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!