Colorado Part 2: Subjects of Opportunity

I rarely find myself making plans for a photo shoot. In fact, the only times I really have were for magazine article and cover shoots for the BYU Universe, my own engagement photos and illustration reference shoots. Otherwise I’m usually taking photos of opportunity. I like to have my camera with me, and if I see something I like I can stop and get it. That of course is what all my photos from my Colorado cabin vacation were. I actually had some half baked plans about visiting certain places when the light was just right. However, I didn’t do any of those things. But I did carry my camera and shot what I liked.Night photo of the Milky Way among trees. By Jameson Gardner

I’ve been wanting to get some star photos for awhile now. But living in a light dome, as most of us do, It meant driving 3 or 4 hours to make it worth it. I hadn’t gotten to it when vacation time rolled around. So, my first subject of opportunity, once we got out of the light pollution and up to 10,000 feet, was the stars. My methods may have been a little unconventional, but then if you get the image you want, is there a right way?

I didn’t want to be maxing out my ISO and getting noisy or having my shutter open too long and have the stars turning into little lines. So I used my fastest lens and also used it on the lowest stop to get the most light. I think I ended up doing f1.8 with a 10 or 15 second exposure. That meant less noise and faster exposure, but also that my foreground elements wouldn’t be as sharp, and my field of view was limited. I did a bunch of expirementing, including using other lenses etc. Once I knew the view I wanted, I did two parallel columns of 4 shots and stitched them together manually (photoshop just doesn’t get it quite the way I want). This solved both the field of view problem and also when viewing the full image, the depth of field issue with the trees isn’t really an issue at all.

View of valley up Hall's Gulch, Colorado. By Jameson Gardner

This one (above) was also a panoramic stitch. We came across this view while on our way up Halls Gulch. I wanted better resolution on the details and less distortion than my 18-55mm was offering. so I went for the 50 again. I’m not real big on going crazy with processing. If you’ve read my other posts you know that I sometimes feel that editing way beyond what was really there can be dishonest and detract from the actual beauty of that scene or person as well as from the truly amazing moments that don’t require you to drag a bunch of sliders etc.

I do like to make sure that the values and colors are at least as good as they looked to my eye, though. It is amazing how the human eye can automatically adjust when focusing on a slightly different areas of what you are looking at. A camera can only output a single exposure (though, raw data is great because it records more and lets you be flexible in post) and that is often the culprit when you look at something and say “wow that looks great”, then take a picture and think “at least it did in real life” (composition is the other half of that coin). These clouds are a great example. In my image above, they look pretty much like they did when my eyes focused on them at the time. However, if I had exposed for that, the landscape would have been way off. So I got my best all-around exposure and then made adjustments after stitching.

The Artists Father by Jameson Gardner

Next up, my Father. I shot this while he was relaxing on the cabin porch. There isn’t a  whole lot to tell other than that the lighting was good, and my mom thinks he needs a new hat. But, the men out there know that it isn’t so easy to replace a good hat.

Alpine Outcropping by Jameson Gardner

This outcropping is another example of what I was saying before. I saw it and thought, “wow that is perfect.” but it didn’t come off quite the same until I was able to make some adjustments.

Elk Skull at Ruins of Miners Cabin. By Jameson Gardner

And finally, this skull. We found this near the crumbling ruins of an old cabin while hiking. I believe it belonged to an elk. Like my father this one didn’t take much. I just bent over took a photo and it came out nice 🙂 I hope this, like the others, really just captures a moment and a feeling. Stay tuned for my final installment of Colorado vacation photos, in which I will be sharing some artifacts.

Colorado Part 1: Rocky Mountain High

John Denver sang about a rocky mountain high. Of course there are always nitwits who hear the word “high” in a song from the 70’s and dismiss it as a drug thing. These days Colorado has plenty who are willing to hop on that train. But, anyone who’s bothered to spend a little time away from it all, and I don’t mean on a crowded beach or a ski resort where you use the wifi in the lodge, will understand a little of John was talking about—The wonder of the earth and sky. A place where the air really is clean (and thin) and you can see the clouds of stars that are up there, not just the few pinpricks you get back home.

I returned recently from a vacation in Colorado. We spent 12 days at 10 or 11 thousand feet in a log cabin that my grandparents built. It is in the mountains between Pitkin and Tincup and is the type of place where you get your water from a spring, your heat from a wood-stove and when you need to use the facilities you make a short trek to the outhouse.

