Wanders & Wonders is a blog about travel and photography – great places to visit and information on getting the best photos while there. It is about sharing travel experiences and the means to producing photos that honor the spirit of the places that we visit and the people we meet.
Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Our first National Park was created on March 1, 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act. Yellowstone continues to amaze and enthrall all who visit. There is perhaps no other location with such an incredible concentration of wildlife and natural wonders.
The sight of the Yellowstone River dropping into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is always impressive, but even more so on sunny mornings when a rainbow appears in the spray created at the base of the falls. This phenomenon is visible from both Artist Point on the south rim of the canyon and Lookout Point on the north rim.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to lead photo workshops in Yellowstone for the past several years for Yellowstone Forever and I’m excited to be returning again this fall with Muench Workshops.
Redwood trees in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwoods National and State Parks, California.
Arriving at the trailhead parking area while it was still dark, I hoped for fog in the forest when I got to a grove of towering redwoods that I’d scouted a couple of days previously. I delighted in being the first visitor of the day on the trail, hiking in the dim light of dawn with the only sound that of my boots on the path and a few birds calling in the forest. As the light increased, I was happy to see, if not thick fog, at least some patches and the promise that more would roll in.
Reaching the small clearing surrounded by gigantic trees, I saw that what little fog was in the area was quickly burning off, revealing a clear, blue sky above. Bright sun is definitely not the best light for forest scenes, but very early and late in the day when the sun is low and the trees are backlit can work really well.
As the sun popped over a distant ridge, I worked quickly to capture that beautiful light, using a very wide-angle lens pointed almost straight up to emphasize the towering trees. I positioned my tripod very carefully to catch the sun star effect. Recognizing that the overall contrast in the scene was extreme, I made a series of bracketed exposures with the intention of merging a few frames in processing to create one image with a full range of tones.
How to create sun stars and how to blend images for increased dynamic range are two of the skills that many of my photo workshop participants are eager to learn. I’m looking forward to helping a new group of photographers learn those skills, and a lot more, during my next Redwoods workshop this coming May. There are still a few spots left on this small group, all-inclusive workshop. Head on over to Muench Workshops for more details and to register. This workshop has sold out the past two years, so don’t wait to sign up if you’re interested. I hope you’ll join me both for the photography and for the personal experience of the wonders of the Redwoods National and State Parks.
Balsamroot at Rowena Crest overlooking the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.
On a plateau formed by lava flows eons ago, the Nature Conservancy’s Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena sits several hundred feet above the Columbia River. The preserve and surrounding oak woodlands are one of Oregon’s best locations for wildflowers, with the bonus of outstanding views of the Columbia River Gorge. Showy balsamroot bursts into bloom each April, with the bright yellow flowers attracting photographers from far and wide. As the balsamroot fade, lovely lupine blossom; in some years the peak bloom of the two species happens almost simultaneously, creating a colorful sea of complementary yellow and purple.
When wildflower season starts in spring, I make it a habit of checking weather forecasts and online reports of bloom conditions. With a promising forecast and prompts from friends’ Facebook posts, I made the drive to the Gorge and spent an afternoon scouting, having in mind a sunrise photo of balsamroot and the sun popping over the Columbia Hills on the Washington side of the river.
I knew I wanted to position my lens very close to a large clump of flowers, and from past experience, I knew it was going to take some looking to find a group of blossoms that were all, or at least mostly all, at or near their prime bloom, and that were accessible without damaging the surrounding vegetation. I firmly believe that we photographers need to be careful not to trash the very things we come to photograph. As the saying goes, wildflowers grow by the inch and die by the foot. Unfortunately, I saw plenty of evidence that some photographers had trampled balsamroot, lupine, and other flowers just so they could position themselves for their shot. That is anathema to me, and totally unnecessary in this location as they are plenty of trails and established footpaths winding through the fields of flowers, and plenty of places to compose beautiful photos without squashing plants.
