This blog shares 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. Thank you for visiting our site. Marcus
"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." — Albert Einstein
Yesterday, it was so good to be back in nature. We made our way from arid Phoenix to the lush mountains north of Flagstaff, Arizona, for a day of hiking and landscape photography. This time, we lucked out on our timing to find bountiful wild flowers in bloom, highlighting a rich green backdrop of vibrant plants.
In the High Sonoran Desert areas like Phoenix, elevation 1,200 ft, we're graced by wild flowers just a few weeks in the early Spring, say in March to early April if not sooner. Here in the Flagstaff area, elevation 7,200 feet, Summer Monsoon rains usher in dense wildflowers, which peak in August or early September.
My approach to the wildflower photography was mostly one of waiting on the Sun, as broken clouds created dark shadows on parts of the landscape, while other areas remained in bright daylight. The other challenge was the wind, which seems ever present along the mountainside. Windy conditions required me to use high shutter speeds, like 1/500th of second and faster, to "freeze" the flowers and plants in motion. This, in turn, required the use of high ISO levels, 500 to 800 ISO for most of my shots.
All of that said, I've recommitted to visit this wonderful Northern Arizona mountain area more often in the year ahead; be it for wildflowers, autumn colors or a view of snow-capped San Francisco Peaks. This is a very special place, indeed, with such natural splendor in every season.
Camera Gear: Nikon Z7, Nikon 24 - 70 mm f/4.5 and Nikon 12 -24 mm f/2.8, Hoya polarizer filter and Gitzo Tripod.
Amidst the recent flurry of Nikon full-frame mirrorless camera reviews, I am pleased to share my first photos from the Nikon Z7 and some non-technical first impressions. My Z7 arrived last Thursday, on the eve of a quick trip family visit to Southwest Michigan. Thus, I had no time to create custom camera settings, nor did I think to bring a tripod for this family visit. So, the images shown here were shot with the camera hand held in RAW file format, using Nikon camera factory settings (apart from resetting the Color Space to “Adobe RGB”).
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/160 sec; f/8; ISO 1250
Weather conditions during the first three days of the visit prompted a true test of the camera, as it was consistently rainy with dark cloud cover, low contrast lighting and windy as well. Photos of the river and forests were all taken under these low light conditions. The last day of our visit we were graced with broken cloud cover and filtered sunlight, allowing for a bit easier shooting of the pumpkin and flower shots.
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/20 sec, f/7.1; IOS 2000.
The many features and specifications of the Nikon mirrorless full-frame cameras are too numerous to recount here in this posting. That said, my first impressions of the Nikon Z7 for nature and landscape field photography, outfitted with the Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4 kit lens, are as follows:
- Under extremely low lighting conditions, the built in vibration reduction (VR) and useable high ISO levels allowed me to shoot the camera in handheld mode at f/8 to f/11, capturing the river images with a fairly deep depth of field.
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/60 sec; f/8; ISO 1250
The VR utilizes a five axis stabilization system, which is to achieve vibration reduction to a shutter speed up to approximately 5 stops. The ISO range on this camera is 64 – 25,600, expandable to ISO 32 – 102,400.
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/100; f/5.6; ISO 200
- While I was skeptical about using an electronic view finder (EVF) for landscape photography, I quickly made the adjustment to this new shooting mode. The EVF on the Nikon Z7 displays a large (0.8x magnification), high resolution (3.6 million dot) image. After just a few shots, I found this EVF to be a big help in composing scenic images under the low lighting conditions. In the bright viewfinder, I spotted distracting content “hidden” in the corners of images and I was also quick to recognize images requiring exposure adjustments.
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/160 sec; f/13; ISO 800
- On first glance, the size of the Nikon Z7 was a bit larger than I had anticipated. That said, my impressions changed for the better when I set the Nikon Z7 next to my Nikon D850, which was outfitted with the Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. As other reviewers have noted, the design and build quality of the Nikon Z7 are truly impressive. The body is remarkably rugged, using a weatherized design seemingly made of the same overall high quality materials deployed in the Nikon 800 series. From my standpoint, with the Z7, Nikon has created a field capable camera with excellent ergonomics, including a deep handgrip and a perfectly sized protruding EVF eyepiece.
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/50 sec; f/7.1; ISO 1250
- The Nikon Z7 body looks and feels like it is built to withstand the hardships of outdoor photo treks under extreme weather conditions, e.g., rain, snow, blowing sand, etc. The scaled down body and lenses should work well with fanny pack type camera bags, which will be ideal for the long day hikes we often undertake for our Southwest landscape photography.
Nikon Z7, Nikkor Z 24-70 mm f/4.5, 1/320 sec; f/11; ISO 200
- As expected, the image quality of the Nikon Z7 is superb. It employs the same size 45.7 MP CMOS full-frame sensor as that used in the Nikon D850, but the sensor has 493 phase-detect autofocus points.
The camera is supported by a next generation image processing engine, the Nikon Expeed 6 ISP. Some 90% of the image area is covered with focus points.
- The only downside of the camera which I have noted to date involves the virtual horizon display, which I use regularly to make certain that the camera is level and squarely upright for landscape and architectural photography. This is especially important when setting up a shot with a tilt-shift lens (e.g., Nikkor PC-E 24 mm f/3.5 ED Tilt Shift Lens). The Z7 will display a graphic circle depicting the virtual horizon on demand in the EVF display. However, the non-transparent circle is situated in the center of the viewfinder, where it largely obstructs the center of the image. The display of virtual horizon information on the D850 is far superior, wherein small indicators on the bottom and side of the view finder do not distract from the image. I am wondering if there is possibly another display option for the virtual horizon and/or if the D850 type display format might be offered in a Nikon firmware update for the Z7.