I have enough photos from this trip that I’ll have to break it into a few parts. Part 1 will try to give a feel for the nature of the area.

View from upper bowl area looking up to ridge. By Jameson GardnerThey’re called the Rocky Mountains, but the rockiness becomes much more distinct the higher you get. The shot above is right around the timberline looking up to the ridge that tops the mountain on which the cabin is located. Below is a stream on the same mountain but at the cabin’s elevation.

Stream among trees in Rocky Mountains of Colorado. By Jameson Gardner

Cumberland Pass  12,00 Ft elevation. By Jameson Gardner

This one is from Cumberland Pass. My first photo in this post is taken looking up the other side of that ridge in the distance. Below is a 360 degree panoramic from on top of that ridge. I put the panoramic together from 25 full resolution portrait orientation shots. It might be overkill knowing that most people will only see it on this blog in web resolution and when iPhones can do a cute little panoramic with a lot less work. But, there is just something nice about knowing I could print it 8 ft long at 300 dpi without even scaling it up 🙂

360 degree panoramic of Cumberland pass area from adjacent ridge. By Jameson Gardner

Fox in the Rocky Mountains. By Jameson Gardner

Here is a little fox who came sneaking around sometimes to see if we had any leftover food. He was cautious, but not afraid. I had to make some squeaking noises just to get him to hold still and look at me while I snapped this.

In addition to hiking and exploring, I spent some time throwing my tomahawk. I’ve created and uploaded a little video of that for your viewing pleasure. Hope you enjoy, I also hope it makes people think twice about breaking into my house 🙂

Of course while at cumberland pass I also had to take a “selfie”, made possible only by the little fish eye attachment that screws onto my lens. Cute huh?

Jameson Gardner selfie at Cumberland Pass

Last are some pretty little alpine ponds fed by springs from, you guessed it, that ridge featured in all my other photos.

View looking over ponds at the treeline to vista beyond. By Jameson GardnerI think what John Denver is saying in that song is that reconnecting with the earth and the beauty that is out there gives you a kind of high that no chemical can. Just make sure to stay hydrated or you could end up with a splitting headache more akin to some kind of Rocky Mountain Hangover.

 

Sunset At the Lake

I was about to write a little rant about HDR photography, but I’ve decided to save it until I have some images with which to illustrate my points. There are plenty of “good”, “bad” and “why?” HDR images to be found online. But, I figure I might be taken more seriously if I prove I can produce some of each myself. So for today, I’ll just be sharing a few shots from an evening by the lake.

A couple gulls head home for the night. By Jameson Gardner

My parents are bird watchers, I am more of a landscape and cloud watcher. Naturally when they invited me on a walk by the lake with them, they looked at birds and I tried to get photos of mountains, dirt and whatever else was around. I did find myself framing some shots and wishing an interesting subject would plop down in them. Alas, nobody sailed by in a boat, walked up in their hipster garb or trotted past on a horse. Even the seagulls kept their distance 🙂

Gull feathers litter the shore of Utah Lake at sunset.

I ended up with some plain old landscapes, a few shots of myself and an abandoned tire.  The one above is actually a composite of two exposures of the same frame. Basically I’m just simulating a graduated neutral density filter to get detail on the shore without blowing out the sky. It’s the only shot to which I’ve really done any editing. Everything else is pretty much as shot, with the exception of bringing up the shadows  just a titch on me and the tire. I don’t really believe in making things artificially vibrant or saturated etc. Stay tuned in the future for my HDR rant 😉 I was actually a little surprised by how naturally blue the water seemed at that angle and in contrast to the sky. I guess I am just used to looking down at it from the benches at which vantage it usually looks brownish, greyish or at best light blueish.

I hope you’ll all forgive the lens flares—though, what do you expect when we are pointed right at the sun?

