About Jeff Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan leads landscape photography workshops in national parks and public lands throughout California and the American West.

Why Do Your Fall Images Look Better This Year?

Yellow aspen in the Eastern Sierra

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors

I often receive supportive feedback on my photography, as well as questions on how I get my results.  Since I’m “in this for the photography” I tend to prioritize photography over writing.  So my answers to questions provide a great opportunity to address common questions in a blog post.  This time, I’ll just have it all be the blog post, illustrated with photos that I’ve post-processed in the past month, fall 2017…

Yosemite Daylight Long Exposure Composite

On 9 Nov 17, 5.52PM PST ———- said:
Jeff:
I see a dramatic change in your fall images….much improved, even though the old ones were great to start with. What software are you using to develop your images? It looks like you are using focus stacking for the landscapes as well. Is this so?
Nice job, ————

Hi ———-,

I’ll answer in two parts, first regarding post-processing.

I honestly don’t know if I can narrow it down to one or two factors and answer the question completely, but here goes…Everyone’s looking for ways to improve their photography, and the questions often assume that a new camera or post-processing software must be the key.  To be sure, cameras and applications do evolve, so there are benefits to new versions, but there’s a lot to be said for the influence of experience and personal stylistic choices.

Spring in the FallIt would be really easy to simply provide “the answer” and point to one new product that will provide the magic bullet.  You find that all over the Internet with people paid to promote products, and they often do not follow FTC guidelines to properly identify their social media and blog “reviews” of their sponsors’ products as paid ads.  I’m unencumbered by product/manufacturer relationships, so I can take a more comprehensive and less biased approach.

I do find Adobe Lightroom 5 and lately 6 to be meter than older versions of the software, and I do often re-process results as recent as two years ago and get better results.  But here’s the catch: I also notice that I’m using a different approach and settings than I did even as recently as two years ago.  So I can’t really attribute the improvements to solely or even mainly to newer Lightroom software.

Fall Colors in the Virgin River NarrowsI’ve been using Photomatix from HDRsoft for many years, and I remember as early as 2009 I was occasionally layering my best edit of the original photo on top of the HDR result to make the result more realistic.  Unfortunately that required exporting the files to Photoshop for the layering.  I prefer the photography side of the process over the computer/graphics arts options, so I often just settled for an average of the three exposures in Photomatix, and touched that up on Lightroom instead.  The new version Photomatix 6 that I started using in beta last spring includes the layering of any of the original files on the HDR output, and enables blending using a slider from 0 to 100%.  So in addition to being to select from more preset HDR results, it’s little extra effort to blend in the best straight photographic result that you were able to produce in Lightroom.

That would certainly account for many of the files that I post-processed in Photomatix, but I try to tag all of them with HDR and Photomatix, so you can see for yourself that it’s not a huge percentage of my overall fall results.

Yosemite Fall DogwoodsSo what’s left is some combination of experience and what I choose to do with it.  I think that I’ve become more demanding with my results, which forces me to take a more critical look at them.  I often say that I prefer to spend five minutes or less post-processing a photo on my computer, but to get better results, at a minimum it is necessary to take the lead of Ansel Adams and at least invest some time in dodging and burning.

Stylistically, while I always preferred to produce more or less realistic images, sometimes digital cameras simply didn’t have the dynamic range to capture an entire natural scene well, so I’ve decided to accept the compromise of visibly manipulated results.  As cameras get better in subtle ways and I continue to master my skill with the various techniques and tools available, including the software tools, I can shift my focus to stylistic choices instead of fighting the tools to get an acceptable result.

Fall CalmI recall that I decided to get a little more assertive with contrast and blacks about a year ago.  At some point earlier this year I decided to produce some more colorful results, although I still don’t want the first impression people get to be “manipulated”.  I may not always succeed, but I’m exploring a wider range of results, and reining myself in when I can detect that the photo is crossing some invisible line.  I guess that you could boil it down to developing my own effects, range and style, mainly within the bounds of what Lightroom can do, but occasionally using Photomatix if/when the dynamic range of the scene warrants it.

The next logical question is what am I doing in Lightroom.  The short answer is that what I like about landscapes is the photography “pursuit of light” side in the field, experiencing the moment itself, so as mentioned, I tend to keep my adjustments under five minutes or so per photo on the computer, whenever possible.  I push as much quality as I can back to the capture side of the process, and automate some of the post-processing, so I can get back outside.  The fine details of how I achieve that, from image capture through post-processing, are probably best left for interactive post-processing demos during my workshops, since sharing my process and some of my favorite locations is exactly how I continue to pursue photography.

