Archive for the ‘Workshops’ Category

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 7)

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Our Last Gasp


Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

My alarm went off at 5:45 am!!! Great!! But the excitement of another dawn twilight shoot overcame my sleepiness. Of course, the two large cups of coffee helped as well. We gathered in front of the Best Western for the last time as a group and “democratically” chose our destination: Mammoth Hot Springs. Opposed to going up the road to Jardine.

A not so quick trip back up the entrance road (behind a fuel truck) brought us to the lower terrace. Some of the group continued up to the road to the upper terrace just as the sky began to color with the sunrise. I was distracted by a tree in the middle of the second parking lot just up the road from the Liberty Cap parking lot.

Silhouette -- Lower Terrace Parking Lot

Silhouette -- Lower Terrace Parking Lot

The distraction caused me to miss the very short interval of color in the eastern sky. Oh well, I think my photographs of the tree are pretty interesting.

It was just as well that we didn’t go up toward Jardine as the weather closed in a bit and it looked like the road was enveloped in clouds. This weather and flat light created a huge soft box and made shooting both very interesting and challenging.

Lone Tree - Minerva Terrace

Lone Tree - Minerva Terrace

Deadwood -- Minerva Terrace

Deadwood -- Minerva Terrace

Some humor broke the seriousness of our efforts, though:

Snowman on Bench -- Minerva Terrace

Snowman on Bench -- Minerva Terrace

Kate had found this snowman on the trail and had placed it on the bench. What a riot!!!

Back to Gardiner to shower, ingest (breakfast for me, images for Lightroom), ranking, and editing. Six images, at least one with a person or people in it, one to encapsulate our feelings about the workshop, and four others.

I packed up my car and said farewell to the Absaroka Lodge. It was a very nice place and a good buy. I just wish the wireless network had worked for me.

In room 301, we met for the last time. We gave our images to Dave and as he compiled the final slideshow, we reminisced about all that had occurred over the week and I showed off my Wacom Cintiq 12wx tablet 🙂

The slideshow was awesome!!! What talent was sitting in that room. Again, I was inspired, but so sad to leave this group that I had grown so close to. I hope to see them all again!!!

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 6)

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Our Last Day at Old Faithful and Back to Mammoth and Gardiner


Firehole River -- Old Faithful Geyser Basin

Firehole River -- Old Faithful Geyser Basin

I awoke early again after what seemed like a very brief sleep. This time I was resolved to go out with the group that joined Dave at 6:45 am. I left the group just we crossed the footbridge over the Firehole River and made the climb up to Observation Point. The way was guided by the footprints of a coyote. He did not continue all the way up to the point, but continued on the trail toward Solitary Geyser.

I turned away from his trail and continued my climb to the point. The view from the last switchback seemed quite expansive, but I kept on going to the end of the trail. The view from Observation Point was partial obscured by two small Lodgepole pines. I think I took one or two record shots and quickly left the point to re-check the switchback.

I found the switchback to be a much better spot for a panorama despite the flat light.


There also laid a snag with interesting patterns. I struggled to get a composition and exposure of the snag that interested me.

Snag -- Trail to Observation Point

Snag -- Trail to Observation Point

I descended back to the point where the coyote’s tracks and mine parted. I resumed following his tracks to Solitary Geyser. The light was still fairly flat and the geyser was not active. I took a few pictures and the started back down to the Geyser Hill Trail to find the rest of the group, again, following my newfound friend’s tracks.

Solitary Geyser

Solitary Geyser

The light was rapidly improving as I climbed down the trail and arrived at the main trail. Our group was scattered about the basin, so I started looking for places to shoot.

Photographing Geyser Hill

Photographing Geyser Hill

There were so many interesting things, but time would not permit a thorough recording of all the marvelous thermal features.

Hot Spring and Photographer -- Geyser Hill

Hot Spring and Photographer -- Geyser Hill

One last crossing of the footbridge on our way back to the Snow Lodge for a very quick breakfast and then to our meeting with Dave and George.

George gave a more complete lecture on form and composition using many of his photographs of places around the world. It was captivating and inspirational. Then, it was off to complete, at least in part, my critique assignment.

I explored the environs around the Snow Lodge shooting several different scenes around the exterior. I obviously overlooked the interior features as would be evident when my classmates showed their work that evening.