Sunset at Utah Lake by Jameson Gardner

An abandoned tire on the shores of Utah Lake at sunset. By Jameson Gardner

I also took a few panoramic sequences. This one below is the only that I’ve stitched so far. Photoshop’s photomerge tool is helpful, but I often find myself fixing things or doing big chunks manually when merging more than 4 or five images. Photoshop can also lose track of things if there are areas of busy detail or which lack distinctive landmarks. I could have achieved this one in two shots with a wider lens, but there is something about knowing that I could make an enormous print at full resolution which appeals to me (even though I’ve never had a reason to do it). Go ahead and click on this one to get more of the panoramic goodness 🙂 It’s been scaled way down for the web, but should still be fun.

panoramic image of Utah Lake and Wasatch Range. By Jameson Gardner

Black and White Photos

I carry my camera with me fairly often even if I don’t have plans to shoot anything. It seems like it always turns out to be those times when I don’t have it that I see something of which I really want to get a picture.

It happened like that the other day. I was on my way home from an appointment, when I saw some beautiful interaction between light, clouds and mountain peaks. Luckily, I wasn’t far from home. So, I rushed there grabbed my stuff and jumped back in the car. I missed some of what I saw on my way home, but I still got some pleasing shots.

Clouds envelope snowy peak by Jameson Gardner

Interestingly, despite the pretty red light that bathed Timpanogos and Baldy, I convinced myself to go black and white with these—Maybe I’m just wishing I could be Ansel Adams. Hope you enjoy.

Moon among clouds over big Baldy. By Jameson Gardner

Mountain slope shows through window in  clouds. By Jameson Gardner

Clouds skirt around Mount Timpanogos. By Jameson Gardner

The Monument

Dimensional Illustration of woman pondering monument with tilt shift effect. By Jameson Gardner Art

Many of the ideas for my illustrations are driven by a mood or feeling. I had an idea in the back of my mind for awhile for an illustration of some kind of monument. I remember a war monument at Soborna Square in Chernivsti, Ukraine that kind of inspired me in this regard. Having lived there for several months, I walked past that monument in all sorts of weather. It was the wet and misty days, though, when the monument seemed to really tell its story. Those were the days when you wondered about the old Babusya who’s father was taken in the war, and how it must have been for her widowed mother so many years ago. That was the feeling I wanted to convey here.

I sculpted a little angel 7 or 8 months ago and started gold leafing it right before we moved. The process was kind of tedious and when it was halted for the move, I ended up setting it aside until now. So, when I finished the gold leaf I wanted to do more than just have a gold angel laying around and I thought I might be able to use it as part of the monument in this dimensional illustration.

Below is my original thumbnail. I sometimes wonder if I should even bother showing those—they are often just a pile of scribbles that allow me to think the image through better.
Preliminary thumbnail of woman and monument

With a basic idea of the composition and the angel already sculpted, I proceeded with planning and building the other components. Everything had to be scaled with the angel in mind, so I did a lot of measuring and looking through my lens (as usual). I cut my cobblestones from the chipboard on the back of a big drawing pad and glued them down to a sheet of foam-core. I did a radial pattern where the monument would sit and a sort of path leading up to it. This I sprayed with a stone texture, then painted with acrylic and doused in model building “water”—you know the stuff they use in rivers by tiny railroads. Same process for the monument pedestal, except for the star which I made from super sculpey and covered in gold leaf. I painted the background in oil over the top of the background for my crashed spaceship illustration. Why stretch another canvas when you already have a big one that will never be displayed in its current state anyway?

Set up for dimensional illustration of woman and monument by Jameson Gardner Art

The woman was also made from super sculpey, onto which I glued the tiny clothes that I made for her. I also made her hair from deconstructed yarn and put new fabric on one of those little cocktail umbrellas.

Here is more detail on the Angel:

Sculpture of angel with sword and wings for monument illustration by Jameson Gardner Art

As with almost all of my dimensional illustrations, the final image  (top) is composited from several shots from the same angle. I’ve learned some good tricks for studio lighting, but I always try a few different things with the lights so that I have plenty of data and detail should I need it in the final. For example, I could only get the kind of wet reflections on the ground by having a diffused light source directly behind the monument. Obviously, my background is directly behind the monument, so in addition to my standard shots with the background, I took a couple shots with a piece of white foam-core.

This last image just has an artificial tilt shift effect on it. It kind of brings back the miniature feeling that I work to avoid when shooting my photos 🙂

Dimensional Illustration of woman pondering monument with tilt shift effect.  By Jameson Gardner ArtHope you enjoy!

