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FIRST LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

JUNE 2017

PALOUSE RECAP

Weather was the name of the game for the workshop to the Palouse region of Washington state this year. While we didn't get any rain, the clouds sure made an appearance but we were able to find things to shoot throughout the week and make the most out of it. What was helpful was there were several times when some very dramatic storm clouds appeared and a few breaks in the sky helped the situation with some nice light combining with the clouds for some dramatic shooting.

The most dramatic setting was one I thought I would have a revolt on my hands when as we were getting ready to head up on our drive for an evening of shooting on Steptoe Butte a rainbow appeared and I stopped, sat there for a moment and turned the vehicle around and started taking off in another direction. I knew of a hay shed not too far away that got light on it in the evening and with the direction of the rainbow (actually a double rainbow) I thought it might be in good position very near the structure. When I pulled up and there was a combine parked right near the shed and the double rainbow in perfect position coming out of the the two or next to them depending on where the camera was set up some great shots were going to be had with the great light on the foreground and the storm clouds and rainbows in the background. To top it off we were the only photographers here. When we finally finished and headed to the top there were about 30 cars or more and we smiled at each other knowing we ended up with the much better rainbow shots. All was forgiven for my turning around and heading off to a spot they weren't sure about.

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When seeing the rainbow appear, I had a feeling it would be behind this hay shed

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Storm clouds, colors and lights all came together at the right time when we came across this field of canola after searching two days for this golden crop


Another good storm cloud shoot was with a field of canola and a red barn. There was very little of the golden canola this year for a variety of reasons but we did find one with a dramatic sky behind it. We also went back to this spot on a later day with a blue sky for some nice light as sun popping on the gold fields with a red barn and blue sky makes for some wonderful colors in a shot.

A dry winter caused most of the farmers to start growing the fields about three or four weeks late this year so the fields were not quite what they usually are at this time of year making for fewer rolling fields of green and gold. Every year in the Palouse is different as the farmers rotate their crops but you can count on certain areas producing some nice shooting. One area I always like for an early morning shoot came through again as the fields were beautiful and had good combinations of color, textures and patterns.

One thing that can always be counted on is the countless number of great barns, abandoned houses, old vehicles and other structures dotting the landscape. These always make for great subjects and no matter what the light is like something can be done with these. We never did get good light for one of the most famous evening shoot barns but we did get a shoot there.

A note about the canola: there should be more being grown in the future as the place that had been shut down where they send it to is reopening so shipping costs will decrease and the farmers will make more money for this crop than what they currently are with having to send it six to eight hours away for processing. The area is also switching away from lentils to garbanzo beans which does not produce as lush of green fields. This is a little more drought tolerant crop and is more beneficial to them. With changing weather they have to adapt to crops that help them make money as they aren't quite as concerned about having beautiful fields for photographers, even though they leave old equipment parked in ideal settings for us along with leaving up old barns and houses they could easily tear down.

For 2018 I'm going to push this trip back a week to allow for a bit of wiggle room for later start-up of spring growing season but it could mean we miss a few crops that might be cut from the fall planting season. It's a tricky balance of when to do this trip as quite a few people prefer the first week of June but some push out to later in the month in hopes of finding some other opportunities. Next year it looks like the trip will coincide with a moon that might let us do a night of Milky Way shooting at a barn which could be quite interesting. I have one or two in mind that might be nice.

Here's a comment from one of the participants that keeps me knowing I'm doing the right thing - Just a short note to say thanks for a very enjoyable time shooting photos in the Palouse.  I really had a nice few days with you and have several good images to work on now.  In spite of the not so ideal weather the first couple days, you managed to find some good subjects to photograph so I was not disappointed.  Thanks to your experience and expertise I learned some valuable pointers from you that will help me to become a better photographer.  Now I just have to find places to go to practice what I have learned. I will keep tabs on your website as I am certainly interested in doing another workshop with you in the future.

