I managed to take a picture of Comet PanStarrs last evening (3/13/13). It was a beautiful evening, but the comet certainly wasn't the spectacle I thought I'd see. The only reason I managed to get a photo was because the sky was clear enough above the low clouds on the far horizon, and I stayed and kept taking photos as the twilight began fading in the western sky - and then continued doing so until the only light left in the sky was the starlight overhead. The best shot I got of the comet was at about 45 minutes after sunset. The sky needed to be dark enough so the comet was visible, as well as clear enough for the comet to show up in a photo. Soon after that it was covered by the clouds.
I never did see actually see the comet while I was there, and didn't notice it then in the photos I shot either. I figured it was too low, or in the clouds, or not in the general area I thought it would be in. It wasn't until I got back home, checked the internet to verify where the comet should have been in the sky relative to the moon, and checked my photos again, that I noticed a soft, fuzzy, bright point in my photo just above the clouds, that was in line with the moon. I zoomed into the photo with the zoom button on the camera, and there it was!
This was my second time out. The first was on Friday March 8. I watched a beautiful sunset, and took photos the whole time, but never did see the comet. The pictures I'd been seeing posted on the web made me think it should be readily visible, but the reality is - at least for our latitude here in the Adirondacks, the comet is still so close to the sun that it's quite difficult to see with the naked eye. As it gets further away from the sun each night this month, it will become a much easier target in the evening sky. It will also be fading ever so slightly each night, but at least it will be higher above the glow of twilight, and easier to see.
For now, it's best to pick a nice clear evening, find a high location with a clear view to the western horizon. Enjoy the beauty of the evening as day fades to dark. Then about 40 minutes after the actual time the sun sets (roughly 7 PM right now - but this gets slightly later each night this month), start scanning the sky just above where the sun set with binoculars and look for a soft, fuzzy point of light within the glow of twilight.
Looking to get photos? The photo of the crescent moon, comet, and clouds was shot with my D300S camera, at 800 ISO, using a 60 mm focal length on my Nikkor 18-300 zoom, for 2 seconds at f /5.6. If I knew that focal length would have worked fine, and also knew that I was actually taking a photo of the comet, I would have used my 50 mm f1.4 lens, with a faster shutter speed, larger aperture, and lower ISO. It's best to use at least an f 2.8 lens. With slower lenses you'll just need to bump up the ISO to as high as 800 so you can set a fast enough shutter speed so there is minimal motion blur on the stars and comet because of the motion issues from the rotating Earth. Try to keep shutter speeds no longer than 2 seconds at that focal length. Be sure to use a good sturdy tripod with a cable or remote release to avoid moving the camera while taking a shot. Happy comet hunting!
This year's mix of freeze and thaw cycles created a lot of options for photographing icicles and fresh snow in a lot of different situations around the Adirondacks. During the below zero cold, rivers and streams freeze over completely, then open again in the thaw. Icicles build on rocks and cliffs, and then gently drip away, or fall to a heap in the warm air and sun.
The thaw cycles create more water for the next set of icicles as the water seeps under the snow cover on the ground to the overhangs and outcroppings. As the ice builds up in the cold temperatures, fresh snow decorates the details and creates many different options for photography.
When photographing snow and ice it's important to consider how the camera is reading the light values for each exposure, especially when a photo is composed mostly of these brighter details. The camera's light meter wants to balance the tonal values of a photo to a mid-tone 18% gray value. That's just right for green grass and leaves and deep blue sky. Subjects like fog, snow, and ice though are brighter than 18% gray, and the camera needs to be adjusted so the brighter snow and ice will appear closer to a white value.
The easiest way to make the adjustment is to use a camera's exposure compensation feature while working in Aperture or Shutter Priority, or Program modes. A snow scene should be overexposed by about 1 to 2 stops depending on the proportion of light snow to darker details in the image. The bottom line is, if you take an image and the overall details are too dark - add more overexposure. If image details are too light, dial in some underexposure.
