January 15, 2013

Post Production: Curves Adjustments

It's amazing what a little post production can do to lift a photograph to the next level. I'm not talking about HDR, or over saturating the colors, or even blending images (although all of those can 'lift' a photo when used in moderation), but I'm talking about the basics. The tools you can find in most photo development software. I personally use Adobe Lightroom for all my post production and cataloging and love it. I think it's a great program, but there are many others that work just as well, especially with the basics I'm discussing here. When you shoot in RAW format (as I do 100% of the time) the file NEEDS post production. The reason I shoot in RAW is to get as much information from the original photo as possible and also be able to control aspects such as white balance and exposure in post production without losing file information. Very seldom do I do nothing to a photo. Most often, a quick curves adjustment is all a RAW photo needs. That's what I've done here. The photo above is one that needed a slight curves adjustment, creating a cleaner finished product. 

Above is the difference between the RAW file (left) and the developed photo (right). You can also see the curves tool on the right hand side that looks like an elongated 'S'. On this photo I adjusted the darks to -25 and the lights to +38. It creates a bit more contrast and really shows off the details and colors in the foreground and sky.

If you are serious about photography and you're not shooting in RAW I would strongly recommend switching. You will notice a difference, especially in the digital darkroom.

Note: If you have tried to access my website in the last day or two you may have been redirected. I apologize for the inconvenience. I am working on a new and improved website that will hopefully be more informative and easier to navigate. Check back soon!

January 10, 2013

Desktop Wallpaper: Grand Canyon January 2013

I want to start a new feature on the blog where I offer a free desktop wallpaper each month. If you've tried to use my images as background images in the past and found it frustrating to find out it only shows up pixelated and ugly looking, that's because I have uploaded my images to be only as big as 700 pixels on the longest side. The images I upload as desktop wallpapers will be 1920x1200 and 1280x1024, large enough to fit on most laptop or desktop screens. If that means nothing to you, just know that when I offer the desktop wallpapers you will be able to use them on your computer full screen and they will look as crisp and clean as I intended them. Feel free to share this with your friends and enjoy looking at your new desktop background, courtesy of the Grand Canyon!

Instructions on how to set image to background
On a Mac:
1. Click on the image below that'll best fit your monitor
2. Ctrl+click on the image
3. Click 'Save Image As...'
4. Save image in a folder to find later
5. Find the image and Ctrl+click on it
6. Click 'Set Desktop Picture'
7. Voila! You have a new desktop wallpaper!

On a PC:
1. Click on the image below that'll best fit your monitor
2. Right-click on the image
3. Click 'Save Image As...'
4. Save image in a folder to find later
5. Find the image and right-click on it
6. Click 'Set as Desktop Background'
7. Viola! You have a new desktop wallpaper!

Choose the size to best fit your monitor.
1920x1200 (Same as above)


If you would like to request a size, please let me know in the comments below. Enjoy!

January 08, 2013

Location: Bryce Canyon (Winter)

Inspiration Point at Sunset, Bryce Canyon National Park

After exhausting our options in the Grand Canyon, my friend, Beck, and I decided to head up to Bryce Canyon. I have been wanting to get back to Bryce since I had a micro short stay almost two years ago. Winter in Bryce creates a great contrast between the snow and red rock hoodoos, but it can come at a price. I thought the Grand Canyon was cold, but I had no idea how cold it could get in Bryce. At one point my iPhone weather app said -13 degrees F! Not much you can do before your mind and body become lethargic and wonder why the crap you're standing on the edge of a cliff in this insanely cold weather. Sometimes I got so enthralled in the photo taking that I forgot I should probably put my gloves back on or risk frost bite. The reality sets in after I've gotten back in the warm car and the feeling in my fingers and toes comes back with a vengeance. Bryce in the winter really is unbelievably beautiful. If you can fight the cold it is well worth a visit. 

Sunrise at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

First light on Bryce Canyon's hoodoos in winter at Sunset Point.
Sunrise at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park
Swamp Canyon just after Sunset, Bryce Canyon National Park
Inspiration Point sunset panorama, Bryce Canyon National Park

