Telephoto Landscapes – Use your longer lenses for new perspectives on your scenics

“Autumn’s Grace” – Example of Telephoto Lens Compression

Some of my favorite portfolio images have been taken with my telephoto lenses. Zooming in on the landscape compresses features together and can enable more abstract and artistic compositions. When I was out photographing in the autumn of 2013, I used my 300mm lens as often as the wider-angle lenses since telephoto compositions work particularly well for trees and foliage. In this article, I’ll share a few of my favorite telephoto landscapes and what to look for when you want to create intriguing telephoto landscape compositions.

Left: “Rainbow Waterfall”, Right: “Dogwood Blossoms”

For my image “Autumn’s Grace,” I used a 300mm lens and a 1.7x converter attached, making it a 510mm shot (with my medium-format Hasselblad lens). The telephoto composition compresses the foreground aspens with the foliage in the background, making everything in the image appear on a similar plane. The aspens in the lower portion of the image have lost some of their leaves, making them appear translucent. Even though this is a telephoto composition, I used basic compositional guidelines, including the Rule of Thirds and an interesting foreground, to create this image.

In “Rainbow Waterfall,” I also used the 300mm plus the 1.7x teleconverter. I was in Yosemite Valley photographing a more wide-angle composition in Ahwahnee Meadow, and happened to turn around and see the February sun illuminating Upper Yosemite Falls, creating a colorful rainbow from the spray. The rainbow started higher up the waterfall, and as the sun moved, the colors slowly progressed down the waterfall. I quickly put on my telephoto lens, looked through the viewfinder and noticed the tree in the lower left of the image, which lent an important sense of scale to the composition. When the rainbow colors met the trees, I knew I had my shot. Sometimes you can’t clearly see the composition until you look through the viewfinder with the tele lens on. I like to handhold the camera while I’m looking for the composition, then before I take the shot, I lock the camera on the tripod and use a cable release with mirror lock-up so that camera shake is eliminated. There’s no tolerance for camera movement when shooting telephoto landscapes, since every bit of camera shake is magnified in the final image.


“High Country Aspens” 

This image of dogwood blossoms demonstrates how telephoto lenses can be used with wildflower photography. Since telephoto images magnify the subject, the blur in out-of-focus areas is more apparent for a given aperture. You can use this to create the “bokeh” effect with larger apertures, which can be particularly attractive with wildflowers. This lends an artistic softness to the image and helps draw attention to the in-focus blossoms. If all the blossoms were in focus in this image, I think the composition wouldn’t work as well, since there would be more distracting elements in the image.

I took “High Country Aspens” with the 300mm lens and 1.7x converter. The telephoto composition allowed me to zoom in on a particular section of this aspen grove in the far distance that had some smaller evergreen trees, which lend a sense of scale and contrast to the scene. When photographing fall foliage, I think it’s important to make the tree trunks visible in the composition. These trunks were very tall and straight, making them an ideal subject. The telephoto composition allowed me to emphasize the beauty and uniformity of these trunks by compressing the grove. Photographing the aspens from a distance helped me avoid the distortion created by using a wide-angle lens.

Elizabeth Carmel is one of the world’s premiere  landscape photographers. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, their Napa Valley Art Gallery in Calistoga and their Truckee Art Gallery . You can get more information about her landscape photographs to buy,landscape photography workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her Video Art, visit VistaChannel.tv.  Her Video Art DVDS are available to purchase on her website.

Cosmophobia…Really? Media-driven, irrational fear is keeping too many of us from enjoying nature

On May 5, 2012, the moon was almost as close to Earth as it ever gets. Nikon D800E, AF-S VR 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED at 112mm, ISO 100; exposure for the moon was 1⁄30 sec. at ƒ/4.

In 2012 I had the pleasure of giving the keynote presentation at the Moab Photography Symposium, which happened to coincide with the “supermoon,” a term that refers to an unusually large full moon that travels almost as close as it can to Earth. The supermoon of May 5, 2012, rose just after sunset, so the photographic opportunities were fabulous. The day of this supermoon there was the usual news coverage of the event. One news outlet discussed the trend toward an increase in people being afraid of astronomical events such as supermoons, eclipses and other astronomical phenomena. A NASA scientist has even given this fear a name, “cosmophobia,” which is defined as a fear of the cosmos, particularly the terror that the world will end by means of some astronomical occurrence.

