Eastern Sierras Landscape

An Adventure with Hardshell Rooftop Tent

I went on a recent trip through Eastern Sierras with my new Hardshell Rooftop Tent. After many weeks of researching which one I would get and a brief trial with softshell ones, I decided to get the Alu-Cab 3.1 Expedition tent which is considered the best and gold standard in the market, completely made in South Africa. It can only be bought and installed by certified professional dealers and the closest dealer to Reno, NV was in Sonoma, CA. Mudrak Custom Cruisers did a fantastic job installing my new tent which took almost 6 hours to install. I will be installing solar panels on the tent in the next short few months.

The U.S. Route 395 is an absolutely scenic route that goes through so many beautiful places. There are multiple lifetimes that can be spent exploring the beautiful nature in this area.

My first stop was about 24 miles to Bishop, CA in the Inyo National Forest offroad dispersed camping area, which was absolutely breathtaking with a 270-degree view of the surrounding mountains including Mt. Tom (13,658′). Mt. Tom is in John Muir Wilderness. There was minimal to no light pollution and great for Astrophotography but we almost had a full moon so it was not going to turn out great on this trip. Definately next time!

The next morning my trip took me through Bishop, CA, and a quick trip to Lake Sabrina, which had even less water than when I visited it in May 2021.

Fall Colors were in full swing and amazing along the way especially in a small unincorporated community in Inyo County called Aspendell (elevation 8409′) in mid-October. Definitely worth the visit from Bishop and a short trip. There are tons of hikes around Lake Sabrina, you would enjoy.

Bishop area
Aspendell, CA

I headed next toward Lone Pine, CA, as I wanted to have time and find and set up my location for camping and sunset/sunrise photo shoot in Alabama Hills where you have the best vies to Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,505′) with lots of trails and a favorite place for rock climbers and also movie producer to shoot scenes (Iron Man and many more movies). I stopped in Big Pine, CA for lunch and had an amazing barbeque rib for lunch at Copper Top BBQ, which I absolutely recommend.

Alabama Hills are absolutely out of this world. If you are a photographer and love to hike, this is heaven. It can get busy though. Alabama Hills belongs to the City of Los Angeles, as I mentioned favorite spot for movie producers. You can also hike Mt. Whitney but you need a lottery for it because it is very popular. I will definitely be heading back there to get some shots of Mt. Whitney with snow on them and also hike during the day more when it is cooler. Morning Hikes are the best as it is cooler and still beautiful. For the Sunrise picture, you have to be ready on location 35-40 min before sunrise. Sunsets right behind the mountain, still beautiful but not as dramatic as sunrise.

The next day I wanted to go to Yosemite. I decided to stop by Convict Lake for a hike and see if they have good fall colors which they did. The surface elevation is 7,850′. There is a beautiful campsite out there with 80 or so awesome camp spots ($29 a night). I am sure it is super busy in summer and I would not want to be there but, 70% of the camp spot was empty because it could get cold in October at night at that elevation. Hiking there is absolutely beautiful. I paid for a campsite and decided to drive to Yosemite which was 60 min away from the Yosemite gate. I drove there but saw more than a mile of cars in the traffic trying to get into the park. I decided to head back to Lake Convict to stay. A storm was coming and Highway 120 was going to be closed to Yosemite that evening.

It was very windy overnight and snowed as well but the tent did amazing and I felt very secure and when I woke up the next day I found we had 4-5+ inches of snow. It was 13 degrees that morning.

The setup and takedown of the tent in all conditions was a breeze and less than a minute even with snow on the top. I left a sleeping bag a Down cover and a pillow in the tent and it was still a breeze to close it back up.

The roads the next day were super icy and I wanted to go to Minaret Vista in Mammoth Lake, CA but decided not to risk it and headed back to Reno after a quick stop at Mono Lake and Twin Lakes by Bridgeport, CA.

I did stop by “The Barn” in Bridgeport for an amazing Hamburger (they had more things) for lunch and had a great coffee at a charming store called Walker Coffee Company in Walker, CA, and headed back home.

Easters Sierras are absolutely majestic and there are gazillions of opportunities to explore and take amazing photographs and spend time with Mother Nature. A Hardshell Rooftop Tent proved to be the best choice to be able to set up anywhere you want in less than a min including the time to put it back together, and Alu-Cab is the one to go with.

Thanks again to Rack 2 Roam in Reno, NV and Mudrak Custom Cruisers, in Sonoma, CA for helping me to have the best setup possible any photographers could have.

See you on next blog and Happy Shooting!

In memory of Dr. Sheikhzadeh who was an amazing physician colleague and Mountaineer in Reno, NV, who passed away in that area in a freak accident last year.

Soft vs. Hard Shell Rooftop Tent for Photographers in you

A Trip to Beautiful Southern Nevada

I am back after 6 weeks of hiatus from this blog. I meant to publish this 2 weeks ago but life disrupted it. I would still like to share some gear tips for photographers and some of the beautiful places I visited along the way.

Originally I planned to go to Lone Pine to Alabama Hills and Yosemite but continued California Wildfires and smoke prevented that again. I had the same trip planned in July that was canceled because of the same.

