Under the Influence

Gary Hart Photography: Winter Light, Yosemite Valley

Winter Light, Yosemite Valley
Sony a7RIII
Sony 100-400 GM
ISO 100
f/10
1/20 seconds

Happy Birthday, Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams’ influence on photography is impossible to measure. Not only Adams’ influence on photographers, but his influence on the viewers of photography as well. Ask 100 people to name a photographer and 99 will name Ansel Adams; ask them to name a second photographer and you’ll get 99 different names.

Through his use of relationships, perspective, and tones, Adams’ images masterfully emphasized light and shape to guide viewers’ eyes and emphasize aspects of his scenes that he found most compelling. An entire generation’s relationship with nature was unconsciously shaped by the prints of Ansel Adams, not because they showed the world as we already knew it, but because they showed us the world in new and exciting ways.

Now that I’m a photographer, Adams’ influence manifests most in the freedom to render the natural world as my camera sees it, liberating me from the impossible task of duplicating human vision. The camera and the eye experience the world differently; rather than fight that difference, Adams’ photography celebrated it.

Today’s photographers perpetuate Adams’ vision with the help of far more advanced tools, tools so advanced that it’s easy to overlook the foundation he laid for us. On blogs and forums I see some rolling their online eyes at all the Ansel Adams adulation, discounting his influence and labeling his photography pedestrian and prosaic when compared to current efforts: “What’s the big deal?” they say. To those dubious photographers I respond, criticizing Ansel Adams’ by comparing his monochrome masterpieces to the striking, vivid, blended, and stitched images captured today is like criticizing Lewis and Clark for toiling more than two years on a route that can now be traveled in a few days.

About this image

Last week’s Yosemite Horsetail Fall workshop wrapped up at one of my favorite spots in Yosemite Valley, a spot I’ve photographed so many times that it’s an enjoyable challenge to find something unique. The light on Half Dome that evening was beautiful, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Rather than settle for the beautiful but conventional shots of Half Dome and its reflection, I scanned the scene for quality light elsewhere.

It wasn’t long before my gaze landed on a small stand of deciduous trees, stripped bare by winter cold, basking in the warm rays of the day’s last sunlight. As I pondered the scene, a rogue beam slipped through to illuminate the crown of a single evergreen, punctuating the otherwise monochrome scene with a splash of color.

Though my eyes could see a confusion of textured granite and tangled branches in the dark background shadows, I knew that detail would be nothing but a distraction in an image. But as Ansel Adams so magnificently demonstrated, an image’s full potential isn’t realized unless the finished product, and the processing required to get there, is visualized and executed at capture.

Well aware of late afternoon light’s ephemeral nature, I quickly mounted my Sony 100-400 GM lens to my tripod, attached my camera, and framed my composition. Taking advantage of the camera’s limited dynamic range (when compared to human vision), I gave the scene just enough light to reveal the sunlit trees. Given my a7RIII’s extreme dynamic range, I knew I could pull detail from the shadows in Photoshop if I wanted to, but in this case I went the other way. Processing the image in Lightroom on my computer, I enhanced the contrast, banishing the distracting background to virtually black shadows, leaving only the shape and light that drew my eye in the first place.

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Influenced by Ansel Adams

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Weather or not

Gary Hart Photography: Heaven Sent, Grand Canyon Rainbow

Heaven Sent, Vista Encantada Rainbow, Grand Canyon
Sony a7R II
Sony 12-24 f/4 G
1/60 second
F/11
ISO 100

When the weather gets crazy, do you sprint for cover or reach for your camera? Your answer may be a pretty good indicator of your success as a landscape photographer. It’s an unfortunate fact that the light, color, and drama that make the most memorable landscape photos all come when most sane people would rather be inside: at sunrise, when the rest of the world is asleep; at sunset, when everyone else is at dinner; and during wild weather, when anyone with sense is on the sofa in front of the fire.

Not only do clouds keep tourists at bay, they’re usually a prerequisite for the best nature photography. Whether they simply diffuse sunlight to subdue extreme contrast into something much more camera-friendly, or contort themselves into diaphanous curtains and towering pillars that are subjects themselves, clouds are a photographer’s friend.