The lens adapter for the Nikon Z7 – The Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter – was backordered at the time of our Michigan trip and just arrived a few days ago. I am anxious to try out my other Nikon F-mount lenses with the Z7.
While this posting is by no means an exhaustive review, my first impressions of the Nikon Z7 are very favorable. The scaled down body size of the Z7 will make it a natural favorite for photography treks involving long hikes, as well as family and travel photography. I’ll have an opportunity to more fully field test the Z7 during upcoming trips to Monument Valley, Arches National Park and Death Valley, and will share these results along the way. MWR
Pointing to the North, the park ranger at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument explained, “You’re a bit early. In a couple of weeks, that mountainside will be covered with sunflowers.” How correct he was, as timing is everything when it comes to Northern Arizona wild flower photography.
Here, in August, summer monsoon rains usher in vibrant wildflowers. Early in the season, sunflower fields are sparse and small. Just a few weeks later, large yellow flower petals are often tattered and discolored due to heavy winds and daily thunder storms – some storms bringing a heavy dose of hail. The challenge, then, is finding that brief, special time laden with large expanses of full-sized flowers, all in “picture perfect” condition. No such luck for us on this visit, but we are contemplating a return visit in September.
That said, driving away from the Sunset Crater visitor center (15 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona on U.S. Highway 89A), we were graced with a small, but rich stretch of wild flowers. Here, by sheer luck, our timing was good, with an impending thunder storm in the works. Dense gray clouds provided diffused overhead lighting, with the dark backdrop of the San Francisco Peaks mountains. What a glorious way to start the day ….
Our next stop was nearby Lockett Meadow, the trailhead for the Inner Basin Trail at San Francisco Peaks, elevation 8,600 – 10,500 feet. At this high elevation, we found a few small white geranium flowers amidst lush green ferns and thick grasses. I spent a couple of hours in an aspen grove at Lockett Meadow, photographing this intricate forest carpet punctuated by majestic trees.
In the wooded area, a bit of intermittent light rain only heightened the sense of serenity, adding another dimension to a rich visual experience. I only wish that a still photograph could truly capture the tranquility and splendor of a day like this – of time so well spent in nature.
Technical information for fellow photographers: The images shown here were captured with a Nikon D850, using a Nikon 24 mm f/3.5 ED tilt shift lens with a Hoya circular polarizer. While I’m still trying to master the movements of the tilt shift lens – and there is quite a learning curve - it proved helpful in three ways:
- Shifting the lens downward a bit allowed for a close to the ground view of the flowers, with no vertical distortion of the trees or mountains in the distant horizon. Likewise for the photos in the forest, where the aspens appear to stand “straight up” due to the lens perspective control;
- “Tilting” of the lens (downward about 6 degrees) redefined the plane of focus, creating a large depth of field (from 2 or 3 feet from the camera to the distant horizon) – the "Scheimpflug principle;" and,
- Given the change in the plane of focus, I was able to maintain a large depth of field while shooting with wide open and midsize aperture settings. The wide open aperture settings were a big help, given the windy conditions. This way, I could set a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the movement of the blowing flowers and grasses. Still, it was necessary to set the camera at ISO 640 to freeze movement in the photos shown here.
All the best to everyone, as we plan for one more shot at the wild flowers and then an Autumn colors trip.
Related links: Northern Arizona Sunflowers: Photography on a Windy Hillside, AAA Highroads Names Sunflower Graced Mountain a Judge's Favorite, Autumn Colors: Hart Prairie Road, Arizona, Autumn Aspens Reflections, Arizona Fall Colors: Mountain Landscape Photography.
Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California
I am honored to present a solo show on Exhibits Without Walls: "Emergence: Images from Death Valley," This show celebrates the splendor of a stark, yet enchanting desert landscape and the intricate patterns of nature under changing light.
I am particularly captivated by Death Valley National Park's vast sand dunes - an icon of the American Southwest. Traversing the dunes elicits a sense of wonderment, gazing upon sand formations continuously sculpted by the forces of nature. This series explores the intricate patterns of nature, particularly the transient visuals which silently emerge at dawn only to swiftly vanish under full daylight.
Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California This past February, we had the opportunity for a longer visit to Death Valley. This proved to be one of our best photo treks in terms of weather, natural lighting and logistics. Photos from this trip will be posted shortly.
My sincere thanks go to the park rangers and environmentalists who work so hard to preserve the natural state of Death Valley and our treasured lands.
Thanks also to Mr. Ed Wedman, co-founder of Exhibitions Without Walls, for this unique opportunity.
Dear Family and Friends: I am pleased to share my recent interview on landscape photography posted by Exhibitions Without Walls: "The Transient Quality of Light."
My sincere thanks to the very thoughtful interviewer, Mr. Ed Wedman, co-founder of Exhibitions Without Walls, an international organization promoting professional growth opportunities for photographers and digital artists. Fellow photographers and artists will find this site to be a valuable resource and a source of inspiration.
I am also grateful for the adroit assistance of Ohio based fine arts photographer and writer, Dr. Eric Hatch, for this referral and his ongoing support of my work.
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
Landscape photography techniques, photo expedition travel planning and hiking tips.