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Oh, the Places I’ve Been!

D.H. Day Barn, Glen Haven, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2014

D.H. Day Barn, Glen Haven, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

I am pretty sure Dr. Seuss wasn’t talking about my photography when he penned his inspirational book (presumably for kids), “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” which was clearly intended for a higher calling than this blog.  But it seemed like maybe a good jumping off point for this title, so thanks for the inspiration Dr. Seuss.  :-).

This is about my favorite subject:  Fall Foliage photography

Farm in Saginaw County, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2004

Farm in Saginaw County, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

While I am sure my travels pale compared to many readers and acquaintances, I have been blessed to visit many places (near and far) during my lifetime.  I aspire to go to even more new places before I am done here, but in spite of the rambling lead-in this blog is actually about what I normally write about this time of year: fall color photography.

The previous couple blogs have plugged my 2 eBooks, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” and “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Nelson Road Old Mission Peninsula; Traverse City, Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2014

Nelson Road Old Mission Peninsula; Traverse City, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2014

The previous couple blogs have plugged my 2 eBooks, “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage,” and “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”  I will believe (and argue :-)) to the grave, that these two locations are the absolute acme of fall color photography.  But I have been to other places which approach their beauty, some in similar ways (like Maine, Minnesota’s North Shore and West Virginia’s Mountains), and some in very different ways (like the West).  While I have not visited them yet, I understand that the Great Smoky Mountains have their own brand of spectacular foliage in the fall.

Shiawassee River_2

Shiawassee River, Owosso, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Readers might be surprised to find that I have found some images right in my own backyard!

Just for inspiration for those who have not already planned their 2016 Fall Foliage trips, I thought I would demonstrate the potential with a few images from around the U.S.  And, based on my travels and commentary about every place away, the reader might be surprised to find that I have found some images right in my own backyard!  The top image is near my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, just east of Lake Michigan,in Leelanau County.  The round hay bales are even closer to home, just a few miles from my office in Saginaw County, Michigan.  The Old Mission Peninsula juts north into Lake Michigan, from Traverse City, in Grand Traverse County.  The Nelson Road vineyard image is near a point on the peninsula where you can stand and see both of the bays formed by the Peninsula.  The Shiawassee River is one of several rivers that all come together in Saginaw County to ultimately form the Saginaw River, which eventually empties into Lake Huron.  The image above was taken in Shiawassee County, just west of Saginaw County.  Perhaps the moral of the story here, is that (at least in certain parts of the country) you don’t have to travel far to find foliage images.

But I have traveled far. :-).

Cadillace Mountain, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

In 2009, my friend, Rich Pomeroy and I spent a week in Maine, mostly in Acadia National Park, shooting.  Because of our scheduling, we arrived late in the season.  There were some pros and cons to our scheduling.  We were (as the images illustrate), mostly late for color.  But the later turning birch and beach trees were still in full foliage and were cooperative, if somewhat monotone.

Jordan Brook, Acadia National Park, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Jordan Brook, Acadia National Park, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

We were also late for the lobster pounds and many of the restaurants which serve the seasonal tourists.  I had looked forward to a lobster roll at one of the pounds, but that was not to be.  But the lack of tourists did not stop the lobstermen from their daily activities.  We had a great time photographing the boats and tools of the trade in several of the harbors in and around Acadia.  The Southwest Harbor shot shows the potential for great foliage shooting with wonderful foregrounds.

Southwest Harbor, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Southwest Harbor, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

We also found a different kind of color which we had been anticipating.  We had read about the colorful wild blueberry bushes that turn color this same time of year.  Again, we mostly missed that and never found the vast fields of them we were looking for.  We did fin this image, though, which at least gave us a taste of what we sought.

Blueberry Bushes Acadia National Park, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Blueberry Bushes
Acadia National Park, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

There are a number of iconic images in the Park.  One (not technically in the park) is the Somesville Town Hall, with its distinctive white bridge.  As you can see, if timing is right, there is some serious foliage-image potential here.  We made the best of what we had.  Will have to go back someday.

