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The Canadian Rockies Revisited

Last fall, I spent a couple of weeks photographing in the Canadian Rockies. It was a tremendous experience and I came home with a bushelful of great memories and some images that I was happy with as well. As great as the trip was, it ended with a focus on a couple of disappointments–most particularly a day of miserable weather at the elusive Lake O’Hara. As a result, I came home with a burning desire to return to the region as soon as possible. Without going through the specifics, I managed to figure out a way to go back to the Canadian Rockies this fall. I flew from Chicago to Calgary on September 15 and returned to the American Midwest on September 30.

Aspen Meadow, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Aspen Meadow, Kootenay Plains, David Thompson Country, Alberta

I covered a lot of ground during this trip, revisiting some locations from last year but I expended copious time visiting new places as well. I spent the bulk of my time centered near Lake Louise, Alberta which provided me ready access to locations as far to the south as the town of Banff (about 35 miles away), as far west as the outer reaches of Yoho National Park, across the provincial border in British Columbia, and as far north and east as spots on the southern third of the Icefields Parkway and David Thompson Country. Basically, if a location was within 90 minutes of my base, I deemed it in bounds. I spent the final few days in and around the town of Jasper and along the northern 2/3 of the Icefields Parkway. (Jasper is roughly 140 miles north of Lake Louise.)

Two Jack Lake
Two Jack Lake Morning Black & White, Banff National Park, Alberta

The Canadian Rockies in the fall is a cornucopia of landscape photographic opportunities with subject matter ranging from towering, snow-covered peaks to pristine, glacially fed lakes and rivers, gushing creeks, forests of pine, spruce, golden-leafed aspen and needled larch, rolling meadows and plains and big, piercing skies. I experienced it all, and then some. The always variable and nearly impossible to predict mountain weather threw everything it had at me, from sun-splashed days to long periods of rain and, yes, a couple of snowstorms, just for good measure. I experienced daybreak lows in the lower 20s (F) and a day or two where the afternoon highs reached the low 70s. I was ready for all of it, at least in principle.

Moraine Lake

Sunrise Snow, Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

With what amounted to a minimally passing familiarity of the region based on last year’s experience, I was able to make better decisions about where to photograph, considering the varying weather conditions. But, given my desire to visit numerous locations I hadn’t had the opportunity to see last year, I still had plenty of scouting work to do this time around. Regardless of the specifics, I always tried to spend daylight time–which averaged roughly 12 hours while I was in the region–wisely.

yoho valley road                                 Yoho Valley Road Aspens, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

I had some photographic company during the first few days I was on the ground in the Canadian Rockies (more on that in future installments), but for the final 10 days or so I was on my own and really had no one to answer to–other than myself. To the extent that I didn’t accomplish all that I’d set out to do when planning the trip, I had no one to blame. But, for the most part, I felt as though I fulfilled my goals.

Mistaya River                                           Mistaya River, Banff National Park, Alberta

I returned home with oodles of images–several thousand frames representing hundreds of gigabytes worth of data. I don’t establish image or data quotas when I head forth on a photo trip–that would be pointless and ultimately self-defeating–but I have no doubt that I set a personal record for most images made on a single trip last month. It will take me a long time–months, I suspect–to sift through all of it. I’ve been at it for four or five days now and I’ve scarcely scratched the surface.

Rampart Ponds                                      Rampart Ponds, Banff National Park, Alberta

Over the coming weeks I’ll be relating my memories of the experience of this trip, with plenty of visuals thrown in. (The few photographs accompanying this post represent a virtually random sample of images that I’ve managed to post-process over the past few days.) I expect that I’ll ostensibly follow the now familiar chronological approach that I’ve used to cover the events of past trips, but I anticipate tossing in a wider sample of thematic and other thoughts beyond the mere recitation of day-by-day events. Hopefully this will provide the forthcoming series of posts with a bid more general interest than has been the case in the past.

Opabin Platueau                                   Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Regardless of the particulars that make up any future posts, I hope you find the presentation pleasing. I do enjoy relating the nature of the experience and I hope that comes through in my accounts. ‘Til next time…

Maligne Lanke                                         Maligne Lake Earthshadow, Jasper National Park, Alberta


 

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Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz. I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography.

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent. Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements. Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

Posted in: General

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Setting The Stage

As noted in an earlier post, I flew from Chicago to Portland, Oregon on May 3 and drove from the Portland area to Gold Beach, on Oregon’s far south coast, the following day. Thus began my most recent photo excursion: a week on the southern Oregon Coast, followed by parts of four days based in Crescent City, California, to photograph the redwoods, and finally parts of two days at Silver Falls State Park, about an hour’s drive southeast of Portland. I returned to the Chicago area on the evening of Saturday, May 16, and have spent the time since then recuperating. I was bushed when I got back.

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I’ve scarcely had time to do any image editing since returning to the home base. I’ve processed perhaps 20 images and have more or less randomly selected a half-dozen, just to give readers a taste of the subject matter, to accompany this post. As was the case when I returned from my time in the Canadian Rockies last fall, it’s going to take quite some time for me to work through all of this material. I spent something on the order of 10 weeks processing images from the Rockies last year and I suspect it will require a comparable amount of time to complete work on the Oregon/California photographs.