One of the points I raised in my keynote is that much of our media today is filled with stories that are intended to induce fear, and that we as nature photographers have an opportunity to contribute positive imagery to the world in the midst of our negatively biased mass media. Well, here was the perfect example of the issue. A magnificent natural phenomenon was being cast as something potentially to fear! While the news story may have been somewhat tongue in cheek, it’s symptomatic of a larger issue that I think is becoming more prevalent: People are becoming more fearful of the natural world as they become more removed from it.

As photographers, we have the perfect avocation to help us reconnect with the natural world as participants and not just as spectators. Our pursuit of magical places in magical light will lead us to witness nature’s beauty as few others can. It will push us to experience things that the average person will likely never make the effort to see—sunrise on a meadow of wildflowers high in the Sierra, a supermoon rising among sandstone formations in the desert and other sublime spectacles that we can witness and share. In my presentation, I explained how the pursuit of landscape photography has helped me become a more positive and courageous person. My desire to get a good picture now outweighs the fear of hiking alone through the dark to get it.

I think it’s particularly important for women to learn how to be comfortable spending time alone in the outdoors. A common question I get during my workshops and presentations is “Aren’t you afraid of being outdoors by yourself?” I’ve spent many sunrises and sunsets alone hiking out to my locations by headlamp. I find that there’s really nothing to be fearful of; the chance of being attacked by an animal or another human is almost 0%. The people you encounter in these places are enjoying the outdoors as you are and aren’t up to malice. It’s statistically more dangerous to drive your car at anytime than to walk alone in most national parks and wilderness areas. You’re much more likely to encounter violence on city streets than in the great outdoors. When tragic attacks do happen, they’re disproportionately covered by the media, but aren’t very common. I’m not suggesting that we be naïve as women when travelling alone, but I am suggesting that we be smart and rational about it and not let unfounded fear stop us from photographing amazing places in amazing light, particularly if we’re not travelling with a companion.

I have a vivid memory of taking the bus out to Wonder Lake in Denali. All the hikers and backpackers got on and off the bus at their designated hiking quadrants. About 40 miles out on the road, a young woman got on the bus; she had been hiking alone in the Denali wilderness for a week. I asked her about her experience, and she shared how wonderful it had been for her. I remember admiring her courage, and it encouraged me to do a day hike alone in Denali. Being in a wilderness area alone can be a very profound experience and will always refresh your perspective.

The best cure for this type of fear is to develop the skills and fitness to get outside and enjoy the natural world as often as possible. Start with smaller hikes and then progress to longer ones. Watch your own train of thoughts when you’re alone in the outdoors to determine if your fears of the situation are rational or irrational. Of course, not everyone faces these issues; there are many people who don’t give fear of being in the outdoors alone a second thought. I’ve encountered enough people who face this both in daily life and in photography workshops, that I wanted to share my perspective on the issue.

When I photographed the supermoon at Arches National Park, a group of workshop participants and other photographers had gathered on the rocks with a fabulous view of Balanced Rock and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. When the huge moon peeked over the mountains, I didn’t hear shrieks of cosmophobia-induced terror, but gasps of awe and amazement. Actually witnessing nature’s grandeur has a way of making us forget about fear.

Elizabeth Carmel is one of the world’s premiere  landscape photographers. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, their Napa Valley Art Gallery in Calistoga and their Truckee Art Gallery . You can get more information about her landscape photographs to buy,landscape photography workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her Video Art, visit VistaChannel.tv.  Her Video Art DVDS are available to purchase on her website.

Using Photography to Protect the Environment

Martis Valley, Sierra Nevada, Calif. This image helped raise awareness and funds to save undeveloped land near Elizabeth Carmel’s home.

 

I’ve been reading Outdoor Photographer long before I ever entertained the dream of being a landscape photographer. This magazine has helped me learn valuable photographic techniques, develop an eye for good photography and inspire me to become a full-time nature photographer. I’m looking forward now to making my contribution to educating and, hopefully, inspiring readers of this iconic publication.