And with clouds, often comes rain. But the photographer willing to go out in the rain is also the photographer who captures lightning, rainbows, and vivid sunsets and sunrises. The key to photographing in rain is preparation. Regardless of the forecast, I never travel without my rain gear duffel that contains everything necessary to keep me dry and focused on photography: waterproof hat, gloves, parka, rain pants, and boots for me, and an umbrella for my camera. My go-to rain cover is a plastic garbage bag that keeps my camera and lens dry when I’m searching or waiting for a shot. The final essential wet weather accessory is a towel or chamois to dry any gear (especially the front of my lens) that gets wet.

Covered head-to-toe with my waterproof wardrobe, I’m ready to photograph whatever Mother Nature delivers. When I’m ready to shoot, my umbrella always comes out first, then off comes the bag and into a pocket. With one hand managing the umbrella, I have one hand free to compose, expose, focus, and click.

When the wind blows it’s often difficult to manage an umbrella and keep my lens free of water droplets. Since my Sony bodies are sufficiently sealed (as are many other mirrorless and DSLR bodies and lenses), I don’t worry about raindrops (but make sure you have the hot-shoe cap in place). Sometimes, when the wind is too extreme, I even briefly set the umbrella aside (but not too far). Once my composition, exposure, and focus are set, I point the umbrella’s convex side into the wind and lower it until it’s right on top of the camera (for maximum rain protection), pull out my towel and dry the front of the lens (and the rest of the camera and lens too if it’s raining hard), then lift the umbrella and click simultaneously (before more droplets land on my lens).

Learn more

About this image

Last summer’s Grand Canyon Monsoon workshop group had already had a great day. Following a nice sunrise at the always beautiful Point Imperial, we spent two hours on the Grand Canyon Lodge view deck photographing a spectacular electrical storm that delivered multiple lightning captures to everyone in the group. Here’s a sample of the day’s bounty to this point:

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When the storm moved too close and drove us inside to safety (we’re resilient and adventuresome, not stupid), it would have been easy to rest on our laurels and call it a day. I mean, who likes getting rained on?

Photographers, that’s who. Don Smith and I herded the group into the cars and headed to Cape Royal Road, where we could follow the Grand Canyon’s East Rim above Marble Canyon all the way to Cape Royal. Knowing that monsoon showers are fairly localized, the plan was to drive out of the cell that was dumping on us at the lodge and either shoot back at it, or (more likely) find another cell firing out over the canyon. In the back of my mind though was the hope for a rainbow above the canyon—dropping in west, the sun was perfectly positioned for rainbows in the east.

The rainbow appeared just after we passed the Point Imperial Road junction, arcing above the forest. Climbing through the trees toward the rim and its views of Marble Canyon, my urgency intensified with the rainbow’s vivid color, but we were stuck behind a meandering tourist who clearly had different priorities. As tempted as I was to pass him, I knew with three more cars following me, that would be a mistake. So we poked along at a glacial pace. After what seemed like hours, the rainbow was hanging in there as we pulled into the Vista Encantada parking area and screeched to a halt—I swear everyone was out of the car and scrambling for their gear before I’d come to a complete stop.

With a full rainbow above an expansive view, I opted for my Sony 12-24 lens on my a7RII, but immediately began to question that choice. While Vista Encantada offers a very pretty view, it’s not my favorite view to photograph because of all the less-than-photogenic shrubbery in the foreground—a telephoto lens would have worked better to eliminate the foreground. But I wanted more rainbow. So after a few failed attempts to find a composition at the conventional vista, I sprinted into the woods in search of something better. This turned out to be a wise choice, as the shrubs here were replaced with (much more appealing) mature evergreens.

In a perfect world I’d have had an unobstructed view into the Grand Canyon, but the world is rarely perfect. I decided to use the nearby trees as my foreground, moving back from the trees just far enough for the rainbow to clear their crowns, then left as far as the terrain permitted, separating the two left-most trees. Composing wide enough to include the trees top-to-bottom also allowed me to include all of the rainbow—suddenly my 12-24 lens choice was genius!

After finishing at Vista Encantada we continued down the road and photographed another rainbow from Roosevelt Point, before wrapping up the day with a sunset for the ages at Cape Royal. A great day indeed, all thanks to weather that would have kept most tourists indoors.

Grand Canyon Photo Workshops


Rainbows, Lightning, and So Much More

A Grand Canyon Monsoon Gallery

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Static Juxtaposition

Gary Hart Photography: Framed Sunset, Mt. Whitney and Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills

Framed Sunset, Mt. Whitney and Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills
Sony a7R III
Sony 12-24 f/4 G
.8 seconds
F/11
ISO 100

My previous post was about dynamic juxtaposition in landscape photography—combining static landscape subjects with transient meteorological and celestial elements. The other side of the juxtaposition coin I call static juxtaposition: combining stationary landscape objects. I am a little reluctant to use the word “static” because there is one element that absolutely can’t be static in these compositions: You.

