Years ago I dove right in and purchased the BH-55 ballhead with pano clamp and a nodal slide. I envisioned taking multi-stitch images to increase resolution. Fastfoward to today: no nodal slide or pano clamp. In retrospect I still had much more to learn regarding composition and photography in general. Not that stitching multiple images is difficult, I just needed to hone the basics. A fellow photo-friend of mine has a tripod with a leveling center column. Once again I had aspirations of using this, along with the BH-55 and bubble level to pursue multi-stitch images. Using the shift on my 24 TSE has been fun, and really about a three or four image stitch is all I’ve really been after.
In lieu of buying a new tripod, I found a perfect solution at Really Right Stuff (RRS). Their equipment may be a little spendy but I have loved every purchase. Here I discovered the Universal Leveling Base. I hoped adding this to my outfit would enable me to create multi-image panoramas. But first a few words about the method I had tried before.
I still have the BH-55 but now just a simple quick release plate instead of the pano clamp. Like most landscape photographers, I have a bubble level on the hotshoe of the camera. It was my assumption that once I leveled the camera and loosened the knob on the ballhead to swivel the head horizontally I would get seemless stitching. Wrong. Leveling the camera initially did not guarantee a level, seamless alignment of all images. I would often get a stairstep effect once merged which would be exacerbated depending on the number of images I desired to stitch. I have since read about using the Cylindrical method for merging the images in tandem with Warp. There is still some necessity to use this even with the RRS leveling base but there is no severe “stairstepping” to be resolved. Below are two examples. Much like the tilt-shift stitches, I shoot in portrait orientation. Shooting in landscape orientation will lead to very long and narrow panoramas. This may be the end result you desire but I tend to prefer the 1×2 or 1×3 aspect ratio. Again, the photos were merged using Cylindrical followed by a little bit of Warp (found under Edit > Transform).
This image is a seven image stitch shot with a 70-200 lens @ XXXmm. I got a little carried away on this one. I wanted to include the high point along the right side and get the entirety of the road the snakes through the fields.
This image is a four image stitch shot with a 400mm lens. A higher vantage can be gained but my car was in the way and I was a bit in a hurry.
For some time now I’ve been interested in seeing how the 90mm tilt-shift would work in the Palouse. The lens is highly regarded but I wondered how appropriate the reach would be since I’m usually at the long end of my 70-200 and use the 400mm frequently. I knew I would have to be relatively close to my subject given the focal length and my typical photography approach.
On my initial test trip, I quickly found the 90mm to be shorter than expected. My anticipation was to use the tilt and shift functions in tandem: tilting for depth of field, and shifting horizontally for three separate shots, all done while in portrait orientation. Fortunately I found a worthy subject after some driving. The weather wasn’t the best, being mostly cloudy but the green spring fields presented nicely. As with the 24 TSE, I used 10x live view to get the proper tilt (about -2mm).
I also stopped along Union Flat Creek on the drive back home to capture this scene. No, tilting or shifting, just one frame manually focused with 10x live view.
The next day the weather did not improve but I went out for more testing. I was warming up to the lens after initially feeling its focal length to be too short. I had in mind to use the 1.4x extender but on the few stops I made it was either too tight or too wide. Nonetheless my first stop in a new locale presented me with a windmill. This area had potential after I followed the road on Google Earth and saw the canyon to the east it overlooked. The windmill was a pleasant surprise. Though the early morning sky was bland, I set up as before: portrait orientation, 10x live view for focusing, three shots with two shifted for a “pano.” It’s not necessarily a panorama in the true sense. The resulting photo is cropped at a 4×5 aspect ratio. The aspect ratio and increased resolution is what I find most appealing about shifting with these lenses. Now the 90mm tilt-shift is on my list! (And its rumored that Canon may be updating this year).
A few weeks ago my wife and I spent a Saturday aimlessly driving around Eastern Washington. I meant to show her some sights and abandoned buildings along the way, but at one point we randomly decided to venture towards Ritzville to hunt for old, bygone structures.
The first destination was near Endicott. I was aware of the abandoned home but unaware of the barn and few outbuildings beyond. Though there is more to see than just these two sheds, this was the shot I liked the most from this stop. (The black and white image was taken in the rear entrance to the house.)
