Yosemite

My first sunrise in Yosemite Valley.

My first sunrise in Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite National Park in California is a photographer’s mecca. While John Muir may be the “Father of Yosemite”, it wasn’t until Ansel Adams came here in 1916 and began to photograph it did the world really “see” the beauty that the High Sierras offered. It was in those Adams photographs that my love for photography was spawned when I first picked up a camera in the early 1980’s, and since then I had been wanting to visit this wondrous place.

I finally made the trip west this year for the first time and traveled there with a friend of mine and fellow photographer Darren Barnes. This trip was planned for February in hopes to catch the “Firefall”, which was made famous by photographer Galen Rowell in the 1970’s. The Firefall happens only (about) 2 1/2 weeks out of the year when the sun lines up between the mountains and shines its light right on Horsetail Falls. Of course there is a bit of luck in actually seeing this happen due to Mother Nature not letting the sunlight shine due to clouds and storms. Thousands of photographers flock to Yosemite each year during this time in hopes to catch this “phenomenon”, and we were two of them this year. I thought spending 4 days there would ensure us having at least one afternoon of ideal conditions to see this phenomenon, and if not then we would at least have some wonderful winter scenes to shoot with all the snow.

Unfortunately for us California is going through one of the worst droughts in 100+ years, so the water was extremely low and the “winter” was extremely warm. Yep, you guessed it, Horsetail Falls was completely dry and there was hardly any snow on the mountains. Not the conditions I had hoped for when reservations were made. BUT, me being the type of person not to let the glass get half empty I set my mind on seeing the beauty that was around me in hopes of coming home with a few keeper shots.

A capture of Yosemite Falls from the southside of the drive. Note how low the water is, conditions you would normally see in the middle of the summer.

A capture of Yosemite Falls from the southside of the drive. Note how low the water is, conditions you would normally see in the middle of the summer.

I quickly figured out that the water conditions I was seeing were that of early summer when the waterfalls typically are drying up. So once I wrapped my brain around that I found the positives… the temps reached the low 60’s vs. the 80’s so hiking and walking around was pleasurable. There were less crowds than there would have been in the summer as (per the Yosemite website) there can be around 18,000 people per day in the Valley. There were NO mosquitoes or any other bugs ~ YAY! Also we had clear skies to see ALL of the rock formations surrounding us.

Mt. Watkins being reflected in Mirror Lake.

Mt. Watkins being reflected in Mirror Lake.

Darren and I also quickly figured out that since there was no snow, that the trails that are normally closed in the winter would be accessible. Now of course they were “officially closed” since the Park Service closes them according to the calendar and not the weather. So we went around a few gates, and as Darren pointed out.. the closed sign is “just a suggestion”. HA!

One of the hikes we took was the Vernal Falls Trail. Now as I said, normally the trail closest to the river is closed in February with VERY good reason as this steep trail would NOT be something I would want to take in a rain more less snow and ice.

Darren shooting back into the valley from the steps along the Vernal Falls Trail.

Darren shooting back into the valley from the steps along the Vernal Falls Trail.

As you can see from the shot above, there are no guardrails along most of this trail. At this particular spot we were about 150ft above the canyon floor, where one wrong step could cause you to trip and go tumbling over the side straight to the bottom. Here is a shot looking back down into the gorge from atop of Vernal Falls. If you look closely you can pick out a couple of hikers coming up the trail, one of them is wearing a blue jacket.

This is the view from the Top of Vernal Falls.

This is the view from the Top of Vernal Falls.

Yep, my “cheeks” were clinched pretty tightly on this trail. 🙂 But as you can see from the shot below this hike is well worth the effort.

Looking up at Vernal Falls in a spot normally not seen due to rushing water.

Looking up at Vernal Falls in a spot normally not seen due to rushing water.

Unfortunately a lot of the hikes in the Northern section of the park were closed due to Tioga Road being closed. So we were limited to spending our time in Yosemite Valley, and I think we made the most of that time there.

Tunnel View at night.

Tunnel View at night.

We decided that since the days and nights were so clear that this gave us an opportunity to take in some night time shooting. By staying on east coast time that allowed us to get up before 3am local time and get out into the valley for some star shooting. Without trying, every day and night we ended up at the famous ‘Tunnel View’ overlook which allows one to see most of the valley. After the second night I actually was able to pull my eyes off of this view and I turned around the scene below caught my eyes.

My alt take on the "Tunnel View".

My alt take on the “Tunnel View”.

