import name for a bracket line that is manufactured for many other sellers – most likely in China) and found them to be very good, effective and reasonably priced, for the most part. All said and done, this is an item I wouldn’t be without.

Level

I began photography in 1976-77. For the next approximately 30 years, I shot landscape images and more often than not, as time went on, did so from a tripod. And my eye for level was pretty good. At least that’s what I thought. :-). Here is the reality. They weren’t, and nobody else’s are either! Our eyes-brain interaction compensates for so much. It tells us what a level horizon in our view is. But the camera is mechanical. And because our eyes are so good, we trick ourselves into thinking our camera is level. Just look at the millions of “sunset” (very few “sunrise” 🙂 ) images over water on Facebook and Instagram that have tilted horizons. See, The world is not Flat.

Hotshoe Bubble Level

My good friend and gifted photographer, Al Utzig, in critique of some of my images a few years back, remarked that a few of my horizons were not level. I was inclined to disagree, but there are some mechanical tests that are brutally honest. I opened a couple of them in Photoshop and pulled a horizontal “guide” down to the horizon. Damn! Al was right (and not for the first time 🙂 ).

Before electronics became common in cameras, it was possible to change out the screen in the viewfinder of many of the higher-end cameras. I put an “architectural” screen in one of my cameras (cannot remember which one, but probably the N90s). It had horizontal and vertical lines etched onto it. When electronics did become common, “turning” these on became possible as an option – one I highly recommend for a number of reasons. But even with these aids, I frequently missed the boat with level horizons., more commonly with handheld images, but sometimes even with a tripod-mounted camera.  It was usually minuscule, but again, our eyes are good enough to sense something being not quite right about the image. The experienced eye recognizes it quickly as a tilted-horizon. Even with guidelines, it is possible for our own eyes to fool us.

3-axis Bubble Level

Shortly after our conversation, Al and I were shooting together, and he showed me an inexpensive little item that he religiously uses, and suggested I set up an image with my eyes and then we put it on my camera. It was a hotshoe-mounted bubble level. We did, and my eyes were wrong. The level is never wrong (assuming it has been manufactured to tight quality control). These plast gizmos should seem familiar to anyone who has ever used a carpenter’s level. The range in cost between about $4.00 and $15.00. My experience is that you may want to skip the $4.00 models, as they are often not manufactured to quality specs and may not – themselves – be level. Your mileage may vary. When I have purchased them, I have put them on a tripod on a level surface and actually done comparative testing with a carpenter’s level.

The level is never wrong

The two models pictured here are the most common. I have both. I prefer the cube myself, for a couple reasons. It is slightly bigger and harder to lose (they are easy to lose and having an extra is a good idea). I also like the way it reads and looks. All wildly subjective and aesthetic considerations. But here is a key point. These are known as 3-axis levels. Do not rely on the spirit level that it often part of modern tripod legs. While the might be helpful for setting up, they are essentially useless for the purposes here. There is a spirit level available, also, that mounts in the camera hotshoe. Again, in my opinion, do not waste the money.

Compass

While a compass is not an item one would think of as a photographic accessory, it is a very useful item. I always carry one in the field. As a one-time mentor said to me once, “the compass doesn’t lie” (though it can “fib” if you aren’t careful about how you use it. Because they are driven by the earth’s magnetic pull, you must be careful not to use it very near any magnets, or ferrous material). I use a software program called The Photographer’s Ephemeris, to do my pre-scouting and research. This mapping program gives an overlay of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset angles on the scene. When you arrive, it becomes pretty important to know at least the cardinal points (North, East, South and West) that the compass reading will give you. They are small, cheap, and an essential “carry” item.

Filters

There is a school of thought that after having spent $$$$ on expensive glass, you need to protect the front element by having a filter on the front of it. The most commonly used filter for this purpose is a UV or “Skylight” filter. Historically, these filters were designed to reduce the amount of ultra-violet light, rendering possibly better colors. Over the years, lens technology has included multi-coatings which integrally accomplish this purpose.

There is also a school that asks why you would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a highly engineered, quality optic for your camera, and then place another piece of – usually much cheaper and lower quality – glass in front of it. I am in that school. My gestalt view is that I never put anything in front of my expensive glass without a specific purpose. There are, of course some very good reasons. When I am around salt water and salt spray, I tend to have something on to protect my lens. If I am trying to achieve a particular effect, I use a filter. Usually, there are only two reasons I ever use a filter, and only two filters I use: a Polarizing Filter and a Neutral Density Filter.

I learned the virtue of a polarizing filter early on, probably because I had one and was able to play around with it. Polarizers mainly reduce “glare,” which is caused mostly by bright, blue light. Blue light rays are short and therefore often scattered. It is this scattering and omni-directional quality of the light that produces glare, and reduces the clarity of the image being captured. The polarizing effect creates a linear filter which only allows blue rays which are parallel to the filter to enter the lens.

There is also a school that asks why you would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a highly engineered, quality optic for your camera, and then place another piece of – usually much cheaper and lower quality – glass in front of it. I am in that school

There are some drawbacks to this filter, of course. The polarizer must be manipulated mechanically, by physically rotating it. This may be difficult in a handheld situation, and virtually impossible for “action” subjects. By its nature, it also reduces the light entering the lens, causing you to lose 1 to 2 effective stops of light. In tricky lighting conditions, this can be a handicap. However, with modern sensor technology, it is much easier to override this issue by bumping the ISO up with little penalty than it was back in my Kodachrome/25 ISO/ film days.

Another drawback is that they tend to be expensive. This is partly because of the technology needed to do them right. First, it requires dual rings in order allow the rotation. This can create a vignetting problem with wider angle lenses, and I always have purchased the thin ones, which are more expensive to manufacture. They also can create unnatural color casts, and the truly “neutral” polarizers just tend to be more costly.

To add to the issues, when auto-focus became more or less “the norm,” standard straight line polarizers interfered with the AF mechanism on most DSLR cameras, so circular polarizers, which were much more expensive, had to be purchased. The AF technology on the mirrorless cameras is different, and isn’t bothered by polarizers, and it was nice to be able to reduce my out-of-pocket for them once I shifted to my Sony mirrorless system. At the same time, some of this may be becoming moot. I shot with a polarizer on every lens probably 80% of the time for many years. However, with the software available today for post-processing, I use them significantly less than I did.

Neutral density filters are something I very seldom use, but almost always have with me. I generally use them in situations where I have too much light and am trying for a longer exposure – most notably water, and waterfalls. I use the square ones designed for a holder, and generally hand-hold them. There was a day when we used split-neutral density filters to try to bring high contrast scenes under control. The best example was a landscape in early light, where there was a bright sky, but shadows in the foreground. There was a line (it could be hard, or a gradient) halfway up the filter, with 1/2 being the ND filter and the other being clear. Because nature is rarely in perfectly straight lines, I found I had very little success with this technique, and once I learned how to blend images in Photoshop, stopped trying altogether.

Remotes

Popular wisdom has always had it that if you are going to go to the trouble of mounting your camera on a stock-still tripod, you should trip the shutter remotely. The theory is to avoid camera shake caused by our touching it. In fact there are many variables at play. There are times (e.g., a very windy day) when we must touch the tripod to brace it. Other times, I will admit to laziness, and have often triggered my camera with my hand resting on the tripod. Except in touchy situations such as, perhaps, a macro shot, I am not sure that – once everything is at rest – it truly makes that much difference.  Though generally, it is good advice, many shooters live life happily never having owned one.