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge Somesville, Maine Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge
Somesville, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

My wife and I spent a weekend in October in 2007, in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.  As serious foliage shooters know, timing is critical and also unpredictable.  But as a general rule, this is far enough south that we were probably early in the best of times.  2007 produced an unseasonably warm and dry fall and this weekend was no exception.  On of the images I was looking for was the layered sunset image with the mountains in the background.  It mostly eluded me.  But the image here illustrates that in a few weeks, the color in those mountains might be pretty spectacular.

Little Stony Man Outlook Shenandoah National Park, Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Little Stony Man Outlook
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

In October of 2008, we had better luck, traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to spend a week with my sister and brother in law, who acted as guides during our visit.  In addition to being on the grounds and photographing the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (a color of a whole different kind), we traveled around other parts of the state.

Santa Fe National Forest New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Santa Fe National Forest
New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Western foliage is very different from what I had experienced in the northeastern United States.  With a much higher percentage of Aspen Trees, mixed in with conifers, the foliage is golden yellow and orange, with only an occasional splash of redder color.  It is “Western Foliage.” 🙂  I shot these Aspens, somewhere in the Santa Fe National Forest north of Sante Fe.

Santa Fe Ski Basin Santa Fe, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

My favorite foliage spot was the Santa Fe Ski Basin.  We had gone to Taos and stayed overnight and it rained overnight.  In the higher elevations, that translated into snow!  I was elated.  We headed back to the ski basin, which tops at an elevation of 10,350 feet, and we were able to drive up the ski basin road and stop for several views with colorful (western) foliage in the foreground and snow up top.

Santa Fe Ski Basin Santa Fe, New Mexico Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

My trip in 2011 to West Virginia, to photograph the famous Glade Creek Grist Mill in Babcock State Park, also yielded very good results, even though we again arrived at the tail end of the season.  You can see a substantial amount of leaf drop (due largely to torrential rains over a period of 2 days just prior to our arrival.

Glade Creek Gristmill Babcock State Park West Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park
West Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

There are some pretty great shooting opportunities in West Virginia.  My friend and mentor, James ____, believes West Virginia (and not Vermont or Michigan’s U.P. – though he was thoroughly impressed with the U.P.) is “god’s country” where fall foliage is concerned.  He might be right (but I will argue that he is not 🙂 ).  I will, however, let you judge for yourselves, based on a very small sampling here.

Boley Lake; Babcock State Park, West Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Boley Lake; Babcock State Park, West Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

There are many more shooting options for fall foliage.  I have friends who have been to Alaska in September and the colors there tend to be along the ground – but are spectacular.  I have been to Yellowstone and and Jackson Hole in Wyoming, but not in the fall.  I have to believe the colors there are also spectacular in their own right.  Idaho and Utah also hold great interest for me.  And, I still want to get to Northern California when the grapevines turn sometime later in the fall.  I have my work cut out for me.  :-).

The foregoing was a smattering of places I have been and have photographed; all places I can highly recommend, in addition to Vermont and Upper Michigan.  So get out there and shoot.  Somewhere.

Boley Lake, Babcock State Park; West Virginia Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Boley Lake, Babcock State Park; West Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

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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.

The 7-Year Itch?

A solid support is crucial to sharpness and detail in this early morning light image

A solid support is crucial to sharpness and detail in this early morning light image

There is an old thought about relationships known as the “seven-year-itch” (something about getting an itch to try something new in the 7th year, which ultimately in most cases, terminates the former relationship). Before anyone gets alarmed, I have been happily married for 30 plus years now – that 7-year thing is well behind us. 🙂

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common, Craftsbury, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

But, just trying to come up with a clever title for this blog, it came to mind. Next month, I will have been writing this blog for 7 years. So this coming year could be the year I decide it’s over and move on. Given my history, I probably won’t. Besides, I really enjoy writing this thing (the opening image is my very first posted image here).

Stone House; Manassas Virginia Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Stone House; Manassas Virginia
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

I really enjoy writing this thing

In the winter of 2008, I began a series of “tutorial” e-mails to one of my sisters who had taken up DSLR photography. I was trying to explain the technical aspects of exposure, depth of field, etc. to her in steps. About the same time, a friend from Vermont began to ask questions about her point and shoot camera, and shortly, she acquired her own DSLR.

