Monday, December 26, 2011

Different Place, New Opportunities

For our Thanksgiving trip this year, we wanted to try something new.  I left the details up to my wife, and she found an RV campground in the hills behind Santa Barbra called Rancho Oso.  In addition to being an RV campground, Rancho Oso is a real horse ranch.  The site sits on about 300 acres, and has beautiful old Oak trees and thick underbrush and other various flora and fauna.

This image was from one of my morning walks.  The Oaks were large, and with the other trees formed a canopy that did a good job of blocking out the sun.  That was until I came across this scene, with a sunbeam punching though like a spotlight.

Since I had no experience with this area, I really didn't know what to expect.  So, I'd walk slowly and try to listen, and watch for signs of wildlife.  Since Mountain Lions are known to be in this area I was somewhat cautious as well (didn't want to have to wrestle with a big cat).

One of the surprises I had was seeing a very large population of Mule Deer.  These guys move quickly and quietly and usually walked around the edges of the heavy brush and the open meadows.  At one time, I saw more than 20 deer in the meadow running and jumping.  It looked like they were having a party.

In addition to the Mule Deer, this little meadow was home to quite a few Cows.  While the adults weren't that interesting the babies were very cute and offered a couple of photo opportunities.

One of the other things I tried to do on my walks was to look at the smaller picture.  Sometimes there's just too much in a landscape and trying to capture it all can be overwhelming.  And then there's the light. As the sun rises the opportunities for that wonderful, warm magic glow diminish.  When the sun gets high enough, the light can become harsh and what were once beautiful scenes are now flat and overly contrasty.  Thats when I start to look at things in a much smaller scale.  As you can see from the 2 images below, you can find some very interesting subjects.

My camera bag contents for these images included my new Canon 60D, and my Canon 70-200 F4 L lens.  The 60D worked perfectly, and provided very clean images in sometimes tricky lighting conditions.  The L lens focused quickly, and enabled me to capture sharp clear images.  At times I wish I had a much wider lens, and a much longer lens, but overall I'm very happy with this combination.  Besides, sometimes the best camera (and lens) is the one you have with you!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Be Sure to Back Up Your Photos!

I know I've heard this quite a bit, and I'm sure you have as well - back your files up (and especially your photos).  Years ago my method of back up included copying photos to CD and then to DVD.  That worked well for awhile, until my backups required multiple DVD's.

Now, my system for backing photos (and files) up is to download them from the camera onto an external hard drive.  Then, I make a copy of those on another external drive.  This worked well until I started filling up the external drives.  I also found that it was a bit of a pain to copy the photos to my wife's PC in the other room.  So, in an attempt to make the photos easier to access, and to increase storage capacity, I added a 2-TB network drive!

After copying all of my photos from the external drives to the network drive, I realized that some photos were missing.  This really started to bother me, and as I thought more about it, I could actually visualize some of those images, and the settings and people involved.  With all of these thoughts floating around in my head, I began a quest to look through all of my CD and DVD's backups for the past 7 years and find those wayward photos.  It took awhile, but I ended up finding them.  What a relief!

So, now I have my photos on CD, DVD, external hard drives, on several websites, and now on a network drive.  Luckily I haven't had anything catastrophic like a hard drive meltdown happen and really wipe out my photos, but I took this as a warning - back up your photos before its too late!

I'll leave you with an image that I enjoyed making, and was very relived to find the original:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blending Images, from blah to Not Bad!

I have an example of blending images, sometimes referred to as HDR, or High Dynamic Range.  This is a process of taking several images starting with the original metered exposure and bracketing it with additional images but + and - anywhere from 1/3 stop to 1 full stop.  You can read more about it at Trey Ratcliff's site -  This is where I started to learn about HDR.

HDR can be a touchy subject with some folks, especially if you go really grungy with your image.  To each his own I say.  Personally, I can go grungy or realistic depending on the scene and my mood.  Experimenting in the digital darkroom is something I enjoy and sometimes you never really know what you may end up with (kind of like the darkrooms of old, you could have happy accidents then too).

HDR has opened up some photo possibilities for me and caused me to look at some things differently.  My usual routine was to get up early (like the title of blog says), shoot at the golden hour, and then pack it up until sunset.  Midday photography was a hit and miss proposition for me, with too much contrast in most scenes or flat uninteresting light.  With HDR, I am able to shoot though out the day and tame the contrast.  The other thing is that I'm looking at old junky things more (cars, buildings, etc...) and thinking - "what if"?