There are various methods, from a mechanical cable release, to wireless, to using the self-timer on the camera. I don’t care for this latter method, mainly because of the degree of control you give up over the precise moment you want to trip the shutter. Most pre-electronic cameras had a mechanical, plunger wire type cable which screwed into the release on the camera, or around the housing of the release. Even my vintage Ashahiflex had one. Electronics in cameras, and particularly AF, changed all that. On most modern cameras, one or more electronic functions are actuated by a partial press of the release. This meant we had to go to electronic cable releases. Another cost, and something to screw into the camera body somewhere. I had the MC 30 release for my Nikons and they are still $65.00 at B&H. Of course, they were proprietary, though fortunately, the MC30 worked on all my cameras from the N6006 through the F800.

MC-30 remote

As great as their cameras are, Sony lags behind Nikon and Canon on accessories (especially flash). They just don’t have any elegant remote cable solution.  At some point, cameras began to be able to be remotely triggered wirelessly. Unfortunately, the built-in systems are just not very good. The wireless signal is not particularly strong and is very directional, meaning that you normally have to hold the wireless trigger close to either the front or back of the camera. In short, I have found wireless cables frustrating, and that wired cables interfere with my L-bracket. Plus, I like the idea of wondering away from the setup at times, while shooting.

Wireless remote

Having an affinity for gadgets, I recently purchased a Pixel Pro wireless remote apparatus that I am really enjoying. Part of what drove me to it was my flash setup. I needed to be able to trigger the camera and a flash setup with multiple flashes, and wanted to do it at night. The existing remotes weren’t up to the task. This unit only triggers the camera, but that sets the whole chain-reaction moving. This unit works even when I am a substantial distance away from the camera.

There is a downside, of course. It takes more batteries, more setup, and a learning curve to make sure everything will be working as expected when you are in the shooting situation. They work on channels and it is pretty important to make sure the sender and receiver are “married” at the same channel. And its just more moving parts to cart around. I will probably continue to play with it. But it may be more trouble than its worth. I will need to keep the focus on making good images and not having cool equipment.

Flash

My Asahiflex outfit had a large, bowl-shaped reflector which attached to a bakelite housing (holding 2 D cell batteries), which in turn attached to the side of the camera. When attached and turned on, triggering the shutter would also ignite a flash bulb. Some of us are old enough to have grown up with incandescent light bulbs and have experienced the pop when we turn on the light, and it burns out. Flash bulbs were light bulbs designed to do just that and to emit a certain color and intensity of light when they did. They were, unfortunately, one-time use, and relatively costly. They were also very hot to handle immediately after use. For those reasons, I seldom used flash.

Nikon SB600 Speedlight

In the ensuing years, electronic flash units became widely available, and were much easier (and perhaps safer) to use.  They are generally referred to as “Speedlights.” They only expended batteries. They were, in most cases, at least partially adjustable. And as camera manufacturers became more advanced, the electronics in the cameras controlled the flash, with properly dedicated units. None was better than Nikon, and it was pretty easy to set things more or less automatic and let the Nikon system do the work. Nikon’s TTL (“through-the-lens”) worked by reading the light measured at the film surface.

I have always thought and said that digital changed everything for the better. Well, it was not really everything. Digital really messed up electronic flash for a period. It could no longer read the light off the film plane and, at least in the beginning, unable to read it correctly off the sensor. Eventually, it has been resolved and, true to its reputation, Nikon probably did it best first. Today, they have their i-TTL system. The drawback is that it only really works well with certain newer cameras and flash units. And they are relatively expensive. The SB600 (guide number of 98/30) was $350. The SB600 is now discontinued, but it can be found used for around $100, which is a bargain. The upgraded model is the SB700 and is about $330. I am not sure it is worth buying against the 1/3 of the cost, used 600. It has a slightly higher guide number, slightly faster recycle, and built-in remote control (for what its worth, I have a third-party setup for this that works pretty well, on virtually any flash – more below). The SB600 worked perfectly well for my purposes, and I found it basically as good as I had experienced with my film based system. The SB800, was larger and over $500 new. It was eventually upgraded (replaced) by the SB900, which was upgraded to the SB910. All of these are now discontinued but can be found used at some pretty good bargains. The current big flash is the SB5000, at $600. Too rich for my blood. Again, these are tools, and if you make a living with flash, the $600 may well be worth it.

Nobody has really made a third-party flash that works as well as Nikon’s own system for Nikon. Once again, my switch to Sony threw me out of the “good flash” loop again. I have been a rare user of flash over the years. I have always carried a speedlight in the field when on a dedicated photography excursion. I have mostly done so because I will occasionally find a scene I wish to photograph where there are some deep shadows in daylight conditions. I use the flash to “fill” those shadows without blowing out the brighter parts of an image. Occasionally, I will use it for portraits in very sunny conditions, but I don’t do much with those. Part of the reason is that without a really good automatic system, proper use and understanding of flash involves math. “I was told there would be no math.” The very thought of math makes me quake with fear. I am one of those persons who cannot add double digit numbers without a calculator. :-).

Godox TT685 – Sony-dedicated Speedlight

Sony offers 6 dedicated flash units. One of them is small enough that I don’t consider it useful. One, the F60m, is still on Sony’s website, but it appears to be discontinued, as I only find it used on site like B&H. With a guide number of 60, it would work for me, but is a bit on the low power size for its $300 price tag. It also is reputed to have overheating issues, which shuts it down, apparently even during moderate use. The other 4 units range from $300 – $600. Sony also seems to have had some disorientation when it comes to their electronic shoe system. This means there are compatibility issues, and a given flash may only fit a given range of cameras – at least without an adaptor (another item, another cost). And none of them, frankly, are close to as good, or as turn-key, as the Nikon system.

Voking Speedlight

My current solution has been to buy a book, and try to learn the basic math (ugh), and go with third-party units. I bought a Godox (made in China and found and purchased on Amazon) unite compatible with my Sony A7. It has enough “automatic” features to work for my needs. I also wanted to experiment with multiple lighting and some night shooting, along with the ability to trigger the flash independently. So I later purchased a second, manual Voking branded light and a Godox TTL wireless flash trigger. Total cost to me for all of this stuff was under $200. The downside is it is more gear to lug, and more learning curve and setup and practice prior to going into the field.

Odds & Ends

It seems suitable to end with a connection to the blog title. There are a few items I keep in my bag, which (depending on the nature of the trip), I try to always consider:

  • Extra batteries and a couple chargers (you never know when one might fail)
  • Extra memory cards
  • Flashlight (and batteries) – (I also carry a headlamp with a red option, as red supposedly messes less with our night vision)
  • Proper clothing – especially rain gear (and covers for the camera and lens)
  • Towels and garbage bags (an assortment of large and small towels and large and kitchen size bags will be of great assistance in wet conditions)
  • Tools (small [jewelers] and medium phillips and regular screwdrivers, allen key/wrenches, small adjustable wrench, electrical and duct tape)
  • I keep a small spiral notebook and pen with me
  • First Aid Kit

 

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Don’t Touch That Dial!