This shooting process and more tips and techniques for exposure and working with histograms are explained in greater detail in my books - 'Contemporary Landscape Photography' (Amphoto), and 'The Landscape Photography Field Guide' (Focal Press). We also go through these shooting techniques and many others in my photography workshops. Happy shooting!
As winter settles in around the Adirondacks, cold Canadian air slips south and gives a good chill to the region. Ice forms on puddles, ponds, streams, and finally the larger lakes in the region. Both Lake Champlain and Lake George are the last to freeze over, with the main body of Lake Champlain, and sometimes Lake George, often remaining open throughout the winter months.
Open water and zero (F) or below air temperatures create unique photo opportunities with a combination of ice, mist, snow, and light. The extremes in air temperature cause mist to form, and sometimes freeze on all the branches along the shore. Wind blown lakes in these temperatures creates icicles and a buildup of ice all along the shoreline. Once the lake water temperature is cold enough, ice crystals form, as well as ice pans that blow into bays and gently bob up and down on the waves rolling in. As the surrounding air becomes saturated with enough moisture, fog and clouds may form along the length of the open water in the lake.
The general rules for exposure apply. When working in Aperture or Shutter Priority, if the scene is mostly white, add some overexposure compensation to brighten up the snow in the photos. Most important, bracket the exposure (shooting additional over and under exposures) to be sure you get a good enough exposure of the composition you have set up, and have enough highlight and shadow details in the exposures to do any needed HDR (high dynamic range) compositing work. I shoot in RAW with the white balance on Auto so I have the greatest amount of image information to work with - and can easily make any slight white balance adjustments needed in post processing. If shooting jpeg, it's best to get white balance right while you're shooting.
Dress warm! In sub-zero temperatures I wear synthetic long johns and a Primaloft insulated jacket and pants under my wind / waterproof parka and pants, as well as extra layers of fleece if needed. Nice warm Outdoor Research Primaloft mitts keep my hands toasty once the camera is set up, and I use windstopper fleece gloves as needed when making detailed camera adjustments. If you're interested in learning more about how to take these types of shots, sign up for one of the many one day to several day photography workshops I do each year (full list on my website), or check out my landscape photography techniques books. 'The Landscape Photography Field Guide' is packed full of information and tips in a book that easily fits in most camera packs.
The satellite view on the internet showed the clouds moving in as expected, so I packed up my camera and outdoor gear, and drove off about 4 AM to Newcomb and the Goodnow Mountain trailhead. The temperatures were hovering around zero or below as I organized my gear and put on the snowshoes and my pack. Heading up the trail, the light from my headlamp illuminated thousands of sparkles on the fluff of crystals from a recent snowfall. Stars shone brightly through the bare treetops, and as I was nearing the top of the mountain, the crescent moon shone brightly in the sky above the summit ridge, diffused slightly through the high clouds that were moving in.
By the time I reached the fire tower, there was already a beautiful warm glow on the horizon, and a deep red glow to the clouds in the northeast. I wasted no time in taking off my snowshoes, and climbed the tower stairs for the broad open view from the cabin above the snow covered spruce and balsam. Stars were disappearing quickly as I set up my tripod and Nikon D300S camera. Since I was going for the broad view of the clouds and landscape, I exchanged my 18-200 for the 11-16 mm zoom, mounted the camera on the offset center head, attached the cable release and started shooting.
As the light began changing quickly, I also pulled out my Nikon Coolpix P7700 and shot a variety of handheld images of the dawn light, checking as many as needed after I shot them to be sure they were as sharp and detailed as I expected them to be. There wasn't much wind until about the time the sun started to rise above the horizon. It's always a balance in the winter between having a thick enough glove to keep the hands warm, and having enough dexterity with gloves on to work with the camera. My hands are usually pretty chilly by the time I put the cameras away. The glow of a beautiful sunrise generally keeps me thinking more about the photography than how cold the fingers are.