This time I decided to explore other parts of Nevada and decided to go to Valley of Fire State Park, Northeast of Las Vegas. The trip is almost 8 hours from Reno. There are only a few small towns in between. The largest towns were Hawthorne, NV where they have the largest Ammunition Depot in the world, Tonopah, NV which is a mining town in higher elevation, and Beatty, NV which is a charming little town at the gate of Death Valley National Park (13 miles away from it). The trip was beautiful with mostly classic Nevada-style.

Beatty, NV is a charming town where you can find nice hotels to stay in if you please, and there is a lot of Wild Dunkies (Burros) roaming around and in town and people just stop their cars and get out to pet them. Pretty cute, friendly and charming wild animals.

On my way to Las Vegas, the smoke from California Wildfires reached almost to Tonapah before it finally cleared. I got hungry along the way and found the cutest little kiosk in a tiny place called Mina, NV, and got one of the best authentic burritos I had in a while. The name of that place is “La Casita”. Definitely recommend it.

I had bought Overlanding gear for my Toyota 4Runner with a special rack from Front Runner including extended gear and a Rooftop Tent by Thule installed by a great shop in Reno called Rack 2 Roam. I like camping but I dislike the time it takes to set up and I wanted to be mobile especially as a photographer.

In Beatty, NV, I found a nice place to boondock where no one was around except for wild burros here and there. Setting the tent up was easy and took 10-12 min and it is a great big size tent where 3 people can sleep comfortably. The fun was the next morning! Sunrise was around 6:30 am and as a photographer, you have to be at least 30 min before sunrise in your location to shoot. It is almost impossible to get this tent back together in the dark, so my morning shooting scenarios were out of the question. It was a rude awakening for me! I realized I bought the wrong style of tent. Finally, when the sun was up, I put the tent back together but even then it took a good 20-25 min.

So if you like to overland in a Rooftop Tent, and don’t care about photography, and want a comfy large tent, buy the Thule which is priced affordably. If you are a photographer and want to set something up and down in less than a min to get ready to leave to your campsite for a photo shoot which means in some State Parks like the Valley of Fire, to drive from the campsite you slept in, to hiking trails or locations for the photoshoot, then you need something different, which is called a clamshell Rooftop tent, and many companies make them (more on next blog).

On my way from Beatty, NV to Las Vegas, I bumped into an unreal place called “Big Dunes“. It is about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. It is remotely visible from the road. There are two paths to get there and I took the dirt road for 4-5 miles to get closer to it and shot some photos but did not spend much more there (hopefully next time!). Below are some images on that.

There are tons of Joshua trees as you get closer to Las Vegas, and they are pretty. I met an awesome MBA classmate (Krist) and his wife for lunch in Vegas before heading to Valley of Fire State Park to camp. The most scenic route from Las Vegas to there is when you tell your GPS to take you to Lake Mead first. Park entrance was free for me because I had the yearly National Park Pass I bought. Once you are in the Lake Mead area, you can change the address to Valley of Fire on your GPS and you go through a very scenic route to get there. Definitely worth the drive. It was 3rd week of September and it was hot during the day and cooled off only to 74-76 degrees during the night.

The time to hike multiple trails in the warmer times of the year in the Valley of Fire State Park is 60-90 min before sunset and 60-120 min after sunrise, otherwise, it gets too hot. Some trails were closed due to intense heat and the safety of hikers.

Cooler seasons are better to visit, like around November and after. I got lucky that evening and found the very last camp spot in Valley of Fire which was first come first served. It was an unreal place surrounded by the beauty of nature and a red-painted valley. Unfortunately, it was almost a full moon and Astrophotography was a no-go but never the less beautiful.

The next day I set out to do a bit of photography but taking down the tent in darkness was a chore and I did not get to shoot any Sunrise photos but I decided definitely to exchange that tent when I get back and get a clamshell one. On my way back to Reno that day I stopped by in Las Vegas at an awesome Persian Restaurant (Hafez) and had an amazing Kebob before I hit the road.

The California smoke from Wildfires rolled into Vegas that day. I decided to go to the Mount Charleston Recreation Area just north of Las Vegas and camp out there for the night. Such a great place to visit. Some sections of it reminded me as if I am in Switzerland. It is beautiful and surrounded by good camping and trails.

Unfortunately, there was more smoke and few campsites I checked in Mount Charlston were full so I headed back to Beatty, NV hoping to take a quick trip to Death Valley National Park but the smoke got worse and worse during the drive, and once I got to Beatty, NV it was dense and I decided to stay there overnight but could not use my tent to overland so I stayed in a nice Motel called “Death Valley Inn“. I ate at Smoking J’s Barbecue that evening and the food was awesome and a Must-Try if you are in that area.

I headed back the next morning to Reno which was a little over a 5-hour drive.

Nevada has a lot to offer. You just have to be willing to drive to it. The landscape is different but beautiful in its own way. I will be back in November or December to Valley of Fire to hike more during the day where the sun is not so hot and take more photographs and hopefully see the Big Horn Sheeps in action there, which I was not able to in this visit.

