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Desert Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park

One of the reasons I like going down south in the winter (and there are many) is the incredible sunsets in the desert.

It seems like every day is a clear blue sky day with no clouds and then, as the day goes on, the clouds move in just in time for sunset.

There are stages to the sunset that we just don’t get on the coast. Or perhaps it doesn’t happen frequently enough that I noticed the stages before.

The part I like most happens after the sun dips below the horizon. For a quick moment there is still an orange streak on the horizon and just when the sky starts to get darker and you think the show might be over, the underside of the clouds light up and turn an intense shade of red. I like this even more when the clouds break up a little and there is some of the dark purple/blue sky behind them, as the sky gets ready for twilight. You get all the best parts of sunset and twilight in one sky.

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in awhile all the necessary elements for a perfect sunset align, like it did when I made this desert sunset photo at Joshua Tree National Park.

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park by Anne McKinnell

Please click the image to view a larger version.

I probably go out for a sunset shot 100 times before I get a sky like this. The thing is, it only lasts a moment, and you have to be ready. It’s even better if you can get a subject with an interesting shape in the foreground to form a silhouette.

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The Echo of a Shape at Jumbo Rocks

When I am photographing, I always keep my eye out for strong shapes since they tend to lead to strong compositions. Any shape will do: circles, squares, triangles, curves.

During my last visit to Joshua Tree National Park in California, I went back to a place I had been before, Jumbo Rocks, where there are all kinds of interesting rocks to photograph. But there was one rock in particular that intrigued me: a round rock balancing between some diamond shaped rocks. You can see my first photograph of it here.

Building on the shapes idea, I like to photograph what I think of as the echo of a shape. That’s where your main subject is a particular shape and then there is something in the background that is the same shape. This isn’t a formal type of composition or anything! I just got this idea while thinking of music one day and how the chorus is repeated, and I wondered if I could do that in photography by repeating shapes.

I had great fun scrambling over the rocks trying to find one that was just the right shape where I could put my original subject in the background.

Jumbo Rocks at Joshua Tree National Park by Anne McKinnell

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To me, this photo is more interesting than the original because of the repeating shape.

Later, I found a third rock to put in front.

Jumbo Rocks at Joshua Tree National Park by Anne McKinnell

I can never decide which one I like best!

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Joshua Tree National Park Panorama

Joshua Tree National Park in California is such a unique landscape that I really wanted to make a panorama image that would convey the vastness and the sheer quantity of Joshua Trees.

The first few I tried didn’t turn out so well though! The trees looked so small and unimpressive. I realized that the perspective I was using made all the trees carry the same importance and no particular tree was the main subject. So I tried getting close to one tree, placing it purposefully in the frame, and making it the star of the photo while the others provided a background.

Joshua Tree Panorama by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

One feature I love about the Sony NEX6 mirrorless camera is the ability to quickly and easily make a panorama. I think a lot of cameras come with this feature nowadays, but now that I have it in the Sony mirrorless camera, I really miss it when I am using my DSLR.

Instead of having to mess around with special pan heads to make a sequence of photos around a single axis, with a panorama enabled system, you can simply sweep your camera in the direction you specify while the camera takes the shots. Not only that, but you don’t even have to stitch them together in post processing, the camera does all the work for you!

With these technical matters taken care of, we can spend our time on the things that really matter most in a photograph, like using composition effectively to make a photo with impact.

Some people think that technology is replacing the techniques that used to be reserved for savvy professional photographers. But in my opinion, technology is taking care of these things for us so we can focus on the artistic side of photography.

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Pacific White-Sided Dolphin Encounter in Discovery Passage

It was one of the best boating days I’ve ever had. My first time going through Seymour Narrows, up Johnstone Strait, to Kelsey Bay on an absolutely glorious day.

Johnstone Strait by Anne McKinnell
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On the way home though Discovery Passage I spotted some porpoises a little ways off on the starboard side, so I decided to take a swing over there and see what was there. I was expecting some harbour porpoises, but as soon as I turned my boat towards them, all the fins turned towards me and I knew right away those were no harbour porpoises!