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Myers Beach Sunset, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

I spent a few days on the Oregon Coast as part of my extended trip to the Pacific Northwest in July, 2009, just a couple of months before I started this blog. On that occasion, I was frustrated by the incessant presence of the Pacific marine layer, which blotted out potentially epic sunsets on beaches in Washington and Oregon. For a variety of reasons I was led to believe that mid-spring would produce more favorable conditions for coastal shooting and that turned out to be the case. While the marine layer wasn’t a complete non-factor, as I will detail in coming installments chronicling the photo experience, it wasn’t the omnipresent force that it was during my time on the coast in 2009.

Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Rhododendron Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

My time in far northern California marked my first visit to the coastal redwood forests of the region. (I’ve seen redwood groves before during several visits to Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.) This part of the trip was my biggest disappointment, for two reasons. First, I had hoped–though not expected–to be in the area during the rhododendron bloom. Since the bloom usually peaks some time during a roughly four-week period from mid-May to mid-June, I figured to be a bit early, and so I was. Despite much searching on my part, through three state parks and one national park, I found only a handful of rhododendron bushes flowering. More surprising was the near complete absence of fog, which I had been told was a daily occurrence, morning and evening, in the groves. I saw almost literally no fog during my time in the area, which was unfortunate, because its such a huge aesthetic and technical asset to forest photography.

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Still, despite these discouraging conditional developments, as those of you have been fortunate enough to experience redwood forests know, the coastal redwood environments are awe-inspiring places and I’m not at all sorry I made the short journey from southern Oregon to northern California to see them. In addition, the rather unusual weather developments gave me the opportunity to photograph some subjects in and around Crescent City that I hadn’t anticipated being able to do, and I think that time was spent productively.

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

I had only one afternoon and one full day at Silver Falls State Park, about 12 miles east of Silverton and 25-30 miles east of Salem, but the weather conditions when I was there were absolutely perfect for waterfall photography–mostly cloudy and very light winds. Despite only a few available hours on May 14 and the full day of May 15, I spent roughly 14 hours photographing in the park, along the famous Trail of Ten Falls (so named because each of the park’s 10 waterfalls can be seen from the trail, which runs nearly nine miles). Because the conditions were ideal, I was able to photograph all of the subject matter that I’d hoped to experience. Additionally, wildflowers were ubiquitous in the park and I spent some time working these subjects as well.

Upper North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Upper North Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

As I did with the Rockies imagery last year, I’ll provide a chronological reporting of the trip and will periodically interrupt the narrative with some thematic thoughts, based on my experiences during this trip and topics that those experiences engendered. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.


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Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz. I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog  and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography.

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent. Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements. Images may not be hot linked.

Posted in: General

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Acting Locally

When I was getting started with the digital darkroom, roughly 15 years ago, there weren’t as many tools available as there are today. Photoshop was the 900-pound gorilla and it was widely–if not quite universally–regarded as the only “serious” software package for photographic editing/enhancement. Almost literally all of the tutorials and editing tips at the time were concocted and outlined with Photoshop in mind and so, of course, I purchased a copy of the Mother of All Editing Programs and jumped in with both feet.

And I floundered around for about six months before I had an epiphany, of sorts; the rest, as they say, is history. (The chronology of my digital darkroom experience is, at least arguably, an interesting one, but I’ll save it for another, later post–maybe.) To this day, Photoshop is, hands down, the least intuitive piece of software that I’ve ever used. When considering that statement keep in mind that I’ve used a number of advanced statistical packages going back deep into the DOS era. Photoshop was significantly more indecipherable than any of them.

otter clifs

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

The process of using Photoshop, in the beginning, was so opaque that it’s difficult to convey. Typically, when using software, the stumbling block that needs to be overcome is how to accomplish a specific goal that has already been identified. How difficult this is tends to be a function of how complex the software is (i.e. how many things it’s designed to do) and how intuitive the interface is (among other things). So, for instance, if I’m firing up a statistical package, I might want to carry out what is known as a discriminant analysis using a particular data set. How do I go about carrying out this particular known task? There’s a very specific way of doing so–I just have to figure out what it is (probably through some combination of checking through menu items, trial and error and accessing a Help file). But postprocessing a photograph with Photoshop? That’s an immeasurably more complex, fuzzier thing altogether.

Au Sable Point

Au Sable Point at Sunset, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

The first problem–as compared to the statistical example outlined above–is simply determining what the task itself is. How should I edit this photograph? It’s not always so obvious, particularly when you’re new to the game. Is there a color cast that you feel should be tweaked or removed entirely? (By the way, if there is…it’s better removed in RAW conversion, assuming you’re shooting RAW, by means of a white balance adjustment.) And, hey, the image looks pretty flat. I guess it needs a saturation boost. Or does it? Perhaps a contrast adjustment would take care of the problem. In short, you need to figure out what you want to do before you go about figuring out how to do it.

Nachusa

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

Then there’s this little realization–there are multiple ways to carry out just about any kind of editing adjustment you care to apply in Photoshop. There are an innumerable number of techniques at your disposal, utilizing a variety of specific Photoshop tools and a dizzying accompaniment of blending modes, masks and plug-ins. When I was first starting out, I began to create a Word document that listed different editing techniques as I ran across them, as a reference that I could consult. I more or less stopped adding to the document after about five years, as I became sufficiently facile to remember/recognize virtually everything I felt I needed. The document was well over 100 pages in length when I stopped updating it, in part because there were so many different approaches to accomplishing the same basic task.