I jokingly named this the “Fire Tunnel” since I couldn’t get a shot of the ‘Firefall’. 🙂

Probably the most famous of all of the formations in the park is Half Dome. Half Dome rises more than 4,737ft above the valley floor, it is a favorite of serious hikers and mountain climbers alike.

Half Dome lit by the moonlight as seen from Sentinal Bridge.

Half Dome lit by the moonlight as seen from Sentinal Bridge.

Here is a shot from the Upper Yosemite Falls trail which was taken at 4am-ish in the morning. This is a VERY strenuous hike, and I only made it about 1,300- 1,400 ft up (about 1.5 miles) before having to stop. I returned to a spot close to here to photograph the sunrise this particular morning…and to rest. 🙂

This is Yosemite Valley as seen from 1000ft up at 4am in the morning.

This is Yosemite Valley as seen from 1000ft up at 4am in the morning.

Now during the early morning the sunlight hits the mountains from the side and let’s us see some amazing details within the formations. One of the most famous of these is El Capitán, which means “The Chief”. El Capitán towers 3000ft over the valley floor and is also a favorite of climbers and face jumpers.

El Capitán lit by the morning light.

El Capitán lit by the morning light.

The shot below is of Cathedral Rocks in the early morning hours.

Cathedral Rocks

These formations tower 2000ft above the valley floor.

This was taken from the Valley floor, where I REALLY enjoyed being on our last day there as my knee and foot were sore from the previous two days of hiking. Here are some other shots from the Valley floor.

Cooks Meadow offers some amazing compositions for the early morning photographer.

Cooks Meadow offers some amazing compositions for the early morning photographer.

Here is a wider view of the valley…

Sunrise from Cooks Meadow.

Sunrise from Cooks Meadow.

Cooks meadow also offers wildlife photographers something to photograph…

A friendly bobcat strolling through Cooks Meadow.

A friendly bobcat strolling through Cooks Meadow.

..as this bobcat took a leisurely stroll amongst a bunch of us photographers.

Conclusion: I by no way, shape, or form claim to be any sort of expert on Yosemite after only one trip here. I though do have an educated opinion of Yosemite from this one trip, and here it is…

Upon entering Yosemite Valley the first time, I was expecting..more. What I mean by this is I was expecting more space along with the grandeur. I didn’t expect Yosemite Valley to be so quaint and town-like.

Now part of this was due to the fact that the mountains tower so high above you that it shrinks your sense of scale. Yosemite Valley is 7.5 miles long, by about a mile wide, so it was not until I hiked up a 1000+ ft did I fully appreciate the size of the Valley. Also the fact that the water was so low I didn’t get to take in the sound of the thundering water that I had heard so much about. This fact was realized upon me when I was hiking the Vernal Falls trail and the sound of the waterfall was so refreshing. It was on this trail that Yosemite really bit into me and I fell in love with it. I realized that unlike parks like the Grand Canyon (which I am going to be visiting this summer for the first time) and Shenandoah National Park (what I call my home park as I live 40 minutes from it) which have a hundred plus miles of gorgeous vistas that you can drive along, Yosemite’s beauty is in it’s intimacy of grand scenes. The Merced River offers reflections galore (I wish Shenandoah National had something like this) which when the water and light are right will give a photographer unlimited photo ops.

If you are willing to put in the effort, you can hike up 1000, 2000, 3000+ feet and get a totally different look and feel with your shots, or if you’d prefer you can walk or bike along miles of flat trails to take in the nature that is all around you.

So yes, I have fallen in love with Yosemite and I do plan on returning to this magical place soon.

Here are a few thoughts for my return trip…

I would consider flying in to a closer airport than San Francisco due to the fact it made for a VERY long travel day. Fresno would be my choice right now, though it is a little more money.

I would definitely stay at Yosemite’s ‘Lodge at the Falls’ again!! It is costly, about $185-$250 per night, but you are RIGHT THERE!! You can see Yosemite Falls as well as Half Dome right from the hotel. Also by staying in the park you can literally walk to Yosemite Falls, Cooks Meadow, and if you want you can use the bus system to get around. Though if I go in a warmer season I may rent a bicycle as I think getting around by bike would be a lot easier than car when it is crowded.

I will be sure to make a stop at the Yosemite Store right away to get some food & snacks vs. trying to eat breakfast/lunch at the Lodge at the Falls. The food there is nothing more than cafeteria food and the service was less than inviting.

