Nick Carver Photography Blog

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Apr 10 Crystal Cove Workshop Results

I held a workshop out in Crystal Cove State Park on April 10th with a great group of students. The marine layer prevented a the sunset from showing any real color, but nevertheless, we made the most out of the scene. Here are my shots from the day. The first one is looking away from the ocean - something I don't often find myself doing at Crystal Cove, but these flowers were begging for a shot. It was taken with a circular polarizer to richen the sky.

This next one is more like one of my classic Crystal Cove shots. It was taken with a 2-stop hard transition split ND and a 1-stop hard transition split ND (place at different "heights").

Thank you to my wonderful students for attending! I hope you all learned a thing or two!

Joshua Tree National Park

Back on the 29th of March, I met a student out in Joshua Tree National Park for some 1-on-1 tutoring (Hey, Kim!). The hope was to capture some wildflower photographs but the bloom wasn't quite out just yet. There were some Desert Dandelions blooming along the side of the road, but nothing amazing. So instead, I led us out to Arch Rock and then the Cholla Cactus Gardens for some shots.

I wasn't jiving too well at Arch Rock, so I didn't bring anything home from it. The light was no good and I felt like I already got the best angles of it in a previous trip (you can see one of those shots here). But the Cholla Cactus Gardens turned out to be much more fun. I started out trying to capture the sheer denseness and expansiveness of this amazing wild garden by using my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to zoom into the landscape and get some pictures that highlighted the texture, shape, form and patterns of these cacti. I positioned myself so the sun would act as backlighting, giving the cacti a nice halo.

Then I put on my Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens to capture some more intimate, abstract views of these "Teddy Bear" cacti.

Then, when sunset rolled around, I switched to my wide-angle Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L and started working some more classic landscapes.


Click for a larger version of this panoramic

As I was doing some of these shots with my camera pointing southwest, I happened to glance over my shoulder towards the east to see the most stunning view of the full moon rising over the Colorado Desert. So, in a mad dash to beat the moon before it rose too high above the horizon, I called out to Kim to point her camera towards the moonrise, I switched out my lenses, framed up a quick composition and started firing away. The lesson here is never forget to look around when you're out in the field - sometimes the best shot is behind your back.

On our way out of the park, the full moon was shining so much light on the landscape that I just didn't feel right not stopping to get some nighttime shots. The following were taken at night under moonlight. You can see the constellation Orion if you look closely. The following shot was illuminated by nothing more than moonlight.

In this last shot, the rock formation in the background was illuminated solely by moonlight, but I "painted" the Joshua Tree in the foreground with a few sweeps of my LED headlamp throughout the 20-second exposure. I think it turned out quite well if I may say so myself!

Well there you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures - I know it's a lot this time, but I just couldn't leave any more out! All in all, the trip was a blast and it was great taking my very talented student, Kim, out there to teach her a thing or two about shooting in this great park! Until next time...

Photography Tips: What is a Polarizer?

This is the first in a series of photographic quick tips and how-to's I will be posting periodically. They will be categorized by difficulty level (Beginner, Intermediate & Pro) and can be found by using the "Tips & How-To" drop down menu at the top of this blog. You can also perform a search in the search box above to see if there are any posts on what you're looking for. Enjoy!

Skill Level: Beginner

Circular polarizing filters are pretty amazing, but I often find new photographers have purchased a polarizer not really knowing why they would need it or how to use it. Camera store salesmen seem to tack these things on to a sale without fully letting the customer (you) know why you need it. Well, that's where this post comes in.


Here I used a circular polarizer to darken the blue sky & make the clouds "pop"

The first thing to know about polarizers is that there are 2 types: linear and circular polarizers. I won't go into the details of how they are structurally different or how these filters work (for that, check out this great post over at BobAtkin.com), but understand that all modern-day DSLRs require a circular polarizer, not a linear one. Linear polarizers will cause the metering and autofocus to work incorrectly on today's cameras. Also, keep in mind that there is no easy way to tell a linear polarizer from a circular polarizer short of the manufacturer's label - linear polarizers are round just like circular polarizers.

The second thing to know about polarizing filters is their purpose in photography, and that's to reduce/cut out reflections and to darken blue skies. Polarizers seem almost magical when you view this effect through your viewfinder. That blue sky will darken to a beautiful indigo without touching the clouds or the foreground, and that reflection off the water's surface will vanish into thin air. Check out these side-by-side comparisons to see the effect:

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Without Polarizer _________ With Polarizer

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Without Polarizer ____                                _____ With Polarizer

The last thing you need to know about polarizing filters is how to use them. You'll notice the polarizer has a tint to it (it's impossible to make a crystal clear polarizer). This will cut the light coming through your lens a bit, but don't worry, your camera will take it into account and compensate for it automatically (if you're in any auto-exposure mode). The effectiveness of a polarizer is dictated by its rotation, which is why they typically have a double collar that allows you to rotate the filter without unscrewing it, so just look through your viewfinder and rotate the filter until you get the desired effect. There's no hard rule to this, just rotate it until you get the effect you want.

And there you have it! It's that simple! Now head out and give it a try!