After continuing on the gravel road and coming to the highway, we decided in a spur-of-the-moment fashion to head towards Ritzville. My brother-in-law had mentioned many old houses being in the area. The farmland is much flatter in this area and more conducive to the grid pattern of the country roads. One can also see quite far in all directions; spotting potential photo opportunities could be easy, we thought.
Before arriving at Ritzville, I headed back east just to cover some extra land. As luck would have it, a beautiful old barn was adjacent to a home. I isolated the barn from its surroundings and was very thankful for the nice clouds accompanying the subject.
There are many roads to choose from but we had limited time. I drove north from Ritzville and aimlessly meandered through the grid. We could see clumps of trees here and there signifying a farm house. One collection of dilapidated buildings was found and perused. Not much was found to my photographic liking at the time so we continued. Of in the distance I saw what promised to be a old house. I was unsure if a road went to the location. I took the chance and we were both very pleased! Many old carts, trinkets, and boards from fallen buildings surrounded the site. The gem was the small house, still standing after many decades. It was a great find; a great way to end the day’s exploration.
The Palouse has been snow covered many days this Winter giving me plenty of opportunities for photos. Here is a sampling of my favorite shots:
The next four images were taken when my buddy Ray Still visited the area. He happened to arrive the day we got a few inches of snow, and with temperatures in the 20s the snow wasn’t leaving. I drove to a certain spot I have wanted to visit during winter. The road is dirt and not maintained so a short hike through the snow was required. The drifts were a little deeper than expected when up top; at least it was just below the knees. The wind wasn’t too bad but persistent, not the best ally when using a 400mm. I tried to block it every which way and carefully used mirror lock-up. However, all the shots weren’t that sharp from the hilltop vantage with the 400mm. The next two images were taken during this time. I had no idea I had captured a school bus in the lower corner on the road. I was more concerned with framing the mountain and the power lines.
After we walked back down, I was pretty sure we were finished. But as I drove along the road, the light was too good to resist. I finally stopped. Ray and I shot for a few more minutes. This time I opted for the 70-200 f/4 with 1.4x. The wind wasn’t a factor but I had to tediously manually focus due to the very low light. The first image has a pinkish hue in the center due to me shooting directly into the sun. The sun had already set, but its light still cast strong colors across the scene. No filtration was used, and the exposure was very even. The last image was taken from the same vantage as the first. However, this was the scene directly behind me. Again, no filtration, but beautiful soft, even light. It was a good evening of shooting!
During Christmas time, I happened to revisit a photo location at sunrise. The scene jogged my memory to photos I took from near the same vantage just a few months earlier. However, the lighting was drastically different. The two greatest differences were the haze and the snow. The first photo was taken amidst thick smoke from nearby wildfires accentuating the haze naturally occurring due to the distance of the hills and mountains. The second photo was taken on a crisp winter day just moments after sunrise.
Despite the former picture being taken about an hour after sunrise and the latter taken a few minutes after sunrise, the greatest difference to note is the angle of the sunlight. The summer photo was taken on July 28. The winter photo was taken on Christmas day. The difference in the sunrise azimuth is 63°. The July sunrise azimuth was 61° and the Christmas sunrise azimuth was 124°. Look at what a difference 63° makes to the lighting. Of course, the lack of haze and clear skies definitely helps the winter sunrise capture. (Another note: the summer shot was taken at 280mm while the winter shot was taken at 400mm.)
Photography during Winter is always interesting. The low-angle of light lasts throughout the day, most notably at higher latitudes. Such light transforms the otherwise bland midday light into nice oblique light casting shadows across the land. This rarely leads to flat, dimensionless lighting conditions.
Many times I’ve driven the Lewiston Grade. US Highway 95 climbs from the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers up to the hills of the Palouse. The grade climbs almost 2000 feet providing many views of the valley below. On clear days Hells Canyon can be viewed along with the mountains flanking the river forming the Idaho and Washington border. Many times I’ve gazed across the valley while driving down the grade. Most times the haze is too much or the conditions are not quite right. However, on an early December day the midday light was streaming through the clouds, providing dramatic light across the entirety of the valley.
My next post will provide a contrast between two photographs taken of a very similar scene yet captured almost four months apart.
Known as the Crown Jewel of Idaho, Priest Lake had yet to be visited by me or my wife. Feeling the need for new scenery, we sprang for a quick weekend trip. This was new territory for both of us; we were looking forward to the new adventure.
