Greetings, from Iceland!

Hi gang! We just arrived in Iceland a couple days ago, and it’s been an incredible trip so far! Iceland is one of my favorite travel destinations and I never get tired of it. There are always amazing things to shoot here. I’m here teaching a workshop with Focus on Nature that will run for a full week.

Karen and I arrived in Reykjavik a few days early so that we could explore a bit and recover from jet lag before the workshop started. When we arrived on Friday Morning, Einar Erlendsson (The man behind Focus On Nature) picked us up from the airport and drove us around the city of Reykjavik while we waited for our hotel room to be ready. We went to a funky folk art installation called El Directore house. It was somewhat like other folk art places we’ve seen in the states, only with a bit of a viking theme to it. Einar also took us to the Harpa opera hall for lunch. Not only was the cafe there very nice, but the architecture of the place is very unique and fun to photograph. After driving around the city a bit, we finally made it to our hotel, took a nap and then headed to dinner in the city.

Day two was when the fun began. We got up really early to meet Einar for breakfast, and then drove out about 1.5 hours out into the country where we met a pilot who would take me up in his small plane. I had been wanting to photograph Iceland from the air for a long time, so I made that a priority for this trip. Einar knew of a very skilled pilot so he arranged our flight. The plane was a classic 1964 wooden-frame French plane that sat four people. I had a small opening for my lenses so that I didn’t have to shoot through the glass, and the pilot was very accommodating, flying over the places I asked and angling the plane so I could get the best shots. We had great weather for the flight, and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking! Check out the slideshow of some of my aerial images below.


After the plane ride we headed back toward Reykjavik, but made a few shooting stops on the way back. First, we stopped at a random field/pasture because Karen was itching to see and photograph some Icelandic horses. They really have a story book look to them. Next, we stopped at Urridafoss, our first waterfall of the trip. We spent a lot of time shooting here. It’s a good thing I had a strong neutral density filter because it was pretty bright out there!

My waterfall shot from the other day.

Karen got this shot of me shooting Urridafoss (Anything that ends in “foss” in Icelandic means waterfall!)

Sunday marked the first day of the workshop, and we met the attendees at 1pm at a meeting room in the Grand Hotel in Reykjavik. After getting acquainted, we had a 4-hour lecture session and then all went out to dinner. In the coming week, we will head out of town, into the country, and shoot a ton. The plans are to basically follow the light. We’re not going to run on a strict schedule, so we’ll be flexible to just go where the good shots are.

More to come!

Iceland: An amazing last-minute opportunity!

This is for those adventurous souls out there who love photography and embrace spontaneity. Space has just opened up in my Iceland workshop coming up on June 24-30 and we’d love to get one or two lucky people on board with us!

This trip takes us to one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Iceland features black sand beaches, waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes, geothermal features, glaciers, icebergs, lighthouses, turf houses, storybook horses and interesting architecture, all packed into a country that is 1/95th the size of the United States. Its unspoiled countryside offers breathtaking vistas, dramatic weather and such a diversity of subject matter that after a week’s time, you will feel like you’re just scratching the surface.

While this adventure is right around the corner, I’ve been building up my excitement by processing images I’ve shot there on previous trips to Iceland. I thought I’d share those with you here as well. Click on them to enlarge.

For more information, and to sign up for a last-minute adventure of a lifetime, click HERE.

The Palm Springs Photo Festival 2012

This past week was spent in sunny Palm Springs, CA for the 7th annual Photo Festival, directed by Jeff Dunas. I taught two classes at the event and attended some as well. We arrived on Sunday night, just in time for the opening ceremony and cocktail hour, held at the beautiful Korakia Moroccan-style Bed and Breakfast. Many of the festival events were held here, and we just loved the feel of this place, with its unique style, elegant bonfires and waterfalls. Jeff kicked off the event with some announcements and introductions and the rest of the time was spent mingling and reconnecting with folks in the photo world. Karen and I met up with my great friend and photographer, Lee Varis, as well as Barbara Ellison, from Canon. The four of us ended up spending a lot of time together during the course of the festival.

