Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tip #86: Make it Your Icon

Canoes on Lake Louise - Banff National Park, Canada
Canon 5D MarkII + Canon 50mm f1.4 @ f16

We amateurs, lovers of photography, need not feel intimidated by the millions who have preceded us. We travel to experience life and we shoot to practice our craft. It is inevitable that our journeys will cross paths where masters of the art have walked before; icons become icons because they did it first. This knowledge can be paralytic or liberating, the choice is yours. 
Here are a few ways that I approach iconic destinations...
  • I study the history and culture of the place, not the images others have made. Prior work corrupts my vision and restricts my creativity. I choose to be surprised by the unexpected rather than disappointed by the assumed.
  • Every time is the right time. I will visit before sunrise and shoot through twilight. Inclement weather and overcast skies are my friends. It is during the extremes that I have the opportunity to see and make something unique.
  • I play with my composition, my point of view and my depth of field. I strive to be excited by the experience and convey the excitement with my work. 
  • I think about the print that I will make or the post for my blog. This gives me a purpose for my deliberate process. 
Don’t be intimidated by all of the great photographers in the past, as there are many who are even better in the present. Shoot for yourself and make each icon your own.

©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tip #85: Print Your Work!

Sunrise on Lake Louise - Banff National Park, Canada
Canon 5D markII + Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE
This is a message to the Weekend Warrior, Wannabe Photographer, Blogger, Facebooker, Instagrammer and Twitterati... Print your Pictures! 
Back in the day, making photographs meant creating an artifact... a tangible product, a something that could be held, smelled and passed on. You are not obligated to relive your experiences on a monitor, touch screen or LCD because you trapped light with pixels instead of silver. If you want your memories to get lost on the increasingly tangled web or disappeared by a crashing hard drive, then keep on doing what you've been doing. But, if you want to love your photography and remember the physical experience of being there, make an artifact... and print it out.
Lake Agnes - Banff National Park, Canada
Canon 5D markII + Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE
In a future post, I'll share a few ways to get your work printed and describe my workflow for making fine art prints. Until then, review your files and a select a few precious images that deserve to be passed around and shared with friends.
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bow Lake... A Remnant of the Little Ice Age?

Bow Lake - Non Traditional View
Canon 5D Mark ii + Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE v1
These hot summer days leave me dreaming about my recent travels to Canada and the Little Ice Age (LIA) that was. I first learned about the the LIA from a 6th grade teacher who had a penchant for all things science (sound familiar?). A discussion about dinosaurs meandered into topics about extinction and the “current” North American Ice Age. To a desert rat of a kid in 29 Palms-California, I figured the guy was bonkers and let the story pass without a second thought! Thirty-some years later, I’m driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway and see a sign commemorating the “Little Ice Age” that ended around 1850. 
The glacial remnants that fill the alpine valleys of the Canadian Rockies remind us of the ephemeral state of any given point in time. While the present is now defined by the reckless dumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and subsequent warming trend, I find it interesting on this hot day to contemplate the cause of a cooling pattern that ended less than 200 years ago.
Anyway, the period known as the “Little Ice Age,” was initiated by a minor geologic event that occurred between the years 1250 and 13001. A series of volcanic eruptions dispersed sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere and blocked the sun’s solar radiation that warms the planet’s surface... just a sidebar here, it appears that sulfate reflects solar rays and initiates cooling, much like carbon dioxide redirects infrared radiation that would otherwise escape into space, and stimulates planetary warming!... The effects of the cooling trend is visible in the European and Asian art of the period that depicts scenes of winter, failed crops and ice festivals. Furthermore, a study of Canadian and Icelandic icecaps reveal the expansion and contraction of glaciers, and succession of plant species that accompanies a dramatic climate change.  Interestingly, recent research suggests that the onset of the ice age was the product of positive feedback. Specifically, volcanic eruptions reflected solar radiation which cooled the planet and allowed for the expansion of northern ice sheets. As the amount of atmospheric sulfates diminished, the expanding ice continued to reflect the increasing solar radiation and thus extend the cooling trend. Were it not for the industrial revolution and the burning of fossilized carbon, we might still be in an ice age today... just a little something to ponder.
Bow Lake in Black and White
Canon 5D Mark ii + Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE v1
The two images in the post were taken along the Bow River at Bow Lake. With an altitude of 1920 m, Bow Lake is south of the Bow Summit, east of the Wapta Icefield, and can be found along the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper. On this rainy evening, the sun was obscured by a thick ceiling of clouds and a cold wind was agitating the water. I chose a vertical composition to include both the lake and mountain peaks. Using a variable neutral density filter on my wide angle lens, I was able to produce a 13 second exposure and capture the movement of the wind on the lake’s water. While I was amazed by the broad color spectrum on this day, I feel like the black and white treatment more accurately conveys the cold and dreary nature of the experience.

