What I Learned About Photography While In Yosemite

Tripods make a huge difference. It’s just one more cumbersome step I now need to take. That sucks.


I learned something very surprising about photography this weekend. A tripod makes a big difference, even while out in bright sunlight!

I didn’t think that was true. Doesn’t faster shutter speed compensate?

No. Tripods make a huge difference. It’s just one more cumbersome step I now need to take. That sucks.

If your camera is still, shots turn out sharper. Sharpness is critical. No shot is sharp at every point, but every photo needs at least one area in sharply in focus.

There were more tripods at Yosemite (our group and individuals) than anyplace I’ve ever been! They are the most abused piece of photo gear. Often one or more legs was in water or sand or scratching for a toehold on a convenient rock.


Half Dome from Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park-w1920-h1400

I took lots of HDR shots. Multiple images (7 or 9 for me on this trip) are combined by computer to provide a single image with more detail in both brights and darks than cameras or monitors can natively produce. The color range is compressed. You have to carefully process these shots or they look phony.

The tripod provided my best HDR results ever. The ads say HDR programs compensate for handheld shots. The results say tripods do better.

I did some (not enough) work with neutral density filters. Think gray sunglasses.

This allows long exposures in daylight. That’s how you turn flowing water into dreamy white ribbons or make a lake with light ripples look perfectly still and reflective.

Yosemite National Park Three Brothers River View-w1920-h1400

I am not usually a photo printer. There are a few of these I’d like to hang. Maybe three or four different looks of the same basic shot? I mull slowly.

Shooting At Seal Beach

As mentioned yesterday, Saturday was the annual Worldwide Photo Walk. I signed up to walk in Seal Beach. Nice people. Lackluster setting.

I was very disappointed in what I brought home. Part of it was my self imposed lens limit. Part had to do with experimenting with neutral density filters. Part had to do with Seal Beach itself and the fact SB sunset shots include the oil derricks in Long Beach.

Oh–hazy too.

However, there’s a nice payoff in spite of my ineptitude. I just got this email from Gena.

We were so fortunate to have you photograph us last night. We talked about it being a magical moment. We were talking about our hopes and dreams and you captured the moment. We would love it if you could send the photo our way. We are going to be grandparents this week and would love to share with our grandkids some day. Thank you! We are eternally grateful!



I came across Gena and her husband after the Sun had set. They were on the wet sand above the high water mark just north of the Seal Beach Pier. They were alone on the beach… except for the guy with camera gear moving toward them.

If I wanted I could have started snapping away without asking. The law says you have no expectation of privacy in a public place. That’s not how I operate.

They were in a conversation. I stood three or four feet back and tried to get their attention. It took a few tries over the sound of the waves before I made contact.

I told them they would make a beautiful shot, from the rear with no identifiable faces. Would it be OK?

All I asked was for them to be still. I didn’t want to pop a flash. This would be a long exposure. I planted my tripod in the sand, got it as low as possible and hoped for the best.

I used my 8mm fisheye for the shot. It’s totally manual, even focusing.

Here’s the rest of my catch. You’ll notice no pictures of the sunset itself! I found the ’47 Packard while walking to my car.







BTW — if there are seals at Seal Beach, I didn’t see them.

Does This Make Me A Professional

It’s tougher than ever to be a professional shooter.

I have become part of the problem. You’re welcome.

Geoff Fox   Fine Art

Am I a professional photographer? I now have photos for sale. More on that in a moment.

“Real” professional photographers complain about well meaning, but poorly trained and equipped amateurs who buy a DSLR and freelance. They complain because those guys steal business. It’s tougher than ever to be a professional shooter.

I have become part of the problem. You’re welcome.

My hobby is photography. Maybe more obsession than hobby. Photography is a technical sport. I have little artistic talent. None is needed. It’s all about understanding the tools… and a little Photoshop.

People say nice things about my work all the time. Maybe they’d like to hang me?

My friend, Catie Canetti, is also a photographer. She’s taken great shots recently in the Tetons near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Catie sells her work online. I thought I’d try too.

You can see my first three offerings on FineArtAmerica.com. There are a lot more to come.

I believe my $30 is the only qualification to being a fine artist at FineArtAmerica!

I’ll let you and the IRS know how things go.

