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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Death Valley Wildflowers 2017

Desert Gold 2017
I’ve photographed over two dozen wildflower species in Death Valley National Park so far this month.  April should bring even more acreage and species on line, to deliver a well above average year in the park for wildflowers.

TBDThe quantity and diversity of wildflowers may not be the most interesting aspect however.  Last year’s superbloom delivered a bumper crop of seeds, which multiplied the rodent population, and that has resulted in more sidewinder rattlesnakes than I’ve seen in the park before.  I followed a couple of the tracks, but was not able to catch up with any of the snakes.

If you visit the park this spring, watch where you step!

 See more of my wildflower photos from Death Valley in my Album 3/21/17.

Death Valley Wildflowers 2017

Star Trails Over Desert Sunflowers

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2017 Bodie Night Photography Workshops Release Sale!

Some of the following dates are being initially offered on longer workshop packages, with early registration sale prices help me cover fees and deposits:

Jun 17 – Bodie Morning Interiors and Sunset/Milky Way Night Photography
Jun 23 – Bodie Milky Way Night Photography
July 21 – Bodie Milky Way Night Photography
Sept 15 – Bodie Milky Way Night Photography
Oct 13 – Bodie Milky Way Night Photography

More details on the packages I'm offering these in, with registration links:
http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/bodie-night-photography-workshops/

This photo is from one of our first night photography workshops in Bodie , about 25 of them ago, way back in 2012.

#BodieStatePark #nightphotography #workshops #california

 

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Blue Hour at Mono Lake

After the "super moon" rise at Mono Lake last month, I stayed to get a blue hour photo of these tufa rock formations, back-lit by the light of the full moon. I entered this and several other photos in the annual calendar contest conducted by the +Mono Lake Committee… fingers crossed!

www.JeffSullivanPhotography.com #landscapephotography #photographyworkshops #monolake #california #easternsierrs

 

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Super Moon Rise at Mono Lake, Eastern Sierra, California

With the full moon occurring at dawn this month, there were actually two full moon rises close to sunset. This was the first one, captured over Mono Lake in California's Eastern Sierra region..

#easternsierra #california #landscapephotography #astrophotography

 

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Fall Colors Still Going Strong in the Eastern Sierra

A light storm this weekend could add nice atmospheric effects to photos, or it could blow leaves down!

http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/eastern-sierra-fall-colors-photo-workshops/
#easternsierra #california #monocounty #outsideontheeastside

 

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Bodie Researched for Alton Towers Theme Park

This was a fun video to shoot. U.K. theme park Alton Towers decided to research an authentic mining town for their Altonville Mine Tours attraction they’re opening this week. We spent one day up in Bodie capturing video, time-lapse footage, stills, interviews and sounds, and this was the result.

The day before the Alton Towers shoot in Bodie it was snowing on us

I’d like to thank the California Film Commission for the quick turnaround on our film permit, Bodie State Historic Park / +California State Parks for supporting the research and production, and +Lori Hibbett for producing sunrise and night time-lapse footage of Bodie’s iconic car on the shoot.  The main cameras used for the production were the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 6D by +Canon USA.  Lori uses the Nikon D800E and D750 by +Nikon USA.

For more information on accessing the historic buildings and town of Bodie, California, for photography or filming, contact Jeff Sullivan Photography, www,JeffSullivanPhotography.com.

Jeff also teaches night photography workshops in Bodie, and night and landscape photography workshops in Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Eastern Sierra.  His 2017 schedule will be released shortly.

This photo of Bodie by Jeff was featured on the cover of Locations International 2015, a directory of locations for film location scouts that was distributed at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Sunset at Mono Lake Friday Night

Originally shared by +Jeff Sullivan Photography

The Labor Day holiday weekend crowds are out, but at sunset at Mono Lake on Friday I managed to find a few feet of space without people in it.

www.JeffSullivanPhotography.com
#monolake #easternsierra #california #landscapephotography #photographyworkshops

 

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