All of this–and other things, which I’m mercifully keeping to myself–in the early days of my digital darkroom experience meant that simply accomplishing ostensibly very basic actions with Photoshop were considered a triumph. As a result, there was little recognition of what a blunt instrument Photoshop postprocessing could be. The emphasis, naturally enough, was on carrying out global adjustments–making the entire image brighter or darker, for example, or adding contrast throughout. But, in reality, it’s seldom necessary to carry out this sort of adjustment to a decent photograph. In fact, it’s not only frequently unnecessary, it’s often a bad idea. The vast, vast majority of helpful postprocessing work is accomplished with a far subtler, more deft, touch. Truly enhancing adjustments are typically carried out in targeted fashion, via the use of layers, selections and masks. This is what makes Photoshop such a potentially powerful tool for image enhancement (and the value of these tools is what made up the substance of the the aforementioned epiphany I had, six-odd months after first getting my feet wet with Photoshop).

Foothills Pkwy

Sunrise, Foothills Parkway, Tennessee

Totem Pole, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona
Totem Pole, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona
So let me illustrate the point with a broadly accessible example. Consider the below image of a scene at Cannon Beach near sunset. It’s essentially unoptimized and illustrates a common issue with many grand landscape scenes (and, not coincidentally, something that bedeviled all of the images accompanying this post prior to optimization)–the yawning chasm of a luminosity difference between the sky and most of the rest of the frame.

Continue Reading…

 


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Kerry-LeibowitzHi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz. I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography.

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent. Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements. Images may not be hot linked.

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Fool Me Twice…

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, I use Nikon Capture NX2 to convert my RAW files.  This, as much as anything, is a result of inertia.  When I first started shooting with a digital camera back in 2003, I made the transition from a Nikon film camera to the D100, a Nikon DSLR, in order to utilize my existing F-mount lenses.  At the time, Nikon’s software did a palpably superior job with NEF (Nikon’s RAW format) files than third party converters, including Adobe Camera RAW (part of Photoshop).  This is at least in part because Nikon’s RAW files encapsulate a series of proprietary algorithms, and the folks at Nikon know exactly how to decode them.  The third party folks, by contrast, have to reverse engineer the file format and that isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do.

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

As time has passed, the distinction between the results obtainable with Nikon’s RAW converter and third party options has narrowed and, arguably, has disappeared altogether.  Yes, I could have migrated to something else, such as Adobe Camera RAW, but my attitude was, essentially, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  I was already plenty facile with Capture, so why reinvent the wheel? Capture may have been effective, but it was never a very elegant, well-programmed or well-designed piece of software.

Forest Moon, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

In fact, Nikon has a rather well-deserved reputation for putting out lousy software.  (In fairness, I’m not sure any of the camera companies handle the software end of things very well, but some are worse than others [COUGH, Nikon, COUGH] and some have been better than others at realizing that they’re not doing very well on the software front (Nikon?  not so much).  Most Nikon software is buggy, has a relatively (or very) poor user interface, bucks a lot of conventional operating system conventions for no apparent reason and often performs fairly sluggishly.  (Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?) And yet, my complaining notwithstanding, I’ve managed to adapt to Capture’s quirkiness and make it work for me.

Sulphur Springs, South Chagrin Reservation, Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio

So what’s the problem? This is the problem.  Briefly, Nikon is beta testing a replacement for Capture NX2, called Capture NX-D.  The new program is actually a significant substantive downgrade.  NX2 is apparently going to disappear, as will support for it.  As a practical matter, a fully featured version of Capture will become orphaned software.  You may ask why this is a problem, and the answer is that as long as I don’t get a new camera (which would be unsupported by an orphaned program) and as long as I don’t need to change computers/operating systems, there is no problem.  And, as luck would have it, I have no plans any time in the foreseeable future to do either.  But eventually–particularly on the computer/OS front–something will have to give, so at the very least the clock is ticking, even if nothing needs to be done immediately.

Sunflower Morning, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Illinois

Then there’s this.  The long and the short of it is that, if you’ve been using Capture software for RAW conversion and have been saving your edited changes using your original NEFs (as opposed to using copies), you have some real problems going forward.  Any saved changes to NEFs using Capture software were embedded in those files (as opposed to being written out as instructions to separate sidecar files, as virtually all other RAW converters do), and at least some of those changes can’t be recognized, edited or undone by any other software–including, at least at this time, the soon-to-become standard Capture NX-D.  In other words, your original RAW files aren’t truly original anymore; they were altered when you made changes using Capture and saved the files.  The article offers a few suggestions for dealing with this matter, and one choice is less palatable than the next, as Thom Hogan plainly states; the options, he says, “suck.”  (Seriously, take a look at the choices one faces and consider how viable they seem to you.)

October Light black & white, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

I’ve been using Capture software for more than 10 years now, and in a sense, I feel kind of lucky.  Yes, you read that correctly:  lucky.  In addition to having four unaltered backup copies of every RAW file I’ve ever shot, I’ve never saved any of the changes that I’ve made in Capture to the files I’m editing.  Those changes are written to a TIFF and then opened in Photoshop for further work, and once that happens I’ve closed the original NEF without saving any of the changes.  (In that respect, I have five copies of every original RAW file, all of them unaltered.)  So the problem outlined above doesn’t apply to me; that’s why I feel lucky.  I really feel for anyone whose work has been impacted, however.

Pink Canyon Abstract, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

But just because I feel lucky this time around doesn’t mean I’m complacent.  Some of you may remember my near death experience last October,  While I certainly share in the responsibility for the unneeded stress that was experienced (due to an admittedly less than flawless in-the-field backup regimen–which has now been rectified, incidentally), the foundation for the entire problem was–wait for it–Nikon software…and Nikon’s exceptionally cavalier attitude toward dealing with a known catastrophic problem with one of its programs.