Please check out the Fall issue of Nevada Magazine. You will see the most magnificent picture of Valley of Fire with the Big Horn Sheep in the front. Quiet the shot! I almost shot on the same spot but did not get lucky with the weather, timing, and subject in the foregound. I am subscribed to it, but this magazine will be free as of 2022 for all the Nevada fans

See you on the next blog!

Time away from wildfire smoke and appreciation of nature around us

Like everyone else in Northern Nevada which is engulfed by two large wildfires south of us (Caldor) and north of us (Dixie), I was stir crazy to get out of town and away from smoke.  I have bought multiple Air Purifiers since to keep the smoke out of my home and even have invested in a PurpleAir sensor to monitor the inside of my home’s smoke pollution. I would encourage you all to get one if you are exposed to wildfire smokes, so you can gauge what you need to do, like for instance putting two Air Purifiers in your bedroom when you go to sleep if the level is still too high.

I just took my camera gear and my toothbrush and two coats and told my wife, I am heading to California Coast to take some sunset pictures for the evening. I left at 2pm in Reno with estimated arrival to my destination to Sonoma Coast State Park in California at 6:25pm. I got there around 7pm. The ride is beautiful if it is not all that smoky. It cleared for the most part when I was closer to Petaluma, Ca.

Unfortunately, it was very cloudy when I got to the coast, so no opportunity for sunset pics. The town of Bodega Bay which is close to the park is cute but I found that most stores were closed. The Park was not busy and beautiful. Great trails around in it as well along the coast but to my surprise no dogs were allowed even on leash on trails, which is pretty sad for a nation of dog lovers.

There was a beautiful campsite by the beach (the only one) where only a few campers were there and I could have camped there if I had my Overlanding gear on my car, which I am installing this week (yee-haw!), so I can be finally mobile where I go with my camera gear in Expedition style.

I decided to use my telephoto zoom lens today mainly to take pics of animals from far away. So, no wide-angle lens today! Below are few shots. I made a huge mistake. I did set my camera to Aperture Priority and used the amazing Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM Lens but I forgot to change the ISO to Auto and it took the pics at ISO 100. A really bad mistake, otherwise these pictures would have looked amazing.

I wanted to stay in Bodega Bay, so I can go back to the beach the next day for the photoshoot, but there are only a few hotels there, and the room rate is 500+ a night. I decided otherwise. I went to the only harbor restaurant open to grab some diner, but it was so busy, I decided to leave there as well.

I drove 30 miles back to Petaluma, Ca which is a very cute town and I have stayed with my wife for her riding competitions in the past. I grabbed a quick hamburger in town and headed to the awesome Marriott Hotel where I am writing this blog.

The Take-Home Message for this blog post is, I Love Nevada! We are so blessed and lucky in Reno/Tahoe that we have all these nature trails around us. You can go on some and not see a single soul, let alone a building. This is not possible in California frequently. Even in Sonoma Coast State Park, there are tons of private homes. Nature feels invaded, and it is sad to see.  This bad wildfire season shall pass too, and we Nevadans will be back on our beloved dog-friendly trails to enjoy nature as it should be. Just remember, Leave No Trace and leave it cleaner than you found it.

We need to preserve our nature for our future generations.

A huge kudos to all the brave souls who are fighting the wildfire around us, especially an MBA classmate and true hero for this country Andrew Wagner (Senior Programs Manager Nevada National Guard, Instructor Pilot), whom I like to thank for his amazing service to his country and Nevada especially during this wildfire season. Thanks, Andrew and crew.

See you on the next blog.                        

Happy Shooting!

Black and White

There is a certain unimaginable beauty in Monochromatic images. Ansel Adams was the most iconic Black & White (B&W ) landscape photographer. So much can be done with B&W. Nowadays all cameras are digital color, but we have the option just to shoot B&W with them with the built-in-black-and -white-setting, but we should not. This will interfere with the post-processing of the image. Shooting in color brings more information to the image, for instance, let’s say in the green or red zone which can be accentuated in post-processing but if we shoot in B&W.

You can opt for B&W if you are for instance shooting during the day, but your scenery has good contrast as well, or at night for instance where there is less light like in the streets, next time you go to Milan or Venice and you want to shoot beautiful building in lower light at night, process and go B&W instead.  Remember flat light is OK, especially if you have fog in the picture, think B&W.

One other concept to remember for B&W is when you see strong shadows in the picture, think to process that image in B&W (Monochrome). If you are a landscape photographer, just don’t think you can only shoot at Sunrise and Sunset. You can shoot during the day as well, but you should process B&W instead.

Portraits in B&W would absolutely look great to focus on the face. Don’t forget to use Sepia color as well if you want an antique look of a picture, and it can look great.  If you are shooting scenery, I would recommend using HDR, to increase the dynamic range and to get sharper and detailed color which can be switched to monochromatic also known as black and white to get a much sharper black and white image.

I use the Nik Collection software a lot for my B&W processing. The software is called Silver Efex Pro. Below are some sample images of the Wisconsin State Capitol taken in color and processed in Silver Efex Pro.

It is important to have the color, Black and White, in the picture for better contrast, if you can.

You can also be even more creative and focus on the sky instead and get your object underexposed (darker) and create an interesting exposure in color (see this blog post) or Black & White. All of these images below were created in color first for the best B&W transformation.

