Cape Cod Sunset, A Study in Tools Wednesday, Oct 15 2014 

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit Cape Cod, Massachusetts for the first time. It’s a place of quiet fishing villages, trendy tourist destinations and hip hangouts. Since it’s a peninsula, it’s also a very convenient destination for both sunrise and sunset photography – on multiple days, I was able to shoot both golden hours.

In this post, I present three shots taken within moments of each other, with three different cameras. It was a sunset shoot at Rock Harbor, not far from the city of Orleans, MA. The extremely low tide left many tidal pools and exposed sand dunes and grass patches, so there were plenty of ways to experiment with composition.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Film Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Film Camera

First up is my massively reliable medium format camera, Mamiya 7, which was loaded with the legendary Fuji Velvia 50 film. The metering for a sunset scene is never easy, and for a contrasty film like Velvia, I wanted to preserve the highlights, but the shot still ended up quite underexposed — most of the foreground is just too dark. On the other hand, the setting sun and the sky at the horizon have a great color to it, and I love the dark fluffy clouds on top set against the still bright sky. The composition of the foreground is also pleasing, with the patch of grass in the tidal pool. As usual for a shot done on Velvia, I didn’t do much post-processing; I tried to improve the shadows a bit, but not to the point where the photo becomes too grainy.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Digital SLR Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Digital SLR Camera

A few moments later, the sun finally set, but the sky was still pretty bright. This shot was taken by my digital camera, Canon 7D, at the widest setting on my 17-40mm f/4L lens. The composition seems a little different, lower to the ground, and the horizon falls closer to the rule of thirds. The bluish tint is typical for the “blue hour”, but there is still some reddish hues to add interest to the shot. As in the film shot, the tidal pool provides a great reflection, and I like the ripples in the sand, too. I would have liked some more color in the photo, but it still has a nice moody quality – of the three shots, it would probably work the best in black and white. And speaking of quality, even at ISO 800, there is almost no noise or grain in the image.

Rock Harbor Sunset, Smartphone Camera

Rock Harbor Sunset, Smartphone Camera

Finally, we have the humble smartphone camera; I had with me the Droid Ultra and its 10 megapixel camera, which is more than decent. I metered for the brightest part of the image and let the automatic settings fall where they may. As it happens, I like this shot the best, and it’s partly because of the very wide native format of the camera, which works well with the scene. It’s also very bright, but nothing seems too blown out. There is some chrominance noise in the clouds, but other than that, the shot looks very sharp and clean. I posted it on my Instagram page in its cropped form.

In the end, no one shot is significantly better than the others, but this exercise helps me compare how different cameras see the same scene, so that I can use them more efficiently next time.

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Belize Sunset Friday, Oct 12 2012 

Friday is a day for celebrating the end of the work week with simple posts.

A few years ago I went on a cruise around the Caribbean, with stops at Progreso and Cozumel in Mexico, and in Belize. The visit to Belize was particularly nice – I spent the morning shopping around Belize City, but in the afternoon I took a tour to one of the cays, which looked like one of those deserted islands you’d see in a cartoon – a patch of sand with a palm tree or two sticking out of it.

Belize Sunset

Belize Sunset

After we left Belize, the ship was going to take two full days to return to Galveston. I took one last look back and snapped this photo.

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Friday, Oct 5 2012 

Friday is the day when we celebrate the end of the work week with simple posts.

While I was looking for photos of my sister for yesterday’s post, I saw some really nice colors from a series of photos taken during a few sunsets while we were vacationing in Puerto Vallarta in 2011.

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

This one is particularly lovely, as it captures the last ray of sun before it disappeared under the horizon. And look at that tiny little sailboat, going on its merry way!

I remember telling my sister while we watched this scene: “Not only is it January, it’s actually a single-digit date in January.” Our Northern hemisphere minds find it hard to comprehend being on the beach, watching the sunset, on January 9 of any year.

I hope we get to do it again in January 2013.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Agathla Peak, AZ Wednesday, Oct 3 2012 

When I decided to start the 365 project, I realized I will have to recycle some of the photos I have been posting over the last 5 or so years on my Flickr page. The tougher challenge would have been to actually post a brand new photo every day for a year – and that may be something I can look into next year.

I balance that by often posting more than one photo in each blog post. So, today, I wanted to share three photos from one of the most surprisingly magical places I visited.

Agathla Peak, After Sunset (digital)

Agathla Peak, After Sunset (digital)

This is Agathla Peak, sometimes called El Capitan, and it is a volcanic plug just south of the border between Utah and Arizona. My friends John, Tyler and I were on our way to the Monument Valley a few years ago and couldn’t help seeing this fantastic piece of rock protruding from the ground.

After shooting a sunset at the Monument Valley, we stopped by Agathla on our way back to Page, AZ. That’s where the first photo was made – I made it with my Canon 20D digital camera. Because I didn’t have a remote shutter release, I had to limit the exposure to 30 seconds, using the ISO of 400 and even lightening the photo in post-processing.

