Sunday, January 10, 2010

This Blog Has Moved!

I've moved the blog to my own domain and given it a new name—In the Moment: A Landscape Photography Blog. Here's the address:

To subscribe, go to the new location and click on the subscribe button: feed.png

I have a lot of exciting plans for the new blog, so I hope you'll join me there!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Free Calendar for Facebook Fans

Before they're completely gone I want to extend an invitation to friends and readers to receive a free copy of my 2010 Yosemite Meditations Mini Calendar. Just visit my new Facebook page, become a fan, email me with your mailing address, and I'll send you a calendar—while supplies last. (This offer is only available to U.S. residents.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I hope all of you have a great year in 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Errata for Digital Landscape Photography Book

After I sent off the text and images for this book some errors crept in. The most prominent is on page 43, where the diagram “Zones and Histograms” shows more dynamic range than any digital camera can produce. I’ve posted corrections on my web site, including an image that you can print and tape over the erroneous diagram on page 43.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My New Book Available in January

My new book, Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, will be available in January. In this volume I look at the techniques of some past masters of landscape photography—particularly Eliot Porter, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams—and explore how those techniques could be adapted to digital photography today. The book includes some examples of Porter, Weston, and Adams’ work, as well as at least 100 of my own images. This excerpt from the Introduction explains the theme:

I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.

—Ansel Adams

When Ansel Adams wrote this, digital photography was in its infancy. Today most photographs are captured on digital sensors, and film consumption has dwindled. In this digital age, do the landscape masters of the past like Adams, Edward Weston, and Eliot Porter still have anything to teach us? Can the lessons they learned through trial and error with film, paper, and chemicals still apply to photographers checking the histogram on their camera’s LCD or making a Curves adjustment on their monitor?

The answer is yes. When Ansel Adams developed the Zone System with Fred Archer in 1940, he gave photographers a tool great for controlling their images—but only with black-and-white film, and only with view cameras, where sheets of film could be processed individually. Today any photographer with a digital camera can have even more control—even in color.

Such unprecedented power creates wonderful opportunities, but can also lead to confusion. How do you apply these controls? How far should you go? Do you have to start from the beginning? No, because while the tools may be different, the basic principles that Weston, Porter, and Adams developed still apply.

The first chapter covers the technical foundation like image quality, sharpness, depth of field, and exposure, including how to apply the Zone System to digital cameras, and how to expose for optimum results with HDR. Chapter 2 is devoted to light and composition: directing the eye, using contrast, basic and subtle aspects of light, compositional rules and when to break them, patterns, repetition, and capturing a mood. The third chapter delves into the digital darkroom, including editing, developing a workflow, converting color images to black and white, adjusting black points, white points, and contrast, dodging and burning, and expanding the contrast range with HDR or manual blending in Photoshop.

In the end, the book is a comprehensive look at digital photography techniques from capture to print, with Adams, Weston, and Porter’s insights guiding the way. It’s available for pre-order from Amazon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Article in Digital Photo Magazine

Back in the dark ages of film, I carried several graduated neutral-density filters. They were both hard to pronounce and hard to use. First I had to decide which one to pull out—one, two, or three stops? Hard edge or soft? Then, after mounting one on the lens, I struggled to adjust it. The transition—the “graduated” part of the filter—could be almost impossible to see through the viewfinder. The light often vanished while I was still fiddling.

With my first digital camera I realized that graduated filters were no longer necessary. I could recreate the same effect in Photoshop, with more ease and control. And now the latest versions of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw even have built-in graduated filter tools. The photographs above show a before-and-after version done with Lightroom—original on the left, digital graduated filter applied on the right to lighten the foreground.

My latest article in the December issue of Digital Photo magazine (formerly PC Photo), titled Digital Graduated Filters, describes how to use the Graduated Filter tools in Lightroom and Camera Raw, plus how to achieve the same effect with Photoshop. The article isn't on the their web site, but you can find the magazine at newsstands now. I have a related article on my site with some, but not all, of the same material.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Photoshop and Digital Printing Workshop: Making the Complexities Easy to Understand

Do you have a love-hate relationship with Photoshop? You’re not alone. One the one hand, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, capable of doing fantastic things. You know that if you mastered this program you could get the most out of your images and make beautiful prints. On the other hand, Photoshop can be cryptic, complex, and confusing. The learning curve can seem downright crooked.

I was lucky. When I first started using Photoshop in the late ‘90s, I got to spend a weekend with Bill Atkinson, who probably knew more about digital imaging than anyone else in the world at the time (maybe he still does). He started me in the right direction and helped me avoid the confusion caused by gathering random bits of information from books and the internet. Like Charlie Cramer, Keith Walklet, and many other fine-art photographers Bill taught, I still use a variation of the simple, powerful, and flexible workflow that Bill showed me.

