Welcome to the blog for Thomas Parry Photography. My purpose is to inform the public about photographic projects I have recently completed as well as those in progress and planned for the future. I will periodically post articles about different aspects of photographing nature, people and places. As I work with new hardware and software tools, I will pass along lessons learned that may aid other photographers. I will periodically write reviews about photographic equipment with which I have experience and books I read that may be helpful to others. I hope you enjoy reading my blog and return frequently. I invite your thoughts, good ideas, opinions and feedback.
| 15 December, 2013 01:11
Thomas S. Parry, Field Contributor, Nature Photographer Magazine
This is the second installment of a two-part article that was published in the Fall 2013 E-Edition of Nature Photographer Magazine and is reproduced here in its entirety. Part one provided background information on the Antelope Slot Canyons in detail and was published in the Summer 2013 E-Edition of Nature Photographer Magazineand this part will discuss how to photograph slot canyons.
Slot canyons are narrow and deep fissures in the earth carved over millions of years into the desert floor. These unique geological formations began as hairline cracks in desert sandstone that gradually widened over time by the flow of rushing water originating from flash floods. The interiors of such canyons are nothing short of magnificent to behold displaying large, twisting curls, arches and whorls radiating the incandescent glow from sunlight above and presenting a magnificent panoply of colors.
As with all forms of landscape photography, it’s all about having the right light to add drama to the scene and there is no substitute for good light when photographing slot canyons. Most of us who do landscape photography are preconditioned to expect optimal lighting around the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset. The beauty of photographing slot canyons is that it is not necessary to arise at the crack of dawn nor wait until near sunset to capture the best light inside of the canyons. The Antelope Canyons are narrow and deep, which means that the sun must be high overhead before appreciable amounts of light begin to illuminate their walls. The optimum hours for slot canyon photography are during the middle of the day, between about 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Also, contrary to elementary principles of general landscape photography, clear blue skies are most ideal for work in slot canyons. The full range of radiant colors visible in slot canyons will not develop under diffuse lighting, such as in cloudy or overcast weather.
Photographing Slot Canyons
Success in photographing slot canyons is all about recognizing the dynamics of reflected light and observing the subtle gradations in intensity and hue as the light enters from the openings at the top of the canyon and penetrates down toward the canyon floor. For the best photographs without resorting to high dynamic range (HDR) exposure techniques, carefully avoid including any visible sky in the frame as the contrast with the dark canyon interior will far exceed the dynamic range of what film or digital sensors can capture. Including any sky will cause portions of the image to be totally blown out or other darker areas to be substantially underexposed. For similar reasons, avoid any surfaces, such as areas of the canyon walls, bathed in direct sunlight. Although there are portions of the slot canyons that are so narrow and deep that they appear very dark even at mid-day, absolutely avoid the use of flash and avoid other photographers who may be trying to expose using flash. The flash will totally wash out the varied radiant colors created by the reflected light from above.
Search for light that has been reflected off of the red canyon walls above. The key is to look for areas within the canyons where sunlight is directly striking a wall and then shift your attention to the opposite side of the canyon in search of glowing orange and red areas to photograph. The areas illuminated by this reflected light will be the most colorful and will have manageable contrast together with smoother transitions. At the right angle, your eye will perceive subtle changes in hue and intensity as the reflected light penetrates deeper. Blue skies will often produce blue or purple reflections at the deepest levels of the canyon. With the right light and correct exposure, use of color filters and significant saturation adjustments in post processing are not necessary to detect the beautiful coloration. Other than normal camera calibrations in Adobe Photoshop and minor adjustments to contrast, no color alterations were made to any of the images accompanying this article.
As the sun moves across the sky throughout the day, the appearance of areas of the canyon walls receiving direct and indirect illumination will be dramatically altered. Even with the passage of just a few minutes, the formations within the canyon will undergo marked transformations. It is a good idea to plan your visit to allow time to make multiple trips up and down the canyon as the location and intensity of lighting varies through the four-hour mid-day timeframe of optimum photography. If backtracking is not possible but time and means allow, visit the canyons one day in the morning and another in the afternoon hours. The lighting will be dramatically different at each time of day.
Another reason to avoid visible portions of sky when shooting toward the top of slot canyons is the tendency to introduce lens flare, which in addition to creating distracting polygonal-shaped bright objects into your image due to light reflecting off the lens elements, may also create a haze that will dramatically reduce contrast and may lead to undesirable color casts in your images. This will overwhelm the subtle gradations in reflected light. Three things that can be done to reduce the likelihood of flare are first, make sure the lens and filters you are using employ antireflective coatings and second, are well cleaned. Third, use a lens hood. The hood will also protect your valuable lens when walking through narrow canyon straights. If using a zoom lens with a hood, you may best avoid flare by first zooming out to the widest angle the lens allows and ensuring no sky is visible in the field of view and then zooming in to capture the desired scene. If bright light is still directly striking your lens, the only other option to avoiding flare and getting a good capture is to consider changing position. Slot canyons include many overhanging ledges that can be used to shield your lens from direct lighting. Also, be patient. The light changes quickly and a difficult shot in one minute may become a prize shot a moment later.
