Read what's been happening on Salvatore's Horizon

Read what's been happening on Salvatore's Horizon
Sunset at Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Sony A7RII Camera Photo Journey

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Sony A7rII Camera Body

More Of What I Want

In a camera it’s not just more bells and whistles that I look for but substance which is why I have put off upgrading from by Canon 7D for several years waiting for new technology. I was not just looking for more pixels as camera’s such as the Canon EOS 5DS Series has a much larger 50mp and that was only what you got. It lacked a wider dynamic range and sharper low light image capability required when shooting places like the dark forests of Redwood National Park or the slot canyon's of the Colorado Plateau. The Sony’s A7R was much better rated but it too lacked other important features after I field tested one. The Sony A7r Mark II received many positive reviews on its dynamic range, sharpness and other important developments such as faster autofocus, a feature lacking in the A7R, that I took the $3,200 plunge then I headed out on for my winter photo road trip. The results did not disappoint me!
Dusk on the "Trillium Trail" Redwoods National Park, California





The Sony Model A7RII, also known as the ILCE-7RM2, is a full feature full frame mirrorless camera. It features a new breakthrough technology design known as “Back-Illuminated” sensor. Instead of just making a larger sensor like that of the 5DS series, Sony redesigned the sensor to hold more pixels in the same space and moved the light collecting photodiode layer closer to the surface of each lens. It now mimicks the same principle as that of a wide angle lens design collects more light. Conversely, a standard sensor photodiode is positioned at the back of the sensor acts much like a long telephoto lens. Light now travels a longer distance which inherently causes it to lose more light. In order to combat this, the outer lens element must be made much wider to collect more light which makes for a beast of a lens. Sony’s compact light collecting design makes even the darkest section of the image lacks noise when compared to the noise found in the standard sensor. You can now shoot at higher speeds or smaller apertures and black shadows are just that- Black! The compacted design of the Sony sensor allows for a more enhanced copper electrical back that increases faster data transfer rates by 3.5. This becomes a noticeable difference when shooting extremely large sized images at 5 frames per second.
Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington
 I could get into other features that make this camera a better choice, like how the world’s highest viewfinder magnification at 0.78x is over an optical viewfinder, or how much better a digital viewfinder is in a low light situation, or that it has 399 autofocus points, or how a mirrorless shutter improves camera shake but why repeat those when there are many good reviews that cover them. I would rather post the results. I would like to point out one last thing, since it is a metal cast mirrorless digital camera, its compact size is a joy to hold and operate compared to its bulkier professional cousins on the market.
Remember, it’s the image quality that counts. The bells or whistles are just the frosting on this camera body- so on to the images!
No more HDR!
Upper Saint Marys Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
The above image is HDR and Grad Filter free. It took a while to get used to the digital viewfinder image as a properly exposed for most situation of extreme contrast. The image in the viewfinder can look ugly as both the highlight and shadow clip warnings blink- I guess the software has not kept up the sensor’s capabilities. This Sony, the A7RII, has the widest dynamic range of all camera’s available at the time that I bought it. As I slide both the Highlight and Shadows Adjusters I was floored! It was like I opened a door to a new world. I could even equalize some high contrast scenes. That was something I never expected. Now I can shoot those high contrast images I always dreamt of. In the above scene, the images holds sharp detail especially within dark areas. In it, the darkest shadows are black with no noise and its color is the closest to the natural scene than any other sensor now on the market I’ve read in reviews.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The first images I shot were under exposed as the sky’s highlights were being clipped and of course if it was my canon, the clipping meant the sky would be washed out. Not on the Sony. This I did not know it until they were imported into Bridge. So to properly expose the above badlands scene, I had to open up the f-stop so just some warnings of Highlight appeared on in the brightest sections of the scene in the viewfinder. If I had adjusted them to remove the clip warning my image will appear too dark. This scene also had no shadowed area so concern for clipping was not a factor but if this was one that had dark shadows a properly exposed image would show both clipping in both the highlights and shadows. As I said earlier, it does look ugly in the viewfinder.
The image below was shot without grads produced nice details and color retention throughout the dynamic range.
Volcanic Plateau, Fishtrap Lake Recreation Area, BLM, Eastern Washington
I now look forward to print cropped details of an image or supply stock that need to be cropped as the large image file gives you more than enough information that little or no interpolation is needed for editorial or to create sharp enlargement prints!
The Sony gives you a large enough image size to work with as most images run about 241.3mb @ 16bit uncompressed so now you can crop out details with little to no interpolation for most editorial work!