The colors in 2006 were a bit “lack-luster”
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Lately I have seen photos frequently posted that show significant overuse of the “saturation adjusment. I have certainly been guilty of this myself. We shoot a scene that seems magically colorful to us, but when we first see it on our computer screen, it just doesn’t “get there.” If you shoot raw, that is pretty normal. Most images need post-processing. So our first thought is often to use that slider adjustment in our post-processing software (and every software has it); the saturation slider. And 99% of the time that is a mistake! I see a disconcerting trend of overuse of the saturation slider (even among some of my “pro” acquaintances).  My friend, Al Utzig will be chuckling as he reads this. His most frequent critique of my imagery early on was that they seemed over saturated to him. Maybe. I have certainly made much less use of the saturation tools in my post-processing as I – and my software – have become more “seasoned”

Recently, I see a disconcerting trend of overuse of the saturation slider

Like any discussion, we should be sure we are talking about the same thing. A general definition of “saturation” says that “saturation is the state or process that occurs when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with, or added.” When speaking in terms of color and photography, “saturation” generally refers not to the actual color or its accuracy (“hue”), but rather to the intensity of the color. This is important. If you are trying to correct a color, more (or less) saturation won’t really do that (although it might help to improve the color’s appearance in some cases).

What I have learned over the years ….. is that what we are really seeking often has nothing to do with saturation

The problem with the saturation slider (and every software will have its own internal algorithms for this) is that it generally does just what the definition says. It adds (or subtracts) to the intensity of color. Unfortunately, the result is often counterproductive. The saturation slider is indiscriminate (it saturates all color), and too often, a boost in saturation results in a color cast over the entire image. For example, I have seen one Facebook poster recently who is boosting the saturation in fall foliage images and getting a reddish color cast over the entire image. And in most cases, it also generally results in the detail in the photo deteriorating. Try it. Find one of your images and magnify it enough on screen to see the detail, and then move the slider back and forth. The more aggressive you are with it, the more you will see the details go mushy. In many currently posted images it is obvious that the slider has been overused, as the picture looks unreal on our screens. The colors are intensean often, Just not believable.

It is a very real temptation to “goose” the colors to make them as brilliant as we wished they were. Using the saturation slider here boosts the foliage, but at the expense of a red “pall” over the remainder of the image
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Of course, there may sometimes be reasons to boost saturation. You might actually be striving for unreality. Another is that the saturation on a projected computer screen is always more intense than when a print is made. I often push things a bit before sending them to the printer, to get as close as I can to the color I liked on screen. But even then, you must be very careful not to introduce a color cast effecting the entire image. There are generally better ways to “boost” the appearance of the image.

Here is a slightly more “selective” move, using only the red channel saturation slider. It is slightly better, but still creates a red color cast which can really be seen on the silos and the white house
Copyright Andy Richards 2006

The thing about photographic imagery is that it can often be very difficult to duplicate the “reality” that your eyes saw. For one thing, I believe that each of our eyes see color differently. But it is also the case that the attributes we see in a “good” photograph are often more based on appearance, than reality. Things like contrast, brightness, saturation and even sharpness, all influence the appearance of color. But when it comes to color, something that I have learned over the years using post-processing software is that what we are seeking often has nothing to do with saturation. I think it is important to add here, that I shoot and save all my images as raw files.  Without getting into the should or should-nots, I think nature images (the most common culprit of saturation slider overuse) will always benefit from starting with a raw file. The first step in making the captured image look the way you want it will always be done in the raw converter, and that is very powerful stuff.

Color was slightly better in 2010
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Even if the image does call for increased saturation, a number of pixel gurus have referred to the saturation slider as a “blunt instrument.” I almost never touch it, except occasionally to de-saturate an image, or parts of it. There are other, better ways to achieve the color we saw in our mind’s eye. Often, getting color “right” is a matter of contrast adjustment rather than saturation. Contrast can be adjusted throughout the image, or perhaps a better approach; locally. I do use the contrast slider in ACR (but not usually later in Photoshop). There are numerous ways to adjust contrast locally, including the tried and true “curves” tool, used with layers (of course it can be used globally on the image – that will be a judgment you will make).

It is still important to resist the temptation to “overdo” with the saturation slider, creating a red color cast on parts of the photo (barn roof), as well as deteriorating already soft detail in the distant foliage
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I have also found that a brightness change to an image can sometimes make the colors appear to “pop” more. Again this can be accomplished globally, or using an adjustment layer, or a plugin like NIK Viveza 2.

The Saturation Slider is indiscriminate

There is also a relatively new tool: the vibrance tool (Photoshop has it; other software may call it something different). This tool is a slightly “smarter” tool than the saturation slider, as it targets more muted colors to add saturation to them, while leaving already saturated colors alone. But again remember that the tool is action more or less “globally” on the image and that may be letting the computer make your decisions for you. I often add just a small amount of vibrance in ACR (5-15%), combined with small moves of the contrast slider.

The Burton Hill Farm is a favorite image of mine. There is so much going on in this image. I used Viveza 2 to selectively DE-saturate the clouds to take a bluish color cast out of them
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

There are some very sophisticated techniques which require digging under the hood a bit, like working with “luminosity masks” – essentially specialized layers and layer masks, (Tony Kuyper has a set of pre-programmed layers of you are interested). Some years back, I learned a technique espoused by Dan Margulis (his book is a wonderful textbook, but not for the faint of heart. It is technical and it is expensive). It involves moving your image into the LAB colorspace and making some opposite curves adjustments. It really is more of a selective contrast adjustment, but really works wonders to bring out the “snap” in a color photographs. These techniques require some effort. You will have a learning curve, and generally will spend some time on each image in more complex post-processing. Lots of folks would rather go out and shoot and have very little post processing and ease of use instead of having to become a software expert.

There is still a temptation to “goose” the reds with the red slider. But the result is not productive, with oversaturated, mushy reds in the distance and again, a color cast overall
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

This sentiment probably stimulated the many products available today as plugins to existing software. One of the first of these was the NIK plugins. Originally its own company, it was at one time purchased by Google, and for a period was actually free to download and use. Google eventually apparently abandoned it, and it was ultimately sold to the DXo folks, who now offer the package for $69.00. I use it on almost every image I post-process and for me that seems like a reasonable price. They say it is new and improved, but I cannot see any difference, and am still using my originally purchased package. So far, it integrates with Photoshop CC.

The Nik product that is most relevant to this discussion is called Viveza 2. It is all about local adjustments the easy way. They have found a way to locally adjust images using circles on screen and a slider. It is not going to be as particular as using luminosity masks, but for me, for all but the most problematic of images, it works very well. Caution: Viveza does have a saturation slider! Again, I rarely touch it. The sliders I find most useful are the brightness slider, the contrast slider, and sometimes the shadows slider. I have found that in an image that does not need additional color correction (because hue, not saturation is off), that these three sliders – applied locally to areas of the photograph, do everything necessary to render a colorful, vibrant, and realistic result.

This is an example of an image where I “pushed” the sharpening and color contrast in the LAB colorspace. It looks “crispy” on screen, but the natural smoothing process of inkjet printing made this work for a sharp print
Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Indeed, after I owned and learned this software for a while, I found myself going back to old images and completely re-working them. And I discovered that I was, indeed, guilty of SSO (saturation slider overuse). 🙂 . I like the re-worked images much better. If you look at some of your images critically, you might just agree with me.