Ski Rack -- Snow Lodge

Ski Rack -- Snow Lodge

Leading Lines -- Snow Lodge

Leading Lines -- Snow Lodge

Lanterns -- Snow Lodge

Lanterns -- Snow Lodge

I completed my packing and headed back to the Lodge for some relaxation and camaraderie. I was enlisted as a human “Go-Bo” (short for Go Between) to block some extraneous light interfering with one of my classmate’s attempt to photograph a subject in the lodge’s lobby. It was actually quite humorous watching the antics of Fred and me as we both tried in vain to create a single light source for the photographer. He eventually found the same subject in a different part of the lobby with much more even lighting.

Our noon lecture with Dave was an introduction to Lightroom. It was fairly basic for me, but I did learn some good tactics and techniques in its use.

Then, it was time to gather our gear and head for our snowcoaches that would take us back to Mammoth. For some reason, we weren’t put together as a group and were spread across three different coaches.

Bill and I were the only ones from the group on our coach. We made the best of it and met three sisters vacationing in the park. They were very nice and quite entertaining as they had been to the park many times since their childhood. They even had Trivial Pursuit cards to help past the time.

Bill -- Inside the Snowcoach

Bill -- Inside the Snowcoach

We did stop at Fountain Paint Pots for what was to be a 30 minute tour of the thermal features found there. I rushed off as soon as I got out of the coach to try to see how many different subjects I could photograph well in those 30 minutes. You can be the judge on how I did.

We piled back into the coach and proceeded down the road and finally made it back to the snowmobile base at Mammoth just as the most beautiful sunset colors dimmed to grey. There had been no opportunity to stop and try to capture the colors. Bummer. I was quite disappointed.

We boarded the motorcoach for a short trip to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and our cars. Brian and I collected our baggage and returned to the Best Western and Absaroka Lodge, respectively. A quick shower while my memory cards were ingested by Lightroom and then to sorting, ranking, and editing images for the evening’s critique.

We were surprised to find out that the conference room was reserved by another group and we were to meet in Room 301. A room!!! For sixteen students, two instructors, and a couple of spouses? Well, it turned out to be a suite with a HD TV that we used in place of the projector and bed sheet we had been using for a screen. It was cozy, but by then our group had really bonded and it was very fun.

Again, the images created by this group was outstanding. I just can’t describe how impressed and inspired I am by these men and women. Here are my images.

After the critique, I told Brian I was planning on heading back up the road to Jardine to take some starscapes. He wanted to accompany me and so did Doug. So I sped off to my motel to change into some warmer clothes and footware and went to meet them outside the Best Western.

We found a small bench overlooking Gardiner with multiple glacial erratics and started to figure out what we were trying to do. I had attempted a few star trails before, but never thought of how to create a starscape, i.e., using the night sky to complement a landscape/foreground.

Well, after multiple trials and a lot of error with extended ISOs, long shutter openings, light painting with our LED headlamps, and exposure blending, I came up with a couple of photographs that I’m quite proud of.

We headed back to Gardiner at 12:20 am to go to bed, but, of course, I was curious about my images so I had to get them into Lightroom and check them out. It was 2 am before I finally hit the pillow. Great, we’re off at 6:45 am for a morning twilight shoot. Ouch!!! It was the end of a very, very long day.

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 5)

Monday, February 8th, 2010

The Mini-Grand Tour

Snowcoaches Awaiting Their Guests

Bill and I were up early hoping for an opportunity for some shots at a colorful sunrise, but an overcast sky greeted us. We opted instead for working on images in Lightroom and Photoshop and, finally, a good, hot breakfast in the Firehole Grill at the Snow Lodge.

The snowcoaches arrived just before 9 am and soon we were off to Canyon via West Thumb and Lake, a long distance and our drivers had to do some rethinking of how they were going to manage the refueling.

Our drivers/guides were Scott and Dave, both from West Yellowstone are passionate about keeping the park as pristine as possible. Both are extremely knowledgeable about early aspect of the park, but they were impressed by George’s years of experience in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Dave was our driver through most of the trip and is very interested in the science of the park and the indirect benefits that the microbiology of the thermal features are and, potentially will be, providing.

Scott is a prototypical outdoor adventurer, who has climbed many of the peaks around the park and has backpacked all over.

