Hope I Hit The Big One

Bighorn Sheep Ram on the Move Before Sunrise

2020 has been a very strange year indeed.

I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a year with so many aborted and/or lost wildlife photography opportunities. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, I know that much.

This past Sunday morning started off well enough. I had arranged to meet my good friend Tim at a specific spot in the mountains west of Denver at 7 AM for a morning of bighorn photography together, sorta. I have a strict rule this year that I don’t travel with other people in the same vehicle. No problem for the most part, we just drive around together in separate vehicles so we don’t have to worry about catching or spreading the COVID-19 virus.

I got to our preselected meeting spot about 30 minutes early. It was still dark but the first vestiges of morning light were appearing, enough to see what was going on. I parked and waited for my buddy Tim to arrive, listening to music, assembling my camera gear, watching the mountain side for signs of the bighorn.

Tim arrived on schedule and pulled up next to me in his truck. He lowers the window of his truck and informs me that there is a nice group of sheep on the hillside just a few hundred yards away. He saw them driving in, but I had either missed spotting them in the darkness. We quickly drove up the road and there they were, some 24 or so bighorn gathered less than 40 yards from the road, on a nice open hillside, in perfect view for photographing. The light was still low but we were patient as we watched the sheep move across the hillside taking photos. A third of the group of sheep had moved to our right and I moved my SUV about 20 yards down the road to get the sleepy sunrise behind me and kept taking photos. Mountains are tough at times. Sunrise doesn’t always bring sunlight on your subjects, as the tall hills and peaks in steep canyons generally blocks direct light until the sun has moved higher in the sky. It was going to be a bright, cloudless day in the mountains, but the canyon we were working was still in shadows. We discussed heading to better lit areas up the road to hopefully find more sheep in better light. It’s always difficult to leave a subject in such a prime spot, but we had all morning to work together and were going to return to this spot in a while after we had made the rounds of the normal sheep gather areas.

I walked to my SUV, put the key in the ignition, and when I tried to turn the car around, all I got was a revving engine with the transmission engaged. My Explorer wouldn’t move. It had two gears, park and neutral, neither of which was going to get me out of the canyon.

I’ve had my Explorer for 10 years now. It has over 110,000 miles on it and I’ve kept it well maintained over the years. But, old vehicles break down. The most recent repair was a result of the transmission breaking while coming down the mountain from a morning of moose photography. Not a result of bad driving, as I was just coasting to a stop where a road construction crew was working on the highway. The transmission gave out, blaring a loud alarm in the cockpit and thumping loudly when it would shift from 3rd to 4th and from 4th to 5th gear. That trip ended abruptly and I limped back to Denver without having to call a tow truck. I took the SUV to the repair shop and three weeks later we got it back, thinking it was fixed. Wrong. It wasn’t fixed. It was acting up, shifting hard and dropping into neutral at random intervals. We put the vehicle back in the shop and got it back this past Friday, thinking it was fixed. Wrong. It was now immobile on the side of the road in the mountains, the transmission had defeated me again, this time on a beautiful morning with two dozen bighorn in front of me. I called the insurance company and they arranged to have a tow truck meet me at the car. I had it towed back to my house and will be contacting the repair shop later today to get it back in for the third repair in as many months.

After spending the better part of Sunday dealing with the broken vehicle, I finally managed to download the few shots I got in the early morning light. Another aborted photo trip. Sheep interruptus. Kinda like Moose interruptus. More like life interruptus. It is definitely a case of bank account interruptus. Today, I get to put more money in the auto repair slot machine and hope I hit the big one.

One of these days, I’ll find a mechanic who can repair a transmission.

 

Sky Editing With Photoshop AI Update

I’ve been reading about the upcoming updates from Adobe to Lightroom and Photoshop. The new Photoshop 22.0.0 feature for sky replacement has been the feature I’ve been eagerly waiting to see.

My first attempt is encouraging. I have a number of landscape photographs that were taken on what we call “bald sky” days. The last two years of Autumn foliage trips have been ripe with bald sky days. I don’t let it stop me but I’d prefer to have something more interesting in the sky. Photoshop has solved the problem and from the looks of it, quite well.

Here’s a look at my very first attempt to fix a bald sky photo. Nothing complicated. The change isn’t drastic. I wanted to show a sky with simple cloud patterns rather than totally blue.

