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Once you determine a photo destination, consider walking around and scouting without your camera. Pay special attention to textures, patterns and direction of light at different times of day. Make a list of potential shots, and when you think you've found the money shot, push yourself to keep going, to look more closely at different possibilities. And don't forget to look at close-ups and medium shots. You'll quickly learn there can be elegance in details.
In The Shadow
Bob Markow made a career out of shooting aerial photographs, but you don't have to rent a helicopter to take advantage of his time-tested techniques. If you're a hiker who keeps an early schedule and likes overlooks, such as those along the Mogollon Rim and Monument Valley, take your camera. The long shadows generated by the low angle of the sun at sunrise will reveal a wonderfully textured palette and myriad possibilities.
The Right Balance
Don't overlook one of the most important tools to ensure that your images are in sharp focus — a sturdy tripod. Photographers who pay extra for the sharpest lenses and then handhold their cameras may be negating the advantages of buying expensive glass. Other tripod benefits include precise leveling of your camera and alignment of parallel lines in your compositions. Mounting your camera on a tripod also slows down the image-making process, which reduces mistakes and wasted exposures.
After last summer's devastating flood destroyed Havasu Canyon's campground and changed its famous waterfalls, the Havasupai Tribe has reopened the area to visitors. Photographers are once again making the 20-mile round-trip hike to photograph new waterfalls formed by changes in the course of Havasu Creek. Visitors can also access the canyon by horseback or helicopter. If you go, be sure to secure reservations for the lodge in Supai village or the campground below Havasu Falls. The best times to photograph the majestic waterfalls and turquoise plunge pools are in morning and evening shade, or under lightly overcast conditions to reduce contrast. Visit www.havasupaitribe.com
Plan and Prepare
In photography, nothing beats preparation. First, study and become knowledgeable about your camera gear. When you're comfortable with your equipment, it allows you to be creative. Second, scout your shot. If it's a specific location, check the light in the morning and the evening, and ask yourself: Is one season better than another? Third, learn to be patient. Even with good planning, nature operates on her schedule, not yours.
Digital camera LCD monitors provide instant feedback for checking your compositions, but don't use the image on your LCD to judge exposures. Most digital cameras also display a histogram representing the exposure in graphic form. The far left side of the histogram represents the shadows (or dark areas) in the image, and the far right side represents the highlights (or bright areas). A "good" histogram spreads evenly across the graph from left to right. Dark or underexposed photos will be heavier on the left side of the histogram, while bright or overexposed images will be heavier on the right. Making sure your histograms are not heavily weighted on one side of the graph or the other will result in better exposures.
If you're hitting the water this summer, remember this: Water and cameras are not a good mix, so it's critical to protect your gear. If you're on a white-water rafting trip, you'll need a waterproof case or a dry bag. If you're shooting from the shore or in a boat that offers safe storage, heavy plastic trash bags might be all the protection you need. Because the storage space on smaller watercraft is always limited, you should think about what you want to accomplish and choose equipment in advance. If you're shooting water-skiers from the towboat, you'll want to take a fairly long telephoto lens, at least 200 mm. If you're photographing friends in a small sailboat, think wide angle, between 17 and 35 mm. Most importantly, be safe and have fun.
Protect Your Gear
Cameras don't like dust, grit or sand. Packing equipment for a prolonged desert visit means packing lens and camera cleaning kits comprising canned air, micro-pore lens cloths and lens-cleaning solution. A supply of zip-lock bags offers an extra barrier against the relentless rasp of sand. When there's a sandstorm raging, keep your cameras bagged and out of harm's way. Your equipment pack should have ample padding and strong zippers that seal out dust and grit. And don't forget to protect yourself. Use a pack with a good suspension system that distributes the weight evenly between shoulders and hips. Inside your pack, accessories like gardeners' kneepads make close-up photography more comfortable, and Kevlar gaiters can fend off burrs, cholla spines and rattlesnake bites.
Let There Be Light
In its most basic form, photography is all about capturing light. The very best photographers are able to take advantage of dramatic lighting opportunities brought about by dynamic weather conditions, giving their work an added dimension. It's not uncommon for landscape photographers to monitor storm fronts and seasonal changes with their gear always at the ready. In the photo above, the photographer almost drove into a ditch when he witnessed the sun's rays being filtered through the pine trees and dawn mist. Although he felt lucky to capture the moment, he'd always been on the lookout for just such a moment. As they say: Luck favors the well prepared.
Do Your Homework
Driving back roads with your camera gear on the seat next to you can be a productive strategy for wildlife photography, especially in the early morning and late afternoon hours. But your approach must be slow and easy — driving about 10 mph. Another way to get close to wildlife subjects is to seek out watering holes and natural food sources that birds and mammals visit, such as fruit-bearing plants and trees. Research is important, too, and the Internet is a great place to start planning your trip. You'll learn the dietary, migration and nesting habits of your subjects, sunrise and sunset times, and more. Regional nature guidebooks are useful, as well — it's important to know what you've photographed, because, inevitably, someone will ask. With enough knowledge and dedication, you'll be able to call yourself a wildlife photographer and naturalist.
Shooting the Moon
A simple way to begin photographing night skyscapes is to experiment with the moon. Prime photographic opportunities occur daily at sunrise and sunset and some of those opportunities are directly related to the phases of the moon. The moon, whether it's at its full, crescent or quarter-moon phase, can evoke a sense of romance, whimsy or mystery, adding a lot to an image. First, determine when the moon rises and sets each month – the information is easily found online. Next, choose an interesting foreground. Because the moon is the brightest object in the night sky, to maintain the detail in both the moon and the foreground of your image, shoot several days before the full moon.
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