Right Time; Right Place Photography

Porcupine Mountains Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Recently, I went through a review and update of my LightCentric Photography photo website.  As I was systematically checking captioning information (among other things), a couple of the images made me pause and reflect on their circumstances as involving a particularly memorable moment of for whatever reason, just being in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes it was planned. Sometimes it was just serendipity.

This doesn’t mean there haven’t been other times and images. There have been too many photographic memories to cover, including trips to New Mexico, Alaska, New England, California, and around the world.

In some ways, the Porcupine Mountains image is my most memorable photo. Taken back in the days of film, I made this photograph on my very first “dedicated photography trip.” I spent a long weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) for the first time since my childhood. The trip was planned with much anticipation of fall color imagery.  For the most part, even though I was there during the first week in October, I was still fairly early for foliage, and was largely disappointed in that aspect of the trip. The trip motivated many more similar excursions to the U.P., mostly in the fall.  I arrived at “The Escarpment,” in the Porcupine Mountains late on a Saturday afternoon. From the Escarpment, you can view the Lake of The Clouds, which is often photographed – especially during peak foliage. Conditions were not what I had hoped for.  It was cloudy, with a 40 plus mph wind.  I had seen images of Lake of The Clouds, and that was my goal for this part of the trip.  Foliage conditions were just starting, and I just did not see the image I had visualized. To make matters worse, the forecast called for worsening conditions, with all-out rain by morning.  So I took a number of images, using a much faster shutter speed and lower aperture combination than I normally would have, bracing the tripod against the wind buffets with my own weight (seemingly counterproductive).  Unlike these days, you could not see a representation of the result on the back of the camera.  I would wait until I returned home, and the photographic processor completed developing my slides.  I didn’t expect much from this location. But on the light table, this one image jumped out at me. It is perhaps the only “keeper” from that take. As I viewed it, I realized that the contrast between the lingering greens, the precocious reds, and the developing oranges and yellows, was actually more visually interesting – indeed satisfying – than some of those images that I had seen that were a complete wash of fall color. There is a photographer’s saying:  “F8 and be there.” I don’t think this was F8, but I was there, and this is what I found. The image here, is prepped for printing, and may look a bit saturated. But I did not touch the saturation sliders in Photoshop.  Instead, I used an old technique (surpassed for most of us by plugins such as NIK Viveza 2), converting the scanned image to LAB color space and making adjustments to the A and B curves. This image has continued to be my best selling photo. It hangs in the main conference room of my law firm’s offices, and draws many comments.

Mad River
Waitsfield, VT
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

In 2006, after much bragging to my best buddy, Rich Pomeroy, about the “best fall foliage in the world, bar none,” he called my bluff and we took a week long trip to Vermont. We had take many business trips together before, but this was our first “together” photography adventure. I am delighted to say that we have made numerous other photo trips, and will make many more in future years.  But this one turned out to be kind of a bust. We went during the last part of September and very early October. All during the week, we wished we had waited a week, as the foliage was again in very early (almost non-existent) stages. We worked hard to find some foliage and though we had a lot of fun and made some memorable images, it wasn’t what we had anticipated. Determined to “find” those colors I remembered from my youth in the 1970’s in Vermont, I returned – alone this time – in 1997, a week later. During that trip, I spend a couple nights in central Vermont, driving along it famed Route 100. Mother Nature can be fickle, and the colors were – once again – not as nice as I had hoped (this time a bit past peak in many places).  One morning, I was headed for a waterfall that has turned out to be (in my opinion) unremarkable;  Moss Glen Falls in Granville. But on my way, I got waylaid by a vision:  some color off in the distance of a scenic turnout.  The turnout turned out (see what I did there 🙂 ) to be a nice series of drops in the Mad River. The Mad River is really just a stream or creek that is not really navigable.  It is also the namesake of “Mad River Canoes,” originally built by hand in Waitsfield, where this very same stream wandered through his back yard. A drizzly rain was falling, but I donned my wading boots and spent 2 1/2 hours shooting there.  The image here was actually on a return trip in 2010, when I brought Rich back to “prove” my assertions about Vermont foliage 🙂 . That morning was a magical time. I was all alone with the subject, which remains a really photogenic series of waterfalls.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, Rich and I made another memorable photo trip; this time to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor is a quaint little touristy town with just enough non-photographic things to keep our spouses entertained (well, for about a day that is – but we were there for a week 🙂 ). Acadia is probably one of the most photographed National Parks. There a numerous books about the Park Loop Road, and all the different photographic venues. Otter Cliffs is one, but it is most often viewed more distantly, from another cliff to the north.  From the vantage point, you cannot even see this cobblestone beach. I had a friend who strongly recommended that I “work” to find this spot, which is a cobblestone beach that is not well documented or marked (at least, it wasn’t in 2009). The directions in the books don’t really reveal it, but with some perseverance, and some insight from him, we did find it. We visited it for 3 successive mornings in the pre-dawn, before we got this one. There is really nothing like being in a location like this, literally alone, and watching the sunrise and the morning develop. It was a location worth “working” for.

Burton Hill Road
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Vermont has a special place in my heart. Readers here know I make period trips to Vermont to photograph; usually during the vaunted fall foliage season. I wrote my first eBook on this very topic.  As I did my homework, planning each trip, researching and hobnobbing with members of the Scenes of Vermont forum, I “met” two of my wonderful friends, both of whom also happen to be talented photographers and writers. Al Utzig and I carried on a e-mail correspondence for several years before I finally had the pleasure of meeting him in person. We were good friends by that time and the face-to-face didn’t change that (for me at least – I’ll let Al be the judge of it 🙂 ). Carol Smith, who many of you know as my co-author for the current edition of Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” was a frequent poster on the Scenes forums and we were all soon to learn, an extremely knowledgeable and observant resource for wannabe Vermont photographers. She was of immeasurable help to me on the first edition and it was a logical progression for her to co-write a second edition which contains much more information, primarily from Carol. In the process we also became good “online” friends. In 2010, Rich and I returned to Vermont. I was there for a week, but Rich was only able to join me on the southern part of the trip for about 3 days.  This trip began with a group of us (particularly Al, Carol and me) meeting at Carol’s Barton house in anticipation of a next-day, early morning “tour,” led by Carol. This was my first face-to-face meeting with Carol, and to my surprise, she still loves me :-). We started at Bean Pond along the US 5 highway, for a foggy sunrise over the pond. The time and images were magical, but while Al and I gushed, Carol promised that the best was yet to come. And boy, was she right. The Burton Hill Road image is by far my personal favorite Vermont image, and perhaps my most “successful.” After others had left, Carol and her very patient husband, guided me around several other areas, including the Craftsbury Common image that appears on the cover of the Vermont eBook. But that morning is one of the most memorable times of any photographic trip. And I got to enjoy it with two of my very favorite friends.