First shot the original raw file developed with a neutral preset. Nikon D750

Original neutral preset raw file.

Now, here’s the same image with an artificial AI sky inserted by Photoshop.

Photoshop AI sky generated image.

I don’t know about you, but the image with clouds looks better than the bald sky photo. Now, is the “fixed” image all that great an image? Well, I wouldn’t call it a work of art, but it does have some functionality from my view of the road.

This is a canned effect too. The flexibility of Photoshop will allow you to create skies from your own images and reuse them with the new sky tool as well. Plus the fine tuning aspect of the tool give you plenty of legroom to manipulate your sky image to a more refined look.

I have a butt-load of photos with bald skies that I have never edited and quite a few I have used in my stock photo portfolio. As stock photos, they don’t sell that well, but from time to time, somebody will buy one. Now, I can fix those bald sky shots and probably improve the sales of these types of generic shots, simply because they don’t have bald skies.

I dove down to the pixel level and the edges look very good, which if you’ve ever tried to edit a sky manually, those jagged mountain peaks and trees against a sky are darn right tedious to get looking nicely. Way too much work for me, I don’t normally dink around with the skies in my post processing beyond making minor contrast adjustments and/or adding a gradient filter. This photo at 100% magnification looks far better than anything I would have ever accomplished manually. It works.

Here’s a 100% crop of the mountain ridge in the right-center portion of the screen.

100% crop of the resulting AI render.

That passes muster.

So, I’m sure there are some photographers out there who think that creating a fake sky is cheating. If you are one of them, fine by me. To me though, there is no cheating in photography unless you’ve agreed to not create a fake sky for your client or constituents and do it anyway. When it comes to good photographic art, there are no rules. There are only good photographs. (my Ansel Adams quote, paraphrased)

As for the software update, it’s about time Adobe got back in the game. There’s been a lot of competing software hitting the market over the past couple of years and I was very close to buying one or two just to get the new features. Adobe has stepped up and created a very useful tool for those of us who aren’t afraid to cheat, err, sell more photos.

 

The Single Point of Failure

By Gary Gray

Are you serious about your photography?

I ask the question to myself from time-to-time, as I watch someone’s photography come to a screeching halt because of a single point of failure. Experience has taught me to take a close look at my equipment and plans and try to identify and remove single points of failure before I’m in the field.

There are two types of photographer in this world. Those who can take photographs and those who can’t.

A single point of failure is anything you have or do that if it were to break or cease being available, would prevent you from continuing. One little thing can cause catastrophic failure in any plan or shoot.

We often hear talk of the infamous “second body” or “backup body”. Every working pro knows or should know you can’t take pictures without a camera, so the smart boys and girls keep a second camera with them. Like having a spare tire in the car’s trunk. The concept shouldn’t stop at the camera though. As a matter of fact, the second body adds a whole new list of things to consider as single points of failure.

I suppose that an identical second camera is optimal from an operational standpoint. No fumbling with the memory shift when you pick up the other camera. Just stick a different lens on the other body and shoot with it too. I’ve done that many times at weddings and large events. Two bodies, two lenses, that’s a good backup. A body or lens failure won’t sink the boat.

Where are the other single points of failure?

Lets start with the basic stuff.

Batteries. A digital camera won’t work without electricity. Batteries are a major single point of failure. For each body I have with me, I keep one fully charged battery and at the very least a second fully charged battery as a spare. If both bodies use the same battery, I’ll bring at least two fully charged spares. If I feel I need to bring the battery charger, I bring two as well. Can’t charge a battery with a broke charger. If you know you’re going to want to recharge your batteries, your charger is a single point of failure.

Memory chips. I like the new bodies that will hold two chips, preferably chips that have the same format, but I’ll take what I can get. I normally set my camera to record the image to both chips. That’s an instant image backup on the spot. To me, memory chips are like ammo. Keep plenty of ammo. You can’t take photos if you don’t have the memory to hold the images.

Tripod boot plate. I recommend standardizing your tripod mounts and keeping spare mounts in your kit at all times.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled around looking for a quick release plate. I finally bought enough to go on every camera and have a couple of spares in the bag. You won’t regret having extras.

