Utah

Capturing Canyonlands

I spent the last few days chasing light and dodging lightning in Canyonlands National Park.

As I hiked around the Needles District, the ever present pop-up thunderstorm made exploring the wide open spaces a challenge. Despite those pesky storms, I managed to find a few good windows when the light was at its best .

For a few years now I have wanted to capture the essence of the desert in Utah, but every time I came home with images, I felt they fell short. So with perfect wildflower conditions this season, I have made it a point to seek out the best wildflower pockets around Utah, and attempt to capture the elusive desert image. I captured the below image as the final moments of sunset caught a low hanging rain cloud just above the cliffs of Indian Creek. I had scouted a runoff wash earlier and found a composition I believed would make for a beautiful sunset if the light began to go nuts. As usual, that composition didn’t work out, but luckily just down the wash, another fishhook cactus was in bloom and I was able to compose a composition before the light disappeared ( a matter of 3 minutes).

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Many people think of deserts as arid wastelands, and while some certainly are, most are incredibly diverse and dynamic landscapes. My wife captured 38 different species of wildflowers on her phone over a 4 day period. I managed to capture one. But to me this one image is the culmination of a lot of preparation and research, lack of creature comforts (i.e. showers, toilets, beds) and time and calorie consuming leg work. Any more images I capture of the phenomenal display of desert wildflowers this year will only be icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake,

check out the smooth glazing on this geyser formation near the Green River. At sunset the waters change a myriad of different hues thanks to reflected light from the sky.

The finely layered pools of the geyser allow for endless intimate compositions. I could have spent multiple days exploring the 60 foot area picking out detail after detail. Here is a more traditional landscape image of the location. You can see the finely tiered layers as they rise towards the geyser.

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After I was done playing in the pools I headed to the Needles District and sought out the first image in this post.

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Once in the Needles District, I hiked out to Chesler Park to get closer to the unique formations. Although the light wasn’t perfect, I managed to come away with a few good shots that I am proud of, including one panorama from right after a heavy downpour as the sun set behind the clouds.

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Needing to get back to civilization before someone mistook me for a new species of desert primate, I reluctantly packed up my belongings (now coated with a layer of red earth) and began the trek back to Salt Lake City. I made a few stops along the way. One to an arch near Moab which is now all over the internet, a roadside petroglyph, and another lesser known location (which will remain anonymous) that required some decent rock crawling and low gears.

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What A Trip!! I think I returned home with quite a few keepers. Im heading to Arches next, to continue my wildflower search, so check back next Tuesday (21st) for a trip report.

All images © Andrew Lockwood 2019

Falling For Fall: A look at my fall images from 2019 thus far.

Every year after the wildflowers disappear from the mountain basins, I find myself scrambling to stay creative through the remaining Summer months. So when Fall comes around, I am usually overly anxious to explore as many locations as possible in the brief window when the colors change. This year was no exception, and I’ve been keeping busy up in the wild country. I’ve managed to capture quite a few beautiful images and some even made the last minute cuts into my annual Calendar, which is available here.

Light is fickle and oftentimes fleeting.

When an opportunity for the perfect conditions arise, it is important that you are ready with your camera. This past week we had rain move into the area that settled on the mountains just before sunrise. It provided me with the opportunity to photograph Mount Timpanogos and the fall color surrounding the mountain in all its glory. So at 3am I headed out from my apartment in Salt Lake City, and made the journey into the Timpanogos Backcountry, down a long gravel road, and along a deer path with nothing more than the light of my headlamp to guide my way (I had discovered the location on Google Earth [an app that I continually promote], while searching for unique perspectives of common landmarks). I came across the clearing and was extremely happy to find the aspens in peak color (the only mystery while using google earth). Because I had arrived with plenty of time to explore, I fussed over my composition for the next 40 minutes as blue hour slowly crept by. I finally fixed my camera to my tripod in the location I deemed best, and waited for the sun to crest the horizon and light the scene in front of me. About 5 minutes from sunrise I knew I was in for a treat as the clouds left of my composition were slowly changing a deep purple. I knew that if the horizon stayed clear for the next few moments, that the high peak of Timpanogos would catch the morning light and turn a brilliant red. The only other factor was the incredible amount of wind that morning. Because it was a storm front moving in, there was an immense amount of wind whipping the young aspen trees around making it impossible to make them sharp. I got lucky and got a few seconds of calm right as the sun crested and captured one of my best photographs to date.

The Might of Morning  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

The Might of Morning

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The image above is the culmination of 6 hours of planning, 2 hours of fumbling through the dark and cold, and 1/3 of a second in the eternity of time.

