My Thoughts on the Art of travel photography…


Or… What I Did On My Summer Vacation!

Warning, LONG post…

Canyon Lands Pano, Sony A7rii with the 24-240 and polarizer

Canyon Lands Pano, Sony A7rii with the 24-240 and polarizer


Devils Tower

Devils Tower

Travel Photography… Say it, let it roll off your tongue, think about it!  I bet that the first thing that comes to mind are images from National Geographic, fine, super saturated color photographs that could take you anywhere in the world by simply looking at them!  You know the kind, they enabled you over the years to travel vicarisly around the world just with the magazine and its images!  

But is that what travel photography really is? 

 

What is the intent of travel photography  to document a place or a trip?  Is it designed to tell a story on an individual level or to the masses?

A6300-3886- S1_500-Whodos Bryce-2016 1 copy

Well for me, it is a combination of the two.  Most importantly, the images are to refresh the memories of the trip.  But there is a real market out there for well done travel photography whether in print publications, web, advertising or fine art prints.  It can be quite profitable if you work at it and can step back and look at your own images in terms of the above markets.  Even the housing deceration market has room for this type of photography provided that you can simplify your work to show colors and contrasts over locations.

Jordan, My 7 year old photographer grandson

Jordan, My 7 year old photographer grandson

For this trip, and pretty much all the time when I am shooting digital, I exclusively use the Sony 42 mpix A7rii camera system and the new Sony A6300 for high speed work with Sony G lenses or Sony Zeiss lenses. They are very well suited to this type of photography and give you enough (42 mix)  resolution to get amazing images yet still have room to crop!

The drive for this post was a recent  two week trip out West with my wife and 7 year old grandson Jordan who I am teaching film photography and darkroom processing to (photographically, I had grand plans for him this trip).  Given time I plan on turning him into a photographic GOD for something fun while making sure he is a Rocket Scientist!

We flew into Rapid City, SD and picked up a one way rental car and our first night in a long string of hotels.

Devils Tower

Devils Tower

Our Itinerary:

  • Prairie Dog

    Prairie Dog

    Day 1. Rapid City layover and rest.

  • Day 2. Pick up rental car and drive to Mt. Rushmore in the morning and then the Devils Tower in the afternoon. Continue on 1/2 way to Codie, WY.
  • Day 3. Famous Hot Springs of Thermopolis, Wyoming then an afternoon visit and guided tour to the most successful dinosaur dig on our continent.
  • Day 4. Codie WY for several stops including the famous old west town and the Codie Rodio.
  • Day 5-7. Yellowstone for 3 days in a park lodge.
  • Day 8. Leave Yellowstone, drive thru and stop along the way in the Tetons finishing in Jackson WY.
  • Day 9. Drive just north of Salt Lake City in the town of Herbor for a 3 hour train ride around the valley.
  • Day 10-12. Drive to Moab for 3 nights and visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks with extra boat and jeep rides thru the park as well as Dead Horse Point State Park.
  • Day 13. Early morning drive to Bryce National park for 2 days of Bryce National Par
  • Day 14. Drive to Salt Lake for flight home on day 15.

Drugstore of the West, Cody, WY

Drugstore of the West, Cody, WY

So as you can see there was a well thought out family plan for travel and location visits!  But, I also had a plan, my photographic plan!

So lets talk first about my TRAVEL photographic equipment plan.  I wanted to travel light (yea right).  No backpack, rather a small rolling camera case that would fit into the over head of a small commuter plane so that I would not have to check it.  I would not have room for a film camera… Dang!

So here is what I brought along:

  1. Sony A7rii camera body
  2. Sony a6300 camera body for Jordan
  3. Sony 24-240mm one lens does it all for Jordan
  4. Sony 24-70 Zeiss f/4
  5. Sony 70-200 G f/4
  6. Tamron 150-600 for those exotic animals I expected to see
  7. And yes… A Olympus XA 35mm film camera (but it is the worlds smallest rangefinder) with 6 rolls of Tmax 100
  8. Filters, ND for long water falls and polarizers for all of the rest in 67mm and 72mm.
  9. Batteries an chargers (both cameras used the same)

This was a good plan (or so I thought) until our very first stop at Mt. Rushmore where Jordan informed me that the 24-240 was too long and heavy.  Oh well, I took that and gave him the 24-70.

RULE ONE:   No camera plan survives first contact with a 7 year old!

Ok, so at least the part of the photographic plan of me being able to NOT check my camera equipment worked! (I did put all of my insulin and supplies in the camera case just to prove my need to have the case with me but did not need it).

