I was asked yesterday (and on many occasions in the past) which lenses I use for my photography. Most questions are related to my landscapes which make up 99% of my work. When I travel, such as my recent trek to Iceland, I took three lenses:
I used the latter two lenses about 85% of the time in that trip. For wide-angle landscapes, the 11-24 is hard to beat. I absolutely love the way it captures and adds drama to skies.
The Fjarðará is a river that flows down from a mountain pass into the east Iceland town of Seydisfjördur. From this vantage point, views of the valley below and the distant fjord are beautiful on clear sunlit days.
This lens has a pretty wide sweet spot as long as I avoid the 11-12mm and 23-24mm range. At those ends of the lens, the edges become a bit blurry. (The same can be said for the 16-35L – I just avoid the extreme ranges.) Because I like everything in focus for my images, I’ve found that f/16 offers the best opportunity for sharp details in one image, especially when shooting a tight/close foreground of flowers or rocks. That said, I will still usually take the same image with different focal lengths and blend the two together to ensure the overall image comes out clear and sharp.
For the 16-35L, I do the same thing – take multiple images with different focal lengths and focus-stack the group. Even if I don’t use all the focal lengths, I at least have insurance that I have everything covered.
Another thing I consider with these lenses is the sort of starburst they produce. I do like to shoot at the moment the sun hits the horizon – either at sunrise or sunset. The way that light presents itself is influenced by the lens.
First, the 24-105 is out if you want a starburst. This lens will only produce a bright blur. It is a no-go for these critical moments of first light.
The other two lenses, the 16-35 and 11-24, both produce pleasing sun rays if timed correctly. (For these, I’ll bracket 7 exposures and blend them together to balance the light. More about this in a future blog).
After all the tourists have gone, Kirkjufellfoss flows clean and cold and the regal mountain stands silently in the cool west Iceland air. The long summer nights make these falls a wonderful place to spend some quiet time appreciating the beauty and history of this ancient land.
Nearing the last light of evening, the sun peeks through the clouds just above the horizon, creating a sunburst over the Pedernales River at Pedernales Falls State Park. This area is one of my favorites in the hill country, and I love exploring the winding river’s path.
And that’s what’s in my bag when I travel. When I’m hiking, I’ll usually only bring one lens – either the 11-24 or 16-35 – just depends on where I’m going.
As always, please ask if you have any questions. You can contact me through my website (see below).
In the meantime, have fun, stay safe, 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
August is one of my two least favorite months – right up there with February. But now the hottest month is in rear-view mirror. With the arrival of September, I feel like we can finally start dreaming about cooler weather and Autumn colors.
Despite the ominous cloud hanging over us that is 2020, the summer was still good and productive. I spent much of June and July photographing the mountains, streams, and wildflowers of Colorado. I enjoyed the 30 degree mornings and afternoons in the mid-70s, for sure. Arriving back in Texas in August, as always, was a rough transition. But I also know I’m fortunate to do what I do. And if you want to see my summer work, please feel free to jump over to my other gallery at Images from Colorado.
Back in Texas, the heat seems to have relented just a bit. We had rain yesterday at my place in Dripping for the first time since I’ve been home (about a month) and this morning I awakened to a 75 degree humid morning. The good news is that the temperature is supposed to remain in the 80s, which is a nice reprieve from the 100 degree days.
Heading into fall, I’ve already planned trips to Palo Duro Canyon to meet up with the Caprock Canyoneer, and after that I hope to make a short and first-time trek to Caprock Canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon is one of the gems of the Texas State Parks system. From the parking lot to the summit of Capitol Peak, the hike is only about .7 miles, but the last quarter mile is an 350’ uphill scramble over loose and crumbling rock. But the views are unforgettable. With layers of the canyon walls showing off their morning glow of orange, the landscape changes its tones and hues over the 30 minutes before and after sunrise. While the temperatures on this November morning were in the high 20s and the hike up in the dark was a bit sketchy, I was glad I made the journey.
This panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.
I just finished shooting a photography book for San Antonio along with a friend of mine. Glad that is done!
From the calm waters of Woodlawn Lake west of downtown San Antonio, this is the skyline at sunrise. Taken with a telelphot lens, this image is made up of several photographs stitched together to show the iconic buildings such as the Tower of the Americas, Bank of America, and the historical Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.