Since we are on tripods, keep a spare tripod in your kit too. Yeah, I know, they don’t normally break, but I’d have a spare in the trunk of the car or back at the house. If I travel by vehicle to any overnight location or job, I always have a second tripod with me. Not so much with air travel, unless it’s an absolute necessity, but you get the idea. If you need a tripod and don’t have one, you fail.

Flash. Most amateur photographers I run into don’t think much about their flash. Most consumer grade camera bodies have a pop-up flash which will work well for the very limited things they will encounter.

If you plan to use a hot-shoe external flash in your kit, you should place a second one in there too if your camera doesn’t have an internal pop-up flash. Reasoning; If you know you will need flash, don’t let a single point of failure prevent you from doing so.

Lens caps. On average I’ll lose a couple of lens caps a year. It’s an annoying distraction to know your $2000 lens is rolling around in the bag with no lens cap. No, it won’t stop you dead but it’s a lot more comforting to know you’ve put a spare cap in the bag and that you don’t have to worry about the lens getting damaged. If your finances allow, buy spare generic lens caps for all your lenses.

Rain protection. Rain happens a lot when I’m out on wildlife workshops. If you intend to work in the elements at least keep a plastic bag or two in your kit. I’ve seen people just abandon their photography out of fear of getting their camera wet. I just slap a hefty bag over my camera and bag and quit worrying about it. While you’re at it, throw a hand-towel or two in your kit. You’ll feel better knowing you’ve got something to wipe your gear down with. I particularly like the flour sack bulk cotton towels at Target. Auto stores sell good shop rags in bulk.

Lens cloth. Just about every person I’ve asked says “no” about having a lens cloth on or about their person. Not me. I keep lens cleaning equipment with me at all times. A spare battery and lens cloth is always in my pocket when I’m working. Not cleaning a major blob off your lens can ruin a shot or shots. Pay attention. A single point of failure.

User Manual. I’d bet money most of you would have to root around somewhere to find the manual that came with your camera. Most folks don’t bother to carry them in their kit but I’m here to tell you that you need to put the manual in your bag and take it with you every time you go out with your kit. You can’t look something up in your manual if you don’t have the manual. A single point of failure. While you are goofing off waiting for the sun to set, read the manual. For the more tech savvy, maybe even store a digital copy on your mobile phone. Nikon has a user manual application for iPhone and Android. I’ve downloaded all the manuals to my cameras and can call them up anytime.

In conclusion, we all have decisions to make and some times carrying spares aren’t part of the plan, but even if you don’t have them with you every time you leave the house, you should give serious thought to having them there when you get home, one failure on the road can still end up ruining the next shoot if you don’t have a replacement. We have to stick to our budgets too. Not every person is able to afford all this stuff, but if you are going to hold yourself out as a professional and aren’t taking care of doing your clients justice, you’ll probably soon be out of business.

Single points of failure are reality and if you don’t solve them before they happen, you will eventually fail.

Scenic Saturday

Autumn Morning in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

Happy Scenic Saturday.

Sticking to the game plan here. Today’s photo was taken one beautiful Autumn morning in the San Juan Mountains near Ridgway, Colorado.

One of the things I love about the mountains is that they don’t change. These peaks look just like they did many years ago. It’s just the people who come and go.

This is one of the few locations that allows for nice morning and evening photography. I prefer the morning shoots more, but I’ve been known to hang around until after dark as well.

It’s Enough To Make A Grown Man Cry

By: Gary Gray

As I sat and watched moose gathering the other morning, I was thinking about the paths of life that led me to this spot in the mountains and I came to the realization that in many ways I was like my father.

My father was an avid hunter. He spent most of his life living in Kentucky and while I was growing up, one of his favorite pass-times was squirrel hunting. It’s a hillbilly way of life, but for him, getting out into the woods for those morning walks searching for squirrels was a constant thought and motivation.

As his health deteriorated following his cancer diagnosis, one of his wishes was to get back out to the woods just one more time before he died. In a small way, that thought kept him going. He managed to recover from surgery long enough to achieve that wish.

I came to the realization that I had inherited a similar passion. Hunting moose photographs in the mountains. I wish he could have lived longer and that I could have shared my world with him. He would have loved it. Fleeting thoughts, brought on by the joy of being out in the wilderness. Experiencing a connection with nature that many never get to experience while I rationalized my past life experiences and the parallels to my place in the world these days.