After wandering the Rowena Crest area for an hour or so I located this beautiful clump of balsamroot and made note of the location using the Gaia GPS tracking app on my iPhone. Well before sunrise the next morning I hiked back to the spot and got set up. As the sky lightened, I finessed my composition, moving the camera up and down, fore and back, side to side until I was satisfied I couldn’t get it any better. Then I dialed in the focus, zooming in on Live View and then on test shots to make sure would get both the nearest flowers and distant mountains in focus. And then, wait. Wait until just the moment the sun pops over the hills, hoping the horizon holds clear enough to get the sunburst effect.
But, hold it, what’s that blob of red that suddenly appeared in the lower right corner of my frame!? Looking up from the viewfinder I see that another photographer has moved into my shot. My first reaction was not one of kindness and understanding. Then I realized that maybe he wasn’t a clueless jerk but just didn’t realize how wide I was shooting. No way I was going to change my composition so that he wouldn’t be in my photo, and I realized that I could relatively easily remove him from my final image thanks to Photoshop’s Content-Aware Fill. So, let it be. And, having scouted where he was shooting from, I smugly felt that he wasn’t going to get as good a shot as I was. And given the quality of the bloom and the weather, I was surprised that there weren’t many more photographers out that morning.
Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for. Sol crested the distant hill, the flowers said hello and the wind was calm. Knowing that the extreme contrast between the horizon and the shadows at the base of the flowers was too much even for the excellent sensor in my Nikon, I quickly snapped a series of bracketed exposures to merge in processing. It’s so good when it all comes together.
For more information and locations for wildflower photography in this area, see the Columbia River Gorge chapter in my guidebook Photographing Oregon.
Sunset and storm surf at Shore Acres State Park on the southern Oregon coast. Shore Acres State Park is one of the best locations on the Oregon coast, possibly on the entire west coast USA, for nature photographers. Giant waves crash on the rugged rock cliffs during storms, wind and waves have eroded sandstone to intriguing shapes, there are miles of trails with multiple coast views, and on calm, overcast days there’s always the beautiful gardens.
The weather on this day created great wave action and a beautiful sunset. The scene contrast was extreme, so I took a bracketed series of images, planning to blend them together in Photoshop. And I carefully timed my exposures to catch the peak of wave action. The histogram for one frame showed just moderate clipping in both shadows and highlights, so I decided to see what I could get out of that one RAW file. This is the result.
The setup: Nikon D750, 24-85 Nikkor at 29mm. I bumped the ISO to 400 to get a shutter speed of 1/200 in order to freeze the wave action. An aperture of f/8 was enough for depth of field at this distance and focal length.
Processing: Lightroom Classic CC with lots of adjustments for highlights, shadows, vibrance, clarity, etc. I finished with a touch of On1 Effects‘ HDR Look filter. HDR can easily be overdone (and it often is), but I often find this preset useful, and I almost always dial it back from the default so as not to produce an overcooked and scrunchy image.
Are you interested in a photo workshop on the Oregon coast? Shore Acres is just one of the spectacular locations we cover in my southern Oregon coast workshop. Check for dates and details at https://gregvaughn.photoshelter.com/p/workshops
I hope you’re all planning to #OptOutside this weekend, but the holiday sale season is upon us and some of my friends are asking about discounts on apps and gear. So here are some good deals that I know about for Black Friday, Small Business/Shop Local Saturday, Cyber Monday and beyond. Be sure to check the links to see if the sale is limited to a certain day or range of days. Just so’s you know: some of these are affiliate links, meaning I’ll get a small reward if you purchase from the click.
Many of my workshop participants have expressed an interest in my MindShiftGear Backlight photo backpack, and several have purchased their own after seeing mine. I purchased the Backlight 26L, and MindShift has loaned me the newer, smaller 18L to demo at workshops; they also now have a larger 36L for those that like to bring the kitchen sink. MindShift is part of ThinkTank, and they have several products on sale from Black Friday to December 2nd. This link gets you free shipping and a free accessory with your purchase.