Our first stop was Shoshone Point on the section of road to West Thumb between the two crossings of the Continental Divide. From the pullout you can see a small section of Shoshone Lake and, if the weather’s clear enough, the Grand Tetons on the horizon.

Shoshone Point

Shoshone Point

At West Thumb, I discovered a surreal place of snow and steam and color. It was so beautiful. I can’t believe I haven’t visited it before. We only had about 30 minutes to shoot, while the coaches were refueled at Grant Village.

Cat Hair and Good Photos Don't Mix

Fumerole and Trees -- West Thumb Geyser Basin

Fumerole and Trees -- West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Our drive to Lake and its famous hotel took us along the northwest shore of Yellowstone Lake. The Absorka Mountains to the east and the Red mountain range including Mount Sheridan to the south provide a beautiful back drop to the lake.

At Lake, I was so intent on talk to our drivers, I actually forgot to take any pictures, even record shots. The light was incredibly intense, so I wasn’t that anxious to do any serious photography (but after seeing what the others in the group showed at the evening’s critique I’m learning that impressive images can be taken in that situation).

The Mud Volcano was our next stop on our way to Canyon. I took “the road less travelled” and headed across the road from the parking lot to the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

Our transit across the Hayden Valley uncovered signs of wolves, but no animals. Need I say we say bison?

As we turned onto the South Rim access road to Artist Point, there was one other coach there on the Chittenden Bridge who had observed a family of river otters. We looked and looked, but no sightings.

View from Chittenden Bridge

View from Chittenden Bridge

Photographing the Lower Falls

Photographing the Lower Falls

It was off to Artist Point and the Upper Falls on the South Rim, then to Lookout Point on the North Rim.

Photographers -- Lookout Point

Photographers -- Lookout Point

We took a rest break and the Canyon Warming Hut/Rest Rooms while the coaches were refueled. When changed coaches so the other half of the group could be with Dave and we could listen to George and Scott as we completed our loop Tour.

By then we had already traversed over half of the 98 mile loop and most of us just wanted to get back to Old Faithful. The sun set without any significant color, so we didn’t stop at any points on our way. The road was extremely rough and the coaches need so new shocks. Those of us in the back seats had to stay in a “ducked” position to not keep hitting our heads on the ceiling.

On our return, we rushed off to download our images and prepare them for the evening’s critique session. Dinner at the Firehole Grill was great again.

The critique was assuming as there were so many beautiful images. These were mine.

Tomorrow’s assignment for critique: Three images with one of some aspect of Snow Lodge itself or of our experience in and around it.

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 4)

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Snowcoach Trip to Old Faithful and the Snow Lodge

We’re up early to meet the coach at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, but end up waiting for every one else to arrive.

The motor coach took us up the road past the Upper Terrace parking lot to the snowmobile base. Here we met our driver, Liz. She came here 5 years ago to work for one summer during college and never left. The park’s allure ensnared her as it has to so many others.

Initially, we were led to believe that the snowcoach trip was the “express” with little or no opportunity to stop and shoot. That was wrong. We stopped multiple times: Roaring Mountain, Norris, Gibbon Falls, Firehole Falls, and couple of unnamed places.

There were amble opportunities to shoot. I find the park’s thermal features so much more impressive in the winter. The steam is so much larger than in the summer and, even the fall.

At Gibbon Falls, the road construction and changes around the falls made sight lines difficult.

I always find it difficult to improve on my favorite image of the park.

A brief stop at the Madison Junction Warming Hut and a visit with the park ranger stationed there, then off to Old Faithful via Firehole Canyon Road and a stop at the head of the canyon to photograph the falls.

We “flew past” the Fountain Paint Pots (we’ll stop on our trip back to Mammoth on Thursday), Firehole Lake Drive 🙁 and the Midway Geyser Basin 🙁

Our cabin wasn’t ready upon arriving at the Snow Lodge, so a quick lunch and good conversation with John and Ila. After finally settling in to our cabin, I rushed to the Old Faithful Geyser amphitheater just in time to witness an eruption, but I wasn’t really ready, so I stayed for the next.

In both cases, the plume of steam and the height of the eruption seemed much, much larger than during last summer’s trip and our fall visit several years ago.

I was back to the cabin to set up my computer and prepare images and review my choices for the evening’s critique.

