When Photo Shoots Fail

Pfeiffer Beach Drone | Beebower Productions

We arrived early and staked out our spot on the beach.  We waited patiently with other photographers for sunset at the magical Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach in California. 

Then we heard it.  A distinct hum filled the air and the heads of 12 photographers swiveled to and fro searching for the source.  It was… it was a drone, the bane of still photographers.  Most of us assumed the drone operator would be polite enough not to fly through our shot.  Flying above us was fine, but not through our scene.  We were wrong.

By now the sun had begun its slow descent into the ocean, so our gaggle of photographers, including Dad and I, quit looking at the drone and focused on capturing the moment.

Not two seconds later, that hateful little drone sped in front of the arch and zipped down the beach.  I heard a few muttered curses as our fellow photographers realized what was happening to their beautiful sunset shot.

I, meanwhile, focused on a rock formation far down the beach.  I thought I was in the clear.  I, too, was wrong.  The drone raced toward my rock.  Sure enough, it flew right through my photograph.

For anyone that possesses Photoshop skills, removing the drone from the image isn’t a big deal. I readily admit drones have produced some amazing footage never seen before.  But they’ve also annoyed a lot of people.  In this case 12 angry photographers kept shooting while plotting the drones’ demise.

So what happens when photo shoots go awry?  Do you give up and go home?  Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons photo shoots fail.  Next week we’ll show you how to turn lemons into lemonade. 

Garrapata Trio | Beebower Productions

Mother Nature’s Grumpy Side

Everyone talks about the creative and nurturing Mother Nature.  Photographers give her credit for stunning sunsets, beautiful rainbows and amazing fall colors.  But this venerable lady has a petulant side.  It’s not pretty.   Mother Nature can ruin the best-laid photography plans.

Dad needed a spectacular backdrop for an elk-hunting photograph. A blizzard in California nearly spelled defeat.  Semis slid off icy roads, wet snow fell and one team member lost his wallet full of money as they scouted locations.  Things just kept getting worse.  Route 5 near the border of California and Oregon shut down one hour after Dad’s crew found a good spot for the photo.  Mother Nature forced the team to hole up at a hotel and wait for the calm after the storm.

Mother Nature’s bag of tricks includes other elements like fog.  When I planned a sunset shot at Garrapata Beach in Big Sur things looked great.  A few puffy clouds floated above the ocean, suggesting a spectacular sunset with the colors of the sinking sun brushing the sky in rich hues.  I could see a fog bank way out in the Pacific, but it seemed so far away that I didn’t think it would be a factor.  Wrong.   That fog bank hopped the express train to the shore and completely blacked out the sunset.  I took a few shots anyway, but they were duds.

Coastal California’s winter storms pack an even more debilitating punch than fog.  High wind gusts knock down trees and giant waves wash away parts of the coastline.  After these storms Point Lobos State Park often shuts down until the staff gets things cleaned up.  I frequently found myself patiently waiting for the gates to open.

Closed Point Lobos Beach | Beebower Productions

Even after getting in the park, one beach remained closed every single time I tried to visit.  A storm washed out the staircase down to the beach and then harbor seals used the beach for pupping part of the year. Over the entire two years I visited the park, it never opened.

Photographers have a love/hate relationship with Mother Nature.  But she’s not the only force that can sabotage your photos.

McWay Falls with People | Beebower Productions

People Creating Problems

If there’s a rule, people love to break it.  I, along with about 20 other photographers, waited on the cliff high above McWay Falls in California for the sunset.  My mouth hit the dirt when I saw a group of people scrambling down the cliff toward the waterfall. 

Every two feet there’s a sign stating the beach was closed for safety reasons.  Not only that, the giant gaggle of photographers stretched from one end of the overlook to the other.   Obviously they were trying to shoot the waterfall.

This group of people walked right up to the waterfall and began a private photo shoot on the beach. I know they are hard to see this small version of photo but if I blew it up for a large print they are definitely visible.  Like the drone shot, the people could be removed in Photoshop.   But it was rude.

