Alpenglow: Nature’s paintbrush

The foreground for Mt. Whitney is the rugged Alabama Hills, a disorganized jumble of  rounded granite boulders, familiar to many as the setting for hundreds of movies, TV shows, and commercials. These weathered rocks make wonderful subjects without the looming east face of the southern Sierra. What makes this scene particularly special is the fortuitous convergence of topography and light that rewards early risers with a skyline…

Reflections on the polarizer

Polarizer 101 Photographers who think a polarizer is only for darkening the sky miss opportunities to saturate color and and emphasize texture in shade or overcast. Even worse, some photographers screw on a polarizer without understanding how it works, mistakenly believing that merely having it attached is sufficient. The amount of polarization any composition calls for is a creative decision that can make or…

Keeping it simple

Last week I guided my Eastern Sierra workshop group into the Alabama Hills to photograph the Sierra crest at sunset. We stayed until the sky darkened enough to reveal a sliver of moon low in the west, just about to vanish behind Lone Pine Peak. While my eyes easily pulled detail from the shadows of the distant mountains and nearby boulders, and simultaneously registered the…

Familiarity breeds content

Content (con-tent‘): A state of peaceful happiness…. I’ve photographed Mt. Whitney from the Alabama Hills in sunlight and moonlight, in scorching heat and drifting snow. Sharing favorite spots here with a workshop group is as rewarding as a solitary night under the stars. I’ve never photographed in the Alabama Hills without feeling better afterward than I did when I started. These feelings aren’t unique to the…

Blurred water: Fiction and facts

Some people don’t like the silky water effect. While I agree that at times it verges on cliché, the truth is that fast water illuminated by anything less than full sunlight usually offers little choice. In those conditions the question isn’t whether to blur the water, it’s how much? The argument against blurring moving water that always amuses me is the one that says…

Cameras are stupid, Part deux

Okay, let’s review. Would you really allow your camera to choose the focus point for this composition? (Hint: No.) Like exposure, focus is not an absolute that can be determined by sterile, binary analysis; rather, focus is a creative choice that profoundly affects the result. That’s because creating the illusion of depth in two-dimensional image means composing elements at different distances throughout the frame. Unfortunately,…

It’s in the bag

Probably the question I am most asked is some variation on, “What lens should I use?” While I’m happy to answer questions, this one always makes me cringe because the implicit question is, “Which lenses can I leave behind?” What many photographers fail to realize is that the “proper” lens is determined by the photographer, not by the scene. While there’s often a general…

Shoot the moon

Moonlight photography is both simple and rewarding. In my “Shoot the Moon” article that appeared in the April 2010 Outdoor Photographer magazine, I shared my exposure recipe and a few tips to ensure moonlight success. This post summarizes the moonlight material from that article. Equipment for moonlight photography At the very least you need a tripod sturdy enough to support your camera. And while…