Colorado landscapes: Great Sand Dunes – being on top…, priceless!

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Sep 22 2014

Sunrise in the dunes 1

 

You can run around with your camera all day long in Great Sand Dunes National Park but nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the experience of being up on top of the dunes when the sun creeps over the ridge of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the morning. It is easy to forget to push the shutter release button because of the spectacular light on the dunes that unfolds right in front of you. It takes about an hour to hike and climb up the 700 feet from the valley bottom to the top of the first ridge and the altitude of about 2,700m (~8,730 ft) may put you out of breath at times, but the rewards for this endeavor are priceless.

Sunrise in the dunes 2

All images: Nikon D300s, Nikkor 24-120mm / f4, tripod

 

 

Colorado landscapes: Great Sand Dunes – Medano Creek

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Sep 21 2014
Medano Creek 1

Nikon D300s, Sigma 10-20mm / f4-5.6

 

Water plays an essential role for the life in and around the Great Sand Dunes. The dunefield is edged by two creeks. Subsurface flow from these streams feeds wetlands that are habitat for an amazing variety of life in the midst of a sandy desert. (source: National Park brochure) Medano Creek between the Sangre de Christo Mountains and the dunes had been dry during the summer, according to an internet source, but at our arrival, shortly after some rain in the area, the creek had water again flowing down the valley. The shallow stream is a nice place to chill out during a hot day and especially the kids enjoyed playing in this big “sand box”.

Medano Creek 2

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 24-120mm / f4, tripod

 

One evening some overcast didn’t look very promising for good light on the dunes but I went out anyway for a little hike with our dog Cooper. You never know for sure how things may develop in nature and that’s why I had the tripod and camera over my shoulder. Suddenly the magic unfolded. The setting sun, already hidden by the sand dunes, appeared from behind the clouds and revealed some spectacular colors. The light bounced back from the clouds and got reflected by Medano Creek. And there was the photo, with the creek as my subject!

 

Colorado landscapes: Great Sand Dunes – Zapata Falls

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Sep 20 2014
Zapata Falls 1

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 24-120mm / f4, tripod, polarizing filter

 

During midday the sand dunes may not be the No.1 place to be in and around Great Sand Dunes National Park if you look for photography opportunities. There are other alternatives and being just at the foot hills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains you don’t have to go very far. Zapata Falls is an interesting place and a welcome “cool down” opportunity if the temperatures are high. I have never been so wet during a shooting as in the canyon that leads to Zapata Falls high up in the mountains. There is no way to enter the narrow canyon that bares the water fall without getting at least your feet wet. Keeping the camera and lens out of harm in the spraying mist of the falls is a good idea but nearly impossible. While quickly shooting the lower part of the water fall the mist in the air made it almost impossible to get a clean sharp image of the upper part. Only my first click is sharp enough to be shown here. The water drops on the filter in front of the lens made for an interesting blur, but that doesn’t mean I liked it. :-(

 

Zapata Falls 2

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 24-120mm / f4, tripod, polarizing filter

 

I knew from reading about the access to the falls that there would not be much light and so I took of course the tripod with me. Another factor is the glare from the wet walls in the canyon and that’s why I mounted the Polarizer to the lens. It turned out to be a good idea, adding it later wasn’t really an option because of all the water spray in the air. Acting fast was key for success in this matter. The photos were made around noon hour and having the light from almost above lead to some images that reveal the beauty of Zapata Fall, at least in my humble opinion… More to come…

 

Colorado landscapes: Great Sand Dunes – a place to beat the light pollution

2 Comments | This entry was posted on Sep 19 2014
Milky Way

Nikon D300s, Carl Zeiss Distagon T*, 35mm / f2 ZF

 

A few months ago I read the book NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY – From Snapshots to Great Shots by Gabriel Biderman and Tim Cooper. If you try to learn about all aspects of this kind of photography this book is highly recommended. Easy to understand, even for a not-native English speaker like me, very good illustrations and photos, and a just straight forward and simple teaching style made the book a great pleasure to read and a wonderful source of information for me. Needles to say that I was eager to apply some of the new knowledge to my photography during our vacation in southern Colorado. Here is my little story about the first try…

There was only a very short period when we could expect to photograph the Milky Way up in the nightly sky and that was right at the beginning of our Colorado trip, just during our stay in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. For the rest of the time we had waxing moon. As good as this was for shooting mountains illuminated by the moon, it doesn’t help to make an image of the Milky Way.