Sometimes the problem isn’t respect rather a lot of people crammed into a single small space.  One summer Dad found himself squished into the mass of humanity touring Antelope Canyon in Arizona.  The elder Navajos consider the canyon a cathedral where one should stop and prepare to be in touch spiritually.  While Dad was in awe of the slot canyon’s grandeur, it was hard to be in sync spiritually or photographically due to the sheer number of tourists running back and forth. 

The enormous traffic jam stretched through the entire narrow, winding quarter mile canyon.  Dad realized it was going to be mighty tricky to capture a decent photo without folks stepping into his picture.  He also battled sand that blew down from the rim on to his camera gear and mixed lighting that made him wish for a tripod.  But the rules said no tripods.  He would have to work very hard to capture even one image.

Whether they’re photo bombing pictures or squeezing photographers out of a prime shooting spot, people often force photographers to be more creative and work harder to get the shot.

Hugh on Monteray Bay | Beebower Productions

Animals on the Run

Like people wild animals can be downright uncooperative.  Recently our whole family embarked on an adventure to photograph elk in Pennsylvania.  After a lot of research we developed a very solid plan.  We’d stay in a cabin near a known elk hang out.  The cabin came with a built-in photography blind plus we’d be able to use the van as a rolling blind.  We tallied the odds heavily in our favor.

Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic and then took a meandering detour, so we were running late for our check in time.  We blew past a herd of elk on the way up the mountain.  Turns out those would be the only elk we would see on this trip.  Yep.  Not a single elk for two days.

On another adventure I took Dad on a whale-watching cruise in Monterey Bay, California.  I planned it during peak whale season, so a photo should have been pretty easy to come by.

I’d sailed with the Sanctuary crew before and always returned home with some treasure: photographs of a whale, a dolphin, sea lions, harbor seals, something.  Dad wasn’t so lucky.  We stayed on the water two and half hours.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nada.  Dad’s never looked at whales the same since that ill-fated trip.

Wild animals often disappoint photographers.  They are, after all, wild.  Capturing images of them requires persistence and patience.  But it really hurts when your gear fails you.

Variegated Fritillary Butterfly | Beebower Productions

Gear, Gadgets and Disasters

Beautiful light hit the flowers perfectly.  The butterflies flocked to my garden with the warm summer air.  I was getting great stuff.

The tinkling, clinking noise totally caught me off guard.  It sounded as if it came from inside my camera.  With dread I removed the lens and realized the mirror had completely detached and fallen out.  Thankfully it wasn’t broken but it did need a trip to Canon’s repair center for some TLC.

A couple years after the dreaded mirror incident my rechargeable camera batteries began playing mind games with me.  Unfortunately I first noticed the problem while bobbing on a boat in Pacific Ocean.

I’d diligently recharged my batteries the night before my big boat trip.  In fact, I had five batteries charged and ready.  So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed the low battery icon flashing on my camera display.  I’d only taken five photos.  It was strange, but I swapped out the old batteries for new and focused on shooting.

A few minutes later, the low battery icon flashed again.  What in the heck?!  Every battery did the exact same thing.

I was forced to shoot a frame and turn off the camera. Then I’d turn it on briefly with a fully charged battery to shoot another frame before the display began blinking again.  Not ideal.  I missed shots.  I got angry.  Then I drove home and bought five new batteries.  Rechargeable batteries do have a shelf life.

The Bottom Line

Nobody likes to discuss it, but there are plenty of reasons photo shoots fail—even for professional photographers.  But you don’t have to give up in defeat.  Next week we’ll take those lemons and tell you how to turn them into lemonade.

10 Fall Color Tips

Packhorse Rider in the Fog | Beebower Productions

Every year fall’s rich color palate creates a stampede of photographers looking for “the” shot. Over the years Dad and I learned a few lessons that helped us track down amazing fall displays.  Save yourself some time and use these tips to create a memorable fall photo shoot.

Location, location, location! 

As with any photo, location really makes a difference.  Parts of the country stand out as fall color hot spots.   Well before fall rolls around, we do a lot of research before we even think of picking up the camera. 