Glade Creek Gristmill; Babcock SP, West Virginia  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Glade Creek Gristmill; Babcock SP, West Virginia copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Between the two of them, and some others, I spent a fair amount of time writing and editing and responding to questions and clarifying, and it dawned on me that maybe I should save these “writings” (mainly so I wouldn’t have to re-create them later). About that same time, I hired a company to create a photography website for me to showcase my own images. The idea of a blog seemed a natural follow-up and since everybody was doing it, and there was no cost to set it up, I decided to give it a whirl.

Bernard Maine copyright  Andy Richards 2009

Bernard Maine
copyright Andy Richards 2009

I started the blog as a Google Blogger site, but migrated to WordPress a few months later, as WordPress seemed to offer both a more pleasing theme and more versatility for photographic blogging. Since moving to WordPress, the blog has had more than 50,000 views, and currently has 50 followers – not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening.

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Texas State Capitol, Austin, TX
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

not exactly “viral,” but nonetheless very heartening

Over time, the blog has gradually evolved from my “tutorial” writings (there is only so much of that, and mine were specifically “conversational,” and certainly not intended to compete with the myriad of books and website offerings by the professionals out there), to more of a combination of a travel images blog and the occasional philosophical or political musing, with the stray tutorial thrown it. I have also spent some time reviewing equipment – primarily that which I have owned or used.

Ketchikan, Alaska Copyright  Andy Richards  2010

Ketchikan, Alaska
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

Perusing my “offerings” from the beginning, I was amazed to see the territory covered. Since the first writing, I have traveled and photographed fairly extensively in the United States, including (in addition to my home state of Michigan – upper and lower peninsulas and my new “home” away from home state of Florida) Texas, Alaska, San Francisco and Northern California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks from Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Virginia, West Virginia; New Mexico; Minnesota; Acadia National Park and surrounds in Maine and Vermont.

Split Rock Light; North Shore, Lake Superior, MN Copyright Andy Richards  2010

Split Rock Light; North Shore, Lake Superior, MN
Copyright Andy Richards 2010

It has gotten harder to do this

I have Traveled out of the country to Canada, Ireland, Italy, Turkey and Greece, as well as 3 trips to the Caribbean. In 2015, we will travel to Japan, the Mediterranean again; and I will go to Vermont again in the fall. So hopefully, there are many more images to come. In some of the places that I have visited multiple times, the challenge will be doing something unique.

Chili Ristra, New Mexico   copyright 2008  Andy Richards

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

There have been some milestones over the 7 years. In March of 2010, I bid a bittersweet goodbye to my best buddy and fellow shooter and traveler, Rich, whose career took a sharp left turn, as he moved away from Michigan. While we knew we would try to stay in touch, it was not certain that we would. Over the following year, we did. Then, to my great delight, his career took yet another turn and he moved back here to Michigan. We will live to shoot another day!

San Francisco Night Skyline  copyright 2011  Andy Richards

San Francisco Night Skyline copyright 2011 Andy Richards

As I looked for images that seemed to make an impression on me from the places I visited, it ocurrs to me that 2010 was a huge travel and photography year for me in the U.S.

Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

the challenge will be doing something unique

I cannot even count how many times I have mentioned the word “Nikon” in my blog. I have been a loyal Nikon user for thirty plus years. As my more recent blogs have noted, I have completely moved to another name and system in the past few months. I still think Nikon makes top quality DSLR bodies and lenses. But they haven’t moved toward the mirrorless system in a way that fits my thinking.

City Center Rome, Italy Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

City Center
Rome, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On a couple occasions, I mentioned New Year’s resolutions in my late December posts. In one case, in 2011, I noted that I don’t make them (because I don’t keep them). In 2012 I made one (and didn’t keep it).