We arrived Friday evening with the intention of exploring all day Saturday. We began with a drive along the east side of the lake. I was looking for any sign to trailheads but saw none. Upon reaching the north end of the lake we retrieved a guide book, courtesy of the hotel, in an attempt to find a scenic spot. Once choices were reviewed (most on the west side of the lake) we settled on Hunt Lake trailhead. The forest service roads progressively showed their lack of travel. The final mile was a very slow up-and-down across deep ditches carved across the road. Once atop, we had good views of the lake and surrounding forests with the larch adding to the view.
The trail was very rocky and we were both concerned about bears. (I know this fear isn’t well founded, but bears are more prevalent the further north one travels.) After enjoying the views for many minutes, we descended to the lake. Following a brief lunch break, we commenced our exploration of the lake’s west side. Our first stop was the Hanna Flats Cedar grove. Clear skies aren’t the ideal weather for forest photos but the dense canopy and low angle of sunlight helped mitigate the streaming rays. I decided to have fun with the 24 TSE and capture bark detail.
Kalispell and Reeder bays were visited next. The afternoon light, though harsh, cast nice light on the clear mountain lake. We both felt like hiking but didn’t know if we had the time. Consulting the guide led me to realize the hiking trail I though wasn’t too short was actually four miles one way. Unfortunately, time was against us, so we continued the driving tour.
While driving along the north west edge of the lake, I felt compelled to take Forest Service 638. The map showed it met up with the highway again; it would provide a circuitous route through the forest back towards the road. At first, the solitude was nice but the views were stultified by the thick forest. I kept hoping there would be an opening to view the lake and the Selkirks beyond. This never occurred, but a nice view of the forest lay along the descent of this road. The low-angle afternoon light helped add drama to the scene.
The remainder of the drive was simply on the highway back to the hotel. Earlier in the day I had opted out of capturing sunrise. I reasoned I didn’t really know were to go. That was the great thing about this trip for me (photographically): I didn’t have a rigid plan of where to shoot sunrise and sunset and my knowledge of the area was nil. Nevertheless, good views and interesting subjects were found through aimless travel of forest service roads.
The next morning I knew where I wanted to go. I got up well before sunrise and went to the dock next to Leonard Paul’s store. I bundled up for the cold temps and watched as fog rolled along the surface of the lake. The sunrise wasn’t a spectacular explosion of color, but the hint of warmth amidst the overwhelming cool of the morning light created a beautiful atmosphere.
This past winter I finally took the step of purchasing my first tilt-shift lens. I had become dissatisfied with my wide-angle lens (Zeiss 18mm) due to consistently soft corners. I’m sure this is something that one can expect in most super wide-angle lens, but I know the renowned Nikon 14-24 is superb as are many other lens. Nevertheless I reasoned the 24mm TS-E Mark II lens from Canon would give me similar coverage with the shifting capabilities. The tilt function would definitely help me avoid or mitigate diffraction while maintain infinite depth of field. The former function was easy to grasp. However, the tilt function is a continual learning process.
I originally decided to test the tilt function while driving on the Salmon River north of Riggins, Idaho. I felt confident in my results when viewing on the camera, but when viewed on my computer the results weren’t quite sharp. Not that the image wasn’t tack sharp at 200%, but the background was noticeably not sharp at ~50% zoom. Wanting to maximize the lens ability I set out to try more shots. I tested my acumen outside my apartment before travelling to Riggins the next day. I may not have had the ideal subject (a wheat field) but I tried shooting at f/11 and f/8 both shot with tilt. I assiduously used the LiveView at 10x magnification to set the manual focus. The results swayed me towards f/11, though still not quite at the optical sweet spot of the lens, this would yield better results than at f/16.
Sunrise wasn’t especially good along the river. This was my first sunrise shoot deep within the canyon. I expected some light upon the hills high above but that didn’t even show until about an hour after sunrise. It just so happened there was a relatively nearby wildfire whose smoke thwarted the suns rays that morning. Despite the light not cooperating I still had plenty of opportunities for photos. US Highway 95 abounds with turnouts as it follows the Salmon River from Riggins to White Bird. Even this late in the season rapids are still lively though the water level is much lower. Three different stops lead me to attempt using tilt and shift together. Shooting in portrait orientation, I set the shift from left to right which allowed me to tilt the lens downward to employ the Scheimpflug principle. (This is an optical principle involving the intersection of image, lens and film/sensor plane.) About 1.5 mm of tilt, shifting for three shots, shooting at f/8, and manually focusing at 10x with LiveView yielded these results. I also used a circular polarizer to help balance the reflection/glare upon the water.