First we study the potential locales, both well-known spots and off-the-beaten path. California’s Sierra Nevadas, Colorado’s San Juans, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and the entire state of Vermont, to name a few, offer wonderful autumn hues. 

Our research includes photography-specific information such as key spots to photograph, permit applications, sun positions, weather patterns and hiking guides.  We also scope out hotels, restaurants and transportation.

Timing Is Everything

We pare location intel with websites and social media for leaf color reports.  Even if you know where to go for fall color, timing really is everything.

Just because the leaves in the San Juan Mountains hit peak color the first week in October last year, doesn’t mean they will this year.  Temperature, soil moisture and sunlight influence fall foliage displays.  An early frost, a drought or even a windstorm can change or curtail autumn’s pageantry.

Thanks to the Internet many areas provide fall foliage reports in real time.  Several I find useful include:

www.californiafallcolor.com

www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r3/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5323844

Shenandoah National Park’s facebook page

www.weather.com

www.foliagenetwork.com

https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/

Don’t over look local connections like chambers of commerce or message boards from that area.  All of these sources help us to pick the perfect time to shoot while capturing the maximum amount of stunning color.

Colorado Aspens | Beebower Productions

Stormy Weather

Once we find an ideal location and know when to hit the road, the fun begins.  You might think shooting at sunrise and sunset produce great results.  They do, but don’t overlook cloudy, stormy or foggy situations. 

An overcast day works like a giant soft box, allowing details that would normally fall in the shadows to be seen.  It extends your shooting time from just a couple of hours to all day. 

A stormy or rainy day helps to super saturate those fall tones.  Water drops on leaves also can make an interesting close up.

Fog helps create an air of surreal mystery and really makes the colors pop.  Dad made good use of fog in the photo at the top of this blog. 

So don’t overlook those less than stellar weather days.

Fall Meets Winter | Beebower Productions

Use the Light

Backlight or sidelight shining through a leaf really makes the color pop.  It also shows off the veins and texture of the leaves. 

If you’re not convinced this duo creates zing in fall photography, slowly walk around a tree and observe the light.  Backlit and side lit leaves will glow with color while front light flattens the color.

Golden Aspen | Beebower Productions

Leaves and Other Stuff

Don’t limit your photographs to just trees.  Include the surrounding landscape. Mountains help give context to the size of the color displays.  Lakes, rivers and ponds create beautiful reflections of that autumn color. 

Additionally a myopic focus on trees might cause you to miss the smaller shrubs and grasses that are also changing color.  Don’t overlook including those in your photograph.  They provide layers of interest for your photo.

Lundy Beaver Pond | Beebower Productions

Change Your Perspective

To create a unique image, change your perspective.  Look up.  Look down.  Don’t just fill the frame with row after row of trees shot at eye level. 

Dad created a memorable image by getting down on the ground and shooting up into these aspens with a wide-angle lens.  The tree trunks lead the viewers’ eyes straight to the explosion of color at the top of the trees.

Glowing Aspens | Beebower Productions

Isolate Colors and Details

Fall photos don’t have to be all about the trees or shot strictly with a wide-angle lens.  Use a longer lens to create an intimate image.  Isolating the leaves and the colors can be very effective.  The lack of color in these leaves allows the one colored leaf to really pop when shot with a 70mm lens.

The Remains of Fall | Beebower Productions

Use Complementary Colors

Artists often use the concept of the Color Wheel to create striking images.  The wheel literally shows primary colors on one side and their complementary colors on the opposite side of the circle.  For example, orange complements blue.  Green complements red.

How does that help in foliage photos?  The complementary colors give the photo contrast, creating energy in the picture.  In this photo, the blue of the sky and the orange colors of the aspens stimulate the viewer’s senses.

Fall Aspens | Beebower Productions

Use a Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter helps with the reflective nature of leaves.  A waxy coating called the cuticle covers the surface of most leaves.  The coating helps plants retain water and protects it from infections.  But when sunlight hits the leaves, the wax creates a reflection.  Photographers see one of two things, sometimes both:  glare or dulled color. 