Since I don’t photograph people or wildlife, I often joke that I don’t photograph anything that moves. And because of this, I need to create motion by encouraging my viewers’ eyes to move through my frame, either providing a path for their eyes to follow and/or a place for them to land. Accomplishing this with static subjects isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does require some physical effort.

Most photographers don’t have a problem getting themselves to the general locations that align foreground and background subjects, but many get a little lazy once they’re there, planting their tripods clinging to the spot like a ship an anchor.

Once I’ve arrived at a location and identified my primary subject, I challenge myself to find at least one other element on a different plane. Sometimes that’s easy, other times…, not so much. Nevertheless, when my subject is in the distance, I look for something closer that has visual weight; likewise, if my subject is nearby, I want something with visual weight in my background. Visual weight is something that pulls the eye: a flower, tree, shrub, leaf, reflection, rock—I could go on, but you get the point. Sometimes it’s not even a distinct entity, but rather a pattern, texture, color, or splash of light.

My secondary subject can have strong aesthetic value or not—sometimes it’s there simply to balance the frame, while other times it has almost as much visual appeal as my primary subject. Regardless of its visual strength, my secondary subject’s placement, both in the frame and relative to the scene’s other visual elements, can make or break an image. And lacking a forklift, pretty much the only way to change the relative position of two static objects in a photographic frame is carefull positioning of the camera (and the photographer behind it!).

Some guidelines

As a general rule I avoid merging my essential visual elements—to do conflates those elements and sacrifices the illusion of depth that’s so essential in a two-dimentional image. Another thing I try to avoid is objects with visual weight at the edge of my frame because anything that pulls my viewers’ eyes toward the image’s boundary dilutes its impact.

Viewers’ eyes move most effectively through a scene by following lines. Sometimes those lines are tangible, like a horizontal horizon, vertical waterfall, or diagonal river. But often it’s up to me to create virtual lines—an implicit, connect-the-dots path between visual elements, or textures and shapes that frame my primary subject and constrain my viewers’ eyes. For example:

Gary Hart Photography: Fallen Color, Rock Creek Canyon, Eastern Sierra

Diagonal: This is a strong visual connection because the line created traverses the frame’s top, bottom, left, and right hemispheres.

Gary Hart Photography: Autumn Reflection, Half Dome, Yosemite

Linear (yes, I know a diagonal line is linear too): I often do this in a vertical composition to guide the eye to my primary subject. Here I use floating autumn leaves to guide my viewer straight to Half Dome.

Gary Hart Photography: Spring Sunset, Leidig Meadow, Yosemite

Circular: Okay, maybe not literally a circle, more of a frame that surrounds the primary subject. In this case I framed Half Dome and its reflection with the color and texture of grass, spring foliage, and vertical tree trunks.

For example

Last week I was at Mobius Arch beneath Mt. Whitney, the final stop of my annual Death Valley photo workshop. After three days of spectacular Death Valley sunrises and sunsets that seem to be trying to outdo the one before it, I didn’t dare to hope that the string would continue when we moved to the Alabama Hills.

The real show here is sunrise, when day’s first rays of sun color the Sierra Crest with alpenglow’s pink hues, even on clear sky mornings. Sunsets here require a little help. The view here faces west, so at sunset you usually find yourself photographing the shaded side of your subjects against the brightest part of the sky—not really a recipe for success. But a few clouds on the western horizon not only add color and texture, they soften the light. And that’s what happened last week.

Before sunset the thin, translucent cirrus layer was lost in the late afternoon glare, but as the sun dropped below the horizon, the clouds picked up its refracted long wavelengths and colored the sky deepening shades of red. Soon the color was so intense that it shaded weathered granite boulders.

The three elements I wanted to feature in my composition were Mobius Arch, the Sierra  Crest (Lone Pine Peak and Mt. Whitney), and the colorful sky. As dramatic as the Sierra Crest is, the star of this scene is the arch. With no real access to a telephoto view, filling my frame with the arch means a wide angle lens that includes too much sky. But the vivid color this evening gave me a rare opportunity to include a sky worthy of the rest of the scene.

