Mountain Ridge Sunset

I'll admit that my luck with spectacular sunsets seems to have run dry after my memorable sunset at Horseshoe Bend in December 2016. I have gone out in search of more sunsets than I care to remember since that incredible day, but nothing has come close to the wondrous pink and orange sky I saw that night.

A few weeks ago, we went to West Virginia, and again I searched for a sunset, though I didn't expect to rival the Horseshoe Bend experience. I have just been in such a long sunset drought that I was willing to take nearly anything! We hiked out to a rocky cliff that overlooks the mountain ridge and setup for the (hopeful) show. 

The sunset that night didn't come close to threatening the supremacy of Horseshoe Bend, but it had a characteristic that I found I loved. Instead of vibrant and exhilarating colors, this sunset was a soft glow that created a warm blue light throughout the mountain ridge. It was inviting...the sort of sunset that I could imagine watching from a rocking chair on the front porch of a country home. Looking out over this West Virginia landscape, I found myself humming the lyrics to the famous song "take me home, country roads, to the place, I call home....West Virginia."


Summertime Sun

It is the 4th of July, which means summer is in full swing.

The warm weather and late evening sun can do some crazy things to the sky, as seen in this July photo of Great Falls National Park on the outskirts of Washington, DC. The late humidity, mist from the falls, and whispy clouds created a very dramatic and vibrant sunset. I have been to Great Falls dozens of times, but this is no doubt my favorite photograph of the falls to date. It is that summer magic! Taken with the Leica SL and 24-90mm lens. This is a five image panorama using a 32ND filter and stabilized with my favorite Gitzo tripod.

Quick Shot: 12 Hours Apart

Photographers love to shoot sunrise and sunset (this should come as no surprise), so I will often do Internet searches of good locations for these events prior to traveling. And such was the case with my recent trip to the Lake District in England.

Although I've been to the Lake District three times, and some of my favorite sunset images were made in the lake district, I wanted to find new locations so as to not 'repeat' photographs I've already made. The web is a great resource - it can help me scout a location for a good foreground and orientation relative to the sun. 

I can guarantee that if you search for sunset and sunrise images in the Lake District, the location for these images won't return in the search results (unless you are seeing this post!). I found this location miles down a small single track road on the edge of some farmland in the southern part of the Lake District! The orientation of the lone tree, with the distinct kink in the truck, and with the orientation to the sun was perfect for my purposes..... and best of all, it was walking distance from my accommodations and discovered accidentally!

Now as you look at these images, you should know two things: 1) they were made 12 hours apart - one at sunset and one at sunrise and 2) they were made on film, and there is no editing. Okay, there is a little bit of editing - I had to scan them and remove dust spots that show up in scanning, but the colors are legit. The other thing to appreciate is how big one of these photos is...... you may recall once using 35mm film and how those negatives are roughly the size of a postage stamp. For fun, here's a photo of me holding one of these negatives next to a dollar bill...... :-)

I made two images using my large format Ebony RSW45 large format film camera, adapted with a Shen Hao 6x19 panorama film back. Film is Kodak Portra 160.

Sunset...... 7:30pm

Sunrise...... 7:30am

Quick Shot: Never Too Late To Turn Around

I hate nothing more than a blown opportunity at a photograph. To think about the photos that "should have been" makes me sad and frustrates every part of my creative spirit. So, as a general rule, I try to avoid "should have been" photos.  

I flirted dangerously with a "should have" photo while in the Lake District. I had done the research to find a great location to setup for sunset and I went out an hour before sunset to setup and prepare for whatever Mother Nature had in store for me. The sun was slated to set around 9pm- at 8:30 it was looking pretty bad. The sky was full of a thick layer of grey clouds - the sun was lost behind it and there was no color to be seen. Cold and downtrodden, I called it around 8:40 - there was no way this dull sky was going to amount to anything. 

As I drove back to the campsite, my friend and I got busy chatting about the otherwise good day. About 10 minutes into the drive, I looked in the rear view mirror and all I saw was neon pink...... The sky had turned a shade of pink I had never seen before - I was incredible - and here I am driving AWAY from it! At this point the sun is about to set, but I peeled a quick U-Turn and hauled ass back to the spot we'd been setup at earlier. Thankfully I arrived in time to get some great shots of the neon pink reflecting off the water - there is very little editing in the images below... It was that good! 

