Rethinking Black & White Images

While working in Lightroom 5 the other day, I came across some images from Colorado taken in July 2011, that while they were interesting, just didn’t grab me in color.  I have had an interest in understanding Black & White photography because of the opportunities it provides for mid-day shooting.  I took some of these images and processed them in Black & White in Lightroom 5 and Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.  Be curious to know what you think of these images.  Locations include the famous Yankee Boy Basin and county roads near Montrose and Rideway, Colorado.

Sun's Rays

Sun’s Rays

Mountains & Clouds near Ridgeway, CO

Mountains & Clouds near Ridgeway, CO

Cloudy Sky near Montrose, CO

Cloudy Sky near Montrose, CO

Waterfall near Yankee Boy Basin

Waterfall near Yankee Boy Basin

Columbines in Yankee Boy Basin

Columbines in Yankee Boy Basin

Equipment Review – Phottix Aion Wireless Remote

Phottix Aion Remote

Don’t you love it when you buy something and find out you got a lot more than what you expected?  I was looking for a wireless remote to use with my Canon bodies (Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 7D, and Canon 1D Mark III) that would be programmable for night exposures and star trails.  When it comes to purchasing equipment, I have only found four sources that I generally trust when it comes to buying camera equipment and they are B & H Photo/Video (online), Precision Camera (local store in Austin, Texas), Photography on the Net website (for used and almost new equipment), and Amazon.  I was perusing the wares at Precision Camera a few months back when a remote caught my eye and it was the Phottix Aion Wireless Timer & Shutter Release.  I already had a simple wired remote that I had used on occasion for macro photography but it didn’t allow me to program a specific exposure time which I would need for night photography.  Furthermore, although I had never tried star trails, I knew I would want that capability.

While many people prefer a wired remote for more reliability, I have had zero issues with the wireless remote.  However, this remote can indeed be used wired since it comes with a cable for just such purposes.  Just be sure to always have extra batteries (the Phottix uses AAA batteries) available in the event you need to replace.

Here are the features that I have really liked thus far:

1)  Ease of programming in the dark.  Let’s face it, when doing night photography, we really don’t want to lose our night vision.  I have thick fingers and yet I have no trouble changing settings, time, or functions on the remote in the dark.  The buttons are well spaced and the remote is a decent enough size that I don’t feel like I will lose it.  It does have a light that can be turned on to see the screen but this little light is bright and can take night vision away.  There is also a wrist strap which is perfect since I leave this remote always on my wrist so I don’t misplace in the dark.

2)  Ability to customize everything you can imagine.  This remote will work as a simple shutter release which I use extensively for landscape photography.

3)  Ability to autobracket for low-light HDR photographs.  This is a wonderful function!

4)  Has the ability to operate in “S” or SHUTTER mode where pressing the button simply triggers the shutter for whatever length of time you (or camera) has selected depending upon exposure mode.  “C” or CONTINUOUS mode will take 5 consecutive shots when the shutter is pressed.  “b” or BULB mode is very handy in that you can press the shutter button on the remote and the camera’s shutter will open.  A timer begins on the remote and you can simply press the shutter button again to close the shutter when you reach the appropriate time.  Finally, the “2S” or TWO-SECOND DELAY mode is just like the 2 second delay on the camera.  Pressing the shutter button on the remote will take a photo after a two-second delay.

5)  The real star of the function show however is the TIMER function.  This function has DELAY, LONG, INTVL, N, and BKLN settings.  The first four (4) of these functions can be used separately or in conjunction with one another.  The DELAY setting is used as a self-timer before a photo is taken.  The LONG setting requires the camera to be in BULB mode and will stay open for as long as you have the timer programmed with a maximum time of 99 hours, 99 minutes and 99 seconds.  I doubt you will run out of time!  The INTVL setting (Interval) will take photos at the exact time intervals programmed into the timer.  For instance, you can have the timer take 20 consecutive shots 30 seconds apart.  The 30 seconds apart is controlled by the interval setting.  The N (Number) setting controls the number of exposures the timer will shoot during the current program (– being unlimited, 199 being the maximum programmable).  Finally, the BKLN (Bracketed Long Exposure) setting can be used for long exposure HDR.

This is a bit tricky as you don’t set the exposure to start for the right one, you need to calculate the darkest exposure based on the number of shots you plan to take and start there.  Read the manual for more detail on how to properly use this feature.

6)  Finally, at about $90 retail, this remote is a bargain compared to the price of normal wired remotes.

Cons:

1)  The dial used to tighten the receiver on the flash hot shoe is small enough where I have a tough time grasping to tighten or loosen.  I suspect for people with narrow and/or longer fingers this might not be an issue.

2)  In live view mode with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 7D, it can be a bit tricky to get the shutter to trigger.