Hello Hummingbirds







One of the biggest surprises in SoCal living has been my hummingbird feeder. It was a spur-of-the-moment purchase, now suctioned to a window from our family room. The birds hit my feeder dozens of times a day, year round.

Photographing hummingbirds is tough. Their wings flap rapidly. Very high shutter speeds must be used.

High shutter speed means less light gets in the lens. Even in bright daylight my camera, a Canon 7D, is being pushed near its limit.

Everything happens quickly. No time for autofocus. My lens is open to f/8 and pre-focused where the birds are most likely to light.

Sometimes that works. Most times it doesn’t. Over 300 photos for the six you see here!

Magic Lantern software loaded into my camera controls when the photo is shot. It looks for changes in the frame, then shoots three times.

There are lots of out-of-focus snaps and plenty where the bird is partially out-of-frame. Sometimes a puff of wind will rock the feeder and… click, click, click. It’s expected most shots will be deleted.

This is a technique thing. If you know how to do it and spend enough time, you’ll get the shot. Otherwise, shooting hummingbirds is nearly impossible.

The Hummingbirds Come Into Sharper Focus

Photographing hummingbirds has gone from experiment to obsession. That didn’t take long!

Yesterday I set up my camera with Magic Lantern firmware and shot away. Today I made more modifications. The lens is longer, bringing me closer (though these are still cropped images). The light is a little better.

My shutter speed still isn’t fast enough! 1/1000 second doesn’t freeze the hummingbird’s wings.

If I speed up the shutter and leave the aperture where it is I’m going to start adding too much noise. Where’s the balance? Still to be determined.

Here are the best four of 136.





Sunsets: California Photography’s Low Hanging Fruit

Shooting sunset photography here is like shooting fish in a barrel! Four out of five days the sky is ablaze with color. With little horizon blockage the results are easily obtained and still spectacular.

My new spot is up Portola Parkway toward the toll road. There’s wilderness on both sides and a nearly uninterrupted path to the setting Sun. Thank you highway planners for leaving a place for me to pull over that’s just right.

Oh — and sunset is in the afternoon. Much easier than the East Coast’s sunrise!

This picture shows office buildings near John Wayne Airport (approximately 8 miles) and the distant mountains on Santa Catalina Island (around 46 miles distant).

Sunset with Santa Catalina in the background

All the pictures are clickable for larger version.

Backyard Birds

I am the grillmaster. Historically, isn’t that the way it works? Somehow the guy becomes king when cooking moves outside.

I fired up the grill tonight, threw some chops over the fire and… well, when you grill that’s it for a while. It was break time, so I stood still and listened.

The woods near my house are alive with birds. This is their season. Most aren’t seen, but I know they’re different based on their songs.

I ran inside and got my camera. The best shots are often unplanned.

IMG_9450birds _1



One Shot From Nine Shots


Last night on Facebook I posted one picture from Saturday’s trip to New York City. It was one of the first ones I looked at and among the last I shot. In case you’re interested I’ll tell you how this shot came to be.

First, it is not really one shot. It is nine shots! Each was exactly the same–shot from a locked down tripod. The only difference was how long the shutter was open. The fastest was 1/8 second. The slowest was 32 seconds!

That’s a 256:1 ratio between longest and shortest which is easily seen as brightness.


Shooting a wide range of exposures is a workaround for a weakness of cameras and the human eye. In both cases (though worse with the camera) we can see a large range of light levels, just not at the same time! To get an image bright enough to see detail in the shadows, we must also ‘blow out’ detail where it’s bright.

I ended up with lots of detail in bright and dark spots, but in nine separate images. Enter Photoshop. It is programmed to combine those images, preserving the most detail from each. There are other standalone programs (including Luminance (free) and Photomatix, the standard for this kind of work) which will do the same job.

The technique is called HDR for high dynamic range. When done judiciously the result is pleasing and looks more like reality than any single photo. When done poorly it looks like Elvis painted on velvet!

The images were shot with a Canon 7d DSLR using a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens wide open. ISO was set to 100.

Many thanks to the development team at Magic Lantern who have produced ‘firmware’ for my camera to allow it to do things it was never designed to do! The process for getting the nine separate photos, all with different shutter speeds, was automated by Magic Lantern which is free! HDR automation is just one tiny feature of Magic Lantern.