There's a lesson here..... Don't give up on your photograph. And if you do, it's okay to turn the car around!  

Shot with the Leica SL and Leica f/0.95 Noctilux Lens.

Yes, it really did look like that. Very minimal edits done to this image.....

Yes, it really did look like that. Very minimal edits done to this image.....

The last drops of pink in the sky. I love how it turned the water pink.

The last drops of pink in the sky. I love how it turned the water pink.

Quick Shot: Sunset at Coniston

I have now been to England's renown Lake District twice - exactly a year apart - and my photographic experiences could not be more different between the two trips. The first time I went was the first experience I had shooting a Leica rangefinder and the weather was terrible. This time, I took the Leica SL and my Hasselblad 503CX and the weather was perfect. I really can say that I've had a chance to point my cameras at every conceivable weather pattern in the Lake District.

Since the weather was so perfect, I spent every evening setting up the camera for what I hoped to be a spectacular sunset photograph. I'll elaborate on my experiences with the particular sunsets in another post, but today I wanted to share an image from my last night in the Lake District. We decided to setup at the northern end of Coniston Water, a popular site with day travelers, but on this night, I had the whole lake virtually to myself. I mounted a neutral density filter to the front of the lens and took a long exposure, resulting in the flat water that reflects the pink in the sky beautifully. Although it's not a brilliant neon sunset, I love the soft pink light that filled the sky and water.

Shot on the Leica SL with 24-90mm lens, 36 stop ND filters, and Gitzo tripod.

Day 5: Serengeti National Park

After many days of teaser / warm-up safari days, it was finally time to set out for the Serengeti. The national park is one of (but not the) largest parks in Tanzania, certainly the most famous. To get here, we drove through Ngorogoro Crater (pronounced “un-gor-o-gor-o”), which is a caldera formed by volcano millions of years ago. We’ll be back to the crater near the end of our trip, so more to come about it and the ecosystem there.

The drive through Ngorogoro was relatively uneventful, but getting there required a little extra effort. On the way there, we passed through a police “checkpoint” setup in the road. Our driver, Ben, was flagged for a crack in the windshield, which is very common here considering the unpaved roads (we got several new cracks driving the rest of the day!) Most windshields only last a safari or two before they need replacement. Anyway, although Ben had the proper paperwork stating he had ordered the replacement windshield and despite the appropriate stamps, the police here pretended that the paperwork was not in order. I say pretend because the police in Tanzania are notoriously corrupt and a major part of their job is to bother people for bribes. For the average Tanzanian who may not be well educated or know better, this is a part of their life, but Ben is very well educated and knew that he was technically in the right. After almost 30 minutes of debate, they finally agreed that we could go on our way if he paid a “fine” of 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings…… or $5 US Dollars! The police clearly pocket the money and we were sure to notice the diamond earrings and ring on the policewoman probably weren’t purchased on salary alone. While it does not seem like a significant amount of money, $5 USD here is a small fortune and can feed a family for a week!

Once we’d resolved the bribes, we continued for the Serengeti. The road was fairly bumpy and dusty, so it wasn’t my favorite of our drives, but certainly one of the most beautiful. The arrival into the Serengeti was marked with nothingness. Seriously. As far as you could see….. nothing. Flat. Not a tree to be seen. The only thing breaking up the horizon were the herds of gazelle nibbling on the grass. The midday heat caused a mirage effect as the ground radiated. On we drove and eventually ended up in the areas of the Serengeti that are closer to what I’d imagined; the odd tree, some rolling hills and the occasional dried up water hole. 

We finally approached a side road where another safari driver indicated to Ben that there were some cheetah, so we detoured off the main route in search of some cats. We drove for awhile never finding cheetah, but the cats still showed themselves. This time it was a mother lion and her three lion cubs. The cubs were hungry and you could see ribs and bones, indicating they could use additional feedings. A little stream separated us from the lioness and her cubs, so Ben started driving to find a way across the stream to the road on the other side. As we proceeded, I spotted another pair of lions laying in the grass in the sun. We drove over to them and saw two adult lions, one who was just starting to grow his first mane, lounging in the midday sun. After watching them for a minute, we went back to the lioness and her cubs. She got up and started to lead her cubs away from the comfort and shade of the tree they were under and toward the other lions. We were hoping she was going to hunt one of the million gazelle ambling nearby, but she kept walking. She walked so quickly that her cubs fell behind, eventually separating her from them completely. Her walking ultimately also brought her within inches of the side of the truck - close enough that I could have reached my arm through the open window to pet her (I did not!). It was totally surreal to have a lion walk up on you like that, just inches away. I think I held my breath the whole time, but I did manage to take some shots! 

