Fierce Winds and a Panorama

The mountains were magnificent today, recent storms have blown away all the smoke and fog. It was cold and windy this morning and I knew the hike to the summit for the view was going to be unpleasant at best, but I was determined to get a panoramic image of the splendor before me. Unfortunately I was right, the fierce winds were freezing my ears so I had to pull up both hoods, my sweatshirt and my coat were both needed to stay warm. My lungs burned from the cold and the steep ascent as I made my way to the best overlook of the distant mountain range.

Clear Skies on the Sangre

Finally, I was at the top and the great mountain range spread across the horizon before me. As I stood in the fierce winds I readied the camera for a panoramic shot, camera on full manual… shutter speed at 1/250th, aperture f8 and ISO 100 for the best possible quality with the least amount of digital noise. I tried to shoot hand held but 50 mph winds were buffeting me so that I was not able to even stand still. The horrendous wind was causing my eyes to water and freeze shut, definitely not conducive to shooting a carefully arranged panorama!

Eventually, half frozen I finally got my five shots to cover the range and hustled back down the mountain into the shelter of the trees. There was no wildlife on the mountain today, apparently the animals were smarter than I am 🙂 There were a few little birds hiding in the shelter of the grass but I didn’t take the time to try to capture any images of them on this day, it was just too cold on the mountain.

Pair of Mule Deer

Back at the parking lot I decided that I wasn’t ready to call it a day though and turned Big Blue towards Eleven Mile Canyon. I was hoping to see some elk or deer along the way and I was also hoping that my favorite spot along the river might be sheltered from the wind. I found a small herd of mule deer grazing just outside the boundary of a llama ranch so I stopped to get a nice shot of this buck and his doe 🙂

Beaver at Eleven Mile

The eagles weren’t at the nest when I arrived  but I decided to pull out my camp chair and and just wait awhile to see what might develop. As I sat I heard a loud slap in the water upstream… the telltale sound of a beaver entering the water. Sure enough, the beaver had exited her lodge and begun to slowly swim around in search of something… then something unusual, she decided to just drift slowly downstream while facing upstream, something I had never seen a beaver do before. Eventually the huge rodent was right across from me about 10 feet away, enabling me to get a few nice closeup images

Beaver at Eleven Mile

The eagles eventually did show themselves but unfortunately I was not able to get a shot of either of them.  The male appeared briefly over the mountain and then flew away before I could get focused and the female landed on a branch behind the trunk of the tree. Frustrating!

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Evolving Shooting Philosophy

Sunrise Mule Deer Bucks

You may remember that I had finally settled on the settings that I was going to include as part of my custom modes on the mode dial on my Canon camera. Well those settings were blown apart yesterday morning. I had settled on Aperture Priority set to F8, Auto ISO capped at 3200, exposure compensation +1… and a new setting that I found in the auto ISO menu section that allows a photographer to boost shooting priority to a faster shutter speed which I decided upon because of the difficulty dealing with the massive pixel density of the 90D. I boosted that to the maximum value of three stops in hopes of avoiding slow shutter speeds in low light that might not be sufficient to overcome camera and subject movement.

All was well and good shooting in the low pre-dawn light of the mountain mornings and

Mule deer bucks in the early morning sun

in the persistent overcast conditions that we’ve been experiencing as of late. Enter the sun… yesterday was a beautiful brilliant sunny morning and there were deer everywhere! I shot well into the morning as the sun rose higher in the sky. It was definitely brighter, no where near the harshness of the mid day sun but bright enough for me to want to recheck my settings and exposure values. Well it turns out my camera was still shooting at ISO 3200 with shutter speeds of a 2500th and even faster!

Sunrise Mule Deer Bucks

There is no way that I am going to need a shutter speed of 1/2500 of a second to shoot deer in bright light that are mostly standing still looking at me! Even if you consider eliminating camera shake, using the rule of reciprocal with a focal length of 400mm and a crop sensor, your starting point would be a 540th of a second. I double that speed these days to account for the amazing pixel density that modern cameras are capable of so the next increment using that theory would be 1250th on my camera with my settings. Back in the day I used to shoot bike races at 1000th of a second and those riders were flying!

Sunrise Mule Deer Bucks

So I pondered that problem for a while and realized that is was just not going to be feasible to allow the camera to guess at what I would like for shutter and aperture values. The only way to solve the problem would  be to use manual mode for the shutter and aperture. I’ve already decided that with my 100-400 meter lens, the optimum aperture for wildlife photography is F8. Starting with the resulting 1250th benchmark factoring for camera shake, I compensated for the two stop image stabilization available on my lens and dialed back to an 800th of a second, plenty fast enough to capture any action my docile deer friends might be engaged in. I’m happy with the +1 exposure compensation I’ve been using to achieve ETTR exposures and optimize the signal to noise ratio.

The only exposure value I’m going to allow to float is the ISO. I previously had it capped at 3200 but I have removed that allowing the camera to go all the way to 25600. The reasoning behind that is if I have to unexpectedly leap out of my truck and grab a shot in a hurry without having time to mess with settings, at least I’ll get some kind of properly exposed shot… it may be noisy but I will at least capture something to mark the moment to put on Instagram!

Fortunately I was able to test out my new c1 setting today and I’m pretty darned happy with the results! I got some pre-sunrise shots followed by some captures in light similar to what I experienced yesterday. I purposely did not mess with the c1 settings so as to make sure to test my expectations. On a normal day I might decide to use c1 as a starting point and make adjustments to my shutter speed based on changing conditions and subject activity. Hope you enjoy these captures of my friends the “Three Amigos” 🙂

Whitewater and a 10 Stop ND Filter

Borrowed a 10 stop ND filter from a buddy for the weekend to shoot the whitewater of the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon again. Set out early in hopes of finding a bounty of wildlife in the canyon before all the people arrived, but came up empty with that effort 😦 The plan was to drive all the way to the end of the canyon in search of wildlife and then try out the ND on the way back down.

Eleven Mile Canyon and the South Platte River

On the way up the canyon I scouted out a few good spots where I thought an ND would work well and hit each one along the return trip. I will say this, using a 10 stop requires a lot of concentration! Fortunately I downloaded a neat little app for my phone the night before called simply “Exposure Calculator”.  To use it I just set my camera to A mode at f8 and ISO 100 to get an exposure reading  and plugged that info into the app as the  base exposure. Then for the new exposure I plugged in the same data and selected 10 as the ND factor and wala, the app gives me my new shutter speed 🙂

I forgot my cable release so in order to successfully execute a long exposure I set my drive mode to two second timer, camera to maunal exposure mode and lens to manual focus at the same focal length and focus as the shot prior to installing the 10 stop. I also switched over to live view mode to lock up the mirror and then took the shots. Playback showed that I indeed got the correct exposure and I could see that the water was smoothed out as expected 🙂

Satisfied that I had captured the scene,  I returned the camera to all the normal modes and continued down the river. Then of course I

Eleven Mile Canyon

repeated this entire process at each location, getting both motion blur and regular images of each spot. Very time consuming and the big dog didn’t appreciate all the standing around the tripod one bit 😦 Don’t think I would have the patience to do this all the time like I see some photographers on YouTube doing. But I do really like these two images and may actually get myself a 10 stop someday!

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