There are several ways one can go about making HDR images.  The one I like using presently is to use the HDR function in my Sony NEX3, and blend that image with the original exposure.  I use Photoshop for this, and a little plug-in called HDR Efex by Nik.  Some may call this process pseudo HDR and that's ok.  It's the result that I'm concerned with.

Here's the original image:
It's just ok, kind of a snapshot without much pop.  The other thing that bothers me about this is that the actual scene was more vibrant than this.

Next, this is the in camera HDR image that my trusty little NEX3 processed:
This one is a little better.  The in camera HDR function opened up the shadows without blowing out the hightlights.  There is much better detail in the sand and the big rock.  For some, this would be good enough.  For me, there seemed like there could be a little more pop to get out of this shot without making it too grungy.

So, after blending the 2 images together, and turning up the color just a bit, here is the result:

In my mind, this is more like what I experienced that morning just after sunrise.  Like I said in the beginning, HDR is a touchy subject for some.  I like it.  You be the judge!

** By the way - comments are welcome!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Something fun!

I was just notified that one of my photos won Photo of the Month at one of my favorite photo websites. This site is devoted to State Parks, and has a photo contest for the day, week, month, and year.  I've been submitting photos on and off since 2008.  It's fun to see how others react to my work, and also to see the work of other great photographers.

During the time I've participated in this ongoing contest, I've been lucky enough to have won quite a few Photo of the Day mentions, and even a few Photo of the Month honors.  And, the real icing on this cake is a photo that won Photo of the Year - 2008 (black and white category).

This photo is of an old abandoned car in the ghost town of Bodie, located off of Highway 395 near Bridgeport California.  The original image was taken with a Canon 300D (DSLR) as a RAW file, and converted to black and white in Photoshop.  NOTE - This is something I learned awhile ago, always take your photos in color, even if your camera has an option to shoot directly in black and white.  It's very easy to convert the color image to black and white, but almost impossible to go from black and white to color.

Back to the photo of the car, I think the thing that struck me when taking photos that day was the clouds and sky.  Although my wife and I have been to Bodie many times (and didn't plan on going this day), I couldn't help but wonder what photos would look like with the wonderful clouds we were seeing.  So, off we went.  Not a quick trip either.  Bodie is 13 miles off of Highway 395, and the last 3 miles are on a very bumpy washboard dirt road.  Turns out that it was well worth the time and effort it took to get there, with a perfect deep blue sky and fantastic cloud formations.

Fast forward to September, 2011.  While camped at the Silver Lake RV Resort on the June Lake Loop we were blessed with some amazing afternoon thunderstorms.  We were only about 15 miles from Mono Lake and I just couldn't help wondering what that lake and strange tufa formations would look like with these dramatic clouds.  So, off I went.  Here is just one example of what I experienced (and the shot that won Photo of the Month):

If you want to see the State Parks website you can go here:

So, I think the moral of the story is to look for something to set your photos apart from all of the others out there.  Sometimes it may be because you got up earlier than everyone else and caught the warm, golden light of the sunrise, or you put yourself at the right location at the right time for some drama in the sky.  Good luck and happy shooting!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Something different, again.

Ok, this time it about video.  I know, it's not photography but it interesting, and fun.  You're never to to old to learn, and as much as I have to learn about photography, I also have a lot to learn about video using a DSLR.

As it turns out, I have to cameras capable of shooting HD video.  First, my little Sony NEX3.  Technically the NEX3 isn't a DSLR, but rather a an ILC (interchangeable-lens compact).  It may be small, but it still packs the same sensor as my DSLRs.  The Sony is small and light, easy to use and shoots 720p HD video.

The second camera is a DSLR (digital single lens reflex), the Canon 60D.  Although I've only had this guys a short time, I've become very impressed with its capabilities.  The Digic 4 processor gives me images that are so clean at ISO's I wouldn't have even tried with my old DSLR.  It also packs a 3" vari-angle screen, and 1080p HD video.  I could go on and on, but you can get much more detail by reading the official reviews on sites like

During our last trip up to the central coast of California I had a chance to try out video on both cameras.  My 1st impressions are that the Sony is easy to use and the quality is very good, good enough for anything I need to do for the short term.  The Canon offers higher quality HD video, but is a little more complex.  Looks like I'll have some work to do with this one to get it right.

