As an aspiring landscape photographer, I have the opportunity to explore less traveled parks and remote wilderness areas. This blog shares of my "notes from the field," including photography techniques, hiking tips and lessons learned the hard way ... like the time I fell through the ice in the Merced River, Yosemite National Park. I welcome your comments and thank you for visiting our site. Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer, Field Photographer
“Flowers ... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
NIKON D800E,f/16 @ 24 mm, 1/400, ISO 800
Given the extended drought in the Southwest this last few years, Spring wild flowers have been pretty sparse in our High Sonoran Desert area of Phoenix, Arizona. Typically, in the early Spring, we find a few patches of sunflowers at some of our regular destinations near Bartlett Lake and Superstition Mountains (Lost Dutchman State Park), often through extended hikes. This hardly compares to the vast fields of yellow and purple flowers I vividly recall from earlier years. Recently, what flowers we’re lucky enough to photograph are situated in relatively small scattered groupings, lasting only a few weeks.
NIKON D800E,f/11 @ 17 mm, 1/500, ISO 800
Contrast this situation with the vast fields of vibrant Sunflowers we just encountered along the hillsides 12 miles north of Flagstaff this past August, 2014. Here, in the aftermath of Summer monsoon rains, we found bountiful fields of Sunflowers just north of Wupatki Loop Road, a few miles East of U.S. 89. Capture My Arizona Photo of the Day
Those familiar with the area may recall that the Wupatki Loop Road leads to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, an intriguing photogenic area of volcanic cinder fields.
Photographing the Sunflowers was a delight, not withstanding a few challenges along the way. It was a cool breezy morning (56 degrees F), with a bit of intermittent light rain, at an elevation of approximately 7,000 feet. From past experience, I’ve learned that wind movement in the flowers can ruin the best of landscape scenes, rendering the foreground flowers and trees out of focus. A few techniques proved helpful in capturing the splendor of the Sunflowers:
· Patiently, waiting for a lull in the wind. I’m always amazed how a few minutes can make a world of difference in the wind conditions and the amount of movement in the flowers.
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 70 mm, 1/5, ISO 50
· Waiting for a break in the clouds, to photograph the scene in brighter light or at least diffused sunlight.
· Setting the camera to a higher ISO level, e.g., 500 or 800.
· Shooting at shutter speeds of 1/500th to 1/800th of a second, at wider aperture settings (with attention to the resulting loss of depth of field).
· Shooting without my much-loved circular polarizer, to maximize the amount of light coming into the camera.
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 70 mm, 0.4s, ISO 50
· Using a medium length lens (Nikkor 24 – 70 mm, f 2.8) for some scenes, as opposed to my “go to” wide angle landscape lens (17 – 35 mm), to display the foreground flowers as largely as possible in the picture frame.
· Using a collapsible Reflector Disk to illuminate the flowers in the foreground of the photo, creating a fill light to reveal details in shadow areas of the flowers and leaves.
At one point that morning, we were confronted with gusty winds and dark skies. In these conditions, it became impractical to shoot detailed landscape images depicting a traditional wide depth of field without moving to unacceptably high ISO settings, e.g., 1,600 and above. Rather than fighting the limitations of our camera equipment, I opted to shoot a series of abstract images accentuating the movement of the Sunflowers in the wind.
With a bit of experimentation using brief time exposure and panning the cameral on a tripod, I managed to capture a few “keepers” presented here and in a future post. In some ways, the resulting time exposures (1/4 second to 2 seconds @ ISO 50) reflect the sense of movement in the wind and the energy of nature on this memorable day.
All in all, another great day of landscape photography in Northern Arizona and a new wild flower destination, with a few more lessons learned along the way.
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
“… The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.” - Our National Parks, John Muir, 1901
<--- Capture My Arizona Photo of the Day
Last Saturday afternoon, I received a call from my good friend and fellow photographer, Randy Dannheim, inviting me out to shoot "the storm." Gazing out my house window, I could see only the typical blue Arizona desert sky and a few scattered clouds. Randy explained that clouds would soon "consolidate," creating some great photo opportunities if we could just keep a safe distance from the impending downpour.
Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to this impromptu trek, having little expectation of any dramatic weather scenes. To explain, while any opportunity for photography is always good, I've never had much luck with serious landscape photography under the harsh summer light in the Phoenix area. How mistaken I was that day.
Driving into Lost Dutchman Park a couple of hours later, we were awe struck by the ominous dark skies over the Superstition Mountains. Our set-up and shooting at the park was fast paced and a bit hectic, lasting only 30 minutes. Gusting winds ushered in erratic spitting rain, as lightning flashes appeared on the distant horizon. Right before us, though, the rugged mountain range was aglow in warm "Golden Hour" sunlight from the western horizon.
The real drama occurred a few minutes after we exited the park, driving east on AZ 88 towards Apache Lake. A faint rainbow emerged over the Superstition Mountains, seemingly demarcating the sky with vivid orange in one expanse and blue-gray in the other.