I’ve always enjoyed photography since my teenage years, and I became more devoted to photography when digital photography began to hit the mainstream about 12 years ago. My first digital camera was a 2-megapixel Nikon Coolpix (I don’t know what happened to it; I wish I still had it!). My husband Olof and I invested in a large-format Epson printer, almost on a whim, and lo and behold, people showed interest in buying our newly created prints. Fast-forward 11 years and many technological advances later, and we’re both full-time landscape photographers selling fine-art prints out of our own gallery in Truckee, California.

Through this column, I’ll share many of the insights and lessons I’ve learned on my rapidly developing and often intense climb to success along this difficult career path. My inaugural column focuses on my philosophy of photographing and protecting the beautiful places that can inspire us in our own communities. As I write this column, I’m thinking about my hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which was heavily damaged by a tornado on April 27, 2011. While most of my photographic career has evolved in the Western U.S., I have fond memories of the beautiful forests and rivers in Alabama. I’ve been meaning to take a trip to photograph the rare Cahaba lilies that bloom in a river near Tuscaloosa in the spring—I hope they still bloom after the devastation. While such a loss pales in comparison to the loss of human life, the recent tornado highlights for me how fragile these landscapes can be and how fleeting our time is to appreciate them.

Calling all photographers with a keen eye for beautiful landscape shots bathed in the glow of magic hour—your local landscapes need you!

In our increasingly crowded and developed world, the few remaining swaths of natural land are often under extreme pressure from encroaching urban development. That has been the case for many years in my own community of Truckee, which is located amidst the huge attractions of world-class ski resorts and scenic Lake Tahoe.

As landscape photographers, we’re in a unique position to bring attention to these threatened areas in our own backyards and to work with organizations that are working to protect the most ecologically sensitive areas in our communities. The general public sometimes isn’t aware of the natural treasures in its midst. Often, local nonprofit groups such as land trusts and environmental organizations are the only barrier between the long-term protection of a sensitive natural area and its conversion to suburbia.

A few years ago in my community, a 1,400-acre ranch full of biologically diverse high Sierra ecosystems was planned for a luxury home development, complete with a golf course in the wetlands and development up to the shores of the property’s small lake. Our local land trust, the Truckee Donner Land Trust, was working to raise the funds to purchase the land from the developers in order to preserve this pristine natural habitat. A pitched battle erupted between developers and conservationists. Eventually, the developers agreed to sell the property to the land trust if they could raise the $23.5 million purchase price.

The land trust contacted me, requesting that I photograph the area and provide photographs for their fundraising brochure. I jumped at the chance to help in whatever small way I could contribute to the effort. I was granted access to the property and was able to photograph it numerous times, which resulted in a collection of images I donated to the land trust. These images then were used in a large fundraising campaign that educated the public about the biological diversity of the ranch and its scenic values. My photographs of the ranch also were published in numerous newspapers, magazines and online stories about the effort. One of the images, “Summer Sunset, Martis Valley,” became a successful fine-art print that sells well at our gallery in Truckee. I’ve been rewarded many times over for my pro bono work for the land trust. The best part of this story is that the fundraising campaign was successful and the ranch is now permanently protected open space. This is an area that will be protected habitat for many species and will be an important recreational and scenic resource for future generations.

In our increasingly crowded and developed world, the few remaining swaths of natural land are often under extreme pressure from encroaching urban development. That has been the case for many years in my own community of Truckee, which is located amidst the huge attractions of world-class ski resorts and scenic Lake Tahoe.

I know there are many other scenarios like this playing out around our country, not to mention the rest of our planet. If you’re looking to develop an audience for your landscape photography, and to make a lasting contribution through your work, I encourage you to think local. Become familiar with the scenic landscapes unique to your community. If these aren’t publicly accessible, maybe you can arrange access with the property owners in exchange for giving them a framed print of the scenery you photograph. Contact your local land trust or environmental group and see if they need photographs of an area they’re working to preserve. You’ll be able to make an important contribution to their efforts in addition to developing an audience for your work and getting valuable exposure in publications. Make sure all published images are accompanied by your byline and website address.

When photographing a new area, look for interesting foreground elements that lead into a scenic backdrop. A great recipe for this is to use wildflowers or other natural features such as grasses or creeks in the foreground, and use the evening sunset or morning sunrise light to give color to the sky in the background. Always think in terms of making an image have depth—that’s what separates a snapshot from a photograph. Make the effort to get to these locations at the magic hours of dusk and dawn (with your split ND filters and tripod, of course!). Even if there are no “threatened landscapes” in your area, creating photographs of your local landscapes is a great way to share the beauty of your corner of the world with your community. They will appreciate it, and you will grow your audience.