More pics to come.

I Take Too Many Photos

I take a lot of photos. Too many. Saturday night on East Rock over 150. None were keepers! That’s disappointing.

Clicky is used a lot. The shutter has fired tens of thousands of times, easily.

The ability to snap shots with no monetary cost is a game changer. The unspoken truth is if you take loads of shots you have to screen them and ‘finish’ them.

Photos are free, but you’re paying in time.

I find photography interesting because there are a multitude of adjustments a photographer can make to produce totally different photos without moving an inch! It’s more than just pointing.

That’s also the frustrating part. With so many potential adjustments I never quite choose exactly the right combination. That was my problem on East Rock. I didn’t even get close.

Every photo needs adjustment. Yours, mine, everyone’s. Photoshop is my choice for tweaking. I try and shoot in a way that allows me to compensate without losing significant quality.

One of my biggest fears pre-surgery was I wouldn’t be able to get on my belly or crouch down low–poses I gravitate to when there’s a camera in my hands.

When I can’t get outside there’s Doppler to shoot. Sometimes she’s temperamental and will look away. Mostly she stays still.

The shot at the top of this entry was taken this evening. It’s been desaturated (black and white), heavily sharpened and contrast enhanced. It’s a little more stark than the original.

The shot on the bottom was taken last night. We were parked outside the frozen yogurt store at night. Using a flash would have spoiled the shot. I was limited because of the low light.

I like taking close-ups, but this shot is the opposite. Doppler’s small size is highlighted by including most of the car’s window.

Quinnipiac Builds The Perfect Place For Photography (With Proof)

Sleeping Giant panorama

Is there any place beautiful as Connecticut? Sometimes the weather sucks, but the scenery is always awesome.

Today wasn’t just a beautiful Saturday, it was a photo beautiful Saturday!

Humidity was low. Skies were blue. There were scattered clouds! Clouds are necessary for beauty shots because they add contrast and highlights to the otherwise homogeneous blue.

I threw some lenses into my small bag, dropped the top on my car and headed to the York Hill Campus at Quinnipiac University. QU built this addition a few years ago. It has amazing views!

In the past I drove behind the TD Bank Sports Center and looked south. Not today. Alan Chaniewski, a incredibly skillful photographer who shoots for the Courant every day and obviously enjoys his time with a camera in his hands, suggested the top of the parking garage.

Damn! The place was totally deserted, there’s easy access and unlimited vistas. The garage is meant for photography.

I picked a few landmarks and calculated distance. Otis Tower in Bristol–19 miles. There were distant mountains behind it. I’d like to bring a tripod and photograph lightning when there are thunderstorms around Hartford or farther north. It would be amazing from there.

The New Haven skyline–8 miles. It dominates the southern view.

Among the things I created today was the Photosynth panorama you see below. If you zoom in you will see the image in very high detail.

We live less than five minutes from where these photos were shot. I understand how lucky I am.

My best eight shots follow.









A Quick Photo Run

After a gloomy week followed by a mostly gloomy weekend the Sun returned to Connecticut. The clouds did rule until 4:00 PM, but late afternoon of Sun can (and did) save the day.

I took a quick shower, threw a few lenses in my backpack, dropped the top on the toy car and headed out.

After a gloomy week followed by a mostly gloomy weekend the Sun returned to Connecticut. The clouds did rule until 4:00 PM, but late afternoon of Sun can (and did) save the day.

I took a quick shower, threw a few lenses in my backpack, dropped the top on the toy car and headed out.

I’ve written before about my daily drive down Tuttle Avenue behind Sleeping Giant State Park. My normal exit from Mount Carmel is under construction so I’m detouring to River Road. That let me scout a few new locations that looked photo worthy.

I walked about fifty yards down a well beaten path to the shore of Butterworth Brook Reservoir. This is an area of idyllic beauty easily passed without a second thought.

The photo above is slightly augmented using Luminance HDR. There’s just too much dynamic range for a camera to capture natively.

Later I moved to Tuttle where the horses I wanted to shoot were behind an ugly wire fence. I thought the road itself might make a nice long lens photo so I twisted on a telephoto and began to scope it out. Within a few seconds I heard the throaty rumble of a motorcycle.