Next, I’ll have to head out to Big Bend National Park (if the park is open) and finish up shooting for a book and publisher.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Road in Big Bend National Park is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. It winds around, curves, climbs and dips for 30 miles along the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains. Along the way, several interested locations can be enjoyed, including Santa Elena Canyon, Sam Neil Ranch, the Burro Mesa Pour-off, Tuff Canyon, and the Sotol Vista overlook.
In between those trips, I plan on following the fall colors of the Hill Country and maybe sneaking in a trip to the coast. Of course, all this depends on how the virus progresses and what my own kids are doing in school. With so many moving parts, it is hard to make any firm plans. As an example, I was supposed to travel to Iceland to shoot there this summer, but that trip was cancelled when the airlines cancelled our flight and Americans were not allowed into the country without quarantining for 14 days. That trip has been rescheduled for next summer, and a week in Ireland has been added for good measure.
That’s it for my rambling now. I’m ready to get back out to nature and find those beautiful places that are just waiting to be photographed. Until then, I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys the cooler weather!
~ Rob Images from Texas on Instagram Images from Texas on Facebook
It seems we are again experiencing a disappointing bluebonnet season. What looked like a promising beginning to a wildflower spring has again been thwarted by lack of rain and higher than normal temperatures. I’ve driven across the hill country the last few week, and I’ve received location report from other trusted photographers, and the outlook is grim.
However, there are some stellar displays of bluebonnets and paintbrush along the roadsides, especially on 29 between Llano and Mason, and on 16 north of Llano.
On my first visit to this particular bend in the road along Highway 29 between Mason and Llano, this is the sunset I found. The bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country were not great in 2017, but roadside displays of these wildflowers and indian paintbrush were quite colorful on this little stretch of highway.
Another nice location is in Marble Falls on 281 heading north out of town. The iconic old stone building has a field of bluebonnets in the front which makes for a great photograph. I was there one morning last week surrounded by many other folks out enjoying the display – and this was at sunrise! Later that morning as I drove by the number of people taking photos had grown by 3 or 4 times.
This week, the Hill Country is forecast to receive some much needed rain. If this comes to pass, there may be a boost in bluebonnet and other wildflower coverage in fields. We’ll wait and see what happens!
Last week, I traveled to one of my favorite locations – Big Bend National Park. I had gone in hopes of capturing bluebonnets with the Chisos Mountains in the distance. However, the only blooms to be found were along the road, and these were pretty sparse. Still, I worked with what I found:
Big Bend National Park has its own bluebonnet, and here the lupines rest silently in the glow of a March sunrise. In the distance, the Chisos Mountains rise in the cool morning air. The colors and cold air didn’t last long, though. Clouds quickly gave way to clear skies and the temperatures soared into the upper 80s… just a typical day in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Some of my go-to locations like drainages around Tuff Canyon and River Road East were barren of any blooms. I did enjoy a night hike under the full moon to the top of the Lost Mine Trail. I enjoy long exposures when the moonlight illuminates the foreground and brings to life an otherwise hidden valley.
Under the light of the full moon, Big Bend National Parks glows softly. In the distance is Juniper Canyon and the Chisos Mountains, and further is Mexico.
I had made the trek up to this point, a relatively easy 2.4 miles (one way) to photograph this location at sunset, then await the full moon as it rose in the east. The lighting was surreal and the hike back to the car was just a bit eerie and mystical.
In the lower elevations west of the Chisos, the prickly pear cacti were just beginning to bloom.
The last light of sunset lights up the rocky ledges high atop Cerro Castellan on the western slope of the Chisos Mountains. This view of Big Bend National Park shows one of the many Prickly Pear Cacti – this one blooming with beautiful floweres – on the desert floor. But don’t get too close – those prickly pear are well armed with long and sharp thorns!
While not technically considered a wildflower, these blooms can still be stunning.
If I find any wildflowers, I’ll be sure to add some information here. In the meantime, enjoy those colorful roadside displays of flowers – they are still very pretty!
Via Con Dios and safe travels!
About 25 minutes before sunrise, if high clouds linger across the sky and an unfettered path for sunlight appears in the east, colors of red, pink, orange and blue can fill the sky. And just after that is about a 10 to 15 minute period when the once vibrant sky’s colors fade and it appears almost washed out until the sun finally rises over the horizon. It is during this fleeting time of quiet that my mind is set free from my daily obligations that often clutter my thoughts.