Getting the Proper Exposure
Because slot canyons are normally quite dark, especially at their deepest points, a good, steady tripod is absolutely essential as many exposures will require from ten to thirty seconds for a good capture. Although long exposures made with digital sensors can result in excessive noise in the image, this can be minimized by shooting in RAW mode and keeping the ISO settings at 200 or lower. Post-production noise reduction algorithms in software applications such as Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom, NIK, Aperture, or DXO do an outstanding job of eliminating noise, especially from RAW files. Also, to achieve uniform sharpness of foreground and more distant features within the canyons, it is necessary to use small apertures. I recommend a setting somewhere between f/11 and f/22. A circular polarizer, which will increase the length of exposure even further, will be a valuable tool to minimize undesired reflections while bringing out the intense colors of the canyons. To obtain the images in this article, I used a Gitzo tripod with an Induro five-way pan-tilt head that allowed me to position the tripod legs and camera body in a variety of directions at different angles to accommodate the uneven canyon walls and narrow canyon floors. With rock-solid support, I equipped my camera with a circular polarizer and used aperture priority settings for all captures.
As I have alluded to before, be mindful that a properly-framed shot within a slot canyon may contain considerable dynamic range, so it is particularly important to avoid exposing bright highlights. The exact amount to dial down the exposure will depend on the circumstances of each composition and your personal preferences. It is a good idea to include some darker areas in your composition to offset and accentuate the highlights in the scene. Begin by bracketing exposures upwards and downwards and pay particularly close attention to the histogram display rather than depending on the camera’s LCD display. The LCD will rarely display accurately what was really captured.
Finally, I recommend using the widest angle lens you have available. The canyons are very narrow and constricted in terms of space and in order to capture a broad, flowing feel to the walls and achieve maximum depth of field, the wider the field of view the better. The images I shot in this article were done with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 zoom lens set primarily at 24 mm. Although I am very pleased with the results, when I return to the canyons in the future, I intend to use either a 10-22 mm or fisheye lens to achieve the most dramatic perspectives within the canyons.
As for the care of your valuable equipment, remember that dust is a major factor in these canyons and, without taking some protective measures, will wreak havoc with and possibly cause damage to your equipment. On windy days sand will rain down into the canyons from the desert above—sometimes in large amounts. Similarly, when throwing sand to accentuate light beams, a fine dust will quickly accumulate on your equipment. Under these conditions, I placed a plastic garbage bag over my camera while carrying it in the canyon. I cut out a small opening in the side of the bag through which I could place the lens so that only the tip of the lens barrel was exposed. A rubber band held the plastic surrounding the lens barrel tightly to prevent dust from leaking in. It is a forgone conclusion that changing lenses in the canyons would lead to serious consequences for your sensor. Before entering the canyons, decide which lens you wish to use to photograph and leave that lens securely fastened for the duration of the shoot. That said, no matter how well you protect your camera and lenses from the dust, you will still end up with fine dust particles in the nooks and crannies of your camera and lens. Following the conclusion of my day of shooting, I used a can of compressed air to thoroughly clean my camera and lens. Do not remove and change lenses until you have blown out the fine particles or you will introduce dust into your sensor.
When you visit a slot canyon, there is more to see than tall, motionless rock walls. The light beams, visible in Upper Antelope Canyon during the summer months, penetrate the darkness of the canyon and make for magnificent, dynamic images. To enhance the visual prominence of the light beams, the Navajo guides will toss sand from the canyon floor just prior to making an exposure. The dust will reflect portions of the light beam, which will enable you to capture the shaft of light.
In Upper Antelope Canyon, you will find bowls smoothly carved into the canyon walls that frequently fill with sand that falls from above. As the bowls overflow with sand, the sand begins flowing over the edge of the bowl and creates the appearance of a waterfall made of sand.
Other things to look for when in the canyons include large trees or logs that become wedged high up in the canyon by a flash flood. Also, the flow of smooth sandstone striations on the canyon walls is sometimes disrupted by barnacle-like protrusions made from other forms of rock that erode at different rates. It is also common to find tumbleweeds that have blown into the canyons, which can introduce contrasting colors and different textures into your compositions.