My thoughts were interrupted by a moose walking along the road directly towards me. A young bull, on his own path and mission to get to some unknown destination somewhere along the road into the woods behind me, he showed no concern for my presence in his path. As he approached, I followed him with my camera and was able to catch a satisfying sequence of photographs. Once he walked past me, I started the engine and moved on up the trail from which he came.

A bit up that road, about a quarter of a mile, I noticed a pickup truck parked along side the road near a lake where the moose were gathering. A few feet from that truck stood a man, my age, maybe older, and with him was a small dog on a leash. He was simply staring off into the woods at the moose and enjoying the scenery, 10 miles from the nearest paved road.

I pulled to the side of the dirt road near the man and stepped out to exchange a few thoughts about the scene we were both witnessing together alone in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to alert him to the presence of many moose and about being cautious with where he walked his dog, as moose consider dogs to be wolves, their mortal enemy.

As we spoke, he said to me. “This is my favorite place on earth. My father and I used to come to this place all the time.” His memories of past times were strong and had never left him. Within a few moments of us striking a conversation, he began tearing up and became emotional. “I wish he could be here with me to see this today.” he said. I told him that I understood the feeling and shared the same reverence for this spot in the mountains. He tried to continue the conversation, but I could tell that I caught him at a moment of silent contemplation and that his emotions had taken hold of him. I was intruding.

He was slightly embarrassed and apologized for crying about his memories. I shook his hand and gave him a big smile. “Brother, I fully understand. I love this place too and it’s those fond memories of the past that help keep things in perspective.” I said.

I wished him well and apologized for intruding into his private thoughts along that isolated mountain road.

I smiled with understanding when he said “It’s okay, I just get emotional when I come out here. I miss sharing this with my dad. Pay no mind to me.”

It was time to wrap up the morning adventure so I kept driving along the road towards the highway. Within a short distance, my thoughts drifted back to my father and the kinship the stranger and I shared in that moment. Profound thoughts concerning the encounter overwhelmed me. My eyes moistened up and I had to pull off the road long enough to clear the slow forming tears from my eyes. Sharing that moment with the man in the wilderness had overwhelmed him and me both.

The beauty and serenity of being alone in the wilderness in what has to be one of the most magnificent places in the world has a way of taking hold of your thoughts. For a few brief moments that morning my long deceased father sat with me in that truck. The awesomeness of the experience can’t be measured, it’s too profound.

It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

Wildlife Photography Pointers For Working From Your Vehicle

By Gary Gray

I’ve been hosting wildlife photography workshops in Colorado for over 13 years. I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. Pointers on how to have a better wildlife photography experience while shooting from a vehicle.

Ethics

Your personal behavior is going to have a direct effect on your results. Someone else being stupid isn’t a license to be stupid. Always show respect to other photographers and tourists who may be in the same location you are working.

Respect the animals you are going to photograph. Don’t harass or chum or try to personally interact with them. Most animals are going to be aware of your presence. If the animals you are photographing change their behavior to compensate for your actions, you’ve gone to far. Animals have body language that is fairly easy to read. The most immediate clue large animals will give you is they turn their butts towards you. If you see a herd of deer or a small group of elk and all their butts are pointed at you, guess what their next action is? They are going to move away from you. Animal butts are a good sign you need to move on. Never approach a wild animal, even if they are friendly and habituated to human activity.

Working from a vehicle

Be quiet. Don’t have conversations with those around you. Don’t stomp around through the woods or along paths, snapping sticks and twigs or crunching gravel. Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. If you are working from a vehicle, turn the stereo/radio off. Turn the ringer off on your mobile phone.

Be still. Once you’ve positioned yourself, don’t move around. Don’t pick up your gear and head out into a field to get closer. No sudden movements. Try to avoid direct or prolonged eye contact with the animals. If you are innocuous, there’s a good possibility that the wildlife will lose interest in you and meander closer.

Never try to chum wildlife with food. Wild animals don’t eat potato chips or ham sandwiches. Moldy bread can be fatal to ducks. Be smart and let them feed themselves. Your food is only going to create a greater risk to their survival. Don’t use artificial sounds to lure wildlife to you.

Every photographer I know has iBird on their smart phone. Don’t play bird sounds in hopes of attracting birds. Leave the elk calls at home.