Finally she went to join the other adult lions lounging in the sunshine, her children probably a half mile away and “lost” as far as we could tell. Ben tells us this isn’t all that uncommon, but we certainly were judging the momma lion’s parenting techniques to leave her young vulnerable like that! 

The rest of our safari drive brought us more hippo, more giraffe, more elephant, more zebra, more monkey, more gazelle…… more animals! We joke that we’re starting to become choosy safari folks - the sightings that would have consumed us early in the trip are now waved on like “oh, another one of those.”

As the sun set, we approached our camp, the Kati Kati Camp, which is a roaming tent camp located squarely in the middle of the Serengeti plains. There is no fence, just a bunch of tents that are setup for a few months and then moved. As a result, you are smack dab in the middle of the animal action and not allowed to leave the tent after dinner. You are escorted to and from the tent in the dark and have a whistle for emergency, but are NOT supposed to exit the tent. Lion, hyena, zebra, giraffe, etc are all common sightings around the tents at night and I woke up several times to the sound of an animal right outside the tent. It was fascinating to also watch the sun set over the Serengeti from this vantage point and I’m glad we are here another day to enjoy it again.

Quick Shot: Windmills

I don't really need to tell you where I took this photograph - there's only one place in the world that has such a unique look. 

A decade ago, I visited these windmills in Mykonos, Greece with my parents and I took a quick photograph with a little 1.5 megapixel camera that (at the time) was cutting edge. I love that photograph - it's actually not a great photo by any means - but the memory associated with that photograph is what makes it so special. 

When I returned to Mykonos this fall, I wanted to visit those windmills that I had such fond memories of photographing 10 years ago. To put a fun twist on a commonly photographed sight, I waited until sunset and snapped off a series of photos precisely as the sun touched the top of the hills on the horizon. It took mere seconds for the sun to disappear completely, but I was able to get a few where there was a nice burst to the sun.

Photographer tip: The camera by default will always want to expose for the sky, so when taking photos like this, you have to be smarter than the camera. In this case, I set exposure compensation of -1/2 stop to help preserve shadow details in the windmills and metered against the windmill before lining up the shot. That made the sky darker and windmill lighter without having to use special filters or post processing. The other way to get this sort of photograph is to shoot a burst and process them together afterwards (called HDR), but the image here is a single shot.

Quick Shot: Frozen Geese

I'd been hiking my favorite local spot, Mason Neck State Park, when creativity struck and I found myself looking at one of my least photographed subjects..... Canadian Geese! I rarely photograph Canadian Geese - they're such a common subject and have never excited my creativity - until yesterday.

I'd been out looking for eagles and other raptors, but towards the end of the hike I walked up to the edge of the Occoquan Bay to watch sunset. I was watching some water fowl fishing amongst the ice floating in the bay as the sun dipped behind a cloud. As that happened, the scene went from a washed out "meh" to being absolutely spectacularly bright yellow. I have rarely seen the sun make the water so brilliantly bright! I decided the best way to capture the scene was to get two silhouettes of the geese feeding amongst the ice chunks.

Of course, that's easier said than done - I had to wait for both birds to offer a profile view because they just looked like dark blobs on the water when they were facing me! It was a challenge to juggle the brilliant light with birds that weren't exactly cooperating, but I was patient. When the bird on the right turned for just a second I fired away and got this shot..... and good thing too! Just a minute later, the sun had emerged back out and the bright colors were gone. 

Photography is often a waiting game to get the perfect lighting or scene and when the moment is just right, we've got to be ready to take advantage of it! As photographers, we refer to that moment in time when everything is perfect as the decisive moment - I think I got it this time!

Shot with my Nikon 80-400mm on the Nikon D800. Minor edits done in Adobe Photoshop CC. If you like this photograph, you can purchase a copy as a limited edition on my website.


Quick Shot: Difficult Sunset

I am excited to present my first Quick Shot of 2014, which was one of the last pictures I took in 2013. 

Photographers are all about great lighting in a photograph - sometimes we seek out our most common light source (the sun) during sunrises and sets. On occasion, without pre-planning, we get really lucky and the sun just happens to be in the perfect spot at the perfect moment. Such is the case with today's Quick Shot.