Some Final Thoughts
Although scores of photographers visit the Antelope Canyons every year and publish countless numbers of images, don’t let that discourage you from visiting and photographing the canyons yourself. Your compositions will be uniquely yours and will hold great meaning to you. Everyone who sees the canyons for the first time with their own eyes experiences something awe inspiring and beautiful that subdues the human spirit to the majesty of nature’s handiwork. Be patient with the other visitors keeping in mind they are also as awe-struck by the beauty of the place as you are and are trying to capture their own memories. Although your time in the canyons will be limited, resist the urge to just photograph everything. Put your camera down and take time to behold with your own eyes the majesty of nature’s abstract sculpture studio.
| 09 December, 2013 06:41
By Thomas S. Parry
Chinese New Year is a two week spring festival that has been celebrated for over 5,000 years in China. Chinese New Year (also called the Lunar New Year) occurs in the early months of the calendar year, typically January or February and this year falls on February 10th. This is the first of what are 15 days of celebration and the start of the Year of the Snake. Chinese New Year is a time to welcome longevity, wealth and prosperity.
The San Francisco Chinese New Year celebration originated in the 1860's during the Gold Rush days and is now the largest Asian event in North America as well as the largest general market event in Northern California. The celebration includes two major fairs; the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and the Chinatown Community Street Fair. All the festivities culminate with the Chinese New Year Parade.
Having myself been born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Snake and having never attended the celebration in San Francisco, I decided to attend this year’s festivities in celebration of the “Year of the Snake.” So, on Saturday, February 23, 2013, I arrived early in the day to explore Chinatown and found the entire area swarming with visitors. There were booths set up with contests and games, food items and long lines of people entering their names in raffles to win a new car. It was fun to explore the many and varied shops in Chinatown. There were individuals and groups performing musical numbers. Of course, a visit to Chinatown would not be complete without going to one of the fine Chinese restaurants and ordering a meal with several entrees and sharing them together.
The fifteen-day celebration in San Francisco culminates with the Chinese New Year Parade. I had read that the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade was named one of the world's top ten parades and is the largest celebration of its kind outside of Asia. Starting at close to six o’clock in the evening with tens of thousands of spectators watching, over 100 units participated in the parade. Many of the floats and specialty units featured the theme of this year's Chinese zodiac sign the Snake. Nowhere in the world have I experienced a lunar New Year parade with more gorgeous floats, elaborate costumes, ferocious lions, and exploding firecrackers. Some of the parade units featured elaborately-decorated floats, high school and college marching bands, martial arts groups, stilt walkers, lion dancers, Chinese acrobatics, the newly-crowned Miss Chinatown USA and the Golden Dragon. Although nearly three hours had passed since the parade started and it was getting chilly outside, the parade was still going on and I waited patiently for the grand finale, which was the Golden Dragon. When he finally appeared, the Golden Dragon was lit up from head to tail and was well over 200 feet long. He was accompanied throughout the length of the parade route by the deafening sounds of more than 600,000 firecrackers!
I learned that the Golden Dragon was made in Foshan, which is a city of more than 3.6 million people in central Guangdong Province in southern China. The Foshan dragon masters formerly made all the costumes for the Cantonese opera, and the Golden Dragon bears many operatic touches, such as the rainbow-colored pompoms on its six foot-long head. It is festooned from nose to tail with colored lights, decorated with silver rivets on both scaly sides and trimmed in white rabbit fur. The dragon, carried on a skeleton of bamboo and rattan, consists of 29 segments. It takes a team of 100 men and women working in rotation to bear the Golden Dragon the full length of the parade route. It is understandable why rotating dragon bearers is so important given the size and weight of the dragon and the strength needed to move it through the streets.
Included with this article is a selection of photographs I made while participating in this incredible event and include images of Chinatown itself, close-ups of some of the parade performers and the parade itself. These pictures, however, cannot do justice to the magnitude of this event including the delicious foods, the smells in the air, the music, the deafening firecrackers going off and general atmosphere of celebration and friendliness everyone feels while there. But, they do give a sampling of what I experienced during my visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Special note: All parade images were shot in available light using a Canon EOS 40D equipped with a Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L USM lens set to f/2.8 at either ISO 1600 or 3200 extended. Noise adjustments were accomplished using Adobe Camera Raw 6. Rapid action of the performers combined with very low levels of available light made these images very difficult to capture.
| 08 December, 2013 13:56
One Saturday afternoon in late November last year, I was photographing seascapes in and around the Monterey Peninsula area and, as the afternoon wore on, I noticed a number of high clouds starting to roll in over the area. The weather was beautiful and mild for a late November day in Monterey and ideal for photographing in such a beautiful area. I took notice of the clouds because high clouds (primarily cirrus) in November, under the right conditions, can translate into colorful and breathtaking sunsets along the California central coast. I had always wanted to capture sunset images over the Garrapata State Beach in Big Sur because of the rock formations and pounding surf there. Considering the clouds moving in and knowing that sunset comes very early in November, I decided to head for Garrapata State Beach only 30 minutes south in hopes of capturing silhouetted rocks and pounding surf against a dramatic, multi-colored sky.