Grotto Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

In light of all this, I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise  that the revelations about Capture strike me as yet another example of the (seemingly) never-ending catastrophic litany of problems that have bedeviled Nikon software for ages.  There’s no harm–I guess–in continuing to use Capture NX2 the way I’ve been using it (i.e. non-destructively) all of these years, but given that the “new” version of Capture is going to be less functional than its predecessor and the old version evidently won’t be supported anymore, I think this may well be the time to move on to a different RAW converter and simply be done with Nikon software once and for all.

don zeck lens cap

 

Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

 

 
 

Posted in: General, Landscape Photography

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Seeing in the Field, Part II

The introduction to this series of collaborative entries was posted in mid-August; the initial series post, where Tom’s image was dissected for it’s in-the-field cues, can be viewed here.

This time around, it’s my image that we’re working with; Tom will be asking the questions that form the skeleton of the dialogue that succeeds the scene setting aspect of the post.  The goal, again, is to try to determine what it was about the scene that caught the photographer’s attention and encouraged him to photograph the subject in the presented manner.

As always, we encourage remarks and questions.  Please post them in the comments section below.

Setting the Scene

Kerry:  When I was in the Smokies this past April I decided to explore a trail that I’d never hiked previously.  The Middle Prong Trail emanates from the end of the road at Tremont and extends for miles into the back country.  I wandered along it, ultimately, for a couple of miles before finally turning around and heading back.  I knew that the trail paralleled a tributary of the Little River, but that’s about all I knew about it.

For about half a mile the trail runs along a bluff, well above creek level.  You can see the rushing water below you and to the left (as you hike up-trail), but there’s a tremendous amount of scattered foliage and snags that eliminates most clear views.  Eventually, I heard what sounded like a waterfall and came upon what I later determined was Lynn Camp Prong Falls.  The waterfall is visible from the trail, but I didn’t much care for the composition from bluff level, so I decided to investigate more closely.  I had to do some scrambling down a hillside and over some boulders to get down to creek level, and I found myself at the base of a gusher of a waterfall with a gradual drop of about 35 feet.  The power of the falls was impressive, but from the bottom I couldn’t find anything in the way of a composition that I found appealing, so I decided to climb up the rather steep rock facing on the right-hand side of the waterfall to see if I could find a workable comp.  (I should note that it was a partly to mostly cloudy day, with the sun disappearing from view for occasional lengthy stretches of time).

The position was a bit precarious, but I found a spot with a much more compelling–to me–perspective.

Lynn Camp Prong Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Image Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved

From this spot, the water had split into several discrete flows that ultimately rejoined in the crescendo that poured into the creek that is Lynn Camp Prong.  This amounted to looking downstream, which is a perspective I usually eschew when photographing moving water, but there was something particularly evocative about it, I thought, in this instance.  In addition to maintaining a discernible contiguous line through the frame–which was very much on my mind as I positioned myself–I felt this view demonstrated the power of the cataract–perhaps not as emphatically as a spot at the bottom or the side might have done–without losing the sense of depth that was only available from atop the falls.

Obviously the waterfall was the center of interest; that was revealed from up on the trail.  But the exercise ultimately became a quest to find a way to reveal the subject in a manner that I found at least somewhat aesthetically and compositionally pleasing while still revealing the true character of the place.  Whether I accomplished that goal is in the eye of the beholder.

The Dialogue

Tom:  The main element, to my eye anyway, is the sinuous stretch of running water at the center third of the frame. That flow makes an abrupt turn away from the viewer at the lower left. Water always follows its path, so this works as illustration of the topography of the rock. Did this apparent incongruity influence your composition?

Kerry:  I was definitely influenced by the path of the flow, though not necessarily by any incongruity caused by it.  I liked the way the path of the water helps to naturally encourage the eye to zigzag through the frame.

Tom:  A secondary element is the presence of what appears to be lichen on the rock. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Since it usually grows in dry places, its presence within the flow of water suggests that this falls is dry most of the time. Is this correct? If so, then the flow of water here is an unusual event.

Kerry:  The main part of the waterfall–the part that’s represented in the image by the particularly powerful area of flow toward the top-center of the frame–is never dry.  But the part in the foreground is only wet when the water level of Lynn Camp Prong is particularly high–as it was this spring (these were the highest water levels I’ve ever seen in the Smokies, a function of an especially wet winter and early spring).

By the way, lichen is ubiquitous in the Smokies; it’s all over rocks and trees throughout pretty much every section of the park.

Tom: I agree with you about downstream views of falls generally not working all that well. They tend to have a past tense “been there, done that” quality. However, would a wider downstream view have provided the viewer with a denouement to the drama of the cataract, or do you feel that all of the important elements available were included?

Kerry:  I don’t think a wider downriver view would have even been possible.  The creek bends roughly 90 degrees behind the large boulder you see in the upper left-hand quadrant of the frame.  To the extent this shot works, I think it’s a function of the rather unique perspective that’s afforded here; you’re perched nearly at the top of this particularly waterfall tier (there are several distinct tiers above this one).

