03 November 2017

Here Comes Winter

 Click to see a larger copy

Winter is quickly approaching in Eastern Iowa.  The leaves have fallen, and the land is fading to dull shades of brown.  Yet the skies can still surprise with a vibrant display of color!  It was overcast most of the evening, then the low clouds cleared right as the sun met the horizon, illuminating the underside of the higher-altitude clouds above.

I just got a new general-purpose zoom lens, and this was the perfect opportunity to test out the 24-70mm focal length range.  I've been missing a general-purpose zoom from my kit ever since I moved to a full-frame camera. It's nice to have a lens ready for spontaneous scenarios such as this.

These small trees in my neighborhood were the only thing remotely interesting I could find given the limited time available. I was laying on the grass shooting upwards to avoid the houses, street lights, signs, and other unattractive clutter in a Midwestern neighborhood.  Using a wide angle let me get close to the trees and keep a large section of the sky in the frame.  I moved around on the ground to center the trees in front of the luminous clouds.


Canon EOS 5DS + Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS
24mm, f/6.3, 1/25s, ISO 200

 Click to see a larger copy

 Click to see a larger copy

09 October 2017

Portfolio Image - Marquette Harbor Lighthouse

 Link to larger photo

I recently traveled to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a fall photography trip.  Unfortunately I was about 1-2 weeks ahead of peak color (the leaves in the Northern Midwest are late this year).  I stayed three nights in Munising, MI, and was surprised at the extensive selection of lighthouses, waterfalls, and coastal nooks within an hour drive.  I will definitely be returning to the UP for more photo trips!

I heard about this location while talking to a local photographer. I woke up extra early to make the hour drive to Marquette. The sunrise was spectacular! I wish I had scouted the location previously though, because it was hard to find a great composition. I was literally running around in the sand with my camera and tripod trying to find the best composition. This shot was taken from a lifeguard tower.  35mm from my 16-35mm F4L. Two exposures (one for the sky, another for everything else) individually processed and manually combined in Photoshop, and then cropped to emphasize the lighthouse.

14 September 2017

Autumn Deere Statue

Fall colors are already appearing in Eastern Iowa.  I finally decided to photograph the statue in front of my workplace.

10 August 2017

BRZ at Night

My car is one of my favorite subjects.  Not only because I like the way it looks and drives.  But there aren't many other large and interesting foreground subjects that I can freely position to suit my composition.

For this shot, I was experimenting with light painting (using the screen on my phone) and long exposures.  I went to the local park well after sunset, and took dozens of shots.  It was trial and error to get the right amount of light combined with a smooth reflection on the side of the car (from me walking with my phone screen reflecting off the car).

The final result is the result of merging three images in Photoshop.  The sky is from one frame, while the foreground, wheels, and car combine elements from two of the light painting exposures.

19 July 2017

Tracks to Mt. Elbert

My goal on a photography trip is to capture one good image every day.  To many, that may seem a trivial goal.  But the longer I practice landscape photography, the fewer shots I take.  And correspondingly, the effort per shot has gone up tremendously.  My bar for a "good" image is now quite high.  If the composition isn't pleasing or the subject isn't perfectly sharp, nobody but me will ever see the picture.

Meeting my goal of "one image a day" starts early in the morning.  The more chances I give myself, the more opportunities I have to capture that one good image.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy sleeping on my vacations!  For this particular morning, I knew I wanted stay close to the town.  That would let me get more sleep since I wouldn't need to drive an hour to a pre-selected location.  I woke up an hour before sunrise, packed my gear, and jumped in the car with no destination in mind.  The only thing I knew was I wanted a picture of Mt. Elbert, which sits prominently to the west of Leadville, CO.  I parked next to a bike path, and a short walk later, I stumbled upon these abandoned tracks.  Minutes prior to sunrise, I scrambled to find the ideal composition.

After settling on a composition I liked, it was just a matter of waiting for the sunlight to work its way down the mountain.  It's always nice when I can take a good picture at sunrise; it means all my other pictures for the day are bonus.

17 July 2017


I went to our local park this evening for wildflower pictures.  I got distracted by the far-more interesting and challenging subject of dragonflies.  Below is an example of what the 50.6 megapixel Canon EOS 5DS can achieve.  I've had this camera for two years, and the resolution still impresses me.

10 July 2017

2017 Independence Day Fireworks

I was in Leadville, CO with family for this year's Independence Day holiday.  Leadville is approximately 10,000 ft above sea level, and has panoramic views of the Colorado Rocky mountains, including Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert.  I spent the afternoon scouting for locations all over the city to best photograph the fireworks with the mountains in the background.  After all, it isn't everywhere you can capture a firework display in front of such rugged natural beauty.  After hours of scouting, I settled on a location within walking distance of the house where we were staying.  I envisioned the fireworks high in the frame, with the mountain range in the middle, and the launch location at the bottom.

