In the past I have wanted to take photographs that toyed with having the sun in the frame producing sun burst and lens flare effects. You can add these in photoshop but they never look very natural so I have wanted to shoot them in-camera.
However, it’s a monumentally bad idea to look into the sun through a camera viewfinder. You can seriously damage your vision.
Fortunately most current DSLRs have live-view. You can compose the photograph by looking at the LCD display on the back of the camera rather than looking through the viewfinder. Live-view has it’s drawbacks but it does make it possible to compose an image with the sun directly in it. Viewing the sun on an LCD screen can’t hurt your eyes.
So, lately I have been experimenting more and more with that type of composition and this image as a great example.
This was shot as the sun climbed over the canyon wall at Zion National Park during our last visit. I ended up with a nearly perfect sun-burst effect. I really like the way the back-lit leaves make a border around much of the photo while the parts of the forest that are not lit up provide contrast and depth.
In the Southwest we are accustomed to seeing bright colors in our landscapes that are far beyond what most people experience. The layers of stone that define the Southwest have every shade of red, pink, white, buff, etc. Zion National Park has all of these, of course.
What surprised me was seeing other, more rare colors in the stone at Zion. A number of shades of blue, cyan purple and even green make appearances in the park’s landscape — provided you know where to look. Here’s an image of a slot canyon shot from above that I think illustrates my point.
It’s easy to look at a setting sun and say well, there’s no clouds or haze. Nothing to make this a good sunset. Guess I’ll just pack up.
That’s what I could have done when I was shooting this photo in Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco), Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. The conditions all looked like I was in store for a decidedly meh kind of a sunset.
But I kept my eye on the horizon, noticing the changing tone and the tour boat slowly making its way into the frame. Suddenly I realized the color tones in the sky were rapidly warming up. Things happen very fast during this part of a sunset. I lifted my camera up and took an exposure.
Good but not great. Then just as the colors of the sunset peaked, the tour boat moved into almost a perfect part of the frame to balance the setting sun and it’s reflection on the sea. Another shot and I had what I wanted.
Not a minute before I was thinking about packing my camera in the bag and leaving but I thought just maybe…
In photography you have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.
If you’d like to have a print of this image for your very own and genuine paper (or one of several other suitable substrates) you can find it here.
I’ve announced upcoming January dates for my two most popular events:
These workshops also make great Christmas presents if you know someone who wants to learn more about photography or for someone getting a new camera for Christmas. Check them out and subscribe on my workshops page:
Artists often find themselves needing photographs of their work. Maybe it’s for a portfolio, a catalog, on-line advertising, print reproduction, documentation, copyright registration, etc. Hiring a professional photographer can prove an expensive proposition. Hiring an amateur who happens to have a nice camera can be even worse because shooting artwork is a specialty that is very different from other kinds of photography. However, with a little training, you can learn to produce professional quality images of your art objects for yourself.
I’m offering my popular “Better Portraits with Any Camera” workshop on October 8th at 4:00 PM in Scottsdale. It’s only $35 for two hours with plenty of hands-on practice and instruction. To sign up go to my workshop page here: http://www.chriscurtisphotography.com/?page_id=445
I once heard that you could picture the landscape in Utah by imagining that someone had turned Dr. Seuss loose with a backhoe. That remark has stayed with me because it is so apt.
I left the family farm in Emery County, Utah about 35 years ago and it’s funny but I still get homesick. In spite of occasional visits and in spite of the fact that Arizona has also certainly become a home for me, I still miss the deserts of that part of Utah. Something about the place gets under your skin. You can never really leave it (or perhaps it will never really leave you).
Here is one of my landscape photographs from the last visit in July. In this photo I set out to capture the place in a way that represents how I relate to it. That’s why it’s a Panoramic – wide format is the only way to express the sheer scope of the place.
One of most striking things about that part of Utah is the diversity of color in the landscape. I don’t know of any place with so many colors. This location is especially blessed because it’s dominated by layers of rock with the names like Curtis Sandstone, Kayenta Sandstone, Morrison Formation, Chinle Formation, Ferron Formation Cedar Mountain Formation and more. Each layer is a completely different color: buff, white, deep red, pink, purple grey, blue. The photograph was taken so as to show off the colors as they appear under a bright mid-day sun when they are especially saturated.
The location is Hondu Arch and McKay Flat in the San Rafael Swell. It’s at the end of a long, rough jeep trail somewhere to the south of Interstate 70. It’s more or less equidistant from the towns of Emery, Green River and Hanksville, Utah.
Imagine how this colorful photograph would look hanging on your wall. It’s a panorama and it can be printed in huge sizes. Click here to go to my store.
