My Final Lesson in Shooting Landscape

Saturday morning: While it was still dark, before dawn, Sophie and I began our trek up a small mountain to capture the sunrise.  Immediately, I realized that the flashlight that I keep in my camera bag didn’t work and I had to negotiate the rocky ascent with a dim light from my iPhone. Fortunately, Sophie led the way.

We weren’t on the mountain long before I realized there was another problem. I had diligently checked the forecast for Sedona before leaving home, but I had paid attention to only the daytime highs (thankful for the possible break from our 95+ degree Phoenix temps). Now, I own a warm winter coat and gloves, but they were inconveniently tucked in the back of my closet back home while my hands and feet began to feel numb. Worse than that, my little cocker spaniel shivered and huddled in the freezing weather.

We waited for nearly an hour before the sun’s rays began to inch over the mountain; however, it was not in vain. I used the time to wait, to pray, to practice meditation (I’m terrible at it as my mind will not quiet down). I enjoyed the pure quiet in that suspended state between sleep and wakefulness, while the sky slowly lightened.

The site I’d chosen is one of the famous vortexes of Sedona. I won’t take this space to explain the vortex, but your can find out more by googling “vortex Sedona” if you are interested. I, however, did not experience the energy that many people claimed to feel (only COLD).

7:03 AM 10/13/12 ISO 250, 1/60 at f/18 105 mm, Canon EOS 60 D

Eventually the sun’s radiance slowly casts its glow upon the face of the red rock formations in the East, but nothing spectacular was happening. However, when I turned around I audibly gasped at the breathtaking beauty as the sun splashed its color toward the West.

7:08 AM, 10/13/12, 1/40 sec at f/18, ISO 250, 24 mm, Canon EOS 60D

7:09 AM, 10/13/12, 1/40 sec at f/18, ISO 250, 70 mm, Canon EOS 60D

LESSON #4: 1) Plan for the weather. 2) Change the settings for sharper focus. Do you see the settings on the above images. I should have set the ISO at 100 and the aperture at f/11. 3) Use the tripod (which I did this time, I am happy to report). 4) Use a cable (or off-camera) release to further minimize camera shake. 5) Check ALL equipment before leaving home, not just the camera gear. A working flashlight would have been invaluable as I stumbled up the mountain in the dark.

I couldn’t leave the top of the mountain without commemorating our early morning experience.  Sophie is not at all happy as she continues to shiver against the cold.

After I got the shots from the top of the mountain, I drove to the other side of town and watched the early morning light and shadow play across the the famous Bell Rock in Sedona.

Even though I did not produce an image sharp enough to make a large print to hang on my wall, I did learn valuable lessons about shooting landscape, and I had the chance to relax my mind as I stood in awe, dwarfed by the magnificence of this incredible natural world God has given us.

My Lesson in Shooting Landscape #3

5:30 PM, 10/12/12, 1/60 sec at f/10, 24 mm, ISO 400, Canon EOS 60D

When I arrived at the top of the mountain for my highly-anticipated sunset pictures, I rushed out of the car with Sophie, camera, and recently acquired monopod, which I thought would be great to use for the sunset shots. Quick. Portable. And the WRONG piece of equipment.  I had a difficult time holding it still and had almost as much (maybe more) camera shake than if I had hand-held the camera.

What did I learn? Lesson #3

First: USE A TRIPOD FOR LANDSCAPE. I said that before, didn’t I? If you look closely at the image above, you will see that the details are not sharp. This image would not print well — not one to hang on my wall.

Second: Notice that my ISO is even higher than in the shots taken earlier in the afternoon as you can see in a previous post. I reasoned that since there’d be less light, I should bump up the ISO. Again WRONG! Keep the ISO at 100 for the cleanest shots.

Nature provided me with a glorious opportunity to create some fabulous shots (just look at the incredible light show in the sky). My inexperience and my haste ruined them. I’ve probably read all of the advice about landscape photography before, and I’ve probably taken notes in workshops on how to take good landscape shots; however, I guess I needed to make my own mistakes in order to learn the lessons.

By the way, if you look closely, you will see houses at the base of this rock formation. Wouldn’t it be super cool to actually live there?

Next post: Sunrise shots the next morning

A Brief Respite and Many Thanks

Know how the drudgeries and duties of life sometime step to the forefront and keep us from doing what we want to do? That’s happened here and I’ve spent the past few weeks organizing, purging, cleaning, doing some part-time work to earn a little extra money, and taking care of those unpleasant tasks of life.

As a result, I’ve been away from my blog community. I’ve been nominated for several awards recently; I am humbled and honored by every acknowledgement and nomination, but I’ve not had a chance to accept and to pass on the honor. I plan to take care of that very soon. My thanks and gratitude to each of you who have nominated me.

Tomorrow, it’s back to teaching as fall break is over, but I’m thankful for my brief respite in this beautiful piece of Arizona.

This shot below is taken from one of the more common sites for sunset pictures in Sedona. Tomorrow I’ll explain what I learned from my mistakes in getting the sunset shots.

The rays of the setting sun reflect against the light rain falling on the Red Rocks of Sedona.

My Lesson in Shooting Landscape #2

Clearly this is NOT a landscape shot, but I want to share with you my overly exuberant travel companion. Sophie was NOT happy to be perched on the edge of a small canyon just off of Schnebly Hill Road in Sedona. Check out that expression: “I want to be home on my couch!” I found out that my Sophie, whom I’ve had for about 3 months, gets car-sick.

Below is one of the first shots I took as we (Sophie, car-sick travel companion & I) drove into Sedona. I was excited to see the storm clouds, which provide a dramatic backdrop as the afternoon sun highlights this famous rock formation. I made two mistakes: 1) hand-held camera & 2) ISO 200. I should have used the tripod. It would have taken only a few minutes to dig it out of the back of the pretend SUV (Subaru Forester does not qualify as a full SUV) but I was in a hurry. Hurry for what? In addition, with an f/stop at 13 and shutter speed at 1/80 of a second, I could easily have dropped the ISO to 100 to get a sharper image.

Lesson #2: Take the time to get your gear together and pay attention to the settings. Go with the lowest ISO possible.

Bell Rock, ISO 200, f/13, 1/80 sec, 55 mm.

My Lesson in Shooting Landscape #1

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted and even longer since I’ve taken a decent photo. Today, Sunday, October 14, is the last day of my Fall Break and I return to teaching my Freshmen tomorrow. My week off was consumed with appointments and a 2nd job (doesn’t this just sound like a teacher?) and time disappeared in a whiff. I was determined, however, to steal just a little time for myself.

Consequently, Sophie and I took a brief road trip 100 miles north into the Red Rock country of Sedona, AZ. We were gone just 27 hours; oh how I wish we could have spent several more days. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about the images and about the lessons I learned during our mini-vacation.

Lesson #1: PREPARE.

This rock is one of the first that you see as you enter Sedona from the Interstate between Phoenix and Flagstaff. All of the different formations have names; this one might be Cathedral, but I’m not sure. If I find out, I’ll let you know.

The stormy skies gave me the perfect backdrop.

Afternoon sun and storm clouds add drama to the Red Rock of Sedona. ISO 200, 40 mm, f/10, 1/160 sec.