Eagle in Flight
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Some years were big travel years for me. Others not so much. 2010 was one of those big years. In addition to another trip to Vermont, my wife, son and I went on our first cruise; the Inside Passage from Vancouver, B.C., to Whittier, Alaska. It introduced us to cruising (which to my surprise, I really liked), which has opened travel doors to us throughout the world. There were hundreds of images taken on that trip to Alaska, with some pretty great photographic opportunities.  But the most memorable image of that trip came as a complete surprise to me. We were signed up for a “deadliest catch” look-alike excursion (sans the cold and ice and heavy oceans). When we came ashore, one of the crew who met us saw my “big camera” and said “I see you came prepared. We are going to get some eagle photos for you today.”  Right. He was a tour guide. He certainly wasn’t going to promise me crappy photos.  🙂 I think we were scheduled to be out for 3 1/ or 4 hours, during which they talked about the history of these fishing boats (the boat was an actual boat used in the Bering Sea, just like the ones on the “Deadliest Catch” series, which had been shipwrecked, and then salvaged and retro-fitted with observation seating).  All very interesting, but no “knock your socks off” eagle photos. We saw some, but they were a long way in the distance. At the end of the cruise, they announced that they had a special treat for us, and took us by an uninhabited island, which was in native waters (by U.S. treaty) and therefore not subject to U.S. laws. As I looked, I saw a solitary eagle perched in dead tree. O.k. Then I suddenly heard “plop.” “Plop, plop.” The crew was up in the flybridge tossing bait into the water. The skies next to our boat suddenly turned into what I can only describe as a air to air dogfight as about 30 eagles all appeared, diving and often fighting for the food. I really wasn’t prepared and it all happened in about a 5 – 10 minute sequence. But in spite of my ill-preparedness, I was able to get several good shots. This one is my favorite. I doubt that I will ever get an opportunity to photograph eagles in flight from that close a position again. As our first cruise, it was hard to have it come to an end, with so many amazing and new experiences. But it did. It marked the end of a great trip – and the beginning of many more.

San Francisco Bay Bridge
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

In 2011, instead of a fall foliage trip, my wife and I opted to spend a week in California during the first week in October. My daughter lives in San Francisco, so we used that as a staging point, with an overnight excursion to Napa for some wine tasting. Lots of memories from that trip. My daughter’s place at the time was in downtown, south of Market Street (SOMA). She was just two blocks south of Market and just a few blocks west of the Bay Bridge, the Embarcadero and the eastern part of San Francisco bay. I was up early and somewhere on the street each morning by sunrise or earlier (the 3 hour time differential was a positive, making it easy for me to wake up and roust early). What I really noticed was the relative stillness, just before the world “wakes up.” I made numerous images of the Bay Bridge, which is a favorite subject of mine (I prefer these images to those I have made of the more famous Golden Gate). But this one, I think, best illustrates that early morning pre-dawn calm and stillness.

Blue Angels
Fleet Week
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

That trip had other memories. We made friends with a couple of the winery owners, and in later years would travel with one of them, to the Caribbean and to Ireland, as well as returning to the vineyard when back in California. But the unexpected and incredible opportunity of shooting the air show put on by – mostly – the U.S. Navy, during its San Francisco “Fleet Week,” is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We shot from the ground for over an hour as the planes flew low over us. I worked hard to capture a “bloom” from the jet fighters as they broke the sound barrier. Because sound and light do not travel at the same speed, it was touch to anticipate. I got just one. But am pretty pleased with it.

New River Gorge Lookout
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Returning to California, Rich and I were able to sneak in a quick 3-day trip to West Virginia’s Babcock State Park, to photograph the often photographed Grist Mill in fall foliage. While we probably missed the peak near the mill, we were able to find peak foliage around Boley Lake in the park. What made this trip special was my first opportunity to meet one of my photographic mentors and a great inspiration to me, James Moore. Jim is an uber-talented nature photographer with many sales and publications; primarily in and around West Virginia. We had become on-line friends a year or two before, and he had a group he was guiding there photographing earlier in the week. Jim was still there when we arrived, but left early the next morning.  We had a nice time to chat and he gave us some great insight about when and where to shoot in the park. In 2012, Jim did me the great honor of asking me to act as a guide for one of his photography workshops in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Jim had heard a lot about it but had never visited there. We spent a great week, learning, shooting, and watching the foliage develop from pre-peak to full peak conditions. Jim had some health problems later in life and sadly those of us who knew and admired him have lost touch. For the West Virginia image here, my model was Jim, and the New River Gorge lookout was one of his favorite spots in the park.

Oxbow Bend
Snake River, Wyoming
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

2012, marked yet another photography trip with my buddy, Rich (and spouses). We joke a lot because I am a “planner” when it comes to these trips. I have usually figured out what I want to shoot, how to get there, how long it will take, and what time of day to be on site. For the most part, Rich is happy to let me do that, and quite often comes home with the better image. 🙂 A couple years before, Rich had attended a photography workshop in Jackson Hole, and the Grand Teton National Park. We both wanted to go again. This time I showed up and Rich was the guide. What a fun and memorable week with many great photo opportunities. As an old school photographer (or maybe just an old photographer), when it comes to scenic shots, I think in terms of a print. What we all want to bring back is a “wall-hanger.” Over the years I have made, printed and framed a number of my images. None has been better that this image of Oxbow Bend. We arrived here (I think the second time) in the pre-dawn hours and there was frost on everything. As the sun rose, the warmer water temps created a wonderful low fog over the bend in the river. May some white cotton-candy clouds would have enhanced this, but it was a great morning and I knew walking away from this shoot that this would be a wall-hanger.

Venice
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

2013 was a huge year for us. My wife came from a military family, so she had done some limited world travel as a young person. But in our adult lives, we had not traveled out of the U.S. except for a couple trips to the Caribbean, and Canada (which really doesn’t seem like it counts 🙂 ). We decided to kick our cruising up a notch, and booked a Mediterranean Cruise. In many ways, it may have been the most memorable of all of our cruises. It was our third cruise on the Princess Lines, and we were booked on their newest, and best ship. We were excited to see the world over the next two weeks, disembarking from Venice and ending in Barcelona. The cruise ship decided it wouldn’t cooperate, and our cruise was cut short. There was, however, a happy ending to that.

Gondolas
Copyright Andy Richards 2013

As is our custom, we planned to spend 3-4 days in our originating port city before boarding the cruise ship. We walked around Venice for 3 days and boarded the ship thankful for an immediate “day at sea,” exhausted.  But what I can say about Venice is that it is wall-to-wall “eye-candy” for the photographer. I have hundreds of Venice images, but the two shown here represent moments that separate themselves from the others.  The Gondolier was a case of right time, right place. I was looking for shots, and heard them coming. I found this setup and was blessed with wonderful early morning sunlight. The covered gondolas is not original on my part. I had seen at least one other photographer do this. What it would need was very early light in order to make an exposure long enough to capture the motion of the rocking gondolas. This meant either very early morning, or evening. I chose morning because there would be less people, and less activity on the Grand Canal, producing just some gentle rocking. I use this image on my Facebook LightCentric Photography Page Cover.

Lombard Street
San Francisco
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

In 2014, we returned again to San Francisco for several days. I made more trips to the Bay Bridge. I also walked to the San Francisco Giants ball stadium. My daughter took us to Lands End, to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective, and to Jones Beach. But what I remember the most is walking from our SOMA location, all the way across town and uphill to Lombard Street (the famous s-curved, brick-paved, switchback street that is a “must photograph” when you visit). I made the usual images (except for the nighttime shot with the streaky headlights). Then I looked for something else to shoot. A unique perspective that possibly nobody else had ever done. I think I might have been successful.

