Thursday, January 21, 2010

Now Offering Photo Tours / Photoshop Training

Here ye! Here ye! I have now expanded the Explore The Light business model to include customized, private photo tours and photoshop training. The photo tours will concentrate in the San Juan Mountains and the desert areas of the Four Corners region. These are private tours with an itinerary designed to meet the needs of an individual or small group. The mode of transportation can involve driving, hiking or snowshoeing (for those brave winter souls). More specifics are laid out in the workshop page on the Explore The Light website. Either click on the Workshop menu item above or follow this link.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Website and Blog Redesign Complete (mostly)

Anybody that occasionally hops on my blog or site may have noticed the face lift that both have received. I've been doing some redesigning of both so they have the same look and feel, which has allowed me to fairly seamlessly integrate my blog in with the website. Given my minimal web programming skills this was quite the frustrating endeavor that took far longer than it should have. Thank god for Smugmug's helpful Dgrin customizing forum, without which, I would have never been able to accomplish this! Now that it's pretty much complete (I still want to tweak a few things here and there), I'm pretty happy with the end result. If anyone sees any snafus...major or minor...I'd appreciate any comments.

In addition to the face lift, I've also added a bit of content to my site (more on that in an upcoming post) and have added menu options in an attempt to make it easier to navigate around. Check it out!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Winter Break in the Sonoran Desert

My wife and I took a nice break from what's been a colder than average winter here in southwest Colorado by packing up a weeks worth of clothing, supplies and our dog Yoda and heading to the Phoenix area. It was wonderful to trade our -10 to -15 degree mornings for 70+ degree days in the desert! My wife spent the week attending a seminar to help her get her feet off the ground with her new business endeavor. I spent the week chauffeuring her back and forth to her meetings and fitting in some exploration of the surrounding Sonoran Desert whenever possible. Between driving Tami around and the fickle evening weather (4 of the 5 late afternoons that I was able to get out ended up being cloudy), this turned into more of a scouting trip than anything else. This was fine as it was my first trip to the Sonoran Desert anyway and it gave me plenty of opportunity to simply explore and get my bearings. My plan is keep on eye on the area's wildflower reports in the latter half of March and return then on a much more photography-centered trip.

So aside from the warm winter weather, what's so special about the Sonoran Desert? The answer to that, in my mind, is simple...its vegetation. The Sonoran receives more rainfall than any other North American desert. While that still might not be's called a desert for a's enough to support a wide variety of cactus and other plant life. In particular, it is the only desert in the world where the mighty Saguaro cactus grows in the wild. The Saguaro cactus is vital to the Sonoran ecosystem as it provides both food and shelter for many of the creatures that call this desert their home. These giant cacti are slow growing and have a life span of approximately 200 years. It takes almost 75 years before they are able to develop their first side arm! Given their large and statuesque presence in this desert environment, they make for great photographic subjects. What photographer can resist shooting their silhouette against a blazing sky at sunset? Not me!

A Sonoran Desert Sunset
Back to this particular trip report, most of my time was spent wandering around the mountainous areas east of Phoenix since late day shooting was my only option. Thus, the areas adjacent to the Apache Trail (a scenic road which winds through this spectacular desert environment) were some of my main objectives which included the Superstition Mountains along with the picturesque reservoirs (Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt Lakes) along the Salt River. I also spent some time exploring the Goldfield Mountains bordering the last of the major reservoirs along the Salt, Saguaro Lake. Here, I was surprised to see the last remnants of fall colors in the cottonwoods and willows lining the river. Fall colors in January...only in the Sonoran desert!! I was in this area when I saw the only golden light of the trip and was able to come away with the image below.

The Goldfield Mountains Reflected in the Salt River

All in all, it was a rather unproductive trip photography-wise, but a fun (and warm) getaway nonetheless. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good wildflower bloom this spring for my return trip. Too see a few more images from this venture, click on the link below...


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Photography Tip: Make Use Of Your Camera's Custom Modes

Side note: I plan to make an effort this year to include more photography tips and reviews in my blog entries. I'm beginning with the tip discussed here and have a few ideas for reviews coming up, so stay tuned!
So have you ever wondered what those silly C1, C2, etc. settings on your newer model DSLR camera's mode dial are for and why you'd ever use them? Digging into your camera's manual (for those who actually do that) you find that they're called custom modes and are used to save a variety of your cameras vast settings. Your first thought upon reading this might be "Why is this really necessary? The camera always remembers my current settings after I power it down anyway!"

Before delving into this further, first consider the following scenario. You're about to spend the morning photographing a beautiful alpine lake backdropped by a majestic snow capped peak. You set up your camera and tripod and begin composing the scene when you notice a bald eagle swooping in towards you. Thinking this could be a once in a lifetime shot, you quickly decide to switch lenses to capture the moment. Frantically, you then begin to go through your mental checklist on what camera settings to switch. Let's see...hmmm....increase the the aperture....check....what else? what else??.....oh, switch to continuous focus....check....switch to continuous shooting...check. Whew! You've done it. Only by now the eagle has already swooped down towards the lake, plucked out a fish and begun its journey back to where it came! Still, you figure you at least need to get a shot so you aim the camera, trip the shutter, and see nothing but black in the forgot to disable mirror lock-up!! Doh!

By this point all you do is laugh it off and comfort yourself by thinking that no one else could've gotten the shot either as things just happened too fast. You revert your settings and spend the rest of an enjoyable morning photographing the marvelous scene in front of you. It isn't until later that evening that you realize you forgot to lower your iso! So not only did you miss that stupendously cool shot of the bald eagle, but you're left with noisy, high iso shots of that beautiful mountain scene. Not your finest moment as a photographer, I'm sure!! just what does all of this have to do with your camera's custom modes, you ask? Well, these custom modes are perfect for those of us who have multiple photographic shooting interests, like the nature photographer who shoots both landscape and wildlife. First, you could set up the camera with your basic landscape settings (for example....aperture priority with a base aperture setting of f/11, base iso, single shot and af mode, mirror lock-up, 2 second timer, etc.) and register these settings with custom mode C1. Then set up the camera with your basic wildlife settings (aperture priority with a wide open aperture setting, iso 400, continuous shot and focus, mirror lock-up disabled, etc.) and register these settings with custom mode C2.

Now when your out shooting landscapes all you need to do is power up the camera in C1 mode and the camera is ready to go once you've altered the aperture to suit the scene your shooting. Should that eagle swoop into your scene, all you need to do is switch your lens and click the camera over to C2 and you're ready to fire away! After the eagle has left the vicinity, click back to C1 and your ready to shoot landscapes safe in the knowledge that all your settings (including that pesky iso) are back to your baseline landscape settings. It's darned slick and helps to eliminate that frustrating human error element that's bound to occur when switching between shooting styles.

I've illustrated how this can be helpful for nature photographers mostly because it pertains to my style of shooting, but just about any type of photographer can benefit from this feature. For instance a wedding photographer could save common settings for shooting ceremonies/receptions in both natural light and using flash and quickly switch back and forth during the event. When things are happening quickly, this is of great benefit. It's up to you to figure out how you can get the most from this feature given your different styles of shooting.