As chance would have it, forest fires in the area (unbeknownst to me) caused heavy smoke to roll in shortly before dusk.  It smelled like I was sitting around a campfire.  The smoke caused a haze so thick that the nearby hills to the east of the city were no longer visible.  The mountains might have well not been there; they were completely obscured by the smoke.

There should be mountains in the background!
All my pre-planning went up in smoke (ha) and I decided to try some abstract techniques I had read about in previous years.  The two techniques I tried were changing focus and changing zoom during the firework blast.  For both of these methods, had to move my camera to track the shell from its launch to apogee.  As it detonated, I would lock my ball head's position, release the shutter, and either move the zoom ring or focus ring.  My exposures were about ~2s.

While reviewing pictures between firework salvos, I decided I like the variable zoom pictures more, so I stopped my focus shifting photos. In hindsight (and with the aid of a large computer monitor), I wished I had shot more with variable focus.  A 3" screen on the back of a camera doesn't show the details like a 27" screen.

I really like the way these firework pictures turned out.  Had the smoke not forced me to change plans, I never would have experimented with these abstract firework photo techniques.  Now I have some new ideas for firework displays in the future. I'd like to try rotating the camera, panning, or combining zoom and focus.  It would also be nice to get a picture of fireworks exploding over the Rocky Mountains!

03 May 2017

George Wyth Sunset

This evening's clouds were cooperating and I could tell we were going to have a colorful sunset.  I grabbed my kit (I keep most of it packed and ready to go at a moments notice) and headed to George Wyth State Park.  I arrived with 30 minutes until the sun reached the horizon.  The first location I tried in the park was under water.  The sun wasn't in a good location for my second sunset spot (it will be later in the year).  Fortunately my third option on the edge of a lake was clear of overgrown brush.

The dead trees reflecting in the usually-still water is the reason I like to shoot this location.  I used the fallen logs to frame the bottom of the picture, and kept a good split between water and sky.  The clouds are predominantly horizontal in the frame, and I wanted to make sure I filled the top of the picture with color.

Captured with my Canon EOS 5DS and EF 16-35mm F/4L IS lens at 35mm and F/7.1.  Three exposures stacked and processed in Lightroom.

24 April 2017

Sylvan Lake


I remember passing Sylvan Lake on my last trip to the Black Hills region of South Dakota in 2013.  It was mid-morning and I was in a rush, so I didn't have much time to explore.  I made a mental note to return to this unforgettable place in Custer State Park.

On my recent trip to South Dakota, I returned to Sylvan lake and decided it was worth dedicating sunset to.  There were little white clouds dotting the sky, which boded well for a colorful sunset.  I scouted the location in the afternoon and imagined what my composition would be.  When the time came to return in the evening, I would know right were to go, what lens to use, where my tripod legs would sit, what aperture and ISO I'd use...  pre-planning my pictures is something I've been working on over the last year or so.

Unfortunately, my weather prediction skills are not quite up to snuff with my picture planning (the lack of cell signal in the area precluded my use of the internet).  When I returned in the evening, the little white clouds were all blowing away behind me.  With nothing to reflect the sunlight from behind the rocks, the sky would fade from blue to pale yellow, then dark blue as night set in.  Past experience taught me that colorless sunsets can ruin a landscape photograph.  I contemplated leaving, but decided I wouldn't find a better opportunity before it was too dark to safely navigate the rocks.

To make the best of the situation, I used High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique where I captured five otherwise identical images with different exposures.  This allows me to combine the exposures during post-processing and preserve details and smooth color tones.  The resulting image renders the high-contrast scene similar to the way your eyes and brain see and remember it.  Many HDR images appear synthetic, where the colors are over-saturated, the shadows appear brighter than the highlights, and dark halos surround any bright regions of the picture.  These are tell-tale signs that HDR was used... poorly.  My goal with HDR images is to process them in a way that appears natural.  Does it look natural to you?

Behind the scenes... This was Google's try at HDR; it's OK but you can see the blown-out highlights.

Captured on April 15, 2017 with a Canon EOS 5DS and EF 16-35mm F/4L IS at 16mm and F/6.3.

30 March 2017

Reading by Candlelight

Yesterday evening was dark, cold, and rainy; perfect weather to curl up with a book by the fire.  I don't have a fireplace, and I wasn't much in the mood for reading, so I decided to take pictures instead!  I hope this picture conveys the mood.

This image was actually quite difficult to capture and process.  I had to compose the scene so that the book, lantern, and table were all clearly visible.  I also wanted the lantern to illuminate the wood grain on the table, which meant shooting in a downward position.  I tried several compositions and arrangements to get the full lantern in the frame, and keep the book in a aesthetically pleasing location.