My Sony 12-24 f/4 G lens allowed me to within a couple feet of the arch while still fitting it in my frame. With the Sierra Crest framed by the arch, I was careful to position myself so both Lone Pine Peak (on the left) and Mt. Whitney (on the right) were visible. Finally, I needed to decide the camera height. When the sky is less interesting, I raise my camera to fill the arch’s opening with the mountains and minimize the sky. But this evening the colorful sky was an asset,  so I dropped as low as I could to maximize it.

At such a wide focal length, depth of field was a piece of cake—I didn’t need to check my hyperfocal app to know that I had lots of margin for error. Focusing toward the back of the arch, I easily achieved the front-to-back sharpness I wanted. Click.

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A Gallery of Static Juxtapositions

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Dynamic Juxtaposition

Gary Hart Photography: Eclipsed Moonset, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley

Moonset Eclipse, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
Sony a7RII
Sony 100-400 GM
ISO 800
f/11
1/4 seconds

Much of my photography is about juxtaposition of elements with the landscape. Sometimes that’s simply combining static terrestrial features, but when possible I try to add something more dynamic, such as meteorological subjects like lightning or a rainbow, or celestial objects like the Milky Way or the Moon. The challenge with dynamic juxtapositions is timing—while the meteorological juxtapositions are usually a matter of playing the odds, celestial juxtapositions are gloriously precise.

Lunar choreography

Just as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Moon revolves around Earth; at any point in this celestial dance, half of Earth is daylight and half is night, while half of the Moon is lit and half is dark. The amount of the Moon we see (its phase) depends on the relative position of the Sun, Moon, and Earth in this dance, and once each month all of the sunlit side of the Moon faces the dark side of Earth, and we Earthlings enjoy a full Moon.

This alignment of three or more orbiting celestial bodies necessary for a full (and new) Moon is called ‘syzygy.’ Due to the Moon’s orbit around Earth, the Sun, Earth, and Moon achieve syzygy twice each lunar month: once when the Moon is between the Sun and Earth (a new Moon), and again when Earth is between the Sun and Moon (a full Moon).

The Moon completes its trip around Earth every 27.3 days, but it takes 29.5 days to cycle through all its phases, from new to full and back to new again. The Moon’s phases need that extra 2+ days because as the Moon circles Earth, Earth also circles the Sun, taking the syzygy point with it—imagine a race with a moving finish line.

Viewed from Earth, the Sun and Moon are on opposite sides of the sky when the Moon is full, so a full Moon rises in the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise. We rarely see a full Moon rising exactly as the Sun sets (or setting as the Sun rises) because: 1) the point of maximum fullness (when the Sun, Earth, and Moon align perfectly) only happens at one instant on the full Moon day—at every other instant of each month’s full Moon day, the Moon is merely almost full (but still full enough to appear full); 2) published Sun/Moon rise/set times assume a flat horizon—if you have mountains between you and the horizon, your view of the true Sun/Moon rise/set is blocked; and 3) The more extreme your latitude (angular distance from the equator), the more skewed the Sun/Moon alignment appears.

Knowing this, it should make sense that the closer the Moon is to full, the longer it’s in the night sky, and a full Moon is in the sky all night long. Less intuitive but very important for lunar photographers to know, each day the Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later (between 30-70 minutes) than it rose the previous day—I usually mentally round to an hour for quick figuring.

Lunar Eclipse

If the Moon orbited Earth on the same plane Earth orbits the Sun, we’d have an eclipse with each syzygy: every new Moon, Earth would pass through the Moon’s shadow and somewhere on Earth would experience a solar eclipse; every full Moon the night side of Earth would witness a lunar eclipse as the Moon passes into Earth’s shadow. But the Moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees from Earth’s orbit, making the perfect alignment an eclipse requires relatively rare.

It turns out that the alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon necessary for a lunar eclipse happens from two to four times each year. Of these, about one-third are total eclipses, when Earth’s shadow completely covers the Moon. At totality, most of the sunlight illuminating the Moon is blocked by Earth, and the only light to reach the Moon has passed through Earth’s atmosphere, which filters out all but the long, red wavelengths. For the same reason sunsets are red, during a total lunar eclipse we see a red or “blood” Moon.

