Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Watchman

Zion Watchman
ISO: 100  Focal Length: 15mm 
Aperture: f/6.3  Shutter Speed: 1/50
Filter: Lee 0.9 GND Soft Edge
Shooting the Watchman with the Virgin River is one of Zion's iconic shots. I didn't want to make my shot like what most people were doing so instead of shooting from the road I wandered down the Pa'rus trail a little bit until I found this spot. It was nice because I was the only photographer there and when I walked back to the road there were probably 15-20 photographers cleaning up. I used a little lower aperture number than I would normally use because I didn't like how my shots were turning out with the water blurred. The Lee GND was key for this shot and it really helped balance the exposure between the foreground and the sky. Lining up a GND is pretty easy. I handhold my filters. To start I hold the filter against the lens with the dark part of the filter completely out of the frame and then while looking through the viewfinder I slide the filter down until the transition between light and dark is against the horizon.

When I got this shot into the computer I still thought the exposure wasn't balanced like I wanted it to be. So I loaded the single RAW file into HDR Efex Pro and tone mapped it. At first the result was WAY too strong so I dialed back the settings by about half in order to get a realistic result. I came away being very pleased with the shot. 

If you love the national parks please check out my kickstarter project on the right.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My National Parks Project

I am setting out on a photography project to show how budget cuts are affecting the national parks and why the national parks are worth protecting. This project just launched on kickstarter. I've read so many articles about how the parks are being affected but I want to show the affects of budget cuts. Pictures will tell this story better than words will.

Why this is important?
The national parks are an incredible resource for our country. They conserve historic and beautiful places and they bring in roughly $10 in economic activity for every dollar invested. In today’s dollars the park budget has fallen by nearly 15% in the last decade and the parks are now facing an additional $110 million in budget cuts. 
Currently over 1/3 of the trails in the park system are in poor or seriously deficient condition and 90% of the roads are in fair or poor condition.
These new cuts will force the parks to have fewer employees and many visitors centers will have shortened hours or will be closed all together. A visitor’s center I just went to last summer in Grand Teton national park will be closed under these new cuts. 
How the project will be successful?
To accomplish this I will visit 10 national parks and capture how they are affected by budget cuts. I have already started researching ways to show how the parks are affected, I have been pouring over data to find places in the parks that have been affected by cuts. I will also capture the very best of our national parks, the wildlife and scenery to show why our national parks are worth preserving for future generations.   Everyday during the project I will be up before dawn and stay out until dark to make sure I capture the images needed to tell the story of the condition of the national parks.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How To Achieve Great Bokeh

What is bokeh? Bokeh in photography is the out of focus region in the picture. You may have seen great pictures where the subject is sharp and the background is out of focus, soft and almost dreamlike. That out of focus region is the bokeh. The other term that is used often with bokeh is depth of field. Depth of field is the amount of your image that is in focus.

ISO: 400  Focal Length: 50mm 
Aperture: f/1.8  Shutter Speed: 1/160
Cropped to get more detailed view
Take for example this picture of some bike gears. There is an area of the image that is sharp and then it becomes more and more out of focus as you get to the top of the picture.

There are a few factors that influence bokeh and the depth of field of your shot: Sensor size, aperture, focal length, distance to subject and distance to background.

Sensor Size

Bigger is better when it comes to bokeh. This is why it is hard to get great bokeh with a point and shoot camera. They typically have very small sensors. If you have a DSLR they will have a much larger sensor and therefore can produce better bokeh. Of course if you want the best, get a full frame DSLR or medium format camera. 


Shooting at a very wide aperture will produce better bokeh. This is why I like to shoot in aperture priority mode. If I want a very small depth of field and great bokeh I will choose a very low aperture number. Be careful when shooting with a very low aperture number. You will need to set your focus very carefully because you may have a depth of field less than an inch sometimes. Typically for portraits you should set your focus on the eyes.

Focal Length

A longer focal length will give a shallower depth of field and more bokeh than a shorter focal length. If you are shooting with a 70-200mm zoom lens then you will have a much shallower depth of field at 200mm than at 70mm if all your other settings were the same.

Distance to Subject

If you are closer to your subject you will have more bokeh and if you are farther away from your subject more of the picture will be in focus. This is why macro shots have such a narrow depth of field.

Distance to Background

If you want the background of your picture to be out of focus then don't place your subject right next to the background. For instance if you are shooting a portrait with a wall as a background. Don't have the person you are shooting stand against the wall. Have them stand a few feet in front of the wall.