Aside from much time practicing with the tilt-shift lens, I also took a few other pictures. These were taken with my very trusty setup of 70-200 F/4 + 1.4x extender. The Lucile area along the Salmon is one of my favorites. A gigantic rock wall extends almost vertically up from the river by hundreds of feet. I still need to revisit this area and continue to capture images. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more opportunities.
I had a craving for the mountains. I also had a craving for camping. Fortunately my wife felt likewise. With numerous options within a relatively short drive, we decided on the Seven Devils in North Central Idaho. This would be my second time to visit this range. Prior to my backpacking trip last year I assiduously researched the terrain in and around these mountains. Using Google Earth I determined that the Forest Service road would come around a bend near the final destination and open up to a grand view of the mountains. After a few miles of climbing up a collection of switchbacks all the while being jarred by the washboard ride, the glimpses of canyons and mountains come into full view especially the Seven Devils being right in your face as you round the corner.
This time in the mountains was a little more casual. No backpacking was planned but “little” hikes here and there were enjoyed. We warmed up with a very short hike up to the Heaven’s Gate fire lookout. We had great views all around. We followed that up with a healthier hike to overlook Papoose Lake just north of the lookout. This hike had a little up and down but the saddle that overlooked the lake was quite nice. After making it back to the car and ultimately camp, we had some lunch and rested before the main attraction was tackled. I had planned to hike the climbers route from the Seven Devils lake campground to overlook Mirror Lake. While viewing the cirque from camp, I felt intimidated having lost my hiking legs a little. I also felt sorry for what I might be putting my wife through. After a mile and ~800ft of progress, we were atop the saddle preparing to view Mirror Lake. The trail was strenuous but not difficult. Going down was a little tricky with the scree along the trail, but the view (as always) was worth it.
Of the two mornings I had an opportunity to shoot sunrise, I only shot the first morning. I was fairly satisfied with what I had. Shooting only with the 24 TS-E lens, I was playing around with shifting for panos. I also used a circular polarizer to help balance the reflection on the lake surface. It was a rejuvenating trip to the mountains with a handful of shots I was pleased with. My greatest pleasure was that my wife actually enjoyed the strenuous hike, especially with such a gorgeous view as a reward.
There’s something special about sunrise. There is certain stillness that slowly breaks as more light streams across the land. The coolness in the air is different; the warmth of the day still lingers. Despite midday temperatures near 90 in the Palouse, the past two mornings last week I’ve shot sunrise the temperature was in the mid-40s. I believe what makes it most special is not everyone happens to witness the sun rising. Most everyone sees the sunset, whether they’re going home from work, outside enjoying the afternoon, or just driving along the road. Not everyone happens to be up early enough to see sunrise, especially during the summer months when sunrise comes so early!
These sunrise images from the Palouse cover both Idaho and Washington. The Washington location was so great I went back twice within two weeks. The first time a friend and I got rained on more than we expected. The next visit, the light painted the hills’ edge so well that I couldn’t have been more satisfied by just simply framing the shot. Enjoy the sunrise scenes!
- Panoramas with RRS Universal Leveling Base
- The Palouse with a 90mm tilt-shift lens
- Palouse Antiquity
- Palouse Winter Scenes 2013
- Contrasting Natural Light Conditions
- Winter Light over Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
- Priest Lake, Idaho
- Salmon River and Canon 24mm TS-E
- Seven Devils Mountains, Idaho
- Palouse Summer Sunrise
- Silver Falls, Cannon Beach and the Gorge
- Middle Fork of the Owyhee River
- FM Landscape Forum
- Luminous Landscape
- B&H Photo
- Bob Atkins Photography
- Mark Lisk
- Marc Adamus
- Ian Plant
- Jon Fuller – Moab Tours
- Tony Kuyper
- Alain Briot
- David Ward (UK)
- David J. West
- Dave Pahlas
- Southwest USA Slot Canyons
- Mahesh Thapa
- Steve Sieren
- AARON COWAN – Western Landscapes
- Ben Hattenbach
- Nikhil Bahl
- Jackson Frishman
- Don Hall
- Ray Still
- Ben Horne
- NPN Earth, Sea, Sky Gallery