Polarizing filters cut through the glare, allowing the true colors of the leaves to really pop.  They also remove glare from water, another element you might be dealing with on your fall photo adventure.

Dad and I love the Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer.  Not only does it remove the glare, it adds a punch of warm color to the scene.

Fall Aspens and Cowboy | Beebower Productions

Use a Tripod

Most of the time shooting during the day doesn’t require a tripod.  But every once in a while it does.    

Using a filter, any filter, cuts the light reaching your camera.  That affects the exposure, often slowing down the shutter speed.  If you’re shooting water with your fall foliage, that slower exposure can look fantastic.  Depending on the water’s rate of movement and the length of the time the shutter stays open, the water can look silky to foamy.

In any case, a tripod and camera pared with a cable release help make sure you don’t ruin a great photo because of human error like camera shake.

Little Sur River | Beebower Productions

So there you have it, our 10 best tips for capturing fall color.  We hope you enjoy your fall foliage adventure.  Let us know what you learn along the way.

Tracking True Grit Part 1

True Grit Meadow | Beebower Productions

Like U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, we raced up the mountain with anticipation and determination burning in our gut.  But our prize wasn’t a low-down dirty outlaw, rather the most famous scenery from the beloved 1969 Western “True Grit”.

When I discovered that most of the legendary John Wayne movie had been filmed around Ridgway, Colorado, I knew tracking down the movie locations was a no-brainer.  Dad grew up watching a steady diet of Westerns.  From TV shows like Gunsmoke and Rawhide to movies like “High Plains Drifter” and “The Magnificent Seven”, he eagerly soaked up stories of the vast, untamed American frontier and the folks who lived there.

An art festival brought us to Ridgway, but I quickly informed Dad of our post-festival activities.  The Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce printed a brochure called “Ridgway’s Western Movie Heritage” that revealed all we needed to know.  Hollywood loved filming in and around the tiny town.  The marquee included “True Grit”, “Tribute to a Bad Man”, “How the West was Won”, “The Sons of Katie Elder”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid” and most recently “The Hateful Eight”. 

While Hollywood directors loved the scenery around Ridgway, not everyone lauded the decision to film there.   Charles Portis, author of the book “True Grit” (upon which the movie was based) said he thought Colorado looked more like a “big sky” Western than Ft. Smith, Arkansas, the real setting of the book.

“True Grit” movie director Henry Hathaway later said, “Yes, I know, but it didn’t matter because all Western movies were fairy tales, more or less, and a specular landscape was expected.”

Dad agreed. 

“If I go to a movie, and I’m thinking “Holy mackerel!  I’ve gotta go see this place!’ then the director’s done his job well.  I’m always curious what the real place looks like,” Dad said.  “Obviously directors go to a lot of time and trouble to find the best places to film their movie.  If you pay attention to scenery in movies and can find out where it was shot, you save yourself some trouble.  It’s basically location scouting done for you.  Plus it’s just cool to see the place for yourself.”

Visual story telling drove Hathaway.  According to movie historian Fredrik Gustafson’s blog, “He (Hathaway) was very particular about what he wanted.  He would sometimes wait, and hold up the production for days, until the light was exactly right for a particular shot, dismissing angry calls from producers.”

In fact, Hathaway commented, “I’d say my greatest directional strength is my stubbornness:  I know what I want and I go after it.”

Hmmm…sounded like another guy I knew.  That led me to conclude if the San Juan Mountains possessed jaw-dropping scenery good enough for Hathaway’s “True Grit”, they’d be perfect for Dad.

“Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch!”

We tackled the movie trail backwards, finding the end-of-the-movie scenes first.  Locating the stunning meadow where the final show-stopping firefight takes place between Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn and Ned Pepper’s gang of misfits topped our list.  Locals called it Katie’s Meadow. 

We headed out north on Highway 550 from Ridgway and turned off at County Road 10 going towards Owl Creek Pass.  Cattle once plodded along this dirt road on the way to market.  We followed the long, winding path 14.7 miles up through the Cimmaron Mountains, enjoying the picturesque ranches, dramatic bluffs, the sparkling creek and hundreds of towering trees as we crept toward the meadow. 