Many landscape photographers want to focus only on the “big-game” locations—places such as the Tetons, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. These are all wonderful and inspiring locations to photograph; however, don’t overlook the scenic treasures in your own communities. Your local landscapes need your photographic talents!

 

Elizabeth Carmel is one of the world’s premiere  landscape photographers. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, their Napa Valley Art Gallery in Calistoga and their Truckee Art Gallery . You can get more information about her landscape photographs to buy,landscape photography workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her Video Art, visit VistaChannel.tv.  Her Video Art DVDS are available to purchase on her website. 

Be An Outdoors Person – Improve your nature skills to improve your photography

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Sunrise on the Whitney Massif, Sequoia National Park, California.

An endless supply of unique, never-photographed locations awaits all of us in the more remote areas of our country. Getting to these locations is the challenge. I know that in my region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I have barely scratched the surface of photographic opportunities. However, I have been able to access new areas and photograph new locations because I have some basic outdoor skills I learned from friends and from various training courses. A lifetime of traveling through the outdoors has helped me further my skills each year. I have taken courses and have proficient skills in backcountry skiing, avalanche safety, winter survival, glacier travel, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, scuba diving, mountain biking, and topo-map and GPS navigation. All this helps with my confidence in outdoor situations and expands the horizons of photographic possibility. I also think that an outdoor photographer should be an outdoor athlete, and have the endurance and strength to hike miles from the road with his or her photographic gear and survive unexpected weather.

Good outdoor skills and fitness allow you to safely get to less-traveled landscapes. Most often, the areas that are farther away from roads will be more pristine. Wilderness areas close to their primeval condition have a rare beauty that can be more powerful and more photogenic than the “iconic” locations well known to all landscape photographers. Often, the journey on a trail to your photographic destination can offer better photographic opportunities and surprises than your final destination. In addition, knowing more about the landscapes you’re traveling through can provide valuable insights into how to get the best photographs.

If you want to kick it up a notch with your photography, set a personal goal to add a new outdoor skill to your résumé. There are so many opportunities for this type of training, from taking a vacation in snow country to learning how to cross-country ski, to scuba diving in the Caribbean, to signing up for a Sierra Club “intro to backpacking” course. The various REI store branches have a monthly calendar of outdoor-skills training, usually free or at very low cost. Be sure to get up to speed on the latest and greatest outdoor gear as well, including the new generation of lightweight down jackets, rain parkas and hiking boots. Once you have the training, be sure to put it into action—strap on a backpack and ski or hike to a new area, camp out, and get some great sunrise and sunset pictures. Most often, you can’t get great shots on a day hike. Our avocation is challenging because we have to capture beautiful places, in great light and during the right season, which doesn’t come easy.

Ultimately, photography is about experiencing our world in a deeper, more vivid way. This goal is enhanced by having the skills and confidence to reach more remote areas untouched by man. For women, especially, don’t be afraid to venture by yourself down a wilderness trail. Last autumn, I had a wonderful adventure in the Southwest, which involved solo hiking to The Subway in Zion, and then later driving by myself down the remote 60-mile dirt road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was able to bring back images from these adventures, which have successfully sold in our gallery as fine-art prints. What I enjoy most is sharing the stories behind these images with people in the gallery, who likely will never have the opportunity to see these sights with their own eyes. Remember that fear of venturing alone into the outdoors can be effectively addressed by skills, practice and fitness. I must also mention that I’m proud to count as friends some impressive outdoor athletes who don’t have use of their legs, but who can travel self-propelled through the mountains with specially adapted equipment. Find a way to work with any physical challenges.

My advice regarding fitness: Start walking. Go on longer weekend walks or hikes. Do some basic strength training. I have a set of kettle bells I use at home a few times a week for 10 minutes a pop—it doesn’t have to be a big, expensive deal with gym memberships, etc., unless you want it to be. I know this may seem basic to some readers, but I feel compelled to offer this advice after watching some of my workshop participants struggle with travel in mountain terrain with their camera gear. As we age, we have to be increasingly vigilant about our strength, endurance and health. If you need motivation, tell yourself to get fit for the sake of your photography!

