Gusty Ouray

Ouray, flowers, and clouds

Here’s a photo I made this evening on a hike above Ouray, Colorado. I tried to use the gusty wind to my advantage by taking long exposures showing the movement of the wildflowers and clouds.

This photo deserves a bit of explanation on how I created it. It’s mainly a stitch of two vertical photos, taken one after the other using a tilt/shift 17mm lens – one with the lens shifted all the way up, and one shifted all the way down. When making panoramas with a tilt/shift lens, the camera does not move at all; only the lens is moving up and down. The beauty of this is that the two photos fit together seamlessly, requiring no stitching software or cropping. Anyhow, since the 17mm is already a really wide angle lens, this double-shot vertical panorama is showing a huge angle of view here, from the little flowers right up close to the lens, to the dark clouds almost overhead.

I also used a little photoshop trickery in the flower portion of the image. I had taken numerous 30-second exposures, and in each one (depending on the wind during the exposure) the flowers ranged from totally blurry, to somewhat sharp with a little bit of blur. The fairly sharp one still had too much blur to use on its own, while the totally blurry one was probably too abstract, just streaks of yellow lacking any context of flowers. So I stacked up three of those flower exposures in photoshop, and turned the upper two layers to “lighten” blend mode, meaning that only the parts of the layers that are brighter show up. The result is this composite of three flower exposures, showing a combination of some sharpness and some blurriness (ok, mostly blurriness). Of course our eyes don’t see like this naturally (at least when we’re sober), but the effect adds a bit of visual interest to the photo by showing the windblown chaos. What do you think… dig it or ditch it?

And, in an unrelated side note – last night it snowed a little bit on the high peaks around here! Yes, the air is getting cooler and Fall feels like it’s right around the corner!

Summer of Light

Sunset over Ouray, Colorado

Sunset over Ouray, Colorado

This summer has been notably excellent for the quantity and quality of sunsets and sunrises here in the San Juans in southwest Colorado. It seems that almost every night or every other night there’s an incredible sunset. I don’t often wake up early enough for sunrises, except for when I’m camping, but then too I have seen a number of great sunrises.

I’ve had summers here when I’ve thought that there haven’t been many good sunsets/sunrises, but I always thought that I’ve just missed them – that my own timing was off. Only this summer have I realized that the “light” season can be much like a snow season – some are simply better than others. And some, like this summer, are outstanding!

The reason has been the predominately stormy/cloudy/rainy weather we’ve had here the last few months, but there always seems to be gap of clear sky at the horizon which the sun beams through, lighting up those clouds at the last (or first) moments of the day. As far as I can tell, this means that the stormy weather has been mainly located on and around the mountains themselves, while the western plateaus and deserts have stayed clear.

I have managed to capture a number of these fantastic sunsets and sunrise with my camera while hiking and backpacking, but I must admit that many or most of these light shows have just been admired without camera, at friends’ houses or just running outside of my own house in Ouray when I notice the funky light. The two photos above, in fact, were taken from the street right in front of my house on Monday evening. It was raining like crazy most of the day, and even during the sunset, but still somehow the sun snuck through at the last few minutes.

I’m not sure that these light shows will continue, however, with a forecast of clear, sunny skies for the foreseeable future.

Snowy Ouray with Canon 5D2

Beaumont, Ouray, Colorado

Despite my tenacious cold, I bundled up and walked around the block this morning to take the new Canon 5D2 and some new lenses for a spin. The fresh snow caking Ouray and the surrounding mountains made for a nice test subject!

The photo above was taken with a Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm lens, at 35mm f/8. This is an old, discontinued, manual focus and manual aperature lens, but I had read many glowing reviews about its incredible sharpness. Supposedly this zoom lens is as sharp or sharper than equivalent length prime lenses! So I picked one up on ebay for a reasonable price and this morning was my first trial run with it. I eagerly opened the files on my computer, and was not disappointed! The sharpness almost looks like it came from a Foveon sensor, but at a much larger resolution. In fact I’m so stoked I thought I’d share the fullsize file with all you pixel-peeping camera geeks out there.

>> Click here to see the sample full resolution file (7.6mb). The raw file had a sharpness setting of 3 (of 10), which does snap it up a little bit, but I figured since that’s about what I’d do anyways with my files, you might as well see it at that setting. The file was converted from 16bit to 8bit, I tinkered with the levels and color balance in Photoshop, added the watermark, and saved it as a quality 10 jpeg (to save a little bandwidth).

Anyhow, I am way stoked on the sharpness I’m getting from the 5D2, the 17mm and 24mm TS-E lenses, and now this Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm lens. I can’t wait to get out into the mountains again for some more real shooting with this setup! I’ve got to kick this pesky cold first though.

Walls Above Ouray

Snowy Cliffs above Ouray, Colorado

Snowy cliff walls above Ouray, Colorado. I took this shot from my porch today with my new Olympus 70-300mm telephoto lens, at 200mm (400mm equivalent in 35mm terms). With this lens I’ll never even have to leave my house to get mountain photos! It’s a pretty sweet thing to have a 600mm equivalent reach in a lens that’s only 5 inches long and weighs just over a pound. I’ve never been much of a telephoto shooter, but I look forward to seeing what I can do with this lens.