Moments like this are special. In much of my adult life some of my fondest memories are times spent outdoors. Looking back at the days of my youth, I would spent all the daylight hours playing outside – searching for craw-dads, playing sports, and walking creekbeds. I never noticed how hot it got in Texas in the summer. After college in Austin, I worked a summer job in a Colorado mountain town, escaping every afternoon with my best friends to explore rivers and fly fish high, remote streams in search of cutthroat and rainbow trout. One of those friends is no longer around, though I do miss him. Another has remained and we still spend some time each summer hiking our own bucket list of Rocky peaks, though other duties – my work and family responsibilities in Texas – have cut down that free time considerably.
So in mornings like this when my photographic treks find me alone along these scenic rivers that wind through the Texas Hill Country – in between the early morning colors and the sunrise – the sounds of water bring back memories of my life’s time. The words and conversations of those bygone days – and those times with friends – have faded. But sometimes I can hear the laughter. With a soft gurgling the swirls of the river flow around and over the rocks, and in those sounds I can almost follow behind the laughter and slide into the past. And just as quickly the light, the colors, and the faint emotions slip past my sitting spot and flow with the waters downstream and disappear.
In those quickly passing moments that seem to last both a few seconds and an hour, I’m reminded of the precious moments we share. But the river brings me round again and soon the brilliant glow on the horizon gives way to a light so bright I can’t look at it directly. After seven clicks of my camera’s shutter and with sunlight spreading across the canyon floor, I know my time in this moment is done and it is time to return home. This beautiful morning I’ll remember, though, and I’ve still a long way to go.
This past week, I had the opportunity to spend time in the Texas Panhandle, primarily Palo Duro Canyon State Park, as well as a few side trips around Amarillo, Texas. The late November weather turned out to be superb, and I was fortunate to enjoy some amazing sunrises and sunsets while exploring the canyon.
My family came with me on this trip, and that meant no camping. Instead, we stayed in Canyon, just ~ 12 miles from the park entrance. For my gear, I was shooting with the newish Canon 5DSr. I brought a few lenses, as well – the 11-24L, 16-35IIL, 24-105L, and the 70-200ISL. For a majority of the trip, I only used the 11-24 and the 24-105. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – 4 adults, 2 kiddos. It was not bad at all, though I’m not a fan of their breakfast. However, I was usually gone when breakfast started at 6am and by the time I returned to the hotel, I caught the tail-end of the morning service. So I stuck to my Apricot Kind bars for early morning food.
One thing to know about Palo Duro is that the entrance gates are closed overnight and don’t open until 8:00am. Having done some work for Texas Parks and Wildlife in the past, I was able to obtain permission to enter the park early in order to photograph sunrise. This made a huge difference, allowing me to photograph during the morning magic hour when light is soft and beautiful.
* I should add here that I stopped by the Visitor Center to ask a few questions about hikes and such when we first arrived at the park. An older woman who was working seemed to not particularly enjoy her job that much. She questioned all my plans, and even said she didn’t understand why I wanted to come into the park before 8am – the gates were closed for a reason! She went on to add that there was nothing to photograph before sunrise. “Why would you want to get here so early. There’s nothing here worth seeing that early!” I don’t think she should have been a front-person for Palo Duro, as she obviously didn’t appreciate the wonders this place has to offer.
Anyway, the flexibility of the park rangers with allowing me an early entrance each morning made the trip worthwhile. Otherwise, it would been not nearly as productive. The sunrise from the Visitor Center that overlooks the Canyon was colorful – a nice gradient from orange to blue about 40 minutes before sunrise, then transitioning to some nice clouds by the time the sun showed itself for the first time. But during this in-between, my hands were nearly frozen. The temperature was in the upper 20s at this location, and later as I drove through the valley floor, the thermometer read 21 degrees. Yikes!