Agathla Peak, Day (film)

Agathla Peak, Day (film)

A year later, the three of us were joined by our friend and photographer Scott; this time Agathla wasn’t going to surprise us. We made sure to have enough time to stop there in the afternoon. The second photo was shot on medium format Velvia 50 film, and you see it here pretty much the way it looks like on the slide. I was very proud of it – the composition was great and the moment captured was lovely. Just look at those clouds!

Agathla Peak, Night (digital)

Agathla Peak, Night (digital)

Speaking of clouds, the third photo was taken later that night; the wind was moving the clouds exactly over the tip of Agathla, which became very evident on this 5-minute exposure. That’s no typo – this shot is lit by nothing except the Moon, and it took 5 minutes to get enough light to the camera sensor. You can even see the star trails – that’s how much the stars moved while the photo was being taken. You can tell I was ready to take this photo by the fact that I bought a remote shutter release for my Canon 20D.

Don’t let this rather technical post diminish the fact that this place is just fantastic. It’s nothing but a rock sticking out of the ground, but the combination of its ruggedness and the relative serenity of its immediate surroundings creates a very dramatic image, at any time of day. Or night.

Fuzzy Seagull, St. Petersburg, FL Friday, Sep 21 2012 

Friday is a day for celebrating the end of the week with simple posts.

Fuzzy Seagull

Fuzzy Seagull

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in St. Petersburg, FL. The weather was perfect, the water was fine, and the SPF was 50. Then, when the sun was about to dip below the western horizon, I snapped a few photos.

That’s when the seagull flew by. Since my focus was on the water, he’ll appear fuzzy. Maybe if I had my Canon 7D in the AI Servo mode, the auto-focus system would be smart enough to focus on the moving object.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Sunset, Grapevine Lake, TX Saturday, Sep 15 2012 

This photo is literally the last photo I took with my Canon 20D.

Sunset, Grapevine Lake

Sunset, Grapevine Lake

I mentioned yesterday that I owned a Canon 20D digital camera for a few years. I bought it from a friend who had upgraded, and I really liked it. It had the dial on the back, which made selecting options very easy. The camera had a nice heavy feel to it and fit nicely in my hand.

When I bought it, 20D was already obsolete – 30D was already on the market and 40D came up shortly after that. But those cameras didn’t really offer anything I wanted. The Live View on the 40D would have been nice, but it wasn’t enough for me to switch.

I went on many trips with the 20D, shot several studio sessions and a wedding. But when Canon released their 7D, I was ready. The new camera was faster, more powerful and easier to use, it shot HD video and it wirelessly controlled off-camera flash. So, a few days before my new 7D arrived, I took my 20D for a visit to Grapevine Lake, where I took some sunset pictures including the one above.

It’s a good reminder to not rush into “upgradeitis” — maybe the shiny new device that just came out isn’t the right choice for you. Instead, get as much use you can out of the one you already have, and upgrade only when it makes sense.

Water Tower, Justin, TX Monday, Sep 10 2012 

Water Tower

Water Tower

A few years back, I drove past this old rusted-out water tower a few times and pre-visualized an image I wanted – I thought the setting sun would light up the rusty tones and that color would look great against the deep blue sky that I would get with Fuji Velvia film.

I even took a shot at it, but it was completely different from what I imagined. It was in the morning, I used Kodak T-Max 100 film and my lens was way too wide. But I still like the way it turned out, and it definitely had potential.

More than a year after that black-and-white shot, I came back, with my Canon 7D digital camera with me. The sunset was great, the sky clear, and I got the composition I wanted with my 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. The sky definitely would have a deeper hue on Velvia, but I love the way the tower turned out. I never felt happy enough with the shot before to post it online. So here it is – with no post-processing, other than slight rotation to straighten it out, and the usual amount of sharpening.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Vlašić Mountain, Bosnia and Herzegovina Friday, Dec 23 2011 

In October of this year, as I try to do every year, I visited my homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina and spent two weeks with the closest members of my family – mom, dad, and sister. The four of us wanted to take an extended weekend trip to a resort on the mountain of Vlašić, a few hours north of the home town and capital of Sarajevo. All photos in this post were taken with my new medium format film camera, Mamiya 7.

Clouds over a Valley

Clouds over a Valley

To properly write “Vlašić” is hard enough with English alphabet, and to pronounce it even harder. But the place is a gorgeous ski resort, which we visited before the first snow and the official start of the busy season. The black and white photo above (Ilford HP5 film) was one of the first I took up there, on a trail just above a ski jump tower, which can be seen above the tree canopies on the right. The sky was quite foreboding and threatened the sleepy valley below.