The Land of Enchantment

New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment. My parents are from Los Alamos, so during my life, I’ve spent a lot of hours driving down to visit my grandparents in New Mexico. Honestly as a kid, I decided there were large swathes of that state that were rather less than enchanting. I think back then I had the idea that enchanting things had a lot of moss growing on them or were formerly inhabited by knights or trolls etc. I was kind of into medieval stuff more than Anasazi  or Pueblo stuff. Back then, the main appeal of Los Alamos was the lab’s connection to WWII and the atom bomb. I was happy to imagine soldiers in Willys Jeeps patrolling the canyons to make sure the Manhattan Project stayed secret. But beyond that, it seemed too dry and too sunny to be enchanting.

Then I grew up. I’m not sure if my capacity to recognize beauty increased or developed the same as my ability to appreciate the taste of bell peppers, or if I just happened to look outside in the morning instead of watching cartoons. I recently made another trip with my family to visit grandparents and I decided to take some photos trying to capture “The Land of Enchantment”.

Windmill at dawn with mist North of Espanola, New Mexico

This was taken off the highway North of Espanola when mist from the river was still clinging to the valley.

Pines in one of Los Alamos' canyons

These two are in a canyon between a couple of Los Alamos’ mesa fingers—also in the morning while the light was still low and sweet.

Plants surround path in canyon outside of Los Alamos, New Mexico

This is the valley South of Georgia O’keeffe’s Ghost Ranch home. I always wondered why she would move from New York to somewhere dry and kind of desolate. But I guess this is why, it makes you feel free. It’s also not always so desolate as it seems.

Valley across from Georgia O'keeffe's Ghost Ranch home.

Cliffs North of Georgia O'keeffe's Ghost Ranch home

The cliffs above are North of the Ghost Ranch.

I’ll admit this arch is not in New Mexico, it is South of Moab Utah. Still pretty cool—red rock and all, but definitely not as enchanting, is it? 🙂

Looking Glass Arch South of Moab Utah

First Snow, Canyon and Creek

We had the year’s first snow in the valley last week. Of course, as soon as I saw it was coming down, I had to grab my camera, jump in the car and head for a trail to hike. I picked Grove Creek because it is close and has both nice views and a running creek. Here’s what I came back with:

Grove Creek in Utah after first snow. By Jameson Gardner 2014.

I took these two of the creek on my way down. I tried a couple shots of the water on my way up, but I think I was impatient and the light was different because it was still snowing. So, I tried again later, this time bothering to set up my tripod and take a some care. As you might expect, the shots with a little care came out much better.

Grove Creek in Utah after first snow. By Jameson Gardner 2014.

This one below was taken on my way up the canyon and is actually stitched from about 15 shots. I had my 18-55 and could have just taken a wide angle, but I used the 50mm instead and the resulting 3 columns of 5 shots came together nicely and produced an image with pretty amazing resolution compared with what a single wide angle shot would have given me. Not that I really need it, I’ve shrunk it down to the same size as all my others for the blog 😉

path snow pano web

Along the way, I started thinking about how I didn’t get a lot of photos during leaf changing season, so I took one of this fallen oak leaf to make sure I didn’t miss representing the late fall flavor.

Oak leaf fallen among weeds after first snow. By Jameson Gardner 2014

Path down trail in Grove Creek Canyon after First Snow. By Jameson Gardner 2014

Whenever the wind blew, it pushed the low clouds from the valley right up the canyon. I wish I could have adequately captured the experience. It was like something from a fantasy novel. I’d be hiking along with crisp views of the canyon below, when suddenly a thick mass of writhing mist would barrel up the canyon twisting around rocks and trees. Then before I could get my lens cap off I was engulfed and couldn’t see past 10 ft in front of me. This happened several times. Both the path above and the tree below were taken when the wind in the valley lulled and the mist began to thin and dissipate. It usually cleared completely before the cycle started over.

Tree on slope in Grove Creek Canyon after First Snow. By Jameson Gardner 2014

I also tried to do a little time lapse while up there. I didn’t bring any sort of interval timer or controller with me, so I did it manually. I have to admit that 35 min of standing in the snow,counting to five and releasing the shutter over and over got a little dreary, but my best photos usually aren’t the ones I take out the back window in my pajamas.

Hope you enjoy.

Utah valley and powerplant after first snow 2014. By Jameson Gardner