3)  It can be tricky at first because you use the shutter button on the remote for S, C, B, and 2S functions.  For the timer, you use the Play/Stop button.  You will definitely want to take the manual with you on your first outing until you get everything nailed down.

Here are some photos I have taken using the Phottix Aion:

My normal lens for night photography is the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.

Night Sky - Pagosa Springs, CO

Night Sky – Pagosa Springs, CO

Sunrise Over Dead Horse Mountains

Sunrise Over Dead Horse Mountains

Lightning Through the Window

Lightning Through the Window

Watching the Stars

Watching the Stars

To learn more about the functions of the Phottix Aion, you can download a user’s manual here and join me on one of my upcoming Big Bend National Park photography workshops coming in 2015!

Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, OK

Things have really been busy around here lately with some travel to Oklahoma to see my brother and his family, plus we spent a couple of days at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge photographing landscapes, lizards, buffalo, elk, deer and birds.  Be sure and sign up for my Spring in the Wichita Mountains Photography Workshop (May 9-12, 2015) where we will focus on wildlife and landscape photography.  My heart considers this place my home in many ways because this is where I first started photographing with a Canon AE-1 with a broken meter and the Sunny f/16 rule at my disposal.  A few rolls of Kodak Ektachrome 64 and a nice bull buffalo was my beginning.  While equipment and technology may have changed, the knowledge and skills required to get some outstanding shots have not.

This is one of the oldest refuges established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.  Buffalo, elk, prairie dogs, and turkey were reintroduced and this refuge is a photographer’s dream.  Beautiful granite outcrops, lichen covered granite mountains, spectacular sunsets and many lakes all provide tons of landscape photography opportunities.  If you can’t find something special to photograph here, you aren’t looking!

Here are a few of my favorites from the past few days:

 

Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake

Eastern Collared Lizard

Eastern Collared Lizard

Elk in Velvet

Elk in Velvet

Granite Outcrop

Granite Outcrop

Lost Lake

Lost Lake

Quanah Parker Lake

Quanah Parker Lake

Texas Longhorns

Texas Longhorns

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

I am very excited about this workshop as I have spent many years visiting this place due to the variety of wildlife and scenic landscapes.

Black-throated Sparrow

Plain and simple, does it get any prettier than a nice adult Black-throated Sparrow?  I first saw this species in Big Bend National Park back in August 1989 and I was instantly drawn to its bold plumage.  Nothing like seeing this bird perched on blooming ocotillo singing its heart out.  This adult was photographed at the windmill blind on Transition Ranch near Uvalde, Texas.

Black-throated Sparrow Adult

It is that Time of Year – Juvenile Birds

I was in Uvalde these past few days checking out the Transition Ranch and I met the wonderful owners, Dr. Sandy & Leslee Kay Hurwitz.  My purpose in traveling to the ranch was to investigate the possibility of hosting workshops at the location and possibly serving as a ranch guide.  In reality, there is so much more that I hope to see evolve from this awesome experience and I hope to share more in the next few months.  The Hurwitz’s are incredibly hospitable and just a real pleasure to get to know.

Many people might think July is not the best time to go to a blind, but one of the things I love about late summer are the many juvenile plumages that often confuse birders and photographers alike.  I am one of those rare photographers who loves sparrows and I have even taught sparrow identification workshops for the Texas Ornithological Society.

At the ranch, we saw Black-throated, Rufous-crowned and Lark Sparrow juveniles.  Enjoy the photos:

Please feel free to share where you like photographing juvenile birds!

Central Texas NANPA Group at Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin

Yesterday I led 12 photographers from the Central Texas NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) meetup group to the Zilker Botanical Gardens on Barton Springs Road.  The focus of the trip was macro:  flowers, dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and whatever else we could turn up.  I have found that when attempting macro photography, I am much better off finding a spot and then giving it time for the odonates (dragonflies & damselflies) and butterflies time to fly to me.  In addition to being patient, I have found that manual focusing and flash is also critical for super sharp macro shots.

I had two setups with me.  The primary setup for dragonflies, large damselflies and other subjects is my Canon 7D with the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L lens with 50mm of Canon Extension Tubes which helps reduce my minimum focusing distance thus allowing me plenty of working space to keep from scaring the bugs off but still lets me fill the frame with their image.  This setup also relies on a tripod and Canon 580 EX II flash.  On a Rapid Strap (sport model) I have the Canon 1D Mark III attached to my Sigma 180 f/3.5 lens which I LOVE!  This older lens has amazing image quality, focusing speed/accuracy, and is tough to find but hard to beat at around $450 to $500 used!

I was the last to leave around 11:00 am and here are some of my favorite shots from the day.  Being able to photograph the ovipositing (depositing eggs in the water) Blue Dasher was the highlight of the day for me!  Watch for a “How to Photograph Dragonflies/Damselflies Workshop” in the near future.