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One of the most famous barns in the Palouse with an old truck parked perfectly outside - right after sunrise is the best time to visit this location


FRANCE RECAP

Where do I begin. Let's just say this was a bit of a challenging trip. From lost luggage, to me having car issues (backing into a short wall in very tight quarters), to challenges getting around Paris, to just missing several terrorist incidents in Paris (Eiffel Tower evacuated while we were there for one), to a stolen passport, to a taxi not being around to pick us up after our time at Monet Gardens like I thought I had pre-arranged and more it seemed like a movie script that you wouldn't believe. But, in the end everyone was safe and we saw some very interesting sites and sights and everyone made it home with a bunch of good photographs. While we didn't get to all of the spots I had on my list for both Nice and Paris, we did get to quite a few and all of the major ones and some of the secondary ones.

Old was the key word for the first portion of the trip based out of Nice with visits to numerous medieval villages. It's a shame several have become so commercialized with gift shops filling the narrow lanes but there is still some quaintness to them that some interesting shots can still be taken. Eze, which is situated between Nice and Monaco has some nice appeal to it with a good bell tower and an interesting cactus garden at the top of the hill with the tile roofs just below it and the sea down below. This makes for some very interesting contrasts. The narrow walkways here and at all of the places we stopped provide some great shooting opportunities. What's interesting is that people still reside in these villages and homes and the mix of these very old places with satellite dishes on the roof for tv and internet is quite the contrast. Progress. You also see changes with pipes added to the outside of the buildings for the addition of plumbing. You just have to work around these when taking photos just to make it look like you're taking images of places from the 1400s and 1500s.

Also while we were in Nice we went to Monaco and made a visit to the Oceanography Museum. The aquarium here is quite amazing as is the history museum. The center was founded by Prince Albert I in the early 1900s. He was an oceanographer and many of the items he discovered and explored are on exhibit here. Built into the cliff walls overlooking the sea, the setting is one that leaves people in amazement. No, we didn't make a visit to the casinos in Monte Carlo just a stones throw away.

In Nice, the main attraction is Old Town, with buiildings dating back to the mid-1600s. The tight passageways, old churches, the clock tower and colorful town square provided some good shooting ops in town. The view from the top of the chateau hill offered great views of the whole area as well as the multi-hued blue water below. Several other old medeival villages we visited were Gourdon, Tourretes and Haut de Cagnes.

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Lights reflecting in the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower

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Medieval town of Gourdon from road down below showing its precarious location


Once in Paris the main emphasis was on night shooting of the major sites in town as well as to getting to some nice buildings, street scenes and several beautiful churches. We also got a good visit in at the Louvre where the architecture inside is just as magnificent as the artwork as well as extended hours where we had the Monet Gardens all to ourselves. Just about everywhere you turn in Paris the details of the buildings is quite amazing and after awhile some were starting to compare the buildings stating this one wasn't quite as pretty or ornate as one we saw yesterday even though it was incredible in its own right. Some pre-trip research led me to a church I had not been to before near Notre Dame that was quite magnificent: Sainte-Chapelle. The stained glass in the upper story of this place is a marvel to see. It is home to one of the most extensive stained glass collections in the world and is not to be missed on a trip to Paris. Like most indoor locations in Paris, you have to really bump up the ISO and hand hold the camera in these low lit places as tripods are not allowed. There are a few places they can be used but more often than not an ISO of 4000 or higher was required to get good shots.

At night we had to do a bit of juggling with my tripod as one person forgot a head and another brought just a tiny pod not adequate for shooting so I passed mine around to make sure they got the shots they wanted at each spot and then I just grabbed a shot or two before we moved on to our next location.

A fun place to spend some time is the Luxembourg Palace on the Left Bank. This gardens and former palace has a great pond where kids rent and sail small boats. A good bit of time can be spent here getting shots of the small boats in the water with the palace in the background and then you can walk around the grounds taking shots of the various statues amid some nice flower settings. We had good timing with being here as a small orchestra was setting up when we arrived and put on a one hour free concert to finish our time there. Very relaxing.