In the movies this guy comes shooting by like a bat out of hell. Not today. He couldn’t have been doing much more than thirty when he crested the hill.

I have no idea who’s riding the bike, but if you do will you tell him I have a pretty cool shot he might want.

My Pound Photoshoot Logistics

I laid down on a blanket and hoped for the best. Before the shoot was over even the blanket had been piddled on.

“I need something I can get dirty.” That’s what I told Helaine before Saturday’s trip to the Wallingford Animal Shelter. Getting dirty was part of the battle plan for my shoot at the pound.

I took a backpack full of stuff, but used little.

I have a technique for shooting dogs. The two most important elements are shooting low and shooting wide. Getting close usually produces the best shots.

Our shooting area was behind the shelter. The dogs get exercise here while pooping and marking their turf. These dogs need less fiber!

I laid down on a blanket and hoped for the best. Before the shoot was over even the blanket had been piddled on.

The EXIF file packed inside every digital photo (yes, even the ones on your phone) tells me a lot about each shot. Shutter speeds varied, but in Saturday’s bright sunshine the vast majority of shots were 1/400 and faster. That stops action and helps handheld shot be sharper.

I took 455 shots with my Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 lens. There are clusters of shots at each end of the length, but it looks like I used its entire range pretty evenly.

Normally I’d shoot everything at F/2.8 which produces a sharp foreground and a dreamy, fuzzy background. Because the dogs were always in motion, meaning focus would be a problem, I opted to stay mainly at F/4 and F/5.6. If any part of the dog was in focus the entire dog would be sharp!

Another 60 pictures were taken with an 8mm fully manual fisheye lens from Rokinon. Focus is totally uncritical with that lens, but I shot mainly f/8 and f/11 just to be sure.

My camera was a Canon 7D in RAW mode. Each photo is 18 megapixels (5184 x 3456). Each photo file runs around 25MB.

Going from 500+ photos to 100 is easy. Lots of shots are blurred, poorly lit, missing the action, or just plain bad. Others closely duplicate each other.

Getting from 100 to 20 was a lot more difficult.

We Went To Kent

It rained for the first half hour of our trip. Helaine gave me the evil eye you give the weatherman when he takes you sightseeing on a rainy day.

On TV I’ve been telling everyone how poorly the fall foliage is doing. I based that on reports from trusted sources, but I wanted to see for myself and get some photos of whatever it is we’re getting. This afternoon Helaine and I hopped in the Subaru and headed north.

We really didn’t start with a specific destination. I barked, “Kent, Connecticut” at the Google Navigation applet built in to my new phone and let it figure out the rest. The trip was estimated a little under 1:30 without stops. We stopped!

As we drove the back roads that lead from Hamden to Bethany I began to think, “Why the hell are we going all the way to the Litchfield Hills? It’s pretty countrified here… and pretty pretty!”

It was a right on Route 69 to 42 to 63 then north on Route 8.

Route 8 north of Waterbury is Connecticut’s prettiest divided highway, right? South of Waterbury it’s easily Connecticut’s most treacherous! What the hell were they thinking when they built that snake through the Naugatuck Valley?

It rained for the first half hour of our trip. Helaine gave me the evil eye you give the weatherman when he takes you sightseeing on a rainy day.

I knew hoped it would clear up as the Sun began to get a little lower in the sky. These were instability showers and they needed warmth at ground level to get going.

We passed some farms. I thought about pulling over, but not until it was too late. The same with a few medium sized lakes.

We were driving parallel to a small river, so I took a right onto Town Hill Road in Warren… maybe… I’m not sure… and pulled to the shoulder.

While Helaine waited I walked into the woods and down to the river bank. If the river’s got a name it’s not obvious on the maps I’m looking at&#185. A few trees were bare. Most still had leaves–mostly green and yellow with big dark spots indicative of the weather related problems that have dulled the foliage.

I got some shots and got back in the car.

By this time we were getting pretty close to Kent. I needed to commit.

We could visit the Kissingers? Maybe Seth MacFarlane’s boyhood home? Paul Leka, the guy responsible for “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” is up the road in Sharon in the Colgate Mansion (Note to self: Write iconic hit song. Achieve financial security. Lather. Repeat.). Of course I don’t know any of them.