RULE TWO: A super  zoom really works best when you have to carry lots of glass around while traveling.  See Rule One, Jordan did me a favor here!

Yes, I know that one would not normally trade a light 24-70 Sony/Zeiss f/4 lens for a 24-240 f/3.5-5.6 Sony super zoom but I have to be honest, I was VERY impressed with the super zoom!  It was not really that much heaver but it was longer. I NEVER put on the 24-70 after that.

Things to look for on a cross country western trip:

  1. Wildlife
  2. Landscapes & Vistas
  3. Unique rock formations
  4. Waterfalls
  5. Wild colors
  6. Unique photographic visions

Trip Highlights!

Yellowstone

Old Faithfull

Old Faithful

Querimony: To Questionably Moan & Complain!

I expected great things of Yellowstone and that showed in the number of days there as well as staying in the park.  Yellowstone is HUGE, so much so that you have to allow for HOURS of driving time from location to location.  The roads are all good, 2 lanes with adequate pull offs.  BUT having said that there are rules of behavior in pulling off and rules for how you treat the wildlife.   I cannot tell you how many people (especially foreign visitors) who would jump out of the car (still in the road) and run off into the fields right up to the wildlife.  To say that this is bad behavior is an understatement.  It for one, keeps others from being able to photograph the wildlife and two puts the peoples lives in grave danger that approach the wildlife!  Yet this happened almost every time wildlife was near the road.  The park rangers had simply given up on trying to educate people who would not listen. They spend most of their time dealing with the MANY dreadful traffic accidents that happened every day.  The traffic jams were terrible whenever an animal was near.  Sometimes this was due to the animal being on the road but most of the time it was because people parked right in the middle of the road who left their cars. 

Buffalo on the Yellowstone

Buffalo on the Yellowstone river in the early morning mist

I am going to share a few of my favorite images from Yellowstone with you.   It is a good cross section of what you can expect to see while visiting!

 

Blue Pool, Prismatic Spring Yellowstone

Blue Pool, Prismatic Spring Upper Yellowstone

 

Prismatic Spring Yellowstone

Prismatic Spring upper Yellowstone

 

Yellowstone Antelope

Yellowstone Antelope, North Entrance

 

Teal Pool, Upper Yellowstone

Teal Pool, Upper Yellowstone

And last….

 

Lower Yellowstone Falls Detail

Lower Yellowstone Falls Detail 1 second  Exposure with 10 stops of ND

I would travel again to Yellowstone but in the spring or fall in order to see more of the wildlife there.  I realize that in the heat of August even the animals would move to higher locations in order to reduce the heat.  The only wildlife I really saw in abundance on this trip were Buffalo, Elk and Antelope.  

Moab, Arches & Canyonlands National Parks

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

The Moab area offered some of the most amazing locations of our trip.  I had thought that nothing could beat Yellowstone, but Moab came very close.   

Sandstone Arch, Arches

Sandstone Arch, Arches

There are 3 offerings here, the Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and the Dead Horse Point State Park.  ALL three are must see locations.  For me Arches was the best, but honestly, we spent time exploring all three in detail (well sort walk detail).  We also paid extra for a boat trip on the Colorado River thru Canyonlands for a low view and a back country jeep tour to see area and arches not available to the general public in Arches!  If you get here I advise that you do both side trips.

Courthouse Rock, Arches

Courthouse Rock, Arches

 

Whale Tail Arch, Backcountry Tour

Whale Tail Arch, Backcountry Tour

 

Windows Arch on the Back Country Tour, Arches

Windows Arch on the Back Country Tour, Arches

 

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point. Look at the lower left corner 1/3 up to see the dead horse outline.

 

Canyon Lands, Isle in the sky

Canyon Lands, Isle in the sky

 

General Utah

 

High Desart Train Pano

High Desart Train Pano

So…. I had this vision stuck in my head of a parked line of freight train box cars parked in the high desert with a mesa behind them.  I found myself looking to the sides of the car as we traveled endless miles through Wyoming and Utah.  Finally my wife asked me what I was looking for and when I told her she made a point to help me look and stop me when we came upon them.  I know that out West there are ultra long stretched of road.  Most are 4 lanes with lots of traffic.  If you see that special scene make sure that you safely stop so as not to irritate the 7 year old in the back seat, pull safely off to the side of the road as you watch for the perfect compositional setup and get out and shoot it!  DO IT!  

Because

RULE THREE:   There are NO GO BACKS!  If you see a subject or scene on the side of the road immediately stop and shoot it!