Not long ago I got an email from a client asking for a 30×50″ print from one of my photos. That was certainly a welcome email, but the image they wanted was taken years ago with a 6 megapixel Nikon D100. I didn’t think the file would work at the requested size, but I decided to give A.I. Gigapixel from Topaz Labs a try. This app is awesome at uprezzing digital files. The client looked at a test strip and then went for the full-size print. It’s an amazing app. A.I. Gigapixel is among the specials available on the Topaz sale that runs from Thanksgiving through Monday, November 26.
Another photo editing app I’ve been using regularly is On1 RAW. The latest version, with even more features, was just announced. On1 Photo RAW 2019 is going to give Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop some much-needed competition. It’s a full-featured browser and processor, and the Effects module includes some really excellent filters and presets. Check out all the features of On1 Photo RAW and download the free trial.
Hard copy print books from my local indie bookstore are my first choice at home, but when I travel it’s really nice to have multiple titles available on a small, lightweight electronic reader. My well-used Kindle is one of the very first versions and I’m seriously considering upgrading during Amazon’s Kindle Trade-In + 25% Off sale.
And speaking of books, I’ll reimburse you for the cost of shipping on my photography travel guidebooks Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington from now until December 15. That’s about equal to a 20% discount and you get an autographed copy. Same deal if you order Oregon, A Photographic Journey, which makes a great gift for anyone who knows, loves, or wants to visit this wonderful state. If you’re an Amazon Prime member you can get free shipping and save even a few more bucks by purchasing through the Amazon links at www.GregVaughn.com/books.html.
My smartphone photography guide to the Oregon Coast is included in the buy-one-get-one-free sale this weekend at Snapp Guides. Download the basic app and some samples for free, then choose from a wide variety of destinations all over the world. These great guides are full of details on the what, where, why & how, enabling you to maximize your time on location.
Like many of my photographer friends, I’m having an annual holiday print sale. Head on over to my Fine Art America page and take 20% off any print or product order with coupon code NHGSMY. Treat yourself, or give someone a beautiful and lasting gift.
And finally, don’t forget about Giving Tuesday. I encourage you to give generously to the causes and charities of your choice. You can make a real difference even if you just give $5-10. A good portion of the profits from my photography business always go to environmental organizations and social service groups; this year some will be earmarked for those whose lives were upended by the recent devastating storms and fires. Please join me in doing whatever you can to help.
McKenzie River National Recreation Trail near Clear Lake, Willamette National Forest, Oregon.
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act. The system includes our National Scenic Trails (like the PCT and AT), National Historic Trails, and National Recreation Trails.
Dewey Lakes in William O. Douglas Wilderness, seen from Naches Peak Loop Trail, part of Pacific Crest Trail, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.
Each of these trails provides us with a wealth of opportunity for photography, recreation, and discovery. For more information about the trails, check the official National Parks System website
Covered wagon on old stagecoach road at Oregon Trail Blue Mountain Crossing USFS interpretive site in eastern Oregon.
Which trails have you been on or would you like to explore?
The West Cascades Scenic Byway between the McKenzie River and Westfir is one of my favorite locations for fall color in Oregon. Passing through two major river drainages, Forest Road 19 in the Willamette National Forest is also known as Aufderheide Memorial Drive, The road was named to honor of Robert Aufderheide, a long-time USFS forester in the region.
My guidebook Photographing Oregon has a detailed description of the route on pages 201-204, but due to a massive landslide and a major wildfire last summer, the northern half of this route is closed. It will likely be many months before the Forest Service is able to re-open the road from Cougar Reservoir on the McKenzie River heading south.
It is still possible to enjoy much of the beauty of this forested route. Starting at Highway 58 and the community of Westfir, the road follows the North Fork Middle Fork of the Willamette River for about 30 miles to the closure at Box Canyon.