Setting up our tripods on the roadside, we took a few quick photographs of the rainbow. It was then that we were overwhelmed to see what appeared to be an advancing, vertical wall of orange dust and rain awash in an eerie glowing light. Being from the Midwest, I immediately thought of tornado-like conditions. Here again, in a matter of minutes, strong winds and pelting rain forced us back into our vehicle.
From there, we turned around and headed home, intent on leaving the rolling foothills before the dry "wash" areas would flood with watershed from the Superstition Mountains. We encountered massive rains on our drive back home and the storm raged on well into the night.
EPILOGUE: Randy was more "in the know" than I initially realized on this unforgettable evening. The dramatic weather system we witnessed was, in part, a remnant of Hurricane Norbert, a tropical storm off Mexico's Baja Coast. Massive rains ultimately resulted in a record 50 year flood in the Valley of the Sun, with Arizona's Governor declaring a state of emergency the following Monday morning.
The lesson of the day: Listen closely to your friends and daily weather forecasts.
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
“I am gradually becoming impressed with the Carlsbad Caverns; they are so strange and deep in the earth that I can never feel about them as I do with things in the sun -- rocks, trees ... surf and fog. The photographic problems are terrific; I start with a basic exposure of about 10 minutes ... I then boost up the image and "drama" with photoflash.” - Ansel Adams
NIKON D800E,f/8 @ 35 mm, 1/60, ISO 200, Flash
As an extension or our photography trek to White Sands National Monument, we spent a day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the rugged Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico. Given our pressed schedule, I wondered if a caverns visit would be worth the extra driving time from White Sands. We pondered, "Is the cavern overrun with tourists, can we really get any good photos under artificial lighting and are the underground formations really that unique?"
In short, Carlsbad Caverns proved to be a photogenic natural wonder, albeit with some challenges and inherent limitations in the photography arena.
Located 18 miles south of Carlsbad on U.S. Highway 62/180, the vast cavern is situated in a bed of limestone, above the groundwater level. The history and geology of the cavern are absolutely fascinating, far beyond the scope of this posting. In short, the area surrounding the caverns was a coastline of an ancient inland sea, tectonic movements uplifted Capitan reef above ground and erosion of limestone created intricate calcium carbonate formations: stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies and popcorn, etc.
NIKON D800E,f/8 @ 82 mm, 5s, ISO 200, No Flash
To learn about the caverns and gain a sense of orientation, we participated in the ranger guided tour of the King’s Palace chambers in the morning. The tour was informative time well spend, but not conducive to serious photography because tripods are not allowed on guided tours.
We then spent the afternoon on a self guided photo shoot of the Big Room (Hall of Giants), a vast series of chambers with railed walkways some 800 feet below ground. Here, we were able set up our tripods for long time exposures (8 – 30 seconds at ISO 200, f 8). We had hoped to carry only our medium length "walk around" lenses (e.g., 24 – 70 mm) into the caverns, but ended up needing the Nikon "holy trinity," including the 17 – 35 mm wide angle and 70 -200 mm telephoto lenses, to capture the varying sense of scale in different cavern chambers.
NIKON D800E,f/2.8 @ 44 mm, 1/60, ISO 400, Flash
Although flash photography is allowed throughout the caverns, most of the photo blogs advise against flash as it washes out the foreground of lighted formations. Although this was the situation with many of the front-lit major formations, I found that my Nikon 910 Speedlight flash unit provided wonderful illumination on some of the formations having little or no artificial lighting, including intricate overhead stalactites and highly detailed draperies. Experimentation proved fruitful, as I ended shooting the most scenic cavern formations in both modes.
NIKON D800E,f/8 @ 70 mm, 1/60, ISO 200, Flash
Achieving accurate white balance proved to be our greatest challenge and, quite honestly, we encountered impossible lighting situations in large parts of the cavern. We learned that different lighting systems are used throughout the cavern - probably tungsten, halogen and fluorescent – with widely varying color temperatures. Matters are complicated by the use of mixed lighting systems on many of the larger and more interesting, iconic formations.
NIKON D800E,f/2.8 @ 40 mm, 1/125, ISO 6400, No Flash
Under these circumstances, we found ourselves spending too much time manually adjusting our cameras for proper white balance, only to produce otherwise strong photos with a garish green or deep orange-gold color cast. After several rounds, my practical minded brother, Brian Reinkensmeyer, finally declared, “I am shooting everything in Auto white balance mode. We can fix the color balance back at home ….” And I followed Brian’s excellent advice, for the most part, only to find the same irreconcilable color balance situation in many images back on my trusty home computer monitor.
Using the white balance temperature settings in Photoshop’s RAW converter, I have tried my best to present the mixed lighting cavern images as realistically as possible. To get around this problem all together, we’ve also presented some of of our favorite and most challenging color balance photos in black and white as well, using the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug in for B&W conversion.