I’ve since taught Photoshop (and now Lightroom) skills to dozens of people in workshops for West Coast Imaging and The Ansel Adams Gallery. I try to make the complexities of Photoshop easy to understand. The truth is that Photoshop is simple. Anyone can learn to use it. And if you’re already familiar with it, you can learn to harness its full power. The secret is that you don’t have to deal with most of the tools. If you learn to use a few powerful tools well, you can do almost anything in Photoshop.

My next workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery, Digital Printing and the Zone System (January 19 - 23, 2010) is designed for people who already have some Photoshop experience but want to master this powerful beast. You'll learn both simple and advanced techniques for getting the most out of your images and making beautiful, fine-art prints. I included the Zone System in the title because getting good exposures in the field is vital to getting good results in Photoshop, so we’ll be working with the entire process, from capture to print. The Zone System also gives us a framework for understanding contrast throughout the workflow—an important tool in this age of HDR. Here’s a partial list of the topics covered:

- Zone System Exposure for Digital Cameras
- Color Management
- Overall workflow
- Raw Image Processing
- Making a Master File
- Using Layers for Flexibility
- Controlling Contrast
- Mastering Curves
- Flexible Dodging and Burning
- Retouching
- Making Difficult Selections Easy
- Converting to Black and White
- Sharpening
- Combining Images for Greater Depth of Field
- Combining Images to Expand Dynamic Range, both with HDR and Photoshop

There’s still space available in the class if you’d like to join us. Click here to register or get more information.

So how do you feel about Photoshop? Do you love it, hate it, or both? And if you’ve learned to love it, how did you get there?

By the way, I’m planning to add more Photoshop tips and tutorials to my web site soon, but for now here’s one tip that you might find interesting, about imitating the effect of a graduated neutral-density filter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

First Snow

Rain has turned to snow at my house in Mariposa, elevation 2700 feet. We already have an inch on the ground, and the radar shows more on the way. I just talked with Gabe at The Ansel Adams Gallery and he said they’ve received about four or five inches so far in Yosemite Valley (elevation 4000 feet). This is the first snow of the season—always a welcome event! Wherever you live you can see this fresh snow on the Yosemite web cams.

The National Weather Service predicts 7 to 11 inches of snow in Yosemite Valley today, with the storm ending late this afternoon or this evening. For photography, that makes the timing tricky. If the storm breaks up before sunset there could be spectacular light and clouds late in the day. If it waits until after sunset - which seems more likely - and clears overnight, there will be fresh snow in the morning, but probably no mist, as cold temperatures will inhibit mist formation. It will still be beautiful though.

I photographed this manzanita outside my office in January 2008. If the snow keeps falling it will look like this again soon!

This storm is so cold that it may snow in the Central Valley. Is it snowing where you are?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Photoshop Tutorials from Rich Seiling

Rich Seiling recently added two excellent Photoshop video tutorials to his blog, Crafting Photographs. Rich is the founder and president of West Coast Imaging, and an expert on all things related to digital printing, so when he gives out free information like this it’s definitely worth checking out.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Moon and Half Dome Encore

Saturday evening I joined dozens of photographers in the Ahwahnee Meadow to see the celestial encore of Ansel Adams’ famous Moon and Half Dome image. Don Olson of Texas State University had predicted that the moon would be in almost the same spot as when Ansel made his photograph in 1960. In the meadow Saturday were two of Ansel Adams’ former assistants, Alan Ross and Ted Orland, seen in this photo (Ted is the one pointing). A large group of park rangers took a group portrait, and Delaware North, the park concessioner, even set up a little stand at the edge of the meadow serving free hot chocolate.

There was just one small problem: no moon! The sky was mostly clear, but a persistent band of clouds behind Half Dome hid the moon. Nevertheless, we all had a great time—the lunar no-show didn’t really seem to matter. I’ve posted more photos on The Ansel Adams Gallery’s Flickr group.

Afterward the Gallery hosted a reception for Alan Ross and his beautiful new exhibit, Visions of Yosemite and the West. I talked with Alan about the contact sheet of images Ansel made that evening in 1960; it’s an unusual glimpse into the thought process of a master photographer. Although this JPEG is small, you can see that Ansel actually bracketed exposures! By four stops! Yes, Mr. Zone System hedged his bets. Wouldn’t you in this situation? Also, he apparently didn’t wrap the roll of film tightly (he made this image with a Hasselblad and 120 film), and there was a light leak. Luckily only the edges were damaged, otherwise the world would never have seen this fantastic photograph.