Yosemite's El Capitan in the Fall by Jeff Sullivan on 500px.com

 

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Eastern Sierra Fall Colors Peaking Now in Mono County

Eastern Sierra landscape photography

Mono County fall colors are peaking now!

If you’ve been waiting to head to the Eastern Sierra for fall colors, wait no longer!  These photos were all taken yesterday afternoon.  The spectacular color could last through the weekend, but maybe not: the forecast warns that Thursday could bring stormy weather that might knock a few leaves down before the weekend.

West Walker River in October

West Walker River October 15

Topaz Lake Cottonwood Trees

Topaz Lake October 15

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Photograph the Moon Rise at Sunset Tonight, October 4, 2017

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve: Super Moon Rise

The moon will rise shortly before sunset tonight, providing a perfect opportunity to photograph the moon near the horizon at sunset.  Here are 38 degrees north it’ll rise about 15 minutes before sunset, and be about 1.6 degrees high, or three moon widths, above a zero-degree horizon at sunset.

Mono Lake Moonrise (Re-edit)

About ten minutes later as you may start to see the earth’s shadow rise above the horizon, its blue color contrasting against the adjacent pink-orange last light of the sun in the “belt of Venus” effect, the moon will be about 3.5 degrees high, seven moon widths.

Super Moon Reflection

In apps such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris and PhotoPills you can fine tune the times and moon direction and elevation for any shooting spot you might want to plan for.  Plan well enough, and you can anticipate compositions that place the moon reflecting in lakes, or beside or just over natural or man-made landmarks.

Moon Rise Behind Half Dome

Similar opportunities present themselves on the opposite horizon with the moon set at sunrise, so look at your favorite astrophotography app and start planning! You can combine opportunities, such as catching a moon coming out of eclipse, as it sets behind a nearby ridge.

Partially Eclipsed Moon Setting, October 8, 2014

Or place the moon on a man-made structure like the tip of the Transamerica building in San Francisco.  I started shooting this sequence of images about 15 minutes ahead of time to show how the placement of the moon can be accurately planned in advance, and rendering the images as a time-lapse video lets you see the entire sequence:

Plan to Shoot the April 14/15 2014 Lunar Eclipse: Example Landing on the Transamerica Pyramid
As calculated, the moon ends up centered on the tip of the pyramid!

For a discussion of advanced considerations, read the article, “I’ve planned my supermoon eclipse shot: what could possibly go wrong?

For a bonus on the tomorrow morning, I see in my SkyWeek+ app that the planets moonVenus and Mars will be within 1/4 degree of each other before dawn on October 5.  The StarWalk+ app shows me that they will be rising by about 5:10 am roughly due east.  Photograph them on and close to the horizon, then conditions should continue to improve improve by around 6 am as they’re rising out of the thicker air and haze close to the horizon.  At that point they are still low enough to be captured in landscape shots as the oncoming twilight increasingly illuminates the landscape.  The sun rises close to 7 am, so they may fade as the sky brightens, and Mars in particular may be long gone by 6:30 am.

Venus Jupiter Moon Conjunction

You never know what you might come up with.  A while back I shot the moon with Jupiter and Venus rising nearby, and my photo was used in an article by astronomer Don Olson of the University of Texas, in an article in the August issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine!

I haven’t looked up the phase that Venus is in, but if you have a strong enough lens, youc an see that it’s illuminated in a crescent phase.

Multi-Colored UFO?

The first step is to anticipate and plan for some great opportunities with the moon and/or planets. Then get out there and shoot! Tonight at sunset and tomorrow before dawn offer you a couple of good ones to start with. You never know what you might discover!

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5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra

stargazing locations

Night photography locations in California’s Eastern Sierra

Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for using several of my photos to illustrate their article on viewing the night sky in the Eastern Sierra!

Here’s another location covered in the story.

For the rest, read the article at the San Jose Mercury News:

5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/03/5-incredible-stargazing-spots/
by Jackie Burrell

#astrophotography #astronomy #nightphotography #easternsierra

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Massive DC-10 Fighting the Slinkard Fire Above My House

This was two evenings ago. Since then the active fire line had moved north and west.

#SlinkardFire #wildfire #news

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The Slinkard Fire advances towards US-395 at Topaz Lake on the CA/NV border

The Slinkard Fire advances towards US-395 at Topaz Lake on the CA/NV border. #SlinkardFire #video

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How Will the Sun's Corona Look at Totality?

