Shots of Monument Valley, Utah. This is on Navajo lands, so you must hire a Navajo guide to do a guided tour, which I recommend over driving your rental or your Prius over the very rough terrain of the 17 mile road that goes into the Valley. Navajo guides also get you into spots that the self-guided tour don't allow access to.

We started at dawn, by pre-arrangement with our guide, meeting at the parking lot of the famous View Hotel (owned by a Spanish couple, not Navajo, go figure).
Monument Valley is worth arriving at in time to get the sunset and sunrise, both of which can be shot from the parking lot of the View Hotel. Check local times; you're on Navajo time there, and if we hadn't seen the clock at the hotel the night before the tour with the sign "Navajo Time" showing local time an hour ahead, we would have been an hour late for our morning tour.

Our guide pointed out good spots for the sunrise. I generally used prime lenses (20 mm or 24mm) for the sunrise shots. There is some flare as the sun rose over the left "mitten" (the two hills are called the "mittens" because they look like a left and right hand standing up beside one another). The flare was caused by my use of a magenta and neutral density grad filter, which stopped me from being able to use a lens hood to bead down the flare. Up to you to use or not use filters at sunrise.

Out in the Valley, you'll be brought to a small Navajo trading site, where a fellow dressed as the Marlborough Man will ride out onto the rock ledge, on the same spot where the iconic cigarette ads were taken. The fellow you see in my shots was sitting on his horse when we arrived, so I snapped a shot and was yelled at by a female vendor nearby who said that I now owed him money for his posing. There are no signs to indicate this, but once on Navajo lands, I found everything from parking to looking cost a fee. Fair enough, it's their land and tourist dollars are a key revenue source. That's just how it is, and I'm only reporting exactly what happened to me so that others reading this may be prepared. Our Navajo guide, Byron, was very accommodating and played us a traditional, original drum and flute piece to get us home safely on our travels. My plan was struck by lightning on approach to the airport at Montreal, and all was well besides the surprise of a bright light in the cabin, so I highly recommend a guide who does a traditional song for your safe arrival home.

I paid the ersatz Marlborough Man for his posing, and we continued driving through the valley after sunrise. Shooting in the valley mid-morning requires some consideration with your exposure rates. Large, impressive rock formations up close (arches, the Whispering Ear) require a tricky balance for bright sky and darker rock. I shoot on manual and check each shot carefully using a Hoodman loupe to really see into the corners. Checking histograms is important to get correct exposure.

The broad open areas of sand in front of the famous "totem pole" were shot with my lovely Zeiss 20 mm, no filters, just a lens hood. The color saturation, clarity and sharpness of that lens makes it imperative to have for landscape work, with minimal filter additions or Photo Shop post-production. Our guide also took us to see some ancient petroglyphs, which are rock-carvings where the surface rock is abraded by the artist. Use of paint on rock walls are pictographs as I learned.

Be safe shooting out there.

Chris

 
 
On a recent visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, my traveling companions and I had planned to spend 2 days at the South Rim. I know this is barely enough time, but we had other sites to visit and only so much time. We had been out before the dawn behind the geological museum at South Rim (speak to park rangers and ask for the best locations for sunrise photos, then get there early.

We returned that evening to Yaki Point, using the park system's bus service since private vehicles cannot access/park at many of the locations. Be sure to be on time; we got on the last bus to make it to Yaki for sunset, and as the bus was pulling away, a young woman was trying to convince the driver to wait for a friend who was on his way. The driver was very genial, but said "These people are all on my bus to see the sunset, and if we don't leave now, they'll all miss it because your friend is late. Sorry."

At Yaki, one of the best-closer venues for sunset shots, we found many of the best vantage points already taken. However, I like to shoot sunsets and sunrises facing away from the sun, so I faced east for the first shots, to get the color of the setting sun against the vast bowl of the canyon.

Then, I did some shots into the setting sun (see the second, third and fourth photos). I was shooting with a Canon 5Diii, with a Canon 24 mm prime, wearing a Singh Ray magenta filter and a Cokin 8 stop split neutral density graduated filter. I dialed the aperture down to f/22 to try and get a sun star as the sun sank just below the rim.

Finally, what I noticed, and what everyone gong to the Grand Canyon should know about sunset photos, is what I like to call the Canyon Effect. As the sun goes below the horizon and it's lights out, there's a residual glow, a blue ambiance that seems to illuminate the gathering fog/moisture condensation in the low portions of the vast canyon. I shot fast and furious to capture that effect, shooting, checking the playback, deleting, and adjusting shutter speed and aperture (I always shoot on manual unless I'm doing wildlife photos) until I got the shot that looked just like what I saw with my unaided eye.