I felt the adrenaline start to surge because I knew these guys wanted to play – Pacific White-Sided Dolphins!!! A pod of about 15-20 of them.

Dolphin Tail by Anne Mckinnell

I was testing a lens I’m planning on taking with me to Africa – the 16-35 f/2.8L – so I quickly put that on knowing a wide angle lens would help me get the dolphins in the frame.

It’s quite a challenge driving the boat and photographing at the same time!! With the whales, I just put the boat in neutral or cut the engine and then photograph, and I only have to worry about how far the boat drifts. But the dolphins only play with a boat that’s moving so I knew I had to keep going.

Dolphin Abstract by Anne McKinnell

Sometimes I’m a little worried because they get so close to the boat. They love to swim in the wake right behind the engine! Then then go under the boat and jump on either side, go under again, and jump in front, all while I’m travelling at about 15 knots. I was actually getting splashed by the dolphins – which is really something special :)

But the dolphins are super agile and fast, so there’s really nothing to worry about. They are about 7-8 feet in length, weigh 300-450 pounds, and can easily swim 30 knots.

Pacific White Sided Dolphin by Anne McKinnell

So I have to look ahead to drive the boat and avoid logs, and then quickly look back or to the side and photograph. I don’t even try to look through the viewfinder, I just hold up my camera, aim in the general direction, and hope for the best.

They played with me for about 20 minutes! I got about 200 photos of splashes – and a few that actually had a dolphin in the frame.

Dolphin #1 by Anne McKinnell

Dolphin #2 by Anne McKinnell

Dolphin #3 by Anne McKinnell

Dolphin #4 by Anne McKinnell

Dolphin #5 by Anne McKinnell

Eventually I got into a place that had a lot of current and whirlpools and then a big bunch of kelp, so I had no choice but to slow down. At that point, the dolphins left me and I watched them swim off into the distance with a big smile on my face.

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Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

The photo in yesterday’s post was made on a foggy afternoon at Cannon Beach, Oregon.

The next day, the skies opened up and the sun shone on Cannon Beach’s iconic Haystack Rock. But there was still just enough fog lingering behind the rock to give the photo lots of mood.

Haystack Rock by Anne McKinnell
Please click the photo to view a larger version.

I found a spot where I could use a low angle to get some nice round rocks in the foreground to add depth to the scene.

Both this photo and yesterday’s photo were made with my Sony NEX6 and the 18-55mm lens.

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Another Foggy Day at Cannon Beach, Oregon

As my summer on Vancouver Island draws to a close and I start getting ready for my trip to Africa next month, I realize I have so many photos from our last snowbird season down south that I still haven’t shared with you!

I’m going to share as many of them as I possibly can over the next few weeks because I have a ton of new photos from British Columbia coming and I know I’m going to have lots of wildlife photos for you after my trip.

So here it goes!

Today’s Photo – Cannon Beach, Oregon

One thing I love about Cannon Beach, Oregon, is that you can always count on there being weather. It’s never just an average ho hum day. It’s either brilliant sunshine, dramatic cloudy skies, amazing sunset colours, or moody fog.

I made this photo on one of the moody foggy days back in December (which also happened to be my birthday).

Foggy day at Cannon Beach, Oregon by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

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How Cute is a Baby Burro?

Baby animals are always pretty cute, but I’m not sure there are any as cute as a baby burro!

At our campsite in Why, Arizona, I could often hear the burros eeyore-ing off in the distance. So one evening, as the light started to get soft and golden, I decided to take a walk on a trail behind the campsite and see if I could find them.

Burro and Saguaro

Please click on the images to view larger versions.

I walked for 10 or 15 minutes and then sure enough, I could hear them! But, they were back towards the campsite. So back I went, the way I came, and every time they eeyore-ed I adjusted my direction, picking my way through the cacti, to get closer.

Soon enough I found them, a whole herd of them, walking, eating and even playing! I kept my distance so as not to spook them, but followed them along in the direction they were going.

Arizona Burro

Pretty soon, I found myself back at the campsite and discovered where they were going. The baby pool! I saw a baby pool when we got to the campsite, but it never dawned on me that it was a drinking pool for the burros!!

