Do you need a tripod? In my humble opinion, if your focus is truly on landscape photography and you want to produce clear, sharp prints, the answer is yes. I shoot with a tripod nearly 99% of the time – even in daylight. The only times I do not use a tripod are when I’m on a boat or know that particular image will not be going on my business site. Tripods add stability, and in my case, allow me to produce larger prints that are crisp with no vibration nor blur.
In low light – before sunrise or after sunset – tripods help with longer exposures. They also allow the camera produce nice, smooth water in waterfall or river images. Below is a longer exposure from a tripod taken along the Pedernales River.
I loved the pastel colors on this evening along the edge of the Pedernales River. The water was a bit higher than usual after Spring rains, and this long exposure attempted to capture the beauty of the evening.
I also take a lot of bracketed images (groups of 3, 5, or 7 images of the same scene with different exposure times.) Using a tripod, I’m later able to align these groups of images and tinker with the lighting – what is too dark or too light – to create a photograph more pleasing to the eye. The use of a tripod during bracketing is especially helpful during sunrise or sunset when one of my goals is obtaining a sunburst. Below is an image made up of 7 different images with different exposure times. I later merged these together in photoshop, creating a nice, balanced image. This scene would not have been possible without the use of both a tripod and bracketing.
High up on the eastern ridge of Palo Duro Canyon, an arch rests close against the cliff. I’ve heard locals call it the Alter of Palo Duro. I was fortunate to have a friend familiar with the area guide me up to this unmarked location for an opportunity to photograph this remarkable rock formation at sunset. The hike up wasn’t easy. Nearly half of hte trek was off the trail, up loose rock and unforgiving scree. The prickly pear and other plants that stick were more than willing to impede our progress, as well. Finally, at the top of the ridge,, and after a short walk to find the exact location, the arch and landscape spread out before us. As the sunlight neared the horizon, the inner portion of the arch seemed to glow orange. We were the only ones around, and the evening was memorable in that we saw what few visitors to this park witness.
So, in short, use a tripod if your goal is crisp landscape images. I have at least five tripods laying around and each has its purpose. One is lightweight and small – perfect for long hikes. Another is bigger, heavier, and sturdy. And another weights about 50 pounds and is used for astrophotography (I don’t haul it around much!).These tripods are some of many helpful tools that produce high quality photography.
Happy travels, Texas. Images from Texas
After 15 years in the photography business and supporting a wife and two girls with this gig, I think I have enough mileage to answer a question I’m often asked – How do I make my photography better? I’m also asked at least a few times each month if I offer guided trips or lessons, but I currently just don’t have time. My two young daughters keep that from happening! And fortunately, I sell enough through vendors and designers and private clients so that I don’t have to go to shows or run workshops just yet. Working with folks and helping them improve something they love to do will be fun when I have more time. Going to sell my work at art fairs – not so much.
So here are the things I look for – in no particular order…
Be Creative… Yes, there are certain locations that have been photographed a zillion times. And for good reason – the particular view is usually stunning. But remember to look around – high and low and at different angles, different foreground, etc. and see if you can put your own spin on it. So instead of being a copycat like a few photographers are, be creative and challenge yourself to see things differently. Sometimes you can’t find different vantage points, and that’s ok; However, sometimes you can. And the light will always be different from hour to hour, day to day and season to season.
Follow the Lines… Leading lines are integral in my photography. In the deserts of Big Bend and Palo Duro, I look for lines in the rock that lead to something important in the image. I nearly always try to have these lines start at a perfect corner. I also use roads, rivers, and lakes to create lines leading to a central point.Notice the path in Caprock Canyons S.P. below that leads to the main focus.
Clouds change from white to pink to darker hues over Caprock Canyons State Park on a cool October evening. This view comes from the beginning of the Upper South Prong Trail.
Look up… I believe skies are important. They compliment an image, and partly cloudy or sunrise/sunset skies nearly always take the photograph from a good to great shot, especially when you have reflections across still water. If you see my website, I rarely have an image that does not have clouds of some sort. In those images with no clouds, I’ll often have a moon or even the Milky Way (for nighttime photography).Below is one of the best skies and reflections I’ve ever seen – taken at sunrise along the Pedernales River.
Reflections of clouds beneath a magnificent sunrise highlight this image from the Texas Hill Country. The sun had a nice glow on the horizon, and the pool along the Pedernales River in front of my was clear and calm. Only the fish and me were awake on this perfect September morning. It was a nice way to start the day!