Now for dinner I would recommend eating at the Ahwahnee Hotel, as we ate at the pub/bar 3 nights. This hotel is where the money is at! I wouldn’t recommend staying here in the winter as we were “upgraded” to a cabin the first night and quickly asked to return to the Lodge at the Falls as the heater wasn’t really up to par.  But if it were a warmer season then I might’ve enjoyed the cabin. The other downfall in any season to the cabins is that there are walkway lights along the wandering paths. This by itself is a pain, but then add to the fact you have to carry all the luggage out to the cabin… “Let me think..NO!”.  We didn’t get to see what the rooms were like in the main hotel, but for the money they charge I hope they’re nice! I assume most of the people who stay here are well off (*in my most snobbish tongue in cheek voice* they must be the one percenter’s. Ha! I totally say this jokingly!) and probably want to be away from the hectic hustle and bustle of where the Lodge at the Falls is, which by the way is about 3/4 mile away but down a short private road.

So when I do return it may be a late April/early May trip so that I can take in the beauty of the spring in the Valley with the water echoing throughout the park, along with the bugs and the crowds. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and all comments are welcome.

I will leave you with one last shot, this one being an infra red image from the Tunnel View.

An infrared shot of Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel View overlook.

An infrared shot of Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel View overlook.

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Walt Disney World’s ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’

I love to challenge myself as a photographer because it is way to push myself outside of my comfort zone and makes me sharpen my skills with the camera. Shooting on the Disney ‘Dark Rides’ offers a wonderful challenge for me, and one of the most challenging of these ‘Dark Rides’ is Peter Pan’s Flight. This ride is based on Disney’s 1953 film Peter Pan and the ride opened with the Magic Kingdom (MK) on October 3, 1971. Yes, it is an original MK ride and still is one of the most rode rides in the MK. The wait times for this ride can exceed 1 1/2 hours unless you FastPass this ride, and I would recommend it. So when the gates first open I make a dash up and around Cinderellas Castle to get to the back side of Fantasyland so I can get a FastPass for me and my son.

As you board the ride you climb aboard a suspended pirate ship and ‘float through’ the ride. As you make the first turn to the left if you look up past the sails of the ship you will see Peter’s shadow flying on the wall down to Wendy.

One of the most iconic scenes of any Dark Ride.

One of the most iconic scenes of any Dark Ride.

For a lot of ‘Dark Ride Shooters’ this is one of the “Holy Grail” shots that we try to capture. What makes it so hard is the fact that the ship’s sails are in your way, the ship itself is now floating quickly and turning to the left so this whole scene is moving very quickly.

PHOTO TIP: When you get on the ride start getting ready to shoot. I set my camera AF to AF-C which is continuous focus. I also make sure I go into the settings and take off the AF Lock. AF Lock basically makes sure you have a confirmed AF on something in the shot before it allows the shutter to be released. So if you turn it off you can click away. Yes you will get some blurred shots, but you can get a keeper or two. With how fast this scene is moving, by the time AF Lock confirms you will be past the sweet spot for this scene. Another way to try to shoot this is by using manual focus and pre-setting your focus field.

As you move past this scene make and once your eyes adjust to the darkness make sure you not only look around, but below your ship. This ride has eye candy all over the place on the floor.

NanaSuch as this scene here. This is Nana watching you float out Wendy’s window as you begin your tour of London.

The next scene is one of the most magical scenes in this ride and that is the aerial view over the Thames River in England where you see London Bridge and Big Ben.

A view of Big Ben and London Bridge.

A view of Big Ben and London Bridge.

Here is a closer view of this scene where you can see the fine details which were put into it.

Big Ben 01As you pass this scene, if you keep looking down you will see you are on your way to Neverland as Captain Hook’s ship is below.

Captain Hook's ShipOne of my favorite scenes in this rides is this one where we see Peter sailing with Wendy, John, & Michael. If you look up past the the characters you can catch a quick glimpse of Tinkerbell.

Peter SailingWe soon come across Wendy and her brothers being held captive by the pirates.

Wendy on the plankHere is an alternate view which you can see if you turn around in your ship, Skull Island is in the background.

Wendy on Plank 01As you round this scene if you look a little behind you again, you can get a clean view of John, Michael, and one of the Lost Boys with a pirate.

Lost BoysAfter this scene we have Peter saving the day by fighting Captain Hook up in the sails of the ship.

Peter and HookThen Hook meets his demise by being thrown into the water waiting for Tick-Tock to come for him.

Hook and Tick TockThere are other scenes in this ride, but a lot of them are SO dark that unless you have a ride stoppage shooting them is almost impossible.

This is a short ride in terms of time, but it is a lot of fun and a ton of eye candy as I said. To shoot effectively on this ride you need a camera with clean ISO ability, in the range of ISO 5000-8000, and fast 2.8 zoom or f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime. I shot with a 35mm prime and came away with a bunch of great shots using my Full Frame D3S. If you were using a crop sensor camera I would say 18mm should be plenty wide enough.