Last Light on Pines

Last Light on Pines

The following morning, I was too lazy to get up and shoot the sunrise, but in the evening, I went back up the trail to try to catch some of the warm “golden hour” light. The clouds parted a bit and just before the sun went down, it lit beautifully this row of conifer trees. I like the way that streak of red stands out among the green, both of which come out great on the Fuji Velvia film.

Ski Lift Shack

Ski Lift Shack

Remarkably, I managed to squeeze one more shot during this golden hour – the odd looking building is a tiny wooden shack at the top of the ski lift. The wood picks up the warm light nicely, enhanced again by the magical Fuji Velvia.

Splash of Color

Splash of Color

A day or two later, on our last evening on the mountain, I went for a walk in a different direction – not as much elevation gain as the top of the ski lift, but still some nice scenery. I was walking through some fields and found this bundle of color in the grass. I envisioned a depth-of-field shot, turned my aperture to f/4 and got as close as I could to the flower. The depth of field in the resulting shot was a little too thin, but I still like the way it turned out.

For more of my photos from other trips to Bosnia, visit my Flickr sets here, here and here.

Taylor Creek Canyon, South Fork, Zion NP, Utah Wednesday, Jun 1 2011 

Life of a landscape photographer can be hard. Sometimes you have to try several angles until you find the right one. Other times you have to hike for miles to get to the right vista. There are those times when all your efforts go in vein because the light just isn’t there.

And then there are shots like this one, where all I had to do is not screw it up.

Taylor Creek Canyon

Taylor Creek Canyon

Most people come to Zion National Park through the eastern entrance and enjoy the spectacular main canyon, where Virgin river rages in between rocky cliffs. But, there is so much more to Zion than that, and on this visit, our third, Tyler and John and I decided to finally get at least a glimpse. This shot is a part of that glimpse.

The western part of Zion is comprised of several “finger” canyons, Kolob Canyons, which all face west and have awesome cliffs and peaks as their boundaries. There is a short road that goes up to Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, although you can pull over anywhere on that road and get an observation point just as wonderful.

We got here early that day (after shooting the sunrise at the Towers of the Virgin), shot this same scene early in the morning, until one of us noticed a trail winding down below us, leading into the canyon. The official Taylor Creek Canyon trail is in the next canyon over and ends with the scenic Double Arch Alcove, but, geniuses that we are, we decided to forgo the official trail and go with this one, which starts with a warning, informing hikers that Zion National Park doesn’t maintain it. After some rough going, we got to a gorgeous wooded meadow squeezed in between vertical canyon cliffs, and we spent most of the day there (more shots from the day at the canyon are coming soon). We hiked out, got some food in our bellies, and then came back to this spot for the sunset shoot.

I loaded a fresh roll of Fuji Velvia film into my medium format Mamiya 645 camera, got out of our car, walked about 100 feet, set up my tripod, and when the setting sun set the red cliffs ablaze, fired off this shot.

Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Traditional Sunset, Eagle Crags, Utah Tuesday, May 17 2011 

I’ve been traveling with Tyler and John for four years now, for purposes of enhancing our friendship as well as our photography skills. And if there’s one thing that we bonded over more than over lens caps and ISO settings, it’s botched sunset shoots.

First, there was not one, but two sunsets in Monument Valley, a year apart, that left something to be desired. Then there was one when we didn’t get to Lake Powell in time on our way from The Wave, even though I hit 100 miles an hour to get there. There was one at Yosemite’s Tunnel View (although, the Sierras paid us back a few days later with a magnificent sunset from Sentinel Dome). And then the one when the skies finally cleared only when we were already many miles on our road out of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park…

If there’s one thing we can count on, that’s a less-than-perfect sunset.

Traditional Sunset

Eagle Crags, UT

And here we were, three hours before sunset, after a morning hike to Angels Landing, after driving up a bad dirt road, getting perilously off the hiking trail, setting up our tripods in between the bushes and trees, wondering if we will get rained on before the skies clear and allow some sunlight onto the peaks in front of us.

The peaks are called Eagle Crags, and they’re located just outside Zion National Park, near Rockville, UT. We saw them a few sunsets earlier, as they were the peaks getting the very last light, due to the fact that they’re outside the main canyon of the park, so the light lingers on them just a little longer. Tyler found a road on the map, and the road led us to a BLM hiking trail, which eventually goes all the way to the foot of the Eagle Crags hill.

Eagle Crags, UT

Velvia film shot, not as good as the digital

Skies were dark and foreboding, which made for a dramatic background. We were cheering for the sun to break through the cloud bank to the west and light up the red sandstone. We had reason to hope: it happened a little earlier, but it was not the magical “golden hour light”. I captured it on Fuji Velvia 50 film, shown here, and it looks nice, but it’s not quite the same as the main digital photo, taken just that much later. Light was changing fast, and I never snapped another film shot. I didn’t even time to change my lens – it was gone in a flash.

Still, we’ve seen some photos in the local galleries, and this formation, somewhat off the beaten path, offers great potential for some wonderful sunsets. On this evening, however, our tradition continued.

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