Putting it all together

As frequent and familiar as the rise and set of the Moon is, the opportunity to witness the beauty of an eclipse is rare. But in the last six months, after being shut out by schedule or weather for many years, I’ve managed to photograph my first total solar and lunar eclipses. I wasn’t able to juxtapose the August solar eclipse with a favorite landscape, but I wasn’t going to let that happen again for last week’s lunar eclipse.

Viewed from Death Valley’s Zabriskie Point in winter, the setting full Moon’s azimuth aligns nicely with Manly Beacon, one of the park’s most recognizable features. Though this year’s alignment was particularly good, the morning of the eclipse was a day earlier than I’d normally photograph the Zabriskie Point moonset—the next day the Moon would be setting about 45 minutes later, providing ample time to photograph the landscape in the warm early light before the Moon descended behind the Panamints. Nevertheless, I decided that a total lunar eclipse trumps everything, and since Zabriskie was the best place for the eclipse, that’s where we were.

We started with telephoto compositions of the beautiful “blood Moon” phase because there wasn’t enough light to include the eclipsed Moon with the landscape without compositing two exposures. Composites are fine, but I prefer capturing scenes with one click. For wider images that included the landscape I waited until totality had passed, shortly before the Moon set, and switched to the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 with my Sony a7RIII, moving my Sony 100-400 GM to my Sony a7RII.

I captured this image about 25 minutes before sunrise, normally too early to capture landscape detail without over exposing the Moon. But this morning, following the total eclipse, the lit portion of the moon was still darkened by Earth’s penumbral shadow, which reduced the dynamic range to something my cameras could handle.

To enlarge the Moon and emphasize its juxtaposition with Manly Beacon, I went with the 100-400. With my composition and focus set, I slowly dialed up the shutter speed until I saw my a7RII’s pre-capture “zebra” highlight alert. After clicking I magnified my image preview and examined the moon to confirm that I did indeed still have detail. The foreground was quite dark on my LCD, but my histogram indicated the shadows were recoverable, something I later confirmed in Lightroom.


A Gallery of Dynamic Juxtapositions

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Are you tired of eclipse photos yet?

Gary Hart Photography: Blood Moon, Death Valley, California

Blood Moon, Death Valley, California
Sony a7RIII
Sony 100-400 GM
Sony 2x teleconverter
ISO 3200
f/11
2 seconds

Since everyone else seems to be doing it, I thought I’d join the party….

I always schedule my Death Valley workshop to coincide with the January (or early February) full Moon, so it was just a coincidence that North America’s first super (a full Moon that’s within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth), blue (the second full moon of a given month), blood (a lunar eclipse: a full Moon that passes into the Earth’s shadow and is bathed in light stripped of all but its red wavelengths by Earth’s atmosphere) Moon in 150 years coincided with my workshop. But since we were already there….

I got my group up to Zabriskie Point at around 4:30, well into the eclipse but before totality. Unlike most group photo events I’ve experienced, this morning’s crowd at Zabriskie was a little subdued—I suspect due to the early hour. Compared to the solar eclipse I photographed last August, a lunar eclipse moves with the speed of a glacier. While it was underway, I was able to assist my workshop students, set up my own equipment, switch lenses and camera bodies, experiment with exposure, gawk at the spectacle, and still had plenty of time to chat, laugh, and marvel with the rest of my group.

Starting with my Sony a7RIII, Sony 100-400 f/4 GM, and Sony 2x teleconverter, I cranked my focal length all the way out to 800mm and started clicking. After a while I pulled out my Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4, putting it on the a7RIII and switching the telephoto setup to my a7RII. Since time wasn’t a concern, I only used one tripod, switching the two bodies back and forth as my needs dictated.

Throughout the eclipse the Moon was softened by a thin layer of cirrus clouds. This image is among my first of the morning, before the Moon reached a band of denser clouds close to the horizon. I ended up with more creative captures, but those will need to wait for another day.

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The Moon In All Shapes And Sizes

Tapping the joy

Gary Hart Photography: Rainbow and Snowfall, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite

Rainbow and Snowfall, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite
Sony a7R II
Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f4
1/60 second
F/11
ISO 100

The downside of turning your passion into your profession is that so many decisions are no longer based on the pleasure they bring. Since my early 20s, I’d been very happy as an amateur photographer, picking my photo destinations and the images I clicked for the sheer joy of it. But I knew becoming a professional photographer risked preempting that joy with photography decisions designed to pay the bills.

