Saturday, April 30, 2011

In The Hands of God

In The Hands of God, originally uploaded by navandale.
During this spectacular sunset from Hopi point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a child nearby exclaimed, "Look, God's talking!" I couldn't help but to smile and agree.

The Grand Canyon was the final destination on a journey that I will always remember as being the most magical and meaningful of sojourns.  Starting in South Lake Tahoe, where I'd lived over the winter as an on-mountain photographer at Sierra at Tahoe, I traveled first to the Redwood National Park in Northern California, Through Lassen and Whiskeytown National Parks, to Yosemite for a few days, and then on to Death Valley for a night of salt-flat photography.  After a quick visit with friends in Vegas, I went on to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation.  Then Finally, I arrived at the Grand Canyon, and to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.  Aside from the intrinsic awesomeness of all of those places, each and every day became more perfect as far as the experiences that I needed.

I am an independently spiritual person, and I value the teachings of almost all of the religions and philosophies that I have studied.  I make this distinction because the use of the word God means many things to many different people.  What I feel, believe, and perceive is a  universally connected guiding and organizing force that is never separate from anything, and is always resonating in ways that we can consciously interact with.  For many people, including myself, distractions, or "noise" ends up becoming the focal point of our daily lives.  Money, relationships, TV, Phones, Internet, Work, Bosses, Kids, Pets, etc., etc., etc.... all gets so loud and distracting that we lose ourselves in it.  We interact with people who are distracted by all of their noise, and we all feel trapped for some reason, but hardly realize it because we're so distracted.  I love OUR National Parks and State Parks because we have consciously set aside places free of the noise and distractions; places where we can go to more easily tune in to that ever-present resonance.

I can't count the number of times, while walking through a national park, I have to stop look up at the sky with a sigh of wonder.  Sometimes our lives can feel really heavy, problems almost too big to handle.  It's during those times the healing power of meekness amidst the vastness of nature makes whatever problems seem not so big.  Yes, Look!  God's talking!

How I got this shot:
This was a Very windy sunset.  We arrived about 45 minutes before this point in time, and already the sky was gorgeous, shooting sunbeams through the clouds, lighting up sections of the canyon wall.  It was so windy, though, that I wanted a foreground object that would be stationary... a cool rock or a dead juniper tree, or something.  I was really excited, my last trip to the Grand Canyon didn't yield a very impressive sky, and honestly, I hadn't quite honed my photabilities yet.  Every day of my trip had been more wondrous than the previous, and I was already feeling the magic.  I walked along the rim until, voila, before my eyes was an outstretched dead juniper tree with thick enough branches that it didn't move in the strong wind.  Not only that, but it perfectly framed the two visible sections of the Colorado River, and seemed to point to the sun like outstretched fingers.

So, I set up my Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod close to the ground with the legs extended at 45º angles for a sturdier base.  That's one of the cool features of my tripod.  Unlike my old aluminum tripod which connected all of the legs via cross beams, severely limiting compositional options, my new tripod has independent legs that can each fold further than 90º, and the Q90 center column folds horizontally, allowing for super close-to-the-ground shots.  You can check it out here.

I decided to use my shutter-release cable for this one, rather than my 2-second delay method.  The light levels stayed pretty much the same until the sun went behind the San Francisco Mountains, so I didn't need to fiddle with my settings much during this time.  Camera set to AEB(-2,0,+2) at ISO 100 f20, I back focused on the base of the tree, then turned my AF off, so as to not accidentally focus on something else after composing the frame. Once I had the image composed, all I had to do was fire whenever I thought the sky/canyon/tree relationship looked cool.  I must have taken 30 groups of shots (that's 90 exposures) by the time the sun dipped below that last thin cloud, still partially covered, but illuminating the entire rim with a warm orange light.  The tree and bush both glowed in reply to the burning clouds in the sky.  Sections of the canyon in the distance were being bathed in sheets of light, which I knew would be complimented by the refraction patterns of shooting at a narrow aperture.  The relationship of the clouds with the tree and the canyon were all in perfect harmony.  When I saw the three images on the back of my camera, I was ecstatic!  I couldn't wait to process this image and share it with the world.

I processed this image with the new version of Photomatix Pro (4.0.2).  But the new version doesn't change how I process my images, it just makes taking care of ghosting slightly easier.  To see my free video tutorials on how to process HDR images using Photomatix Pro and Photoshop CS4, start here and work your way forward.  :-)

Prints available at my printshop.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Morning Song

Morning Song, originally uploaded by navandale.
Via Flickr:
Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan from the Merced River in Yosemite National Park during sunrise on an especially magical day. It was a cold night, allowing fog to cling to the more open areas of the Yosemite Valley. I camped at Camp 4, the more primitive of Yosemite's camps, which is about 4 miles away from Bridalveil Falls (also the closest to the falls). I had this shot in mind since before I arrived in Yosemite, so when I woke up at 5:30 with the birds, I knew I was running late. No time to make a breakfast fire and brew coffee. Dawn was upon me.

So, I hopped on my bike, and enjoyed a beautiful ride to this spot. I stopped along the way a few times contemplating striking compositions, but I didn't dally for fear that the fog would lift, and I'd miss the color in the clouds. Well, I arrived at this bend in the river, and carefully moved from rock to rock, careful not to disturb the fragile flora along the bank, until I had the composition I wanted. Honestly, I was hoping for something more interesting in the foreground... but I'm not complaining.

Yosemite Valley is a magical place, and this morning was no exception.  With the songs from all of the birds providing a melody on top of the melisma of the moving water, and the occasional crescendo and decrescendo of wind, I had no need for any ipod or other musical device during my stay. This image is but one of many taken during my stay in Yosemite, and can be purchased as a fine art print, puzzle, mouse-pad, coaster, coffee-mug, etc. at my printshop.

Now, Let's talk about Stability and Camera Shake.
To take this image, I used my brand new Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod with the Manfrotto 322RC2 Joystick Ball Head.  Sure, I could have used any tripod, but I am super excited about this thing. It is a carbon fiber magnesium allow, so it's super strong, and super light-weight.  Not to mention, I have full-360 degree rotatability, greatly expanding my shooting options compared to my old, heavy, unsturdy aluminum tripod.  Then, with my Canon 40D set to AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing)+-2, and self-timer set to a 2-second delay, I metered the midtones of the scene at f18 1/15 ISO 100 and fired away.  Why not use my shutter-release cable, you ask?  For shots like this, where I don't need to immediately capture what I see or expose for longer than 30 seconds, I like to use the camera's self-timer.  First of all, I find it to be a hassle to take out my SRC, hook it up to the camera, and then a couple minutes later have to take it back off to put my camera back in it's bag.  Second, even with a SRC and an awesomely stable tripod, it's very easy to get camera shake by firing too soon after composing the image.  I find that 2 seconds is generally a pretty good buffer to make sure the camera's stable.  If using a non image-stabilized zoom lens, you may even want to consider the 10 second delay for certain shots (or just take a few breaths before pushing the shutter release button).  Whatever you do, by all means, DON'T PUT YOUR CAMERA ON A TRIPOD ONLY TO PRESS THE SHUTTER FOR AN IMMEDIATE CAPTURE, YOU WILL NOT GET AS SHARP OF AN IMAGE, AND YOU WILL BE WASTING YOUR TRIPOD!  Always allow some time after composing your image for the camera to settle, even when shooting panos!  Well, that's my two cents anyway.  I hope you found it informative, or at least interesting enough to read all the way through! ;-)

Thanks for reading!  Be Well!