Dinner at the Firehole Grill was fantastic. The food was awesome and our server, Richard, was very attentive and fun. Others in our group would complain about the service, but that was not my experience.

The critique session was shocking!!! So many extremely beautiful images. Here are mine (you’ve seen them before if you been following my blog).

Our assignment for tomorrow’s critique: Two images with one that must be of a thermal feature.

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 3)

Monday, February 8th, 2010

The Road to Cooke City


Sorry for the delay, but a very busy workshop schedule and no internet access at Old Faithful has been a problem.

We headed to Cooke City/Silver Gate. A long day in the saddle. Fortunately, no close encounters with four legged critters while driving the car.

George gave a few natural history talks as we drove along the Grand Loop Drive and the Northeast Entrance Road. Several encounters with bison gave us excellent opportunities for close-ups. But, dare I say it, I think I’ve overdosed on bison.

A couple of elk bucks rushed by my side of the car, freaked me out, and we missed the opportunity to take their pictures as our “caravan” couldn’t find a spot to stop.

The northern range coyotes were out in force throughout the drive from Blacktail Deer Plateau to Pebble Creek in the Lamar Valley. The one coyote we saw on the bank of the Lamar River west of the road bridge was moving quickly east.

Soon after the coyote left our field of vision, George spotted 3 wolves on a ridge to the west.

We soon lost sight of those wolves and move to a higher vantage point, but still failed to locate them. However, we saw 3 more following the route of the previous three. We quickly lost sight of them as well.

Judging by their initial route we thought they would follow the banks of the Lamar River, but none were seen coming around the corner of the ridge into the river bottom. As I scanned a far ridge line which I think was above Slough Creek, I saw a lone elk in a small clearing. The elk was obviously attentive and a little anxious. We continued to watch the elk thinking the wolves might be planning something.

After a seemingly long wait, the second group of three wolves appeared on the ridge very near to the elk.

We collectively held our breath as we all expect to see fur and snow flying. But the wolves just paused, then proceeded on the their way along Slough Creek. We were very surprised there was no attack, but still an extremely memorable experience.

Continuing along the Lamar River through the canyon then into the valley is always one of my favorite things to do here in Yellowstone. Several large bison herds and a few coyotes greeted us as we past the Yellowstone Institute at the Buffalo Ranch.

Near the trailhead to the Lamar Valley horse trail (where I took the panorama shots on Friday), a big horn ram was posing for a photographer. He, of course, stopped in the middle of the road to get out and set up his camera and tripod. George let us know that this practice was taboo, so some of our group walked from the trailhead parking lot back down the road to shoot.

There was much more snow on the ground in the northeast corner, especially as we drove up towards Silver Gate. The car just in front of me drifted off the road just a little bit and became stuck. Fortunately, one of our group had a big 4×4 truck and a tow rope and got here out of the drift.

A late lunch at Cooke City and then back toward Gardiner. We stopped a couple of times finally staying at the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar River for sunset. It was a beautiful twilight.

Then, back to Gardiner to start packing for our snowcoach trip to Old Faithful and then finally a pizza party and lecture by George about the history, geology, and biology of the park with his images giving great examples of composition and exposure.

Our assignment for tomorrow evening’s critique: Three images with one of wildlife.

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 2)

Monday, February 1st, 2010

My day began early as usual here in Gardiner, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with my plans to practice some more moonlight shots. Dave’s slideshow last night gave me some “pause” as to how I was approaching moonlight, so I was anxious to try a different approach. But overcast skies prevented that idea.

However, as I was leaving for the conference room (free internet access), the moon poked through the clouds so I detoured to shoot the moon over the Roosevelt arch. The mixed lighting of the moonlight and the street lights created a very unusual scene. I like it.

We met as a group at the HQ, the Best Western motel, around 8 am and divided up into smaller carpools. I volunteered to drive since my car was already a victim of the park. No need to risk another’s vehicle to the fates and fancies of the wildlife of the park.

We stopped at a couple of places on our way to the first photo location to hear from George about both the natural history and the politics of creating the park. George is a great storyteller and has a good sense of humor and irony as he explains things.