About those Clouds… I normally shoot towards the sun before sunrise. After the sun has appeared over the horizon, and if I I’m not done shooting for the morning, I’ll shoot away from the sun (with the sun at my back). Unless I’m going for some retro, artistic look (which is not my style), I avoid shooting in the direction of the sun from post-sunrise to mid-day. Otherwise, the clouds will be overexposed and washed out, and the foreground will lose its crispness and color. This goes back to my original cloud-point… The sky needs to be worthy of the image.I think the sunset enhanced this photograph of a hay bale and took it to the next level.
Under an amazing Texas sky, bales of hay are ready for the winter harvest. It was a bit windy on this evening, but the colors left me no choice but to wander out in this grassy field and capture the fleeting sunset.
Don’t Look too Far… I need an alluring foreground to anchor the shot. To me, the foreground is like a bee to a flower. If I’m a bee, the flower needs to draw me closer and lead me into the scene much like a leading line. This attention-grabber could be a wildflower, cactus, river, road, interesting rocks, or anything else in the “front” of the image. And it needs to be in focus, but I’m thinking the focus part is a given.The flowers in the foreground here are striking (to me) and immediately capture my attention.
A red patch of Indian paintbrush highlights this wildflower photograph taken near New Berlin, Texas. The sunrise was amazing on this morning, painting the sky in red and orange strokes. On the ground, a thin layer of frost covered the delicate petals of red, yellow, and purple as pre-dawn temperatures dropped into the low 30s. It was cold out there, but the landscape was covered with soft colors all the way to the tree line.
This wildflower photograph was taken on private land with permission from the owner.
Divide into Thirds… I imagine you’ve heard of the “rule of thirds” if you are exploring photography. When you look at magazines or advertisements, notice how many images – even everyday stuff like cars, houses, shoes, and so on appear in a “thirds” format. You may notice a trend. Most fancy cameras allow for the screen to show a grid divided into 9 squares (3 rows, 3 columns) to help your composition. For whatever reason, the rule of thirds appeals to us humans as more pleasing to the eye. Maybe a psychologist can explain the whys of that, but it works! Can you see the way the cactus and sunset appear in different thirds of the image below?
A sunburst signals the last light of day over a field of Indian blankets (also known as firewheels). A prickly pear cactus shows off its blooms and adds a nice contast to the reds and oranges. This simple scene was found along a rural road in the Hill Country.
Don’t forget to Turn Around… This may go with the “Be Creative Portion” of this blog, but there have been several times I’ve turned around when shooting, especially on a trail, only to notice a better composition behind me rather than in front of me. You just never know. Take a lot of photographs… By taking a lot of photos (I prefer in RAW format), you’ll accomplish two things: 1) You’ll have more to work with. Sometimes I’ll take a certain photograph as an afterthought. Only after looking at it later I’ll realize I like it better than many others. 2) You’ll practice more and figure out what you like and what you don’t like after studying your files back at home.
That’s it for now. I could write volumes about this subject and what I’ve learned over the years. Maybe I will someday! In the meantime, get out there and take some photographs!
Safe Travels, Friends, and be kind to others.
~ Rob Images from Texas
I’ve been asked many times about the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park – what to expect, how long it is, how hard it is, and even what lenses to use. In my opinion, this hike offers one of the best bangs for the buck in terms of effort vs reward.
Difficulty? The hike itself is only about 5 miles round-trip. If visitors plan to hike in Big Bend and not just stroll some of the flat areas, they would need to be in reasonable shape. For the Lost Mine Trail, it is a gradual 2.5 mile uphill walk with switchbacks here and there, but nothing too strenuous. At the top it flattens out a bit and goes another .25 miles, so make sure to keep going until the trail stops.
One of my favorite places in Big Bend National Park is the top of the Lost Mine Trail. The views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon are second to none, and will continue to draw me back time and time again. This panorama was taken on a quiet and amazing Spring evening and tries to show the scope of this beautiful landscape.
This panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.
I took a friend up with me a few years ago, and he admitted he wasn’t quite ready. He suffered from heat exhaustion and had to take frequent water breaks, but he made it. I think it inspired him to come back in better shape on his next visit! So the difficulty of the trail is a relative term and depends on the conditioning of the individual.
Lenses? I love my wide angle lenses – my 16-35 and my 11-24, both Canon L lenses. I think the wide angle gives a sense of perspective and shows the grand landscapes of this remote national park. I also like the way these lenses, especially at 13-15mm, shows off the sky and clouds.
Juniper Canyon stretches out to the south, seen here from the top of the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park. This is one of my favorite shorter hikes (~ 5 miles round trip) and offers one of the best views in the park.
When? I prefer to shoot from the Lost Mine Trail at sunset. The sun sets over Casa Grande Peak across the valley from where I’m standing, and if the clouds are floating by, the colors can be pretty amazing. People are often up there at sunset but quickly disperse, leaving me alone with the impending sunset colors.