One thing you have to get used to now almost everywhere you go in Nice and Paris is police and military personnel walking around with machine guns. The situation in Europe is much more different than it is here in the United States but even with this presence it felt safe no matter where we went. Even when they evacuated the Eiffel Tower they allowed people to roam around the park just next to it and they eventually let people back in to the area. The only incidents that occured while I was there were to the police - one a hammer attack at Notre Dame and another of a car driving into a police car near the Arc de Triomphe. Both happened one day after the day I was there. If you do any international travel now you sort of just take it as it flows and go with what comes your way.

The more you walk around Paris the more you understand why there was a French Revolution. The amount of money spent on churches and other architecture was massive while the people suffered. Even though it might have been very extravagant at the time, we have to be very thankful for the beauty that is there today for us to go and see and enjoy.

Look for the next trip to France to cost a bit more because I'm going to hire a guide to do driving around for our travel days in Nice and we'll use taxis instead of public transportation in Paris. I'll also probably change the time of year so we're not starting so late with our night shoots as it was 10:30 before it got dark for our shots of Paris at night. May also switch things up and do the Palace of Versaille instead of Monet Gardens. I may even just go with the Paris area only and leave off Nice and the medieval towns. What are your thoughts if interested in a travel photo tour of France?

 

JAPAN IN WINTER SET FOR FEBRUARY 2018

It's here and set up. But, we have to act fast. I have pushed out our deadline as long as possible but we need to get deposits in by the middle to the end of July. Dates of the trip would be leaving the U.S. on Feb. 11 and leaving Japan on the 21st. Included would be the first night in Tokyo, three nights in Kushiro, 2 nights in Akan, 2 nights in Yudanaka and 1 night at the end in Tokyo. Cost of the trip would be $8,145 and I would need a $1,200 deposit as soon as possible. This first trip would be limited to five people and I also would need to have five people as this is what the trip is priced at through the agency for all of the parts involved including a driver/guide. This price also includes a flight from Tokyo to Kushiro to cut down on a 12 hour train ride.

The main emphasis of the trip will be visits to photograph the snow monkeys which will be done at the end of the trip. We will also have opportunites for whopper swans and some beautiful winter landscapes at several national parks as well as Otowo Bridge. Most dinners are not included in the price but we will eat together as a group.

The full itinerary for this trip can be found on the workshop page for this trip. If interested please get back to me as soon as possible as I have to get deposits to them very soon to make this trip a go.

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The snow monkeys are the stars of this trip

 

UTAH NIGHTS WORKSHOP IN OCTOBER UPDATE

Despite what you might have heard about road closures and no light painting in Arches National Park, my Utah Star Trails / Milky Way trip is still a go this year. The way my schedule works out we will be able to go on as planned but with a little bit of of change in where we are each night. We will do our first night (Saturday) in Moab in order to get into the park and then head south the next day for three nights. We'll then return to Moab and do a couple of other locations the first two nights with our final night back in Arches. From now through November, the park is closed from 7 pm until 7 am from Sunday through Thursday and only open at night on Friday and Saturday night. This will only give us two nights in the park but there are some other areas outside the park we can do some night shooting I know of that will work fine. There is always a Plan B on workshops with leaders knowing the location really well. Their ban on light painting also has a work around. I have a friend who lives in Moab who leads individual trips throughout the year and he told me how he deals with this issue.

 

FALL COLOR WORKSHOPS 2017

You have your choice of three great and very different fall color trips for this year. First there is Tetons in Fall scheduled for September 17-22 followed by Colorado Fall Color September 24-28 and finishing up with Acadia - Coastal Maine Fall from October 8-14. One each of these trips there will be plenty of opportunites for lots of trees sporting their beautiful colors along with a variety of of beautiful landscape shots, especially in the Tetons and in Maine. In Colorado we will have several old cabins and mining buildings we will explore. Of course, in all three spots I will teach a variety of fall color abstracts techniques that will add another dimension to yoru fall color photography. Learn to see beyond the trees to pull out perspectives you did not think were possible.

fall color abstract

ONE-DAY SEMINARS

First Light is implementing one-day seminars around the country where Andy Long will fill a full day with very informative programs on Saturday covering a wide range of topices to improve your photography skills. If you have at least 15 people in one or more camera clubs or groups interested in having me present please contact for more info. A typical set of programs will include Seeing Photographically (The Art of Previsualization); Foregrounds and Backgrounds in Landscape Photography; Water Photography; Into the Night; Bird Photograph; Abstracts in Nature; Getting the Most out of StarStax, Multiple Exposure, Panorama and HDR programs; and Getting the most out of post-processing techniques. To add to the adventure, he will join a small group for a Sunday morning shoot at a location of your chooosing for a hands-on workshop setting session. The Saturday session costs $75 person and the Sunday session would be $25 per person and limited to 10 people. Contact if interested.