By this time we were seeing signs for Kent Falls.

We made a right into downtown Kent, drove past the tourists scouring the antique shops and headed toward the falls. I’d heard of them. Until today I’d never been.

The stream begins in the town of Warren, draining an area of six or seven square miles. It then flows west to the big fall where it plunges approximately 70 feet in a dramatic cascade. From here the stream descends in a series of lesser falls and cascades to the valley, where it enters the Housatonic River some 200 feet below the brink of the big fall only a quarter mile away. Much of the limestone over which the brook flows has been carved into interesting shapes including numerous potholes of all sizes.

Even without a fiery color show the Kent Falls is spectacular. I walked a slippery trail up the right side, past the “This Area Closed To The Public” sign to a flat ledge at the base of the first fall. Knowing my (dead)cat-like reflexes I moved slowly with every muscle tensed.

I started with single shots then decided to try some three shot clusters for HDR processing.

We continued north on Route 7 stopping briefly at a farmer’s field on the west side of the road. More HDR shots. Disappointing. I thought the vantage would be better.

Route 7 crosses the river as it continues northward toward Lakeville and the Berkshires. We stopped at the foot of the covered bridge that leads to West Cornwall.

By this time it was getting dark. HDR photography isn’t understanding of noisy pictures taken at high ISO settings nor the shake that comes from a slow shutter. I had a monopod which helps. Bringing my tripod would have been better. It is what it is.

All-in-all I hit the shutter 270 times. Many of those are duplicates or in the case of HDR sets triplicates. I’ll spend the rest of the evening editing them and post a few tomorrow.

I’m tired, sore and glad we went!

&#185 -In the comments Mike A. reveals it is Waramaug Brook AKA Sucker Brook. So now we know!

How I Screwed Up Then Saved A Dog Photo

I was down low, actually laying on-the-ground. I’m a huge proponent of shooting dogs from below their eye level.

I like to think I’m a good photographer, but lots of my shots don’t come out. It’s a matter of frustration for me. There are so many settings and actions that go into shooting a photo. It’s so easy to forget or be stuck in an unusual situation and guess wrong.

The photo above is my case in point. I was down low, actually laying on-the-ground. I’m a huge proponent of shooting dogs from below their eye level. It makes a much more interesting shot.

My 8mm Rokinon lens was on the camera. That’s a fisheye lens. It sees a lot and exaggerates distance from the camera. Everything looks farther away than it really is.

The Rokinon lens is fully manual. The photographer sets the aperture and focuses. Neither is extremely critical. I shot at F/11.

I didn’t realize the camera, a Canon 7d, would see the bright blue sky and close the iris. The dog was totally underexposed.

All my photos are shot in RAW mode, including this one. RAW saves what the sensor saw with no loss or compression. The files are immense, around 25 Mb for a single photo, but they contain lots of additional details that can be recovered using Photoshop.

I didn’t just turn up the brightness. In that case the sky would be pure white and without detail. I masked the sky and manipulated it and the rest of the photo separately.

After that I performed some minor surgery to remove a horse’s ear from the dog’s head, sharpened and tightened up the contrast.

This photo has much more ‘noise’ than most photographers would accept. Tough. I like it.

Photo Inspiration

The difference in the photo blog is the addition of background info on how the shots were achieved.

If you’re a photographer I’ve got a two links for you today. They’re both related to people I work with. Our photo staff at the Courant (FoxCT and the Hartford Courant are co-owned and co-located on Broad Street) maintains a pretty cool blog, Eye Contact.

Obviously you’re going to see their work in the paper plus Courant.com and CTNow.com and sometimes on-the-air on our FoxCT newscasts. The difference in the photo blog is the addition of background info on how the shots were achieved. Sometimes that’s tech data and technique other times just an admission of mindset from a group with hundreds of years experience in street photography.

The second link is Diana Guay’s photoblog. Diana is a technical producer for Courant.com. I have no idea what that means!

She and her boyfriend have just returned from a lap around America. I think they got married too! Actually I’m not 100% sure.

Diana has some great pictures of places I’d love to visit, especially Yellowstone. More importantly she’s captured some more pedestrian sights in a very creative way.