Then it became quite dark, and the Canyon Effect was gone.

So while everyone else is packing up after the sun dips, point your camera (on a tripod of course) away from the dipping sun, and try and get the Canyon Effect.

I would suggest using a tripod and shutter release, a prime lens for maximum clarity and wider base aperture if needed, and filters to tame the sun. Safe shooting all.

Best,

Chris




 
 
I'm recently returned from a trip of the American south west, which included the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Valley, Mesa Verde, Arches National Park and the Four Corners.

A quick narrative about shooting at the Grand Canyon, then some pictures.

1. Get out before the dawn to set up for the sunrise. Don't worry about shooting towards the sunrise; photograph the huge rock formations as they receive the morning light.

2. I use Singh Ray filters. For most of my morning shots on a Canon 5Diii, I was using a Canon 24 mm prime or a Zeiss 20 mm, with a Singh Ray Magenta filter and a Singh Ray LB polarizer, along wit ha 2 stop neutral density graduated filter to tame the brightness of the sky. These wider angled lenses worked effectively on capturing the awe inspiring majesty of the South Rim.

3. Bring a telephoto lens. Everyone tries to capture the vastness of the Canyon, which really is impossible to do. In additional to getting those wider-angled shots, consider a telephoto to capture the small details--a tiny bush growing at the tip of a rock hundreds of feet off the ground--to make your shots unique.

4. Sunset. Plan to be on one of the South Rim buses in advance of the sunset. We got the last bus out to our spot, which already had a number of people staking out prime positions. Once again, consider shooting both into the sunset (use heavier neutral density graduated filters for this, such as an ND-4) and away from the sunset to catch the red glow on the rocks.

5. Finally, once the sun sets, there is what I call the "Canyon Effect." This is a remarkable blue light that illuminates the mist forming in the lower regions where the cool air pools. The Canyon doesn't just go dark after the sun sets. There is a period of time where a blue quality light illuminates the lower portions and bowl in a most unique way. It was hard to capture, but I got it (see the last photo in this series). And stay away from edges. It's a really, really long fall to the bottom.
 
 
I was recently on a visit of the American southwest. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Colorado. One of the high points was to visit the Antelope Canyons located on Navajo lands. These Arizona slot canyons (narrow, deep), known as Antelope Canyon, are one of the photographic high lights of the region.

Since
the canyons are on Navajo lands, you  must hire a Navajo guide--we were very happy with our young guide, Kyle--with Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours. Searching for Antelope Canyon photo tours on Google will result in a number of results that can be cross-referenced on Google, so I won't make any specific recommendations. Be certain to book a PHOTO TOUR, and not a regular tour. Photo tours are longer, the regular tours are shorter and are not geared to photography.

I had a bit of trouble booking a month in advance, so do not leave this to the last minute. Getting there is explained on most of the guide websites, but be careful, because your GPS will want to lead you past the guide center ( a dusty lot, with a small shack, and a number of blue and white pick up trucks with beds converted to sit more people). If you see that lot within a mile or less of the three large coal-fired smoke stacks, you're in the right spot (not too far from an intersection with a gas station and rest area).

You are driven in the back of a modified pick up for about 20 minutes in talcum powder red sand, to the entrance of the cave. Your guide will give you a few quick pointers--things move very fast, follow the tour guide, and shoot when he says shoot--before entering the canyon.

It is, in fact, like combat photography. You are in a narrow environment, with scores of other photographers and tourists jostling for position. You may worry that you'll only get 30 seconds to shoot an iconic view, but don't worry. The guides will move you quickly from venue to venue, but they also bring you back for second opportunities. The only issue is that the light is very ephemeral, and the famous light shafts move into obscurity quickly. If you follow your guide and communicate with him or her, you will get the shot you want, as there are light shafts throughout. There's even a shot in my collection below,  where you can see one large and one very small light shaft striking the sand. Keep your eyes open, don't rush. Our guide was very determined to get us the shots we wanted, he seemed very concerned that we were happy with the service, a fine young man who did a great job (please tip at the end; they work hard for their shifts). I saw some people getting so wrapped up in trying to get a shaft-of-light shot that they were missing other gems, and anyways, there are more than one light shaft to be seen in the tour. The guides will toss sand in the air to make the light shaft more visible.

Anyways, my only advice would be:

1. Arrive early. They won't hold a tour because you decided to take a leisurely drive into town to get a latte. If you're not there, they leave. Don't be late and infringe on other photographers' precious time in the canyons.

