Posts Tagged ‘Sky’

Great Expectations

Like Charles Dickens’ unassuming and endearing character Pip, I do my best to keep a realistic perspective in the face of considerable prospects. However, it’s hard to stay calm and down-to-earth when researching shooting locations for an event like CAPTURE Quebec. Everything banks on flexible, picturesque locations to justify an intense, late-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule required for landscape photography. With all the possibilities discussed for this area, it seemed impossible to be disappointed. But it’s quite another thing to visit in person the places visited in Google Maps.

9181_North Hatley-Quebec-Canada_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 40 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 9.0, ISO 400

We spent our first afternoon yesterday scouting potential spots in the countryside southeast of Sherbrooke, Quebec. Instead of freezing temperatures, snow or blue skies like I was coolly expecting, it turned out to be a rainy, cloudy and perfectly dreary day. I don’t have weather insurance. One of the Frazer’s asked “What will you do during the workshop if this is the type of weather we have?” I thought that was a great question. It made me think. But ultimately, it wouldn’t matter. It would mean we would have to change focus a bit, and perhaps it would mean not coming away with the type of pictures we were expecting, but perhaps it would make the workshop more effective. It would force us to think outside the box. It would only increase the thrill of challenge. Because God is in control of the weather, we just have to do the best that we can to be prepared and stay flexible. It was a good reminder that success doesn’t lie in outward circumstances, but inward trust in God and creativity from God.

9196_Huntingville-Quebec-Canada_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 28 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 9.0, ISO 400

After this, I didn’t feel quite so under the weather. Everything is a gift from God! There is no reason I should expect God to give us dynamic light for the workshop. I can’t expect anything to go smoothly. Expectations. What danger lies in that word. So, thank You, Lord, for rain! Thank You for snow! Thank You for fellowship with other believers. Thank You for life. Thank You for an incredible opportunity to learn patience, trust, and gratefulness for whatever You decide to bring by next week!

And oh, thanks too for the sunshine this morning that I am more thankful for now than ever before!

9224_Magog-Quebec-Canada_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 84 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 11, ISO 800

Lessons from North Carolina

The details page for CAPTURE North Carolina (autumn) has been added to the Workshops page! Here are a few desktop wallpapers and the short-stories behind them from the workshop in North Carolina last year:

Shapes of Nature
Download as Desktop Background

1659_JAS_Near Lancaster-South Carolina-USA W

I like to say that the best time to take pictures is on edge of light. It’s the most colorful, dramatic and thus, photographically productive time of day. Perhaps this sounds like not much time to take pictures, but the Edge of Light is much more than the brief moments of sunrise or sunset. I like to divide the Edge of Light into three stags: the golden hour, “the moment”, and twilight. These stages last for over two hours, so there’s plenty of time to be taking pictures. Most everyone knows what the golden hour is: it’s the hour of time before sunset (or after sunset) where sunlight is at it’s warmest. What I call “the moment” is the brief period of time when the sun actually dips below the horizon at sunset (or peeks over the horizon at sunrise). It’s during those few moments that I have the best opportunity to capture sunbursts. At other times, if the horizon is much higher than the elevation at which I’m standing, then “the moment” could refer to the peak time of color in the clouds which occurs right around the minutes of sunset or sunrise. Twilight, as you’ve probably already guessed, is the hour after sunset (or the hour before sunrise). It is also known as the Blue Hour. This is personally my most favorite time to shoot. It lends toward more subdued images like the one above. During CAPTURE North Carolina last year, we were up before dawn every morning so that we could experience these stages of the Edge of Light, and practice the various challenges associated with each one.

Pearly Specimen 
Download as Desktop Background

1721_JAS_Waxhaw-North Carolina-USA W

We were actually driving from one destination to another when we saw this pond by the side of the road with masses of water lilies growing along the edges. The unplanned stop was quite fun, and it didn’t matter that it was mid morning: the heavy cloud cover gave the perfect ambient light for shooting flowers in. No one had planned that either. The entire group of photographers were hovered so close to the banks of the pond that I feared someone would fall in. It may have felt good on that hot muggy day, but being dunked in water isn’t exactly the most healthy thing for camera equipment.

