Landscape photography in Texas is an endurance sport, especially for your vehicle. The best locations are far from any major cities and in many cases, far from civilization itself. Having a dependable ride like the Subaru Forester is essential to your success and your survival.
My 2010 Forester has a little over 103,000 miles on it and still runs like a champ. I’ve taken it all across Texas from Houston to Amarillo, Dallas to El Paso and Harlingen to Nacogdoches with not a single breakdown to its credit. We’ve traveled the dirt roads of Big Bend National Park, the two track trails of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the back roads of twenty different Texas State Parks and the dirt roads of over 150 Texas counties.
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with GP-E2 unit attached, set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens and tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/16 for 1/20th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop, soft, graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 4.
What a great group of photographers to teach, travel and shoot with!
Here are a few statistics to recap this year’s outing. 17 people each traveled over 300 miles in 3 days to photograph four different and unique state parks working on average 12 hours each day to capture literally thousands of great landscape shots.
Oh, we got scattered a few times but all ended up enjoying some great Texas weather during our three day safari with lots of sunshine, a few clouds but no rain in sight. Gorman creek was running over the falls near Bend, Tx. The mighty Colorado was low but still running as were both the Pedernales and Guadalupe rivers. The heights of Enchanted Rock haven’t gotten any easier to climb but the sunset and clear skies made the trek worth while. As always, the rocks and water in each park called to us like bees to honey. We climbed, explored, laughed and did it all again the next day. And as is usually the case, we made made new friends from as far away as Canada and California as well as those that live closer to home.
It was my honor and a great pleasure to host this year’s Texas Landscape Safari and to get to know each and every one of you a little better. You all have a gift for capturing light and turning it into art and I learned as much as I taught. Keep in touch and remember that TLS alumni are always welcome to join us again in the future for FREE, even those that brought their iPhones.
Last spring we had over 12 inches of rain in the Hill Country the month before the Texas Landscape Safari. This year’s forecast looks a bit more like hard drought and there’s been little rain since the beginning of the year. But don’t you fret one bit. The Texas Hill Country is still an incredibly beautiful place even during the worst of droughts.
In fact, some of my best images were taken back in late 2009 when the region was experiencing the worst drought in a decade. The shot below is a great example of what we can expect from this year’s Texas Landscape Safari.
I love taking long exposures using the Singh-Ray Vari-ND neutral density filter. This wonderful little device is an absolute miracle worker when it comes to long exposures and is worth every penny of it’s $340 (USD) price. You turn the filter element to the “min” setting to compose and focus and then to the “max” setting to take your shots.
Singh-Ray also offers this in a version called the Vari-ND-Duo which includes a built-in circular polarizer and the Vari-ND-Trio which includes a built-in circular polarizer and color enhancer. Whatever model you choose, no other neutral density filter comes close to the functionality of this little beauty.
The key to this shot is the long exposure (greater than 1 second) that creates the smooth, silky look of the flowing water. You have two choices in how to achieve the long exposure; a) use a very small aperture like f/22 or b) use a neutral density filter. Given the the fact that small apertures can create diffraction blur I tend to use a neutral density filter whenever possible.
A good sturdy tripod is a must in a situation like this. Even the best image stabilization offered today can’t prevent blur in a shutter speed over 1 second. I prefer Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods because of their light weight and vibration damping characteristics. They’re a bit pricey but last a lifetime.
A final key for this type of shot is setting your camera’s long exposure noise reduction to “ON”. Long exposure noise reduction is a great little technology that eliminates noise in exposures over 1 second by taking two exposures; one with the shutter open and one with the shutter closed. These two exposures are then compared and any digital noise found (usually in the shadow areas) in the first exposure that is not present in the second exposure is “subtracted” from the final image. A neat little trick that almost completely eliminates any noise from your image.
Pedernales Falls State Park is perhaps one of the best kept photographic secrets in the Texas Hill Country. Folks that visit the 6000 acre park are often amazed at how vast the falls really are and how the scale of these rocks can be deceiving from a distance. Having hiked the area extensively over the years, I still find new sections of the falls I’ve yet to explore. Each stair-step section you climb leads to another and another as this unique geology extends almost two miles upstream in the Pedernales River.
Folks that attend the Texas Landscape Safari always enjoy a good sunset to photograph on a quiet spring evening in April. This is a small slice of heaven folks, right here in Texas!
We still have a few spots open for our Texas Landscape Safari workshop scheduled for April 25th – 28th, 2011 in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Now that the winter rains have returned and refilled the aquifers, the rivers and streams should be running beautifully by April and provide some wonderful shots for our attendees. Each attendee will also receive an autographed copy of my latest book, Landscapes of the Texas Plains & Canyons with detailed information on how each shot was taken.
Here’s a quick look at what we’ve scheduled for this workshop. You can click on this image to be taken directly to our Google Map for the workshop.
We plan to shoot at the following state parks and key locations during the three day workshop. Many of these state parks will require a hike to the best shooting locations so a good pair of hiking shoes or boots and a photo-pack to carry your gear is highly recommended.
Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas (3 mile hike).
Wildflowers near Llano (No hike).
Packsaddle Mountain near Kingsland (No hike).
Inks Lake State Park near Llano (1 mile hike).
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Fredericksburg (3 mile hike).
Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City (2 mile hike).
Guadalupe River State Park near San Antonio (1 mile hike).
To register or for more information, please contact me via email using my Contact Me page.
The spring 2011 Texas Landscape Safari is right around the corner and planning is well underway for an expected large turnout this spring. Last year’s weather was just about perfect in the months leading up to the workshop with cool temperatures and lots of winter rains in the Hill Country. The crop of wildflowers last spring was stunning and with a little luck and some wet winter weather, this spring’s crop could surpass all expectations. The area’s waterfalls were running great last spring as you can below but right now however, we’re in the middle of a mild drought here in Texas so as usual, we’re waiting on the weather!
Here’s another simple but effective way to capture a very high contrast image without resorting to HDR techniques. Not that I have anything serious against HDR, but I find it very rewarding to be able to capture a shot like this “in camera”.
Yes, I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy but hey, I earned every one of those gray hairs.
How to Get this Type of Shot
The key to getting this type of shot is to recognize that the dynamic range of this scene is well beyond what your camera’s metering system can handle. In fact, the dark-to-light-to-dark pattern found in this scene is sure to fool your camera’s meter most of the time.
For Canon shooters this type of situation call for enabling your camera’s Highlight Tone Priority setting which “shifts” the sensor’s response curve (dynamic range) so that gradations between highlight tones become smoother. It also helps recover blown-out highlights as you can see in the center of this shot. You should always have your camera’s highlight warning (blinkies) turned on as well.
Another key is to use a graduated neutral density filter to “even out” the exposure values between the foreground, middle ground and background. I prefer to hand-hold Singh-Ray’s “soft” graduated ND filters and move them slightly during the exposure to obtain an even softer transition. Yes, this may create some dark areas in your image that need some post-capture work since an ND-Grad filter won’t follow the broken shape of your scene’s horizon.
The final key is to slightly underexpose this type of shot to add drama to the clouds and add saturation to the colors in the scene. If you overexpose a shot like this the highlights will be completely blown out and all the detail will be lost forever. No amount of post-capture processing can recover blown out highlights because there is simply no data to recover. I generally underexpose a shot like this about two-thirds of a stop to prevent this from happening.
Once you learn to recognize a difficult lighting situation like this, you’re halfway there to capturing a shot you’ll be proud of. Don’t get discouraged if this takes some practice. I took over 30 shots of this scene before I got the “one” that I liked enough to print. The other 29 ended up on the cutting room floor (metaphorically speaking of course).