When I arrived, I found beautiful waves—some very large—pounding against the rock formations and the cloud deck was increasingly shrouding the harsh light of the sun in such a way as to create a beautiful, warm and diffuse glow across the sky and seascape. A short time later, oranges, reds and purples began to emerge even before the sun set below the horizon. I set up my camera and tripod and placed a circular polarizer on my 24-70 mm zoom lens. Then, I set the ISO to 100 and stopped my aperture down to between f/16-20 for a long depth of field. My intent was to lengthen the exposure time enough to capture some wave action as the sky got darker but not overexpose the image and lose the delicate sunset hues. I began taking a series of frames and tracked the sun as it dipped below the horizon. Once the sun had set below the horizon, the real drama began. All of a sudden, the clouds exploded into intense yellows, oranges, reds and magentas while the sky above became a deep, dark blue. The mix of colors and the contrast between clouds and sky were spectacular. I kept taking more and more pictures keeping my shutter speed slow enough to capture some blur in the wave movement. I knew I was getting some spectacular images and the deeper the sun went below the horizon, the richer the lingering colors became.
What follows is a sampling of images that I photographed at Garrapata State Beach at sunset on November 26, 2011.
All of the above images were taken using a Canon EOS 40D equipped with an EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM lens, circular polarizer, and Gitzo tripod. Low ISO and narrow aperture settings enabled shutter speeds as slow as 4 seconds creating some motion blur in the wave action.
There is nothing that compares to the beauty of a spectacular sunset. No two sunsets are ever the same and each one is a manifestation of the hand of a loving God for all of his children on earth.
Fine art pigment prints in varying sizes are available. Please view the Seascapes online gallery or contact me via my website for more details regarding sizes and pricing.
| 08 December, 2013 13:56
In my previous post Xi’an, Shaanxi Province: Tang Music and Dance Theater, I provided an excerpt and some photographs from my book The Timeless Faces of China that describe the splendor of Tang Music and Dance Theater as performed in present day Xi’an. This short article is a follow-up that describes the equipment, techniques and post-production processes I used to achieve beautiful photographic results of the production.
Photography during the Tang performance is permitted and actually encouraged. There are no copyright restrictions on taking photographs. It is a given, however, that use of flash is not permitted in these types of performances and would disturb the performers. It would also greatly attenuate the beautiful effects created by the stage lighting. Patience and a good eye are needed to photograph these types of theatrical performances because everything is in constant motion and the light levels are low. Tripods are not permitted so I had to hand-hold my camera for the entire performance. My approach was to use a high ISO setting on my Canon EOS 40D up to 1600 and an EF 70-200 f/4.0 L IS USM telephoto zoom lens set to f/4.0 from my vantage point to capture a focal range that would show sufficient breadth in the staging of the performance to isolating individual or small clusters of performers. I found that with this ISO/lens combination and setting my shutter speed to 1/250 second I was able to capture beautifully sharp and saturated images as the one seen here.
Noise is always an issue when shooting in low light at high ISO settings and, while my Canon EOS 40D does an amazing job of minimizing noise, I still needed to apply software noise reduction measures in post production. I did this by first importing the raw files into DxO Optics Pro version 6.0 and applying the noise reduction algorithm, which I have found to be one of the best available. I then converted the noise corrected RAW files to DNG format and exported them to Adobe Lightroom version 3.5 to perform additional enhancements before exporting as TIF files to Photoshop for final post production. I was very happy with the resulting images as they do not have any appearance of being shot at high ISO.
Today’s digital SLRs do a remarkable job of controlling noise and the noise reduction capabilities of most RAW file conversion programs (e.g. Lightroom, Aperture and DxO) are better than they have ever been. The good news is that it keeps getting better and better with the new generation of cameras and with the release of each new version of RAW conversion software.
Search this blog:
Calendar Of Posts
- Slot Canyons: Nature’s Abstract Sculpture Studio (Part II of II)
- Brown Pelicans
- The 2012 Transit of Venus
- A Walk on the High Line
- Publication of "Three Days In Manhattan"
- Year of the Snake: The 2013 Chinese New Year Celebration in San Francisco
- Showcase of Nature Photography: Second 2012 Special E-Edition of Nature Photographer Magazine Now Available
- The Hugo Hotel: A Housing Crisis Turned into Public Art
- Publication of The Timeless Faces of China
- Timeless Faces of China is an Honest Portrayal of Chinese Society
- Nature Photography 
- Visions of Budapest 
- Current Projects 
- Techniques 
- Reviews 
- The Timeless Faces of China 
- Three Days in Manhattan 
- Cityscape Photography 
- Landscape Photography 
- Bird Photography 
- Astronomy 
- Event Photography 
- Slot Canyons 
- General 
- Seascape Photography