At the opening night of the Palm Springs Photo Festival, Jeff Dunas makes some announcements and introductions.

Overall, I am really impressed with the way this festival is run. Everyone is extremely organized and helpful and all of the individual events are very well thought out. There are even gatherings in the evenings that include a late night networking party/wine tasting, outdoor dinners and interesting presentations. The organizers do an amazing job of tending to both the attendees and instructors. The two classes I taught both included Photoshop fixes and retouching techniques. I attended a handful of classes, including ones on how to find an agent, the Lightroom 4 develop module, an evening symposium on getting your work noticed and a full-day workshop on dramatic lighting.

Here I am at one of the evening symposiums. Love the seating!

With all of the photography being displayed, as well as the networking aspect of the festival, I also made a point this week to organize my own image portfolio for display on the new iPad. After reading several reviews for iPad portfolio apps, I decided to use one called Minimal Folio, and I like it so far. With the retina display of the new iPad, the images look amazing. Karen said it looked like you could reach in and touch the subjects of the photographs!

Here I am with Lee and Barbara sharing a glass of wine before dinner at the Korakia.

The festival wrapped up on Friday afternoon and we plan on leaving Palm Springs this morning (Monday). And where will we head next? We have no idea! That’s one of the beautiful things about living on the road. More to come…

 

Iceland: 12 Tips for Capturing Great Waterfall Images

 

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In June of this year, I will be leading a photographic workshop in one of my favorite places to shoot: Iceland. Focus on Nature (the organizers) asked me to write a blog post for them about the upcoming trip. Instead of just saying how great it’s going to be (how can it not be? It’s Iceland!), I decided to give a little sneak peak at what folks might learn there. I’m posting the write-up here as well, because I think you will enjoy it.

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I’ve been to Iceland several times and the reason I keep returning is that it truly is one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen. I’m sure you can tell by the photos that this year’s trip is going to be a visually-rich journey. What the photos might not explain, however, is how our Iceland trips are also a journey into your own creativity and photographic education. When I was asked by Focus on Nature to write a blog post about my upcoming June 2012 trip, I decided that, instead of telling you how beautiful it’s going to be (you can see that for yourself), I would actually share some of the things you might learn in my workshop. We don’t have the space to cover everything I might teach, so I thought I’d just pick one topic and give you an example of the type of things you might learn.

Shooting Waterfalls

In Iceland, there’s one thing you simply can’t avoid seeing a lot of: waterfalls. There are so many that, when you start your trip, you’ll be excited about every one you encounter, but then over time you’ll start to take them for granted and only seek out the ones that offer something overly unique to capture. Here are a dozen tips that I use when shooting waterfalls. I hope you can come to Iceland to learn some of these techniques in the field with me.

Single capture of a waterfall

Multiple exposures combined to increase the amount of white water, reduce mist and produce a detailed sky

1) Fast Shutter Speeds
Your choice of shutter speed will have most dramatic effect on how your waterfall images will look. Shooting with a fast shutter speed will freeze every drop of water and produce a lot more fine detail than using a long exposure. There’s a trick I often use when shooting this way that will cause a waterfall to look as if it has a lot more whitewater. I shoot multiple exposures using a fast shutter speed and then composite them in Photoshop. I might take 10-12 images and then select the resulting images in Bridge, choose Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers to stack the images in a single file, then click on each layer and change the Blending Mode pop-up menu (found at the top of the Layers panel in Photoshop) to Lighten mode. Setting all the layers to lighten mode has the effect of filing in most of the gaps in the waterfall, which makes it look like there’s more water going down it.

A slow shutter speed resulted in the silky look to this waterfall.

2) Show Shutter Speeds
For the traditional silky look in a waterfall, I’ll set my F-stop to f22 and my ISO setting to the lowest setting it goes to. If that doesn’t produce a long enough exposure, then I’ll add a two-stop neutral density filter to the lens to further slow my exposure.