Oxbow Bend; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Oxbow Bend; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

It has gotten harder to do this. I still enjoy it, but inspiration for subjects or topics are tougher to come by.  For those who have read, followed and commented over the past 7 years, I am very grateful. I will be traveling again in the next couple weeks, and so may not be consistent with my weekly input. I guess it is one of the nice things about the nature of a personal blog. I can post when I want to.  🙂

The quintessential symbol of Venice is, of course, the Gondola Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The quintessential symbol of Venice is, of course, the Gondola
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Until next time ……….

More Raw Image Conversion Magic

Little Stony Man Overlook Shenandoah NP, Virginia Andy Richards  Copyright 2007

Little Stony Man Overlook
Shenandoah NP, Virginia
Andy Richards Copyright 2007

Sometimes I wonder what my next blog topic will be about. Other times, I have a couple ideas in the queue for next. And sometimes, even with those ideas ready, another idea comes up that I feel compelled to write about. That happened this week

In my continuing re-work of my website images, I have incorporated the new workflow and for 99% of my images, I am getting improved results and trashing the older, smaller jpegs that were originally uploaded. But what has been a pleasant discovery is how many images I had essentially rejected are I am now able to bring out details in—without resort to blending and HDR type techniques.

The image here is an example. I shot this image in 2007 with a Nikon D200, without a graduated ND filter, in conditions with clearly too much contrast to capture in one shot (or at least, that is what I thought then and until very recently). I made several exposures with the intent of trying my hand at some blending (this was before I had any working knowledge of blending and HDR third party programs). While I am certain that there are some very skilled Photoshop users out there who could make a nice image, I had neither the skills nor the patience to get what I felt was an acceptable result. So, the raw image remained in the files. I am an optimist, and have read a number of times that storage is cheap and technology continues to advance. So I do keep images that might have some future usefulness.

This image is not—compositionally—the strongest image. I feel that the trees and foliage jutting into the foreground (ironically) detract from the composition and I would like to have found a vantage point that would have excluded them. But in terms of the technical post-processing, I think it is a great example. The below shot is the image opened in ACR using my prior workflow. It has been adjusted for color temperature, I added clarity and vibrance, did some basic noise reduction, and calibrated it for the Nikon 18-200 zoom lens used to capture the image. I slightly tweaked exposure (but any greater adjustment and I began to lose the highlights), and set the black and white points.LITTLE STONY MAN SHENANDOAH NP_BAD

As you can see, the foreground and especially the “middle ground” are terribly blocked up and lacking in visible detail. I followed the cardinal rule of exposing to the right, but this is an image that screams out for either a GND filter, or blending of several exposures.

The two most powerful sliders for an image like this one are the shadows slider and the contrast slider

Moving into Photoshop, I played around with a couple different ways to “improve” the exposure. Using levels, I moved the mid-point slider to globally lighten the image (I could mask off the sky, of course). That demonstrates why many Photoshop commentators call it a “blunt” instrument. There is an immediate loss of contrast, as well as a breakdown of details. In short, it looks “crappy.” Curves were not much of an improvement. The Shadow/Highlight adjustment in Photoshop was, again, not much better.

I never used to touch the shadow, contrast, or saturation sliders. Now I am freely using the first two

In NIK Viveza 2, I set some control points and used the shadows, contrast, and saturation sliders. While the result was considerably better that the prior tries, the end result still looked “worked.”

So, I went back to my raw image, armed with the knowledge I gained from Jeff Schewe’s “The Digital Negative.” The image at the beginning of the blog is the result. And the main tools were the sliders in the very first window (essentially the same as the sliders in the Lightroom 4 Develop Module for LR users). The two most powerful sliders for an image like this one are the shadows slider and the contrast slider. I find that if I expose correctly (see Expose Right to Expose Correctly), I rarely do much with the exposure slider (although Schewe suggests it is the starting place and he likes to set it “by eye”). I set color temperature (usually not much adjustment there), and then look at the histogram. If it is within the left and right edges, I usually set the clarity and vibrance sliders next. If there are blown highlights, I try to correct them with the highlight slider. Then I work with the shadows slider and the contrast slider (relying on reading I had done previously—applicable to older ACR processing engines—I never used to touch the shadow, contrast, or saturation sliders. Now I am freely using the first two. I still prefer to do any saturation other than what naturally occurs with clarity and vibrance in Photoshop or with a plugin like NIK).