If you decide to use auto focus on this ride like I do, keep moving the AF point to any bright spot in the frame to assist with AF.

Good Luck and Happy Rides!

The Pirates of the Caribbean

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Who wants to take a ride with me on Walt Disney World’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’? Well c’mon Ye landlubbers and let’s our make way up the gangplank.

The Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) ride at WDW has always been one of my favorite rides. I can still vividly remember riding this as a kid for the first time in 1974 and this ride spurring many dreams of wanting to sail the Seven Seas. Since then the Disney Animators have upgraded this ride to have scenes from the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean movies starring Johnny Depp.

One of the best things about ANY Disney ride is the queue, and the POTC is done exceptionally well. One of the all-time favorite scenes in this queue is the ‘Chess playing skeletons’.

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PHOTO TIP: To see this scene you must look through the jail bars. It is quite dark and the yellow lighting really is tough to overcome. The nice thing here is you can rest your camera against the bars to help hand hold it steadier to get a good shot. 

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Once on board we begin our journey into the dark mysterious and dangerous waters. Our first encounter is with Davey Jones warning us and telling us to turn around. We float right through the fog and his ghost, and we can almost touch him as we pass through…

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PHOTO TIP:  To capture this scene the best I have found sitting on the right side of the boat works best for composition. Metering on the brightest part of the scene allows for a faster shutter speed which will control the highlights better, and gives really cool silhouettes if you can get someone to raise their hands.

Our next scene is a beach scene where some desperate pirates have tried to save their treasure, but have failed. The details in this scene are amazing. This scene was also updated this year to include a mermaid skeleton in the ship, a VERY COOL addition.

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This was always one of my favorite pieces of the beach scene because of the pirate flag.

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PHOTO TIP: This scene is VERY dark and the boat rocks a bit. I try to keep my elbow on the side of the boat to give me a make-shift tripod. I have found if you shoot this scene as the boat is moving towards the scene you will get sharper images.

Next there is a bit of a canon battle and a warning…”Dead men tell no tales” as we are swept down a waterfall. Once we are down we round the bend and what comes into view is one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring scenes in this ride, Balboa on his ship.

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The details are fantastic here and because we are sitting down in the water the ship seems enormous! If you can pry yourself aware from any fear you can really see the amount of work the Disney Imagineers put into this area.

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A even closer view below.

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PHOTO TIP: As soon as you exit the waterfall, lean out and start peeking around the side of your boat up ahead of you. Start to try to get focus lock as soon as you can. If you use a single point AF and move it to the light (any light you can find) it will help assist your camera. Also I keep my AF on CONTINUOUS, and in the settings I turn off the “must acquire focus before shutter can release”. Then shoot away!

Our next scene is one of the pirates dunking ‘prisoners’ to get them to talk (I’m assuming). It is a fun scenes as the one who is being dunked spits out water when he comes up.

ImageHere are two detailed shot from this scene below.

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Once we pass this scene we bank to the left and in the shadows on the right we get our first glimpse of Jack Sparrow hiding in the shadows.

ImagePHOTO TIP: Jack turns his head in this scene, so depending on where you are on your boat will determine if you get a clean shot of his face.

As we pass this scene we are treated to some drunk pirates sitting along the steps waiting for who knows what.

ImageThey do seem to be a merry bunch don’t they?

This scene leads us to the famous ‘Take a Wench for a Bride’ scene.

ImageThere are SO many wonderful little details that just shooting this wide really doesn’t do it justice.

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PHOTO TIP: This area (and most of the ride for that matter) has some incredibly harsh red light. I shoot in RAW so I can capture as much information as to make my post work as easy as possible once I get home. Using selective color saturation helps a lot with removing the yellow and red color casts from the lighting in here.

Once we pass through this area we get our next peek at Jack Sparrow hiding, this time he is in a barrel trying to get the key to the vault.

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Here is a more detailed shot of Jack and the other pirate.

ImageThis area also has another great scene in the shadows on the right side of the boat.

ImageWe are treated next to some singing as the town is burning.

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And now the town burning.

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PHOTO TIP: This scene has a lot of depth to it, so if you are shooting wide open not everything will be sharp even if you’re in focus.

As we pass this scene on the left, if you look to the right you will see in the shadows this scene.

ImageAbove this is this scene, another bridge to go under, only this time it looks like the drunk pirate might fall into our boat.

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And here is a detail shot of this pirate.

