Category Archives: Travel

TRIPOD SNOWSHOES

A few days from now I’ll be at Crater Lake National Park for some winter landscape work.  Crater Lake is a reasonably short drive for me, so I can easily coordinate the timing of my trip with the weather.  I want fresh snowfall and no wind.  One thing is sure: as usual for this time of year there is already a lot of snow on the ground.  A quick online check tells me that as of today there is 72 inches of snow at the headquarters building and a lot more at higher elevations.  I’ll need my snowshoes so I don’t disappear into the drifts, but what about my tripod?  How do I keep it from sinking into the snow?

While you can purchase readymade tripod snowshoes, it’s quite easy to make your own set for just a few dollars.  I did this years ago, and the first ones I made still work just fine.  Head to your local home improvement store and purchase the following:

  • Three slip-on furniture-leg tips (also known as crutch tips) in a size just large enough to slip snugly over your tripod feet.
  • Three one-inch long bolts, the nuts for them, and six flat washers that fit the bolts.
  • Three flat plastic test caps (look in the plastic pipe section).  Mine are for 4-inch pipe and cost around $1 each.

Drill a hole through the center of each leg tip, and through the middle of each plastic test cap.  Take a bolt, add a washer, and thread it through the hole in the test cap, then add a second washer and nut and tighten.  That’s all there is to it.  Make three of these, shove them over the tripod feet, and you’re good to go.  Just as you will sink a little into the snow when you’re wearing snowshoes, your tripod will also, but it won’t sink out of sight in powder snow as it would otherwise.  In deep snow start with the tripod legs less than fully spread.  As you push the tripod down into the snow, the snow itself will force the legs apart.

A well-used tripod snowshoe.

LIGHTROOM AND TRAVEL

How does one coordinate Lightroom used on a laptop when traveling, with a master Lightroom catalog back in the office?  I’ve written about this before (see my blog for October 2, 2012) but the topic keeps coming up at workshops and on tours, so….

I have one main master Lightroom catalog for all my images, which resides on my desktop computer in my office.  That master catalog is on an internal drive (a different drive than the internal SSD drive I use for all my programs).  A backup copy of this master catalog is made to another internal drive (automatically done by Lightroom when I exit the program), and a third copy of the catalog is on a small external USB drive.  Yes, I’m a bit paranoid about loosing all that data.

I have another Lightroom catalog named Travel on my laptop.  When I’m on the road, I download images using Lightroom, in the exact same format structure I use for the image files back in my office.  As the files are downloaded, Lightroom automatically renames the files and adds my copyright information, using templates I’ve created in Lightroom.  My naming template is a YYMMDD_camera-generated-file-name-and-number format, so individual files appear along the lines of 150624_D4S_4752.  Nikon lets you set camera names in the menu system to a three character code, so my cameras are named D4S and D8T.  Yeah, real original thinking there.  Image files are always downloaded into a  _Photos folder (the underscore makes it the topmost folder in my laptop’s directory), into a subfolder named by month and location of shoot.  06 Namibia would by a June trip to Namibia while 09 Denali would be a September shoot in Denali.  Each day’s images are automatically sorted as Lightroom reads the file metadata, makes YYYY-MM-DD folders as needed inside the month-shoot folder (the 06 Namibia or 09 Denali folders), and puts the correct images into the correct folders (I always have my cameras set to the local time, which in turn means all images will be correctly sorted by date).  Once all these parameters are checked in Lightroom they remain as set, so the only thing I ever have to change is the name of the month-shoot folder.  I flag any images I work on in Lightroom, highlight those images, and save all metadata to file by doing Ctrl/Command + S.

While on the road I copy every day’s take to two small external USB powered hard drives, so that by the end of the trip I have three duplicate copies of all my images.  Since the files are already in the organization I use in my office, all I have to do once I get home is to copy the image files to their correct location on my master hard drives, and to add the trip catalog to my master catalog.  I open the Travel catalog on my laptop, select the folder with the trip images, and do File > Export as Catalog, saving the exported catalog on one of the small USB drives.  I make sure to include the image previews.  Since the image files on the USB drive are all current with the correct metadata saved to them, there is no reason for me to do what Lightroom calls Export negative files (“negative files” is Adobe-speak for the actual images).