For that reason, part of my decision to become professional a dozen or so years ago included a personal vow to only photograph what I want to photograph, and to never take a picture just because I thought it would make money. I was able to blend my years of photography experience with my prior career in technical communications (tech writing, training, and support) to create a photography business based on photo workshops, not image sales. Of course I do sell images too, but I’ve always viewed image sales as a bonus rather than something to something I rely on.

I’m thinking about this right now because this image reminds me how little time I actually have to work on my images. I’d totally forgotten about this afternoon from last April, when a storm cleared to reveal a dusting of fresh snow on the granite surrounding Yosemite Valley. As we stood marveling at the majesty, a ray of sun burst through the clouds to paint a vivid rainbow in the mist gathered beneath Bridalveil Fall.

It’s finds like this that remind me of the hundreds (thousands?) of images waiting to be processed and shared, some going back more than ten years. This isn’t a complaint—I can’t image a better life than mine. In fact, instead of lamenting the inability to reap the fruits of my labor, I find comfort in the knowledge of these images’ existence. Even if I never process and share them, they’re a reminder of my good fortune. If there’s a lesson here, maybe it’s that, for me at least, the true joy of photography isn’t the images and the acclaim they evoke, it’s simply the act of capturing them.

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Some Personal Favorites

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It’s in the bag(s)

Gary Hart Photography: Surf's Up, Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Surf’s Up, Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon
Sony a7R III
Sony 12-24 f/4 G
1/4 second
F/16
ISO 100

I just returned from a trip to Oregon with Don Smith. The prime purpose of our trip was to check out the fire damage in the Columbia River Gorge in advance of our annual spring workshop there. Because the damage in the areas where we take our groups wasn’t as severe as we’d feared, we didn’t need to spend a lot of time scouting alternate locations, leaving us with some extra time on our hands. And what do photographers do when they have extra time? That’s right—they take pictures.

In our case, we drove down the Oregon Coast as far as Bandon. Though Bandon was a complete washout photographically—wind, rain, minimal visibility, and an incoming storm that chased us inland on our final night—we saw enough of the coast that we decided to add a workshop there. (More on that later.) The photographic highlight of the coast trip was Cannon Beach, where we found the conditions much more favorable for photography.

I’ll be sharing more images from our visit to Cannon Beach when I get a little more time, but let me just tell you right now that if it looks like I got wet capturing this image, it’s because I did. Really, really wet. So wet, in fact, that it really didn’t matter because I wasn’t going to get any wetter. I’ll share more in my next post.

I did this entire shoot with a body and two lenses I didn’t have a year ago, which make me realize how new gear I added in 2017. Since I get asked so frequently about my gear, it occurs to me that I should just add my inventory to a blog post. So here goes…

What’s in my bag

I photograph nothing but landscapes, but the content of my bag varies with the location, whether I’m driving or flying, the amount of hiking/scrambling the trip will entail, and my overall objective for the shoot (conventional landscape, moon, stars, lightning, macro, or whatever). I have a core set of equipment that’s always with me, and an assortment of specialty gear that I add or subtract as the situation dictates.

Core gear (almost) always with me

  • Body: Sony a7R Mark III with Really Right Stuff L-Plate
  • Body: Sony a7R Mark II with Really Right Stuff L-Plate
  • Lens: Sony 12-24 f/4 G
  • Lens: Sony/Zeiss 16-35 GM f/2.8 + Breakthrough neutral polarizer
  • Lens: Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f/4 + Breakthrough neutral polarizer
  • Lens: Sony 100-400 GM + Breakthrough neutral polarizer
  • Teleconverter: Sony 1.4x
  • Teleconverter: Sony 2x
  • Sony RM-VPR1 remote release
  • Tripod: Really Right Stuff TVC-24L with Really Right Stuff BH-40
  • Tripod: Really Right Stuff TQC-14 with BH-30 (I always carry one tripod, but rarely both)
  • Black Diamond headlamp
  • Giotto Rocket blower
  • Filter bag: MindShift Gear Filter Hive—attaches to my tripod (but I wish it opened on the other side) and carries…
    • Breakthrough 3-stop hard graduated neutral density filter
    • Breakthrough 5-stop ND
    • 1 Sony NP-FZ100 battery (a7RIII)
    • 2 Sony NP-FW50 batteries (a7RII)

My Sony mirrorless system is the lightest, most compact core gear I’ve ever carried. The a7RIII is my primary body. A always carry a backup body; that used to be the a6300, but I like the a7rII so much that I couldn’t part with it when I got the a7RIII. But I do like having a backup body with a crop sensor, so the a6300 is rarely far away. It’s very compact, and I’m so happy with the image quality that I don’t hesitate to use it as my primary body when I want the extra reach its 1.5-crop sensor provides.

