Photographing The Natural World


Confirming what we already knew; all polarizing filters are created equal.

I teach my workshop classes not to spend over $125 on tripod legs–advice, I am sad to say, sometimes goes in one ear and out the other–and to not spend more than $80 for a polarizing filter. The folks at Sing-Ray are certainly not pleased with me, but, well, there it is.  77mm Sing-Ray polarizers cost upwards of $250.  The 82mm polarizer costs–gulp–$450.  82mm Tiffens are $56 at B&H.  77mm Tiffens are $37.


Now comes an blog post by Roger at confirming what I’ve been preaching for years; don’t spend more than $80 on polarizers.  Formal testing shows, they all do a great job of polarizing light.

And here’s the good part; after you use your cheap-but-fully-functional polarizers for several years and either crack them or scratch them to death, they make great beer coasters!  And you look cool as a photographer showing people you can find new uses for worn-out gear!

Read it and weep, Sing-Ray:  Roger’s Article


Yet another fire in Yosemite!

(8/30/17) Good God! I have a strong sense of Deja Vu saying this again, but we all knew this was possible this year.  Drive up to Yosemite from any direction and you see huge groups of dead trees from the drought; as far as the eye can see, tender-box-dry pine needles just waiting for the slightest spark to burst them into flames.  Such is the case near Fish Camp, about 10 miles north of Oakhurst on the southern route into Yosemite, highway 41.  Fish Camp and Sugar Pine have been evacuated.  41 is closed from the fast moving Railroad fire.  From 60 acres to 5000 just “…yesterday afternoon…”, quoting the internal memo I got today.  Here’s the official internal memo from YNP:

“I wanted to let you all know that Highway 41 south of Yosemite is closed due to the Railroad Fire, which started yesterday afternoon near Fish Camp. The communities of Sugar Pine and Fish Camp have been evacuated. There is no access to Yosemite via Highway 41. This fire spread from 60 acres to over 5000 in a very short time yesterday afternoon, and we have no estimate as to when the road will reopen.
Glacier Point Road remains closed due to the Empire Fire as well.
As always, please check current road conditions before you start your trip to the park, for Yosemite Roads and Weather call 209-372-0200, and for roads outside the park, call Cal Trans at 1-800-327-7623.”
Welcome to Yosemite in summer and especially after a major drought.
If you get to Oakhurst, you’ll have to go to Mariposa by 49, then into the park via 120.
And it wasn’t that long ago that Mariposa had a huge fire scare.  Just take a deep breath and hang in there…


This is why you shouldn’t use a cloud service for backup

(8/24/17) Here’s what I don’t understand about using a cloud-based backup service.  It’s all the rage lately, and I can’t figure out why.

Imagine if one day some 20-year-old kid in Chuck Taylors wearing his backward ball cap with his jeans hanging down around his knees bangs on your door and says “Give me all your digital images and I’ll store them for you!”  You gonna say “Sure, come on in!”?  But this is just what you’re doing when you “trust” your images to a cloud based service.

Total lunacy!

Sure, most companies mean well, are completely honest and trustworthy, but nonetheless operate at the pleasure of reliable data center hosts, physical servers, boards-of-directors, banks, and least controllable, market forces.  Remember Digital Railroad in 2008?  What a trainwreck! (No pun intended.)  One day we all woke up one sunny October morning and POOF!  Naive photographers lost thousands of images that were never recovered. Gone.  Lost forever.  Entire sports photo agencies relied on Digital Railroad for on-line digital commerce and it all went right down the drain.  Then there’s Amazon backup.  Gone.  Amazon?  The deepest pockets on the planet closes?  If that’s not the writing on the wall for not using an online backup…


The latest? CrashPlan is tits up as of this morning.  OK, so even if a seemingly smooth transition can be structured by honest people to allow photographers time to move their images, why subject yourself to that possible misery?  Scrambling to find alternatives to cloud-based storage is not revenue-generating activity.  It’s unnecessary and…completely avoidable!

I wouldn’t touch a cloud-based service with a ten-foot pole.  Not even for duplicative or convenience backup.  We haven’t yet discussed the dishonest folk out there, who would think nothing of selling your images to third parties unbeknownst to you.  Or “licensing” your images for pennies.  I have received ledgers of my sales with a well-known sports photo agency that indicated some of my basketball shots were “licensed” for literally $1.50.  Who the hell makes these decisions?  What use of my basketball images is worth only $1.50?  That’s basically giving them away.