3) Multiple Shutter Speeds
The problem with shooting a waterfall using a long exposure is that any foliage that surrounds the waterfall can end up being blurry if it’s windy. When that’s the case, I end up shooting a few long exposures to get the silky look with the waterfall and then I’ll increase my ISO setting to ISO 200 and change my Aperture setting to F8 to end up with a much faster shutter speed to freeze any motion in the greenery that surrounds the waterfall. Once I’m in Photoshop, I’ll stack one of the fast shutter speed shots on top of a slow shutter speed image and then add a layer mask to the top layer and paint with black over the waterfall so that the slow shutter speed shot is used in that area while the fast shutter speed is used on the surrounding image.

4) Wide Angle to Expand Space
If I can get close to the stone wall that is behind a waterfall, then I’ll end up shooting with a very wide angle lens. That will have the effect of visually exaggerating the space between near and far objects in a scene and can make the waterfall feel like it is farther away from the wall.

5) Telephoto to Pull Things Together
If I have objects that are far away from the waterfall that I’d like to incorporate into a shot, then I’ll consider using a telephoto lens. Longer lenses visually compress the space between near and far objects in a photograph. That way, I can make it look as if a church is much closer to a waterfall compared to shooting the same scene using a normal or wide angle lens. I’ll simply back away from the church as far as is practical considering the landscape and my view of the waterfall, then I’ll find the longest lens that will allow me to include both the church and waterfall in the shot without cropping out anything essential. By doing so, I’ll make the church feel much closer to the waterfall compared to how it would look if it was shot from up close.

6) Removing Mist
If there is a breeze at the location of a waterfall, then the area to the right or left of the waterfall can become obscured by the mist that’s coming off the waterfall. To reduce or eliminate that mist, I’ll take multiple exposures using the same exposure settings. I’ll end up with 10-12 images that look very similar, but the position of the mist will vary slightly. I’ll then stack the resulting images and then blend them using Darken mode in Photoshop, which will help to break through the mist by allowing the gaps in the mist to add up from each shot. The technique is very similar to what I mentioned in tip #1 above.

A multi-shot panorama

7) Shooting for Large Format Output
If I know that I’ll want to make a huge print of a waterfall, then I’ll shoot it as a multi-shot panorama and stitch the resulting images. That way, I’ll end up with a much higher resolution image than what I could get from a single shot. To get a really clear and sharp image, I’ll manually focus using the LiveView feature of my camera at 10X magnification. I’ll also use a cable release to insure that I don’t bump the camera when pressing the shutter and use the mirror lockup feature to further reduce camera movement. I’ll also use an aperture setting of f8 or f11 because that’s the range where your lens is the sharpest. All those things put together will allow me to produce a huge image that is extremely sharp.

8 ) Show off Scale
A waterfall all by itself is OK, but getting a human element in the scene gives the viewer a much better sense of scale. In that kind of setup, I’ll try to make sure I don’t shoot from a position too close to the human subject. If I stand close to them, then they will appear huge in the frame which can cause the waterfall to feel smaller. Shooting them from further away can help to make the waterfall feel larger since the person will not look as large in comparison.

In this scene, I couldn’t get correct exposures for both the waterfall and the sky all in one shot. Therefore, I bracketed my shots and merged them later in Photoshop.

9) Bracket for a Blue Sky
I often need to vary my exposures in order to retain detail in the sky. Let’s say I run across a waterfall that is in the shade and surrounded by a dark cliff. Once I get the exposure so that the waterfall is rendered satisfactorily, there is a good chance that the sky will end up blown out as a solid white mass. After capturing a good looking exposure of the waterfall, I’ll take my next shot about two stops darker in order to capture detail in the sky. I can then stack the two images as separate layers in Photoshop and then mask the darker image so that it only shows up where the sky should be. That way, I get detail in both the waterfall and the sky.