The photograph I have selected to include with this column shows a shot I was proud to capture, since it was far from the road in a remote location. Sunrise on the Whitney Massif required a two-day hike into the high country of California’s Sequoia National Park, with a tentless bivouac at 12,000 feet below Arc Pass and an early-dawn climb to a 13,000-foot pass where I planted my tripod for the sunrise. The wind was brutally cold, requiring a down parka even though it was August. I relied on the generosity of my fellow hikers to help me haul my gear to the pass—they all received a copy of this print, of course.

Map out a program to buff out your outdoor-skills résumé and yourself. Find a location you have always wanted to experience and corral some friends into an adventure with you. You’ll come back not only with a deeper appreciation for our world, but also a healthier body, greater confidence and, hopefully, some wonderful new photographs and stories.

Elizabeth Carmel is one of the world’s premiere  landscape photographers. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, their Napa Valley Art Gallery in Calistoga and their Truckee Art Gallery . You can get more information about her landscape photographs to buy,landscape photography workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her Video Art, visit VistaChannel.tv.  Her Video Art DVDS are available to purchase on her website.

Fog: Nature’s Mood-Enhancing Filter For Landscape Photos

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Fog can transform a common composition into an extraordinary image; “Morning Frost,” Yosemite Valley, CA.

I love the way winter fog and mist can simplify the landscape and lend a tranquil mood to a scene. Nature is inherently messy most of the time so the ongoing challenge for landscape photographers is to find ways to simplify our landscape photos while still maintaining a scene’s sense of beauty and mystery.

I’ve taken some of my most successful images during foggy conditions, often when the sun is just setting while the fog is clearing. On an eventful evening at Lake Tahoe a few years ago, I experienced a rare combination of clearing fog and setting sun that resulted in a diverse collection of portfolio-quality images, all taken within a two-hour time frame.

This collection of images went on to include some of my best sellers at our gallery, and one adorned the cover of my first book Brilliant Waters. These images will likely never be duplicated because they were taken during a unique combination of fog and sunset that’s hard to predict.

These photos were created because I had been monitoring the weather in the Tahoe Basin, located about 30 minutes from our home in Truckee, and knew that a layer of fog had settled over the lake. I drove over to catch the sunset to see what would happen, not really expecting too much. My first stop was Sand Harbor State Park, on the eastern side of the lake in Nevada. I knew the protected shoreline there contained many picturesque boulders that could create interesting compositions in the winter fog. Sure enough, I walked down to the shoreline and immediately saw a composition in the mist—a ring of boulders surrounding one stone that appeared suspended halfway between the water and the sky. “Clearing Fog, Lake Tahoe” is the resulting print, an image made possible entirely by fog, which eliminated the distracting background and put the boulders in a simple, yet powerful composition.

  

“God Beams Through The Trees”; “Silver and Gold,” Lake Tahoe, NV; “Clearing Fog, Lake Tahoe,” Lake Tahoe, NV. 

Since I had about an hour before sunset, I went to another location just south of Sand Harbor, to a formation known as Bonsai Rock. At the shoreline in this location, the fog still clung but was slowly lifting, revealing the possibility that sunset color would combine with fog in a unique evening spectacle. The composition taken toward the sun resulted in my print “Silver and Gold,” which shows the setting sun illuminating the fog to a warm golden tone amongst the boulders. I’ve noticed that in foggy conditions there’s usually little wind, which creates great opportunities to capture water reflections.

I’ve also been able to capture unique shots in Yosemite Valley because of the fog—it can create the opportunity for new compositions in locations that can be difficult to photograph with originality. “Morning Frost” is an image I photographed in Yosemite Valley one February. Moisture in the air from the fog can freeze on tree branches, coating them in a wonderful white layer of crystals. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this is a fairly common occurrence when fog happens at below-freezing temperatures.

Make it a goal this winter to take advantage of photographing in foggy conditions—you never know when a layer of fog can lead to once-in-a-lifetime unique and creative shots.

Elizabeth Carmel is one of the world’s premiere  landscape photographers. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, their Napa Valley Art Gallery in Calistoga and their Truckee Art Gallery . You can get more information about her landscape photographs to buy,landscape photography workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her Video Art, visit VistaChannel.tv.  Her Video Art DVDS are available to purchase on her website.