Remember that you are not in charge of what others do. It’s not your responsibility to make sure everyone you see around wildlife is behaving properly. I’ve seen many obnoxious tourists and photographers ignoring everything and everyone in a quest to get a photo. They have the right to be there. Keep your temper in check and don’t let things escalate into a conflict with others. I normally just move somewhere else so I don’t have to interact with obnoxious people.

Most of my wildlife photography is done from a vehicle. There’s a lot of wilderness and many forest roads to explore in Colorado and the vehicle offers me the best opportunity to get closer to animals because moose, elk, deer, bighorn, and mountain goats don’t consider automobiles to be a threat. At least not until they see a person.

When exploring an area, always make a second pass. I have routes I travel all the time and I always do a couple of laps at least. Animals move frequently and you may not have seen anything on one trip through, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there.

Always check your six. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven through an area only to look in the rear view mirror and see something crossing the road 50 yards behind me. It’s like they were waiting for me to pass before crossing.

Have your camera ready and with you before you see the animals. When entering a wildlife search area, having that camera ready to go can make the difference between getting a shot and watching a critter disappear into the woods. Often times you’ll only have a couple of seconds to get a quick shot out the window. Speaking of windows, keep the window down when on patrol. Even if it’s cold. Otherwise you could easily be too late as the animal is gone before the window is down. Don’t smoke in the vehicle. That smoke can waif through the windows directly in front of your lens.

When you are on patrol and spot animals, don’t slam on your brakes and jump out of the car. That’s a sure fire way to scare an animal off. If you can’t shoot from the window and must exit the vehicle. Creep to a halt before the animal is reacting to you. When you exit, get out of the vehicle on the blind side using the car as a visual obstacle. Don’t walk out from behind the car into the open. Peek around the car and try to get shots from a covered position. If you are on the side of the vehicle that faces the animals, stay in the vehicle and shoot from the window.

Don’t shoot from a moving vehicle, your shots will be blurry. Don’t shoot through the window glass, your shots will be blurry. When stopped, turn the engine off in your vehicle. Exhaust can waif in front of your lens and create convection distortion and you’ll also eliminate the vibration caused by the engine running. Never rest your lens on the top of the window with the engine running. Be still. don’t wiggle around in the vehicle. Ask others in the vehicle to be still as well.

You’ll often be alerted to the presence of animals by a group of cars pulled off the road ahead of you. Don’t drive directly into the group, and jump out. Try to get shots through the window only after you’ve made a silent and unobtrusive approach to the scene. You don’t need to aggravate those who got there first by scaring off their subjects. Never slam the door. Slowly close it without making noise. Also, don’t leave your car door hanging wide open when you walk away from the vehicle. Push it closed gently. If the driver needs to move the vehicle that closed door is going to help them move quickly and silently. Take the keys out of the ignition before you exit the vehicle. There’s nothing more annoying than your car beeping away like a garbage truck in reverse while you’re trying to get a photograph without being noticed.

If you are traveling with three people in a vehicle, pick the back seat. You can shoot from both windows. The driver and other front seat passenger are going to be stuck with only one direction to shoot.

Never put your camera on the dashboard. If you forget it’s there and move the vehicle, it will roll off onto the floorboard and, well, that could be disastrous for a lens or the camera.

Safety

Your safety and the safety of the wildlife should always be a prime consideration. Don’t put your passengers or yourself at risk by trying to shoot from the side of a busy highway. Don’t put your vehicle in a situation that it can’t handle. Muddy roads with deep puddles can often be much more hazardous than they appear to be. When I know I’m going to be on some rough terrain, I always take my 4×4 pickup truck with off road tires. The last thing you want is to break down in the middle of nowhere with ten thousand dollars worth of camera gear left in your car while you hike 10 miles to get help.

Drive slowly when on the back roads. You’ll see more action that way and it keeps the dust down. If traffic begins stacking up behind you, be polite, pull over and let them pass. If you’re behind someone driving slow, keep some distance until you can pass without being obnoxious about it. It’s not rush hour in the city. Don’t be a road hazard and always assume somebody behind you is going to be impatient with your slow driving. Driving slowly also reduces the risk to wildlife which can run in front of you without notice. You don’t want to run into a moose going 40 miles per hour. It will kill the moose, it could kill you or your passengers and it would definitely do damage to your vehicle.