10) Sunspots
If I ever include the sun in a shot of a waterfall, I’ll take multiple shots and vary the aperture setting to change the way the sun is rendered. When shooting “wide open” at f2.8, the sun will look like it does to my eye in the field. Stopping down the lens to f22 will cause the same sun to become a starburst. Shooting both versions will give me two options. I can either call attention to the sun (by using the starburst version) or simply make it look normal. When including the sun in a shot, I always take a look at the front element of my camera lens. If the sunlight is falling on the front glass of my lens, then I’m going to end up with a lens flare in the image and lower contrast in the scene overall. To prevent the flare and increase contrast, I’ll position my hand so that it casts a shadow on the front of the camera lens while it’s just outside of the camera’s view.

With this image, it took more than one exposure to both the foreground and background elements in focus.

11) Near and Far, Both Sharp
I often try to get my camera extremely close to the pool of water that is found at the bottom of a waterfall. By doing so, the viewer will often feel more connected to the experience. That often involves putting my tripod in the water and getting the camera lens within an inch of the water’s surface. When something is that close to the lens, it can be difficult to maintain sharp focus across the entire distance between the pool water (that’s close) and the waterfall (that’s far). That’s when I might choose to take multiple exposures with different focus points and use an aperture setting that limits the depth of field and therefore renders areas that are far away from the focus point as soft. In one I’ll focus on the water near the camera, in another, I’ll focus 1/4 of the way between the near and far areas, in a third, I’ll focus a bit closer to the waterfall and in another I’ll be focused right on the waterfall. I can then stack the resulting images in Photoshop, select the resulting layers and then use the Edit>Auto-Blend Layers command to have it combine the sharp areas from each shot into a single image.

When you’re shooting a waterfall like this one with a lot of spray, it’s always good to carry a towel with you in addition to a lens cloth.

12) Water on the Lens
I always keep a towel nearby when shooting waterfalls. Any mist coming off the waterfall can easily collect on the front element of the lens and cause blurry blobs to appear on the resulting captures. I drape the towel over the camera when I’m moving around the scene and getting set up. I also use it along with a lens cloth to clean off any water droplets that accumulate on the lens. If I simply can’t avoid getting a few drops on the lens, then I’ll shoot “wide open” at f2.8 and make sure that I’m focused on an area far away. That will reduce the impact of any droplets on the lens and produce a cleaner looking image compared to shooting at a higher f-stop setting.

Hanging out with me in the field is the only time when you’ll get first-hand experience on how all these ideas can be executed. We only have so much space here on the blog and it’s much easier to understand when you’re actually using these techniques in an environment where you can ask questions and I can review your results. That’s why you should join me in Iceland this year! Our trip will be June 24-30, 2012 with Focus on Nature.

Another Icelandic waterfall… I could post 20 more, but I think you get the point.

If those are the ideas I might share when shooting waterfall, then imagine how much more you could learn when we explore other subject matter in Iceland. We’ll talk about getting the most compelling compositions, using the most ideal camera settings and the post processing techniques that are essential to producing dramatic images.

The June 24-30 trip will be my sixth visit to Iceland. I know what to expect and have a lot of experience shooting this unique landscape. There is no doubt you’ll leave Iceland a much better photographer than you are right now. You can sign up for this workshop on the Focus on Nature site HERE.

If you can’t make it to the Iceland workshop, we’ve got plenty more coming up in places like Namibia, Zion National Park, the American Southwest, and more. Check them out HERE.

A wonderful week on Maui

 Above is a little video Karen made of our time in Hawaii. Note: Many of these are iPhone shots.

Here is part two of our Hawaiian interlude. If you read the last blog post, you know that we spent a week on Oahu and then hopped over to Maui. where we spent this past week. Before we left for Maui, we attended a Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Before the feast started, we got to explore the grounds a bit, and were very impressed by their setup. It’s a huge park-like village with separate areas for many of the individual Polynesian cultures (Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, etc.). At each area, you could see shows, demos, or just explore the buildings. The Luau was fun, and on the way in, we each got a fresh orchid lei. There were hula dancers and live music throughout the whole event. When it was over, we headed over to the large theater for the live show, “Ha: Breath of Life.” Karen and I were both pretty surprised at how big of a production it was. There were at least 70 performers, and a huge staff for effects and such.