Sailboat
Narragansett Bay, Newport
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

In 2016, I made a last minute trip to join my buddy, Rich, who was in Newport, Rhode Island for business. I flew in on Thursday evening and we spent two days shooting.  Friday morning, I was on my own and walked around the downtown area and the wharfs, making lots of photos of boats, buildings, etc. Everything was a more or less nautical theme. That evening we went to shoot a lighthouse that Rich had found earlier in the week (Castle Hill Light). This was a photogenic lighthouse, and as we often do, we arrived early to scout best perspectives for shooting. And then we waited on the light. It is often worth waiting for the absolute last of the light to see if anything magical happens in the sky. To our west, the sun set over Narragansett Bay, with beautiful orange skies, but no real photographic interest. But as we watched and waited, this white sailboat approached and passed. Knowing a little about sailing from my past, I made note of the wind, and calculated that the boat (it was actually a large, tour charter boat on the last leg of the day) would come about and come back toward us. I quickly swiveled my tripod head around, took some metering measurements, and waited to frame the boat where I wanted it to be.  I knew I would get 2-3 shots at best of this quickly moving boat.

Tokyo Tower
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

2018 has been kind of a slow year, photographically. But we absolutely made up for that in 2017. In July, we spent a week in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. We saw many amazing sights and I did my usual early morning walking around both cities. I was intrigued by Tokyo Tower, lit at night, and worked hard to find a good place to photograph it from. I took a few from a couple different places. But it turns out that the best I could do was through the window of our Tokyo Hotel.

Santorini, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

In September, we made our 3rd, and much anticipated Mediterranean Cruise. We again spent several days in Venice. One of the other places I had seen and wanted to shoot was the Greek Island of Santorini. We had a wonderful tour guide, who happened to also be a photographer, and he the right time and place for us to be to get shots I am certain I would never have found without his help, in spite of the research I had done.  Did I mention that Venice is “eye-candy” for photographers? Ditto Santorini.

Well.  This was an interesting exercise for me.  I tried to keep it to not more than 15 images. There were many more that perhaps fit the bill. And I am sure there will be more to come. As always, thanks for reading.

 

Photographing the Michigan U.P.; Update – Iron Mountain Area

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As I noted in my recent blog about my quick U.P. trip this fall, I did have an opportunity to scout two new areas.  The first was the Escanaba Area, and particularly, the Garden and Stonington Peninsulas, which I covered in the previous blog.  My plan was to to shoot as much as possible around the good light, but if the weather was uncooperative, to make the approximately 1 hour drive to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Perhaps unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative all weekend.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Perhaps best known these days for its provenance for nationally noted sports coaches, Iron Mountain’s welcome sign boasts of being “the “proud hometown of Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucci.” But it certainly is also world-renowned for its namesake.  At one time, Iron Mountain held one of the largest iron ore producing and processing resources in the world.  There is still a mine there, which can be toured.  While I am not sure I would consider the area a photographer’s destination, a day trip would probably be filled with opportunities.  The color in Iron Mountain was still nice, but well past “peak” when I was there in the second week of October. Escanaba is approximately 50 miles further west (from Escanaba) on U.S. 2. Being inland and at a higher elevation, this area’s probable normal “peak” is late September to early October.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The area is blessed with some nice natural phenomena, including rivers, waterfalls, rocky foothills, and lakes.  Just east, and outside of town, there is a roadside stop for Fumee Falls.  Fumee is perhaps the most accessible of the numerous waterfalls in the Michigan U.P.  This was my first trip to these falls.  There are two drops visible from the roadside, with a small, photogenic footbridge across the stream at the bottom of the second and larger drop.  Many years of visitor traffic has resulted in significant erosion of the original falls area, and today, viewing is restricted to the boardwalks which border the falls.  While this perhaps limits the photographer’s access, it hopefully preserves the falls for the future.  Although the light was terrible, I was able to make a couple “record images.”

Lake Antoine
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Just to the Northeast of the downtown area, is a nice small lake, Lake Antoine.  The northern 1/2 of the city of Iron Mountain borders the west endo of the lake. There is a significant residential presence around the west side of the lake.  On the east end, is Antoine Park, a public beach, picnic and boat launch.  I found a small memorial park with a fishing pier on the way to the lake, and make a couple images.    Antione Lake Road loops around the lake and crosses U.S. 2 both to the east of and to the north of town.

Understory; Fumee Recreation Area
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

About 4 miiles east of downtown is the small community of Quinnesec.  In about 2 1/4 miles, you will come to County Road 10 (a/k/a “Upper Pine Creek Road), which goes north, to The Fumee Recreation Area. The entrance is marked, but it is a rustic sign, about 1 mile north of U.S. 2.  There is a parking lot and no motorized travel is allowed beyond. There are two lakes, “Little Fumee Lake,” and “Big Fumee Lake.”  The recreation area has several trails around both lakes, with a total of about 8 miles of trails, which are used by walkers, runners, bicyclists and horseback riders.  I walked the short trail around “Little Fumee.”  Again, the light was awful, but I could see the possibility of some nice imagery.

Fumee Recreation Area
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

On the county road in to the recreation area, I also found some nice farm scenery.  The shot here is on what appears to be a private road, called “Baclack Road.”

Farm near Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

 

Escanaba Area; (Update – “Photographing Michigan’s UP”)

Sturgeon River
Nahma; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Six years ago, I made my first gambit into “publishing.”  That word used to be a big deal.  These days?  Not so much.  With just a little initiative and some cash, anyone can now publish online.  So, in 2012, believing there was a need,  I published my first eBook, “PHOTOGRAPHING VERMONT’S FALL FOLIAGE.”  The book was the result of my personal experience with a dearth of current, useful information about “places” in Vermont that I had seen in print, but did not know how to find.  So I began keeping relatively detailed notes on my own shooting experience in the two places I have spent the most time in:  Vermont and the Michigan Upper Peninsula.  The book (now in its 2nd edition – 2017) seem to be relatively well received, and so, I decided to add the Michigan eBook, “PHOTOGRAPHING MICHIGAN’S UPPER PENINSULA,” to the mix.  By the time I was ready to pursue publication in earnest, I realized that my own personal experience was not enough.  Adding a co-author (done, now for both books) would at least double the coverage and give the reader not only more material but new and different insights.  With that in mind, Kerry Leibowitz and I co-authored and published the Michigan UP photography book (when a second edition will be in the outing remains to be seen).  Until that does occur, the best that I can do is to try to update readers with new information here, and hope it somehow gets “out there.”

The Munising area, with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and The Hiawatha N.F., still remains the “most bang for the buck” destination

The Michigan e-Book had a perhaps unbalanced focus on the northeastern U.P., particularly in the area between Munising and Paradise.  This encompasses much of the “Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore,” and the Hiawatha National Forest.  But my continuing research seems to support the proposition that this is still one of, if not the most fertile ground for the outdoor and landscape photographer.  There is just so much to shoot in a fairly compact area, that it remains the most “bang for the buck” destination, especially for a new visitor.