Blue Ridge Morning
Download as Desktop Background

1762_JAS_Blue Ridge Parkway-North Carolina-USA W

In the pre-dawn darkness, we attempted to drive from the meetinghouse to Rough Ridge Overlook, a place I had scouted as a phenomenal location before the workshop had started. But we never did find the parking area at the trail head. We drove several miles in both directions down the Blue Ridge Parkway, but alas, it was not to be found. What a sinking feeling it was when the clouds began to turn pink and we had no place to shoot. Finally, in a desperate effort to make the most of our early morning, we stopped at the first pull-off where there was an overlook. The sunrise was spectacular. We weren’t in the perfect position to capture it, but it was good enough. After the moment of glory passed, the clouds thickened and the sun disappeared behind the clouds for the rest of the morning. And that’s when I took this shot. The arrangement of hills was a long way off, but the telephoto lens brought it in close enough. Our morning photoshoot was well worth rising early for.

I’m looking forward to returning to North Carolina in 2014, this time in October. If you can’t make it to North Carolina, perhaps there’s another state you are closer too. Or Providence, perhaps? CAPTURE Quebec is just around the corner; there’s just one spot left.

CAPTURE Texas, in early April, is coming up very quickly as well. You have till March 3 to get the $50 Early Registration discount.

If those locations still aren’t close enough, check out the newly updated Workshops Page for an overview of the 10 workshops in the works for 2014.

On a final note, if you would like to download Blue Ridge Morning as a desktop background for free, sign up for Latest from Lenspiration updates. I give away one free wallpaper per update. If you would like to receive access to the other two wallpapers, along with my entire collection of wallpapers from the past, you can make any purchase on the Lenspiration Store.


I often wonder what it will be like when Christ returns. It will be way more spectacular than any sunrise or sunset we’ll ever see here on earth.

6801_Yosemite NP-California-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

I look at the sky a lot. I look for cloud developments, where the sun is, where the bluest sections are, where the moon is going to rise. I keep my eye on it all the time, especially when I’m in particularly scenic locations such as Yosemite National Park. This shot was taken right at sunset on the trail back from Vernal Falls. I had enjoyed myself so much out at the falls that I didn’t have time to get back where I wanted to be for the sunset. However, I was grateful for when the trail took a bend and offered a window through the forest to the color-blotched sky above me. It turned out to be the only colorful sunset during my time in the park.

As I gaze into the heavens enjoying God’s incredible artwork, I often find myself musing on what Jesus said about what His return will be like: Watch! You do not know what hour the Lord comes. If the owner of a house knew what time the thief was going to come, he would watch to stop him. Therefore, we should be ready all the time because the Lord will come when we do not expect it. (Ahem . . . pardon my loose translation from Matthew 24:42.44.)

Watching for the Lord’s return should have a profound impact on everything I think, say, and do every day. What would I change about my life if I truly lived in daily anticipation of Christ’s return? Thankfully, as a landscape photographer, I have the opportunity to be reminded to watch every day—every time I look up into the sky.

Clever Framing

As I was going through archives today, looking for some grand pictures to use in a new set of greeting cards that are in the works, I ran across this great shot from an excursion in the Sierra foothills near Mammoth Lakes, California. It didn’t quite make the cut for this set of cards, but I thought it was at least clever enough to show to the world on the blog. I can’t recall using a foreground object to frame any of my shots recently, so this was a great inspiration for me to keep my eyes open to objects that might, well, appear to just be in the way.

2140_Mammoth Lakes-California-USA_Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1-320 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

Can You Read Clouds?

You might think that after shooting landscapes for a while, I would know all about how to read the clouds. Well, I have to admit that I’m still just learning.

The first time I began to realize the importance of reading clouds was during a visit to friends in New Hampshire last September. Being on “vacation” and in a new location, I had time to shoot the sunrises and sunsets. On one evening, I figured I’d put away my camera because it was getting too dark . . . when all of a sudden, the clouds lit up crimson red. Needless to say, I stayed out till it was completely dark. Why did I not know beforehand that there were still clouds that would catch the light?

This got me thinking a lot about clouds a lot more, so I began to observe them regularly. And not until recently have I been able to draw some conclusions. Here are some principles to keep in mind next time you see these type of clouds during the magic hours:

1. Dark Clouds

5778_Warrenton-Missouri-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 82 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 5.0, ISO 200

I don’t mean storm clouds. Just clouds that the sun is obviously not shining on. Basically, because something is between the clouds and the sun (ie. landmass or other clouds), they appears dark against the sky.

At Sunrise: get ready! The clouds will light up very soon!
At Sunset: you’re too late. They are past their peak and will not light up again.