Some tips for shooting in cold weather: 
  1. Batteries are the first thing to go when it's cold. Have a spare or two and keep them in a pocket with a hand warmer wrapped around it. I've even seen some photographers place a hand warmer on the outside of the camera and attach it with a rubber band. 
  2. Keep your hands warm. I struggle with this myself, mostly because I don't have the proper gear, but my hands are the first thing that get cold. I need my hands to work the small buttons on the camera, adjust the ball-head or focus the lens, but with thick gloves it can be awkward. Most of the time I just take a glove off to make a quick adjustment and fumble through the rest with my gloves on. A shutter release cable makes it easier to find the shutter button with gloves. Hand warmers are also good to keep in your pockets or stick inside the glove for that extra bit of warmth.
  3. Watch your breath. Condensation will build up on anything close to your airway and in freezing temperatures it will immediately turn to ice. Not so fun when your filters or front element of your lens gets covered in ice. I should also note that care should be taken when changing lenses in freezing temperature. I'm not always the best at keeping to this, but it's something to consider.
  4. Bundle up and layer. Come prepared to face the elements with the proper gear. A light jacket and sneakers aren't gonna cut it. And don't forget a beanie.
  5. Last but not least, have fun! Shooting in freezing temperatures is challenging, but there is a certain satisfaction that comes from enduring these conditions and coming away with lasting imagery. 

January 04, 2013

Different Shades of Light

These two photos were taken minutes apart, and although they don't seem much different there are subtleties I love in both. The first image is compact, warm with bits of waning light brushing the tips of the canyon walls. In the second, the light has faded, but brought out pinks and purples throughout the canyon. And that little bit of sky showing creates a grander feel than the first.

I love catching the alpenglow light on a mountain peak or canyon wall but sometimes the best light is just after the sun has set. The light is even. The deep contrast-y shadows are gone and you're left with a pure unadulterated scene. This twilight light can cast some incredible color our eyes often miss. Stick around the next time you're out shooting and watch for this moment. You'll be glad you did. Don't forget your tripod, though; long exposures are inevitable in this type of light.

January 03, 2013

Location: Grand Canyon (Winter)

View of Bright Angel Canyon from Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon National Park.

It feels like forever since I've been on a proper road trip and the Grand Canyon has been calling my name for awhile. What better time to visit than the dead of winter? Besides the temperature swings ranging from -9 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the majority of the park being closed, it's a great time to visit. It really is beautiful this time of year, however, I think I'm going to choose a different time of year the next time I visit the GC. The South Rim Entrance is the only entrance open in the winter, leaving only a fraction of the park accessible by car. Getting off the beaten track is a bit difficult, but if you're adventurous enough, it is possible. The crowds at the lookout points near the visitor center (Mather and Yavapai Point) are uncomfortably crowded, but the harder-to-get-to points are rather peaceful. The Rim Trail provided incredible views of endless canyon walls and would be my number one suggestion when visiting in the winter. My favorite view points were Hopi Point and Powell Point, both along the Rim Trail. At either point we must have only run into five other people. 

Broken light on the canyon walls, Grand Canyon National Park.

Sunrise at Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon National Park.

Afternoon light on the canyon walls below, Grand Canyon National Park.

Sunset at Yaki Point, Grand Canyon National Park.

Sunset at Yaki point, Grand Canyon National Park.
The temperature dropped quickly during sunset shoots, so wearing the proper gear was essential. However, even the so called "essentials" weren't enough. The biting wind at the edge of the canyon can be unrelenting. Layers and determination can go a long way, though.

Hopi Point, Grand Canyon National Park.

Broken light on the canyon walls, Grand Canyon National Park.

Sunset at Yaki Point, Grand Canyon National Park.
Despite the cold and limited access, the Grand Canyon did not disappoint. With a little planning and a resilient spirit, visiting the Grand Canyon in the winter can be very rewarding. Regardless, I look forward to going back, winter or not.

Grand Canyon in the Winter (Dec 1-Feb 28):

  • The North Rim is closed during the winter. The South Rim is the only part of the park that is open to vehicles.  
  • Hermit Road is closed, even to the shuttle. Hiking along Rim Trail is the only way to access Powell Point, Hopi Point and beyond. The trail is slick, but flat and offers some of the better views of the area. If you venture from the path you may find a grave site for a Charles Brant, his wife Olga, and their pet dog: Razzle Dazzle. The quote alone is worth the visit: 
    • "In this place doubt is impossible. Else, why all these wonders, this surpassing beauty, this grandeur, this deep peace, this confident repose? No, here is the spirit of God. Here one must believe." -C.A. Brant.
  • The East Entrance is closed as well as the Desert View Drive road that heads east along the rim from the South Rim Entrance. 
  • Only access to Yaki Point is to take the shuttle or walk from Desert View Drive (unless you get lucky/gutsy and drive up to the point anyway without getting caught. Parking is pretty much non-existant, though).
  • Bring plenty of warm clothes. Even if it's pleasant during the day, the temperature will drop quickly. 
  • Think about purchasing some kind of traction device to slip over your shoes, such as this. My knee wishes I would've bought a pair.
  • The light can be pretty good all day with the sun so low in the sky, so get out there, explore and bring back some keepers.