With the soft light of the cloudy day, I knew that contrast would be low, i.e., the tonal range would be narrow. How nostalgic. My first workshop here in Yellowstone was the same way, but at that time I was very naive and just shot and shot (oh, the benefits of digital photography). I did create some of my favorite images of the park from that shoot in Mammoth. Just dumb luck, I guess.

Our first location of the workshop was the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. How was I going to use my newly gained, and, hopefully, refined knowledge and experience to create even better images? I thought I’d start by using the exercise that Doug Johnson had us use: start with environment shots, then intimate portraits, and, finally, abstract images.

As it turned out, when we arrived at the upper terrace, the clouds seemed to be thinning. Since I had already spent an evening on the upper terrace, I thought I’d “go walkabout.” The loop road around the upper terrace is closed to motorized as well as foot traffic (just ski touring and snowshoeing). The road was hard snowpack, so I didn’t go back for my snowshoes since I knew I wouldn’t be damaging the trail.

It was quite a climb up to Orange Mound spring. The only time I’ve been there was in the fall and by car. It was much steeper than I remembered. I really only had time for a couple of short stops to shoot, but the hike was worth it. I now know that there are plenty of great places to shoot on the road when I have more time.

The weather began to clear, and by the time I reached the Orange Mound spring is was bright sunlight. So much for the soft light and low contrast.

The lower springs down by Liberty Cap were backlit and the mist was blowing directly onto the boardwalk. I tried out a few high contrast, back lit images.

Crossing the Gardner River

On our way back to the motel a small group of Big Horn sheep entertained us and several other photographers. Really big telephoto lenses made their appearance.

After lunch, Dave gave a wonderful lecture on Digital Exposure. Each time I hear a lecture on exposure I deepen my understanding, this was not an exception. Exposing for the highlights was again heard, but much better understood. I “overlaid” Ansel Adams’ concept of “placement and fall” with Dave’s lecture material. It’s all making more sense to me. Now, I just have to practice it more and more.

Our afternoon/evening field trip went up a steep gravel road to a mining town with a now defunct mine. We stopped at several spots along the road to discuss the natural history of the environment and, shockingly, take pictures.

Now, off to eat and then work on all the photographs…and, hopefully, sleep!!!

Talk to you tomorrow…

Beyond Foundation Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter (Day 1)

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Yellowstone in Winter

This evening we met David Marx and George Wuerthner and introduced ourselves to the rest of the workshop participants. I’ve take workshops from both Dave and George. George co-led the first workshop I attended here in Yellowstone in September 2006. Dave led the first workshop I had on Photoshop in Missoula in the “Blue Lab” at RMSP.

It is a large group. Sixteen participants plus our instructors. There are several participants that I know from previous workshops plus Brian from back in Minnesota.

George outlined the time table for the workshop as well as the ground rules for our conduct while in the park and workshop.

Dave capped off the evening with a slide show of his expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon last March. It was a great illustration of his view of the art of photography and composition, as well as a fun record of the adventure.

Back in Montana

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

I just arrived in Kalispell yesterday afternoon to start my next RMSP adventure. It hasn’t started out as well as I’d like since one of my bags didn’t arrive in Kalispell. Many photo accessories and my Gitzo graphite tripod were in that bag, so hopefully it’s just delayed.

Got to the storage place and the Outback started without a problem. I then sorted through all the things I thought I’d need for this trip. Hopefully, I’ll get to ski, too, while I’m here in the mountains. I’ll have to get some ski clothes, if they can’t find my bag.

So, here’s my tentative schedule for this tour of NW and SW Montana:

Thurs January 21        Skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort
Fri      January 22        Sunrise at Lake MacDonald in Glacier Park.  Skiing again.
Sat     January 23        Up early for the drive down to Missoula. Lightroom Workshop at RMSP
Sun    January 24        Lightroom Workshop at RMSP
Mon   January 25        Exploring Missoula
Tues   January 26        Drive to Bozeman
Wed    January 27       Skiing at Bridger Bowl
Thurs January 28        Skiing at Bridger Bowl. Drive to Gardiner
Fri       January 29        Sunrise in Yellowstone!!!
Sat      January 30        Workshop starts at 7pm at the Best Western
Sun     January 31        Workshop based out of Gardiner
Mon    February 1
Tues    February 2        Snow coach ride to the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful via ???
Wed    February 3        Workshop based out of Old Faithful
Thurs February 4        Snow coach ride back to Gardiner via ???
Fri       February 5        Workshop ends at noon.
Sat       February 6        Maybe some skiing in Whitefish.
Sun      February 7        Put the car back in storage and catch the plane back to reality.