A spectacular sunrise always passes by far too quickly. The warm red and yellow tones of dawn soon brighten to white, blue, green and gray not long after the sun rises fully above the horizon. But there are still plenty of great angles to shoot in the low angle 'magic hour' light, and it was another hour or more before I snowshoed back down to the car and headed home to the office to check through the images from the morning shoot.
When shooting with film, image quality depended on the film being used - the ISO, and the characteristics of the film, in addition to the quality of the optics in the lens being used. The issues are similar with digital, with image quality still depending on the quality of the optics, and the image capture device (the sensor and processing technology). Digital image capture keeps improving as the technology keeps getting better.
I've been following advances in point and shoot technology for some years, looking for certain shooting and image quality features. With the recent jump in sensor technology, I started looking pretty seriously this year at a number of point and shoot cameras and finally settled on Nikon's Coolpix P7700. With a 28-200 mm full frame equiv., it's a little short on the focal length range I'd like - and it doesn't have a Bulb setting, multiple exposure, and image overlay creative effects, but otherwise the camera has all the features I'm used to using with my Nikon D300S. The camera will do a 60 second exposure and 12 megapixel RAW files (slow writing to memory), plus 1080p video, panoramic mode, and HDR.
I've had a few days to play around with the features, and really enjoy how easy it is to access settings through buttons and dials on the camera, as well as with a customizable My Menu feature accessed via one of the knobs. And, as fun as it is to be able to have full control, or play with the special effects, it's also nice when the grandkids are running around to set it to fully automatic and get some great photos that are at least as good as I shoot with the D300S, without thinking about the settings. And the whole unit is a fraction of the size and weight of my D300S w/ 18-200 mm zoom!
The accompanying photos were all shot with the Coolpix P7700. All shot RAW, with the Christmas lights converted to jpeg from RAW in the camera, and the moon photos with Photoshop. Of the two of Christmas lights, one was a pan on led lights, and the other an in camera zoom effect.
For the second time within a month, a solar wind passed by Earth when it was clear enough here in the Adirondacks to see the northern lights glowing on the horizon in Brant Lake. They were bright enough of a glow that it's quite obvious there's an aurora, but not quite bright enough so the soft shimmering shafts are visible to the eye. The camera picks up more than the eye can see, both in color as well as detail.
This first photo was taken on 10/13/12 at about 3:30 AM - looking north over the western end of Brant Lake.
This second one was taken last night (11/14/12) at about 2:30 AM. You need to be someplace out of city lights, with dark skies to the north to see them. Hopefully before too long, we'll even have some overhead here again! These were both 30 second exposures at f /2.8, 800 ISO - shot with a Nikon D300S camera.
I thought I'd share a few photos from two of my recent workshops that I led recently at the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne. The first was my 1 day comprehensive 'Perfect Pictures Every Time' workshop on Saturday, followed by the 'It's How You See It' workshop on composition and more advanced shooting techniques on Sunday. There is a really nice diversity of shooting within a short distance of the Folk School - from the cascades just upstream of the school on Mill Creek, to Adirondack chairs along the Hudson at the neighboring Chamber of Commerce, and Rockwell Falls on the Hudson within a short walking distance.
On Sunday we took a short ride to the historic Bow Bridge and railroad trestle over the Sacandaga River in Hadley. With the water release over the weekend for those tubing or kayaking the river, there was plenty of water flowing under the bridges when the train went over - on time - just after 5 PM, heading south. While I compose mostly to create a dynamic balance between contrasts of light and dark areas, and color within an image, the railroad / bridges photo also exhibits a good balance of 'thirds'. The rule (guideline) of thirds suggests placing horizon or detail lines at approximate 'thirds' in an image, and placing main subjects at intersecting lines of thirds. The main 'energy' of the train engine on the bridge is at an intersection of 'thirds', the Bow Bridge near the bottom third. The edge of the trees on the left and bridge abuttment on the right are almost a 'third' in from either side.