Epilogue

Kerry:  Sometimes, some fairly prosaic matters can impact how something is shot.  It was the waterfall that initially attracted me to this scene, obviously.  But I found the initial, straight forward perspectives unappealing.  I might have shot a head-on, upstream shot of Lynn Camp Prong Falls, but I couldn’t find an appealing perspective from alongside the creek and, possibly critically, since I was on an extended hike, I didn’t have my knee-high waterproof boots with me, making the investigation of (possibly) intriguing spots in the water impossible.  You can’t tell by glancing at the above image, but the waterfall had kind of a right-to-left flow, when looking at it from below, so I would have to get quite wet to get most of the falls in a shot from below.  The inability to explore in-the-creek shots surely played a role in my decision to climb up to the top of the cataract.

Next in the series:  Attempts to Identify Common Themes

don zeck lens cap

 

Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

 

Posted in: General

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Seeing in the Field, Part I

In an entry, posted about two months ago, I provided an introduction to a series of collaborative exchanges planned between myself and my friend, photographer Tom Robbins.  For more information about what we hope to accomplish, broadly speaking, check the prior linked post.

Here’s the first installment of the series.  The basic exercise was to introduce a single image that was produced from an excursion to a place ostensibly unfamiliar to the photographer.  The notion was to flesh out the ideas behind recognizing a photo opportunity that wasn’t preceded by any obvious preconceptions.  In other words, the purpose of the excursion was to see what popped up–it wasn’t a case of going to a location to photograph something specific.

We started by having Tom present an image that resulted from one of these excursions, and he’ll set the scene.  We then engaged in a dialogue to hopefully expand up on and clarify aspects of the in-the-field thought process that followed.  The image itself will be included below, as will a link to a larger version that resides on his Website.

In the next installment in the series, we’ll switch roles; I’ll provide the image and set the scene and Tom will ask the questions.

We heartily encourage readers to post remarks and ask questions in the comment section below, and hope you get something out of this entry.

==============================================

Setting the Scene

Tom:  The leaves have several weeks to go yet in the Midwest [this was originally written in late September — KL] before they reach peak color, so I spent this morning atWhite Pines State Park, in Ogle County, Illinois to explore the landscape possibilities. I remembered the general layout of the place from visits as a kid with family a few decades ago, so this was essentially an exploration of new territory. Tripod and camera with 45mm and 90mm tilt shift lenses were on hand—I’ve forgotten how to hike without that gear—but only for chance opportunities. The primary goal was to establish familiarity with the area.

Late Summer, Ogle County, Illinois Image Copyright 2013 Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

I chose a trail that ran along the eastern edge of the park. The choice was not random as the morning sun had cleared the horizon just a few minutes earlier. A forested area with direct sunlight, even early in the morning, will present dynamic range problems more often than not. The east edge of the park would hopefully allow an unobstructed wash of early sunlight over farm fields, and so reduce the likelihood of “hot spots.”

The strategy didn’t really work within the park itself, but things turned around when I hopped over a maintenance gate and found a gravel county road running north and south. The view southward was OK, but the northward view drew me in. A railroad crossing was off in the distance, and there was no particular subject beyond that. However, the disparate elements of the simple scene seemed to fit together like the tumblers of a lock. Such a gestalt may work as a photograph, or not, but it will certainly be a logical construct. Very often the appeal at first sight is subconscious, with analysis following later.

Link to larger image:  http://www.pbase.com/image/152551879/original

In this instance, the warm oak trees and grass alongside the road on the left are a starting point; a home base for the eye. The backlit scruffy woods on the right provide some late summer color, and the cool blue sky mirrors the path of the road. Aside from that, I just can’t seem to pass up young shadows crossing a road.

The Dialogue

Kerry:  For me–strictly as a viewer of the image, the first thing that catches my eye–and the “center of interest” (for lack of a better term)–is the road.  It’s lighter in tone than virtually all of the other elements, so it has a natural tendency to draw my attention first, but there’s more to it than that, in this case.  It’s providing a kind of entryway into the image, both literally and figuratively.

Tom:  You’re absolutely right. Oddly enough, I tend to take the existence of roads for granted these days. After the number of my farm and rural photographs grew into a sizable collection, I noticed that most of them included roads, lanes, and such. My first thought was that I’d fallen into a rut, but then realized that the Midwest is covered by a network of roads, most of them in quarter to half mile grids wherever the terrain allows. They were originally created in the early to mid 19th century, and are an essential and common part of the landscape.

Kerry:  Did this principle figure into your decision to make this image when you were in the field–either consciously or unconsciously?  Do you see the road as a crucial element (meaning, in your view, can you see having made an image here at all without its presence)?


Tom:  Yes, the road is a key element, but at this stage it’s an almost subconscious one. Good question about its being crucial. I’d say it is absolutely crucial. Not only is it a means of transportation, it also provides a lane for the utility poles. The open sky above the road would not exist but for the road.

Kerry:  I like what the light is doing here, but I can also imagine this shot working in, say, even light.  Would you agree with that assessment or do you feel that these lighting conditions were a necessary component to the shot?


Tom:  Ah, it may very well work in even light, especially with fog or mist. I doubt the scene would have captured my interest to the same degree without the direct early light, however. The light ran through a gauntlet of trees and brush at the right side of the frame and enough made it through to light up the road and the woods on the left side. The direct lighting was a necessary component for recognizing the composition at a glance. The composition in even light light would require a more subtle and contemplative eye to appreciate, and would have resulted in a completely different photograph, of course.

Kerry:  Finally, re your (in my opinion, entirely correct) assessment that “very often the appeal at first sight is subconscious, with analysis following later.”  Is that what happened here?  Was this just a case of your finding the scene inexplicably appealing at the time of capture or were you aware of the why(s) of that appeal when you saw it?