I was also struck by the different compositions he framed. We tend to think that a master like Ansel would have such a clear concept in his mind that he would only need one composition. And in fact the first frame here is, I believe, the one that became famous (I could easily be wrong about that). But he also pointed the camera at Mt. Starr King, then put on a shorter lens and photographed the top of the Royal Arches cliff and the moon above Half Dome again. If you look closely you’ll also notice that Ansel shifted the camera slightly to the left and right for the first four frames, where he bracketed exposures. Was he unsure about the precise framing? This seems odd since he wrote in Examples that he visualized the cropping from the start. The contact sheet shows that after bracketing those first four exposures Ansel composed an image of Mt. Starr King, then came back to the moon rising above Half Dome, but this time with slightly different framing, pointing the camera more to the left than previously, then more to the right. It seems that he was bracketing compositions as well as exposures.

This is something I do frequently. You can’t always tell what really works by looking through the viewfinder or at the camera’s LCD screen. If I’m not sure whether composition A or B is better, I do both. It’s nice to know that Ansel wasn’t immune from this uncertainty!

What all this points out is that even the best photographers sometimes make mistakes, and aren’t always sure about the best composition or exposure. We’re all striving to get better; some are just farther along the path than others. Ansel certainly traveled farther than most of us ever will.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

I have a lot to be thankful for. My son started college this year at Humboldt State. He’s adjusted well, is getting good grades, and seems to be having a great time. It’s good to have him home this week. My wife Claudia and I have been happily married for 23 years. We have great friends, live in a wonderful place, and I make my living doing what I love—photography. And I’m very thankful for all of you, my blog readers, workshop students, and fellow photographers. You make my job fun!

Happy Thanksgiving! Our dogs Bear and Rider wish you were here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

First Snow of the Season?

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for Yosemite from 4 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday. The snow level is projected to begin at around 5000 feet Friday afternoon, but drop to 4000 feet—the elevation of Yosemite Valley—Friday night. Exact snow levels are difficult to forecast, so a slight fluctuation could mean rain instead of snow, but it seems likely that the Valley will get at least a dusting. Forecasters are predicting two to four inches of snow at 4000 feet, four to eight inches above 5000 feet.

For photographers, the big question is when the storm will clear. It looks like it might clear sometime during Friday night, meaning Saturday morning could be beautiful. Or not. It’s always unpredictable! But whenever it clears there will probably be great conditions for photography.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yes, There's Still Fall Color in Yosemite

It rained yesterday, so I drove up to Yosemite Valley early this morning hoping to find some mist. And mist there was—not that much, but enough. I spent a couple of hours in the Ahwahnee Meadow, where I made this photograph. As I mentioned in my last post, I like the edges of seasons, and this image shows the fall-to-winter transition, with just a few leaves hanging on to these backlit cottonwood trees.

While these cottonwoods have dropped most of their leaves, elsewhere in the valley many trees are at peak color. This includes most of the oaks and dogwoods, as well as about half the cottonwoods and a few maples. The oaks in Cook’s Meadow and El Capitan Meadow are beautiful right now.

There’s a chance of rain again late next week, and I suspect there will still be some fall color then too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Favorite Time of Year

I’m often asked about my favorite time of year in Yosemite. I think the answer surprises many people: it’s right now, in early November. People expect me to say spring, when the waterfalls are flowing, or fall for the color, or maybe winter for capturing snow. In one sense they’re right about the fall color, as early November is often the autumn peak in Yosemite Valley. But even if the color is fading, I still love this time of year. My friend Jeff Grandy says he likes the transitions between seasons, and I agree. The edges are often more interesting than the middle. November is a transition from fall to winter. I can photograph yellow leaves next to bare trees. Ice forms on creeks and riverbanks. The light has reached beautiful, low, winter angles. Sometimes the first snowstorm arrives in November, and rain or snow can leave lingering fog or mist. Heavy frost often blankets the meadows - a key ingredient for this deer photograph, made on November 10th, 2006.

Of course every month offers beauty, and there’s always something interesting to photograph in Yosemite. But if I have to choose, this is it.

What’s your favorite time of year in Yosemite - or, if you don’t get to Yosemite often, wherever you live?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day of the Dead

Last night my wife Claudia and I attended the Day of the Dead celebration in Hornitos, a tiny town in the Sierra foothills. The Stellar Gallery of Oakhurst hosted a reception in town for a Day-of-the-Dead-themed exhibit featuring work by many talented artists, including our friends Penny Otwell and Ann Mendershausen. At six p.m., under the light of a full moon, over 300 people joined the silent, candlelit procession from the town up a hill to the church and graveyard, where Rev. Steve Bulfer led a ceremony honoring the departed. Then the participants scattered throughout the graveyard to place candles on unlit graves.

This was the first time we had attended this event, and found it truly moving and inspiring. We’ll definitely be back next year. Naturally I had to try to photograph the proceedings, but it proved difficult. It was dark after all! For this image I left the shutter open for three minutes as the processioners marched up the hill, their candles forming a stream of light.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A November Peak for Yosemite Color?