We completed switchback after switchback.  Then, just as the directions stated, the meadow unfurled to our left.  And what a glorious meadow it was!  The sun backlit hundreds of golden corn lilies in the meadow as a lazy, crystal-clear stream meandered toward the road. Chimney Peak and Courthouse Mountain soared high above the field adding drama and the “wow” factor to the scene.

We spent the morning exploring the meadow.  We easily found the creek where Rooster, Mattie and Laboeuf camped as well as the rock on the far side of the meadow where Pepper shot Cogburn’s horse right out from under him. 

True Grit Aspens | Beebower Productions

Groves of aspens testify to the visitors at Katie’s Meadow over the years.

Apparently plenty of people visited the meadow over the years, leaving their own mark on the aspens that follow the creek.  I found tree after tree carved with dates, initials and art.  If you watch the movie, those aspens had just started to turn beautiful shades of yellow, something Henry Hathaway purposely waited on before filming the grand fight scene.

Next to the creek, Dad and I discovered a wooden fence line that lent an air of the Old West to the meadow.  By then, we’d noticed storm clouds building around the peaks and the light shifting to a favorable position.  Like Hathaway, Dad knew what he wanted and he went after it.

He wasted no time venturing through the corn lilies to capture his piece of Colorado beauty and movie history.  I hung back to capture Dad working his magic in the grand landscape.   

At the end of the day, we’d joined hundreds of other Wayne aficionados in taking a piece of movie history home with us in the form of pictures.   We couldn’t wait for the next day’s “True Grit” adventures.

Join us next Wednesday when Dad and I track down the Mattie’s ranch and learn how Ridgway, Colorado became Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

True Grit Fence | Beebower Productions

If You Go

Head north from Ridgway on Highway 550.  Turn right about 1.7 miles out of town on County Road 10.   Follow the signs on this unpaved road toward Owl Creek Pass.  County Road 10 will eventually become County Road 8.  Travel 14.7 miles from your turn off.  Just after a series of switchbacks you’ll see Katie’s Meadow on the left.  There are no signs marking the meadow, but there is a place to pull off and explore.

  • Continue up the switchbacks a little less than a mile until you come to Owl Creek Pass.  The rock that Mattie slept on is on the right near the creek. 
  • The road leads to Silver Jack Reservoir and eventually comes out at Cimmaron.
  • Take a high clearance vehicle.  It’s not required but a good idea.
  • Take food, water and gas.   There are no services along the way and cell service is spotty.

Saddlehorn Pueblo

Saddlehorn Pueblo | Beebower Productions

The picture on the wall caught my attention immediately.  Of all the places we could visit at Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, I knew this spot shot to the top of our list.  The rock looked just like a monster-sized horn on a cowboy’s saddle.  I’d never seen anything like it!  The rock sheltered Native American ruins under its ledge.   Bonus.  Major bonus.

Dad and I continued our photographic exploration of Colorado after wrapping up an art festival in Ridgway.  Two days of exploring the Canyon of the Ancients, a relatively new park founded in June of 2000, awaited us.  First, though, we stopped at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores.

Canyon of the Ancients contains 176,000 acres of high desert and more than 6,000 Native American sites.  These include cliff dwellings, kivas, dams, entire villages and rock art.  Visiting the park allowed us to hunt for these treasured vestiges of the past.  Many of these gems hide in plain sight, blending into the arid desert landscape and cliff walls.

While these jewels abound, the rugged landscape makes exploration challenging if you aren’t familiar with the land.  So our stop at the Heritage Center helped us nail down what to see and how to get there.  In addition to information, we found their exhibits top notch. 

On the Trail

But we chomped at the bit to reach our destination, the Saddlehorn Pueblo.  A sweltering, 100-plus degree August day sidelined us until the next morning, though.

We loaded our gear in the van at first light and headed for the southern end of the Sand Canyon Trail.  The path traverses 6 miles of parched desert landscape. Twelve miles makes a round trip. 