Tom:  Yes, I’d say so. I’m out with the camera just about every day now, and seem to hike around on auto pilot most of the time. Then, smack dab in the middle of thinking about my neighbor’s dog waking me up last night, a scene will stop me in my tracks. Without any apparent thought at all, the pieces of the jigsaw suddenly fit together and the tripod jumps off my shoulder for the shot. I can’t say how unusual this is, but it has evidently become my m.o. these last couple of years.

Next in the series:  Seeing in the Field, Part II:  My image and answers, Tom’s questions

Blog_Don_Zeck_Lens_Cap_Nikon_Canon_lenses 

Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

 

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The Rest Of Spring

As the last few posts have surely implied, my main photo opp this past spring was my trip to the Smokies in mid-April, but I was able to get out with the camera closer to home on a few occasions and I thought I’d share a few of those images.

Virginia Bluebells

I was wandering around the Morton Arboretum, located about 20 minutes from my Chicago-area base in DuPage County, Illinois on an unseasonably warm day in the first half of April.  This was very, very early in the spring blooming season, so as the trail I was on that traverses the Arboretum’s East Woods snaked its way along, I was treated to a mostly brown and gray landscape.  There were some small, early wildflowers in bloom, but not many.  This was, in any case, not a photo excursion; I didn’t have my gear with me.

 Kerry morton_arb_2602-2611_hf

During that hike, I spotted a large patch of green–which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb–well off the path, and I wandered over to take a look.  I had to hop a small stream, but I was able to get close to the sprouting plants, and I could tell that these were Virginia Bluebells in a very early stage of growth.  I was aware of several stands of Bluebells in other parts of the Arboretum, but I’d never known about this stand.  This was a far larger spread of plants than the other areas I was aware of, and I made a mental note to check back another time, when they were likely to be in bloom.

Photography

 

You can read the rest of Kerry’s blog post by clicking here.

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Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry 

Posted in: General, Nature Photography

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My D800E Story (And I’m Sticking to It)

I received my Nikon D800E camera body in July of last year, so I’ve had it for nearly nine months now and I think I’ve used it enough at this point to share my thoughts.  Just to be clear, this isn’t meant to be a formal review or a recitation of the camera’s features; there are plenty of both of these scattered all over the Internet (a search engine is your friend).  My intent is simply to muse on my thoughts about how well the camera has met my expectations and perhaps discuss some of the anticipated (and unanticipated) consequences of moving to this camera body.

Nikon Camera D800E

The Nikon D800E Camera Body

The Back Story

First, some background.  My primary camera body prior to purchasing the D800E was the Nikon D700, which I had used since late 2008.  (The D700 remains in my camera bag as a backup body.)  The most important difference between the two cameras is found in the sensors, principally the number of pixels.  The D700 sensor had 12 (and change) megapixels; the D800E has 36 (and change) megapixels.  That’s a big difference.  The D800E also does an end run around the anti-aliasing filter that the vast, vast majority of digital SLRs possess, as a means to reduce digital artifacts that are inherent in the capture process with cameras using Bayer sensors.

Illinois Canyon

Autumn’s Remains, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The camera cost me more than $3000; I had to think very long and very hard about whether to commit that kind of money to replace a camera (the D700) that I was basically satisfied with.  What was the new camera giving me that I didn’t already have?  Pixels, mostly, and a whole lot of them.  And a breathtaking amount of dynamic range.  (The D700′s DR is impressive; the D800 series is even better.)  I print quite large, at times; I’ve had orders up to 24×36″ for conventionally oriented images (i.e. those with a 2:3 ratio).  For images with a lot of detail, that’s beginning to really push it for the D700′s files.  (In fairness, though, I had a commercial client who was thrilled with 20×30″ prints that were produced from shots I took with the D200 and its 10 MP (and generations old) sensor.  To some degree, this how-large-can-you-print matter is very much in the eye of the beholder.) I also often occasionally push the envelope in terms of dynamic range with my shooting.  I knew I’d use every bit of the alleged 14 stops of DR that the 800 series has at base ISO, and then some, from time to time.

I was ultimately able to get myself to pull the trigger by telling myself that the D800E might well be my “last camera.”  Let me briefly explain what I mean by that.  It doesn’t mean that I’d committed myself to never buying another camera, ever.  What it meant was that, barring some incredible path breaking new capability that I can’t even imagine coming down the pike some day, I saw nothing in the way of incremental improvements that would have me lusting over another camera if the D800E lived up to its billing.  Not more pixels; not more dynamic range, not any other features.  This was it…and it was, without question, the first time I had ever thought this since I first started shooting with a DSLR back in 2003.  With the purchases of each of my previous cameras–the D100 in 2003; the D200 in the spring of 2006; and the D700 at the tail end of 2008–I’d bought in fully knowing that there were existing cameras (sometimes produced by Nikon, sometimes by other manufacturers) that had capabilities that I wanted myself.  I’d never purchased a digital camera thinking “this is it.”  But this time was different.  Had I not felt that this very well could be “the last camera,” I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.

The $64,000 question was–would I still feel that way after actually using the camera?

Matthiessen State Park

Giant’s Bathtub, Matthiessen Sate Park, Illinois

Camera In Hand

When I received the D800E last summer, I immediately conducted some controlled (but relatively informal) tests with the camera and my lens lineup, and compared the results with images shot with the D700.  What I expected–and discovered–was that, when pixel-peeping (looking at images at 100% magnification in Photoshop), the effects of diffraction barely became visible at f/8, and were increasingly visible as I stopped lenses down further.  By f/16 they were quite apparent when pixel peeping.  In other words, all other things being equal (which they rarely are, but I digress), it was best to shoot the camera at f/7.1 or below.  (This is not always practical, to put it mildly, in the real world; more on this below.)