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We next round the bend to probably the most famous of all scenes in this ride, the jail cell scenes. The first one is nice, but it is this scene which steals the show.

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Let’s have closer look at the actors in this scene shall we *wink*…

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…and now the star…

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PHOTO TIP: I usually don’t worry about the first jail scene, so I start to get focus lock on this scene as quickly as I can. Sitting on the right side of the boat will put you front and center so you won’t get any unwanted heads popping into your view.

Now we sail on to see if Jack got his treasure, and of course he did.

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This is a wide shot of this scene, which shows some wonderful details in the shadows. Here is a detailed shot of Jack inside the vault.

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Thanks for riding this with me. Be sure to Fastpass with me on our next ride which will be coming soon.

SOME BASIC PHOTO EQUIPMENT TIPS:

When I first started shooting on the Dark Rides I used a Nikon D700, which offered me up to ISO 6400 for decent images, and I could push ISO 8000 if needed. I have since upgraded to a Nikon D3S which allows me to get good workable images at an ISO of 12,800. I can easily push it to ISO 16000 to ISO 25000 for workable images. So yes, your camera sensor does matter on these rides to be able to pull out of them what I have.

Today’s newer cameras, even the crop sensor ones, have GREAT sensors that can shoot upwards of ISO 8000. So no you do not need a Nikon D3S to get good pictures on these dark rides.

One thing that also matters a ton is your cameras AF capabilities. Both of the Nikon’s I shot with had 51 points for AF, but the D3S’ newer AF system is a ton better than the D700. So you need to learn what your cameras AF system can do in low light. Another option to focus is to manually focus your lens. I don’t do that because…well I don’t have to. LOL. Seriously, it is because I wear glasses and looking through the viewfinder in the dark is very hard. So again, I know for a fact that if you understand your cameras short falls, you can work around them.

Let’s talk about lenses since that is equally, if not more important than how sensitive your cameras sensor is. I have shot with 2.8 zooms, f4 zooms with VR (IS to you Canon people), and primes on these rides. I have NO favorites as they ALL offer something of value. Here is my opinion of each:

Zooms overall; I love the flexibility to be able to zoom in or out on a scene and crop through the lens (TTL) versus cropping in post. The problem with them is they are usually BIG and heavy, though my new Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR is very light and is about the same speed as my old 24-120 f4 VR.

The Nikon 24-70 f/2.8; GREAT lens! Super sharp and the AF-S works amazingly well on the dark rides. F/2.8 is fast for a zoom, but it is not THAT fast on these rides. It is also VERY heavy which makes  hand holding it on longer exposures more difficult.

The Nikon 24-120 f/4 VR; Superb lens! It is not as sharp in the corners as the 24-70, but in the center it is VERY darn close. What I love about this lens is the zoom range and the VR. I shot the heck out of the Dark Rides with this lens and came away with some WONDERFUL shots, even though this is an f/4. The downside of this lens is that it is a f/4, a whole stop slower than the 2.8, which would make it NOT seem like a good choice for shooting on the Dark Rides. BUT, the VR works amazingly well, so well that it almost makes up for the one stop difference and then some.

Primes overall; These type of lenses are amazing for shooting in low light. They are small and light, and ultra fast with f-stops opening to 1.4 on some of them. I have used older Nikon primes including:  Nikon 24mm 2.8 D, Nikon 35mm f/2 D, and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 D, and the newest Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G af-s on these rides. The one thing I have found out is that they all don’t focus quickly. I will go into more details below.

Nikon 24mm f/2.8 D; Don’t even bother with this slug of a lens. The AF is super slow, which really surprised me because of the focal length.

Nikon 35mm f/2 D; GREAT lens!! The focus is super fast and snappy and the focal range is almost perfect for ANY Dark Ride. The only problem with this lens is that in certain backlight situations it gives some weird contrast, other than that this is a GREAT lens and cheap.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 D; The fastest lens I owned. Super sharp, super light, and super slow focusing. I was shocked by how many shots I missed because this lens would take forever to get focus. The ability to be 2 stops faster than my 24-70 f/2.8 doesn’t matter when you cannot lock focus.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G af-s; I thought that by having AF-S built into the lens that it would focus faster than my older 50mm, NOT! This lens is SO wonderful in so many areas. It is sharper than my 50mm f/1.4, lighter, a real pleasure to have on the camera, but I was disappointed by the af speed.

So there it is, my first hand knowledge of some nice Nikon glass. My suggestion to you would be to try out your lenses in low light and see how fast they zoom. See how well they balance on your camera because as I said, having a nice balanced camera is very important when shooting in low light while moving.