VIDEO: Below Ground, Apple iPhone 5
Setting these frustrations aside, for me, the impact of our Carlsbad Caverns visit transcends the sensory experience and emotion of any two dimensional photograph we might present. It was, and remains, an unforgettable exposure (no pun intended) to a whole new underground world - a truly unique living ecosystem created over millions of years. Resting quietly 75 stories below the surface of the earth, in total darkness, the forces of nature converge in a most intriguing geology: a wonder best experienced by quiet time in a vast winding cavern.
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
"… life is a jewel box, is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure …” Pablo Neruda on Engimas (1904 - 1973)
My lifetime fascination with sand dunes is now only heightened, having just spent some extended time at the pristine White Sands National Monument, New Mexico (elevation 4,235) feet. Growing up in Southwest Michigan, I developed a deep appreciation for sand dunes along the seemingly endless beaches of Lake Michigan.
NIKON D800E,f/20 @ 35 mm, 1/100, ISO 100
The dunes at White Sands hold similar visual elements, including concave and convex formations, intricate interlocking ripples and subtle gradations from shadow to light.
NIKON D800E,f/3.2 @ 35 mm, 1/100, ISO 100
Under ever changing lighting conditions, the White Sands gypsum crystal dunes provide endless photography opportunities akin to, yet distinctly unique from those of iconic Death Valley, picturesque Monument Valley and my home state’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Like pure white freshly fallen snow, the white sand reflects the subtle color hues of the overhead sky, long “golden hour” sunrays and moonlight. So, for today’s posting, we present fewer words and more images in celebration of White Sands and its many splendors.
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 86 mm, 1/40, ISO 100
NIKON D800E,f/20 @ 70 mm, 1/25, ISO 100
Photographer Traversing Wind Sands Dune at Dusk, Nikon D800. Photo courtesy of my brother and wonderful travel companion, Brian G. Reinkensmeyer, Copyright 2014
NIKON D800E,f/16 @ 27 mm, 6s, ISO 100
VIDEO: White Sands Morning, Apple iPhone 5s
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
“To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” - William Blake (1757 – 1827)
Our recent photography trek to White Sands National Monument (elevation 4,235 feet) exceeded my expectations. My brother, Brian Reinkensmeyer, and I were graced with excellent weather, superb lighting conditions and photo ops galore.
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 70 mm, 1/40, ISO 100
While the winter season has shorter daylight hours, we were pleased to find that the soft light and low angle of the sun allowed us to photograph the dunes well beyond the recommended "golden hour."
NIKON D800E,f/20 @ 24 mm, 1/6, ISO 200
Located in south central New Mexico, the mountain ringed White Sands National Monument is situated in the vast Tularosa Basin. The white gypsum dunes occupy 115 square miles of a massive dunes field encompassing a total of 275 square miles. The remaining portion of the dunes and the perimeter mountain ranges (San Andres and Sacramento Mountain Ranges) are all part of the highly secure, strategic White Sands Missile Range. Just down the road is Holloman Air Force base. With this strong military presence, we noted lots of intrigue about the early years of weapons development, space technology and national security.
Our biggest challenge in photographing the dunes was working around the ubiquitous footprints left by hikers, sledders and other equally enthusiastic photographers. You can imagine our disappointment time after time, upon hiking to the summit of a dramatic convex sand formation only to find two or three sets of deep footprints. This situation was especially problematical on our arrival day, Sunday, in the aftermath of many weekend park visitors.
NIKON D800E,f/18 @ 36 mm, 1/80, ISO 100
As luck would have it, the dunes were swept clean of footprints in a fierce evening sand storm that same evening. Fortunately, having experienced these sand storms at Death Valley, we were outfitted with eye goggles, hats covering our ears and protective plastic sleeves for our cameras (Ruggard RC-P18 rain cover, available at B&H Photo). We've also found that it's helpful to wear Gaitors (Outdoor Research brand, available at REI stores) boot covers to keep the sand out of our shoes.
With or without the low visibility of a sandstorm, it’s all too easy to lose one’s sense of direction and to get lost in the ubiquitous white gypsum dunes. We find it imperative to carry two handheld Garman GPS units our hikes in the dunes, both at White Sands and Death Valley National Park (Eureka and Mesquite Flat Dunes). Navigating via GPS gives us true peace of mind, providing wayfinding ability in darkness and amidst blinding sandstorms alike.
D800E,f/20 @ 35 mm, 1/20, ISO 100
A special thanks to the highly knowledgeable White Sands rangers (Kelly, Kathy and Bob), who provided extensive information on the park and nearby areas. We could not have asked for better support, both on-site and prior to our visit. Kudos to the park service!
NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 62 mm, 1/15, ISO 100
VIDEO: White Sands, Apple iPhone 5s
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.