We flew to Maui on Tuesday, where I taught a 3-day Photoshop course at the Maui Institute of Visual Arts. The institute is run by Randy and Becky Hufford, and we stayed in their guest suite during our visit. The course went really well, and all the students seemed to enjoy it a lot. We had one interesting day where the power went out completely, and we all had to work on the battery power from our laptops, with no projector at all! I kept plugging on, and the class seemed to make do just fine, which was great. When I was down to 3% battery life left, I started to wrap things up for the day and that’s when the power came back on … just in the nick of time! We were able to continue the class with no problem. Many thanks to my students and Randy for making the most of the situation!

If you read this blog a lot, you know that as we travel around the mainland in the motorcoach, we are constantly running into friends (and making new ones). You would think that out here in Hawaii, we would be less likely to be running into people we know. Well that couldn’t be further from the truth! As soon as we landed in Maui, we were picked up at the airport by my great friend Steve. You may have heard me talk about Steve and his wife, Beverly, in many of these posts. They live in Las Vegas and that’s one city we’ve been visiting a lot lately (mostly because of friends and convenience… not because of the “Vegas scene”). In fact, the bus is currently parked in their driveway! Here’s what’s crazy: It was sheer coincidence that we happened to be traveling to Hawaii at the same time! It sounds almost impossible, but that’s how our lives seem to roll. But wait… this gets better. My awesome friend Diane (who is also a mutual friend of Steve and Beverly) happens to live on Maui and was with Steve when he picked us up at the airport. So on our first night on the new island, we had a small gathering of close friends, and considering we hadn’t seen Diane in over a year, it was somewhat of a reunion.

One morning, we woke up early to go whale watching with my friends Mark and Shayla. I had met them during a previous visit to Maui, where they attended the class I was teaching. They were kind enough to take us out on their boat to search for humpback whales. We spotted several of them, but didn’t get close enough to get nice photographs. That’s ok, though. We were just thrilled to be able to get out on the water and catch up with Mark and Shayla. Later that day, we went sight-seeing with Steve and Bev all over the south side of East Maui.

While I was teaching my three-day class, Karen spent a lot of time exploring the island. This was her first time to Maui, and she wanted to see as much as she could. In just two days, she drove the perimeters of both the east and west sides of Maui, as well as part of the interior. She’s going to post a bunch of photos on her blog (as well as some interesting stories from her adventures) and I’ll link to it when she does.

As I mentioned above, we stayed in Randy and Becky’s guest room (aka the Pineapple Love Suite) while we were in Maui and spent a lot of time with them in the evenings. Becky is an incredible chef and had delicious things in store for us every night. Karen has really been getting into cooking lately, so she was eager to soak up all the tips Becky could give her. On Saturday, we had a joint birthday party for Randy and Steve. Everyone had a blast … maybe too much of a blast, because many of us needed some “recovery time” the following morning!

Me and Karen at the “Three Bears” waterfall on the Road to Hana

On Sunday, Karen and I drove the famous Road to Hana together, stopping to shoot along the way. It rained for a good part of the way, but cleared up toward the end of our drive and we managed to get some nice late-afternoon/early-evening shots of the coastline at Waianapanapa State Park. Since it would have been a long and dark drive back, we decided to spend the night in Hana, which is where we are as I type this. We’re right on the ocean, and the place we’re staying is semi-open, so we can hear the wind and the water from the room. Not a bad way to wrap up this post, I’d say! Aloha!

More to come…

Extra note: Karen posted a free desktop calendar wallpaper for March up on her blog, The Pixel Diaries. It features one of her images from Oahu. You can download it HERE.