I have sold all of the lenses I listed above, except for the 24-70 f/2.8, and the 50mm f/1.8 G because those are terrific lenses that I use ALL the time. If you would like to know what I plan to shoot with next on the Dark Rides here it is…I bought a Nikon 28mm f/1.8 af-s and a Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 af-s VR. These lenses I bought for other shooting needs, but they also fit in well with how I like to shoot on the Dark Rides. The 28mm is RAZOR sharp corner to corner, it is my star shooting lens. The 24-85 is ultra light and compact, I use it ALL the time when I go hiking. We’ll see how well they do in June when I finally get to tackle Disneyland.

One last thing about shooting on these Dark Rides, and shooting in general…PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE!! Learn your camera in your house before you take it anywhere! Why? Because once you are out shooting what you love then you will just fall back on what is habit to you. To learn your camera best, which includes where all the controls are, and especially how it handles in certain light you need to be focused and not letting your emotions take over. So I always shoot really boring things around the house, like lamps, stuff on our counters in the kitchen, ect. That way I can focus on what I am trying to focus on instead of trying to get a great shot.

Thanks for reading!

“f8 and be there”

Taken along the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.

Taken along the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.

Some of you may be wondering what I mean when I say “f8 and be there”. Now that saying itself is attributed Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, a world famous New York photojournalist and street photographer most known for his works in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Arthur Fellig worked in the days before auto everything on cameras, when photographers had to calculate their settings to get correct exposures. So he decided to use f8 to simplify his calculations and the f8 setting also allows for a good depth of field to help with focus issues…and coincidentally f8 (f8-f11) is also where most lenses are at their best. So basically he simplified what he had to think about when shooting. The “being there” part is simply you need to be there to get the shot.

A view from Black Rock Summit in the Shenandoah National Park.

A view from Black Rock Summit in the Shenandoah National Park.

That philosophy of simplifying and being there is one that I enjoy myself when shooting. A lot of times when I am out shooting landscape work I do keep my camera on f8 to f11 to allow for nice sharpness and depth of field in my images and to let my lenses be their best. But that saying as a “whole” is more what I am saying when I quote it.

What a view! One of my favorite places in Canaan Valley.

What a view! One of my favorite places in Canaan Valley.

For me “being there” means more than just being at the right spot at the right time with my camera in hand, it means mentally I have given thought or pre-visualized what I am about to shoot. It means I have ‘read’ the scene to understand the light I am about to shoot and thought about exposure. This is where slowing down the mind helps a lot, and this to an athlete is known as being in the zone…you are focused and ready to shoot. And yes, it means too that you must get out of the house and just simply be there *smile*.

The Importance Of Understanding Manual Settings

I want to talk a little bit about why it is important to be able to put your camera in the ‘M’ or manual mode and how to adjust the settings to get the image you’re wanting. With today’s DSLR cameras you are able to go out and take a decent picture without knowing the first thing about how the settings are being utilized to create that image. While this is really nice for people who just dabble with photography, I am going to assume because you are reading this that you want more from yourself when it comes to photography.

I am not going to go into too many details in this post about manual mode, you can find those details out here. What I am going to do is show you why knowing these camera/exposure basics is important.

I was out in DC shooting with a friend one night, and after coming out from dinner in Chinatown I wanted to capture the energy of this area. So I set up my tripod and placed my camera on it. In manual mode, which my camera is in 95% of the time, I read the scene and got a meter reading. Knowing I wanted a long exposure to capture the cars and buses whizzing by I knew I would need to keep my ISO low, so I set it on 400. I also had the lens opened all the way up, this was my baseline to get a shutter speed reading.

First exposure 1/30 second at f/2.

First exposure 1/30 second at f/2.

My initial reading with my f-stop opened all the way up was 1/30 sec for a shutter speed. I know that at that shutter speed I will (almost) freeze a moving car at 25mph as you can see it did here. Not what I was looking for. But the exposure was correct, the scene overall looks fine. But as I said, I wanted to create energy by having the cars moving through the shot. So now I had to determine what I needed to do to get that. Do I open or close my shutter? Do I leave the shutter alone and close the f-stop? What?!?!

Because I know how to shoot in manual I already had the answers as my fingers began adjusting the settings. I knew I needed to slow the shutter speed way down, but by doing that I was going to get an over exposed image unless I closed the f-stop too.

My first exposure. 1/30 sec @ f/2

My second exposure at 1 second @ f/13.