Bryce National Park

Whodos in Bryce Canyon

Whodos in Bryce Canyon

To say that Bryce National Park is anything less that amazing is an understatement.  It was right up there with Arches and Yellowstone in amazing views, colors and the wow factor!  This is the location that I would choose to visit again to try some different styles of photography.  The colors of the Hodoos are simply amazing and full of wild colors and contrasts.  

Natural Bridge Bryce

Natural Bridge Bryce

RULE FOUR:   Revisit those scenes and compositions as many times a possible!

While in Arches, my 7 year old grandson decided that he had enough nature and vistas after driving Arches all day long.  I took them (at my wife insistence) back to the hotel and went back out to Arches and drove it again in different light conditions and the 2nd time there were clouds in the sky.  This made for much better images that I would not have gotten if I did not go back out again!

Final thoughts on what makes travel photography great!

Now as you have seen here, I presented this trip as a travel log.  Attempting to document the many wonders of the high plains in the west. For images that have the possibility of selling you need to:

  • Pay more attention to your editing, scene selection and composition.  
  • You must re-visit local scenes several times in order to get the best light and clouds.  
  • You MUST shoot with your best equipment in order to produce high resolution images for future publication.
  • In your post processing you must choose only your best images and throw the non used images out.
  • Be your WORST critique and select only what you would consider to be world class images.  Case in point, the image above of the Court House Rocks in Arches.  Yes it is a nice image but the lack of clouds in the sky reduce its impact to the point of it being a weak image!

Hood Valley, Bryce Canyon, Sunset overview.

Hood Valley, Bryce Canyon, Sunset overview.

This type of travel photography is more difficult that personal travel images traditionally done by the millions of photographers who roam the country.   These types of images are still travel photography but basically serve to show and remember your great trips!  They will include more family member in the scenes, less care about the total compositional elements because those are simply not as important to the memory of the trip and locations! They are just as important, but will not generally generate income from sales and publication. 

Colophon:  Very Important Lessons Learned:

  1. NEVER, and I do mean NEVER plan a 14 day photographic trip with a 7 year old and expect him to be excited beyond the first week.   I would have been better off leaving the A6300 and 24-70 f/4 at home thus lightening my load and giving him MY camera when he desired to take a photograph!
  2. Make SURE that you explain to the said 7 year old that “NO!  There are places that not only will there be no TV but also no internet!  (I was able to get around this most of the time with my iPhone as a hot spot for his iPad!)
  3. Build in several fun days (as viewed by a 7 year old) that includes things like movies, water parks and so on!  This is a small price to pay for 7 year old mental health and will refresh his young mind and keep it open for those wonderful scenes you travel to!
  4. How can you get those great travel shots when your walking is limited?  As a cranky 63 year old man, make sure that you plan photographic stops THAT YOU CAN DRIVE TO!  We (actually my thoughtful wife) did this ahead of time thus insuring my mental health and happiness at the stops we made!
  5. Take the time to occasionally stop at nice restaurants  that actually serve wine and beer (this will assist with the mental healty of said wife!)  Happy marriages are NOT built and fast food places in a rush!
  6. If you desire to shoot medium format film, you damn well better plan on space for the camera and film!  Regrets upon your return will leave a sour taste in your mouth!
  7. Be flexible, very flexible.  This will leave you happy in the hotel at night!
  8. Take your pain drugs! (See #7)
  9. If you see a photo subject on the side of the road STOP!  There are no go backs! (see RULE THREE about this very thing and really your wife know this and will support your urges to stop in the middle of nowhere!
  10. Wildlife… What wildlife?  How did I miss all the great shots of wolves, coyotes, and bears?  I was in Yellowstone for heavens sake!  The lesson here is to make sure you check the season for high animal activity.  I have listened to my photographer Son talk about so much wildlife in Yellowstone that it was not safe to drive!   I guess he should have mentioned when he was there!  Oh well.  I AM happy with what I actually did see (Buffalo, Antelopes, Elk and Prairie Dogs)
  11. Stop at EVERY overlook in every park.  You will be happier having done so (and vicariously so will your wife).  You will hate yourself when you return home only to have a photographer friend tell you that the one overlook you skipped was the only one you should have stopped at!
  12. If you find a scene that is magical for you revisit at a different time of day.  This is VERY IMPORTANT and promote photographic health for those who have heeded these magic words.
  13. Would I do it all over again with a 7 year old?  YOU BET!!  But I would plan differently.  If I take any of my grandkids I need to remember that it is their vacation as well.  This means that you build in days doing fun stuff for their age also!