If looking at the composition by 'contrast evaluation', the train engine has a lot of energy and attracts the eye. The amount of lighter sky balances out the heavier energy of the darker trees. The lines of the bridges catch your eye and lead you from side to side, and there is enough energy in the water and lines there to pull your eye down - plus having the lighter color and detail contrast in the stone bridge abuttment. This creates a pleasing dyanamic balance between all the lighter and darker areas and lines that lead your eye throughout the image. My books, 'Contemporary Landscape Photography', and 'The Landscape Photography Field Guide' both discuss composition in greater length and with much more detail. I'll be doing a 2 day workshop at the Folk School later this month (Aug. 2012), as well as workshops at View in Old Forge.
This past weekend, 2/25 - 26/12, I was in Old Forge to do 2 enjoyable and informative comprehensive one day photography workshops at View. While Saturday had a full blown snowstorm for weather, Sunday was bright and clear, but we found some great opportunities both days to play with the cameras and practice techniques after going through the classroom segment. Since I was in town overnight, I headed ourt early Sunday morning to scout new locations, and do some shooting in the crisp, clear morning light with the fresh snowfall coating everything with about 10 inches of new snow.
I headed to the Green Bridge first and took a few photos in the dawn light, then headed west from Thendara along 28, to a location I had never been to at a bend in the Moose River. The sun still hadn't crested above the horizon when I first started shooting, allowing the use of longer shutter speeds to add some motion blur to the water, which gives a softer effect to the look of the river.
Mist was rising from the water in the near zero degree cold, adding a mystical effect to the river and snow covered trees along the shore. The sun came up in a location where the first rays highlighted the mist along the river bend just beyond where I had set up. While I had been lamenting the fact that the brighter conditions were making the shooting speeds faster than I preferred for getting a nice soft blur in the water, I quickly realized the magic hour light playing on the mist was simply extraordinary, and I quickly stopped worrying about motion blur.
As the sun continued to rise, I to shoot different angles on the mist and the river. After I was satisfied with what I had shot, I pulled out my most recent purchase - a Tiffen 2 - 8 stop neutral density filter. As the front element of this filter is rotated, it diminishes the light coming through the lens from as little as 2 stops, to as much as 8 stops of light. In addition to using a small aperture and dropping the ISO to it's lowest setting, this is an easy way to slow shutter speeds down in any daylight situation. Instead of having to work at 1/15 or 1/30 second, I could increase the length of the shutter speed to seconds, and completely soften any ripple detail in the water.
After getting the images I wanted of the river and mist with the filter on, I started looking around for more angles on the landscape and river, and found some great reflections on the water around the ice formations as the frazil ice floated by on the surface of the river.
This past Saturday, 1/7/12, I headed out to climb Rooster Comb and Snow Mountain in the Keene Valley area with the group that had signed up for the High Peaks Full Moon Photo Tour. In all my years of hiking up here I had never hiked Rooster Comb before, but with all the scouting I did through photos, Google Earth, and with a program I have that sets up lunar schedules and sky locations, I knew the summit of Rooster Comb would be a good place to be when the nearly full moon rose on Saturday afternoon. All we needed was cooperation from the weather.
We met at the parking lot at 9:30, had our introductions, got the gear together, and headed up the trail. Even though there was almost no snow on the ground, it wasn't long before we were stopping to photograph scenes along the trail. Given the warm day and light thaw, there was a variety of icy patterns in the streams and wet areas, as well as icicles hanging over the rocks and ledges. With the sky being pretty overcast, the light was quite soft and diffuse which made for excellent photography light in the woods along the trail.
Depth of field is often a critical issue when taking a photo. This is true when working with any focal length. The shorter the focal length the greater the depth of field potential. What's most important though is to understand where to put the actual point of focus in order to maximize the depth of field. I have charts to work with as handouts that detail the range of depth of field at different aperture settings for a variety of focal lengths (this is also in my photo techniques books as well). The actual point of focus (the hyperfocus point) is twice as far away as the closest subject that can be in focus at the given focal length / aperture opening. While this sounds complicated, it's easier to understand when you see it in practice, and then work with it for a bit.