Never follow behind animals moving along the road. If you get behind them and move with them, they’ll panic and could hurt themselves trying to flee. Just pull over and wait a couple of minutes. They’ll probably be off the road by the time you see them again and if not, pull over and wait some more.

That’s my advice and I’m sticking to it.

Moose Monday

Northern Colorado – July 2019

2020 may be the strangest moose photography season I’ve experienced.

Based on my observations, the moose are thriving in Colorado. I don’t know if there is an accurate estimate of how many moose are living in stable breeding populations in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the population to be around 3,000, personally, I think the number could be higher than that, based on the density and frequency I’ve seen in Northern Colorado, but, I’ve done no scientific study. Over the past 10 years, I’ve frequently seen moose in areas of the state where I had never seen them before, leading me to believe that they are migrating to a lot of new areas across the state.

In the summer of 2020, the influx of humans into the wilderness areas of Colorado has definitely impacted their normal  habitat. I’ve seen more hikers, campers and anglers in moose habitat areas in 2020, probably due to the pandemic and people needing to get outdoors, and the moose responded by changing their movement patterns into areas of greater isolation and away from human activity. The worsening wildfire situation is almost certain to further alter their habitat, with a large scale destruction of prime moose habitat occurring in the Rawah and Comanche Peaks wilderness areas.

Over the past several years, a typical day for me would include sighting around 20-25 different moose in my normal photography locations. This year the numbers were down to about one third of that. In those same areas, human activity picked up to three times a normal level, from what I’ve observed. The moose were out there, but they were staying away from humans, which is probably a natural self-preservation response from these animals. Health wise, the moose I’ve found this year all seemed to be in good health, eating well, and breeding successfully. The cows and calves were in higher than normal quantities this past summer but many of the larger and mature bulls were absent from my normal areas of photography. The questions is, where did they go? Moose are known as wanderers and I have a few ideas on where they are moving and where to find them, but the premature halt to photography season forced me to abandon my quest to find out more. I hope to figure out the answer to that question in 2021.

Covid-19 Hunker-down Log – Stardate 44079.28

Combating Boredom

The past week has provided an interesting combination of boredom busting activity.

I’ve been steadily working on the redesign of my websites and progress has been made. Website visitor traffic has also picked up now that the search engines are beginning to index my site. So far, so good.

We continue to monitor the status of the Cameron Peak wildfire in the Rawah Wilderness of Northern Colorado. The fire hasn’t approached Red Feather Lakes much but the smoke has made its presence known and air quality in the village his a hit and miss prospect. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the change in weather will improve the ability of the firefighters to get this fire under control.

This past Thursday, our Xfinity cable and internet service went out. I went through the normal service call routine and after chasing our tails for several hours on the phone with someone in India, we began exploring our backup options. Both Trudy and I have iPhones that will act as an internet hot-spot, so we attached a Roku to the television and streamed television to the living room through the iPhone hot spots. It worked out quite well actually. On Friday afternoon, a Comcast service tech showed up at our door and began troubleshooting the problem in our back yard, where the neighborhood cable distribution box resides. Internet, TV and phone service is now back up and running but the outage concerned us to the point that we’re considering switching to a new service when our contract expires. It’s obvious that we can do everything we need to do without having to rely on the inept customer service at Comcast/Xfinity. It was our turn in the barrel. We do our best until we find something better.

Happy Thought Inventory

The internet is up. Mom can watch her television shows and make her phone calls. Trudy is heading to Red Feathers for a few days. Life is back on track and the hunkering down continues.

I’m still plotting what I’m doing for Autumn photography. I need to come up with a solid plan sooner rather than later as the last week of September and first week of October are prime-time for Autumn color. I’ll come up with a plan.

Slacker Status

Still improving out there in Zombie Land. Seems that many of the covidiots who refused to wear a mask in public have had a change of heart or been hit with the reality that their errant mindset isn’t going to really help them get through the pandemic.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver.

And, Happy Scenic Saturday. Today’s photo is a previously unpublished image from Kebler Pass, Colorado. A memorable week in 2014 that feels like it was yesterday. It is also the first time I’ve ever displayed this photograph to the public.

A Primer for Achieving Sharp Focus on Super-Telephoto Lenses

By: Gary Gray

The article photo of the deer was taken with a Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD A011 super-telephoto lens, hand held, using a Canon EOS 6D full frame DSLR. Settings: 1/1000 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1250, 552 mm.