The color in Yosemite Valley has continued to change, but slowly. The oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods are still not at peak. The early wave of maples is mostly gone, yet some are still partially green. With warm weather expected throughout the coming week, the second color peak in the Valley may not arrive until this weekend or even later.

My just-completed five-day workshop was a lot of fun. We had a great group of people and lots of sunshine. Friday evening we were able to photograph the moon rising next to Half Dome at sunset, and found some misty meadows and a rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall the next morning. I photographed these cottonwood trees along the edge of Cook’s Meadow on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yosemite Fall Color Update

I start teaching a five-day workshop tomorrow, so I won't have much time for blogging until next week, but thought I'd post a short note about the color in Yosemite Valley. Since I was here four days ago some of the maples have lost their leaves, while the oaks and cottonwoods continue to progress. It looks like my prediction about two color peaks will come true, as the maples are a little past prime now, while the other trees aren't quite there yet, although they're progressing quickly and should reach full color soon. The cottonwoods are hard to figure out. Some are bare, and others appear to be only turning partly yellow before shedding their leaves.

This photograph of oaks underneath El Capitan was made two years ago. There's still hope that the oaks could look like that this year!

It's cold and windy tonight, and some leaves are dropping. There are likely to be more bare maples and cottonwoods tomorrow, but I don't think the wind will affect the oaks and dogwoods. I'll post another update as soon as I get a spare moment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Color Update

We faced rain and wind during Monday’s Fall Color Workshop, but we also found fantastic light and clouds, including a rainbow over Mono Lake. The color is changing rapidly over there. Some aspens were stripped of their leaves during Sunday and Monday’s wind storm, but others have turned from partially green to full yellow. There’s still plenty of color around the June Lake Loop and in Lundy and Lee Vining Canyons. I made this photograph near Silver Lake this morning.

Tioga Pass closed Monday and didn’t reopen until about 10 a.m. today. Driving over the pass to Yosemite Valley this afternoon I found Siesta Lake with it’s usual October ring of red blueberry bushes. I made a detour to check on the dogwoods along Highway 120 west of Crane Flat, and found that almost all turned. In some years the majority of them turn red in this area, but this year most are yellow, although I found a few vivid red specimens.

In Yosemite Valley the big-leaf maples are beautiful. Almost all have turned a rich shade of yellow. The best spots are underneath Cathedral Rocks along Southside Drive and near Curry Village, including the old Lower River Campground area.

The other deciduous trees in the Valley—cottonwoods, oaks, and dogwoods—are still partially to mostly green, except for a few strange cottonwoods that are already bare. So it looks like we’ll have two peaks for color in the Valley: one right now for the maples, and another in one or two weeks for everything else.

The waterfalls got a boost from Monday’s storm. While the flow isn’t close to spring levels, it’s high for October. Upper Yosemite Fall receives early morning sunlight this time of year, something it doesn’t get in spring, so this is a chance to get some unusual photographs of it with good light and fall color in the foreground.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall Color Lazarus

After the last storm, many people reported finding little fall color on the east side of the Sierras. Aspens that had already turned yellow were stripped bare by the wind, and the remainder were still green. I was worried that there wouldn’t be anything to photograph during my fall color workshop on Monday.

But those green trees seem to have changed color quickly. I drove over Tioga Pass from Yosemite Valley yesterday afternoon, and breathed a sigh of relief when I caught my first glimpse of Lee Vining Canyon: all yellow. I’d say 80 percent of the trees had turned, and the remainder were yellow-green and should change completely soon.

I found a similar story around the June Lake loop, where about 60 to 70 percent of the aspens had completely turned, and the rest were on their way. I made the accompanying photograph in one of my favorite groves there. Both Lee Vining Canyon and the June Lake Loop were beautiful, and are likely to become even more photogenic in the next few days. I’ll be scouting some other locations today, and I expect to find similar conditions among the lower-elevation aspens. Nancy Boman at Murphey’s Motel in Lee Vining (a photographer’s favorite) told me that the color had arrived just within the last few days, which seems to fit the other reports I’ve heard.

On Friday I was in Yosemite Valley for a private workshop. The most striking change was the amount of water in Yosemite Falls and the Merced River. We had nice morning light on the upper fall and photographed reflections in the river. There was also some mist in the meadows. The water level will drop rapidly during the next week, as there’s not much of a snow pack to feed it, and the mist will also probably dissipate as the meadows dry out, but it might last a few more days.

Fall color in the Valley is developing rapidly. The sugar maple near the chapel is gorgeous, and the native big-leaf maples are about 80 percent turned. The cottonwoods are about halfway there. The dogwoods and oaks are just getting started, but it seems like things are moving quickly, so next weekend might be close to peak. Barring storms, the following weekend (two weeks from now) should also be good.

A minor weather system is expected Monday, and temperatures will drop early next week, so that could change the outlook. But fall-color gloom has turned to hope in just a few days.