©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tip #84: The Tips are Back!... Tools (Part 2: The Wildlife Lens)

Grizzly After the Rain - Banff National Park, Alberta Canada
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS @ f2.8

In Tip #83 I described my five (plus one) essential camera features for the nature generalist. Today’s thought will broaden this discussion about the gear to include my essential characteristics of the wildlife-shooter’s lens. 
The Disclosure Statement: Selecting the right lens will likely involve a Compromise.
  • High-end and advanced telephoto optics are very expensive to design, construct and manufacture. This cost will be passed on to the consumer who will then need to justify an obscene purchasing decision (Cost v Justification).
  • Telephoto lenses, by design, have massive optical elements. To house these elements, the lens barrels are constructed from exotic metals and reinforced plastics. As a result, telephoto lenses are heavy, bulky and difficult to carry (Magnification v Bulk).
  • The most expensive telephoto optics are relatively fast lenses. In contrast to the best of the best, similar focal length lenses can be acquired for less of an investment if you are willing to sacrifice lens speed. Consider the following as one example: Weighing in at 3.84 kg, the Canon 400mm f2.8L IS markII can be purchased for the mere sum of $11,499. In contrast, the budget minded wildlife photographer might decide to spend $10,000 on an incredible safari to Africa and invest the other $1,499 on a Canon 400mm f5.6L or Canon 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6L IS optic. While the additional $10,000 buys the photographer two precious stops of light, it denies her the opportunity to travel and have fun with that camera (Cost v Speed).
Curious - Banff National Park, Alberta Canada
Canon 7D + Canon 300mm f2.8L IS @ f2.8
Three Essential Characteristics of the Wildlife Shooter’s Lens
Apochromatic Design
  • The lens uses exotic elements to correct for chromatic aberrations. Non-corrected lenses exhibit softness where edges meet highlights. For example, consider a photograph of a leafless branch against a bright overcast background. Poorly corrected lenses will exhibit soft edges that appear to be frayed by colors like cyan or magenta. These uncorrected optics behave a bit like a prism and fail to focus each wavelength of light at the same point. In contrast, apochromatic optics correct for this type of optical aberration; the result is a sharp lens. Canon calls these “L-lenses,” Nikon labels them as “ED-optics,” and Sony describes these as “G-lenses.”
Integrated Tripod Collar
  • I suggest that you avoid a telephoto lens that does not include an integrated tripod collar. A good wildlife optic will balance nicely in the hand and on a tripod. The tripod collar has two primary functions. First, it is the point of attachment for the lens onto a tripod. By placing the lens directly on the tripod, you reduce stress to the camera mount and create a stable orientation for the optic. In addition, the tripod collar will allow you to seamlessly alternate between horizontal and vertical compositions. 
Optical Stabilization
  • Optical stabilization will increase your opportunity to capture erratically moving wildlife subjects. There are times in nature photography where a tripod can be an impediment to your success. Flying birds and rapidly moving mammals are a challenge to track when the lens is mounted to a tripod. On these occasions, you will need to brace the lens with your body and shoot it hand-held. Lenses or cameras that include internal stabilization (IS) or vibration reducing (VR) elements will increase your number of “keepers.” Nikon and Canon have designed many of their telephoto optics with elements that act as a gyroscope. These moving element counteract your inability to be a stable platform for your lens. In contrast, Sony has engineered their sensors to move in a way that cancels out camera shake. While this technology facilitates hand-held photography, it does not negate the effects of a slow shutter speed. If your subject is moving faster than your shutter speed, then no lens can counter-act the blur of that type of movement.
(3 + 1) Weather Sealing
  • I know I said 3 key features, but I feel compelled to add one more to the list... sound familiar Tip #83? Many lenses are designed to be used in the heat, cold, mist or snow. Weather sealed optics have gaskets where the environment meets the interior and gasket between the lens mount and the lens. The newest telephotos being released today are sealed against moisture, and some lenses now include optical coatings that are scratch and water resistant. These lenses will expand your opportunities because they will allow you to continue shooting when others have retreated to the safety of a shelter.
Buy the best lenses you can afford... cameras are ephemeral, but lenses can last a lifetime. 
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Trip Alert #6: Packing for Canada 2012

After Rain on Paradise Valley Trail - Banff National Park, Canada
Canon 5D mark II + Canon 24 f3.5L TSE
A few readers/bloggers have asked me about the gear we brought during our 18-day road trip to the Canadian Rockies. Since we planned to camp with a pop-up for the entire excursion, we weren’t limited by the equipment we could take. In April 2011, Tamy reserved electric sites at Banff, Jasper and Radium. In the film era, lack of electricity was no big deal, but today’s digital gear is different and requires access to the “grid.” While I was certain that we wouldn’t encounter any power issues, I decided to pack redundant equipment to ensure our images would be protected against a catastrophic memory failure. 