While there are numerous photo ops right along the road, you’ll find even more if you hike the North Fork Trail. This easy trail follows the North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River for several miles, with several trailheads along West Cascades Scenic Byway providing access. The trail is an ongoing project with the USFS, and some sections are missing or in bad shape. I hiked north from the trailhead at Forest Road 1912 and had to turn around after a couple of miles due to a collapsed bridge.
Peak fall color in this part of the Cascade Mountains is generally around mid-October. The area is also great for mushroom hunting and photography soon after the first fall rains.
Tech notes: The photos above were made with a Nikon Z7, 24-120 and 70-200mm Nikon lenses, and Breakthrough Filters X4 Polarizers.
Enjoy this beautiful forest and let me know what you find!
Mount Moran from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park.
Like many other nature and travel photographers, I was anxiously awaiting for Nikon to produce a pro-level full-frame mirrorless camera. As soon as I saw the specs for the Nikon Z7, I put in my order and signed up for priority delivery through Nikon Professional Services. You can read my thoughts on this camera prior to purchasing it in a previous post here.
I’ve now had my Z7 for a couple of weeks and am happy to say that I’m totally delighted with the camera. I haven’t had a chance to fully test the camera because I’ve been on photo workshops ever since I received it and I don’t shoot much for myself when I’m leading workshops but for now here is a short review with some first impressions.
Right out of the box, you know it’s a Nikon. The look, the grip, the ergonomics, and the controls are totally familiar to a long-time Nikon shooter. The placement of some of the controls is slightly different, but quite logical. And there is a new “joystick” for moving focus point, which has quickly become one of my favorite features of the Z7.
The back panel LCD monitor is big, and it’s very sharp. I haven’t used a touch-screen LCD before, but am finding that it’s a very quick way to change settings.
Looking through the electronic viewfinder, the image is clear and sharp, and it’s easy to read all the displayed data even when wearing eyeglasses. When helping workshop participants with their mirrorless cameras I’ve been less than impressed with the image quality of EVFs and always preferred optical viewfinders, but the Z7 is making me a convert. My only nit now about EVFs is that it takes a moment for the view to be displayed when turning the camera on. I’ll have to get used flipping the on-off switch as soon as I place the camera on the tripod or pull it out of the pack.
The grip is great. Just big enough to feel like I’ve got a good, solid handle on the camera with my whole hand, not just a few fingers. This does make the camera slightly taller than some other mirrorless cameras, but I’m happy with the trade-off.
Autofocus is very fast, and very accurate. The “joystick” controller on the back of the camera makes it very easy to move the focus point, and that point can be almost anywhere in the image.
The in-body image stabilization is amazing. Coupled with an F-mount lens that has VR, the ability to handhold and get sharp images is greatly increased. Shooting wildlife in Yellowstone while handholding my 200-500mm lens, I could actually see the image stabilize while looking through the viewfinder.
Early reviews of Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras criticized the single memory card slot and the battery life. Neither is a problem for me. A 128GB QXD card will get me through several days of shooting, and I’m getting hundreds of shots with each battery charge. Plus, I’m very pleased that Nikon stayed with the EN-EL15 battery, as I already have extras from my older cameras.
A couple of tips I’d like to pass along for those just purchasing the Nikon Z7 or Z6:
Right away, refer to pages 22-25 in the owner’s manual to customize the settings for the iMenu and the Fn buttons. This will let you very quickly modify your most used settings.
Tripod L-plates are not yet available for these cameras, but if you use Nikon’s FTZ lens adapter for F-mount lenses, the adapter has a tripod socket and an L-plate from another camera will quite likely work on it. There’s actually a benefit to this, as the weight distribution between the larger F-mount lenses and the small Z body is better with the tripod plate attached to the adapter instead of the camera body. In addition, when going vertical there is no interference with remote cables attached to the ports on the side of the camera.
As I mentioned, I haven’t had time to fully test my Z7 yet, but so far I’m really impressed with both the features and the image quality of the Nikon Z7.