Watching the sky at night in the Great Sand Dunes made me again aware how much light pollution we face even in a state like Iowa, that is not as densely populated , like for example Central Europe or the big cities here in the US.

The best results in order to capture the Milky Way, or at least parts of it, were achieved by using the Carl Zeiss Distagon T*, 35 mm / f2 ZF, wide open, f2, and an exposure time of 10 seconds. In order to stay below 10 seconds I had to dial in ISO 1100, which is kind of a stretch on my good old NIKON D300s in regards of noise and image quality. Any time longer than 9.5 sec. creates star trails instead of seeing the stars as dots and it would have made the Milky Way real “milky”.

Several mistakes have been made during this shooting session in the dark right beside our tent and I felt like a golf player that is the first time on a golf course. But hey, I really love this stuff and I learned my first lesson in the field. Can’t wait to try it again!! :-)

 

Colorado landscapes: Great Sand Dunes

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Sep 17 2014
Great Sand Dunes 1

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 24-120mm / f4

 

We tried to reach our first destination, the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, still before dark. We were running already late after the second day of travel, but while approaching the National Park the low sun and the dramatic clouds made for such a great vista that we had to stop for some photos. I rather pitch up the tent in the dark than missing an opportunity like that ;-) .

Great Sand Dunes 2

Nikon D300s, Sigma 50-500mm / f4.5-6.3 APO DG HSM, at 320mm

 

These huge dunes are North America’s tallest and they are nestled against the Sangre de Christo Mountains. From our campsite at Pinyon Flats, at an altitude of about 2500 m (~8200 ft), we had a great view to the dunes just in front of us. The highest peaks of the dunes are about 230 m (755 ft) above the surrounding flats. We spent three days in this area and the best times for photography are definitely the early mornings and late evenings.

Great Sand Dunes 3

Nikon D300s, Sigma 50-500mm / f4.5-6.3 APO DG HSM, at 320 mm

 

This couple hiked down from the dunes one morning (tent camping in the dunes is allowed with a permit) and I really like the shot because it gives a sense of scale. The flowers and grass tell the story about the life in the dunes and that they are not just “a pile of sand” but part of a natural system with high mountains, strong winds, streams, and wetlands. There is more to come, so please stay tuned…

 

Colorado landscapes: Greeted by clouds

1 Comment | This entry was posted on Sep 15 2014
Greeted by clouds 1

Nikon D300s, Sigma 10-20mm / f4-5.6

 

You guessed it, my absence here in the blog was due to our vacation. This time I gave myself a break and did not touch any social media. Most of the time we didn’t even have access to internet and that wasn’t a bad thing. We spent the last two and a half weeks in the mountains of southern and central Colorado. Joan and I had some good opportunities to shoot the gorgeous landscapes of Colorado and to chase the light. I hope I can stir up your interest during the next few weeks while I will work my way through the images that made it onto the hard drive.

It was a 2-day drive from Eastern Iowa to our first destination, which I will reveal shortly. While still on the wide open plains, Colorado greeted us with some impressive clouds and dramatic light. The avid reader of my blog knows about my obsession with clouds already and so it may not be a big surprise that the first clicks had to be made while still heading southwest…

Greeted by clouds 2

Nikon D300s, Sigma 10-20mm / f4-5.6

 

 

Looking back and preparing for the next adventure

2 Comments | This entry was posted on Aug 24 2014
Arches National Park

Arches National Park

 

Little did I know about digital photography back in 2008 when these photos were made. I had my old NIKON D200 exactly for one year in April 2008 when Joan and I visited Arches and Canyonland National Park in Utah. I didn’t even know that there were good times and bad times for landscape photography, hence that all three clicks were made when every serious landscape photographer probably sat in a bar in Moab, UT, had a drink, and waited for the killer light the evening would provide. At that time I still thought a bold blue sky was the greatest thing that could happen for making a decent image. OK, I’m kidding a little, but you get the idea…

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch, Canyonland National Park, La Sal Mountains in the background

 

Don’t take me wrong, I still like the photos somehow because there is of course an emotional attachment. They were shot in RAW mode, have been never published before, but thanks to shooting in RAW they allow me today, with the latest post processing software in place (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC 2014), to analyze what went wrong and what can be done in a future project. We are pretty close to our annual vacation. It won’t be Arches or Canyonland NP but an environment with maybe similar light conditions. Looking forward to it…