In the meantime, here's a short video I put together using the Sony NEX3, and edited with iMove on little Mac.
Or you can see it here:

More to follow on this as I have time to experiment.  Until then, go out and get some (photos and video that is)!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Difference.

I'm writing this from the comfort of my motorhome, after taking advantage of a beautiful sunrise at Morro Bay.  We had quite a show this morning, and even with the sun rising in the east, there was a beautiful golden light that turned to soft pastel pinks in the clouds over the Pacific Ocean.

After taking care of my dog walking chore, I still had time to grab a camera and walk across the street to the sand dunes and the beach near the Rock, at Morro Bay.  The camera wasn't really important so I decided to use my favorite light weight grab-n-go, the Sony NEX3.  This little guy has the same sensor as my physically larger Canon DSLR's, but is much smaller in size, perfect for on-the-go photo ops.  When I say the camera really isn't important, I mean that its just a tool.  If I didn't have anything with me except my point and shoot, I still would have gone out.  Photography as an art is really more about the photographers vision than the tool he/she chooses to use.  After all, did Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel or did the brush?

 So, here are the images from this morning to prove my point.  The first is at prime time, when the color was at its peak.  The second is just a few minutes after.  While the second shot isn't bad, its a little dull in my opinion.  What do you think?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why call this Blog "Up At Dawn"?

You may be wondering - why call this Blog "Up At Dawn"?  Well, it seemed to fit my preference for getting up at the crack of dawn, even while on vacation.  After 30 years of getting up before dawn for my regular job, it's kind of hard to just "turn it off" even while on vacation.  And since I try to incorporate my landscape photography into vacations, getting up early isn't really a problem.

Since I'm up early anyway, why not take advantage of the golden hour.  There's a certain magic that happens when I'm getting set up, waiting for the sun to rise in a beautiful location such as the South Tufa of Mono Lake.  As popular as this place is, many is the time when I've had the whole place to myself.  Watching God's big show is an amazing experience!  There's such a short amount of time to make sure everything is set up and to make some photos, and to watch the drama unfold.  This can be especially wonderful if there are some clouds since this really adds some color and texture to the sky.  And before your know it, it's over.  The funny thing is that as I'm packing up, I've seen several "photographers" running to try and take some photos after the golden light is gone.

There is another opportunity at sunset, but that can depend on where you are.  Since the light is coming from a different direction it may or may not work to your advantage.  One of the best examples is the photo of the ocean and pier at the top of my blog.  This is really an image of the Pacific Ocean at sunset. A great time for this location, but since this isn't dawn I guess I need to change the photo.

I'll leave you with this shot, sunrise at the Alabama Hills.  The golden light really really brings these rock formations to life.  The sun rises slowly over the White Mountains in the east, and starts painting everything in warm golden light.  You really need to be there yourself to see what I mean!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Still trying to get this Blog going...

So far I'm still working on getting the Blog thing right and moving forward.  Who knew that something that seemed so simple could be so confusing.  Right now, I seem to be more caught up in the mechanics of making the Blog than trying to decide what kind of photo I'd like to share and my thoughts behind it.

So, as a tease I'll share this image and a few thoughts about it:
This is Silver Lake, on the June Lake Loop - Hwy 158 in the Eastern Sierra.  I made this image in the late afternoon on a beautiful summer day in September.  In order to tame some of the contrast and bring out both the detail in the shadow and highlights, I chose to use a technique called HDR or High Dynamic Range.  Basically, this is compilation of 3 exposures, 1st exactly what the meter called for and then +1 and -1 stop.  After that its just a matter of some post processing using Photomatix and Photoshop.

That's it for now.  Next time I'll go into more detail, hopefully without boring you.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kicking this off...

So, I've finally done it!  I've read others Blogs, and often wondered why anyone would want to write a Blog.  Seemed kind of silly.  After all, with so many other websites and blogs devoted to photography why would you want to read what I have to say on the subject?

Good question!  I wish I had a good answer.  Would it be that I have over 35 years of experience, or that I'm a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography, or that I used to photograph weddings? Probably not.

So, why would anyone want to read a Blog about photography by me?  Perhaps it could be that I have a different perspective on the subject.  Over time I hope to prove that.  And I'll admit this now, while I may have years of experience, I also have a lot to learn

There you have it.  I'll leave you with an image, one that I made and am proud of.  In later posts I'll talk about a particular image, and what went into making it.  Thanks for reading and come on back for more soon!