Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Trip to Bandelier National Monument.

I tried something new, something I thought might be useful.  It went over like a lead balloon.  Oh well.  The helpful blog post got less views than my average pretty pictures of someplace nice post.  So back we go to the regular format. 


Today we stepped away from The Hunt for Curly's Gold, sorry ...Forrest Fenn's gold, and just went somewhere we thought would be cool.  We got up and out way later than we should have and started the 30-40 minute drive to White Rock, a small city just outside of Los Alamos.  There is a visitor center there with a free shuttle that takes you out to the park.  It is strongly encouraged you take the shuttle.  They say it is mandatory, but you see other people out driving.  I say that if they want to drive, they are welcome to it. 

After a 10 mile or so drive in a large bus down narrow twisty roads with steep drops to one side, we arrived at the park visitor center.  We decided to skip the little movie and try to see it on the way back, after we hiked and were hot and sweaty. 

Bandelier National Monument is located in a canyon carved by a continuous creek.  The geology of the are is volcanic with large bands of Tuff.  This rock is very soft and natural cavities erode relatively quickly.  With the presence of a reliable water source, (What's a little giardia among friends) easily excavated caves and abundant wildlife, it was easy to see why the indigenous people of the area settled and stayed for a long time.  What is more difficult to see is why they left. 

But leave they did.  And they left behind a gorgeous canyon with some incredible archealogical remains.  Since we had the kids, we took the less strenuous main loop trail and added a little extra on because they aren't regular kids, they are adventure kids.  Some day they will appreciate it. 

So, on with the pictures.  You know, after I do an advisorial type blog post about photography, I went out in flat light and took less than spectacular photos of a beautiful place.  Some lives are like that. 

Max walking along the ruins of one of the villages.  You can see the holes in the cliff face behind.  Many of those were turned into dwellings as you will see.

Of course the kids are going in.  Even if the ladder had ended in a blank wall they would have climbed it.

Michael being goofy.  Cute kid.

Put a cave at the top and you have Mommy's attention.

The village from above.  The circle is the Kiva.

Max being goofy.  They take turns.

Michael's turn!  He is showing us how Satchel would like this room if we turned the cave into our house.  How Satchel would make it up the ladder didn't come up.

As we were walking along the creek, a mule deer crept across the trial.  It sat over there and waited.  We peeked and saw the baby fawn that was trying to follow but was too scared.

In the end we had to creep past. 

The holes were roof lines.  This area is the long house where the residences were stacked much higher.  Fascinating stuff. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Travel Photography for the Non-Photographer.

Look, I'm in no danger of making a living as a photographer, but I have been traveling constantly for the past three years and I've been trying to take lots of pictures on the way to document everything.  I have also done lots of research and taken tens of thousands of pictures.  Nope, that's not an exaggeration, tens of thousands.  Thank you digital cameras.  Can you imagine the cost of developing all that film?

Through all of this I have learned a thing or two that really help when you are taking pictures while you travel.  With a few simple tips, you can improve your pictures enough that perhaps you won't have to sort through thousands of pictures to find a few good ones to show off. 

1.  Put people in your photos.  

Seems silly to mention it, but so many people seem to be intent on capturing that next National Geographic Magazine cover and forget to include their family members or travel companions.  I am guilty of this at times.  Try to remember why you are taking the pictures in the first place.  Sure, a scene setting shot or two is great, but if you aren't including people, then it won't be as memorable.  The people provide context, they provide perspective and they provide scale.  And, if you are really feeling artsy fartsy (again...guilty), then try to include a person  in an interesting way.  Here are a few examples:

This is a nice shot, pretty scenery and a nice line leading your eye.  But I think this one is more interesting.

Not only do I think it is more interesting, but it is also the one that will get the comments when you show it.  "My, look how he has grown!"  'Doesn't that hat look darling?"  Just do it, add people to your pictures.

2.  Figure out your camera's color settings.  

I'm trying to keep this simple.  Your camera manufacturer might not do you the same favor.  This may require some research is what I am saying.  The payoff is worth it though.  You can take this picture:

Or you can change your color settings, punch up the orange and red just a touch and get this one:

Same camera, seconds apart with no retouching or after-effects done at all.  Another example:

Same thing.  Remember that orange and red add warmth, we like those colors.  If you want a cooler image, use blue or green.  Go read a little about your camera, find a forum online, something.  Learn how to change the color settings on your camera.

3.  The Rule of Thirds

Many experts will tell you that the best way to become a better photographer is to go take an art composition class.  The same things that make great paintings, make great pictures.  One of the better, and easier to remember and implement, rules of composition, is the Rule of Thirds.

Basically it works like this.  Divide your frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically.

In an effort to keep it simple, just remember to put horizon lines along the thirds and remember to place important things like people, landmarks and featured points of interest where the thirds intersect. Often, cameras have grid lines or points that will tell you where the thirds are.  If yours doesn't, just imagine and do the best you can.

I'll show you a few from my own photos, see if you notice this rule in famous pictures or some of the ones you like best.

Or this one that shows again that pictures are more interesting with people in them.  Notice how the extra space to the right adds to the picture.  This works really well when you have a person in a picture with a point of interest. 

4.  Timing is everything.

Over and over and over you will hear about the 'Golden Hour'.  This is the time just after sunrise and just before sunset when the lighting is amazing.  Make it a habit of taking your camera out with you at those times and just snap a few pictures.  You may be amazed at how awesome they can look.  There are pictures you won't get any other way.  Even mundane things can look pretty cool.  Like an RV park office. 

Or a mountain meadow.

Saving the best for last...

5.  You don't need a better camera. 

Sure, if you just want one, get one, but don't do it because you think it will automatically make you a better photographer.  Some of my favorite pictures have come from cell phone cameras.  Compose the picture, know how to operate what you have and take the picture.

So just go out there and shoot some pictures.  Try out some of these ideas and see how they work for you.  Then go somewhere pretty and shoot pictures. But remember, if you think it will make a good picture, go ahead and take it.  Rules are made to be broken.