I decided to go with an f-stop of f/13 to not only gain depth of field and let most all of the scene be in focus, but to let less light through the aperture so I could focus on getting the right shutter speed for the image I wanted to create. I doubled the shutter speed and went with a 1 second exposure. Overall the image was a tad dark, but workable, and I did have some light trails. But not what I was envisioning, so I opened up the shutter even more.

A two second exposure.

A two second exposure.

I opened the shutter up for 2 seconds this time, but the first image was a bit over exposed, so I needed to close the f-stop some more. I went with f/16 to get the exposure back in line. Now I had better light trails, but still not what I wanted.

f/18 @ 4 seconds.

f/18 @ 4 seconds.

I doubled the exposure again, this time to 4 seconds and I closed the f-stop down a bit more to f/18. BINGO! The winning combination! Now all I had to do was wait for enough traffic to create my light painting image showing the energy of Chinatown.

Summary: Because of ALL of the lights hitting my sensor with the street lights and headlights of the cars coming closer to the camera, if I had tried to do this on auto I am sure I would’ve banged my head because the camera doesn’t know what it is you want to do. All it is doing to trying to get the scene to 50% grey, or average. You must have faith in yourself that you are much smarter than the camera. All it takes is learning how the pieces fit in shooting in manual mode…and practice!

 

Washington D.C.

The Lincoln Memorial at sunset

The Lincoln Memorial at sunset

A Flickr friend of mine, Dan Huntley, came into DC for business Saturday and I met up with him downtown to shoot a bit around the mall area. It was an unusually warm day & night for us here in the Mid Atlantic area, so it made for a cool but pleasant evening of shooting.

The above shot was taken as Dan finally arrived by taxi from his hotel. Previously while I was waiting for him I was positioned with my tripod in the reflecting pool to try to get a better composition. This led to many smiles from people passing by…or was it laughter? LOL.

A capture of President Lincoln from the Reflecting Pool. I used my Nikon 70-300 VR mounted on a Benro Travel Angel Tripod to capture this.

A capture of President Lincoln from the Reflecting Pool. I used my Nikon 70-300 VR mounted on a Benro Travel Angel Tripod to capture this.

Dan and I proceeded up to the Lincoln Memorial to get some shots of this magnificent memorial. I know I cannot come to town without stopping by here to shoot some.

This is fro inside the memorial.

This is from inside the memorial.

I was prepared for shooting around here and brought my 50mm and 35mm primes for handheld shooting. Using a tripod around DC, especially the Memorials is usually not tolerated. Though last night there were a ton of tripods around, which makes me wonder if they changed their rules.

A view from the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking east down the mall at the Washington Monument.

A view from the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking east down the mall at the Washington Monument.

After we shot inside the Lincoln Memorial we turned our attention down the Reflecting Pool. There was quite a bit of haze for this time of year due to the temperatures, but it made for some nice reflective colors as the sun set behind us. I could easily sit here for hours and just look out at the city.

The Us Capitol sitting behind the Washington Monument.

The Us Capitol sitting behind the Washington Monument.

We walked down to the reflecting pool and got a few closer shots of the US Capitol and Washington Monument. The Reflecting Pool makes for some wonderful evening compositions.

A detail shot of the inside of the WW II Memorial taken with my fish-eye lens.

A detail shot of the inside of the WW II Memorial taken with my fish-eye lens.

We made our way to the World War II Memorial, unfortunately they are doing a lot of work on it right now so the fountains were not working. But I did mange a pretty cool shot from inside one of the entrances. This is looking straight up. I tool this with my fish-eye lens.

A shot of the Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

A shot of the Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin.

We decided that it was getting a bit cool and it was also about time to get something to eat. So we walked to where my car was parked and captured a few shots of the Jefferson Memorial looking across the Tidal Basin before heading to dinner.

We headed up to where Dan was staying, and eventually ended up in Chinatown. Dan treated me to a nice dinner at one of the Chinese restaurants there, “Thanks again Dan”! Dinner was excellent and my belly was stuffed all the way home.

The entrance to China Town.

The entrance to Chinatown with Dan getting a few shots.

When we exited the Chinese restaurant we decided to get a few shots of the entrance to Chinatown. I got a few with Dan in the shots as the cars and buses whizzed by us.

The Chinatown entrance.

The Chinatown entrance.

I captured a quick grab from the middle of street. I had it timed out pretty good with the traffic lights as to not get hit by any cars *smile*.

At this point it was getting near 9pm and I am normally in bed by now, and with a 2 hour trip home I decided that I should be getting going. So I left Dan to do some more shooting without me. But I am sure I will be back down here soon enough to capture some more fun.

I will leave you with one more shot from inside of the Lincoln Memorial. Thanks for reading!