Please let me know what you think of this long post!  I welcome all feedback.

 

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon in camera pano

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Testing The Sony A6300


Smaller, Faster and able to leap over tall buildings!

Yes, you are correct, I shoot with the Sony A7rii 42 mega pixel full frame mirrorless camera!  What you cry am I doing with the A6300 which is only 24 mega pixel and an APS-C sensor?  Well friends, the answer to that is simple, well perhaps not…   I envision the A6300 as a 720nm Infrared camera.  

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer. B&W conversion

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer. B&W conversion Look at the detail in the gate and grass.  This has a 3 dimensional effect! 

But it has several very interesting and powerful functions that have engaged my curiosity.  Those are:

  • 11 fps shooting speed.
  • Faster and more accurate focus than the A7rii
  • More focus and metering points.
  • Half the weight of the A7rii
  • Much brighter and accurate focus peaking system.
  • Ability to work macro at 1:1 with live view and not have an over pixelated display.
  • The ability to turn my 600mm lens into a 900mm lens!
Sony A6300 Front View

Sony A6300 Front View

The 4 test images I took today were shot hand held at 1/250s and in RAW with Zone Focusing.  I also had the LIVE VEIW DISPLAY: Setting Effect: ON.  This enabled the camera to simulate the exposure effects during composition to give me an idea of what I am actually seeing. 

The A6300 is a TINY camera system.  It is so light (even with a L Bracket installed) that I had to be very careful when carrying it around.  I worried over dropping it and not knowing!

Sony A6300 Back View

Sony A6300 Back View

The camera does NOT have a built in Stabilizing system, rather it relies on the fact that most Sony lenses have that built in.   I has 3 custom WB memories for those of you who are considering the camera for Infrared and it also has 2 custom setup memories that I have found to be very helpful with my A7rii camera!

I found the camera very easy to use and control.  I setup all of the custom functions and buttons to make my life easier when shooting it.   

As I said, this camera was meant to be converted by http://www.kolarivision.com into a 720nm infrared system and it may actually meet that end, but I really like the ability of the APS system to give me 900mm from a 600mm lens!

 

 

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer.

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer.

Here is the color version (with polarizer) of the image above.  The colors are nicely saturated and the overall image is sharp and offers enough detail and sharpness to draw the viewer into the image!

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer.

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer.

Here is another view of the salt marsh.  I have to say that the camera with the 24-70 Zeiss lens is easy to hold and control.  The camera control buttons are easy to reach and control without using them by accident.

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer. B&W conversion.

Pawleys Island Marsh, Sony A6300 with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and a polarizer. B&W conversion.

Lastly, a B&W conversion of the same image.  

I am really excited with the functionality of this little system.  I am pleased with the results and will use it for a few months as a color system for my long lens. Ultimately it will be converted to IR but for now I will play with it.  

There are several issues with its firmware (same as when the A7rii came out).  Overheating during hight speed continuous shots is the big one but Sony assures me that a fix is in work as it was when the A7rii camera came out!

I will be experimenting with the system for a few months and see what it can offer me in terms of images and use.  Later this week it is going to the beach for some ultra long exposures to see if it has any body light leaks!

What do your think?

 

 

A Little Time Off With The New Sony A7rii Camera System


A personal trip to the West Coast to chase Hummingbirds, Rough Shorelines, Fishing Boats, Light Houses & Elephant Seals!

Light at Santa Cruz at Sunrise. Sony A7rii

Light at Santa Cruz at Sunrise. Sony A7rii 15 second exposure

Yes, it has been a busy year with the start of our workshop schedule!  Add into that a knee operation, taxes and other such negative aspects to life we decided that it was time to take a break!   So, for 2 perfect weeks we ventured out to the San Fransisco area to explore the rough West Coast!

Looking North along Rt. 1. Sony A7rii

Looking North along Rt. 1. Sony A7rii

I know that it has been a long time since I did a post here but the workshop and teaching schedule has been brutal.  It seems as quick as one year ends that another begins and we are busy again!  The good news is that the photo schools are moving along and this years workshops are moving forward.  I have had NOT had any time to work in the darkroom this year yet but hope to fix that soon as well.    Plus the knee repair is finished and I am starting to feel a little better after that!

Sea Lion on a Float. Sony A7rii

Sea Lion on a Float in Monterey. Sony A7rii

So, we decided to take a break from it all and flee to the West Coast to get lost in the rough shore, wildlife and the continued search for old fishing boats!  It was a wonderful trip and I am sorry to say that it is all over and done with but with great photographic results!