Vernal Pool, Volcanic Plateau, Eastern Washington
 One of my signature trademarks is shooting into the sunrise or sunset as with the image below. With a 3 stop grad, I can now record the whole dynamic light range of shadow to highlight to create truly amazing work. Whereas before and even with my 4X5 field view camera, I had to compromise the shadows to properly expose the highlights. Now there’s room to open up the shadows and stop down on the highlights. If I shoot moving subjects such as the flowers waving with the wind, I can make use of the higher ISO settings like ISO800 in the below image.
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
As you can expect, I am very pleased with the landscape aspects of this camera from the results of this western trip. It is a pleasure I have not felt since discovering the large view camera format many years ago. Now I have something that can truly complement it in a compact dSLR camera!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Death Valley National Park Photography Workshops



On every workshop, Death Valley never fails to reveal something old new again. Whether it’s the shape of the dunes or the light that falls around them. It is always a worthwhile photographic adventure year after year. As for all workshops, I like to arrive about a week early to scout out the locations that might have changed or discover something new. It is why I like to keep the itinerary open for my workshops. Floods can change canyons and even the salt pans below them. Flowers that bloomed last year in a certain place may not bloom this year so one must find this year new bloom location. Only by scouting the park can you find what and where it’s all happening and it’s a big park so it’s impossible to cover it all and put it all into a five day workshop- but I try! 

Desert Wash Flower Bloom

Zabriskie Point has always been the first day’s shoot as it is located just a few miles from base camp at Furnace Creek. Close enough so attendees can sleep relatively late about an hour before sunrise on our first day as the sun rises later in winter than summer- and sets earlier too! A close location also means a real breakfast buffet style back in Furnace Creek before we take off on what might be a long day of shooting. This year the park decided to remodel Zabriskie Point with better access for handicapped people and rest benches, but as most government reconstruction jobs this one’s scheduling ran well past its completion date to sadly overlap our workshop. The closure forced me to scout out another location to photograph the impressive Manly Beacon. I decided on an overlook from the top of the badland ridges high above Twenty Mule Team Canyon that gave us wonderful rounded contours in our foreground to contrast with the famous peak!


Manly Beacon from Badland's View

This was a very good year for winter storms as several showered the valley floor with an abundance of moisture not seen in many years. As I scouted several canyon washes, I could see patches of green sprouts carpet the hills, washes and flats. My only hope was that I was not too late or early for the plants to synchronize their bloom with the workshop happening next week. The timing has to be just right. This year it looked like we were going to hit a jackpot. It turned out to be one of the best blooms in many years!

Desert Sand Verbena
 Badwater, It is a name that conjures up death for which the valley was named. A forbidding Valley that settlers or gold diggers seeking the wealth of California made the lethal mistake of missing the last trail signs directing them away. Once, they traveled down the canyons, they were essentially dead as no potable water would be found to quench the thirst on the long journey out. If by luck they made it to the lowest point on the northern hemisphere here at Badwater they found an abundance of water poisonous enough to kill them and their stock animals. Few escaped  once they made it to here in Death Valley! Today, we travel here in air conditioned cars stocked with cold water, beverages and snacks to photograph one of the few places that can reflect the sunset!


Badwater Pools

When most people think of Death Valley, they imagine a desert land of sand dunes. Actually, sand covers little of the land. Instead of finding it were we imagination wants us to believe, it is found on rising lands near the edges. Where the prevailing winds are funneled into stronger gusts as it moves higher up a slope or through a valley or canyon that narrows and squeezes the wind. The wind's velocity drives the sand and dust until the wind slows as the contours widen dropping it's load. After time, they form dunes from directional changing winds pushing back and forth piling up. Mesquite Dunes is one of those places where the valley rises then widens. It is also an easy dune to access as we can drive right to them. Here we find contours, ripples and crests to compose our great desert sand dune images!

Mesquite Dunes
Ubehebe Crater is our first stop on the way to Devil’s Racetrack playa. Its colorful walls of baked clays range from reddish to orange and contrast beautifully against the black ash deposits and blue skies. These were formed not from a lava volcano but from a steam explosion (phreatic eruption) and the area has several craters. Black ash covers the surrounding area for 15 square miles creates a beautiful moon like backdrop.

Ubehebe Crater
As we move up in elevation on the road to the racetrack, we see a change in vegetation from the Creosote and Saltbush of the bottom, we begin to see succulents such as Fishhook, Cottontop Barrel, Beavertail cactus and Silver Cholla, and make out way into the strangest forest called the Joshua Tree Zone. Joshua Trees are not true trees nor are they some form of cactus but weirdly related to the Lily Family of plants!