Right now the first one is being set up for the Davis / Sacramento, CA area. Look for details as the date and cost is confirmed.

DIGITAL CORNER - LOW LIGHT HAND-HELD SITUATIONS

Anyone who has been on a workshop with me knows I never go anywhere without a tripod and if I take a shot without a tripod it's usually just a grab shot I'm not planning on doing anything with. There are several reasons for this. The first being the main rule of if you want a really sharp image you should use a tripod. The other and more prominent reason for me for those who don't know is I have a neuro disorder called essential tremors where my left hand is quite shaky and I can't do a very good job of hand-holding a camera.

In Paris, though, this was tough as many of the cathedrals and museums do not allow the use of a tripod. When I tried to show and explain to them my situation a couple let me use the tripod but most did not. Thus, I had to join in with everyone else and make the most of it and hand-hold my camera. Today, this is not the end of the world in some of these situations due to being able to bump up the ISO quite a bit.

There are a few other tricks to helping get good shots in these situations where the settings are pretty dark and a tripod is not allowed where real long exposures of up to 10 seconds and sometimes more can be used.

The first step is to bump up the ISO. At the churches and museums in Paris I found that 4000 worked fairly well as most of the shooting was done with a fairly open aperture allowing for an adequate shutter speed. You can go higher with the ISO to whatever you are comfortable with. Some of the cameras today go way up there with ISO and people push them up to 8000 and even 10000 but the higher you go the chance of noise being introduced also increases. In these darrk settings that isn't too much of an issue as there are not too many areas of high contrast but sometimes you have a comfort zone with what you like for high ISO and tend to stick with that and 4000 is a high ISO I don't mind using with my Canon 5D Mark III. Yes, I could go higher but this seems to work for me.

As mentioned above, try to use as open an aperture as possible. The more open the faster the shutter speed. You may give up a little depth of field but with many of these shots, especially in museum and some scenes in churches, a lot of depth is not a big concern. The scene here in Sainte-Chapelle is one where depth might have come into play but I was far enough back from my closest focus point that the f/stop of f/4 worked fine for me, allowing for a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second.

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Hand-holding inside the upstairs room of Sainte-Chapelle chapel which to the eye has a very dark ceiling and rafters

Look for something to lean against. If possible, find a post, pillar, wall or something to lean against to give yourself a little bit of stability. In some situations this is not always possible such as this sshot where I wanted to get centered to get as much of the ceiling and stained glass walls as possible.

No leaning post, then create your own tripod. One comment I make with people on my workshops quite often when people are not using a tripod is to create one with their body. Many people stand and hold their camera in a way to create more unstability than is necessary. The first thing to do is widen your stance - just like widening the tripod legs. A wider base makes a sturdier base. Next, Hold the camera with your left hand under the barrel of the lens and tuck your left elbow into your side just above your waist. This might seem a bit unformfortable at first but when you think about it you have just built a tripod out of your body.

Use the motor drive and fire off a couple of shots. Typically the second shot will be the sharpest as the first is when you're putting pressure on the camera body and there could be some camera shake and the second allows for a little stabilization of this movement and a smoother shutter opening and closing.

If the images is still a little dark when going through the files, a few things can be done in post-processing to help pick it up. If the overall shot is dark, increase the exposure a bit but not too much so as not to bring in too much noise. My preferred choice for lightening things up a bit is to use the Shadows slider in the Tone Curves panel. This does a great job of bringing out detail in the shadows without disturbing the other levels of the image, especially in a high contrast shot. A little Dodging in Photoshop can also be done to seletive areas to lighten and highlight specific areas. This is what was done to the rafters in this shot to show what can be done.