Saturday, May 28, 2011


For the most part, the earlier posts on our Utah trip were intended simply as a photographic record of the trip.  One of the things I learned (or relearned) is that I need to work on providing more of a narrative of the trip, not just present a series of photos that may (or may not) have some artistic quality.  In any event, I did want to describe my thought processes with respect to a few of the images that I took on the trip.

Subject Matter and Depth of Field.

On the first afternoon we took a walk through a lovely garden area connected to the University of Utah. Many of the shots I took were of the flowers that were in bloom in the gardens.  There were some challenges in that regard because I did not have my macro lens or a tripod, so obtaining extreme close-ups was pretty much out of the question.  At one point we passed some crimson-leafed plants back-lit by the sun that caught my attention.  I tried a shot at a high f-stop (small aperture) of f/22 in an effort to maximize depth of field to put in focus as large a portion as possible of the leaves.  However, there was a breeze that kept the leaves in motion, blurring the shot which had to be at a very slow shutter speed (1/4 second) to maintain an adequate exposure.  Moreover, that put the background in at least partial focus, taking attention away from the crimson leaves, which were the real subject of the shot.

I finally decided that, since the real point of the shot was the back-lit color of the leaves, I would open up the aperture (to f/4.5, as it turns out).  This had the effect of blurring most of the red leaves, as well as the background.  However, it allowed for a significantly faster shutter speed (1/60 second) so at least some portion of the leaves were in focus, which helped to identify what they were.  The background was pretty much fully blurred out, and I felt that its predominantly yellow color actually complemented the crimson of the leaves.  So I wound up with a recognizable abstract in red and yellow.

On our hike to Landscape Arch we walked along a variety of beautiful red sandstone walls.  Although I took a series of shots of what I felt were interesting textures in the rock, at one point there was a dead sapling along one rock wall that presented an opportunity to capture both the sapling and the wall.  Initially, I tried to capture both the texture of the rock and the detail of the sapling by taking a shot at a small aperture of f/20 to create greater depth of field and keep both the wall and sapling in focus.  However, in the end I decided to make the sapling the primary subject and the wall secondary by reducing the aperture to f/7 and focusing on the sapling.  This softened slightly the focus on the wall but kept all of the sapling in focus, which I felt made it "pop out" better from the background.  My only regret was that I wish the sapling had had more complexity.

Sunlight and Texture.

As I stated before, I like to capture textures because they can provide an opportunity to create an image that is both abstract and recognizable.  In some cases the texture is dependent on lighting, namely, sunlight and shadows, to make a statement.  The following image taken during our visit to Canyonlands NP I think illustrates such a situation:

However, for other situations, the texture of the surface is interesting enough without reliance on the contrast provided by sunlight and shadow and, in fact, sharp shadows would actually detract from the aesthetics of the image.  I took the following images, all in Arches NP, during times of overcast because I felt the texture (or simply the color) was strong enough in and of itself.  (Sometimes, of course, you don't have a choice of sun or overcast and you have to take what is available.)


One of the benefits of having more megapixels to work with is that you can crop images to eliminate distracting elements or to emphasize those elements to which you want to draw attention.

When we visited the "remote" viewing sites for Delicate Arch, the iconic arch was well positioned for photo opportunities but at a considerable distance.  As a result, even with my zoom lens, the arch occupied only a relatively small portion of the overall image.  Here is one of the shots as originally taken.

This was actually taken with the lens at 165mm.  It shows a substantial foreground expanse of slickrock that I thought simply took attention away from the intended subject.  In retrospect, it might have been better to have positioned the arch in the lower portion of the image to eliminate the slickrock and to focus on the sky, which was getting "interesting," including a number of lightning strikes.  In any event,  I thought the rock formations to the right of the arch actually added some helpful context to the shot.  In the end, I chose to create a narrow image that I felt improved the overall effect:

I liked the fact that the land was on a slope.