These images are from the Graveyard of Atlantic in Hatteras, NC. There is a Museum there too but you have to walk few miles to this location and get there at least 30 min before Sunrise. These ship wreckages are from early 1800 I was told and located on the farthest place in the United States Eastern Shore in the Outer Banks. It is a surreal place and the Sunrise was gorgeous that day and the sky was beautiful. I decided on the B&W on this image and looks more dramatic. I went with a focal length of 16mm so very wide trying to fit that interesting object in the foreground but also stressing the beautiful background as well. I made the sky bluer on the right image, so it has better contrast with clouds. Something to think about when you have nice scenery but not quite the effect you want, so need to find that foreground object. In this scenario, it could have been a nice shell that you can place in the foreground and take your shot with the magnificent sky. The result would be an even more awesome image!

The image below is from Lake Sabrina in California in May of 2021. The lake is almost empty, and it is quite striking especially given the drought we are facing this year. It is a beautiful place to visit and hike around. The image was taken hiking up to an island in the middle of the lake that is usually surrounded by water. It is a stark reminder of how fragile our ecosystem is and how we must protect our nature and environment.

Lake Sabrina shot from that island point of view
Lake Sabrina from the ground, processed the RAW image with Silver Efex Pro to bring out the detail on all the granits

Lastly, there are few Apps I use to create creative Black & White pictures taken on smartphones. Dramatic Black & White App (2nd image below) is only for iPhone. BlackCam – Black&White Camera App (3rd image below) is for iPhone and Androids. Both are about $3 each. There is also a free App from Google called Snapseed, which is also pretty good and can be used on iPhones and Androids.

I hope I was able to inspire some of you so far to seriously consider polishing your photography skills with your smartphones and hopefully buy a Mirrorless or DSLR Camera and start creating your own artistic interpretations of the world that surrounds you!

The world is waiting to be photographed in any way you like to imagine it!

Happy Shooting!

Not All Men Created Equal, Then Some Learn Photography!

There is just too much to talk about Landscape and completely beyond one blog. There are many books written with just that title “Landscape Photography” and it also has multiple dedicated magazines like the one I subscribe to, outdoor magazines.

Landscape photographers are hard workers and “Absolute Suckers” for Sunrise and Sunsets. We don’t seem to have a life! We get up very early to hit the road to get to the desired location and you got to be there at least 45-60 min to set up your gear and find the right location if you have not done so a day before, and sometimes it is even double the work. Most of us do a surveillance trip a day before to feel the location, look at the scenery and possible photoshoot angles, locating the spot, and using all the tools we got like an App PhotoPills to find an awesome spot to shoot the next day and while ALWAYS thinking about possible compositions. So, there is lots of thinking and planning involved, and logistics like how to get to this or that location on time, etc.

You can see below using the PhotoPills App the sun and moon rise and sets and direction and also using the “Augmented Reality”, it will show you where in the scenery you are looking at the sunsets or sunrises. In this scenery, the sunset is going to be by that big tree. It helps to plan a shot.

This diagram shows what photographers have to work through. There are stages you need to complete and the concept is the key and remains the mainstay of work, otherwise, everything we do falls apart and has no connections to the main idea.

In the photographer’s world of jokes, if I was watching a beautiful sunset with my wife, I would be thinking, how should I use the Aperture at f/11 or f/8 and how to use my camera speed at 1/250s or 1/125s!  We always do some Math behind the scenes. That is how we think!  Do you get that?

Sometimes we have to drive many miles into the mountain, then even hike to the location of choice if needed, so all of that needs to be taken into account for the trip and how we get that one sweet shot. Some other times, I just take the backpack with basic needs and hit the trail, in search of things to take photographs, so I can be outside, enjoy nature and have a blast with my camera. I took the below Video at Tahoe Meadows Chickadee Ridge 2 years ago, hiking on a blue sky but a storm came in later when I was still snowshoeing to the top of that hill to get a better look at Tahoe and it took me 5 hours to hike back to my car because snow blanketed everything so fast, there was no trail to be seen. So make sure you have enough battery supply for the phone and preferably a Satellite SOS Communicator if needed on longer hikes, especially in Sierras.

Tahoe Meadows Chickadee Ridge

Extra batteries are VERY important in cold weather, and a functional, not-so-large backpack. I exclusively shoot in “Aperture Mode” (AV or Aperture Value on Canon Cameras or just A) because I do not need to freeze action usually in TV (Time Value Mode) when I do landscape photography.  Make sure you set your ISO (Sensitivity) always to 100 as you will be using mostly a tripod. Most landscapes are shot at f/11 for best front-to-back sharpness. You can still get a good sharp image at f/8 or f/16 but my to go to f-stop is f/11. A lot of awesome lenses can go to an Aperture of f/22 or even f/32 but due to a phenomenon called “lens diffraction”, smaller f-stops (the one with larger numbers, remember!) become softer and less sharp, so be mindful.  You do not need to worry about Shutter Speed because you put your camera in Aperture Mode which can automatically adjust exposure time for you. 

I personally use the default metering mode on my canon camera which is Evaluative/Matrix Mode. I change it to Spot Metering Mode if my camera is under or overexposing a scenery. 

