In The Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2011 - Don & Linda Gilmore
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Tricks of the Trade
How many times have you come back and noticed that you have sun flares in your picture? Sometimes they look okay in the desert and even do a little something to enhance it or change the mood. What if you don't want to see them though? Your shooting right into the sun. You could put something between you and the direct line of sight with the sun, sometimes it enhances the mood of the photo ------
Photography Tips and Tricks
The top photo on the left is full of sun flares and it takes away from an already bad photo - but one I wanted to keep to remember the moment. Now if you look at the small photo below this is how to avoid the sun flares.
Just make sure your cap is not in the photo. Remember that usually what you see in the view finder is only 95% of the whole image so stay a little bit further away with the cap. This works really well when you just have to shoot into the sun.
Best time to shoot
Above you can see the effect of shooting toward the sun. It's always better if the sun is behind you or at least over one shoulder or the other. During mid-day in the summer is a tough one as your photos will tend to be washed out and flat looking with a lack of contrast. So when is the optimum time to shoot a scene. From sunrise to 1 1/2 hours after sunrise; and from 1 1/2 hours before sunset to sunset. This time scale will also change depending on the time of year. In the summer when the sun is directly overhead you have a narrower time limit than in the winter when the sun is lower on the Southern horizon. Photos of animals are sometimes better closer to noon; to acquire a photo with less shadow areas to take away from the animal.
Sometimes called Haze filters; these are great for protecting your cameras lens. But only if you buy the best ones available. Don't rob your camera of picture quality for the sake of expense. It doesn't make any sense to have an expensive lens and degrade it by using a cheap filter. Many times in the desert we've had to clean the UV filter to rid it of a vast amount of dust. Now if cleaning it causes scratches then so be it; but that's better than scratching a lens that could cost you a fortune to get fixed. What's the downside of having one on your camera lens? Other than cutting Haze when you wanted a hazy look in the back of a scenery shot (say in the mountains) or in a sand storm. The photos below were taken within seconds of each other and sandstorms intensity didn't change, but one is with and one is without the UV Filter.
Without UV, Haze Filter
With UV, Haze Filter
Sometimes they are great, other times they can ruin a photo. Look below and you'll see why, the photo without the polarizing filter on the left looks better and more like what the eye was seeing that day. The one on the right is too dark and the sky is too blue. Not natural looking at all. When the sky has dark clouds it could be a benefit to use a polarizer to enhance the cloud cover. Also colors in objects become more vivid with the use of a polarizer. And don't forget a picture taken in a clear stream to capture a fish - the polarizer will pretty much eliminate the glare and reflection on the water. "IT WILL NOT" work on metallic objects. Also never stack a polarizer with a UV filter, it doesn't work and may produce dark (vignetted) corners in the picture. It also will not work shooting toward the sun or completely away from the sun. A 30 to 90 degree angle from the sun is optimal. Try it.
One great use for a polarizer is photographing fish. This Carp was photographed in the Gila River near Yuma Arizona in the desert and was barely visible with the naked eye.
This has always been an interesting form of photography for me. It's one of the many forms that's made me money. One example would be the San Diego skyline at night; below. But it's always intrigued me. So here's what you need to know to be a success with it in the desert.
First; you need a tripod. A good one is better (especially if it's windy) but not necessary and most of the photos below and the hundreds of others we've taken and kept were taken on a cheap $20 Slik SDV-20 tripod. Now we own a very expensive one we use for studio work and panoramas, and windy days, but it weighs a ton and isn't an advantage; most of the time. But a tripod is a must! You'll also want to use the Timed Delay feature or a remote electronic release for night photography.