If you want the best bokeh and the shallowest depth of field use a large sensor camera, wide aperture (low number), long focal length lens, be close to your subject and have your subject away from the background.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Top 5 From 2012

I thought since it's January I would go back and look at my images from this past year. It is amazing to me how far I have come as a photographer in the past year. It took a lot of reading, reviewing, editing and of course shooting, I can't wait to put even more into my photography this year to see where I can get at the end of 2013. I have a lot of planned for 2013, it's going to be a great year for pictures.

Here are my top 5 shots from 2012.

Snake River Overlook

Moulton Barn

The Browns

Oceanside Pier

Joshua Tree Stars

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oceanside Pier 2

ISO: 100  Focal Length: 11mm 
Aperture: f/22  Shutter Speed: 5 seconds

The Shot

Piers present a lot of opportunities for shooting. The texture of the sky and the pier along with all the strong lines made me immediately think of doing this shot in black and white. In order to make it seem like there weren't very many people on the pier I used a long shutter speed. When you do this you can make very crowded places seem almost empty. So to do this I put my polarizer on to cut down some light and then used the smallest aperture I could. I also decided not to make the image symmetric because I thought the clouds on the right side of the shot were too interesting to cut out.

Post Processing

When I got the image onto the computer all I really had to do was convert it to black and white with Nik Silver Efex Pro and then sharpen it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Holbrook Canyon

ISO: 100  Focal Length: 13mm 
Aperture: f/13  Shutter Speed: 2.5 seconds
Exposure Compensation: +1.33

It was a very cold morning when I got up to shoot this. When I arrived at Holbrook Canyon it was snowing. Luckily, I had an umbrella in the car so I could avoid getting snow on the front of the lens. After walking down into the canyon I made my way to the creek and worked through a few compositions before I finally arrived at this one.


I composed the image this way mainly because of two things. The ice and cascade provide a definite focal point for the image and the way the creek meanders around the snowy outcropping creates great leading lines that create depth. Notice how the eye immediately goes to the cascade and then will generally follow the stream. The use of curves like this is an excellent way to make a stronger composition.

Post Processing

Once I got the image on the computer I took down the highlights some to bring some texture back into the snow. I sharpened the image and added some definition to make the ice pop out even more.

When shooting snow you will usually have to overexpose the image. If I did not use a +1.33 exposure compensation the snow would have shown up as a grey color.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recommended Camera Bodies

These are my favorite camera bodies and are what I recommend when people ask for advice.

Best Beginner DSLR: Nikon D3200 $599

Nikon D3200

The Nikon D3200 has an amazing sensor in it for the price, just look at its sensor rating on It also has many features that will help the beginner photographer learn to take better pictures. With 24 megapixels you will be able to make small crops to your images without losing detail.

Best Prosumer Body: Nikon D7000 $896

Nikon D7000
Part of the reason I love this camera is because of the great deals you can find on it. Click on the link above to see current pricing on Amazon. This camera has been around for two years but it is still fantastic. The D7000 is an ideal camera for someone that is looking to upgrade from their first DSLR. It offers more advanced features like more autofocus points, higher continuous shooting rates, weather sealing and a magnesium body. Another great thing about going to a prosumer/semiprofessional level body is that almost all of your settings have a button, instead of having to go through all kinds of menus to change settings.

Best Portrait and Landscape Body: Nikon D800 $2796

Nikon D800
The D800 has a whopping 36 megapixels which makes it great for getting great detail out of portraits and landscapes. It also has a full frame image sensor that makes it much better for low light images. Landscape photographers will love the dynamic range of the camera. The downside of the D800 is that it does not have a super fast continuous shooting rate, only 4 fps.

Best Sports and Action Body: Canon 1DX $6799

Canon 1DX

The Canon 1DX will shoot an astounding 12 frames per second. It also has one of the most sophisticated auto focus systems on the market, that make it great for tracking fast moving subjects. The 1DX is also great in low light. Keep in mind the 1DX does not have a built in flash, but if you are using a professional body like that you will want an external flash anyway.

Best Travel Camera: Sony NEX 7 $1098

Sony NEX 7

The Sony NEX series of camera is great for those that want great picture quality without the bulk of a full size DLSR. This makes it great for taking on vacation. It has the same size sensor as the D3200 and also has 24 megapixels. The downside is that it does not have very many external buttons and lacks an optical viewfinder (they had to shrink it down somehow).

I will continue to update this page as new camera models become available that would change my recommendations.