Put your big-boy pants on and back up your work locally.  Buy some external disk drives, mirror them, (create two drives for each segment of work) and store one set in a bank safety deposit box.  Done.  Cheap.  Controllable by YOU.  I would not even use a RAID system.  Expensive and not for the technically faint-of-heart.  This RAID system will someday be replaced with a new-and-improved technology and, well, there you go.

Please; just say no.  Cloud based storage is the worst idea ever.

Another Fire in Yosemite

(8/16/17) Although fire in Yosemite is a common occurrence this time of year, one always has to be cognizant of the fact that a fire can easily change your summer vacation plans.  Such is the case again, this time with the South Fork fire in the south area of the park near Wawona.  The Wawona Campground is closed, hiking trails are at risk of closure at any time, and, of course, heavy smoke is pouring into areas not affected by flames.  Although at this writing the community of Wawona is not in immediate danger, evacuation plans are in place should be need arise.

Here’s what the fire is doing to Yosemite Valley as of 11:34am on August 16, 2017:
turtleback (1)

Fire near Yosemite

(7/18/17) – There’s a fire burning north of the town of Mariposa just west of Yosemite National Park.  Although not a direct threat to Yosemite, there is talk of evacuating Mariposa thus interfering with lodging plans you may have in that community.  Each summer there are wildfires in and around Yosemite that will throw a monkey-wrench in your plans, so patience and flexibility are paramount when making your travel plans.

For more information on this fire and others in California, Go Here. 

Top see the smoke impact, which is horrendous, check this out

This image is dated 7/21/17 from Tunnel View.  Not good.


National Geographic photo contests; enter at your own risk

(6/1/17) Sounds crazy that you should fear the icon of all photography, National Geographic.  Yet, having entered the contests from NG many times, I am beginning to regret it.  The shots I enter seem to appear all over the internet.  I have seen my shots all over Pinterest, SmugMug, and the plethora of web sites that feature “quality images available for download as desktop images”.  Obviously without permission from me.

I did a Google image search and found several pages of results with my image being used over and over like this.  No commercial use has been found yet, which I suppose should make me feel better, but I fear it’s just a case of my not having found it yet.

So, enter a Nat Geo photo contest at your own risk.

Yosemite: Run Away!

(6/1/17) You are no doubt aware that California had a record rainfall and snow accumulation this year, and as a result, the snowmelt and waterfalls will be epic.  Such is the case now, as all waterfalls and some we haven’t seen in years are gushing.  The park is green, work has been completed on the new road configuration in the east end of the valley (a rare work of genius from the park service), and clueless new seasonal employees are in place.

Sounds wonderful.

Run Away!

The day trippers will be in full force, stampeding into the place on weekends like never before. Everywhere I go in Fresno, people ask “How are the waterfalls? We’re planning to go up this weekend!”  Folks who were born and raised in Fresno and have teenage children are, for the first time, planning trips.  They will leisurely pack the car and head up arriving in mid-morning to a traffic jam that would make Los Angeles blush. Hordes of uninitiated idiots will be surging in and white-knuckling their way into the valley.  It will take 3 hours to go the seven miles from the Bridalveil parking lot to day parking lot in the east end of the valley.  The park service, in it’s infinite wisdom is shutting down one lane of southside road for busses and emergency traffic.  You cannot imagine the traffic jam this will cause.  DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!!

You have been warned: Do Not go to Yosemite this weekend.

Now, if you insist, here’s how to avoid the unwashed masses:

  1. Arrive at 7am, park and take the shuttle busses to get around.
  2. Arrive at 7am, see the valley in one hour then head to Glacier Point Road and stay up there. Hike those trails, see Glacier Point, Washburn Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, Mono Meadow, etc.  Go for the Big View.  Taft Point is incredible.  So is Sentinel Dome, especially at sunset.  Glacier Point will be overrun, so try Washburn Point.  It’s easy to get away from the hordes, although there will be people wherever you go.  But you won’t be overrun.
  3. Bring infinite amounts of patience for fools.

Stay away from the village between 9am and 6pm.