So let's start off with the shot of San Diego. You'll also see a few night shots on our Day Trips page for Las Vegas. All taken with slightly different settings. On a P&S camera you'll probably have a night scene mode and that works well too. If your using a D-SLR then here's some tips. The city shot below was a longer exposure of 3.2 sec. On most of the shots in Vegas and others we've taken of closer, brightly lit scenes we took them at 1/15th of a sec. to 2 sec. Some again as long as 3 sec. depending on how bright the scene was. Don't be afraid to try several different settings so you will eventually know what the speed should be. We usually use manual mode for night shots and f / 8 for an F stop. If it's a really dark scene then you can open the lens up to f / 4 or larger and even raise the ISO if needed. Usually we shoot at ISO 200. Opening the lens has one draw-back, it'll give you a shallower depth of field (area that's in focus).
Fireworks. These are better to shoot on a windy night, as seen below. It spreads them out for a better effect. When shooting fireworks, again the Night Scene mode on a P&S works fine and on a D-SLR, here's a tip that really makes it easy. Use Manual Mode set to f / 8 and set the speed to BULB. Use a tripod and remote release and as long as you hold the shutter button down that's how long the exposure will be. So when you see them start to go up - open the shutter and as soon as the burst starts dwindling out let off the shutter. The camera must be pre-focused and pre-aimed to the right area of the sky. This is easy to do and works great. We've gotten thousands of great fireworks shots like this.
17mm f/8 3.2 sec. ISO 200
27mm f/8 3.2 sec. ISO 200
20mm f/4 1/60 sec. ISO 100 /Flash
This was taken with 2 external flashes. One on the camera and one remotely controlled on the ground to the left just out of the picture. It had a red cellophane cover taped over the remote flash to add the color to the inside of the old adobe stage stop building.
17mm f/8 8 sec. ISO 400
Try using the Shutter Priority mode on your D-SLR and if it's available the action mode on your P&S camera. In the desert you'll find a lot of moving animals, planes, other activities that will require a faster shutter speed to stop the action. The shot of the two planes was taken with an older model Olympus 2 megapixel camera. The one of the guy on the bike was taken in Shutter Priority to stop the action and catch the flying sand. Check the shutter speeds listed, they are the minimum speeds that would have worked in both these instances. Fast moving jets and some birds would require you to use a higher shutter speed.
200mm f/8 1/1,000 sec. ISO 200 Shutter Priority
70mm f/8 1/650 sec. ISO 100
Depth of Field (DOF)
The depth at which things in the photograph are in focus (the field of focus). The DOF can be small or quite large extending from your location all the way out to infinity. This is very possible with P&S cameras as they inherently have a larger DOF. However by closing your aperture on a D-SLR you can achieve a similar effect in most instances. Another factor that's involved here is how close you are to your subject. And are you using a telephoto or a wider lens. Sounds confusing but it really isn't. On a telephoto, if the subject is as close as it will focus - you'll have a very shallow DOF; great for isolating the subject from the background. Also open up the lens (say to f / 4) will also help to give you a shallow DOF on D-SLR's. This will not work as well on P&S cameras as explained above.
Here's an example of a shot taken with a 300mm at f / 8 with the subject being 6 ft. away. This is as close as you can focus with that lens. Notice the complete lack of background detail.
This one was taken with a wide angle lens at 29mm f / 8 with the subject being about the same distance from the camera. The background is not clear but you can tell what was there. This combination has a longer DOF.
Of course we can't be right with you to tell you how to set your camera for each shot; because all shots are different.. So my advice to you is this. Read this and use it as a guide only. Trust your camera's light meter. Read your manual. Practice, and experiment with your camera. It's not rocket science; actually it's quite simple. The f stop with smaller numbers (f / 2.8) let in more light and are great for lower light photography and the higher numbers (f / 16) let in less light and are great for more DOF and also brightly lit days. The slower shutter speeds (1 / 100 sec.) are ok for brightly lit photos and higher shutter speeds (1 / 1000 sec.) for fast moving objects. ISO on modern cameras all work great at or below 800. If your new to D-SLR's then try leaving it set to Aperature Priority with the Aperature set to f / 8 -- this will work great for most outdoor shots. Don't use the digital zoom on your P&S camera, it will ruin your photos. Most important always be ready for that once in a lifetime shot.