2014 was a great year for photography and what better way to celebrate it than going through this year's photos and ranking them starting with number 10 and working our way to number one. I'll post a new ranking every other day until we reach the top. So without further adieu, here's number 10.
Although I lived in Wyoming for a good amount of times in the '90's I'd never gotten the chance to actually chase storms in this beautiful state. On May 31st that changed, with a storm that had developed and actually producing a beautiful funnel just above the mountains. This photo was captured just afterwards as I moved out of the way to avoid the hail. Its flowing sheets of rain highlighted by the teal colors brought about the name of this photo - "Ghostly". The iconic Wyoming sagebrush in the foreground and the bluffs serving as a subtle backdrop, this photo really captures the beauty of the Wyoming plains and earns the #10 spot for 2014.
The last few years I have limped through storm seasons with tripods that left a lot to be desired. They were either too light weight to take on any kind of winds, or made of heavy duty plastic that damaged easily if the tripod was blown over, or flat out broke due to over tightening of the screws as time went on. I needed a tougher tripod, one that could withstand the elements and carry the weight of a heavy camera and lens.
So this year, I'm going with the Vanguard Alta 263AP.
Coming in at just under 5 lbs, it's lightweight enough to carry longer distances when I'm doing landscapes and heavy enough that when I have my Canon 7D attached it will hold steady in the heavier winds. It's made of heavy duty aluminum and feels pretty solid around the legs, and encased with a foam grip around the top of the legs for easier carrying. I'm a little concerned about tearing this section up as I pull it in and out of the vehicle so quickly combined with the rain and wind, but it's only a small concern.
Like many other tripods in its class, the tripod locks in with stop screws. Although this has caused me some grief in the past with the heavy plastic composite tripods due to accidental over-tightening because I couldn't really get a good feel for when it was set in place, it really doesn't cause an issue for me here because of the heavy duty aluminum construction.
The release for the camera is a quick push of the orange button, so attaching and detaching my camera is quick and easy. There are also three different level gauges to ensure you are set for a level shot, saving cropping time in post processing.
Another great feature is the tripod's ability to release the legs out to get really low angle shots. Each leg has a button at the top that release the leg out, so if you're looking to do macro shots or get a photo from a different perspective this will really work for that.
Another great feature is the ability to do solid panorama shots while holding the camera steady. A knob on the pan grip allows you to switch between photo mode where you want the camera to be absolutely still and the panorama mode that allows you to pan the camera left and right while holding the vertical movement of the camera still.
As far as price goes, it can be found online between $130 and $170 depending on where you want to shop. It is a very reasonable price considering the solid build of the tripod and the flexible features in its design. I love the build and the solidness it provides with my heavier camera equipment attached. All in all, this is a great tripod for the photographer that is looking for higher quality equipment but doesn't want to break the bank for basic equipment. As far as pan heads go, this tripod is well worth the money and will help provide those tack sharp images.
If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, you probably know how much I love the mini-series of James Michener's novel Centennial which follows the history of a small town in Colorado from the time of the mountain men through the late 1970's.
If you don't own the DVD set, now would be a great time to catch it without commercial interruption on the Movieplex Channel. December 22nd the first two episodes were shown, with the third and fourth installment tonight (Dec. 23rd) with The Wagon and the Elephant at 8pm est, followed by the episode "For as Long as the Waters Flow" at 9:30pm est. It's very rare that it is shown on regular TV these days, so it's hard for me to let it pass by without catching it. If you haven't seen it, set aside some time to enjoy a great story about the American West.
This time of the year most of us are getting ready for Christmas. Finishing up our shopping lists, looking at Christmas lights, drinking cocoa. It's cold outside and we just want to stay in where it's nice and warm.
Well, in Oklahoma is mostly like that except you get days like yesterday. An upper level low had made it's way out of California after dumping up to 9 inches of rain in some places and moved off to the east, eventually making it's way into the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The fast moving system brought with it heavy wind and also transported moisture into the southern plains, which meant there was a good chance for thunderstorms. All that was missing was warm temperatures...wait, there was that too. Storms!
I left for western Oklahoma around 11am and had intended to set up in Anadarko, but my gut told me that Clinton would be the spot. After the first wave of morning rains moved through the instability picked up and storms began to fire. The bad news is they were traveling so fast to the north east there was no way to keep up with them. But, further to the south storms started to form near Frederick and quickly moved northeast as well. I chose to travel back towards Anadarko to head the storm off at the pass. Just before we got there, near the town of Apache a small tornado formed and was captured on video by other chasers. We saw awesome structure and a few spins in the clouds, but mostly the storm lined out and made for some good photo ops. We followed the storm to the northeast up to Union City, but let it go in favor for another cell that had formed and moved into the Chickasha area.
This cell took us into Oklahoma City where we saw half dollar size hail and again with the traffic we had a tough time keeping up. Eventually it produces a wispy tornado that touched down near Arcadia and caused minor damage. Maybe one of the best parts of the chase was the glorious light the setting sun cast on the clouds over Oklahoma City. Photos from the chase:
On a warm summer night just north of Pagosa Springs, Colorado I traveled to the north a few miles and found a remote location away from the lights where the only things visible were the stars in the sky. As it grew dark, I was greeted by an amazing scene where the Milky Way galaxy became visible just above the horizon, riding along the tops of the pine trees. Everything was visible no matter how small it was, and in this photo I captured a shooting star, a plane and a satellite all traveling across the sky simultaneously. I felt very luck to capture this beautiful photo and think back fondly of my evening in the mountains where I was surrounded by nature's beauty.
For those who are just starting out with a camera most of the focus is usually on learning the camera and how it works. After some knowledge is gained, they might move on to how to take a sharper picture, or what kind of glass brings the best shots. It isn't until you get a little further down the learning path that folks get to composition.
Why is composition important? It's a good portion of what will set you apart from others and make your photo stand out above the crowd. It offers the viewer a different perspective in many cases, and brings to life a subject that may just be considered mundane.
How can you help your composition? As much as I don't like this term, you need to think outside the box. Lower yourself to the ground to get perspective on blades of grass, take a corner angle on an old barn, put an old tree in the foreground. If your first instinct is to take a picture standing straight up, stop for a second and look around and you might find a different view.
In the example below, I have a photo of a storm that is a really nice image, there isn't really anything to draw the eye to.
In the following photo of the same storm, I found a small group of pink Coneflowers that would serve as my foreground subject which gives emphasis to the size and strength of the storm behind it.
As you can see, the flowers really speak in the photo and all it took was a little bending and working with the moving flowers to capture just the right moment.
Sometimes you stumble upon things inadvertently and find a nugget of gold in a stream of river pebbles. This was the case on a day where storms had fired off but didn't really get their act together, leaving mostly a rainy mess. I was traveling north in western Kansas just south of Oakley, getting ready to call it a day and make my way to the hotel in Hays to get ready for the next big day of severe weather. I happened to look to the east and saw such a brilliant rainbow that I had to stop and rush to get setup for the shot. The wheat was still green, not even close to being harvested but it really added a layer of beautiful color to the composition, so I worked my way to the middle of the field and hunkered down and captured this image. It really reminds me more of the spring season than most of my photos taken in the same time period. I've captured many rainbow photos before, but this one really stands out above the rest.
The title of this piece is "Daydream" since it really speaks with a lot of hope, opportunity and inspiration. It is available in print form through the store and available for licensing by contacting me via email.
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