Almost Weekly Photo

Monument Valley
Phase One XF, 55mm Schneider, f11 @ 1/10 second, ISO 50.


Our plan next January is to arrive at the top of Hunts Mesa above Monument Valley a little earlier. Tony Hewitt and I are leading a small group of photographers from San Francisco to Las Vegas via half a dozen wonderful national parks (we still have room if you’re interested!). Access to Hunts Mesa is with a local Navajo guiding company and there’s no cappuccino at the top, although the fire-brewed coffee was every bit as good.


Access to all of Monument Valley is with local guides – it’s an industry for the Navajo and one I hope works well for both the locals and the tourists. Certainly, our guides were charming, patient and helpful as they set up our tents in the near dark. We had been naughty, spending too much time on the road taking photos and arriving much later than planned.


The result was we only had time for two or three 30 second exposures from the top of the mesa as the last of the light drained from the skies. On the plus side, we only had to wait until the morning for it all to happen again.


Interestingly, I struggled with this photograph. I also struggled with the post-production, trying to work out how to crop it for the best effect. The panorama is great, but there’s so much in it, but when you crop in closer, the compositions don’t quite work. So I’m back out with a wide view and the plan next time is to walk a little further along the mesa in search for slightly stronger angles.


So, how do you take a photo like this? As fast as you can! You set up your tripod well before dawn. I try to find a point without a messy foreground, but that can be challenging in the near dark. You have all your lenses ready and as the light comes up, you shoot like mad! When the sun finally rises, things go positively ballistic and a zoom lens is possibly a better option than a set of prime lenses. I shot this ultra wide, wide, mid-tele and tele, looking to capture the nuances of light and shade that only happen fleetingly at sunrise.


And at sunset, if we’d been there on time!


If you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months or so, I have places left on trips going to Bhutan, South West USA, Antarctica and the Silk Road. Full details on the Better Photography website!


Tinayre Fjord, Svalbard

200-400mm zoom, f6.3 @ 1/1600 second, ISO 3200, hand-held


Next July, I’m leading a workshop with Kevin Raber (of Luminous Landscape) to Svalbard in search of Polar Bears! Well, that’s not completely true because, although I’ll be very interested in all our wildlife encounters, I’m just as keen to photograph the landscapes.


My last trip to Svalbard was four years ago. Svalbard is an amazing archipelago just below the Arctic Circle, north of the Norwegian mainland. Towering peaks and huge glaciers hug the twisting, intricate fjords, reminding me in some ways of South Georgia. Hmmm, well, yes and no.


One of the thrills of polar travel is watching an iceberg roll or a glacier calve. Unfortunately, with global warming, I’m told it is happening a lot more regularly which makes it great for visiting photographers, if only it weren’t so dire for the planet.


The photo above was taken at Tinayre Fjord in the afternoon, on the west coast of Spitzbergen, the largest of Svalbard’s islands. We had heard a couple of large cracks while taking a leisurely zodiac cruise along the length of the glacier, but a safe distance away. Interestingly, if you’re quick enough once you’ve heard the crack, there’s often enough time to swing around and take a few photos because the splash of water only happens after the ice has fallen and hit the water. I took around 6 frames in quick succession, the last few showing the resulting wave I was sure would swamp our small craft. (It didn’t, of course – the brash ice in the water tends to dampen down the waves as they radiate outwards.)


No doubt this photo will attract attention, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Yes, it’s spectacular. Yes, we were patient, waiting for it to happen. And yes, it seems to be a much easier photograph to capture these days as the polar regions experience quite dramatic changes.


And if you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months or so, I have places left on trips going to Bhutan, South West USA, Antarctica and the Silk Road. Full details on the Better Photography website!


Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley

Phase One XF 100MP, 240mm Schneider, stitch, f11 @ 1/160 second, ISO 50


One of the skills we can all learn is to compose in camera. For some photographers, this means composing the content of the photograph in a pleasing manner within the frame provided by the camera. And this is a great starting point.


But hopefully it’s not your end point. The idea behind composing in camera is, surely, to have in mind a final outcome. So, whether you are thinking of a square or a panorama, the idea begins when you look through the viewfinder. There is no law that states your creativity must be confined to the format of your digital sensor (or film).


Looking through the viewfinder at Mesquite earlier this year, I loved the ‘S’ shape of the dunes, but for the composition to work, I needed a little more space either side. If you click the ‘Read More’ you can see the first image, plus the two shots used to stitch a wider view.


With a zoom lens, I could have zoomed out a little wide and cropped top and bottom. With a fixed 240mm lens (like a 150mm on a full frame DSLR), I could change to a 110mm (my next widest lens), or swing the camera left and right.


The takeaway is that the best time to consider framing and frame shapes is when you are taking the photograph. You might also make cropping decisions later on in post-production, but sometimes by then it’s too late, so another suggestion I make on workshops is to shoot a scene like this with a wider lens as well – which will allow you to consider your final composition at a later time while working in Capture One, Lightroom or Photoshop.


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