The picture, below. illustrates the sum of photo gear that Tamy and I brought on the trip.
Bruce's Kit to the Left & Tamy's Kit to the Right
Both Think-Tank StreetWalkier Series bags 
photo: iPhone 4

The bag to the left held a Canon 7D mounted to a 300mm f2.8IS L, Canon 5D mark II, Canon 100mm f2.8IS L macro, Canon 50mm f1.4, Canon 24mm f3.5L TSE and Canon 1.4x converter. In addition, I carried a pixel rocket with about 64 GB of memory distributed on 14 cards (more about this strategy in a later post), a small 320EX flash, cable release, rocket blower and 11” macbook air. As always, my Gitzo 1325CF legs and 3780 ball head were an essential part of my kit.

The bag to the right contained a Canon 40D, Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6IS L, 24-105 f4IS L, and Canon G9 point and shoot camera. Tamy also packed about 32 GB of memory, two pocket hard drives, cable release and rocket blower. Smaller gear allowed for a smaller and lighter tripod, so she used our Gitzo 1932basalt leg-set and 2780 ball head. In spite of the redundant kit, we did experience some gear failure. The smaller 2780 head would not lock down and, while the tension control made it useable for horizontal compositions and telephoto work, it was useless when it came to making vertical landscapes. In addition, we believe that it is finally time to update the Canon 40D. Although the sensor continues to produce beautiful files, the autofocus is a bit doggy when compared to the Canon 7D. The inability for the AF to accurately focus on a low-contrast subjects (like black bear eyes) led to some unnecessary frustration. While I would love to exchange my 5D mark II for the current mark III, I think I will continue to use my dual body system... 7D + 300 f2.8IS for wildlife and 5D mark II for landscape and macro work. While the 5D mark II shares the same arcane AF system as the 40D, I rarely use AF for landscape and macro work. Here the primitive center focus point is good enough, and live-view allows me to accurately focus for detail.
Bruce's Bag Packed and Ready for Use
photo: iPhone 4
Future posts will continue to offer photo tips as well as reflections about our international travels.
Cheers and good shooting, 
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trip Alert #5: 4324.5

4324.5 miles later and... we are home at last! It was our best adventure since visiting Tanzania in 2008. We set off, due north, for the Canadian Rockies on June 20th and returned home in a sweaty filth on July 8th. We left the US for the Trans-Canada Hwy-1 and pointed the Jeep to the west. Sixteen nights in a pop-up with the dog, this was a safari to remember. Saskatchewan - Alberta - British Columbia... Canada has lots of beauty. With 12 full days in the Canadian Rockies, we saw more bears than I can recall and were surprised by the appearance of an aging timber wolf looking for a meal. 
Click to Enlarge - iPhone 4

As should be expected with adventure travel, this trip was not without its dramas. A blow-out after crossing back to the US from B.C., left us a bit deflated (ok - this pun was intended). The minor explosion destroyed our fender and resulted in non-trivial electrical issues. With no cell coverage we would have been S.O.L. if it weren't for some very kind people. A retired mechanic, weathered from years of Montana winters, changed our tire and Steve the "Repair Guy," found a campsite and arranged for his buddy Vern "the mobile, mobile-repair-man," to patch the rig for the ride home.
Click to Enlarge - iPhone 4

With two grueling days of travel from B.C. to MN, we're home and I'm excited to review the nearly 60GB of images we made. Until I do some edits and get some rest, attached is an iPhone "trip-tic" for Road Trip 2012.
Hope you get to hit the road and do some photography too!
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Trip Alert #4: Canada's Got Bears!!

American Black Bear - Kootenay National Park, Canada
Canon 40D + 100-400IS L
We've seen 3 to 5 bears a day since making it to the Rockies... here's an unprocessed, but cropped shot... more to come when the editing is done!!

Cheers from Radium,
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Trip Alert... update #3

Sequoia Chilln' at the Glacier 
Mount Edith Cavell - Jasper NP Canada
Canon 40D + 24-105 f4.0IS L

Yesterday was Canada Day... lot’s of celebrations, drinking and fireworks. Sounds like fun, but I prefer the quiet of trees, mountains and rushing rivers. So, we celebrated Canada Day with a hike to a mid-continental glacier. 
With a 20-minute limit at this wifi hotspot... that’s it for me!
Happy Canada Day to you all!
©2000-2012 / Bruce & Tamy Leventhal. All rights reserved. No image on this site may be used without permission.