Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shooting in Yosemite After a Snowfall

Being able to take photographs in fresh snow is a dream come true for most of us who live in areas where the white stuff is a rarity.

But, being the first on the scene in a place as glorious as Yosemite valley is unbelievable. The opportunities for great images are everywhere. Even locations that would never grab your attention otherwise, become suitable subject matter for that large print on the living room wall.

For those of us lucky enough to be in this valley for February's record dump, the only problems were that everywhere we wanted to shoot meant we had to be the lead-dog, and break the new trail through the 3 foot drifts. This can be a daunting task with no snowshoes, and a full arsenal of photo gear in tow. But, it was worth it every time. To see some of the images from this trip click HERE

The following clip was spontaneously shot at a logical resting place along the Merced River. And,“logical” in this case, meaning where we were both stuck!

I handed off the pocket sized video camera to Mike Meisinger, who works with me at the studio, and said, “while we're both standing here, up to our butts in snow....lets tape a quick instructional bit” I figured both of our batteries would die any minute in the cold weather, but, everything held up fine camera-wise. However, I think Mike's looking into some Gore-Tex pants and boots for the next winter adventure.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Death Valley Nite Portrait

After getting the final shots of the desert sunset at the Mesquite Dunes, it's still not too late for a portrait session, before heading to the only restaurant in town.

Although, when it seems like there's just not enough light left.....there is!  And, with a tripod, long shutter speeds and off-camera flash units handy, it's pretty amazing what you might come up with.

There's always a willing subject or two along at our classes, and this evening's model was the lovely and talented.... Samara.

The main light here is an umbrella mounted to a lightweight 8 foot stand, with the brilliant usage of my second camera as ballast, hanging on the stand. You'd think that in the sand dunes, a sand bag would be the proper tool. No wind was blowing this evening so it worked fine.

The second light, which was acting as a kick, or separation source, was placed behind Samara, and off to camera right, with no modification..just the basic, on camera light, this time being held by a human stand...a 5 foot ten-inch model. ( her face is intentionally blocked by the flash unit, as part of her arrangement with the Witness Protection Program)

The metering is pretty straight forward, here. Before even thinking about the flash units, I simply metered, in-camera for the ambient light. And, at iso 400, the reading at f/5.6 was 2 seconds. So, the camera was manually set for those exact settings.

Now, we simply turned on the umbrella source, did a couple test pops, with the external meter, and set the power manually on the flash unit, to get a reading of 5.6. Same deal for the kick light....except, since I didn't want this light to be quite as dominant, we set it up at one stop under the main, and got this reading set at f/4.

As time moved on, and we made a couple minor tweaks to her hair, etc....the ambient light continued to slowly dim....resulting in a need for a slightly longer shutter speed of 3 seconds....but, the flash units remained constant, so we kept the aperture at 5.6.   And, for no reason whatsoever, I turned off the kick light for the close-up.

Gear-wise: the lights were triggered by the Elinchrom Skyports. The flash units are both the newest model of the Metz on-camera units, which are amazingly accurate with TTL exposure...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mono Pod saves Tourist

In the midst of one of the heaviest snowfalls in Yosemite Valley, we recently pulled into the parking lot of the Ahwahnee Hotel for their legendary Sunday brunch. Now, if you haven't been here, this is one classy joint....and with a price per nite to prove it. Around four hundred bucks will get you in.

But, FYI, they do allow the rest of us in to snoop around. And if you're properly dressed, even eat dinner in their amazing dining hall. Well, there's no dress code for brunch, so here we were. And as we made our way across the icy parking lot, we spotted several tourists, in their vehicles.....stuck in the snow. None of them had chains on their tires, and all were having trouble negotiating the slippery surface in their wingtips and heels.

One fellow, in particular, caught my eye. He was in the driver's seat, with the car in reverse, and the pedal FLOORED! Tires were smokin', and he was going nowhere.....but, if he ever DID gain any traction, he'd be off like a rocket, in reverse, across the parking lot.

So, we stopped to see if we could help out. And, apparently just because you can afford to stay here doesn't mean you have a proportionately high quantity of common sense.

That's where the video below comes into play. Thank God for the little-known Manfrotto combo monopod / ice- pick.

The clip doesn't show the happy ending...but, he made it out safely.

Now, my only problem will be explaining to my friends at Manfrotto why they should send me a replacement monopod for the one I have with all these factory defects.

Yosemite Winter Workshop

Shooting in cold weather can be a real challenge by itself. But, trying to continue to get some great shots while it's raining or even snowing, takes it up a notch.

Last month we had an amazing trip to Yosemite Valley. And, as always, in the winter months, were hoping for a little snow. Well, be careful what you wish for! There was a near record dump in the valley, right while we were there. And, none of the park employees could remember ever seeing this much snow in the valley.

All valley traffic and shuttle busses came to a screeching halt for a few hours, until the plows could do their thing. This gave us a perfect opportunity to go for a hike in the snow. And, since we were staying at "The Lodge At The Falls", what better place to head for than the falls? It's only about a 10 minute walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, and the opportunities along the ice-covered path were extraordinary.

The video clip below shows our group shooting, actually while it's snowing. And as often happens here, there was no wind. Luckily, once your camera body has cooled down to match the ambient temperature, the snow won't stick, or cause any moisture damage. The only concern is getting snowflakes on the front element of the lens. It's almost impossible to effectively clean the glass under these conditions. So, that's where the big plastic bags, and Lee lens shades pay off.....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Death Valley Photography Workshop

The Winter light in Death Valley is amazing. From pre-dawn right thru dusk. I usually like to start the day with a walk out into the Mesquite Sand Dunes about an hour before sunrise.....pick a cool spot to shoot, based on where the sun will emerge from...and wait.

Those first few minutes of direct, low, warm rays cross-lighting the surface of the dunes are unbelievable.

Then, after we've had our fill of sand, we'll head out into the Badwater. This involves about an hour's drive, and a short walk on a VERY flat valley floor. The shooting and the overall feeling of this place is truly other-worldly. Just like the sand dunes. It makes for a very eerie morning, and provides some really diverse photo ops.

The video clip below was shot right in the middle of the main salt flat area in Badwater..about a 10 minute walk from the parking area. We used the Canon G-9, which is really a point and shoot still camera, to record the video. The quality suffers from the You Tube compression....but, at least we can do this cool stuff now. The original clip is over 240mb !! And it took over 2 hours just to upload the file online.

If you decide to make the journey to Death Valley....winter is the time to go. It wasn't named Death Valley for nuthin'

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Monkeying Around In Costa Rica

We just got back from a great photo workshop in Costa Rica. It's a real diverse source for wildlife and scenic shooting.....everywhere you look is a potential shot. And, the unique thing is that the animals show up in the strangest places. Right outside your hotel door....or, in some cases, INSIDE your room.

The shots of these monkeys were taken from a Mangrove Swamp boat trip, on the Pacific coast, near Quepos. Shot handheld, with the Tamron 200-500zoom, from a rather unstable position. I've included a short video clip to provide a sense of how it went.

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