2. Dress for hot weather and lots of dust and sand. PICK a lens to shoot with; lens changes in the canyon are very dodgy, because you stand to get sand in your sensor. I chose a Canon 16-35mm for general use. As you exit the back end of the tour halfway through, I used the cleaner outdoors to change to a Zeiss 20mm for a different effect.

3. Low light means using a tripod. I just kept my tripod on my camera the whole time. I use a Really Right Stuff tripod and head, so I can carry my Canon 5Diii and lens on the tripod with confidence that it won't fall off. But, be cautious that you don't ding your camera against a camera wall as you move from spot to spot.

4. A tripod means a shutter release. You've traveled this far, so use best practices and do it right.

5. Minimal kit. Bring water to drink and cleaning kit in your backpack, but too much kit in the canyon is crazy. There's barely room to move past one another in places. I lost my black Fisher Space pen in the sands, and it was clipped to my photog vest......

6. I did not use any sort of polarizer; just use a plain lens with a lens hood to protect it from knocks in the narrow canyon environs. Keep your camera close to your body, and protect it like you would your newborn. The canyon walls are not forgiving.

7. Be polite, but speak and touch . When I was setting my tripod into a position and someone's foot was nearby, I'd gently touch their shoulder and say, "My tripod is right behind your foot, thank you!" Courtesy and communication will go a long way in the tight confines of the canyon.

Be prepared to move hard for 45 minutes, shooting and moving like an infantryman in close quarters battle. Once you come out the other end, take a quick breather, change lenses if you want to, drink, and get ready to go back in. BRING A BLOWER BULB for cleaning. Blow off any lens before using fluid and cleaning cloth lest you grind the silica into the lens and scratch it. Also, a good blower is critical for blowing out the inside of your camera on lens changes to keep out dust. Always point the camera downwards so that any dust blown out doesn't fall back in the camera body. Be sure you know how to do lens changes with confidence and dexterity before you try changing lenses in Antelope Canyon. And don't change a lens inside the canyon if there are gobs of people kicking up sand. Only do so--if you must--when there are no other people in the area kicking up dust that can enter your camera and possibly dusty up your sensor and pooch the rest of your vacation.

Concentrate, know what you want to shoot, listen to your guide and hustle hard. You can drink and rest later.


 
 
 
 
 
 
Picture
The hot, humid weather of summer here in Eastern Ontario is the Time of the Dragons! I love all kinds of dragonflies, damsel flies, and the like. Their flying is unique, owing to a hind wing and a fore-wing of different sizes. They fly in amazing patterns, they manifest amazing colors, and they eat mosquitoes and deer-fly, so whats not to like?

My advice to students on photographing these winged beauties:

1. Bring a long lens if you can. I find students often fall into the mindset that since these are insects, you should be using a macro lens only. By all means, try using that macro lens. However, if you get too close to a dragonfly--if you can get close--your shadow, your presence, your movement will send them flying off. I like to use a long lens (Canon 100-400 mm lens) and shoot as close as that lens will let me focus.

2. I mount my Canon 7D and Canon 100-400 mm lens on a Carry Speed strap, which goes right onto my Really Right Stuff mono pod head and mono pod. This set up allows me to carry a heavy leans and camera setup for many long hours on what is sure to be a very hot, very humid day. After the first five kilometers, I appreciate the strap setup to allow me to carry the heavy camera, mono pod extended, ready to go from walk and carry to stop and shoot supported in seconds for the best, blur-free shots.

3. You have to go where the dragonflies are. My favorite spot locally is a dam spillway off the Ottawa River, where a nature conservancy has groomed and not-so-groomed trails for a day long hunt. Once you hit the woods and shade, I find the species choice and volume of species drops by 80%. You have to stay in the hot sun, so sunscreen, hats and bug spray are big parts of my day. And you have to be near water and/or swamps generally. So yuo'll want bug spray, at least I do........

4. On the topic of bug spray! Be so very cautious! The active ingredient, DEET, will adversely affect and degrade the delicate plastics and even the carbon fiber of expensive tripods. I am extremely cautious and mindful as to spraying myself once I arrive at the site, with all my camera kit in the car while I stand 20 feet from the car spraying legs, arms, etc. I wear a Columbia hot hat, a baseball style cap that wicks and cools. I like this over the floppy sun hats, because when I go to take a shot, I can spin the cap so the bill doesn't hit the camera, kinda like watching the German U-boat commanders twirling their caps as they pressed their faces to the periscope  in the late night WWII movies.