Canyonland National Park

Canyonland National Park

 

 

Friday night “conclusions” ;-)

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Aug 22 2014
Ready for take-off

Nikon D300s, Sigma 10-20mm / f4-5.6

 

What do have these two photos in common? Not much, they weren’t even made the same day, except they were taken from the same vantage point. But, let me explain…

The first photo was made right before take off at the Chicago O’Hare Airport last Tuesday. The sky was gray, except for a few small blue slivers. While looking out the window I could see this composition coming just a second before. I made the click and I like it. All the lines lead the eye to the airplane. The clouds, the terminal building in the background, and of course the painted lines on the concrete. However, the overcast made the image look “blaahhh”. Some local saturation and overall contrast improvements in Adobe Lightroom and NIK Color Efex Pro 4, plus adding a “glamour glow” effect, and a slight vignette spawned the final result.

Storm clouds over the desert

Nikon D300s, Carl Zeiss Distagon T*, 35mm / f2 ZF

 

The second photo was made Thursday on my way back from Los Angeles to Chicago. It doesn’t happen very often but I had exactly the same seat in a Boeing 737-800 as two days before. It wasn’t exact the same airplane but the window was as dirty as on the way to LA. As I said, same vantage point… ;-)

But what a difference, the light was great and coming from behind the plane as we flew east. There were some beautiful storm clouds to the south. This is nothing extraordinarily but the key for this shot was again composition. The eye may wander between the puffy clouds in the foreground and the AA-logo with the reflection on the wing but it will always return to the interesting cloud formation that was illuminated by the setting sun.

No, it doesn’t need a big camera and lens. You can make a similar image with the camera you probably have always with you, your phone. You can’t change your position much, the pilot takes care for that, but watching the scene, the light, and the lines that unfold in front of your eye will lead you to the photo you may have always envisioned…

 

Wide angle practice

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Aug 20 2014

above the clouds

 

Today’s photos leave no doubt about that I’m on the road, means on a business trip. On the flight from Chicago to Los Angeles yesterday I saw some nice cloud formations, had a glimpse into the Grand Canyon, and finally an unobstructed view over the skyline of Los Angeles. I really like to use these travel opportunities to improve my skills and to experiment with the lenses that are in my bag. This time the wide angle SIGMA 10-20, f/4-5.6 DC HSM was on the camera most of the time. I have this DX lens since quite a long time but still have the feeling that I don’t ”own” this lens because I haven’t dug deep enough to know all it’s capabilities. This year’s vacation trip is coming up soon and I plan to make the 10-20 an essential piece in my landscape photography tool box this time…

Skyline LA

All images: Nikon D300s, Sigma 10-20mm / f4-5.6

 

Missed to check

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Aug 18 2014
Feeding wren

Nikon D300s, Sigma 50-500mm / f4.5-6.3 APO DG HSM, tripod, gimbal head, SB 800

 

It was still feeding time yesterday and this morning at the wren bird box. I was too busy with other things this evening and don’t know if the young House Wrens have left their nest today or not. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning… ;-)

 

Great music, good time, a little bit photography…

0 Comments | This entry was posted on Aug 16 2014
10 of Soul - Nina Little

10 of Soul – Nina Little

 

My blog says “Nature Photography” but I enjoy walking off my own beaten path sometime. I do this more often than you may think but I don’t publish much outside of this genre. Yesterday we went to “Dubuque… and All That Jazz”, a Friday night concert series that takes place ones a month during the summer in downtown Dubuque. 10 of Soul was the the band last night and they played some great soul, funk, r&b, and blues music. I didn’t take my photography efforts too serious, just enjoyed the music, food, and beer, but made a few clicks during the evening. 10 of Soul has a great rhythm section, a four-piece horn section, and some very good vocalists. The two female vocalists got the best light (sorry guys!) and so most of their shots were sharp enough to be shown here.

10 of Soul - Chrissy Boyer, Nina Little

10 of Soul – Chrissy Boyer, Nina Little

 

I used my favorite Photoshop plug-in NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 to do the B&W post processing. A KODAK Tri-X 400TX Pro film preset was my starting point, just because I like the look of this film for these shots, but I fine tuned it to my personal taste. A selenium toning was applied and I also lowered the grade of the film grain a little. I hope you enjoy!