Our interest stopped at the first mile because that’s where the Saddlehorn Pueblo stands.  More ruins waited on the next five miles of the trail, but the unique rock formation combined with ruins really made Saddlehorn stand out.

The Sand Canyon Trail starts out on an uphill slickrock sheet.  Actually three trails split off shortly after leaving the parking lot, so pay attention and stay to the right.   As far as hikes go, the one-mile jaunt to Saddlehorn is easy.  But a lot of nifty things pop up along the way.

Sand Canyon Rocks | Beebower Productions

Erosion shaped the rocks along the trail into unique and curious shapes.  I saw mushrooms, castles, pointy-hat gnomes and the aforementioned saddlehorn.  Sand Canyon begs you to let your imagination loose to play for a day.

After the short hike, we spent some time just staring at the rock.  Wow.  It was cool.  And big.  Plus other rocky cones crowded around the formation.  They might just erode into another saddlehorn one day.  Looking at the site, it’s clear ancestral Puebloans mastered using geology to their advantage.

I wondered about the people who lived all along the Sand Canyon Trail, but especially the ones who built the structures in the saddlehorn.  Archeologists determined that the Puebloans used the two buildings under the horn from about 1250 A.D. to 1285 A.D.  The rooms may have been used for cooking or sleeping.  Other buildings may have served as a lookout.

Archeologists also found the remnants of a kiva on the slope below the saddlehorn.  Ancestral Puebloans used kivas for ceremonies and religious events.  They partially submerged these circular structures.  Participants entered the kiva by a ladder in the roof.

In the 1980s the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center excavated part of the kiva and then backfilled it to preserve the structure for future generations.  The backfill makes it difficult to see the kiva, but there’s plenty of visible architecture to see at Saddlehorn.

Shooting the Scene

Once we finished gawking, we got to work capturing this unique treasure in photographs.  As you can imagine, these ruins are not only fragile, but also sacred to modern Native Americans.  That somewhat limits where you can photograph. We didn’t have any trouble abiding by the rules and getting nice images, though.

Using a variety of lenses, I explored Saddlehorn visually.  I especially enjoyed using the wide-angle lens to include some of the other formations adjacent to the actual saddlehorn.  Additionally I used a Singh-Ray polarizing filter to enrich the colors in the rocks and sky.

We spent most of our time waiting for the light to break through the clouds.  Early morning light bathes the entire scene with a nice glow, assuming the cloud cover is lighter than our morning.  Our patience paid off, though.  We took home our photographic treasure of this gem.

If You Go

 

  • Start your trip at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores.  Rangers and volunteers dole out maps, advice and tips for hiking, biking and riding the trails.  They can also bring you up to speed on camping possibilities.

 

  • To actually see the treasures of Canyon of the Ancients, you really need to get out on the trails.  Hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed.  Ask the rangers for specifics.

 

  • All of the hiking trails are remote and rugged.  Wear clothes for hiking, not a casual stroll.  Take plenty of water and snacks.  Wear a hat and sunscreen.  Watch out for wild animals like snakes and mountain lions as well as creepy crawlies like scorpions.

 

  • Temperatures easily soar over 100 degrees in the summer and snow accumulates in the winter.  Spring, fall or early in the day make for the best hikes.

 

  • Directions to the Sand Canyon Trail:  From Cortez, hop on US 491 south and turn west on County Road G. Go 12 miles and look for the parking area on the right hand side of the road.

 

  • Slickrock covers the entire unmarked parking lot.  Park where you can, but do not park along the highway or on private property.

 

  • If you happen to be on the trail or in the parking lot during a rainstorm be careful around the slickrock.  It was appropriately named.

 

  • Pay attention to the trail markers when you start out at Sand Canyon.  The footpath disappers thanks to the slickrock. 

 

  • You must stay on the trail in Sand Canyon.  Off trail use is prohibited.  Respect the cultural importance of this area to the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans.

 

  • Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail.  Clean up after your pet.

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