A few tips for beginners and folks learning how to use a super-telephoto lens like the Tamron 150-600mm.

In my workshops, the biggest problem I see students have with long super-telephoto shots is getting sharp images. It’s normally a question of technique and knowledge of how to use the lens.

The first task is to learn the reciprocal rule. The minimum shutter speed should be the reciprocal of the focal length. If you’re shooting it at 600mm on a full frame body, you don’t want to use a shutter speed slower than 1/600th second. If you have a crop sensor camera, multiply your focal length by the crop factor and apply the reciprocal rule.

I seldom shoot wildlife or any telephoto subject at less than 1/1000th a second, and faster is better if you have the light for it.

If you are attempting panning shots at with a shutter speed slower than 1/1000th a second as your hit rate will be low. Lower shutter speeds may be possible for an artsy look, but in general, the faster your shutter speed, the less the subject or your movement will affect the image sharpness

I try to at least use a mono-pod when possible even though you may have a fairly usable lens hand held. A tripod is best though if you can use one.

Turn off Image Stabilization when using a tripod, it will not help you and may ruin images by correcting while stable.

On a tripod shooting a fixed subject, use your mirror lockup function. It can take 10 seconds for the lens to steady up after barely touching the camera.

Use a tripod rated for the weight of the entire setup and use a high quality head for stability.

If you know how to do it, adjust the lens micro-focus. My super telephoto lens is the Tamron 150-600 and is very close to perfect but did have a tweak of 2-3 clicks on both my main bodies. I’ve seen Canon L lenses be as far off as 16 clicks, so don’t let major adjustments freak you out. Every lens is different. Micro-focus calibration does help a great deal sometimes.

I usually fire shots in 3-4 frame bursts, not for spray and pray, but for sharpness. When you push the shutter button, you’ll flinch and move the camera. A burst will allow the flinch movement to dampen out and one of the shots will almost always be sharper than the others in the burst.

When working from a vehicle, here are a few tips to keep your images looking good.

When you stop the car, turn the engine off and allow the vehicle exhaust to dissipate. This is especially important in cold weather. Automobile exhaust can waft into the field of view creating distortions and even visible exhaust vapor in the image. In addition to the vapor issue, a running automobile is vibrating. Motor vibrations will transfer to the lens and will result in a loss of sharpness. If others are in the vehicle, ask them to remain still. There’s nothing worse than trying to hold a subject steady in the viewfinder at 600mm with someone doing the wiggle dance elsewhere in the vehicle.

Another consideration is the temperature differential between the inside of the vehicle and the outside environment. When searching for wildlife that I’ll be photographing through a window, I try to keep the inside vehicle temperature as close to the outside temperature. Rolling down a window in very cold weather with the inside of the vehicle being toasty warm can result in additional vapor distortions from the warm air hitting the cold air, at the point of interface, your window. A stable temperature will prevent the lens from clouding and will lower distortions.

There are beanbags made specifically to drape over a partially raised window for resting your camera on. With the engine off, using a beanbag will help you steady the shot in a manner similar to using a mono-pod. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Even a small amount of cushioning between the lens and window will help.

Camera body settings.

Most brands of cameras have similar functionality; however, the names the mfg uses for these functions may be different. Some of the settings I use are as follows.

Auto-focus is always set to AI Servo mode. I want the camera auto-focus to continuously track the subject. Why? Everything is always moving. You move, the subject moves. A single focus lock is insufficient to insure good focus on any moving subject, at any speed, at any distance. You see an animal, you push the focus button, the camera focuses, by the time you fire the shutter the subject and you have moved. Continuous focus tracking will give you a much higher likelihood of getting an in focus image.

Back button focus. If your camera allows you to use your thumb to press a button on the back of the camera to turn start the camera focusing, use it. I always use back button focusing and shutter button for exposure and shutter firing. Thumb and index finger coordination is pretty simple unless you have a deformed hand. This technique also allows you to focus and recompose.

Use the center focus point. The more focus points you use to auto-focus, the more likely the camera will get it wrong. The camera doesn’t know where a deer’s eye is. Spot focus on the eye, recompose and fire the shot. The internal processor will also have less work to do calculating a correct focus and it will speed up the focusing action.