Here is another shot (taken at 300mm) from a slightly closer viewing area:

At first I thought the rock formation in the foreground would add context and interest; however, I did not like the fact that I had placed the arch in the middle of the image, and the arch still appeared pretty small.  As stated, the sky was becoming "interesting," and it was great that the clouds behind the arch were complex and relatively dark and yet the sun was out creating a nice contrast in the texture of the rock.  I finally decided to focus on the sky as a strong secondary subject for the image and cropped the shot fairly tightly around the arch.  I placed the arch in the lower right-hand corner of the cropped image to allow for more attention on the clouds.  Here is the shot as cropped:

I thought having people in each of these shots actually helped to provide scale to the size of the arch.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Delicate Arch is truly iconic.  It appears on most of Utah license plates and, because it stands isolated from other rock formations, is terrific to view from almost any angle.  There are two basic ways to view the arch.   You can take a fairly rigorous hike to walk right up to the arch, or you can drive to a more remote viewing area and, following a brief hike, view it from a greater distance.  We did both.

The hike to Delicate Arch is about three miles roundtrip and includes an elevation gain of about 500 feet.  The last section of the hike involves walking along a somewhat exposed ledge for about 200 yards before turning a corner and coming on the arch from a distance of about 100 yards.  One's first view of the arch is breathtaking, especially after the long hike to get there. The snow-capped mountains in the background added to the majesty of the view. I must have take about 40 shots of the arch in all.

Although the main viewing area for Delicate Arch is about 100 yards from the arch, it is quite easy to walk from there right to the arch, and when we first got to the viewing area there were a number of people standing or sitting under or next to the arch.  They provided some perspective on the size of the arch, which is 45-50 feet high.

It was nice to be in a shot with the arch, but in some ways that created a misleading impression regarding the size of the arch.

Eventually, we went over to the arch and took some shots from a different perspective.

Ultimately, we were able to get some shots of the arch that had no people in them.  [This was after we were treated to a group of lacrosse players who, while standing next to the arch, chose to moon their photographer (photo not shown).]  One of the places to view Delicate Arch was actually another arch situated in the main viewing area.  We scrambled up to that arch and I got a nice shot of Bei relaxing while viewing Delicate Arch.

Following our hike back, all four of us visited the remote viewing area to get a different perspective on the arch.  Except for being much farther away, this provided some equally interesting views.


Utah's state capitol building is a beautiful and beautifully maintained structure that is probably fairly typical as state capitols go.  It is of traditional architecture with a central dome modeled after the US capitol building.

I find myself very much drawn to the interior architecture of public spaces.  I am not sure if it is that the architecture is simply outstanding or if it is just something that is personal to me.

In any event, one of the challenges with building interiors is that they are often crowded and it is difficult to get a clear shot of the architecture itself.  Unlike with a lot of exterior shots, where people in the image help to establish scale, there are usually adequate clues (such as lights, stairs, or balconies) that provide that scale.  It was pretty quiet on the Saturday morning that we visited, so avoiding people in the shot was generally not a problem--unless they were us!

The other challenge is often the lighting, which is substantially less than what would be available outside.  In this case it was a clear and sunny morning and I just had to ratchet up the ISO a bit for the shots.

One technique for taking pictures of ceilings that I learned was simply to place the camera on the floor pointing straight up.  In the following shot my only wish was that the lens had had greater wide-angle capabilities.

Of course, then Bei wanted to be in the picture.  With a little trial and error, we got her fairly well centered in the shot.

My favorite shot was of the center stairs.  Ideally,  to gain more symmetry I would have liked not to have had the sign outside the doors on the second level, but that was not possible.  

Then we took some shots with us in the picture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The Solomon Juneau is a tugboat that is docked on the Milwaukee River just south of downtown.  The boat was built in 1947 and was renamed the Solomon Juneau in about 1982.  I assume it is used primarily for private party excursions.

I was drawn to the boat because of its use of rich primary colors and the fact that its age gives it some character.  The day I chose to take photos was very overcast.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, as it avoids having shadows detract from the composition.  This is particularly the case where the focus needs to be on the use of color.  (This was the case also with the Victorian home that I featured in an earlier post.)

Although I probably should have incorporated larger parts of the boat to give a better overall feel for its character, I kept finding myself looking for simpler, more limited compositions that make it easy to avoid distracting elements.  The lights and ropes on the boat made for easy compositions.

It was obvious that the boat had been painted many times over the years and combined original components with contemporary updates (compact florescent bulbs, for example).

The boat's flag was one element that could use some updating:

I particularly liked the ship's bell.

Even though the cloudy conditions flattened the images quite a bit, Photoshop did a nice job, I thought, in bringing the colors, contrast, and definition back to what would have been the result on a brighter day.