Photographing Mesa Arch–at Sunset

_D503346My second trip to the Moab area was largely disappointing. The weather for my December 2014 trip had been essentially perfect: cold and clear, even some snow to keep things interesting. When I photographed the iconic Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park at sunrise, incredibly I had the place to myself. I’ve heard of dozens of photographers showing up for sunrise.

However, the weather for my December 2016 trip was overcast and dreary. A few clouds add texture to the sky, but this time it was low ceiling and gray. For two mornings in a row I was at the arch, hoping for the clouds to lift just enough for the sun to break over the horizon, and I wasn’t alone. Both times seven or eight other photographers were with me, lined up tripod-to-tripod.  I didn’t mind sharing the space–everyone was cooperative and there was just enough room for all us. I was less happy with the ceaseless chatter. When I go to a beautiful place, I want to enjoy it in silence, not listen to constant yammering. The other photographers will probably remember me as the guy who never said a word.

Conditions improved slightly throughout the second day, and as I got ready to leave Canyonlands for the last time, I decided to stop at Mesa Arch to see if it could be photographed at dusk. Unfortunately, the arch was already in shadow; but at least I was alone and there was no chatter. I lowered myself and looked under the arch, where I saw the full moon rising over the La Sal Mountains.

I wish I could say this shot was planned. As Louis Pasteur said of his seemingly serendipitous scientific discoveries, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” In my case it was pure good fortune and a bit of desperation.

Gear Snobs, Photography Edition

If you have ever been a regular visitor to an online photography forum, you have undoubtedly encountered a Gear Snob. Usually a “he,” he is happy to help you spend your money on only the best equipment, because that’s what he has.

I encountered my first Gear Snob about ten years ago at an outdoor photography workshop. The leader was demonstrating his Really Right Stuff tripod with RRS ball head and L-bracket. He reassured us we needed to buy an expensive rig in order to be successful outdoor photographers. Never mind that his equipment cost close to $1,000 (as he pointedly reminded us). He was clear: this truly is the Right Stuff and if you settle for less, you’ll be sorry. (I agree that a $69 Walmart tripod is a waste of money, but there are many other excellent options to consider that cost far less than his.)

Fast forward to the present, where Gear Snobs lie in wait for innocent questions about purchasing tripods, cameras, lenses, and camera bags. When a new user asks for buying advice, the Gear Snob reflexively recommends only the expensive option. Why? Because that’s what he has. Never mind that there are probably less expensive options that are perfectly suited to the user’s needs. The Gear Snob emphasizes that one should only invest in the best if they’re serious about their photography. Often, their argument is, “If you buy X, you’ll eventually outgrow it and end up spending money replacing it.” True. I did that with my first car (and many cars thereafter) and my first house and subsequent homes. I also sold those cars and houses when I “upgraded.” And, I bought cars and houses I could truly afford and that fit my lifestyle and needs. Silly me.

Ultimately, the Gear Snob isn’t really interested in being helpful, he wants to boast that he has premium lenses, the most expensive camera model, the best camera bag, and other top-shelf equipment. Nothing wrong with that, but the user doesn’t want to be your Mini-Me. They wanted to know what features or brands were worth the money, and which were optional or could be passed on. The Gear Snob should have asked, “What’s your budget?”

There is an argument to be made for spending more money on better equipment. However, most of us gradually upgrade as we can afford and need to, and sell our old equipment to someone who can get good use from it. Most of us have other spending priorities and budget considerations. So, Gear Snobs, join us in the real world and concentrate on the photography, not the accessories.

Review: Kelbyone Lightroom Tour

I recently attended Scott Kelby’s 2017 Lightroom Tour presentation and came away favorably impressed. I attended a Photoshop workshop he did in 2008, and of the two, this was the better experience, although the Photoshop presentation was a good one. Back then, there were frequent “commercials” for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP), which Kelby started, and it was a bit off-putting. This time, he soft-pedaled Kelbyone membership. (I’m not a member and don’t plan on joining, but it may be a good choice for others. Undoubtedly, it offers a lot to members, though the yearly fee is a bit steep for my needs.)

The workshop is focused primarily on demonstrating what LR can do, with live examples of how to accomplish frequent tasks and solve common problems with the program. It is highly scripted and there are no question-and-answer opportunities. (With 300 attendees, that would simply be impractical.) Offsetting the script is Kelby’s breezy, relaxed teaching style. The slides and videos are supplemented with a handout that contains the same information, so almost no note-taking is required.

Early on Kelby asked for a show of hands of those who start their editing in Photoshop before taking the image to LR. Amazingly, well over half indicated they did. Personally, I rarely open Photoshop, though it’s nice to have it for certain tasks, such as those requiring text or image transparency.

Overall, I think this workshop is best for new users and those considering a move to LR. It will whet your appetite for expanding your LR skills and demystify some of LR’s features. Kelby is not an Adobe cheerleader and he’s quick to point out LR’s shortcomings and quirks. Having used LR since version 3, I can attest to its amazing power, as well as its cluttered interface with tiny, embedded switches and arrows. If you’re considering LR as your image processor and digital asset manager, this is a good place to start.