Fall was off to a good start, and I wasn’t sure if I could top the image above, so I headed into the forest to capture the more intimate side of fall. As the sun rose higher into the sky I was making my way deeper into the wilderness in search of a magical forest of gold. Around an hour or so into my wanderings I came across the forest I had been looking for and methodically began planning my image. The storm clouds were being held at bay by the mighty mountains, and I had perfect weather to create another lasting image.

Golden Hour  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Golden Hour

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

I’ve been searching for this image for four years. I always manage to take good images of fall color, but the elusive aspen forest has always been a step ahead of me. To say I was ecstatic when I found this composition would be an understatement. Finally, I found the image I had envisioned so long ago.

I returned the way I had come, and got back to my vehicle with a great feeling of accomplishment. It was now 10:00 am and in the time most people take to start their morning, I had already hiked 5 miles and created two portfolio worthy images. It was a good day.

After a few days of rain, I returned to the woods with my wife in search of more! I was struck with Fall fever and all I could think about was the next location and the woodland compositions yet to be captured. We scoured the hillsides along an old mountain road and I came up with an image that had I been alone, I would not have gotten.

The Art of Wandering  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

The Art of Wandering

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Selective focus and a shallow depth of field can enhance a photograph’s story. By focusing on the trees in front, and allowing Anna (my wife) to be out of focus, the image tells a story of a person wandering through a dense forest in search of something. If I had allowed for everything to be in focus, the story would become muddled and the subject would be unclear.

Farther along the road we came across an opening as a light drizzle began to fall. Using my zoom lens I isolated the road in front of us as it wound uphill out of sight, and allowed the fall color to vignette the road.

A Path Less Traveled  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

A Path Less Traveled

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The light rainfall helped saturate the fall color, making it even more vibrant, while the dense cloud cover helped balance the image’s shadows and highlights. As we continued on, the weather began to get less and less inviting, so we decided to make for the car. I took one more image that day, a closeup of a single aspen tree with a maple sapling surrounding its trunk.

Aspen and Maple  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Aspen and Maple

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

While Guardsman Pass was shut down for construction, we ventured out along the Mill D Canyon and came across a location of tall standing aspen trees that allowed for a composition looking directly into the sun. I couldn’t resist taking this photograph as it practically fell into may lap. A combination of careful planning and a bit of luck went into this image.

Under Aspen Canopies  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Under Aspen Canopies

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The key to a good forest image is to find a figurative pathway leading through the scene. The sunlight on the forest floor in this image creates a path through the forest that leads directly to the beautiful rays of sun that are bursting through the aspens.

I am headed to Moab this week in search of Fall in the desert regions of Utah. Check back next week to see if I was successful, or if the weather shut me out!!

Mastery, at its root, is the ability to overcome excessive failure.

Research, Logistics, Gear, Creativity, Camera Settings, Composition, Timing, Light, and Luck.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a good photograph, and it is easy to mess it up if you're not paying attention.  

From encountering new scenarios, lacking the proper equipment, forgetting to charge batteries, to hitting that metaphorical wall we have all grown to despise called Creativity Block. These are just some of the things that can go wrong when photographing the perfect landscape. In this week's post I am going to touch on some of my massive failures on the road to mastery. Every day I am making mistakes; learning and growing as a photographer. Even the greatest photographers alive will attest that making mistakes, missing the shot, and ultimately failing has gotten them to where they are today. 

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I call the above image veiled perfection. I got to my location early, composed this image well in advance, set my ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, and focused correctly, then waited for the sun to set over the distant mountain.... What I didn't do was adjust my shutter speed as the light faded and got darker. You see, I got my exposure reading in broad daylight with the sun directly overhead, and in my excitement forgot to adjust my shutter speed to compensate for the change in available light. In todays world digital cameras save our butts 90% of the time and we can still get the shot if heaven forbid something like this happens. 

Here's a fun one! The ever common image stack to get everything in focus. In layman terms, when your subject matters are too spread out and your camera cannot compensate to get the entire image in focus, it is sometimes necessary to "focus stack". This is taking images at different focusing distances then combining them later in post to get uniform sharpness across the image. When you screw this up it is the most frustrating thing in the world because it can be easily overlooked while shooting. In the image below look closely across the first hillside. The entirety of it is out of focus. This is because I only shot two images to stack and focused too close on my initial image. Ideally a tilt shift lens would be the best solution, but a costly one. So, focus stacking is a necessity at times to get the best image. I stopped editing this image when I noticed the error because there is only one way to fix this: Buy a new camera that allows you to change focus later. Thankfully I wasn't satisfied with the image 100% to begin with as the flowers were beginning to wilt. I found a different composition that I was more pleased with. 