After finishing up the sunrise shoot, I returned to the hotel to pick up the wife and kids, then came back to take them hiking. We explored the Big Cave (an easy walk for young kids that the Visitor Center Welcome Woman poo-pooed – and my kids loved it), and some other trails. I also came away with some late morning light on Capitol Peak, one of the well-known points in the park. Evening found my wife and me hiking to the Lighthouse. This famous landmark is by far the most popular trail it the park, and for good reason. It provides you a 6-mile round-trip walk on an orange clay path through magnificent and colorful canyon walls and rock formations. You finish the last .3 miles going uphill, scrambling part of the way, to reach the base of the iconic structure. From this vantage point, the views stretch for miles through the distant canyon. And sunset did not disappoint, either. Behind me, to the east, clouds lit up in pink pastels. In front of us, to the west, the sun turned the sky brilliant orange, complementing the orange rock of the Lighthouse itself. We lingered until nearly dark, enjoying the scene and solitude. And I should note that while we passed folks on our walk (all of whom were heading back to the start of the trailhead), we did not encounter another person for the last mile of our walk to the Lighthouse, nor did we see anyone the remainder of the evening. That peace and quiet was pretty special, for sure. Having a place like that all to oneself, even for a few hours, is hard to top.
But time moves us along, and eventually we were back on the trail, walking in the dark. I paused to shoot the Lighthouse from a distance with the Milky Way behind it, then again at Capitol Peak to take a long exposure of the mountain as the nearly-full moon had risen and was illuminating the red and orange rock in a wonderful soft glow.
The next morning found me back at sunrise again, but this time the temperatures rose into the high 20s and low 30s, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Another glorious sunrise welcomed the day, and soon we were off exploring.
I would like to come back here again in the spring when the flowers are blooming, and perhaps in the fall when the trees are changing colors as they head into winter.
After leaving the Palo Duro Canyon area, we made side trips to the ecclectic Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo. This field that is on the old Route 66 has ten old Cadillacs that have been buried nose first into the dirt. Funded by an eccentric millionaire and created by a San Francisco art hippy group called the Ant Farm, this “exhibit” is free and open to the public – and spray-painting the old cars is welcome and even encouraged.
Heading east of Amarillo, I paused to photograph a few cotton fields. From the highway, the area looked like snow had fallen, but in reality the cotton was white and ready for harvesting. I met a rancher who welcomed me onto his land, so I spent a little time photographing this uniquely Texas landscape.
From here, another sunset found me shooting bales of hay under some wonderful skies lit up by the half-light of evening.
All in all, it was a fun, relaxing, and successful trip. What’s next?
The second week in August each year is one of the weeks I usually am wanting for more sleep. I love the Perseid Meteor shower and look forward to the challenge of trying to capture this unique annual event. The Perseids of 2015 presented a great opportunity – relatively clear skies and a new moon – meaning no light pollution from the moon so the meteors would show up even brighter. My goal was to bring this amazing event to my audience, and here is the back story to my nighttime adventure…
I ventured out two times this past week to photograph the Perseids – once to Pedernales Falls State Park in the Texas Hill Country and once to the iconic 360 Bridge outside of Austin, Texas. For this short blog, I’ll focus on the Pedernales location. I know Pedernales Falls like the back of my hand. I live close by and am over there for sunrise or sunset several times each month. Still, I wanted to scout out a perfect location that had an interesting foreground and offered a chance to include much of the night sky, as well. Last weekend, I spent sunrise and sunset at the state park with a camera and my gps. The Perseids radiate from the northeast section of the sky – generally from the middle of the Milky Way. After several miles of walking around, I found what I wanted – a portion of a small canyon into which the river flowed that faced northeast. I also took several test images with different lenses to see what look I wanted. After scrutinizing the test images, I decided to go with my super-wide angle – the 11-24L to give me more of the rugged landscape and more of the night sky.
On Thursday morning, I awoke about 1:00am, dragged myself out of bed, drove to the park, and walked to the river and upstream about 20 minutes to my chosen location. The camera was ready to go by 2:00am. I would like to note here a few observations. First, I’ve never seen anyone in the parking lot when I go out before sunrise, but there were 6 or 7 cars there, so it was nice to see other folks out enjoying the light show. To the two college girls trying to find their way down to the river without a flashlight in the complete dark…. hope you made it! I was happy to help guide you if you hadn’t had to go back to your car for your contraband! But I wasn’t waiting for around. Second, I saw more animals here this night than I’ve ever seen at one time before. They included a wild hog, a racoon, an opossum, a jackrabbit, an armadillo that I almost tripped over on the trail, a fox, several deer, and what I think was a porcupine (are there porcupines out there? sure looked like one). I might have even seen a chupacabra, but can’t be 100% sure. It was dark!