Sea Lions at rest... Sony A7rii in Monterey

Sea Lions at rest… Sony A7rii in Monterey, 70-200mm G f/4

This trip was centered on the new Sony A7rii 42 mpex camera body.  As you know I am a dedicated mirrorless shooter and in my quest for the perfect camera I have settled on this system.  It has amazing functionality, SUPER wide dynamic range (14) and a review from DXO as the best and most advanced image sensor ever tested!  I also added the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4, the Sony 70-200 G f/4 and the Tamron 150-600 A lens with the Sony adapter which allows full lens control and auto focus.  I also have adapter for all of my Leica and Contax glass as well but for this trip it is the 3 lenses listed above!

 Rt. 1. Sony A7rii

Rt. 1. Sony A7rii, 87 sec exposure, 70-200mm G f/4

We based our home plate in San Jose and then traveled around for the 2 weeks.   Spend most of our time in Santa Cruz because the hummingbirds were there in vast numbers building nests and laying eggs, but more on that later.   We also went north to Point Reyes specifically to photograph the wrecked fishing boat Point Reyes.  But while there spent time with the lighthouse and Elephant Seals!

Lone Cyprus, 17 mile drive, Peeble Beach. Sony a7rii

Lone Cyprus, 17 mile drive, Peeble Beach. Sony a7rii, 70-200mm G f/4

We also went south to Monterey for whale watching and a trip along the 17 mile drive!  The image above is from the Lone Cyprus along the drive.  The drive costs $10 per car but is very much worth the cost.  It is full of wildlife such as birds, deer and seals.  The rugged coast has to be seen to be believed!

The Point Reyes, High and Dry. Sony A7rii system.

The Point Reyes, High and Dry. Sony A7rii system. 24-70 Sony/Zeiss f/4

So then this image I am sharing above is the Point Reyes, a boat washed ashore a while ago.  This boat was suggested to me by my friend Jennifer Hunter who lives in Santa Cruz and was one of my main location visit requirements.  This is in a National Sea Shore North of San Fransisco and was about a 3 hour drive from San Jose.   

The Wave.... Sony A7rii. This wave was over 80 feet high.

The Wave…. Sony A7rii. This wave was over 80 feet high.

The WEEK we arrived this boat was burned on its stern by a STUPIDLY UNCARING PHOTOGRAPHER who put his own agenda above the preservation of the scene.  He was doing spark photography with flaming steel wool and destroyed the back.   I hope that the Federal Government (National Park) throws the book at him for this.   I feel very lucky to have walked away with this wonderful shot of this local landmark…

Point Reyes Light. Sony A7rii

Point Reyes Light. Sony A7rii, 70-200 G f/4

Also visited was the Point Reyes Lighthouse!   What a wonderful subject and location.  It is high on a cliff over looking the Pacific Ocean.  It is full of color, depth and wonder!   

Elephant Seals, Sony A7rii with 150-600mm Tamron A mount.

Elephant Seals, Sony A7rii with 150-600mm Tamron A mount.

So as you can see, I have LOTS of time to relax and shoot with the new Sony system.  To say that it is an amazing system is an understatement of Biblical proportion! All of the lenses are flawless and gave great results!   

Bright Allen's Hummingbird

Bright Allen’s Hummingbird

But Wait!  I have not shared my several trips to the Arboretum at the University of Santa Cruz!  There were hundreds of Allen’s and Anna’s humming birds there deep into the fury of mating season!  They were amazing subjects and since I did NOT bring along my hummingbird flash setup I was forced to shoot the “bird on a stick” portraits.  Still, the results were stunning.  ALL of these shots were taken on the Tamron 150-600mm A mount lens with the Sony A to E adapter.  Yes, it did and would auto focus, but with the birds against the green vegetation it had a difficult time picking them out to focus on.  

Allen's Hummingbird

Allen’s Hummingbird

So I shifted to manual focus (yes I said manual…) with white focus peaking.   To say that I was stunned at the ease of focusing with this at high speed still leaves me breathless with wonder!  

Super Bokeh: Allen's Hummingbird

Super Bokeh: Allen’s Hummingbird

The Sony manual focus with peaking is simply the BEST manual focus system that I have EVER used!  It was fast and DEAD ON…

Allen's Hummingbird

Allen’s Hummingbird

I will let the results speak for them selves…

 

I hope that you enjoyed this update and info on the new Sony system.  Please let me know what you think!