Make sure you dial your ” White Balance” in camera to “Cloudy” in landscape photography. It would make it for a warmer picture, and you may not need that much post-production correction and it will save you some time. It is also to remember that all can be changed in post-production if you (and hopefully only) taking RAW images. Set your focus mode to “One Shot” only. No one needs a burst mode in Landscape photography!  If you are using a Cable Release, make sure you set your timer to 2s (Seconds) only as you do not want to wait too long for a shot. It saves you time and sanity if you do not want to use a remote cable release.

White Balance

I would recommend trying the App “Magic Hour” for beginners or even more advanced to gauge when you need to be at a scene for the best photoshoot in the evening. Usually, it is between 45-60 min before to 20 min after Sun has set. For the Sunrise photoshoot, you should be there 45 min before. The “Blue Hour” happens about 15-20 min after the sun has set, and there is more opportunity to shoot awesome pics (at f/11 and ISO 100 for best results).

I follow a handful of great photographers like, Michael Frye, and William Neill, who both frequently photograph Yosemite. Since we all live so close to Yosemite National Park, I encourage the photographers in you to download the App that Micheal has created in case you go there and trying to find things to photograph of. Their work is truly amazing if you have time to check it out.

Lastly, if you have a large area to focus on and you want to get it sharp from front to back (at f/11), focus on an object 1/3 of the distance into the shot, so, you have a good point to focus on. There is so much more to landscape photography. It is truly the most exciting but also time-consuming, but the one that gives you the most exposure to nature and beauty surround you which will help your health and endurance as well.

For me, it is a kind of “Zen Time” and connecting back with nature, when I am out there and a way to express myself. I am still learning and there is so much to learn. 

The oldest tree in the world, a Bristlecone Pine. It is south of Bishop, Ca. A beautiful 20+ miles into the mountain and a 4-mile hike after that. The oldest tree is about 4500 years old but photographically was not as visually striking, so I went for the second oldest which is estimated more than 4000 years old (see below). It is definitely worth the visit. I should have waited for the sunset but had to leave. I personally like the Black & White version of it better because harsh sun lights and no clouds does not make the picure intersting and more dramatic but I took it anyway because I can switch that to Black & White later especially if I have a boring sky with no clouds like below.

This Bristlecone Pine is the second oldest tree in the world

We always don’t get lucky to shoot an image on the first appearance when we get to a scene. A lot of times we have to make multiple trips if we want a certain shot and also have to be satisfied with what we got if for instance there was not much cloud in the sky to make it more interesting and dramatic. Landscape photography is a hardcore sport for sure. Paul Zizka can attest to that with his absolutely amazing and inspirational images, which I encourage you to check out.

Inspirational!

I would encourage you all to also check award-winning Canadian Landscape Photographer, a family physician like me, and also a photographer for Canadian Geographic, Scott Forsyth, who is producing one amazing work after another and his book.

Lake Sabrina, CA on May 10, 2021 – I am the only person there late afternoon and waiting for the sun to go down to get sunset pictures. It was very relaxing and waited for 2+ hours for the shot you see on the header on my website :). Sometimes we don’t get lucky to get an amazing shot. I am happy though because it was serene and beautiful as always and I just watched in awe.

Overall I believe you can create an Ok landscape picture with a smartphone in good lighting of course that can be shared on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and with family in the photo streams. These smartphone images are not even close to what you can produce on a Mirrorless or DSLR (the latter are a dying breed).

I was planning to go to Yosemite this past week to shoot some new images, but unfortunately, recent California wildfires ruined that trip and forced me to postpone it for the near future.

Happy Shooting!

Portrait Photography

Portraits are so much fun and can say so much about a person you are taking pictures of.  It can portray their likeness and can display some aspect of their personality. 

There are a lot of variation of portrait photography, like Traditional portrait that is very much about the face and expression, Candid, Lifestyle, Glamour, Surreal/Conceptual, Formal, Street style, Close-Up, and Abstract.

We use portraits in our everyday lives. Most of us have a portrait on our professional and work websites. Most are shot at two-thirds, and sometimes at full-body. Generally, it is meant to portray someone as they are. Strong eye contact is usually important for a lot of portraits.  A Formal portrait is a carefully arranged pose under proper and professional lighting conditions, that are mostly used for business and professional use portrays.

Lifestyle portraits are often used in advertising and can be aspirational. Candid portraits are harder to get as they can invade people’s privacy. It is taking images of people at what they are up to. The best is to set yourself up with your camera in one corner, so people can see that there is a camera and if they want to be themselves, so be it and get the image, and in a way, you are not pulling out your camera the minute someone trying to do something. It can look awkward and backfire on you.

Close-Up portraits are seen mostly in fashion, politics, fame, and magazines. They can look intimate and very important. Some may say, one can see though the soul of someone if it is done right.

Surreal/Conceptual and Abstract portrait photography is considered fine art. It is in a different league and not everyone’s cup of tea. Surrealism is part of it to take a picture to another level that one cannot see. The Abstract portrait is usually part of someone that we take an image of and can be portrayed in various ways. Black & White is one of the most favorites to portray the latter. For examples of the above-mentioned styles please click on the links provided.