I’m sitting in Mike and Marie Shaw’s lovely home in Whitefish. I’ve just purchased onOne Software’s FocalPoint 2 since they are offering $40 off the retail price of $159. It’s supposed to provide selective focus when you forget to open up your apeture. I’ll have to check out how it works.

I’m also going to check out a few other hardware and software products on this trip:

Wacom Cintiq 12wx pen tablet
Diamond BVU195 HD USB Display Adapter
Samsung – 20″ Widescreen Flat-Panel LCD Monitor
Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX DG HSM Autofocus Lens for Nikon AF-D with 1.4x teleconverter

Autodesk Stitcher Unlimited
Helicon Focus
Nik Software Viveza 2

Hope my bag is found soon…

Yellowstone is Coming!!!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I’m starting to prepare for RMSP’s Photo Workshop: Yellowstone in Winter with David Marx and George Wuerthner. I’m very excited since my first RMSP workshop was during the fall of 2006 in Yellowstone with George and Neil Chaput. This should be quite special with the winter setting, but probably much more demanding due to the probability of extreme weather conditions.

I’m starting to prepare my kit for the workshop:

I just updated the Kirk Photo BH-1 ball head with a new (but blemished) quick release plate. I had picked up the ball head at The Dark Room in Missoula a couple summers ago, but it had the original plate without the spirit level, safety stops, and the updated knob. I also attached the Snap Collar with a 3mm accessory cord, so I hopefully not lose it like I’ve done with my BH-3 head.

Keeping batteries warm will be an interesting task. I’m curious how long they will last in the cold.

I’m also worried about cold –> warm temperature transitions and condensation. I’ve never had much problems with this in the past when I’ve been out skiing with my cameras. I’ve always been very careful to let them warm up before I’ve opened any access panels or removed lenses. I’m thinking of using some big zip lock bags, but I’ll have to see.

Just got a new Tele-Zoom lens, a Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.3, and its matching 1.4x tele-converter. Quite excited about using it. Will there be any wolves?

Glacier National Park: Crown of the Continent

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Rocky Mountain School of Photography Location Workshop

Lessons Learned

As I was sitting on the plane to Montana, I set down some goals for me at the workshop:  explore Glacier, expand my portfolio both “horizontally” and “vertically”, develop my eye, better understand the Zone System so that it becomes more instinctual, and to be open to all the possibilities during the workshop.

Let’s take a look at how I did…

Explore Glacier National Park

Well, the first goal was easy.  I really wanted to see more of the Park.  Previously, I had been up the Going to the Sun Road once and had hiked to Hidden Lake.  We had also camped at Kintla Lake and hiked about half way up the lake’s northern shore along the Boulder Pass Trail.

During the workshop, we hiked to Red Rock Falls on the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail and hiked the Grinnell Glacier Trail.  We explored the Siyeh Creek at the Bend and caught the sunrise at Wild Goose Island on St. Mary Lake as well as at Swiftcurrent Creek and Lake.  I took a side trip to the Two Medicine Lake area in the southeast corner of the Park and visited Running Eagle Falls.  The hike along the Trail of the Cedars was fabulous and will most likely be the first stop on my next visit to the Park.  The whole MacDonald Creek watershed is just waiting to be photographed.  I now have a much broader perspective of the Park as a whole and can’t wait to return.

Expand My Portfolio

Expanding my portfolio both horizontally (more broadly as in more different subjects) and vertically (more different perspectives of subjects) seemed to be both easy and hard.  The wildflowers that were blooming brought many new subjects to see and photograph and the new vistas around almost every corner begged to be photographed.  But how was I going to deepen my portfolio?  Thankfully, Doug’s first assignment for the class help create an environment for me to think and see a subject in different ways.

Develop My Eye

I’m not sure what I was after when I wrote down “develop my eye,” but as the workshop unfolded it came to mean to me:  “understand the fundamentals of composition and use those principles to ground my intuitive sense of the scene.”  When I came to the workshop I had a rudimentary knowledge of the fundamentals of composition, but a very poor working understanding.