5. Carry ready to shoot. My method is to carry my Canon 7D with my Really Right Stuff mono pod and mono pod head attached to the base plate of my Canon 100-400 mm lens. This is attached to me with a Carry Speed strap (neoprene is super comfortable and the Carry Speed system allows you to transition from tripod to mono pod to free carry in seconds).  As  I walk, my mono pod is extended, the lens and camera riding the head of the mono pod, and the strap allows me to quickly bring the mono pod and camera to the shooting position, since the dragonflies move around like jeweled rockets and you have to be ready to position, focus, frame and shoot in an instant.

Other than that, since you'll be shooting in bright sun on hot summer days, bring the usual sunscreen and water. I generally carry a knapsack for day long outings and stow snacks, as much water as I can carry and extra camera kit. Here are the results. Thanks for reading.

Chris

 
 
Picture
We're well into summer, so if you live in Canada, chances are as a photographer, you're taking full advantage of the conditions to get out often with your camera. For this post, I want to quickly cover three main areas of outdoor work:

1. General landscapes.
2. Birds.
3. General flora and fauna

So, my general rule is, if you're not outside in the heat, the bugs and all that nature offers, you won't get the photos you hope to. Shots like the flying osprey (opposite) aren't captured sitting in front of my laptop. My rule is to try and capture one picture that I like once a day. Obviously our lives are busy and priorities must and all that, but without impinging on your responsibilities in life, try and get out as opposed to thinking that getting out won't be worth the effort.

(i). Use the best lens you can afford for the purpose. For landscape, this means generally wide angle, with higher quality optics than are found in the basic kit-lens level . If you want to make landscapes your priority, consider spending a bit more scratch and getting at least a Canon 17-40 mm L series, which is sub-$1000 and not outrageously expensive in the lens world. For birds, I use the Canon 100-400mm zoom. Used properly, this lens gives amazing results. When I was researching this lens, I read some comments that the review had bought a "soft copy" and was upset. Further research almost always reveals user error. I can take stunning shots and horrible soft shots in the same morning with this lens. Not because of the lens, but because of the mechanics of telephoto zoom lenses. Tripods are a must to prevent minute shake, otherwise you'll end up relying on the image stabilizer and wide apertures to get faster shutter speeds to compensate. The result will be less pleasant images. Big lenses are really hard to hold still to get sharp images of birds at tree tops, so a solid, solid tripod is a must.

For general flora and fauna, I stay within the 24-105 mm focal range, with a macro lens handy for those amazing close ups of flowers and insects. Again, with macro work, a mono pod or tripod is key. Stable platforms = clear images. When you try to skimp on using a tripod, you try to increase shutter speed to avoid blur by increasing the ISO (and increasing your digital noise and distortion)  and opening the aperture too wide, changing depth of fields in unwelcome ways.

(ii). Dawn and dusk. If you want those beautiful photos that seem to have that intangible quality, you really need to head out at dawn and dusk. The summer light for me between say 09:00 am to 7:00 pm is just too harsh, too bright. That isn't to say that you can't get keeper shots at high noon. Its just my experience that my best shots are caught at the soft edges of dusk and dawn. Birds are out, and my best bird shots are always at dusk and dawn. Even grass and leaves look better bejeweled with dew.

(iii). Consider filters. I use a wide array of filters. These include filters to pick up different color in the ambient light out there (http://www.singh-ray.com/goldnblue.html). I often stack filters, using a Singh Ray Blu n' Gold at the base of the stack in a Cokin P sized filter, with a Singh Ray Color Intensifier and followed by a Singh Ray Graduated Neutral Density Filter (half clear, half dark to block out the bright sun, with the neutral density reducing the amount of light coming into the camera without changing the color of the light). This effect of using multiple filters in landscape work can have very pleasing results.

(iv). Tripods! If you can use a tripod, you'll generally get much clearer shots. Especially at dusk and dawn, the prime shooting times,  light is lower and the temptation to use higher ISO levels and wide apertures will adversely affect your shot. Too low a shutter speed, and you lose sharpness to hand-held blur. If you try to compensate with a super wide aperture, you may have enough light for a hand held shot, but the wide aperture may give a very shallow depth of field, which is anathema to wide-vista landscape shots. Use a tripod, meter the scene in various areas, and if you have to shoot a t 1/3rd of a second at f/18 and at an ISO of 100 for lots of nice, creamy detail in RAW, then you can. Image stabilization just doesn't do it all the time.