Street portrait style can be posed or candid (see also my previous blog, Doctors With Cameras). You must immerse yourself in the people around you.

Some argue about the best lenses for portraits but there are few I recommend using. A lot of professional studio photographers use the latter two as it allows you to be close but not so close at the same time with the subject you are taking photographs of. You can also shoot awesome Portraits with a Zoom Lens like a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 USM. The picture of our Quarter Horse, Sonny below with the cows in the background was shot like that and so was the picture on the website page with our Daisy, the only “Daisy Duke” I know who actually made it to Duke University Campus to pose for that pic. I hope she is playing in the fields with her sister Indie over the rainbow bridge. I still miss their souls. We lost them last year within 4 weeks apart. Their memories are always with us.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens.

Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens – Jack of all Trades!

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM Lens

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens

I would recommend setting your camera setting to Aperture Priority (A) when you do portraits. The sweet spot for me is f/2.8 to f/4. Lenses with larger Apertures like f/1.2 can produce amazing images with beautiful creamy Bokeh (more on this below) and you can shoot them handheld in low lights as well.

If you are shooting outside, the best lighting is soft natural lights like on overcast days, but sometimes we do not have any options and we end up shooting on a sunny day which creates hard shadows on people’s faces. So, what do we need to do next? Well, we need to use Reflectors, and someone else needs to hold it or it needs a Reflector with a stand. For Headshot pictures, it is best to hold your lens at the level of the shoulder of the subject as it gives them power. You do not want to look down on the subject with the lens, although with kids it is harder to achieve. So “camera height” is important to produce amazing headshots which include shoulder and up. Engage with your subject, make them feel natural, say silly things. Don’t say “Are you ready” or “1, 2, 3” before you take an image of your subject because you ruin it. For the best headshot portrait, make sure you pick an Aperture that makes part of the hair and ears out of focus, which creates the best portrait.

Some sample portrait images I have taken mainly from my family and dogs with my professional camera, some look a bit creative and you can play with it.

Smartphones have come a very long way and with their AI built in them, they can produce magnificent portraits as well. It is usually my to go to when I walk with my wife and dogs. It does a splendid job doing portraits and you can change the background, or so-called “Bokeh” as well using the software built in them. Bokeh is the Japanese word for “Blur”, which is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image. 

Some sample iPhone “Portrait Mode” below.

The best lenses with the lowest f-stop can make the picture so “creamy” in the background because of the shallow depth of field they can create for these situations and awesome for low light photography as well. They are very expensive (see above lenses) but as I said iPhone for instance can do a superb job for day-to-day portraits.

For comparison, iPhone Wide-angle lens offers ƒ/1.6 aperture but with help of AI, it can mimic f/1.4 Aperture creating the shallowest depth of field. iPhones usually take the portrait at f/4.5 automatically, but you can change that to lower f-stop to be even more dramatic and emphasize your subject and increase the Bokeh (blur) of the background. Sample are below with a short video showing you how to change the Aperture resulting in a much nicer Bokeh in iPhone.

The left image below is done at f/16, the middle at f/4.5 (automatically chosen on iPhone), and the right one at f /1.4.

Open the photo you took in “Portrait Mode” on your iPhone. Click on Aperture f and toggle to the left all the way to f/1.4 and all the way to the right to f/16. See which background Bokeh (blur) you like the best and save the picture or you can save multiple versions of it by screenshotting it, which will save as a good quality JPEG on your phone as well.

A quick video to show you how to change the Aperture in iPhone after the image is taken in Portrait Mode to increase the Bokeh.

Happy Shooting!

Bad Leaders Make Lousy Photographers!

Aka “BLMLP”! What is that? A new Mirrorless Camera, Disease, or Syndrome? Maybe

This is really an interesting angle to look at, but it makes a whole lot of sense when you look at it deeper. This blog may sound a bit more philosophical, but I believe there is a connection. 

Why do some choose photography as a hobby? For me it was important to always have the connection to nature, observing the reality and beauty of it, step back and imagine, make plans about how I want to tackle this or that scenery, surveying even a day before and planning, trying to come up with a solution and best composition plan (place an interesting object for instance in form of a larger scenery), choosing the right moment to capture what I want to capture (like at Sunrise or Sunset), and learning from my mistakes as I mentioned in Long -Exposure II blog post.

I believe good leaders do all of the above meaning, research, analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving, and they actually have to. In the photographer’s case, the result is a beautiful image that speaks to your soul. Art is usually considered as part of the humanities. It is interesting to me that we choose the word humanities. It is the collective for the human race, but it is also used as an adjective. I would argue that people who are involved in some sort of Arts & Humanities, would make better leaders. Photographers have a good composition for that, and photography is not only a metaphor for leadership, but you can see it as a way to improve leadership and I believe it would be beneficial to all to pick leaders who have a sense of art & humanities as it can significantly improve the outcome.

I have personally looked at the hobby section of applicants very frequently if they came to interview for any given position. I have gone a bit deeper in that direction as well. You can find beautiful connections and great candidates if you look further and not just at their other medical credentials. We forget as leaders sometimes that it is not all about scores in this or that exam that makes a great candidate but who also they are when they are not applying for a position.