I wanted the scene to appear to be completely lit by candlelight.  Unfortunately, the candlelight doesn't illuminate the left side of the book, or the top lantern itself.  I used a flash on very low power mounted in a soft box above and left of the camera to light the scene from the front.  This provided the "ambient" light necessary to make out the complete book and the lantern.  The flash is pure white light, which appears much cooler than the candle.  To me, it looks like moonlight, which helps the scene.

The words on the book pages needed to be sharp and discernible, so I used a narrow aperture, which required a long exposure.  The dynamic range (difference between the bright candle flame and darkness on the table) was so extreme I needed to use HDR techniques to avoid the interior of the lantern appearing completely white.  This image is a combination of three separate exposures.  The majority of the image outside the lantern is one exposure.  The interior of the lantern is two exposures (roughly one exposure for the flame, and one for the lantern interior).  I used manual blending in Photoshop to combine the three exposures.  I also blacked-out some distracting background elements.

Overall I am happy with this result.  I don't like the flare above the book, but that's what happens when you have an extremely bright light source in an otherwise dark image.  The fact that I'm using Canon's cheapest lens doesn't help, either.

This image was captured with a Canon EOS 5DS and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM.  The aperture was f/5.6.  A Speedlite 600EX-RT was used with a Westcott RapidBox Octa to illuminate the front of the scene.

23 March 2017

New Wheels for the BRZ

I picked up a set of used Kosei K4R wheels to use for autocross this season.  They are super light (14.0 lbs), and I love the way they look.  I was actually hoping for more rain to wash off my car car and provide more reflections in the pavement.  I'll try again next time it rains in the evening.

20 March 2017

STi Wheels

BBS wheels from a Subaru Impreza WRX STi (2008-2014).  All of these were shot using a single speedlight and softbox.  I used my 50mm F/1.8 STM lens for these.

18 March 2017

St. Patrick's Day

I decided to have a beer last night in celebration of St. Patrick's Day (a Guinness, naturally).  One thing led to another, and three hours later, I finally got to drink it.

Shot with my Canon 5DS with Canon EF 70-300mm F/4-5.6L IS USM.  The shot is primarily illuminated from the top-left with a speedlight in a soft box.  A second speedlight was used to illuminate the harp on the can, and provide some fill-light from the right side.

12 February 2017

George Wyth Timelapse

I decided to go to George Wyth State Park on Friday to try shooting a timelapse.  I wasn't expecting much in the way of a sunset beacause it had been overcast for the last several hours.  But I knew the Iowa skies often clear in the evenings.  As I set up my camera 20 minutes before sunset, I could tell the sun was going to peak beneath the clouds.  I aimed the camera at the setting sun, set the intervalometer, and waited.  Then I got to sit back and enjoy a beautiful sunset.  The clouds blew away right after the sun dropped below the horizon, and were illuminated with a soft pink light.

This was shot using my Canon 5DS and 16-35mm F/4L IS.  The camera was set with fixed ISO and shutter speed, but variable aperture.  It was processed with LRTimelapse, Adobe Lightroom, and converted to video using Adobe Premier.  Processing took me several hours.  My powerful desktop takes almost 2 hours to process and export the 372 frames that make up the video.  This is available in 4k resolution.

For my 3rd timelapse attempt, I am quite pleased.  I've identified a few more areas of improvement:
- I wish I had done 5s exposures instead of 10s exposures.  That would double the length of the finished clip.
- I had some dust on my sensor.  This is a trivial fix for 1 image, but quite a chore to remove from 372 images.
- I used variable aperture exposure control.  The aperture values (calculated by the camera based on the ambient light) ranged from F/4 (wide open) to F/22 (minimum aperture).  I think I could do a better job controlling the exposure by hand.  I need to explore other options to control the camera during timelapse sequences.

09 February 2017

Second Try Timelapse

I did another timelapse tonight using what I learned last time:
- I turned IS off, which is the biggest improvement in this video vs the last one.
- I used my 100mm lens instead of my 70-300mm because it is smaller and less susceptible to wind.  It is also significantly lighter, which reduces vibrations in the tripod.
- I framed the scene with a 16:9 aspect ratio in mind.
- I shot in full RAW, which allows Lightroom to remove stuck pixels.
- I used Premier Pro to generate the video sequence.

I think you'll agree this video is better than my last attempt.  I'm only focusing on the technical aspects of timelapse photography.  There are still some more things I can do to improve these basic, fixed exposure shots:
- Set up the tripod on a more sturdy surface than my wooden deck.  I suspect the shaking in this video is from me walking around.
- Don't use YouTube next time.  The quality is aweful.  I'll probably use Vimeo like every other photographer.