I'd been out photographing Difficult Run, which is a stream that comes off of Great Falls National Park (located near downtown Washington, DC). The trip was designed for me to teach my friend Tim about using neutral density filters, but I was taking plenty of my own shots. With the neutral density filter, the goal was to shoot long exposures of the water to give a whispy and flowing effect, but as I setup for one shot, I realized I was going to get a whole lot more.

As I crouched down on a rock to photograph this section of the river, I noticed the sun was peaking through from behind some trees. It was several hours until sunset, but the timing and my camera position were just perfect to get this image without having the sun be super bright in my camera. I took a few exposures and crossed my fingers that they'd look as good on my computer as they looked in my mind!

I wasn't disappointed! The photo was just as colorful and dramatic as I thought it would be. Of course, this image was only possible for a few minutes while the sun was in precisely the right spot, which makes it even more special that I got this photograph.

It was my first trip to Difficult Run, and with the success of the first trip, I know I'll be back for more soon!

Difficult Run Sunset_WEB.jpg

Quick Shot: Spectacular Sunset II

Sometimes I can't pick just one photo to share the story. In this case, it took me two photographs to tell the story of this sunset!

(If you missed the previous photo, check it out here

In the previous post about the first photograph, I told the story of behind the sunset, so I'll spend some time in this post discussing the technical details. Both sunset photographs were taken with the Nikon D800 and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I didn't change any camera settings between the shots, just my body position.  

If you've ever tried to take a sunset photograph, then you probably know that it's almost impossible to get a foreground subject properly illuminated and not blow out the colors of the sunset. You generally can get either the foreground OR the background (sunset) in perfect exposure, but not both. To solve this problem, photographers can use several tricks. 

The first is to use a graduated filter that is darker on top than on bottom. This filter tries to darken the background to "trick" the camera into an exposure that properly exposes both the background and foreground. The trick is, you have to have said filter handy and they don't always work the best.

Another method is to bracket your exposures and merge them together. If you're not familiar with bracketing, it's a technique where you take several images in series.... say 3. The first would be correctly exposed, the second underexposed and the third overexposed (usually in full or half stop increments). You could then take elements from each photograph and merge them, or combine the series into an HDR image (high dynamic range).  

I didn't use either of these methods to get this shot. In fact, the work in Photoshop was pretty minimal!  

The D800 has an amazing dynamic range, so I knew that I could pull shadow detail from the foreground back out in post production. As a result, I set the camera to have an exposure compensation of -1/2 stop and exposed for the sunset sky. The image was very dark in the foreground grass, but that was an easy fix. Using the adjustment brush in Adobe Camera Raw, I lightened the exposure only on the grassy areas to make the foreground visible. I didn't want to overdue it - the focus was supposed to be the sky - but I still wanted the viewer to enjoy the foreground grass.

The only other adjustments in Photoshop were to crop and remove some sensor dust. Pretty easy! 

Don't forget that you can purchase this print as a limited edition from my website. 


Quick Shot: Spectacular Sunset I

I just got back from a long weekend in southwest Virginia where I spent a few days enjoying the start of fall. Most of the trees were starting to change color and there was some great weather, which made the whole trip very photogenic. Oh, and I spent an afternoon getting sunburned while cheering the Virginia Tech Hokies to victory over UNC at the Saturday football game. 

We spent several nights at a beautiful Bed and Breakfast called "The Inn at Riverbend"..... it's an amazing place and the view there is absolutely spectacular. I certainly didn't have to look far to find a variety of stuff to photograph. Our room overlooked the bend in the New River and I knew this was going to be ideal sunset spotting (and sunrise). The first night I was setup, but the sky never got the brilliant hues I was hoping to capture. The forecast that night called for rain and scattered clouds the next day, so I was optimistic that the weather would deliver a spectacular sunset on the next night.

Oh boy did it! 

We had gone for pizza to bring back and enjoy with sunset, but a delay at the pizzeria meant we almost didn't make it! Thankfully I was able to run in and grab my camera and spend a few minutes catching the brilliant colors before it was all gone (so what if my pizza was cold!). 

This is the first of two photographs taken of this sunset. The second photograph was taken in a horizontal orientation vs the vertical you see here. Leave me a comment (after I post the second tomorrow) and let me know which you like best! 

You can purchase a copy of Spectacular Sunset I and II online under my limited editions