In this image, I pushed the shadows slider nearly to its limit. I continue to be amazed at how good it looks. I am not a pixel peeper, and in that context, I am unable to detect any destructive result. As this tends to flatten contrast, I use the contrast slider, but a bit more judiciously. Other than these two sliders, there is very little difference in the resulting image brought into Photoshop. But what a difference in the end result!

 I still prefer to do any saturation other than what naturally occurs with clarity and vibrance in Photoshop or with a plugin like NIK

The modifications made in NIK Viveza 2, afterward are much more subtle. A slight amount of saturation boost in the sky and in the “middle ground” foliage, a bit of “structure” and some contrast adjustments and some localized lightening of shadows and darkening of bright areas are all I did to the final image.

I will be on vacation for the week after next, including the next couple weekends, so I will be on hiatus from this blog. I hope to bring back some new images and ideas. See you soon.

Water Seeks Its Own Level

Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Waterfalls hold a special fascination, especially for photographers. Last December, I wrote about water and its many possibilities as a photographic subject or enhancement. While waterfalls can provide background interest and occasionally wonderful effects, a photographer can find it very rewarding to seek them out as a subject in and of themselves. Waterfalls can depict power, tranquility, or ironically—sometimes even both at the same time. With the appropriate photographic technique, the same waterfall can be portrayed to show either. They can enhance the color and texture of the substrate over which they flow. Waterfalls often demonstrate the sheer persistence of nature through years and years of inexorable flow to create canyons and ravines in bedrock.

The same waterfall can be portrayed by the photographer to depict either power or tranquility.

Copyright Andy Richards 1997

Falls can be very large or very small and still hold fascination for the viewer and great fodder for the photographer.

This waterfall is about 18-24 inches wide and about a 3 foot drop - Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Perhaps more than any other subject, waterfalls present opportunities for the creative photographer to use the tools at his disposal for creative effect.

Those who know me or have read this blog know my mantra: “get close” and my fascination with the more intimate view of subjects. Waterfalls are often a great subject to get in close and shoot parts of, to show the effects of the water, and for abstracts of shape and color. I can sit at a waterfall for hours and watch as the water flows and see the while it may look the “same” to the casual observer, the flow of the water is never precisely the same.

Waterfalls are a great subject to get in close and make “intimate” images.

Perspective and context are often an element which is necessary if the photographer wants the viewer to know the size of the falls. It is often difficult, especially with an intimate view, for the viewer to know whether the falls are large or small.

Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Waterfalls are one of the most difficult subjects for a photographer to technically expose properly. There is generally very high contrast between the almost pure white water at its most rapid movement and the shadows often naturally created by the surroundings. Lighting conditions are often difficult. Waterfalls may be photographed on overcast days, and even in the rain, but care must be taken care in selecting any background elements. It is often difficult to properly expose a waterfall on a bright sunny day with blue skies in the background. Blending techniques have allowed us to do more in “digital darkroom” programs more easily that might have been possible with film.

The photographer needs to plan the shooting of a waterfall. This—like most successful nature photography opportunities—means being willing to be up very early and/or out late. An irony to this is that in many great waterfall shots the waterfall is in a difficult to get to place, which requires a hike in and out. By its nature, waterfall means elevation. So plan to hike uphill and down (often the hike can be a rather strenuous climb).

Spending time at a waterfall can be rewarding photographically and for the soul

Of the photographic experiences I remember in recent years, the ones that come back to me as most personally moving, and as a time and place for the contemplation of nature and her majesty, are the times (especially early morning) I have spent around waterfalls. Making the time to plan and arrive at these destinations and then spending some time while there can be a very rewarding experience for the photographer, both for the images and for the soul.

This shot involved a pre-sunrise, 20 minute hike down a very steep mountain trail on a Sunday morning. I'd rather be here than in church any day! Copyright Andy Richards 2008