Burros drinking from pool

As I was watching them all come to the pool, a little fluffy one ran out from between the adults!

Baby Burro

Since I had to look it up, I thought you might be curious too – a burro is a small donkey. They are no taller than an average human and weigh around 250 pounds.

I made all of these photos with my Sony NEX6 and the 55-210mm lens.

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Turn Point Lighthouse, Stuart Island, Washington

As you probably know by now, I love boating. Probably as much as I love photography. Sometimes I even get to combine the two.

I made this photo while boating this summer in Boundary Pass, which marks the border between Canada and the USA. The Turn Point Lighthouse marks the point where the border takes a sharp turn.

Turn Point Lighthouse by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

It doesn’t always look like this! This was a particularly calm and clear day when there was still quite a bit of snow on the Olympic Mountains in the background. I loved how the ocean was so smooth and soft in contrast to the rugged mountains.

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Best Method for Fixing Colour Casts Caused by Neutral Density Filters

I love using neutral density filters to block the amount of light coming in the camera when I am photographing seascapes. Blocking some of the light means that I can use longer shutter speeds to smooth the water or capture the motion of a wave as it rushes back to the sea.

Cannon Beach, Oregon, at sunset by Anne McKinnell
Please click the image to view a larger version.

How the Image was Made

I started out with a beautiful scene at Cannon Beach, Oregon. The longest exposure I could get by lowering my ISO to 100 and closing the aperture to f/22 was 1/4 of a second.

Cannon Beach Original

It’s nice, but one of the things I like the most about this location is the way the waves rush back to the sea and I wanted to capture that, so I needed an even longer exposure. That’s where the 4 stop neutral density filter comes in.

With the filter on, I was able to get an exposure of 2.5 seconds.

Cannon Beach Long Exposure

But, the colour cast!!! Argh!!!

All the neutral density filters have a terrible colour cast. If you know of one that doesn’t I would love to know about it.

I started out with a Cokin 4 stop neutral density filter ($40) and it has an awful magenta colour cast. Then I upgraded to a Singh-Ray 4 stop neutral density filter ($150) and it has a less intense magenta colour cast, but it’s definitely still there, as you can see in the photo above.

So, what to do? At least with the solid neutral density filter, as opposed to a graduated one, the colour cast is even throughout the frame, so you can “fix” it in post processing by adjusting the white balance. Or you could mess around with white balance in camera, but that’s a hassle we don’t need in the field, especially when it is so easily adjusted in post processing when you shoot RAW.

But, I have found that adjusting white balance isn’t necessarily the most effective method for fixing the colour cast problem.

Sure, it’s easy to move the white balance sliders, but getting the colour just right is another story.

Topaz ReStyle to the rescue! I have just discovered that by taking the photo into Topaz ReStyle and picking one of their seascape presets, the problem is instantly fixed! No more adjusting sliders by teeny amounts trying to get just the right amount of blue and not too much green.

Topaz ReStyle is now my go-to plugin for fixing colour casts!


By the way, if you haven’t tried any of the Topaz plugins yet, now is a great time because they are having a 50% off sale on their flagship product Topaz Adjust.

Topaz Adjust is a great first plugin to try because it includes a little bit of everything. You can create HDR/gritty looking images, images that look like paintings, or images that just give a bit of a boost in colour, clarity and contrast.

While I love many of the Topaz products, including ReStyle, Clarity, B&W Effects, Detail and DeNoise, I still think the best bang for your buck is Topaz Adjust.

You can get a free trial here and try out the plugin to make sure you like it. The sale is on until August 31, 2014. Make sure you use the coupon code augadjust to get the discount.

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Bald Eagle Dance

At our campsite in Campbell River, British Columbia, the bald eagles are constantly watching from above, flying by, and diving down for a fish.

One bald eagle sits on the top of a dead tree for hours every day. A few days ago, he was joined by a friend…

Two bald eagles by Anne McKinnell

I made this photo while practicing with my new Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens. I love that lens! But the eagles were a pretty long way away and I had to crop the image significantly for this composition, so unfortunately there is no larger version for you to look at this time.

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