 

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Here is an awesome picture of a blurry moose. 

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When photographing wildlife its oftentimes smart to turn on your autofocus, especially for beginners. I am not a beginner (nor am I an expert), but I try to do things as close to old school film shooting as possible and sometimes it bites me in the @$$. Here I attempted to manually focus on the moose with a semi fast aperture of ƒ4.5, while slowly moving backward since we walked up on each other. As I walked backward so did my point of focus, effectively focusing perfectly on the pine tree in front of my subject causing my moose friend to look velvety smooth and extremely blurry ... Chance missed!

Thankfully for all the times I've royally screwed up or done something goofy, there has been countless times when I've done something right. The below image is the most popular image I've ever taken. With 300+ more instagram likes than any other image, multiple reposts, over 60 combined comments, and multiple personal offline congratulations; it's safe to say I did something right when taking this image. 

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I'm no master, but you can be darn sure that I will continue making mistakes until I am. After all, failure is what drives success.

Going Back For Seconds... and Thirds...: Creating the best image possible

Oftentimes, my best image of a location doesn't happen the first or even second time I visit a location. Sometimes it takes many, MANY times to achieve the image I had envisioned. 

I recently moved to Utah, and while I am familiar with the layout of the land, I confess I am at a loss as to the intricacies of the states endless potential. Scouting locations has quickly become my greatest time investment. I still aim to come home with an image of the location I am exploring, but at the end of the day, if I find a place to come back to when the elements for a great photograph exist then I am happy. One such location exists in Uinta-Wasatch Cache National Forest. Above one of the many lakes in the area a cliff rises to offer a dramatic view of the surrounding area. Knowing how the light would fall as the sun went down afforded me the ability to pre visualize what the scene may look like at sunset. I snapped a reference photo and pinged my GPS coordinates.

Reference Photo  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Reference Photo

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

By doing this it allows me to return to the exact location when optimal conditions exist.  You may ask why I didn't stay and wait for conditions to present themselves. The answer is simple. I was in unfamiliar territory deep in the backcountry, with a long exit hike in the dark if I waited for optimal lighting. Those three factors can be a recipe for disaster, and have the potential to become life threatening. It is alway best to understand an area before committing to a long hike in the dark. Even experienced hikers can find themselves lost in the wilderness. Besides, as I mentioned before, I was scouting. I already had a photograph planned for that evening some 15 miles away from this location that I had scouted the day before. That image can be seen below.

 

Reference Photo  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Reference Photo

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Final Image  © Andrew Lockwood 2018

Final Image

© Andrew Lockwood 2018

 

 

The other day I found myself sitting in a field of wildflowers, being eaten alive by mosquitos, waiting for the magic to happen. As the light faded away and darkness descended I had only taken one image, a rather flat image that felt to me as though it was missing something. I left with the idea of returning the following day to attempt to produce a better image. The image I created that first night, some may say is beautiful and a good image, but I knew it could be better. And so I returned the following morning. Understanding how the light fell a little better, I was able to deduce that the morning light would create a much more dynamic scene. I waited (again being eaten alive by mosquitos) for the perfect moment to create my image, and was happy with the outcome. 

 

 

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© Andrew Lockwood 2018

The blank sky in the first image, while not ugly, leaves a weird negative space that lacks interest. As you can see, the way the light hits the the rock face in the second image, along with the cloudy sky make it seem more dramatic. The second image is an improvement over the first. I believe however that I can create an even better image than the second given the right conditions. I will continue to monitor the weather and see if another chance is in the cards. As you know wildflowers don't have an infinite lifespan and sometimes it can become a race against the clock.

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© Andrew Lockwood 2018

Here is another example of going back for seconds. In this case I felt as though the first image was perfect except for a few small things. It was Fall, and I was attempting to express that fact through the change in color of the leaves, however I arrived to find them still mostly green. There was also a lot of wind on the water, obscuring the reflection. I took an image anyway because the light was immaculate, but knew I wanted to return to capture the change of season better, and hopefully get a good reflection. The second image does that, and thankfully I was awarded with some good light and no wind on the second evening! Both images are strong images, but for me the latter depicts the creative vision I set off to capture. 

It is important not to simply settle for your first image of a location, even though it may be good. Chances are the as you begin to gain an intimate knowledge of a place from repetitively photographing it, you will also develop a better understanding of how to create a better image as well. Even if you do happen to capture your best image of that location on your first go around, you can't really be upset with being back in an amazing place. Can you?

Check back next week for some amazing wildflower photos and a story about planning your time appropriately.