Joshua Tree Forest
One of the great oddities of Death Valley is Tea Kettle Junction. No one knows its true history or meaning except that a tea kettle was found at this junction. Some believe it was a sign that water lies nearby but no water can be found in this vicinity. As time went by, backcountry 4x4’er, would leave notes in the pot for friends on their whereabouts. When I first visited this location back in 1989, there was only a few pots on the sign with the original tea pot lying on the ground alone. Year after year, more and more people added their own pot and today there are way too many making it Death Valley’s weirdest sight!

Tea Kettle Junction
Devil’s Racetrack was once of a mysterious place where rocks move across the dry lake. No one ever has seen them move! We had only known so because of the tracks they had left behind. Some people hypothesized that strong winds pushed them over slick wet mud but no one could explain why there was no pile of mud pushed up in front of them or that the wind would have had to be upwards of over 80 miles per hour! Today’s theoretical explanations seem more plausible, water from winter rains fill the lake up to several inches, then freeze over it during the night. When strong winds begin to push the ice, as it does on many lakes, such as the great lakes, the ice forms enough force to push objects over the slick playa. As the ice still has water under it, the rocks do not push into the mud but just streaks the surface of it. Some rocks are lifted above the mud to be deposited hundreds of feet away or even land right in the tracks of another rock many times larger thinking that someone must have picked them up and dropped them in the larger track. No matter which theory you subscribe to, the moving rocks of Devil’s Racetrack are a photo phenomenon highlight of the workshop!



Devils Racetrack

Scotty’s Castle was a tourist trap of the 19th Century in the making and we make it a stop on our way back to Furnace Creek from Devils Racetrack. Chicago millionaire, Albert Mussey Johnson built the villa for his wife, it is a beautiful two-story Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style villa located in the Grapevine Mountains of northern Death Valley in Death Valley National Park, California. "Scotty's Castle" as it became known as, was named for gold prospector called Walter E. Scott also known as Death Valley Scotty. He was a man of tall tales. Much of them was selling holdings in Death Valley. Mussey was taken by this gold mine investor scam artist that he forgave him. Scott never or lived in the castle but in a modest ranch home, also owned by Johnson, just few miles away near Grapevine Spring. Scotty's job was to greet and entertain guests with his tall tales of Death Valley. Today, the Castle is owned and maintained by the national park.



Scotty's Castle
 Jubilee Pass is an overlooked area of most workshops as it lies far south of Badwater and requires a long day to include it. It is not every year that I lead a tour into this area. Here lies a wealth of oddly shaped wind erosion arches, caves and hollows that make compelling subject not found in other areas of the park

Jubilee Pass

 If you are interested in taking a Death Valley Workshop with me please visit this page and sign up early as it's one of the most popular tours. I'd be happy if you made it to Death Valley along with me!

Death Valley National Park Photography Workshop

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Waterloo Village Photo Workshop

"Saguaro Snag"

 Time stands still at Waterloo Village Historical State Park stuck in the mid 1900's. Located in Sussex Country along the Musconetcong River at the midway point along the Morris Canal, built in 1831 to supply the greater New York City area with Pennsylvanian anthracite coa,l the site was deemed a perfect place to build an inn, blacksmith, tavern, farm and general store for canal workers and their occasional passengers. Soon more people followed. They built a church, cabins then elegant homes in the Queen Victorian and Gothic styles, grist and wood mills. Today, our students enjoyed the well preserved village and it's subjects as a great place for a photography workshop.


"White Birches with Cabin"
We had a great day of lessons this year at Waterloo Village, New Jersey. First we worked with some basic camera techniques to create a baseline foundation of knowledge for our group, then on how to find subjects for fast exposure settings in nature and comparing them to slower process of using histograms to set exposure levels. Then we began to work on what all artist's really need- Composition. Starting with the basics of compositional devices, such as thirds,  circles, repetition and so on, we moved into Advance Concept Photography of the High Perspective Landscape. Knowing how the best landscape photographers select strong foreground subjects and incorporate them with interesting backgrounds to create dynamic images starts first with the basics of composition and choosing the right equipment, i.e. lens and camera settings. In just a few hours, the group accomplished much of these goals.

"Eying the Morris Canal"
Waterloo Village is a unique photographic opportunity of past time long gone and a great place to learn how to photograph with advance compositional techniques. No matter what your skill level is you will come away from this workshop with new insights of the old and a new way to shoot them!

For more images and information on future Waterloo Village workshops please check out this link:
Waterloo Village Photography Workshop