As a 100 percent landscape shooter (nothing that moves), I’m always on a tripod. That means f/4 glass is usually all I need, and Sony’s f/4 glass provides a great combination of compactness and image quality. In a moment of weakness I replaced my Sony/Zeiss 16-35 f/4 with the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 GM and like it so much that I can’t go back. It’s quite compact for an f/2.8 lens, and fast enough for most of my night photography. And the sharpness is off the charts.

My primary tripod/ball-head choice is the RRS TVC-24L and BH-40 for its combination sturdiness and height in a relatively light configuration. When weight is a concern, such as when I’ll be flying or plan some serious hiking, I opt for the RRS TQC-14 with the BH-30. While not quite as tall as I’d like, this combo is much lighter and plenty sturdy enough for all my body/lens combinations.

Specialty gear (with me as needs dictate)

  • Body: Sony a7S Mark II with Really Right Stuff L-Plate
  • Body: Sony a6300 with Really Right Stuff L-Plate
  • Lens: Rokinon 24mm f/1.4
  • Lens: Sony 90mm Macro
  • Lens: Sony 70-200 f/4
  • Extension tube set: Kenko 10mm and 16mm
  • Lightning sensor: Stepping Stone Lightning Trigger LT-IV

My specialty gear comes with me when I have a specific objective outside the typical landscape scenes I encounter (and that are well handled by my core gear). Whether I’ve planned a moon rising above Half Dome, the Milky Way above the bristlecone pines, lightning on the rim of Grand Canyon, or wildflower or fall color creative selective focus, I have the body, lens, and accessory combination to handle it.

To capture a huge moon in my moon rise/set shoots, I use the 100-400 with the 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. Even with a teleconverter, this combination is sharper than any long lens I’ve ever used. Adding it to my a6300 gives me 1200mm full-frame-equivalent.

For my creative selective focus photography, I add extension tubes to this my telephoto lenses or Sony 90mm macro. Though extension tubes cut light, I don’t hesitate pushing the ISO of any of my Sony bodies as far as I need to.

Night photography is another personal joy. While the a7RIII gives me all the high ISO performance I need for most of my night photography, the a7SII’s ability to virtually see in the dark is ideal for the darkest nights photographing the Milky Way. Paired with the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens, this combination finds usable detail in impossible darkness. Equally important, using focus peaking with the a7SII/Rokinon combination, I can focus effortlessly on the stars, in seconds.

As a long-time daylight lightning shooter, both on my own and leading photo workshops, I have accumulated many years of lightning photography trial and error (not necessarily in that order) experience. More than enough experience, in fact, to know that shutter lag is death to lightning photography. Though I was fully committed to Sony before I had a chance to try it for lightning, I was thrilled to discover that the electronic front curtain shutter on Sony mirrorless bodies has the fastest (best) shutter lag of any camera available. Any of my Sony bodies paired with the Stepping Stone Lightning Trigger (the only lightning sensor I trust) provide the best chance for lightning success.

Camera backpacks

  • F-Stop Gear Tilopa
  • F-Stop Gear Guru

I like the F-Stop bags because they’re the perfect combination of roomy comfortable (for long hikes), and durable, yet compact enough for an airline overhead bin. In the field, I can fit virtually all of my core and most of my specialty gear in my Tilopa, plus a down jacket, gloves, and hat. When I fly, my tripod goes in my suitcase, but the rest of my camera gear never leaves me because I can fit a fully packed Tilopa into any overhead bin I’ve ever encountered (including the puddle-jumpers). When I want to travel light (my Grand Canyon raft trip, for example), I opt for the Guru, which handles all of my core gear and some of my specialty gear.

Since I always want my bodies and lenses with me (not in my checked luggage), sometimes I fly with the Tilopa stuffed with gear and the empty Guru packed in my large suitcase; at my destination I load the Guru with whatever gear I need for the next shoot. And if limited overhead space ever forces me to check my bag at the gate (which has never happened, fingers crossed), I can remove the bag’s ICU (Internal Camera Unit) and store it at my feet, leaving the mostly empty bag for the flight attendants to store.

Workshop Schedule || Purchase Prints


Surf’s Up

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