Back in the office I plug this drive into a USB port on my desktop computer, and use my operating system to copy the image shoot folder, which has all the photos, over to the correct date location on my main hard drive array.  Then I open my master Lightroom catalog, and do File > Import from Another Catalog, and select the catalog on the USB drive.  When this is finished working, I disconnect the small USB drive, at which time Lightroom want to know where the files are located since the imported catalog still thinks they are back on my laptop.  I point Lightroom to the correct image folder I’ve copied over, the 06 Namibia folder or whatever it is, and I’m done.  The backup software on my desktop computer automatically kicks in, and backs up my new images.

When I’m positive that all is well with my desktop system, I remove all the photos from the Travel catalog on my laptop, so that I can reuse the catalog shell again with all my preferences still set.  I reformat the USB drives, reset the time in my cameras, and I’m good-to-go on my next adventure.

ICELAND IN WINTER

The past 17 days I’ve been in Iceland, leading a winter tour for Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris.  My group encountered wild weather, everything from a snow storm to high winds to driving rain to clear skies and bright sunshine…and all on the same day.

For me, there were two photographic highlights.  We worked several hours in a glacial ice cave in Vatnajokull National Park, and the resulting images are pure graphic design.  And toward the end of the trip we were lucky to enjoy a spectacular aurora borealis which lasted for hours.  I’ve seen the aurora many times before, but this one was an incredibly awesome display, with extremely intense colors filling the entire night sky.

Below are my two favorite shots from the trip.  Both were taken with a Nikon D810.  I used my 24-70mm for the ice cave image (at ISO 64), and my 14-24mm for the aurora (at ISO 2500).  FYI, I’ll be leading this tour again in March 2016 and an ice cave shoot is definitely on the schedule.  While an auroral display cannot be guaranteed, we will certainly be out photographing if it happens.  For tour info, see www.photosafaris.com.

 

Ice cave, Vatnajokull National Park.

 

Aurora borealis display.

 

This is not right.

This is definitely not the manner in which I normally photograph.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was having breakfast at a small hotel in northern Japan, a Hokkaido squirrel (Japanese tassel-eared squirrel) was raiding the bird feeders on the porch just outside the windows.  So how could I resist?  I went to my room, mounted my Nikon 80-400mm lens on my Nikon D4s, and returned to breakfast.  Between sips of my morning coffee, I photographed right though the window glass, handholding my camera rig.  Early morning light and ISO 3200; I stayed toasty warm inside. while outside it was very cold and snowy.  A bite of breakfast for me, a bite of breakfast for the squirrel, another photo or two.  This photography gig is supposed to be a lot more difficult.

 

Hokkaido squirrel.

Frost fog

A couple of weeks ago I was in White Sands National Monument, when a rather rare event occurred for that area of New Mexico.  It had rained for two days, so there was a lot of moisture in the sand.  But the first morning the weather cleared the photography conditions were magical for a few hours.  The overnight temperature had been in the low 20s and frost had formed on everything, while during the early hours a thick fog layer formed, low to the ground.  Wow!  Frost and fog together, a combination that lasted for only a few hours.

Autumn 2: Visionary Wild Workshop

Continued from the previous post:  Then I drove on, to the workshop sessions based at Boulder, Utah, in the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument.  While the aspens on Boulder Mountain were shedding their leaves, the cottonwoods in the lower canyons showed prime color.  And red rock county…well, it’s eye candy for photographers.  All the workshop participants came away with incredible images resulting from a contemplative approach to classic Utah scenery.  Here’s another slideshow, and an invitation to join the Visionary Wild group on another workshop.

Hoodoo along the Escalante rim, at sunrise.Cottonwoods in The Gulch.Hoodoos at first light.Drying mud curls.Autumn cottonwoods define the Boulder Creek drainage.The last aspen color on Boulder Mountain.Box elder in Long Canyon slot.Formation on King Bench at sunrise.A canyon wall reflects the blue color of sky.Cottonwoods and the red wall of The Gulch.Slabs below King Bench.Red aspens on Boulder Mountain.Bounce light on sagebrush and rocks, in Long Canyon.