Do you have one of these cameras yet? Are you planning to get one? Let’s compare notes and feel free to post questions in the Comments below.
Once again I am honored to have my photography win awards in SATW’s (Society of American Travel Writers) annual Bill Muster Photo Competition. This year two of my images won in the Natural Landscape category.
Lupine, Redwoods National and State Parks, California.
Sparks Lake and South Sister, Cascade Mountains, Oregon.
Congratulations to my colleagues and friends in SATW who also won awards, Blaine Harrington (POTY!), Ellen Clark, Shelly Rivoli, Bret Love, Eric Lindberg, Charles Cecil, Susan Portnoy, Doug Stremel, Chad Case, Carol Waller, Steve Bly, David Swanson, Dave Bouskill, Douglas Peebles, Matthew Payne, Donnie Sexton, and Karin Leperi.
To learn more about the Bill Muster Competition and see all the award-winning photography go to www.satw.org
So here’s the thing: Nikon cameras and lenses have been my Go To for almost 30 years. They have served me very well and I’m pretty heavily invested in the system. I am surprised that it took Nikon a long time to jump into the full-frame mirrorless arena, but I’m very happy they finally have, and the Z6 and Z7 look like winners to me.
Not surprisingly, the online trollers and “look at me” types started bashing the cameras as soon as they were announced. And their complaints were based only on the released specs – not image quality from real world experience using the camera.
Among the fault finding: only one SD card slot (and of the new XQD type), smallish buffer, short battery life, no eye-recognition autofocus, and only 30fps 4k video.
Personally, none of those supposed shortcomings matter to me. I am primarily a nature/landscape photographer, and while I do photograph wildlife, it’s not my main focus (pun intended). I also do a lot of general travel photography. Video doesn’t matter to me at all.
I’ve never used the dual SD card slots in my other cameras for in-camera backup and rarely have filled a 64GB card in a day or two of shooting. I’m rather selective about what I shoot, and with the incredible dynamic range of Nikon sensors, I don’t have to bracket exposures very often. Yes, I wish the Z7 had dual slots, but even with the large files from a 45mb sensor, I think I’ll be fine just adding a couple of 128mb XQD cards to my collection of SD cards.
The Nikon Z7 has a buffer capable of 23 frames on continuous shooting. I’d like to see a larger buffer, but it’s not really a problem for the kind of photography I do. When photographing wildlife, I use my Nikon D7500, which can do 50 frames of 14-bit RAW files (and the crop sensor means my telephoto lenses have more reach).
As for battery life: the CIPA rating of 330 shots per charge shouldn’t be a problem for me. My understanding is that the CIPA ratings are rather conservative anyway. And welcome news: the spare EN-EL15 batteries that I already have for my other cameras will work in the Z7.
The autofocus system in the new Nikon Z7 promises to be a big step up from what I have with my D750 and D7500. Do I wish it had the ability to recognize and lock on a subject’s eye? Certainly, but again not that big of a deal for a landscape photographer. What is more important is focus points spread across almost the whole sensor area.
Admittedly there are a few areas where the Sony full-frame cameras seem to have an edge, and the new Canon mirrorless may also, but I think the Z7 compares very favorably, and with the Nikon-made adapter so I can use all my existing lenses, I’m no longer tempted to switch systems.
I do a lot of hiking and walking with my cameras, and didn’t want to lug the size and weight of the D850, even though by all accounts it is among the very best cameras for nature/landscape photography. I’m really happy to see that Nikon has produced a camera that promises equally outstanding image quality in a significantly smaller and lighter body. And bottom line, it’s image quality that really matters, right?
So yes, I ordered the Nikon Z7 as soon as it was officially announced, and with Nikon NPS priority service, I hope to have the camera soon after they start shipping.
And what about you? If you’re a Nikon shooter now are you happy with these new cameras? If you have another system, isn’t it exciting to see these new tech marvels?