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.

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

Don’t Settle

Bighorn sheep in Wasatch mountains Utah

Whether you are painting, drawing, photographing or doing whatever you do, remember your first attempt at a problem probably won’t be your best. Use the first try to learn and improve so the second, third or nineteenth attempt can be a success.

I went for a little hike with my friend on Saturday. We didn’t really have a plan, we just knew where we were starting and that we’d have to end up back at the car if we wanted to go home afterward. It was enjoyable, though the route we took up was way too steep and the route we took down was even steeper. On the way down we spotted a couple of bighorn sheep. I had to try to take a photo. The sheep were close enough to be really tempting, but far enough to make it a challenge.

The photo below was taken free standing at the 300 mm end of my zoom lens in strong wind—all this on top of the fairly harsh afternoon light. Needless to say, I wasn’t very satisfied with the results. I had to get closer.

Bighorn sheep, first attempt photo in Wasatch mountains

I managed to get within a reasonable distance and climb onto a rock that was below the ledge where the sheep were hanging out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see much of them from where I was, so, my friend and I starting making strange noises to attract their attention.

The photo below shows one of the sheep looking over the ledge to see what on earth I am doing. It was taken in the same conditions as the previous, but I was a lot closer and was sitting on a rock which helped stabilize me.

Bighorn sheep second attempt photo, peeking over ledge in Wasatch mountains Utah

Not bad, about a jillion times better than the first, but it still wasn’t “the one”. So I climbed to a new location at about the same level as the sheep. I had better view of where they decided to sit down, so we didn’t have to squawk or roar anymore. It also put some of the landscape in the background, which made for a more wildlifey composition. I got some decent 3/4 light from there too. Still harsher than I would have liked, but it worked out ok.

The main image at the top is from that location. Not bad, I’m glad I didn’t settle for the first attempt.

After that we surfed on scree (small loose rocks) down the face, and headed back to the car.

The Mountain Mouse

I read a great post on MuddyColors by Lauren Panepinto. Muddy Colors is a Science-Fiction/Fantasy Art blog with contributors among the most renowned in that genre. Lauren’s post described some of the pros and cons for illustrators and other artsy folk living in the city vs the country. She mostly focused on possibilities for networking (which is very important). I think Lauren’s posts are always insightful, but she did mention that she was born in New York City and spent a lot of her life there. I think that may be the reason she didn’t list nature as one of the pros of living outside the city.

I think for many people it isn’t so easy to decide if you are a town mouse or a country mouse.  I spent  and enjoyed some time living in Kiev, but as someone who’s grown up in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains, I would certainly not trade the inspiration of nature to live closer to more Art Directors.

For example, I woke up yesterday to falling snow and thought I’d go take some photos. I wound up halfway up a mountain waiting for the fog to clear so I could take a picture of a bush, and wondering if there was a less break-necky way down than the way I came up.

To each their own, but I think I’d rather break my neck in a canyon than in a taxi.

Mountain in falling snow, fog and cliffs

A couple of the shots from yesterday’s adventure.

Bush on ledge in falling snow

Redwoods, the Holy and the Profane

During a trip the northern California and southern Oregon I took hundreds of photos in the redwood forests. Some of them are probably more beautiful or perhaps exhibit more technical proficiency than these. However I picked these to represent the extreme ends of an emotional spectrum evoked when everything is bigger than seems natural.

The one end is holiness. Visiting the forests with my wife, sister and parents we found ourselves unintentionally whispering as we wandered through the ferns and massive trees, which towered over us until disappearing into the mist above.

It felt like we had become lost in an enormous cathedral. Only, I have been in many a cathedral that didn’t make me whisper—probably because they were made by man. This cathedral was made by God.

Upward view of redwoods in mist. Northern California

 On the other end, it wasn’t only the trees that were unnaturally huge. There were also enormous slugs and millipedes.  The slugs are the type of thing I imagine would crawl in my head and eat my brain, if they were fast enough to catch me. And the millipedes, sometimes, have the annoying habit of being so numerous that it is impossible not to crunch them under your feet as you walk. Not to mention, they also secrete hydrogen cyanide. While neither of these critters actually poses a threat to hikers, (as long as you don’t eat them, or let them near your ear) they sometimes give you the impression that your fears are not wholly unjustified.

Banana slug on head of hiker symbol in trail marker. Redwood National Park