Correct diopter setting is a must for monitoring focus accuracy. The diopter adjustment is found along side the view finder. Your first line of defense against an out of focus image is your eye. If the diopter is not correctly set, you’ll never know if the image is in focus until you look at the image on your computer. Change your lens, change the diopter. Change your eye glasses, change the diopter. When you are firing off shots, be aware of the focus quality you see in the viewfinder.

Some DSLR’s will allow you to configure the shutter to not fire if the lens isn’t reporting a focus. You’ll have a choice of setting the shutter fire priority to either focus tracking or shutter priority, meaning if you set your camera to fire shots even if the lens isn’t reporting a focus, you’ll probably end up with a lot of out of focus shots. This may work for spray and pray, but an astute photograph doesn’t waste time and chip on getting bad results. The drawback to using focus priority is that the camera may not fire when you think it should because it’s not in focus. You’ll have to make the call on how to configure it, but at least be aware of the techniques and configuration possibilities.

Depending on the brand of lens you are using, the manual focus ring may be able to cause problems if you have your hand cupped around the lens over the focus ring. Some lenses allow manual focus while auto-focus is enabled. If you have a grip on the focus ring, simple hand movement can defocus the camera. Watch where you place your hand when shooting. I try to keep my hand as far out towards the end of the lens as possible, away from the focus ring and only touching the zoom ring. Same thing when resting the lens on something. Don’t rest the lens on the focus ring.

Lastly, get out and practice often, review your results and correct your mistakes.

Practice makes perfect. Perfect is an acceptable result.

The Status Quo – Image Colorado

Photographer Gary Gray
On the job and enjoying the life.

I’ve been developing my own websites for the past 20 years. Not that I’m a web developing wizz, but I have enough technical knowledge and experience to address my needs to my own satisfaction.

Before I retired from pursuing commercial photography business a couple of years ago, my websites were more or less designed to promote my professional services and to help me generate income. But, I’ve moved on from that and I’ve realized that my web presence needs to reflect what I’m doing now and not trying to impress potential clients. Not that I don’t want to sell photographs and prints, I’ve simply realized that I’d rather showcase my current and past work and not dwell on the commercialization of my persona.

To boldly move into the future with my web presence, I’ve elected to start fresh with what I want my websites to reflect about me and the type of work I’m doing today. The culmination of my recent rationalizations have led me to begin anew. I’ve decided to keep the general design of Image Colorado and my parent site, Gray Photography, with much the same simple and elegant look I’ve been using for the past several years. I like a clean web page. The content though, has to be different from what I’ve been doing. So I’ve rationalized.

My first order of business in this regard is to integrate Gray Photography and Image Colorado to a greater extent than I have in the past. Redesigning the look, feel and continuity between these websites is my first task. Defining what these two sister entities will look like is underway. I want it to look like the same environment when you visit either.

All that explained, what I think I’ll be doing with Image Colorado is showcasing my past and current photography projects. That means more photos. Some of my best work, done at different times over many years, and adding to that with my new projects as they come and go.

For Image Colorado I now have a clean slate. I removed all of my photography articles from the site and plan to create more galleries of images. I’ll probably continue to write articles, but those will most likely get posted on my Gray Photography site. As for the old articles…who cares? Every monkey and their uncle is writing mind bogglingly repetitive photography pieces and there’s really nothing I can tell you in the way of technique and tips and tricks that isn’t already out there, so what’s the point of reinventing the wheel? This blog will be more real time and better represent my adventures in photography, past and present. As I improve the content here, I’ll keep you posted via the blog and point you to that content when I have it online and viewable for your personal enjoyment.

I still have a disdain for being overly commercial though. I won’t be adding click-bait links to cajole you into buying anything other than what I’m offering for sale. No links to B&H photo, Amazon, or other box stores. This blog and Gray Photography will be my small photo gallery along the side of the road. A worthy click on your mouse I hope.

Until things pick up with adding more content here, I appreciate the patience and support I’ve received from my friends and followers. I know you are out there and I’m very proud of the following I’ve received from the general public. I’m not planning on going anywhere and with this pandemic we are all suffering, it’s time to take advantage of the down time and rethink the web presence with a fresh take on things. I hope you will all continue to follow me and continue enjoying my photography.

Besides, I’m also bored as hell and want a new challenge. What better way to do it than rethinking and reworking concepts, ideas and methods?

Please stay tuned.