Having spent a lot of time in and around Munising, I only had a brief window to travel to the U.P. this fall and I wanted to explore some areas that I had only touched on and had not extensively explored.  The eBook has only coverage of Fayette State Park, and a couple nice waterfalls in this area (all of which I had visited on a short trip in late October, 2007).  So this year, I spent the better part of 3 and 1/2 days driving and exploring (and occasionally shooting) in the Escanaba area.  I’ll summarize some of my “findings” here.

Farm on Stonington Peninsula; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The area which I am calling “The Escanaba Area” is a part of the U.P., which is basically the south-central part of the main peninsula, nearly bordering on Wisconsin.  The area is bounded on the south by Lake Michigan.  To the east of Escanaba are two peninsulas, which extend south into Lake Michigan; the Stonington Peninsula, and the Garden Peninsula. Stonington is the first peninsula, to the east of Escanaba, and forms Little Bay De Noc and Big Bay De Noc, between the “mainland” and the peninsula.  My hastily planned trip had not included any particular destinations on this peninsula, but perhaps some driving and exploring.  I have a friend who has a cottage on the Stonington Peninsula, however, facing Escanaba, and I was able to stop and see him – and get some suggestions for possible shooting locations.  The bays De Noc and their peninsulas reach toward the iconically famous “Door” Peninsula of Wisconsin which forms Green Bay, in Lake Michigan.

Fayette State Park is a location definitely worth a stop

Originally, my primary focus was originally on the Garden Peninsula.  I arrived there on Friday afternoon.  “Garden” sounds awfully inviting.  I am not sure where the name comes from, but it is really not anything unique as far as Michigan goes.  Fayette State Park (an old iron smelting operation in the late 1800’s) is a few miles down the west side of the peninsula.  The area was preserved as a State Park in 1959, and the grounds are nicely kept.  Most of the old buildings, including brick blast furnaces, some housing, and timbers in the area where the ore boats docked, have been preserved.  Most of the trees around the park, including up on the bluff behind the harbor, are Beech, Birch and other varieties, which tend to turn a bit later and last a bit longer than the more colorful Maples.  They are more yellow, rust and orange in coloration, but still provide a nice photographic opportunity.  There are a couple very large maples on the grounds near the furnaces that seem to also turn later.  Most of the U.P. was well past peak the weekend I was there.  The harbor, called “Snail Shell Harbor,” is a harbor of refuge on Lake Michigan and has a nice modern harbor which can hold just a few boats at a time.  My shot of the old crib timbers was made from the modern harbor, and is one of my favorite “U.P.” Images.

Fayette State Park, Michigan U.P. – Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

The drive down to Fayette State Park begins at the small community of Garden Corners, at the northern base of the peninsula, where U.S. 2 intersects with MI 183.  As you follow down toward the park, you pass through the town of Garden.  It appears to be a mix of farm and summer dwellers, and there is nice harbor – Garden Bay – that the town borders.  Wikipedia notes that it has a year-round population of less than 1,000 people, and the median income is well below the U.S. officially published “poverty” line.  As I approached Garden, I was greeted by the bittersweet view of one of the near-ubiquitous “Wind Farms,” that have cropped up over the State of Michigan.   I am certainly cognizant of the desirability of cultivating renewable energy resources.  And where there is water, there is wind.  At the same time, It is hard to see these massive, whirly-gig, towers as bucholic or photogenic.  Form subsequent research, I learned that this was the first wind farm in the U.P.  It has been the subject of some controversy, and appears at the moment, to be the only such farm in the U.P.

Unfortunately, I saw very little sun and experienced mostly grey, dreary sky and drizzle for most of the weekend.  While overcast conditions can sometimes enhance colors, in my opinion, there is only so much you can do without including the sky in landscape photos.  So This weekend would not turn out to be very good for shooting.  I drove the perimeter of the Garden Peninsula, including a stop at Fayette State Park.  By this time of year, the park is essentially closed up for the season (although I think it was still “officially” open), and almost deserted.  That is actually a good thing for a photographer.  I briefly walked parts of the park, and confirmed in my mind that this is a location definitely worth a stop.  I took a couple cross-roads, also, as thought I had recalled some “long view” farm scenes which might reveal some fall color as well as views of the lake in the background.  It may well be that inhabitants of the area could tel me otherwise, but I did not find anything really worth a stop on the balance of the peninsula.

Farm Scene; Stonington Peninsula; Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The Stonington Peninsula, however, revealed several worthwhile items and some rather picturesque driving, particularly along the eastern side of the the peninsula.  Though not necessarily providing the “long view” of Lake Michigan in the background, there were – nonetheless – some nice farm views.  Had the weather been more inviting, I might have spent more time exploring some of the side roads and shooting.

View From Farmer’s Dock
Stonington, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

My first “stop” in Stonington was provided by my friend who had the cottage nearby.  There is a public boat launch just south of the small community of Stonington, called the Farmer’s Dock.  There is a nice rock bluff to the northeast across the water, that was nicely lit by the only sunrise I saw all weekend.  Saturday morning turned out to have some early sun and then some late sun, alas with the same cloudy, dreary conditions in between.  My research told me that sunrise was around 8:00 a.m. (one of the positives of fall shooting is that the days are shorter – which means the mornings aren’t so awfully early 🙂 ).  My hotel was about 45 minutes from the dock, so I left at 7:00.  The dock is just under 14 miles down Delta County Road 513, from the intersection of U.S. 2, east of Rapid River.  The boat launch entry is on Swede 13 Road.  While I cannot say this is a recommended destination, if you are in the area, it has some promise.

After the sunrise, I headed across the peninsula, in search of a “tunnel of trees” my friend also recommended.  About 2 miles back north from the Swede 13 Road intersection, on CR 513, you come to the intersection of CR513 and Old K10 17 Road (approximately 12 miles south from U.S. 2).  K10 will take you east across the peninsula.  In about 6 miles, you will cross County Road 511.  In about another mile, you will turn south and after about another mile, east again.  At some point the road will have changed from pavement to gravel.  As you round the bend, you will see the tree tunnel, which appears to go on for about 2 more miles.  Colors were mostly yellow, gold and orange.  But it is an impressive tunnel.

Tree Tunnel
Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I drove a few more of the back roads on this part of the Peninsula, but really didn’t find much else to photograph. There are lots of “curve in the road” shots, but none that really got me excited. I did follow County Road 513 to its southern end, on Peninsula Point, where the Peninsula Point Light stands. It is not a particularly noteworthy or photogenic light, and I did not even take a “record” image. For the lighthouse hunters out there, it may be worth the drive, though the last mile or two is a narrow 2-track.

Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I drove up the eastern side of the Peninsula during the balance of the morning, and then down the coastline along Lake Michigan to the historic town of Nahma.  County Road 513 goes nearly the entire length of the peninsula, and to the north, is where I found some nice farm scenes.  Again, the poor shooting conditions meant that I didn’t make as many stop, nor explore the side roads as much as I might otherwise have done.

Farm; Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

My morning ended by visiting the so-called historic town of Nahma.  While it may have some charm in the busy summer months, there was little going on there this afternoon.  They do have some pretty well preserved natural areas.  I stopped a couple times along the Sturgeon River, which empties into Lake Michigan just west of the little downtown.  The opening image was made there.