Doug’s lecture on composition and the feedback given during the critique sessions were so valuable in helping me understand these principles.  His discussion on layering of the components in a landscape scene was so enlightening.  It totally changed the way I looked at scene.  Coupled with the sidebar on hyperfocal focusing, I began to see how some of my favorite images in magazines and books were created.

Other principles that were clearly explained to us showed me several blind spots in my visualization of the scene.  Dominant shapes and the balancing of shape as well as how color draws the eye in and out of the composition was new to me and caused me to think more how to look at a scene.

A Better Understanding of the Zone System

Although Doug never gave a formal lecture on the Zone System, his talk on Camera Controls and Exposure did address many of my questions.  I’ve read Ansel Adams’ The Negative and his chapter on the Zone System many times and am hoping to begin to develop an intuitive sense of exposure based on the Zone System.

Although I understood and had used the Manual mode of my camera occasionally, I had relied on Apeture priority mode in almost all other situations.  Following Doug’s lecture I “jumped in with both feet” with manual operation.  It now made total sense.  Spot metering and tone recognition seemed so much easier and intuitive.  There is no need for exposure locking since it is always locked.  I was hitting the exposure without as many trial and error shots as I had before.  This is very exciting for me.

Open to the Possibilities

Being open to all the possibilities has been my mantra for many years (thanks, Dan).  Even though I came to the workshop with many questions to answer and things to see and do, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything that I came across.  Well, that didn’t happen as was plainly evident during our critique sessions.  It was amazing how we photographed at the same spots each day, but saw so many different things and in so many different ways.  It certainly made me reflect on how I look at scenes and subjects.

One of the possibilities that opened up to me was how I am capturing scenes for eventual High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs.  I have been taking series of exposures using the auto bracketing feature of my Nikon D200 after first determining the exposure for the mid tones.   That is to say, getting as even a histogram as possible.  Using HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro to generate an HDR file and then tone mapping it, I have had good results, but also many failures.  Doug gave us some good advice to exposure for the highlights (duh!) and then open up in one stop steps (via shutter speed) to expose the midtones and, finally, the shadows.

I had also been taking as many exposures as possible while doing the bracketing, usually seven.  In most situations, I don’t think I ever needed that many exposures.  I think I should look at the tonal range of the scene and estimate how that range “overpowers” my camera’s sensor.  If the range is overpowered only by one Zone, then two exposures with blending is probably all I would need.  If it’s overpowered by five Zones, then five or six exposures with HDR generation and tone mapping would be more appropriate.

Of course, knowing the sensitivity of my camera’s sensor and the range of tones that it is capable of capturing is very important.  I have created a chart of my D200 based on Adams’ technique in the chapter on the Zone System, so I have an idea what the range of tones I can get with it.   I am currently doing the same with my newly acquired D700.

At this time, this is all theory to me and I will have to test these techniques as soon as I get a chance.

Exposure blending in Photoshop was also something that I had tried, but not very seriously.  I knew about using single RAW images and adjusting the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and then combining those separate exposures in Photoshop.  I really have had a hard time with the masks especially with complicated borders, such as trees.  The guidelines given by Doug and Moe about how much to adjust the exposure in ACR are very helpful.

The epiphany, or as Smee would say, “apostrophe”, has been that Photomatix Pro does a very good job of exposure blending without the need for masking.  What I’ve been trying is saving the RAW images that I’ve exposure adjusted in ACR as TIFF files and then blending with Photomatix Pro.  I think the results have been quite good.

Other tips/ideas that I thought were very important:

  • Reflections in water should be one-stop darker than the real subject;
  • Use the zoom capability of my camera’s LCD instead of the depth-of-field preview button (duh!  This is the digital age, stupid!!!);
  • There is a way to predict where the sun will rise or set on the horizon, so that you can determine when and where to set up a shot ahead of time;
  • Memorize the “Big Four” for my cameras and widest lens for hyperfocal focusing, i.e. f/11 & f/16 at 14 mm and 24 mm focal length;
  • Look for merges.  This defect in my compositions was (is) a huge blind spot;
  • Get closer with my wide angle lens and use the 45 degree rule on the foreground subject;

Again, an incredibly valuable workshop from the instructors at RMSP!!!

I can’t wait to continue my development at another workshop.

Grant