I also noted that–again, when pixel peeping–the camera revealed every optical flaw in my lens lineup.  As a refresher, I shoot almost entirely with high(ish) end zoom lenses–the Nikkor 14-24/2.8; the Nikkor 24-70/2.8; the Sigma 70-200/2.8; the Nikkor 80-400/4-5.6.  I also shoot with one prime lens, the Nikkor 200mm micro.  The 80-400 is the weakest optic in my quiver; the 200mm micro is the sharpest, by far.  I saw no obvious flaws with the prime lens, even when I was scouring around looking for them.  With the others, there was some corner softness visible in all of them, with the 80-400 being the worst offender (as expected).  Without careful viewing, all were perfectly acceptable, but images shot with this camera and these lenses, if upsized enough, would reveal the flaws, even at fairly reasonable viewing distances.  How much of an upsizing was “enough”?  That depends, both on the lens in question and the personal opinion of the viewer.

Sunset Volcano

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

Reviews of the camera that I’d read prior to pulling the trigger on the purchase consistently discussed what needed to be done “to get the most out of the sensor,” including avoiding shooting at f/8 or above and exclusively using high end prime lenses.  I pretty much knew that I wasn’t going to do either of these things, particularly the latter.  Maybe it’s laziness on my part, but I really like the convenience of carrying an assortment of zoom lenses that cover all of the focal lengths I’m likely to shoot; I like being able to minimize the amount of lens changing I engage in as well.  I’ve already touched on the aperture part of the matter above.  So I was pretty much acknowledging that I wasn’t going to be getting “everything” there was to squeeze out of the sensor in terms of image quality.  The operative question was whether I was going to be getting enough out of it to justify the purchase of the camera.  My speculation was that the answer was yes, but the proof would be in the pudding.

And what about the huge files that the camera produced?  I was looking at 1/3 as many shots per memory card compared with the D700, not to mention (obviously) longer write times.  The D800E has two card slots, one for CF cards and one for SD cards.  I’d never had a camera that accepted SD cards, but given the file sizes I was looking for, I felt that a card upgrade was in order.  I found a sale at Amazon and picked up a 32 GB SD card and a 16 GB CF card which allowed me approximately 600 shots without card swapping (significantly more than I’d ever had with the D700–my biggest card for that camera was an 8 GB CF).  I also spent some time experimenting with file downloads and image processing.  Needless to say, both were significantly slower than what I was used to with the D700 files.  This, too, was anticipated, but could I deal with the added wait times when I had a bulk of files, from multiple days worth of shooting?  I would soon find out.

In the Field/On the Road

I shot with the camera outside in the field a couple of times, and at a botanical garden in Indianapolis, before taking the camera on its first “road trip” to northern Arizona for a workshop in August (which was chronicled at length beginning here).  This was when the pedal hit the metal, so to speak.  I would be dealing with the camera (and the resulting images) all day, every day.

Banana Tree Leaf

Banana Tree Leaf, White River Gardens, Indiana

As an aside, it’s worth pointing out, I suppose, that I shoot off a tripod at least 99.99% of the time.  (Literally every one of my images that has appeared on this blog was produced with a tripod-mounted camera.)  As a result, handheld ergonomics have never been a particularly important issue to me.  Also, as followers of this blog know, roughly 95% of my imagery can be classified as landscapes/scenics, with almost all of the remaining 5% closeup work (mostly of plants and flowers).  In other words, I’m rarely shooting moving subjects (other than running water and blowing foliage), so a camera’s operational quickness isn’t a prime consideration for me either, particularly given my circumspect (some would say “plodding” or “sluggish”) photographic style in the field.

So, how did the camera perform?

The answer was quite well, thank you.  There were a few differences in the camera’s controls, compared to the D700, and with the menus as well, but the similarities greatly outweighed the discriminating points.  It wasn’t a difficult adjustment to go from one camera to the other, particularly given the sloth-like nature of my in-the-field workflow.  I did notice that the D800E was, on occasion, a bit slower to complete the card-writing process than the D700, but that was to be expected and it really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  And the dynamic range was absolutely breathtaking.  Even with scenes possessing an exceptionally wide contrast, it was often necessary to underexpose images–often by several stops–to produce silhouettes of objects against bright dawn or dusk skies.  In fact, I stopped trying, with the full knowledge that the effect could easily be teased out in postprocessing.  So using the camera wasn’t a problem.

Monument Valley

Mittens Dawn Silhouette, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

What about the image quality?  That was always the main issue.  Was I seeing a meaningful, real world improvement over shots from the D700?  The short answer is, yes.  Regardless of the lenses I used, apples-to-apples comparisons of images (i.e. when D700 images were up-sized to the equivalent of D800E shots or D800E images were binned to the same size as D700 photos) revealed that the shots from the D800E held more detail–period, end of report.  And they should; 36 MP really ought to trump 12 MP, particularly when the former is of a newer generation than the latter.  The point of obtaining the D800E was to up the ante when it came to printing large, and based on some tests I did after returning from Arizona, that holds up.  I up-sized a detail-filled D800E shot to the equivalent of 24×36″ and printed a cropped 8×10 section of it; I did the same with a D700 shot.  (Both were taken with the same 24-70 lens.)  The D700 version was actually pretty decent; not phenomenal, but quite good.  But the D800E shot…it was almost as though it hadn’t been interpolated at all.