DC-2013_010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capturing History

Space Shuttle Dicovery piggybacking on top of a NASA Boeing 747.

This is from the first flyby at Dulles Airport. The Space Shuttle Dicovery piggybacking on top of a NASA Boeing 747. A NASA T-38 Talon is flying above.

On Tuesday April 17th I had the chance to photograph a piece of history. The Space Shuttle Discovery made it’s final flight piggybacked on top of a specially designed NASA Boeing 747. It flew from Cape Canaveral Florida to Dulles Airport in Chantilly Virginia. Once it got into the Dulles Airport airspace it made a loop around the DC Metropolitan area and then landed for the last time at Dulles Airport to become part of the Smithsonian’s collection at the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum annex located at Dulles Airport.

What made this event even more special for me is that I got to witness it from the ‘Front Row’ without having any type of media credentials. I was only 100 yards away from the runway that the Discovery landed on, and right across from the media  conglomeration situated on the adjacent runway which was there to video the landing. I was one of only a handful of people that were able to capture this historic event from the angle that I did.

From The first Flyby at Dulles Airport.

How did I manage such a feat? I was working at my day job at the time if you can believe this. I work for one of the top Power companies in the United States, and because we ‘feed’ the airport I need to be badged to have access within the airport property to help maintain our equipment and keep them ‘with lights’. It turned out that on that Monday we have a small project that needed to be done at our substation on the airport property, and that project would most likely take 3-4 days to complete. When I was told of this news I was ecstatic which surprised the two supervisors who had decided that this was going to happen because they had no idea that the Space Shuttle Discovery was going to be landing on that Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning I brought to work with me my Nikon D3S and my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR with a 2x tele. As I drove to work that morning I tried to keep my expectations low because I know that anything can happen when you work for a utility, and with the event of the day happening at the airport I didn’t know if the ‘Powers that Be’ had gotten wind of it and decided to keep us away. I also didn’t know if the airport security would be tightened down and try to keep the whole area ‘sterile’.

At 9:40am we decided to head out of our secure substation with our trucks to see what it was like along the road. That was when we heard the NASA T-38 Talon rocket by. We looked to our left and there they were making a flyby the airport. They were only about 150ft off of the deck as they cruised over top of the runway. What a grand sight that was! So as they flew off we all raced out to the road excited that we were mere moments from seeing them land.

A Fox New video grab. We are sitting in the background, see those for vehicles. LOL!

When we got to the main access road it turned out that few handful of Dulles employees were there parked along the side of road next to the runway, and so we drove to the middle-ish south end of the runway feeling relieved that we were not going to be bothered with the airport security (which by the way are Federal Police). Once parked we climbed on top of the trucks which gave us a great sightline above the fence and we were set to watch history happen.

At the time we thought we were going to see them land shortly, but it turned out that because they were almost a half an hour early it gave them time to give the DC region a better show. So they flew out of our sight for nearly an hour as they flew over the landmarks of DC. That gave me the needed time to situate myself and prep for how I was going to shoot this and remain safe without falling off of the truck. We were about 12-13 feet off of the ground and the wind was blowing at a good steady 15-20mph, and because I wanted to have a clear sighline of the entire landing it meant that I was going to be on the edge of the top of the truck. So what I did was wrap my leg around one of the secured ladders that was on the side of the truck. That gave me the needed security of safety and it allowed me to brace myself when I was shooting to help give me a steadier hand.

The Space Shuttle Discovery in its last moment of flight.

Then around 10:40 we saw them flying south of the airport making their way for a final flyby of Dulles before landing. Those final moments watching the 747 line up for the runway was amazing. Seeing the landing gear down knowing that “this was it” had my heart racing. I had gone over all of my settings and checked them 3 times so that I would not miss this opportunity.

Touching down.

 It was truly amazing. What a rush being there live to see this that I feel my words do not do it justice. I know several days afterward I was still floating around about this that it got me thinking. Why was it such an euphoric event for me? I grew up here and have seen many things happen, but what made this one so special. I believe it was because I had a special seat, which gave me a unique vantage point to photograph from. The only other images from this side of the landing that I have seen were taken by NASA. I know there were a handful or two of others who had their cameras out shooting, but I can pretty sure gaurantee maybe on one or two had the lens that I had to get the clear shots that I got. Then as I was thinking about this I realized why the real reason is that I loved this SO much. It is what I had always wanted to do, be a photojournalist. That gave me the greatest satisfaction, being there to capture the event.

 

Mission Accomplished. The Space Shuttle landing at Dulles Airport.