Getting Motivated

This winter, we have been making a more concerted effort to get out for some photography day-trips.  We realized that we needed a project to focus our efforts.  To that end, we assigned ourselves a project to create a photo book about hiking the Spring Mountains, with particular focus on Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, which is a 30 minute drive from Las Vegas.  I don’t know if the book will ever come to fruition, but it has been a good motivator to get us out hiking.

Finding the motivation to get out for some photography on the weekends can be a little difficult.  We have always enjoyed hiking on the weekends.  It helps clear our brains and the fresh air and exercise feel great.  However, the extra challenge of planning some photography and getting out early for sunrise (or staying out late for sunset) can be a bit of a psychological and logistical hurdle.  By the time we finish a five day work week at our “paying” jobs, we often find it difficult to scrape up the energy and brain-power to concentrate on our creative hobby.  Weekends can also mean accomplishing a few of the chores that don’t get done during the week.  A big part of the challenge is thinking up new places to hike that have attractive photo opportunities.  Selecting a long-term project, like the Red Rock Book, creates focus for our hiking and photography, so it takes a lot less mental energy to get us out there with the cameras.

We recently changed the knapsacks that we use to carry our photography gear.  We switched to Mindshift Rotational-180 Horizon backpacks.  Most of the gear that we need for a day trip is all packed in the bags.  We can literally grab our packs and a couple of bottles of water and go.  Of course it still requires that we charge the batteries and make sure that we have memory cards ready and in the cameras.   However, we make a habit of doing that after we return from each day of photography.

Having a specific set of photographic goals and photo kit that is ready to grab-and-go helps us to overcoming the psychological and logistical hurdles.  We have found that we have a better attitude about getting out to capture great images.

 

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Shiny Pebble Photography

SWLasVegas

I hate to say it, but I have become a “shiny pebble” photographer.  It is a curse!  My 2016 resolution is to stamp out “shiny pebbles” in my photography!  So what is a “shiny pebble” photographer?  It is a photographer that spends the time, effort and planning to be in the right spot at the right time to get the spectacular picture but gets so mesmerized by the  other possibilities that he/she ends up taking a bunch of mediocre pictures and most likely misses the “wow” image that we all try to obtain!

A few weeks ago, Corinne and I took a hike from our neighborhood toward some distant hills to the southwest.  We realized that the best time to take photographs of the area would be at sunrise.  However, it would be a hike of an hour or more to the best location.  Getting to the place that might offer the best composition during a pre-dawn hike would be too challenging if we didn’t have it scoped out first.  So, the initial hike was to find the “right” spot.   We started the hike in the late morning and we checked out several viewpoints before we settled on the one that seemed to be the best.  I took a few photographs with my smartphone so that I would have a good sense of the composition that I wanted to set up when we came out with our camera gear.  Corinne had used the “Map My Hike” application on her smartphone so that we could find the selected viewpoint again.

On December 30, we got up at 4:30 am and headed out in the dark for the previously discovered out location.  We arrived before dawn and had several minutes to set up our cameras for the planned composition.  Next, we had to have patience.  It was cold.  Corinne paced around to keep the blood circulating.  As the sun began to rise, a nice rosy glow slowly developed on the hills.  I had to keep to my original plan and not get distracted.  “Remain focused”, I told myself.  “Stick to the plan and don’t get distracted by shiny pebbles”.   That morning, I got the shot I planned.  It was nice, not excellent, but I was happy that I had the discipline to not stray because any other photos that morning would not have let me capture my best potential shot for the morning.

So, my 2016 pledge is to do the planning and make the effort to get to the right place at the right time and focus on creating the composition that I have in my mind.    I believe that the result will be more images with the “wow” factor!

Valley of Fire State Park Excursion

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The first thing you need to know about camping at Valley of Fire State Park during the Thanksgiving holiday is that it is busy.  The campsites in the park fill up quickly.  We arrived on Wednesday around 10:00 am.  The park staff at the west entrance gate told us that there were only a few primitive camping spots left at the Arch Rock campground.  However, we boldly decided to take a chance and drive through the Atlatl campground where there were some sites with electrical and water hookups.  To our surprise, we found an open campsite with hookups.  The campsite had a pretty significant grade; regardless, it became our home for the weekend.

Our goal for the weekend was to capture some pictures for our photographic portfolio.  We had a loose plan to capture some landscapes photos in the morning and at sunset and maybe try for some moon, light painting and star photos after dark.