Moving along… I aligned my star-tracker to the north star, set up the camera, took a few base images of the milky way, then set everything to run on auto-pilot for the next several hours. For those interested in the technical aspects… the base Milky Way images were shot at f/5.6 ISO 800 for about 3 1/2 minutes. The meteors were shot on f/4, ISO 4000, on a continuous 30 second interval – all using the new Canon 5DS-R. The foreground was shot later in the morning as the sun’s light was just beginning to light up the landscape. I believe that image was a 30 second image at ~ f/16.
After I set up the automatic timer, I laid back on the rock and watched the fireworks, which were quite amazing. Also, my 5-hour energy drink was my friend this night!
Upon returning home, I reviewed the 180+ images, pulling out the ones that contained meteors, then aligned and stacked them in photoshop. After I was happy with that look, I aligned and merged the meteors into the base Milky Way image, then merged that with the foreground, creating what you see below. A lot more went into the final photograph – color balance, some noise reduction, etc., but this was basically my work flow.
I think when you are alone in the middle of the night under the Milky Way images, you can’t help but question our place in the Universe. We are so small and it is unimaginably big. I won’t soon forget the beauty I experienced that night – time to reflect and time to look ahead, but mostly time to just be in the moment and enjoy God’s creation not seen by many.
And that was my night.
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I was recently asked to help judge a photography exhibition. Some of the work was spectacular, full of emotion and life. Others, not so much. So what makes a good image? I’ve been asked this question many times, and this recent experience gave me pause to think about the topic a little more in-depth. So I figured I’d share my thoughts on the subject and solicit other opinions as well. And for this exercise, I’m primarily referring to landscape and skyline photography.
I think the technical aspects of an image are important:
– correct exposure: no underexposed darks or blown highlights unless intentional
– correct or intended focus and sharpness…. This can include a range in depth of field from a single focal point to a sharpness from the foreground to the far distance.
After the basics, the composition should be considered:
– the subject of the image should be obvious, whether a single object such as a bluebonnet or a vast Texas landscape like the Chisos Mountains.
– leading lines… This is very important for me. I like line, angles, curves, and anything that leads the eye to guide me to the subject. I also want those lines and angles, whenever possible, to intersect with the corners of the image exactly. These lines could be composed of roads, water, buildings, rocks, and anything that allows the eye to flow.
Within the composition of an image, I look for elements that make up a scene.
– first, unless I’m going for a minimalist approach, a sky with good, if not dramatic clouds, is a must. I shoot mostly at sunrise or sunset and always hope for pleasing colors, but even a nice blue sky with high wispy clouds can be pretty nice and can complement a nice foreground, often making an average image much stronger. I also always know when and where the moon will appear. Often, the appearance of our moon can enhance an otherwise dull sky.
– foreground element(s)… When I photograph a field of bluebonnets, I really like to have a few of the flowers up close to show the detail. For this, I’ll often shoot several images for varying depth from front to back and blend them together on photoshop. Other foreground elements could include rock formations, trees, logs, and even silhouetted people.
– background elements… In most cases, I want a sharpness throughout the scene, especially for those vast Texas landscapes. I want folks to see what I saw and feel the wonder of the scene.
When all of these factors are taken into account, you have potential for a strong image. That being said, the most important aspect of a photograph is the impact it has on the viewer. Does it capture your attention? Does it make you pause or think “wow.” Does it tell a story? It can be technically perfect, but if the image leaves the viewer void of emotion, it loses its impact.
In my recent experience of judging photographs, I saw several images that showed superior planning and execution, but came away feeling nothing. Conversely, some of my highest scoring images had minor technical or compositional issues, but left me gazing longer, wanting to know more about the story being presented. Emotional appeal – or impact – makes or breaks an image.
I like to think I practice what I write. And I know some of my images come up short. But many times what I think are average photographs turn out to be best sellers. The images I like the most barely get a second glance. So no matter what anyone says, if you enjoy photography, keep on shooting. Unless you are utterly daft at the point and shoot, you’re sure to appeal to someone!