What about the lenses?  Given my options, how had images held up?  It was essentially as expected.  Shots with the 200mm macro (i.e. micro, in Nikon-speak) held up from corner to corner, even when pixel peeping.  Shots with the other lenses still held up very nicely, even when enlarged.  Yes, the corner degradation could be spotted when pixel peeping, but large prints, seen at a normal viewing distance, were immaculate.

Grand Canyon

Wildflowers, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona

And the aperture issue?  I had decided to shoot for the needed depth of field and live with the incumbent diffraction, even if that meant f/16 (though I didn’t often need to go beyond f/11).  This paid off, in my opinion.  With adjustments made to postprocessing sharpening techniques, the effects of diffraction were mitigated to the point of effective irrelevance.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I concluded that this may very well, in fact, be my “last camera” (in the sense described above).  I’m extremely happy with the performance; I’m completely satisfied with image quality, even with the limits of my current lenses (though I may end up replacing the 80-400 with Nikon’s recently announced new version of that lens, if it pans out in real world tests and if I can get past the price!), and I didn’t even have to compromise my in-field shooting choices with regard to aperture selection.  File sizes and computer requirements will become non-issues as I naturally upgrade hardware over time (though I hasten to add that, despite shooting with the camera for the better part of a year now, I’m still using computers that are 3-5 years old).

This is more camera than most people need; if you don’t have the intention to print large, you really have no need for it, in my view.   It’s arguably more camera than I need myself.  If the D3X had come with the same price tag as the D800 when the former was released four-odd years ago (instead, it cost $8000!), I might well have bought one and, if I had, I’d almost certainly still be using it, even though that would mean leaving 12 MP on the table.  (The D3X has a 24.5 MP sensor.)  But if you’re going to buy your “last camera,” you may as well give yourself some headroom, I think, and that’s what the D800E gives me.  Would have I been satisfied with the non-”E” version of the D800?  Almost certainly, yes.  But again, I gave myself a bit of extra sharpness, particularly when I use my macro lens.

Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I look forward to having the camera with me during a planned trip to the Smoky Mountains in mid-April.  During my last extended trip there, six years ago, I was still shooting with the D200.

The D800E won’t make me a better photographer–that was never part of the consideration–but it will allow me to print larger with considerably more effectiveness.  Since that was my hope when I bought the camera, I couldn’t be more satisfied with the purchase.
Don Zeck Lens Cap 

Kerry-LeibowitzHi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

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The Sound Of Silence

As much as I enjoy making images, I’ve been journeying to the kinds of places I go now to take pictures long before I got serious about photography.  In fact, one of the things I like about image making is that it allows me to capture a moment and relive the  experience whenever I view the corresponding image.

An acquaintance of mine once told me that when he saw my images, he often had the feeling that he was seeing a pristine landscape—as though he was the first person ever to see the setting.  I’ve rarely, if ever, received more meaningful praise, because one of the most appealing aspects of most of the photo shoots I go on is a sense of quiet—at least, in terms of man made sound.  I frequently find myself listening to the sounds of running water, the wind, birds and other wildlife…or nothing at all.

Each of the images accompanying this entry reminds me of a peaceful, bucolic experience.

cades cove great smoky mountains

On this morning, I was third in line at the gate to get into Cades Cove at sunrise.  When the rangers opened the gate, I made a beeline for the back side of the loop road, while others stopped at Sparks and Hyatt Lanes.  That gave me the rare opportunity to experience this open meadow with no one else around which made for a very quiet setting…except for some deer moving through the fields and the occasional gobbling of wild turkeys.

Wooly Back Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

I spent almost two hours at this overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, during which time only three cars passed by.  The rest of the time I heard nothing but the sound of the occasional songbird and the rustling of leaves in the light breeze.

Heart of the Dunes, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I hiked into the “Heart of the Dunes” at White Sands National Monument about two hours before sunset and returned after the sun had gone down.  I never saw or heard another soul.  In fact, the only sound I ever heard was my own feet in the sand.  When I stood still, the silence was ear-splitting.

Mill Creek Rapids, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

I didn’t see a single person during the late morning/early afternoon I spent at Cataract Falls State Recreation Area.  I heard the unfettered sound of the rushing rapids of Mill Creek, and nothing else.

Swift Creek Overlook at Sunrise, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

I could hear—but not see—the distant waters of Swift Creek, far below the narrow rock outcropping that I had all to myself on a morning that found the Red River Gorge choked with fog.

The Fire Wave at Dusk, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

There had been a few other people at the Fire Wave during the hour-plus that I had been at this location, waiting for the light to improve.  Fortunately, by the time it reached its apex, I was all by myself.  I could have heard a pin drop a mile away, but there wasn’t anyone there to drop one.

Red Jack Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I was all alone on a morning so quiet I could hear myself think at Red Jack Lake, miles into the Hiawatha National Forest.  It seemed like the epitome of irreverence to make a sound.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Depending on the time of day, you can wander for miles on Bandon Beach and never see another soul.  Not long after making this photograph, I hiked roughly three miles back to Coquille Point, in the gathering gloom, with only the sound of the surf as a companion.

I don’t know if these are among my best images, but they are among my favorites, precisely because of the memories they trigger.  Perhaps that implicitly makes them among my “best”…

lens cap 

Kerry-LeibowitzHi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

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