Autumn 1: Colorado

October was a busy month.  On the way to conducting two Visionary Wild workshops with Jack Dykinga and Justin Black, I spent a few days working autumn aspens near Ridgway, Colorado.  Plagued with bad weather and vehicle problems (after being far off paved roads, by pure luck I happened to be almost in front of the only repair place in Ouray when my truck’s fuel pump decided to quit) I still managed to get some images.  And I will say: I am really happy with the new D810.  Here’s a short slideshow.

Aspens and the Sneffels Range.Aspen grove on Sunshine Mesa.Aspen boles.Aspen grove glowing after rain.The view from Silver Jack.Aspens along Owl Creek Pass.Late afternoon storm near Ridgway.

Hummers

I couldn’t resist.  Earlier this year, while on my way to the Galapagos, I stayed over in mainland Ecuador for a few days to photograph hummingbirds.  Hummers have been worked a lot, but they are magnificent little birds, and, since I was in a location with many species, why not spend a few days photographing?  As I said, I couldn’t resist.  Here’s a short slideshow.

Buff-tailed coronet hummingbirds.Booted racket-tail hummingbirdPurple-throated woodstar hummingbird.Fawn-breasted brilliant hummingbird.Green violetear hummingbird.Rufous-tailed hummingbird.Violet-tailed sylph hummingbird.Buff-tailed coronet hummingbird.Rufous-tailed hummingbird.Rufous-tailed hummingbird.Buff-tailed coronet hummingbird.

For hummingbirds on perches:  Nikon D800E in 1.2 crop mode, 500mm lens with an extension tube (for closer minimum focus), plus a bracket-mounted flash with Better Beamer flash extender attached, flash output between -1 and -2 fill.  Matrix metering, aperture priority (so shutter speeds were between 1/60 and 1/250 sec.), ISO 1000 (low light where I was photographing), f/11.

For hummingbirds in flight:  Nikon D4 with 80-400mm lens, manual exposure, ISO 400, 1/250 sec. at f/11.  In order to freeze the wing movement, I needed to light the entire scene (no fill flash here) using very short flash durations.  This is actually easy to get: set a regular flash on manual output at about 1/16 power and position the flash relatively close to the subject.  I used four flashes: one on-camera (set at an even lower power output), two on light stands aimed from either side toward where the birds would fly into a feeder, and one on another light stand and aimed at an artificial background (a print of out-of-focus vegetation).  To determine flash position, and consequently the f/stop to use, take a shot and take a look at the camera’s LCD.  The on-camera flash triggered all the other flash units; in other words, the flashes were simple slave units.  Since I was the only person working the area my flashes did not interfere with any other setup, otherwise I might have needed radio flash triggers which I don’t own.

I might note that most Nikon flashes can be set in an SU-4 mode, which allows them to act as basic optical slaves with any brand of camera.  Slave flashes certainly don’t need to be current models.  I have a Nikon SB-80DX (discontinued 10 years ago) which I picked up brand new in the box about a year ago for $25.

Travels (Continued)

On my return drive up the coast from California, I stopped at Bandon, Oregon, to photograph the seastacks.  Bandon is one of the classic locations on the Oregon coast, and, indeed, I’ve photographed there many, many times.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone past Bandon without stopping, if for no other reason than just to walk the flat, packed sand beach.  On this location I was lucky…I arrived just in time for a great sunset.

Beach and seastacks; Bandon, Oregon. Nikon D800E, 45mm T/S lens.

Beach and seastacks; Bandon, Oregon. Nikon D800E, 16-35mm lens.

Travels

I’ve been traveling a lot this year. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some images from several locations. Several months ago I made a very quick “get out of the office” trip down the coast from my home in Oregon to Bowling Ball Beach, just south of Mendocino, California. I entered the redwoods in thick fog, with periods of intense rain. The only image I took was this, shot with my Nikon D800E at ISO 1600 with the 80-400mm lens.

The redwoods coast, in fog and rain.

Better weather awaited me at the beach. Here are three images, taken the same afternoon about 2½ hours apart, all three done with the 45mm T/S lens on my D800E. FYI, the “bowling balls” are concretions eroded out of the steeply tilted mudstone cliffs.

Bowling Ball Beach, California.

Bowling Ball Beach, California.

Bowling Ball Beach, California.

If you even plan on photographing here, try to time your visit for a low tide around sunset, wear rubber boots as you’ll be wading, and bring a heavy ND filter to soften the waves.