As 2016 rumbles to a close, I’m preparing for a busy 2017. I expect 2017 to be a year of practice, focus and growth. I look forward to a July expedition to Iceland to explore and photograph the marvelous scenery there.
But we would not wish to say good-bye to the sights and memories of 2016 without a chance to reflect on them. A September trip to Hawaii and Maui provided most of my year’s photography opportunities. I’ve assembled some of the best images of 2016 in a Nature Calendar, and I am making it available to you. Measuring 14″ wide by 22″ long, it is printed on premium card stock.
It’s snowing and blowing outside in Pittsburgh, today, but I am focused on memories of the tropics. This is the highest waterfall and pool of the Seven Sacred Pools in Haleakala National Park in Maui. I could not see over the vegetation myself from the hiking path, but I set the camera and raised it over my head, mounted on its tripod to capture this view.
At the far end of Maui’s Road to Hana, a series of waterfalls splash into terraces on a path to the Pacific. It wasn’t easy to get there through record rainfall, floods and numerous mudslides onto the road. But you can see the Sun God smiled on us late that afternoon, and the scene was brilliant, even though it was backlit. My Singh Ray graduated ND filter enhanced the final image.
We have arrived at the lowest point of the Haleakala National Park, after watching the sunrise at the 10,00 foot summit a few days earlier. (See my Blessed Sunrise post.)
As a landscape photographer, I am drawn to waterscapes everywhere I travel — from New Zealand to Hawaii and many other scenic locations. I find myself watching the surf, the rocks, the sunsets, the weather and the natural vegetation around the world.
When I encountered this scene in Maui recently, I was intrigued by the island — the way the surf had eroded it, the way the surf continued to interact with it and the vegetation that grew on it.
The lava island in Maui reminded me strongly of a rocky island that caught my eye in New Zealand in 2014. The NZ island was also constantly buffeted by the surf within a bay, and supported an interesting crop of vegetation. The two islands actually look quite different, but my fascination with them made a strong echo in my mind.
Every sunrise is a blessing, but when you rise at 3 am and press onward to the rim of a high-altitude volcano, and you are not socked in by clouds, that’s a special blessing. Surely, we were grateful that the skies were clear on this chilly morning in Maui last month.
The sun peaked over the distant clouds and began to illuminate the desolate landscape in the crater. Capturing the moment with a small aperture (f/22) on a fine lens (Nikon 14-24), I was able to bring home an image of a sunstar.
While we tend to complain about rain often, rain isn’t all bad. Remind yourself that rain feeds and sustains all our plant life, and through the food chain, all of us. If you need a graphic reminder that rain is a gift, just gaze upon a rainbow. Water and light are both powerful life-giving forces of Nature. When they collaborate to form a rainbow, it’s magical and evanescent.
The waves crashing on the lava rocks in the foreground make a dramatic foreground. Maui is well worth a visit, any time of year. Be prepared for both showers and rainbows.
Please visit my website to see more landscape images and to purchase prints.
Sometimes you just have to respond to a magnificent view by making a stitched panorama with your camera — not just an instant one with your iPhone. I was so inspired after hiking to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome in Rome, and inside St. Peter’s under the central dome.
Here are some best practices for shooting for a successful panorama.
If practical, use a tripod and make sure your camera is level. Realistically, you aren’t going to hike all day in the summer heat with a tripod in one hand, so if you don’t have a tripod handy, just do your best to hold the camera level as you shoot a series of images from left to right or low to high. Some locations don’t allow tripods — such as St. Peter’s (and most Major League baseball and football stadiums in the U.S.).
With your camera set to Program, Aperture Preferred Mode or Shutter Preferred Mode, determine your best average exposure setting. Especially outside, looking in one direction may be brighter than another, but you are going to need to choose one exposure setting for your camera, and then set it on Manual.When I shot these panoramas in Rome, I had a 24/70 lens on my camera, so I used the zoom level of 24mm and the aperture of f/2.8. That aperture is wide open, but I knew the whole scene would be in focus, so it worked. I chose an ISO level and shutter speed that worked (fast enough to eliminate camera shake blur), and set the camera on Manual, so these values would not change as I pointed the camera in different directions along my axis.
I also reduced the variables by making sure that my focus was constant (manual/turn off auto), and white balance was set manually, not auto. One last variable to eliminate: don’t use a circular polarizer filter, as this will change the color of your sky.
Now you are ready to shoot. Overlap each frame by at least one third. This way, Photoshop will have an easy time stitching the frames together and eliminating lens distortion.
Back at home, open all your files in the series in Photoshop and run the Panorama action. Crop and resize your finished file. You will be rewarded with a large file, that might enjoy printing as large as possible at a lab. My panorama of St. Peter’s Dome would make a print 18″ wide by 38″ tall with an ideal resolution of 300 dpi. That’s a powerful print!Interested in buying these or other images from Italy? Visit the Italy gallery on my website.
Many nature photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days, when the dynamic range is not too wide for the camera to capture, and sharp shadows don’t create issues. In other words, the experienced photographer can be assured of capturing detail in both the highlights and the shadows. But sunlight very early and very late in the day creates other nice opportunities. For example, in this photograph in Six Mile Cypress Swamp in Fort Myers, Forida, the shadows made good leading lines, as did the sunlight coming in from the upper right corner. All those lines converge in the low center of the frame. The blue sky made a vivid reflection in the still water, and the yellow sunlight in the background adds some warmth.
This time of year when we experience fewer bright sunny days, we appreciate what sunshine can do for our mood. I certainly feel more energetic and upbeat on a sunny day. How about you?