2. Edge-of-Light clouds

5779_Warrenton-Missouri-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 85 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 200

The picture says it all. These clouds, colorful only at the edge of light, are the reason you didn’t sleep in or why you missed dinner. There are a whole lot of factors involved in why clouds will light up like this, but color usually lasts anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.

At Sunrise: you’d better shoot! The highest—cirrus—clouds light up first, then the mid-level—altocumulus—clouds, followed by the lower altitude—cumulous—clouds if the situation is in your favor.
At Sunset: you’d better shoot! Clouds light up in the exact opposite sequence as at sunrise.

3. White clouds

5808_Warrenton-Missouri-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

Clouds are white when they are exposed to direct sunlight that is not traveling through the earth’s atmosphere. White clouds appear lighter than the sky behind them.

At Sunrise: you’re too late. Cloud formations can still make great content for your landscapes, but they will not turn color again. 
At Sunset: get ready! They will turn colorful very soon!

These are just a few basic principles to keep in mind next time you’re out shooting at the edge of light. They are not hard rules, and it’s impossible to know exactly what the clouds might do, but they are definitely helpful for determining whether or not the clouds will catch the light. I don’t want to miss those crimson red sunsets if I can help it.

Evening at CEF IHQ

As I walked to dinner this evening at the CEF International Headquarters here in Missouri, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful cloud formations in the sky. The past few days have been either very cloudy or completely clear, so I  knew the sunset was going to be pretty nice tonight. I requested a carry-out dinner and walked back to my apartment to grab my camera. One question nagged me all the way: what should my subject be?

5743_Warrenton-Missouri-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 2.0 sec at f - 14, ISO 100

This is the kind of question I ask myself all the time. Beautiful clouds and dynamic lighting should really only complements of a good subject. And this truth has been ever circling in my brain ever since my arrival here a week or so ago. I haven’t had to do much scouting to know that, without a car, there’s not much to shoot around here. And that’s why I didn’t really know where to go after grabbing my camera.

As the perfect light approached and the clouds began to light up in the south, I finally had to settle with the fact that there was nothing but this big pond and the CEF IHQ campus in the background to serve as a subject. That’s when I began to play around with this little waterfall. And that’s when I got a spark of hope! Shooting vertical and squatting on a rock in the middle of the stream gave just the right perspective for including the flowing action, the wispy sky, the colorful reflections, and an angle on the buildings that minimized the visual-clutter that usually surround subjects of this nature.

It’s instances like these that make photography so much fun. Not all my pictures turn out this way, but you can view a few more shots from around the CEF IHQ campus in this album.

Should I Print on Canvas?

Dell UltraSharp U2312HMMy family helped me to buy a new 23” widescreen monitor for Christmas, just the tool I needed to begin accurately editing pictures for printing!

Have you ever ordered prints that looked fabulous on your screen but looked sickeningly yellow, or deathly blue, or awfully dark when the actual prints arrived in the mail? I’m a very particular person when it comes to printed material, so this happened to me all the time in one degree or another. I simply could never get my laptop screen to be color calibrated correctly, so ordering prints was always a drag. But not any more! With a high-resolution screen that allows for accurate calibration and fine-tuned color and brightness adjustments, printing pictures is fast becoming part of my normal picture-editing process.

So, now that I can actually print with relative confidence, I’ve been experimenting with printing on canvas. Having asked myself “Should I print on canvas?” in the past, I thought it would be neat to share my observations on what little I now know about canvas:

  • Canvas is awesome if you want it big! 20×24, 24×36—you name it—if you are viewing it from a distance, it’s an excellent way to display a masterpiece of art. Up close, the canvas texture doesn’t reveal the same detail of matt or glossy papers, but canvas appears crisp from a distance of a foot or two.
  • Canvas has no glare. It’s a smooth material texture so there’s nothing for light to reflect off of. There’s no need to frame it or put it behind glass which always causes glare.
  • Canvas is super easy to hang! All you have to do is drive a nail in the wall and hang it up.
  • Canvas is very stylish and simple. It is complemented perfectly by blank, solid-color walls that are normally drab or empty.
  • Canvas is tough. It’s not fragile, breakable or flimsy. No need to worry about someone accidently bumping it off the wall or touching the print with their fingers. It would be hard to scuff, and you won’t have to wash finger prints off glass any more.
  • Canvas prints are expensive. Though a regular print of the same size may cost less than half as much, canvas offers very few hidden expenses such as framing and matting because they are not needed.

