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
“When snow falls, nature listens.”
- Antoinette van Kleeff
Capture My Arizona Photo of the Day,
Nikon D810 1/25 at f/16
Hiking into the snow covered meadow well before sunrise, I was struck by an overwhelming silence and sense of calm. Although it was about 9 degrees F, the air did not seem unbearably cold given an absence of discernible wind. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, subtle shadows gave definition to a ridge line and the snow covered hiking trail. In the aftermath of a major snow storm, the evergreen trees and fallen branches were laced in fresh snow.
My first decision was to stay off the trail and to instead walk on the edge of the meadow, leaving no footsteps in the pristine snow. Venturing further into the meadow, I shot a few low light images to double check camera settings.
My early arrival was awarded with a brief, but remarkably intense winter sunrise in the cloudy sky. What a stark contrast: A warm colored sky over a frozen winter scene illuminated by indirect, flat light. The resulting image is one my my favorites of Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona (elevation, 7,000 feet). So much so that I also converted the color image to a black and white version using Nik Silver Efex Pro, a digital plug-in filter for Photoshop.
Nikon D810 1/125 sec at f/16
As the morning sunlight emerged over the Alpine tree line, the serene meadow underwent an instant transformation. The warm sun beams seemed so intense, creating vivid gold tones and long shadows on the satin white snow. At this point, my shooting was a bit frenetic, knowing that this classic "Golden Hour" would last only a few minutes at best.
VIDEO: Frozen Meadow Aglow
These kinds of moments are a photographer's dream come true, but always seem far too brief. Such situations leave me pondering, "How could I have been better prepared for the moment, what other scenes did I miss and - with all of our advanced technology - why can't we just stop time?" On the positive side, I learn a lot from such rushed photo shoots by later examining my camera settings and compositions. Without about a doubt, I am my own worst critic.
Photography buffs may be interested to know that this was my first time carrying two camera bodies. Given the extreme cold and the risk of condensation, I thought it best not to change lenses in the field. I outfitted the camera bodies with different length zoom lenses (medium and telephoto lengths), remote controls and tripod mounting brackets to make transitions as easy as possible. The extra weight in my backpack was well worthwhile, considering the added degree of flexibility and ease of operation in the bitter cold.
Although I remained in the meadow until mid-morning, the best photo opportunities unquestionably occurred during sunrise and the brief "Golden" moments after first light. What an invigorating way to start the day ...
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
“All art is an abstraction to some degree.” – Henry Moore
Cool winds, the distinctive scent of autumn and a thick carpet of fallen leaves make for a truly memorable Fall day in Northern Arizona. Celebrating the dramatic change of seasons in Northern Arizona, I am pleased to share a few interpretive impressions of autumn Aspen reflections on a quiet pond near Hart Prairie Road, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Photo of the Day, NIKON D800E,f/22 @ 35 mm, 0.6s, ISO 64
While I would like to claim great foresight and conceptual thinking in creation of these photos, this series was, in fact, created on the spur of the moment in a fit of frustration … or, more accurately, sheer desperation.
On this Fall day amidst gusty winds, I found myself frantically shooting at very high shutter speeds, trying to "freeze" the movement of tree branches and golden leaves. We thought about packing up and moving down the road, hoping to hike into a valley area having at least some protection from the relentless from wind.
NIKON D800E, f/22 @ 35 mm, 0.6s, ISO 64
Instead, after trying many camera settings at inordinately high ISO levels - none of them optimal in my mind - I settled down and decided to stop "fighting" nature. It occurred to me to shoot a series of abstract photos embracing the sense of movement in the strong autumn winds and the change of seasons. The first two time exposure images were captured through slight camera movements, using a tripod with a loosely adjusted ball head.
NIKON D800E, f/9 @ 20 mm, 1/500, ISO 400
Others photos in this series include fallen leaves afloat on the pond and cross sections of the thickly wooded Aspen forest and leaf covered forest floor.
A special thanks to my son, David Reinkensmeyer, for his great company, sense of adventure and honest critique of my photographic images on another banner day in Northern Arizona. His thoughtful comments about my photography are so valuable, both in the field and back at home in front of the computer.
NIKON D800E, f/2.8 @ 35 mm, 1/250, ISO 1,250
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
NIKON D800E,f/11 @ 35 mm, 1/50, ISO 1250
“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
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.