I spent my afternoon driving up the Hiawatha National Forest Road H-13, up to just south of Munising.  The sun peaked out for an hour or so that afternoon and I visited the old haunts: Pete’s Lake, Mocassin Lake, Counsel and Red Jack Lakes.  Hot afternoon sun made any shooting pointless, but I was able to confirm that they still hold their place as premier shooting destinations.

Headed back toward Escanaba, I decided to find a rather difficult to find, waterfall; Whitefish Falls on the way home.  I was able to find it, and discovered some significant changes, which I will discuss in an upcoming blog.  I finished the day at the National Forest Campground boat ramp back on the Stonington Peninsula.  The entrance to this boat ramp is  just 2 miles south of U.S. 2 on County Road 13.  There was some nice color there, but I was really too late for any good sunlight for shooting.  But Mother Nature obliged me with the only sunset I saw all weekend.

Sunset; Little Bay De Noc
Stonington Peninsula
Michigan U.P.
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

October Foliage; November Weather

Scenic Overlook; Epoufette, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Once autumn arrives many of us who are outdoor photographers wait with at least subdued excitement for the foliage changes that occur, particularly in the northern and western parts of the U.S.  Over the years, I have come to expect a week or two of cool, sunny-to-partly-sunny, weather during the month of October.  When November comes, those of us in the northern parts, and in the mountainous regions in higher elevations know the show is over and winter is coming.

From my observation, this year was odd.  From all appearances, the foliage in the Northeastern U.S., was reasonably good, to spectacular in some places; what we have come to hope for in early to mid-October.  But the weather has been “November” weather:  cool, windy, cloudy and rainy.  Certain “conventional wisdom” has it that rainy, overcast conditions actually enhance color foliage photography; intensifying color that can be captured because of the lack of short, blue light rays that cause randomized reflections.  To a point, I concur.  This is particularly true with closeup images.

Farm; Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But that same conventional wisdom acknowledges that photography, at its core, is about light.  Good light = good imagery.  Bad light often results in wasted effort.  I often use that time to scout locations, and sometimes to shoot to make “record” images or to look later at composition.  And, in my view, solid, gray overcast skies make for bad light.  What I am looking for is either partly cloudy with puffy white clouds, or “edge” weather (just before or after a storm) which can create dramatic lighting.

My time in the field has been abbreviated this year.  I spent 3 days in the Michigan “U.P,” exploring new territory (for me).  Based on others’ images, I may have missed the best color, which seemed to be evident in my old “hunting” grounds in the Northeastern U.P., and perhaps up in the western portion in the Porcupine Mountains.  In our eBook, Photographing Michigan’s U.P., Kerry Leibowitz and I concentrated heavily on the northeastern region from Marquette to Sault St. Marie, along the southern shore of Lake Superior, and in the Hiawatha National Forest.  Those places are still the premiere locations.

Fumee Falls
Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

But in my Travels, I had spent a brief stint in the Escanaba area.  Two peninsulas jut down into Lake Michigan just east of Escanaba, which is the southernmost part of the U.P., on Lake Michigan.  Without intending to denigrate Escanaba, for the outdoor photographer, does not appear to hold much interest for outdoor photographers.  If there is any promise, it would be during the summer months, when the boat marina is full of boats.  My interest, however, was in the two peninsulas.  The first one, immediately east of Escanaba, forms Little Bay De Noc.  I am not certain the peninsula has a name, but since the small community at the southern tip is Stonington, for my purposes, I will refer to is at “The Stonington Peninsula.”  The second peninsula, further east, is known as “The Garden Peninsula.”  Lest you get excited about what the name suggests, it gets its name from the township and community which is at its northern base; “Garden Township.”   If Kerry and/or I ever get ambitious enough to edit and write a Second Edition, we will augment the brief coverage of this area with some of my findings.  In the meantime, I will probably just do it as a series of separate blogs here.

Sunset; Little Bay De Noc
Rapid River, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I was able to make a day trip from my Escanaba motel to Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Iron Mountain is perhaps best known as the hometown of MSU basketball legendary coach, Tom Izzo, and NFL coach Steve Mariucci.  But long before they were born, Iron Mountain was one of the top producers of iron ore in the United States.  Its higher elevation meant that the foliage there (mid-October) was past peak, though there was still some lingering color.  But I did find a couple areas worthy of some photographic interest, including a waterfall I had not yet had the opportunity to visit.  This was my first time in Iron Mountain.

And finally, I was able to visit Whitefish Falls (not to be confused with Laughing Whitefish Falls) which is addressed in the eBook, but has been difficult to find in the past.  As my separate upcoming blog will confess, I may have added to that difficulty (stay tuned for some clarification).

Farm near Iron Mountain, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As the images here illustrate, it was difficult to find nice light for photography.  As they will also illustrate, the Munising area (northeastern U.P.) still holds the top honors for diversity of color and imagery.

Here We Go Again

I want to start with a blatant “plug” for both of my eBooks. The books (both written with the help of co-authors with their own impressive experience in the locations) are excellent resources for photographers planning to shoot these destinations. Please take a look at these books. They are available on the major sites, including Amazon and Apple iBooks. Go to the link page

Photographing the U.P.
eBook
Copyright 2016 Andy Richards and Kerry Leibowitz

Second Edition!

It’s that time.  Fall.  My favorite time of the year.  Like a cute puppy, I wish it could stay fall forever (maybe I wouldn’t like it so much if it happened – and most cute puppies grow up to be pretty nice dogs anyway).

Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Fall brings fresh, cool air, football, the harvest, and for most of my adult life, the most important “fall thing” of all: fall foliage.

Tahquamenon River
Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

While I enjoy photography most times of the year, the fall season presents – for me – the greatest opportunity to make the images I like.  The days are shorter, which means I don’t have to get up so early, or stay out so late, to get the nice light mornings and evenings bring.  The air is clear and fresh.  The sun is lower on the horizon, widening the photographic time window.  It always gets me recharged and excited about getting back out and shooting.

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Most years, I have a travel plan to someplace spectacular.  My favorite place over the years, of course, has been Vermont.  I like fall foliage and Vermont so much, I wrote an eBook (now in its Second Edition, which features my co-author, Carol Smith’s insights and photography along with my own).

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park, WV
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

No specific plans this year.  I may make a weekend trip or two up to Northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, but that will be spur of the moment.  But even in such “off” years, I always seem to find something “fall” to shoot.

Babcock State Park
West Virginia
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Please consider purchasing both of my eBooks.  Both were started as logs of my shooting experiences in two of my favorite places in the world:  Vermont and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Both are wonderful outdoor shooting destinations – and both are especially magnificent in the fall.  The books (both written with the help of co-authors with their own impressive experience in the locations) are excellent resources for photographers planning to shoot these destinations. And if you are an outdoor photographer and have not traveled to either of these locations you should – best in the fall.  The books have directions and observations about the best times to shoot, difficulty of getting to them, and other items of information that we have found useful.  In many cases we have even included approximate gps coordinates.  Please take a look at these books.  They are available on the major sites, including Amazon and Apple iBooks.

Somesville Bridge
Town Hall, Somesville, ME
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

I hope all have good fall shooting and safe travels.

Photogaphers At Red Jack Lake
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards