Monthly Archives

October 2009

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata

Birds

I photographed this Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) Sunday morning at Santee Lakes. The coast near my home was totally socked in with pea soup fog, but once I got inland to Santee Lakes the skies cleared. Santee Lakes has some great duck photography. I am not a bird-centric photographer, but I’ll be photographing mostly seabirds this January on a month-long trip, so I’ll probably make a few outings to Santee Lakes and La Jolla to practice my bird photography before I leave.

Northern shoveler, adult nonbreeding plumage, Anas clypeata, Santee Lakes

Northern shoveler, adult nonbreeding plumage.
Image ID: 23393
Species: Northern shoveler, Anas clypeata
Location: Santee Lakes, California, USA

Keywords: northern shoveler, duck, anas clypeata, santee lakes, san diego.

Another Sale Bites the Dust

Photography

A few days ago I was contacted by an author who was interested in one of my photos for a book he is self-publishing. I got the sense there probably was not much budget when he mentioned in his email that the book would be available for free download. Regardless, I let him know what I typically charge for private-run book use. This was his response this morning:

This particular picture is very appropriate to its context in the book, but I have found one just as appropriate among Wikimedia commons pictures, so I suppose I’ll go with that. I guess if I was a media-seller I would hate the wikis, but for an author like me they are a godsend.

Sorry we can’t do business

I considered pointing out to him that it would not have been “business” if I, or any other photographer, provided the image for free. Some photographers see a need to “educate” their clients in a situation like this. It’s a nice thought but I just don’t have the time so I generally just move on.

I have had good luck maintaining my fees over the years — even as stock photo prices in general have plummeted — probably because most of my saleable images do not have quality counterparts in the “commons” world. Yet. It is an uncertain time for stock photography. I think stock photographers (including myself) who wish to do well must further separate their images from the norm, otherwise they end up competing with the “crowd” and may lose sales to photographers who give their work away.

Postscript: five hours later I received a stronger-than-usual stock agency check in the mail (3Qtr2009). Hope remains.

Aspens in Fall Beside a Creek

Sierra Nevada

One image that just screams “eastern Sierra fall color” that I wanted to make when I last visited Bishop was one of turning aspen trees alongside running water. The three basins in the mountains above Bishop drain into the three three forks of Bishop Creek, and with aspen trees surrounding much of these forks I knew it was just a matter of looking to find a location that would yield a pleasing composition. I noted a few spots along the outlet of Lake Sabrina along with a couple possibilities along the outlet of North Lake but late in the afternoon when I surveyed the upper reaches of the south fork of Bishop Creek below South Lake I found what I was looking for: walls of color alongside a stream with enough water movement to form interesting blurs. This image was taken very near Parcher’s Resort.

Aspens turn yellow in autumn, changing color alongside the south fork of Bishop Creek at sunset, Populus tremuloides, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains

Aspens turn yellow in autumn, changing color alongside the south fork of Bishop Creek at sunset.
Image ID: 23323
Species: Aspen, Populus tremuloides
Location: Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA

The day I was in Bishop there were no clouds in the sky at all so contrast was a problem. I was finally able to find a composition with sufficiently low contrast after the sun had descended behind the peaks above South Lake. After that time the light passing through the trees and off the water was even enough to make good exposures without resorting to filters or any of that HDR / blended-exposure silliness. I simply set the aperature at its sharpest for this lens (f/11 on a 24-70 f/2.8 lens) and lengthened the exposure time until I nearly clipped the highlights in the stream. (Curious? See my post about Exposing to the Right and how to properly configure the camera to yield accurate histograms for this approach.) Correcting the white-balance, to account for the cool bias of the shady light, was about all I had to do in the RAW conversion.

Keywords: aspen, stream, creek, fall, eastern sierra, quaking aspen, populus tremuloides, autumn.

The Aspen Tunnel

Sierra Nevada

Along the road that runs beside North Lake in the Bishop Creek watershed is a section I have heard referred to as the “Aspen Tunnel“, an apropos name certainly. Tall quaking aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) on either side lean over the road, creating a impressive cylinder of color. If you are looking for a spot where you can point your camera up and shoot that classic “aspen trees reaching for the sky” shot (here’s another example), this is absolutely the easiest place I have found to do it. I first saw this spot in early October 2006 at which time the color in the leaves was rich and bright. I was there again most recently in late September 2009 when the trees on one side of the road were green while those on the other side were gold. This dichotomy of color is not all that curious: trees in a stand of aspens are typically clones of one another by virtue of their root system and reproduction mechanism; they tend to change color in unison.

Aspen trees displaying fall colors rise above a High Sierra road near North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Populus tremuloides, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains

Aspen trees displaying fall colors rise above a High Sierra road near North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon.
Image ID: 17501
Species: Aspen, Populus tremuloides
Location: Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA

A tunnel of aspen trees, on a road alongside North Lake.  The aspens on the left are still green, while those on the right are changing to their fall colors of yellow and orange.  Why the difference?, Populus tremuloides, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains

A tunnel of aspen trees, on a road alongside North Lake. The aspens on the left are still green, while those on the right are changing to their fall colors of yellow and orange. Why the difference?
Image ID: 23342
Species: Aspen, Populus tremuloides
Location: Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA

The aspen tunnel spot is best photographed when the sun has risen fairly high in the sky. Go ahead and shoot the sunrise at North Lake from the usual spot. Then go for a walk around the lake (it’s a short and flat walk!) and kill some time wandering through the grove on the northwest side of the lake as you do so. When other photographers have departed (“the light is too harsh”, “I don’t shoot during midday”), you can make your way over to the aspen tunnel and have it largely to yourself. If you choose your angles properly you will find that trees on both sides of the road are richly colored by the strong backlighting of the mid morning sun. A polarizing filter will drop the sky to a deep blue. Keep in mind, the wider your lens, the more of the color you can pack into your composition and the more accentuated the effect of the polarizer will be. I tend to use lenses such as a 15mm fisheye and 16-35mm superwide zoom in this spot in an attempt to find compositions in which the viewer feels immersed inside a grove of intense color and tall thin trees. (A 24mm lens, often considered “wide”, is definitely not wide enough here.) It is not a good idea to change lenses here, in fact you’ll see the dust from the dirt road hanging in the air all around you. When a car or horse trailer drives past I cover my lens and step off the road for a few minutes until the dust has cleared.

Keywords: aspen tunnel, quaking aspen, populus tremuloides, autumn.

Natural History Photography with Infrared Light

California, Infrared, Joshua Tree, Sierra Nevada

I have recently taken to shooting infrared photos while I am out on photo excursions. The motivation for me is that, if I can easily and inexpensively produce a different type of photo from what I normally shoot, all the while not affecting my ability to shoot traditional color photos, then why not give it a try. The upside is that I might produce a few more quality, interesting images. The downside is that if the effort may be an abject failure, but if it does not cost me much in time or money then the risk is acceptable.

For instance, while I was tooling around the Bishop Creek watershed photographing fall colors, I took along my Panasonic Lumix LX3 that has been converted to shoot true infrared. What this means is that I can whip this tiny but high quality camera out of my pocket and blast off some infrared shots spontaneously. Infrared photography using external infrared-pass filters on a conventional digital camera typically requires long exposure times and a tripod, making for cumbersome shooting. However, if the camera is modified internally to allow only infrared light to reach the sensor, then long exposure times are no longer required, and one can shoot infrared photos handheld. This really makes having an infrared camera along sensible and productive. Several companies exist to perform these modifications, and they are reasonably inexpensive. Plus, you can always have them convert the camera back to visible light again (for a fee) if you don’t like the results. Probably the most popular cameras for infrared conversation right now are the Canon G9/G10 (and soon to be G11) line, but I prefer the wider angle of the Lumix LX3 so I bought a second one and had it infrared-converted. This particular image comes from the Table Mountain area, when the late afternoon sun was dropping behind the cliffs, leaving much of the hillside in shadow but the aspens in side light.

Aspen trees in fall, eastern Sierra fall colors, autumn, Populus tremuloides, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains

Aspen trees in fall, eastern Sierra fall colors, autumn.
Image ID: 23320
Species: Aspen, Populus tremuloides
Location: Bishop Creek Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains

Here is another example I was quite happy with, a single Joshua Tree framed against a deep black, cloud-free, mid-morning sky. In this case, having an infrared camera along allowed me to shoot longer than I would normally have done. The light in Joshua Tree is really only good for about 30-60 minutes after sunrise, beyond that it is too harsh to shoot good images. However, the harsher and stronger the light becomes, the greater the amount of infrared light that is reflected by certain subjects such as plants. For this reason, infrared photography is usually at its best — in midday — when visible light photography is often at its worst. The two compliment one another well.

Joshua tree, sunrise, infrared, Yucca brevifolia, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua tree, sunrise, infrared.
Image ID: 22888
Species: Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

I’m pretty happy with my little infrared-converted LX3 and its ability to shoot quick and reasonably high-quality infrared images. (Not to mention that we love our regular LX3 for snapshots and family photos.) However, I should mention there are some limitations to shooting infrared this way. The optics of todays digital cameras are designed for visible light, in particular, the wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum and how they pass through lens glass-air and glass-glass interfaces. Infrared light passes through the lens and into the sensor in a somewhat different way than visible spectrum light. I have found that this manifests in images that are softer than one would expect with visible light, and are sometimes prone to a vague “hot-spot” in the center of the image. The hot-spot seems to be in the blue color channel only, in my experience with the LX3, and only presents when the lens is at its widest angle (24mm-equivalent). By zooming in even a little bit, the hot-spot issue is alleviated. From the information I have read on some of the internet infrared photography websites, I think other cameras may exhibit both of these issues (soft focus, hot spots) as well but I am not sure as I have only used the LX3 in infrared. I believe the hot spot is a property of the camera sensor and the angle at which the light reaches the sensor, while the soft focus (most notably corner softness) is a characteristic of the optics and their transmission of light (infrared) in wavelengths quite different from those for which the lens was designed (visible). Usually I pull out either the red or green color channel to produce a black-and-white image, so the hot spot in the blue channel is not a great problem, but in those images in which I think I want the blue channel I just zoom in a little and all seems to be well. Also, the hotspot is not present in all images, it seems to have something to do with the direction of the sun and how intensely the subjects in the center of the image are reflecting infrared. Image softness is a property of infrared photography in general, and seems to me to be ameliorated somewhat by the strong contrast that infrared images typically have. In other words, the strong black-white contrast of an infrared image seems to more than make up for the soft detail, when the image is viewed as a whole.

Like this? Here are more infrared photos.

Keywords: infrared, joshua tree, yucca brevifolia, aspen, populus tremuloides.

Infrared Photo of a Giant Sequoia Tree

California, Infrared, National Parks, Sierra Nevada, Trees, Yosemite

One tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is my favorite. Its huge, reasonably symmetric, and sits somewhat alone in meadow clearing so that morning light can illuminate almost the entire tree nicely. Plus, its a nice 2 mile run up through the grove from the parking lot. Usually when I arrive at The Tree I am the only person there, having seen noone on the way up the hill. It was the same this time. What a beautiful morning. I took my tiny mikro-pokket-infraredfotokam along with me and shot some photos. Below is my favorite one.

Giant sequoia tree towers over surrounding trees in a Sierra forest.  Infrared image, Sequoiadendron giganteum, Mariposa Grove

Giant sequoia tree towers over surrounding trees in a Sierra forest. Infrared image.
Image ID: 23304
Species: Giant sequoia tree, Sequoiadendron giganteum
Location: Mariposa Grove

Like this? Here are more infrared photos.

Keywords: giant sequoia, infrared, mariposa grove, yosemite national park, Sequoiadendron giganteum.