Via +Sky & Telescope Magazine:
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/sun-corona-during-totality/

How Will the Sun’s Corona Look at Totality? – Sky & Telescope
The total solar eclipse is less than three weeks away, but researchers already have an idea of how the Sun’s corona will look when it comes into view.

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Solar Eclipse Road Trip, Here We Come!

Solar eclipse photography

Solar eclipse October 2014

I can’t wait to get on the road to shoot the Great American Eclipse!

The path of the moon’s shadow, where the total eclipse will be visible, goes right across the United States.  If you’re not directly in that path a partial eclipse will be visible if you have proper viewing glasses that block the most harmful wavelengths of light.  But people who have experienced totality say there’s nothing quite like it, and you should get to the path if you can.

So where should you go?  Bear in mind that totality lasts 2-3 minutes, so if you have multiple routes to take, weather can be a consideration.  The site GreatAmericanEclipse has suggested ten of the better spots across the country.  They also have state by state maps showing the path of the eclipse across the country, with lines to show the approximate duration of totality depending upon where in that path you are.

Sky and Telescope Magazine suggests a similar Top 10 Places to View the Solar Eclipse.  Another map by Xavier Jubier has superimposed the path of the earth’s shadow on an interactive Google map in case you want to find a place a little less promoted.

Crowds are expected to be record-breaking along the path of the solar eclipse coming up August 21.  Many areas are trying to implement temporary traffic control plans in the narrow path of the moon’s shadow.  I hear that even porta-potty rentals are in short supply as communities try to cope with the crowds.  Fortunately I’ll be bringing my own facilities with me!

You may thank that Jackson, Wyoming sounds like an attractive place to catch the eclipse, but the sun will be south, not west towards the Tetons when the eclipse peaks.  The Jackson Hole Astronomy Club did extensive research with local meteorologists on data from the 2005 – 2015 and determined that just about anywhere else within a 3 mile driving radius had better odds of clear weather.  I’ll be staying near there, but eclipse day is expected to be the busiest day ever for the area, so traffic jams and parking issues could seriously affect viewing plans, and I have plans to exit the area if the crowds look too daunting or the weather forecast turns bad.

If that all sounds like too much risk or hassle to be worth the trip, no problem, there’s a tool that can help you determine how much of an eclipse will be visible wherever you are on that day.

Thank you +Capital Ford for getting the +Ford Motor Company-remanufactured engine into my Ford F-350 truck ASAP so we can stake our claim to a great shooting location!  As of August 4 it’s not going to be back in time to leave this weekend, but they assure me that it’ll be done by Monday or Tuesday.  Fingers crossed!
I’ll make a separate post on viewing and photography, including some of the products I’ve bought for the trip.

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Tioga Pass Is Open!

Photos: http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/2017/06/28/tioga-pass-in-yosemite-to-open-thursday-june-29/

 

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Moon, Jupiter and Venus Conjunction at Mono Lake

One of my photos from this moon and planet rise event has been published as the lead photo in an article in the August 2017 +SkyandTelescope Magazine by Don Olson, page 68. A description of Don's work to decipher a poem by Lord Byron appears on the Texas State University Web site, along with a copy of the photo:
'Celestial Sleuth' identifies Lord Byron's stellar inspiration http://www.txstate.edu/news/news_releases/news_archive/2017/June-2017/Olson062617.html

Here's their description of the photo:
"On August 23, 2014, astrophotographer +Jeff Sullivan observed the Moon with Jupiter nearby in a morning twilight sky. Glitter paths below three celestial bodies reflect in the waters of California’s +Mono Lake in this morning twilight scene captured by astrophotographer Jeff Sullivan. Venus, at lower left, has just risen above the distant hills. Jupiter, with its Galilean satellites visible, stands higher in the sky, just below the stars of the Beehive Cluster, M44. The faint glow of Earthshine appears on the “dark” part of the waning crescent Moon. Automobile headlights illuminate the tufa rocks on the shore of +Mono Lake in the foreground."

Astrophotographers and astronomers may recognize Don's name as the professor who publishes yearly predictions of lunar rainbow "moonbow" dates and times for Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park.

For more photos from the event and a description of my planning process involving +SkyandTelescope, +Universe Today, +EarthSky, and +The Photographer's Ephemeris see my original blog post covering the event:
http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/2014/08/23/planet-and-moon-conjunction-at-sunrise/

I can't wait to see the magazine!

#astronomy #astrophotography #ShotOniPhone #iphoneography

 

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