We were traveling with our elderly dog Prince, so our photography had to accommodate his schedule.  There was a time when Prince would have been up for long hikes into the desert and been happy to have been up from sunrise to sunset.  Now, at 14 years old, he finds our hiking schedule too aggressive.  So, getting up early in the morning for a dog walk before we head out with cameras makes it difficult to plan any photo sessions at dawn.  After Prince’s walk, we can leave him in our RV for his morning nap and we set off for our planned hikes.  We returned each day at noon and spent time with Prince for another dog walk and sitting out outside at our campsite.  Then after dinner, we could get out for another photography session.

On our first evening at Valley of Fire, we went a short distance from our campsite to Arch Rock.  We had done a little research and reviewed the location in the early afternoon.  The full moon was going to rise shortly after dark on an angle that might allow us to shoot it using the Arch as a frame.   Although we had nailed the planning, our equipment was not quite up to the task of getting the photo we wanted.   The moon was full and bright, but our flashlights were not sufficient for lighting up the foreground of The Arch.  We did capture a couple of nice pictures with the moon backlighting The Arch.  After of couple of hours of working the scene, we were both cold and it was time to retreat to the trailer for a hot drink.

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On Thanksgiving morning, we hiked the Prospect Trail.  This is a wonderful trail that can be followed to a junction with the White Dome Trail.  We planned a shorter 2 mile walk up into the pass where there are a series of interesting rock formations.  We had planned to spend about an hour among the rocks, but in the end we spent the entire morning working around the rocks.  The light was pretty good for mid-morning and finding great compositions was challenging and fun.

Friday morning we had planned to do two hikes, one on the Duck Rock Trail and one on the White Dome Trail to shoot the slot canyon once the sun was a little higher in the sky.   It was a short hike out to Duck Rock.  Unfortunately, at the time we arrived, the angle of the sun and thick cloud layer made shooting very difficult.  We tried to capture a decent image from a bunch of different angles. We walked to the far side of Duck Rock (it doesn’t look like a duck from that side) and we even hiked up an adjacent hill but nothing we did resulted in a composition that we liked.

Before we returned back to the car, Corinne suggested we continue down the wash to see if there might be something of interest a little further along the trail.  We scored!  Being open to walking a little farther can be the biggest factor in finding wonderful landscape subjects.  Less than a quarter mile down the trail, we ran into a series of natural tanks.  These are depressions that hold water.  Tanks are rare and important to the desert habit.  They provide water for local wildlife.  From the rock ledges above the tanks, the entire valley opened up providing a very interesting vista. 

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The geology in the area is very colorful.  We spent hours moving around the rocks, trying different compositions.  We spent so much time at Duck Rock Trail that we never made it over to White Dome Trail.  It was getting on to early afternoon and it was time to return and spend time with Prince.

Friday night found us out doing some light painting of the rocks near the campground.  Shawn gets a kick out of creating unexpected scenes on the rocks.  Corinne was more interested in getting a photo of star trails.  Unfortunately, right after we decided to switch from light painting to star photos, a cold wind started to blow.  Even with heavy cameras and excellent tripods the camera shake was very obvious.  Furthermore, the temperature dropped from being merely cold to uncomfortable!  It was time to retreat to the RV for a hot drink.

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On Saturday, we returned home to Las Vegas.  It was a short but fun trip.  Now it is time to see if we can make the most of the photographs we captured.

Rainstorm at Cap Sante Boat Haven

Anacortes Sunset

Frequently, bad weather creates great picture opportunities.  Bad weather at sunrise and sunset magnifies the effect.  Today’s photograph comes from a series that we shot at Cap Sante Boat Haven, Anacortes WA.  Cap Sante is often our weekday home when we live on the boat in the summer.  The picture is one of our collaborative efforts.  We had the camera out to shoot a couple “happy snaps” of the clouds as the rain ended and the sun was setting.  The storm also brought wind and the marina was still getting small choppy waves.  We had the camera set up facing out one of the windows of Ocean Mistress.  The low light and boat motion from the small waves made it difficult to get a sharp image with the prolonged shutter-speed.  With Corinne’s encouragement we moved the camera to a more stable position on the dock, set up the tripod and reframed the shot.  This is one of the series that resulted from our efforts.  We have very different styles in the way we capture images.  It is rare for us to collaborate so effectively on a shot and get a result that makes us both happy.  We hope you enjoy the image as well!

The shot was taken with a Cannon EOS 60D set in Aperture Priority mode., using a 18 to 135 mm lens f/3.5 at a focal length of 45 mm with a UV filter.  The ISO was set at 100; f/22; 1.3 sec; exposure compensation of -0.67.  The saturation setting was turned up to +4.  The picture was slightly crop using “Aperture” software but is otherwise unchanged.