I’m holding another evening of wine and photography at my studio. Check out the workshop announcement for details…
Years ago I quit counting the number of times I’ve found one of my images stolen and used on line, violating my copyright. It sucks. I put time, effort and money into making my photos. I have a legal and ethical right to control their use and profit from them. But instead of sending me a couple bucks to use one of my images people persist in just taking them.
As always, sunsets are something of a cliché but they can be very pretty. This one is definitely a cliché Arizona sunset but I think it is pretty.
The photo is taken looking East (kind of hard to take a sunset picture looking west) towards Phoenix from Silly Mountain State Park.
I noticed that the name of the road the park is on is now something other than Silly Mountain (I forget exactly what). I guess the state isn’t amused by the name “Silly Mountain”.
Anyway, I know the photo looks like it’s an HDR but it’s not an HDR. In order to get the sky and the foreground balanced in exposure I did a two-image composite. That is, I shot a photograph with the sky properly exposed (which left the foreground dark) and then a second with the foreground properly exposed (which left the sky blown out). This was done on a tripod to make sure both images were perfectly aligned.
Then, I used Photoshop to composite the two images. I started with the sky picture as the background image, brought in the foreground picture as a layer and then masked out the foreground picture’s over-exposed sky.
When shooting something like a sunset with a very bright region and a very dark region a photographer will often have to do some sort of this kind of trickery. That’s because your eye is an amazing thing–It can see detail across somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 or 13 stops (a stop is a measurement of the intensity of light) of light. This is also known as dynamic range. Unlike your eye, a camera can only make out detail in 6 or 7 stops of dynamic range. That means to faithfully reproduce a scene the photographer has to find a way to capture more dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure or they have to find a way to compress the dynamic range of the scene down to something the camera is capable of capturing.
That’s why HDR is becoming so popular. It lets you capture more stops of light by taking multiple images. This image also uses this trick but not so extensively and only using two exposures.
The old school solution would have been to use a graduated neutral density filter. This kind of filter allows you to block out some of the light from part of the picture (the bright sky, for example). That reduces the total dynamic range of the scene because the high intensity light is reduced in intensity. That helps balance the exposure. The drawback with this solution is that you don’t capture more dynamic range–you lose some of the light. I prefer methods that capture more dynamic range.
I just published my first fine art photobook, “The Unforgiving Season”. The book features images taken on the family farm where I grew up. It’s a rumination on getting older using Winter as a metaphor. View it here:
Every year the Heard hosts the International Hoop Dance Contest. It’s quite an experience to see if you ever have the opportunity.
This year was the first in many since I’ve been back to the Hoop Dance Contest and it’s the first year I took any serious photographs. This post has a slide show of some of the images I liked best from the more than 1000 photos I took (it was a long day). Hope they give you a little taste of what the Hoop Dance Contest is like.
Not having been back for about a decade, I did notice that there have been some changes. I noticed there were a lot more women contestants. In fact, I don’t remember any female contestants in past years but maybe my memory is faulty. Even if women danced in the contest in the past, surely the current crop of contestants are very skilled by comparison.
I think there are a lot more child contestants now as well. I also think that the kids are much more serious about it than in the past. I think the fact that so many youngsters are starting to study hoop dance from a young age is increasing the general skill level of the contestants as a whole.
In any event, I don’t think I’ll wait another decade to go back. Maybe next year with a bigger memory card for my camera.
Instead, I’m just going to make this final post about Hawaii featuring a slide show of two sunset photos from the trip as a way to say Aloha to Hawaii. It’s time to start posting other new work I’ve taken since then so this is me saying mahalo to Hawaii for a wonderful visit and an opportunity to take some great photos.
The first photo is the sunset from 10,000 feet on Haleakala Crater, Maui. The second photo is a sunset over the island of Lanai seen from Maui’s Kaanapali beach.
I suppose it’s natural when one thinks of Hawaii to think about tropical beaches, Hula dancers and perhaps tropical jungles. One thing I didn’t think about prior to going was the tops of the volcanoes.
When we arrived at the Haleakala Crater at 10000 feet above sea level, I was confronted with a completely unexpected landscape. At that altitude, it’s cold and windy–hardly tropical. The landscape isn’t the lush rain forests you find several thousand feet below but something more like the Mars rovers encounter.
I spent a lot of time shooting around the crater and I have a lot of photos I’m very pleased with. I’m only sharing this one on my blog but you should check out some of the others in my on-line portfolio here. The colors and ruggedness of the landscape is truly out of this world.
I also did a few as black and whites that you’ll have to see to believe.
Hopefully you’ll find one that speaks to you — if you do, feel free to order a print.
February 22, 2015, 4pm: Better Portraits with Any Camera: Workshop (New Content!) ($30, 2 hours)