08 February 2017

Experimenting with Timelapse

I decided to dip my toe into timelapse photography.  This should give me something to do around Iowa, since we often have amazing sunsets but otherwise there isn't much in the way of landscape to photograph. This was shot off my back deck a few days ago.  I learned several lessons after my first attempt:

- Turn IS off.  Most of the image jumping around is due to IS being on.  The rest of it is due to wind.
- I need better camera stability if it is windy.  90% of the shots used to make this were tack-sharp.  The 10% that aren't sharp are noticeable in the final product.
- Don't try to align 600+ images in Photoshop. It takes hours and doesn't end up working anyway.
- Don't frame the scene to tightly.  I framed the scene like I was taking a still image in 3:2 aspect ratio.  Videos are 16:9.
- Don't use SRAW or MRAW image capture in the camera. I used SRAW because 12 MP is more than enough to make HD videos, and I figured I would save space on my memory card and hard drive.  However, Adobe Camera RAW (or any other RAW image processor) can't remove stuck pixels when de-mosaicing happens in-camera.  There is a stuck pixel in this video that would be difficult to remove in post processing.
- I need to learn to use some better timelapse software.
- I should upgrade to 32 gb of RAM for my computer.  Loading and processing hundreds of images at once eats up RAM.

My first attempt was successful because of what I learned.  I will try another timelapse once it warms up a bit and isn't constantly overcast.

29 January 2017

Maroon Bells Sunrise

I composed several scenes during my morning at Maroon Bells.  This picture captures the sun as it rises above the mountains behind me and illuminates the peaks.  Due to the extreme contrast of the scene, I used exposure bracketing to capture the full dynamic range.  I combined three of my five exposures in Photoshop, a process which took approximately two hours.

Maroon Bells is definitely worth waking early for, if you are near Aspen.  The best spots on the lake are taken early, when it is still pitch-black.  You can see several late-comers in the far-right of this picture gathered at the far extreme of the lake.

Captured on September 26, 2016 using a Canon EOS 5DS and Canon EF 16-35mm F/4L IS.

24 January 2017

Indiana Dunes

The dunes along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan were one of my favorite places to visit while growing up in northern Indiana.  I returned several times while attending Purdue University as a relaxing day away from books.  A short but steep hike away from the beach provides a tranquil view of the lake.  On clear days, the tallest buildings in Chicago are visible across the water.

Shot with a Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi and Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS on October 7, 2011.

23 January 2017

Mannheim Watertower

I bought my first DSLR while working in Mannheim, Germany in 2010.  The "Mannheimer Wasserturm" was just down the street from my apartment, and it's where I taught myself the basics of photography.  I have hundreds of images from this location taken over many weeks.  I can see myself experimenting with different shutter speeds and apertures.  This was before I had a tripod, so I relied on image stabilization and multiple shots of the same scene in order to achieve sharp photos in low light.  This image caught my eye in 2010 and I still consider it to be the first "good" picture I ever took.  It has since been re-processed using my much-improved editing skills and the power of Lightroom.

This was taken on April 5, 2010 with a Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XSi and Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.  It is processed with Adobe Lightroom.

Portfolio Image - Maroon Bells

I planned my second trip to Colorado in 2016 to coincide with the aspen trees turning bright yellow.  I arrived in Aspen, Colorado on September 25th but was coming down with a nasty cold.  Despite feeling miserable, I dragged myself out of bed at 4 AM to make the 45 min drive from Aspen to Maroon Lake, where I joined dozens of other enthusiastic landscape photographers setting up for sunrise at one of the most-photographed locations in the US: Maroon Bells. After waiting for over an hour in complete darkness and sub-zero temperatures, the sky began to brighten, revealing the snow-dusted mountain and it’s reflection in the perfectly still water of Maroon Lake. By the time the top of the mountain was illuminated by the rising sun, every spot on the shore of the lake was filled with a tripod. The pictures will endure far longer than my memories of runny nose, sore throat, and numb fingers and toes.

Captured on September 26, 2016 using a Canon EOS 5DS and Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II.  Multiple exposures manually blended in Photoshop.

22 January 2017

Hello World

It's been a year since I first set up my new photography site, terrestrialphotography.com.  That site is built using SmugMug, a web service designed to host photo galleries (which it does very well).  For a long time I included a link to a blog at the top of that site.  Unfortunately I haven'e found a good way to make sequential "posts" like you would do in a blog.  I eventually gave up and removed the blog portion of the site.

I didn't abandon plans for a photography blog, though. And now that I have time, I am revamping the idea of posting semi-frequently.  My idea is to post photos during trips, before I spend the time to build an entire gallery.  I would also like to post photos from short trips where I might only get one or two images, which isn't enough to justify crating a new gallery or adding the images to my portfolio.  My blog will be a place to share images hot off the press, or images that don't make the cut to be included in my portfolio.

Anyway, I hope Blogger will serve my blogging needs.  This site will be hosted at www.blog.terrestrial.photography, for now at least.