I believe art and humanities have a significant role in our lives. As Steve Jobs said once “it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing” and “if you make time for the liberal arts, not only will you become a more interesting person, but you can also find that little something that will differentiate you from everyone else.”

Do all great leaders have to have great artistic and photography skills? No, but it will certainly help them more if they are involved in some form of liberal arts and humanities to connect the dots because as leaders they need to connect the dots every day and see the big picture.

This is a great article written at Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical leadership at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, which I thought is very interesting and true by Bret Beasley, Associate Director, and Term Assistant Teaching Professor Management & Organization.

“Bad Leaders Make Lousy Photographers” because they can’t see the future properly and can’t paint what they want to see and imagine in their head and pull it through. There is a lot of other work involved other than just pressing the “Camera Shutter Button”!

Leaders must do their work diligently and constantly like photographers or they are short news cycles and won’t be talked about like “Ansel Adams” for decades after they have left. We need to embody the kindness, humanism, art in our businesses, and work to make a lasting awesome impression of our work like Davinci and Rembrandt did, or we are just a farce in the Universe.

I love to hear your feedbacks.

Avon, NC at the Outer Banks. A glorious absolutely amazing Sunrise on September 11, 2013, long exposure 1/4 of second

Opinions are my own.

Should We Enhance or even Fake Photography?

I would like to talk about a controversial topic in photography and it is a topic of hot discussion among many photographers and artists.

How far would one go to make our photograph look amazing? I mean there is always a component of imagination involved in any art. How many painters can you blame for painting something not real? ZERO!

It is an art. Imagining what you want from the scenery and representing it in a way you want it to be, is a form of Art. Artists use all kinds of enhancement for their work. Using the right enhancement in an artistic way is an art as well.

The majority of my images except for a few are not enhanced or even photoshopped. There is a lot of technology around photography and AI is gaining popularism and can be used to enhanced images, change boring sky on otherwise amazing captured scenery to make it look more amazing, etc. Photoshop has been around for a while and has its amazing uses and I use it occasionally if I am taking a picture that is almost perfect but there is a small distracting object in it, like some person coming into the field of shot or a tree branch that is disturbing the “Feng Shui” of an image, then I will remove it in photoshop or Lightroom to bring harmony to that image.

Taking a RAW picture and balancing and adjusting it in Lightroom is not interfering with the actual image and rather bringing out what your eye saw as a photographer to bring out the correct exposure at that moment. No camera is perfect even if it can capture a large range of information on any image.

Kettle Moraine State Forest, WI. 3 exposure brackets used for this HDR image

Technology has advanced to capture almost eye-quality images using HDR (High Dynamic Range). A lot of smartphones have amazing software in them like AI can instantly capture HDR images which brings clearer images by correcting the light and dark areas of the display to be very simplistic. There is something we call HDR and also Focus Stacking: Focus Stacking merges several photos together taken at different focal points with different aperture values sometimes. HDR merges photos taken at several different exposures, which in camera called “Exposure Bracketing”, which means you set your camera on a tripod (of course) and set a range of up to ±3 stops (in 1/3-stop increments) and take your shot. I use mainly 5 brackets as seen in the image below, two over, and two underexposed, and one normal exposure. The 5 images can be all combined into an HDR image in Lightroom which will almost give you what your eye can see because as I said cameras are amazing but not perfect.

There are great programs like Luminar AI, Topaz Labs, and Nik Collection which can be used to edit, enhance and adjust images. There is also Adobe Lightroom, which I use. Some artists use AI to enhance their images like changing the sky on an image which can be done in Luminar AI. There are also some Apps one can use on a smartphone. I like the Ps Camera, by Adobe which is basically a mini Photoshop App with AI in your pocket. Below are some images captured using Ps Camera. Would I use that frequently, probably not, but I admire imagination, and that is what is art about. The sky is the limit. You can use those Apps for artistic expressions.

Original picture on the left and enhanced in Ps Camera App on the right

The below images are from the same location. The first image is the original one. Ps Camera App used to add starry sky and the cloudy sky. Isn’t that fun?

AI is everywhere for Image Enhancing, capturing daily life, and make smarter photos. It is used in smartphones as well.

Websites like 500px are between reality, imagination, and surrealism. I go there sometimes to get inspiration. People put amazing images there that speak to your heart and soul with their imagination and interpretation. That is what is art is about.

To me it is all pure art and expression of oneself no matter if enhanced or not.

What are your thoughts about this? I would be interested to know.

Happy Shooting!

Long-Exposure Part II

When I started this blog, I got multiple feedback and request about smartphone photography, as most of us are using those.

I personally would prefer Long Exposure captured with Mirrorless or DSLR, but then again there is just too much to carry around for folks and may not be as feasible for some to invest in sometimes. But is it all that awesome using smartphone cameras as Mirrorless and DSLRs?

I like to dive in and talk a bit about Apps you can use to do long exposure. In the last blog about Long Exposure, I talked about the feature that iPhones have to do long exposure but that is not as good as using this App. The App I liked the most was “Slow Shutter Cam“. You would definitely be needing to use a tripod even with your smartphones if you are using this App to get the desired effect and quality for these types of cameras (smartphones). To my surprise, most Apps were at best subpar (yes, I did buy a few to try). I am hoping Apple would actually incorporate long exposure functionality to the iPhone with a much better interface in the near future.