All the stops we made for photos along the trail slowed our progress a bit, so when we reached the junction for Snow Mountain, I decided it was best just to head for the top of Rooster Comb. The timing worked out well! Clouds were breaking up, and we had some really nice light over the mountains. The clouds were still hanging over the summits, making for some really dramatic images. We hiked on over to the Valley View lookout before heading on to the actual summit.
The light was great when we first got to the top, but another bank of really dark clouds was pushing in from the west. After a half hour or so the view with the sunlight on Giant was replaced with a dramatic sky that had a rather ominous look. The dark clouds added a whole different character, but unfortunately blocked any view of the moon rising over the ridge to the north of Giant. The wind picked up as the sky started spitting little snowballs at us, making it feel much more like winter on the exposed ridge.
Patience paid off though. The low, fast moving clouds were not a completely solid layer, and as they began to break up, some of the deep blue twilight sky was peeking through. The moon finally made an appearance through one of the openings, and for the next half hour or more we all photographed the landscape with the full moon showing through breaks in the passing clouds. One of the favorite photos I shot that evening was a 30 second exposure that showed the motion of the clouds, but the moon also made a brief appearance during the exposure and put the moon within the exposure range of the rest of the photograph. While the overall weather wasn't exactly what I had hoped for, in many ways it exceeded my expectations, and gave opportunities for a variety of unique images!
While late fall this year has had it's ups and downs in terms of winter weather, this past weekend had a definite winter feel to it! My son and I headed out to climb Big Slide on Sunday morning (12/18/11) with the thermometer reading just above O (F) in Brant Lake. We packed plenty of fleece layers for insulation, knowing it would be at least 10 degrees colder in the peaks. There had been a light snowfall, so the ground had a nice white coating, covering roots, as well as ice on the trail. The weather service missed the mark - pleasantly so - with their partly cloudy forecast. The day ended up being as brilliantly clear as it gets with barely a breeze blowing - even on the top of the mountain.
We weren't the only ones climbing on Sunday, but there were only a couple of other groups out on the trail over The Brothers to Big Slide. While we had crampons along, we were able to make it OK over the icy sections. We noted some others did wear extra traction cleats - most likely a big help on some of the steeper sections!
Daytime temps were quite brisk in the shade, but the sun - even as low as it stayed in the sky - aded a nice warmth when we were out in the open. While some clouds in the sky adds some interest to a photo, the clarity of the air allowed for sharp rendition of both near and far mountains. The Great Range (Lower / Upper Wolfjaws, Armstrong, Gothics, Saddleback, and Basin) is right across the valley, but the further away Dix, Colden, Algonquin, and even the Green Mountains of Vermont were just as clear as the closer peaks. Both Mount Mansfield and Camels Hump were capped with white on the Vermont's rolling horizon. The panoramic summit view of Giant, the Great Range, Marcy, Colden, and Algonquin is simply fabulous.
We took our time at the views on the way up and on the summit, taking photos and enjoying each view, before heading down the trail to Johns Brook Lodge and back out to the Garden parking lot. I carried two lenses along with my D300S - an 18-200, and an 11-16, to give me lots of flexibilty on different angles and compositions. I also shot a few panoramic sequences that still need to be stitched together.
The sun was getting low as we started our descent. Debris, ice, and bridge washouts from Irene made the trail to JBL interesting. Twilight faded into night and the stars flickered among the treetops as we hiked out. Since we both enjoy walking at night we waited as long as we could before turning on our headlamps. After I slipped a couple of times on ice that I thought was dirt, we decided a bit of light would make the last mile or so both easier and safer. After we put our gear in the car, we hung out in the parking lot a few minutes gazing at the stars and Milky Way with the sky so absolutely clear you felt you could reach out and touch them....