The last light falls across Big Bend National Park and Casa Grande. Seen here from the top of the Lost Mine Trail, an easy 5-mile out and back trek, the skies were beautiful shades of orange and blue, and Juniper Canyon far below was already slipping into darkness.
This alone-time is something I relish. Walking back in the dark can be a little creepy, so I always bring a few good flashlights just in case one doesn’t work.I also make some noise on the trail so I don’t surprise a foraging black bear or mountain lion.
I’ve found sunrises, while I’ll have the top of the trail to myself, are generally flat. Again, that is my opinion and I like shooting into the sun before it rises. Pointing my camera in that direction usually leads to some nice colors in the sky.
I hope this helps a little. Lost Mine is well worth the walk up, and by lingering longer than most, the reward could be one of the most amazing sunsets you’ll experience.
Happy Travels, Texas, and be kind!
~ Rob Images from Texas
I was asked recently to write a bio of myself for a client who wanted to display that information next to the prints they purchased for an office. I’m more or less an introvert, and talking about topics such as “me” bring on some unease. But I thought I’d try here on a blog – about this Images from Texas photographer (me).
I imagine if you are reading this, you appreciate the work I do and how I see the world – and at the least, we share an common interest in outdoor adventures! So let’s get started – and I’ll try to make this brief.
While I grew up and went to college in Texas, a long time ago I was an avid fly-fisher, even taking folks on guided trips in Colorado. One Christmas just after college graduation, my parents gave me a musical keyboard. Not having any musical talent whatsoever, I returned it and bought my first camera, a 2mp digital wonder (did I mention this was a long time ago?). And thus, I fell in love with photography. My fly-fishing adventures evolved into fishing a little, then spending most of my time taking photos of the mountains, streams, forests, and whatever else was at the end of long hikes in the Rocky Mountains. I can still remember telling my young bride so many years ago, “I think we can make some money with this photography thing.”
Now, many years later, this is my job – traveling, scouting, shooting, and providing clients with the best images available in Texas and Colorado. I’ve had some great experiences along the way – meet some nice folks, received a few honors, had five books published by various companies, and look forward to more memorable times. And I juggle all my trips with keeping two pre-teen girls and a wife happy. Sometimes, my family even gets to tag along with me. This summer, we spent two weeks in Iceland so I could shoot there, then flew from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capitol, to Denver so I could photograph the wildflowers in the mountains. We were gone for about 8 weeks – all in much colder climates – and that makes it tough sometimes to adjust to the heat and humidity of a Texas August. Am I complaining? Heck no.
We don’t watch the news much, but when I do, and in my travels, I see a lot of anger and division in our world – especially here in my home state of Texas (I’m a 4th generation Texas raising 5th generation Texas girls). I don’t remember this conflict being an issue 10 years ago, but it seems to have rooted itself into society now. However, this is not a political post. I’d just like people to be kind to each other. And I cannot fathom why some folks can’t do that. I worry about the future for my daughters.
So I work with my photography. I try to find the beauty in our land and the other locations I’m fortunate enough to visit and shoot. The escape into nature keeps me sane and balanced. My favorite time outdoors is the peaceful moments I find at sunrise.
From a precariouis ledge to the west of the iconic Capitol Peak, this panorama shows off the colors of sunrise in Palo Duro Canyon. Even a small boquet of broom weed, the golden flowers in the foreground, add a splash of yellow to the orange and red landscape. The scramble up the scree-filled slope to this location was not fun nor easy – and I probably won’t do it again. But the view was incredible.
Most folks are still asleep and no one has worked up their anger for the day. Ya, I’d rather sleep some, but if I’m able to pull myself out of bed well before first light, I’m usually happier for it!
Some of my favorite sunrise locations include Pedernales Falls (close to my house), Palo Duro Canyon (a long way, but amazing), Big Bend (see Palo Duro) and down on the South Padre beaches. I’ll usually scout locations the day before. That initial survey saves a lot of frustration when I’m trying to find a specific spot in the dark the next morning.
I’m often asked about what equipment and camera I use. I shoot with a Canon 5DSr, but I don’t think the camera matters as much as the perspective and skill held by the photographer. Sure, higher end cameras allow me to produce larger prints for clients. But a lot more goes into it. I have five tripods, none of which I’m completely happy with. But together, they provide adequate stability. My favorite lenses are the 11-24L and my 16-35L. That may change when I eventually make the inevitable change to a mirrorless camera. I’m just waiting for a high megapixel mirrorless Canon to arrive. We’ll see.
And I think that’s about it for now. I need to work on more RAW images, change the laundry and go move dirt on the back 40!
Safe travels, Texas, and be kind out there.
~ Rob Images from Texas