When shooting birds with big, long lenses, you need a tripod. Without argument. The tripod allows you to properly steady the lens since your bird will often be a speck in your frame, even out to 400 mm. You can't hold a lens steady to avoid blur at that range. Think you can?

Try holding a laser pointer aimed at a wall 6 inches from you. The laser dot looks pretty stable. This is you shooting hand held at a close subject using a short focal length lens.

Try holding that laser dot fixed at 100 meters now. What happens to the steadiest of hands? The laser dot is jumping all over the place. Similarly, when you try and hand hold a long lens that's stretched out to its max focal length to capture a distant bird or fox, the lens shake at your hand of millimeters translates into much greater shake at the distance of your subject, just like that laser dot jumping around at 100 meters. So use a tripod! And if you have the luxury with a still animal like a great blue heron, use the live view feature of your camera to get perfect focus, then shut off the auto focus, shut off the live view and snap the picture.

Not to flog a product, and I receive nothing from the company in exchange for this this, but I have made the ultimate tripod commitment and went with Really Right Stuff (http://reallyrightstuff.com/Index.aspx?code=46&key=fr). They are an all-American company, with all of their product, "down to the tiniest screw" as they say, made in the USA. You can always reach a customer service rep there by phone or e-mail, with outstanding results. There are definately less expensive options out there, but I cringe when I have students come out with me using $70.00 tripods with maybe a 8-10 lb load rating, using their $2000 DSLR and commensurately expensive lenses. Like putting tires guaranteed to blow out at load on a $100,000 Lamborghini.

But let me say this, with emphasis; When you buy from RRS, you only pay once!

Let me explain; I have a DSLR and expensive 100-400 mm Canon lens that ride on my RRS ball head and tripod set up. When I'm in the field trying to get the perfect bird shot, I carry my camera on my tripod, extended, so I'm ready to shoot supported (critical with long lenses) at a second's notice, which is all the birds, foxes, and other critters give you. Once I'm done and its back to camp, I'll pack the tripod and camera away in my camera knapsack. The point it is, RRS can guarantee that if I properly set up and regularly check my tripod, I can carry my camera over my shoulder all day in complete confidence. My last monopod head disconnected without warning from the body of the monopod when the cheap brass connector screw just sheared off without warning. If that happens on safari or on a trip, you're out your expensive camera and lens while traveling on a long-planned, expensive trip where you plan to take a lot of photos. Imagine.

So, I chose to pay once for a lifetime tripod and ball head setup, get excellent customer service and then proceed to work the shit out of my tripod in the field, in rain, snow, heat and hills, without one scintilla of concern that my tripod will let me down.

Conclusion:

Use the best lens for the task that you can afford. Get out early (I mean crack of dawn!) or at dusk for the really amazing light. Try to use filters on your landscape work, experimenting with the less expensive options on EBay before moving to the more expensive pro-grades like Lee and Singh Ray. Finally, use a tripod as often as you can. I also have a Really Right Stuff monopod for my long lens when birding, on days that I don't feel like lugging the full monty tripod when its brutally hot and humid. Any support--like a monopod--is better than no support. Tripod is best however. And as often as possible You'll be surprised.

And get out there! You don't get good shots sitting in front of the television!

Best of luck, I welcome questions and dialogue comments on this blog.

Thanks,

Chris





 
 
Some pictures of my California trip that I missed and had not yet posted. Coronado is a beautiful spot, and for my last night in California, was worth being there for the sunset.

I used (over used) my Singh Ray filters, creating color, contrast and light separation. The Blu 'n Gold filter creates blues and golds, the A13 adds a bit of red-pink warmth, the Sunset Strip adds a layer of gold-pink to the clouds and sky, the split neutral density filters hold back some of the sky brightness to keep the darker foreground and the brighter sky in better balance, and the color intensifier ups the earth tones.

I know, I know. You can use too much makeup, right? Ahh, it was the last night of my first ever photo trip/visit to California, and I perhaps got carried away.

Use a tripod, the sun will set quickly and long shutter speeds will be required.

Thanks for looking,

Chris
 
 
A simple technique, where you hang a flashlight from the ceiling, and set up your camera on a tripod or flat on the floor beneath. Using a shutter release cable and shooting on Bulb Mode (so I could do an exposure longer than the pre-set of 30 seconds on other modes), you set the flashlight swinging, and hold the shutter open with the shutter release cable for about 60 seconds. The swinging light will record as a spirograph. Different light colors require different shutter speeds, so you have to experiment a bit.

Best,

Chris