Best of 2009 – Landscapes (Part 1)

Looks like I will be posting the “Best of 2009″ pictures till the end of the year! Kidding :) In all seriousness though, it did take me a long time to go through all of the pictures, pick the ones I liked the most, then have Lola look at them and give her opinion, after which I would repeat the process multiple times until I got to a reasonable number of pictures.

This year has been a landscape year for me, since I do not have as many wildlife photos. Landscape photography is very different than wildlife photography in many ways (I will write an article about it within the next few days) and I’ve learned a great deal while taking pictures of landscapes. I have also learned quite a bit about panorama and HDR photography, which are not that hard to understand, but quite complex to master.

Anyway, I do not want to bore you with all of this – here are my picks for the best of 2009 in landscape category. This is also the “Part 1″, because I have many more landscape pictures to share :)

Antelope Canyon

1) Antelope Canyon 1920×1200 Widescreen Wallpaper

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Death Valley – Part 2

As promised, this is Part 2 of the trip. The first part of the Death Valley trip is covered right here.

As I later found out, apparently, having water in Badwater Basin is a rare occasion. Although there were only a few spots with water in them, I still got off the car and took some pictures:

Badwater Textures #1

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Death Valley – Part 1

I won’t go too much into what Death Valley is, since you can read all about it right here. This was my first time in Death Valley and I absolutely loved it! It was only a single day trip, but definitely a full and busy one :)

I got there late at night and stayed at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, which is also a hotel. Man, the place was spooky!

Amargosa Opera House #1

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Sand Dune Panoramas

After many hours of stitching and tweaking panoramas, I’m finally able to post some of the best ones from the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I had to resize and cut the below images, because some of the panoramas were too long.

Once the thumbnails fully load, click on the first image and it will bring up a separate window with a full version of the panorama. Then click on the next button on the right hand side of the image to view the rest of the panoramas. The images are 1200 pixels wide and they might not fit on your monitor – in that case, you can scroll left and right using your scroll-bar on the bottom of your browser.

I captured this first panorama on a small stream that was running alongside the dunes. The stream was very shallow and I simply stood on it, capturing the stream, the dunes and the mountains in the back:

Sand Dune Panorama #1

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Great Sand Dunes

I have finally finished sorting through the photographs of the Great Sand Dunes National Park that Sergey and I visited a couple of weeks ago. Although it was very windy and rather cold, the weather was just perfect for photography with the beautiful cloud patches in the sky and rapidly changing light.

I have a very nicely stitched panoramic version of the below shot that I will upload for your viewing pleasure later. This was one of those “accidental” point and shoot shots that I didn’t even think would make it to the website. I got out of the car, shot one horizontal and 9-10 vertical shots for panorama and left the location. Once I got home and stitched the panorama, I wished that I had stayed a little longer :)

Great Sand Dunes #1

We then found a parking spot and decided to hike for a few miles up the sand dunes. While crossing a very shallow stream, I stood right in the middle and took a couple of shots of the mountains, the sand and the water:

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How to use a Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is one of the most essential tools in a landscape photographer’s bag. It is typically the first filter landscape photographers buy to instantly improve their pictures and and add vividness and contrast to them. If you do not already have a polarizing filter, I highly recommend getting one for your landscape photography.

A lot of people ask me how I get the sky in my images to be so blue. While I must admit that there are many variables involved in making the sky look natural, a polarizing filter can actually make the sky look more dramatic, once you learn how to use it properly. Basically, a polarizer can reduce reflections from objects such as water and glass and can be used to darken the sky and bring out the clouds, making the scene look much more vivid. It can also help reduce haze. For all normal lenses that have a filter thread in the front, you can get a circular polarizing filter, also known as a “circular polarizer”. A circular polarizer is very easy to use and once you attach it on the front of your lens, all you need to do is rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to get a different amount of polarization. Polarizing filters work by blocking certain light waves from entering the lens. Rotating a polarizer allows certain types of light waves to pass through, while blocking other ranges of light waves. Thus, you could turn a sky from light blue to very dark blue or increase/decrease reflections by simply rotating the filter.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park (shot with a circular polarizer)

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Fall colors right outside

Went for a walk with the kids around our block the other day and captured these images. Now it is too snowy and cold outside. I will scout the location once again later tomorrow to see if there are any other opportunities. Hope you enjoy these!

Fall colors #2

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Sunrise at Maroon Bells

I once saw an image of Maroon Bells, where the entire scene was red in color, due to sunrise. After I saw that shot, I have been dreaming of taking a similar (or better) picture. During our last trip, we went to the spot twice with Sergey. We woke up at 5 AM the first morning in Glenwood Springs and arrived to Aspen at 5:50 AM, right before the sunrise. We were amazed to see hundreds of photographers lined up with their tripods, hoping to get a good picture of the place. We waited and waited and the sun never showed up on the mountains, since it was a cloudy day and it wouldn’t want to clear up for our shots. Even when some sky opened up for a few minutes, the clouds would again take over the whole sky, leaving no opportunities for good photographers. Here is a shot from the first day:

Maroon Bells - First Day

Maroon Bells - First Day

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Colorado Fall 2009

So many pictures, so little time. I will post some more pics tomorrow.

Colorado Fall 2009

Colorado Fall 2009

How to Take Sharp Photos

One of the things that makes photography frustrating, is softness and blur in pictures. Sharp photos are much more appealing than soft images. It is very disappointing when you take a picture at a special moment and images come out soft/blurry or out of focus. In this article, I will go through the techniques that I use to make sure that my images always come out tack sharp.

Let’s start with the reasons why an image might come out blurry:

  1. Slow shutter speed could cause camera shake, which would produce a blurry image
  2. Poor focus acquisition would result in a soft image
  3. Your subject could be moving and causing a motion blur
  4. You might have a bad lens or a lens that is not capable of producing sharp photos
  5. Your ISO could be set to a very high number, resulting in lots of noise and loss of detail
How to take sharp photos

Sharp Photo

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