The two small tripods I use and have with me are JOBY GripTight ONE Micro Stand for Smartphones and JOBY GripTight GorillaPod Stand PRO. If you want to splurge you can get JOBY GorillaPod 3K Flexible Mini-Tripod with Ball Head with this JOBY GripTight PRO Smartphone Mount.

In my opinion, you can do long exposure on stuff like a river and cars driving at dawn or dusk with lights on to get their light trail (15-30 second exposure for cars, 3-10 seconds maybe for water flowing) and it can look nice. Remember you need to use a tripod always. You can hook up your iPhone ear pods to your iPhone and when you are ready with the iPhone on the tripod when the App is open, press the “Plus button” on the ear pod as a remote release so you do not cause vibration.

Doing long exposure with moving clouds that would make them like brushed and softer was not possible with those Apps I tried and the best App did not even pull it off (see pics below).

In regards to light painting and long exposure using Apps on iPhone, Absolutely forget it! (see pics below)

In summary, smartphones have a VERY long way to go to enable visually pleasing Long Exposure photography for sure!

There are many ways you can have fun with a great “REAL” camera, tripod, and a remote release shutter button. You can just sit back, enjoy your choice of beverage and just play with long exposure shots, and depending on the surrounding, you can get all the fun exposures with flashlights of cars coming and going and even starlights if the sky is darker enough.

This image was taken on top of Cave Rock at Lake Tahoe after the sunset. It was at 32mm, f22, ISO 100, and a long exposure for 15 seconds. The lake was calm but with long exposure, it looks a bit flat.

Cave Rock lookout to Lake Tahoe

Now a funny back story on that trip. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. I made a rookie mistake. I just received my Canon back after a basic checkup and mirror cleaning. I made a mistake and did not check if my settings were still on RAW only and unfortunately it was set on JPEG only. It is hard to find a spot up there for Sunset and you have to go early and also can get vertigo standing on a rock and looking down. I shot a lot of pics JPEG and it was useless. On the hike down, I stopped on the spot to take the image above and realized it and set it to RAW only. I was furious that I spent so much time but did not get the awesome sunset in RAW images.

I always take an iPhone shot for instant gratification and to share it with the family, and I did it that day as well and you see the picture below. iPhone does a good job taking the picture in HDR (High Dynamic Range with the software and AI built in it). I just wished I checked my camera setting before I started taking my images that evening with my large camera. So checking your gear for the correct settings is always of utmost importance.

Could you imagine what it would have looked like with a “REAL” camera?

Opinions are solely my own.

Happy Shooting!

Macro Art

I love Close-up or Macro Photography. You can do so much with it, and express your creativity. Macro in my opinion is not just about how we see the smaller objects but how we perceive them and display them, bringing new viewpoints, angles, and interpretations.

There are various things you can do Macro on, flowers, insects, abstract, and industrial to name a few. The sky is the limit for our imagination. You gotta be ready to crawl on your knees (with kneepads preferably) and get to the level of the subject. Any wind is your enemy. Even a 5 mph wind feels a lot more if you are trying to focus on your tiny objects. You need good Elbows (with padding) if you are shooting very low, which you are, with flash usually. For the sharpest result and gold standard, you need a tripod, Period!

Macro Photography has a very shallow depth of field. It is important that the backdrop does not interfere with the object you are trying to photograph. There are several things you can do to create a better backdrop if you don’t have any good backdrops behind the subject especially if you want to emphasize that exposure. You can find any flower in the garden and put a black cardboard behind it before you photograph that subject. This will bring out what you want to photograph. You can do the same if you have a studio-style backdrop at home to do Macro.

Some will use Macro Background cards and there are many of them to buy. I personally prefer a natural one but I do have black small cardboard with me if I am taking a trip to Botanic Gardens, which would be the place to start.

You want to photograph when early in the morning (without much wind) overcast if you are doing Macro and never on a bright sunny day as the harsh sunlight will ruin your photographs for sure. Make sure you set your “White Balance” in the camera for overcast. Cameras get the White Balance usually wrong (can be adjusted in Lightroom if you take RAW pics and save you extra steps in processing). Auto White Balance in Mirrorless and DSLR cameras don’t get things usually right in general.

Get Creative! Look at different angles. The best composition may not be the whole flower. You also need to spend time in post-processing after taking your Raw images. Things that will really help in postprocessing Lightroom touch up are to try to lift some shadows, adjust exposure and decrease the highlights.

There is so much to Macro Photography and so much to photograph out there, using a flash+ diffuser, etc. Just check out this video on one of the things one can do with that.

Everyone has to decide what they want to do in regards to Macro. I am more like the flower guy and like to put my twist on the flowers I see. I don’t use backdrops and flash a lot. Usually, I go with natural overcast light but Ring Flash is specially made for this, which I use occasionally. Below are some of my work.

Remember the sky is the limit and your imagination will take you to beautiful places, especially in Macro Photography.

P.S., there is absolutely NO WAY you can shoot anything in that category with a Smartphone. Just FYI!

Happy Shooting!