I have been pleased with the canvas prints that I’ve seen so far and just ordered this 20×30 canvas of a chickadee for a customer in Texas. If you would also like this picture, or any picture on for that matter, printed on canvas, please contact me. Special prices for the month of January are below:Canvas-mount-chickadee

  • 16×20 Gallery Wrap Canvas: $50.00 + Free Shipping
  • 20×24 Gallery Wrap Canvas: $75.00 + Free Shipping
  • 20×30 Gallery Wrap Canvas: $125.00 + Free Shipping
  • 24×36 Gallery Wrap Canvas: $150.00 + Shipping

These prices aren’t available when ordering the normal way through, so that’s why you have to contact me. Make sure to order by the end of January!

A Picture Perfect Place

Just had to comment on a few shots from one of the photo excursions in Montana:

Alone, Yet Not Alone

1595_Near Bloomfield-Montana-USA_Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-500 sec at f - 7.1, ISO 200

Odd looking hay bail, eh? I could hardly believe there was a moose as far east as Bloomfield. The locals said it had been maybe 20 years since they’d seen a moose in those parts.

Grainary on the Prairie1559_Near Bloomfield-Montana-USA_Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1-320 sec at f - 9.0, ISO 200

Classic shot. Simple, colorful, full of character. It’s nice that the light was on both the front and side of the structure facing me. Both sides in shadow is bad, one side in sunlight is best, but two sides in sunlight works just fine. Squatting low gives both a creative angle and a bluer sky; as a rule on a clear day, the further from the horizon, the bluer the sky.

Montana Countryside

1560_Near Bloomfield-Montana-USA_Canon EOS 40D, 21 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

This is my favorite pic from the morning. I really wanted to show the terrain in which the building was standing yet I found it quite difficult to do. The problems were fourfold:

  • First, I was forced to shoot northward because the front of the building faced south (and the backs of buildings usually don’t make the best pictures). There wasn’t much to see in that direction.
  • Second, if I stepped more to the right to include the left side of the building (to produce a feeling of greater depth), the building would then cover the only background hills that were worth including in the shot.
  • Third, I couldn’t shoot super wide angle like I usually do because then it would make the background objects appear so small that you would hardly be able to notice them. Neither could I shoot telephoto because then it would blur the background to the point that the details in the hills were lost.
  • Forth, I couldn’t do a cool perspective like shooting up at the building because then the foreground elements would again cover the hills (or at least sufficiently eliminate the mid-ground, or ground between the foreground and background, to produce a disconnect between the objects).

So after several tries, I finally found that sweet spot in focal length and positioning that allowed all the elements to fit together perfectly. Or at least as perfectly as I could make them. It took some time, but I am pleased with what I was able to get.

To see more from the excursion, view the Montana Countryside Album.

The Badlands of Alberta

Today we toured the Canadian badlands of Drumheller, Alberta! Though we went to many places in the badlands today, the hoodoos were by far the most spectacular things we saw!

9277_Drumheller-Alberta-Canada_Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

About the picture: Despite the fact that it was in the middle of the day when we visited the hoodoos of Drumheller, the clouds served as a perfect defuser of light for the landscape and an element of interest in the sky. A polarizer filter helped a lot too. Composing the picture was hard because the boardwalks around the geologic formations were numerous, but they were easy to hide by getting low to the ground. This was also a good thing because it set the hoodoos up against the sky instead of against a background that would camouflage their unique shape.

North Dakota in Autumn

Today was a long day of driving from the southeastern edge of North Dakota right up through to the northwestern corner of the state and up into Saskatchewan, Canada. Wish I had more time to spend in this fascinating part of the country!

6898_-North Dakota-USA_Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-1250 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

About the picture: What caught my eye here was the fact that the barn stood alone up against the dry, partially changed trees in the background. The key to getting good shots of the countryside when you’re traveling is to focus on simplicity. Focus on it religiously! There are way too many distractions and ugly things that must be intentionally avoided. Otherwise, they they will show up in your picture to do their job of making your great compositions look junky. Telephone poles and wires, fences, shrubby bushes, and blurry foreground grass (if your shooting from the car) simply make your pictures look junky. I cropped this image a little to eliminate a distracting tuft of grass in the bottom right hand corner of the picture.