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Exploring Monument Valley

September 22nd, 2017

Exploring Monument Valley

When you first arrive at Monument Valley, a part of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona and southeast Utah, you’re first stop is at the wonderfully situated View Hotel. The eastern facing patios and decks provide outstanding views of the main iconic rock formations – the East and West Mittens and Merrick Butte. From there descends a 17-mile scenic dirt loop road that winds its way through the park. Whether you stop at the Hotel or drive the loop some of the best scenery is closest to the Hotel.

Throughout the valley are a variety of formations and sand dunes due to the windy conditions and orange/red desert sand. This variety combined with great light and occasional storms offers photographers a never-ending pallet of conditions in which to capture the area. The more dramatic light occurs around sunrise and sunset, but depending on the skies you may find interesting compositions during the day as well. Visit my gallery at http://kemperimagery.com/collections/monument+valley for some of the opportunities you will find.

To get good access to the Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chei dancers and the rippled dunes around them you’ll need to hire a Navajo guide and be on location before sunrise. The area described is off limits without a guide, and you would not want to drive your vehicle on the rutted roads anyway. Hiring a guide supports the locals and you’ll benefit from their stories and access to sites off the main loop.

I would recommend spending two or three days in the area to allow for different weather conditions. This is high desert so everything from wind, rain, snow and sunshine are possible. There is not much in the way of entertainment in the area, although there are a few interesting museums (attached to the Hotel and at Gouldings Lodge) that delve into the history of the area. At Gouldings they present history of the movies that have used Monument Valley as a backdrop (Back to The Future, Forest Gump, and many Westerns and more). Lodging is somewhat limited, but there are a few options (the View Hotel, Gouldings, and a bed and breakfast or two).

If you are planning on offering any of your photos for sale or license, the Navajo Nation requires that you obtain a permit to do so. While this could cost you $100 or more depending on how long you are there, it eliminates any copyright issues if you did want to offer them on the market. I found that the permits are not issued at the headquarters of Monument Valley and need to be obtained (via email) from the Navajo Nation in Window Rock. This requires you to plan ahead. I suspect that many photographers do not get a permit and are risking being pursued by the Navajo for copyright infringement.

Hiking the big dunes

July 7th, 2017

Hiking the big dunes

Have you imagined getting off into the big deserts to hike among the sweeping sand dunes of the Sahara or the Rub al Khali in the U.A.E? For many it may not be a reality to travel half way around the world to achieve this dream. But for those who live in the United States there are a few options that are worthy substitutes. One of those is Great Sand Dunes National Park in south central Colorado on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising to a maximum height of 750 feet (229 m) from the floor of the San Luis Valley on the western base of the Sangre de Cristo Range, covering about 19,000 acres (7,700 ha). Researchers say that the dunes started forming less than 440,000 years ago.

The dunes were formed from sand and soil deposits of the Rio Grande and its tributaries, flowing through the San Luis Valley. Over the ages, glaciers feeding the river and the vast lake that existed upon the valley melted, and the waters evaporated. Westerly winds picked up sand particles from the lake and river flood plain. As the wind lost power before crossing the Sangre de Cristo Range, the sand was deposited on the east edge of the valley. This process continues, and the dunes are slowly growing. The wind changes the shape of the dunes daily.

With the gorgeous backdrop of surrounding mountains the park is a photographers delight and provides ample hiking opportunities to surround yourself by the large dunes. Shadow play in the early and later hours of the day make for photographs with interest and great depth. So, if you want the experience of the sand dunes but are unable to travel around the world, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a great option.

Scott Kemper is a published landscape and world travel photographer who's fine art photography is available through his website at www.kemperimagery.com.

Balloons, Balloons, Balloons

June 20th, 2017

Balloons, Balloons, Balloons

Have you ever seen the sky literally filled with hot air balloons? From cows, to Darth Vader, to cartoon characters and more, the Albuquerque Balloon Festival presents the worlds largest collection of hot air balloons each year for a week in October (for details see www.balloonfiesta,com). Along with the balloons, you'll be entertained with music and laser light shows.

Arrive early to see the the test balloons go up just before dawn. We got up at 4am to get to the launch area in time to see the first balloons launch. It is a great scene and you are allowed to walk throughout the launch field to get very close to the balloons and the launch crews. If conditions are favorable, over the next hour hundreds of colorful balloons will scatter across the early morning sky, drifting where the winds take them. If conditions are perfect (as they often are) the balloons catch natural wind currents that allow them to circle the launch area. What you'll likely miss are the chase teams racing to get to their designated balloon as it lands. Some end up in the river and many on private property with restricted access. Watch the evening news for some of the landing stories of the day.

If you get there early and plan on photographing the launches understand that the sky will be very dark to start with. A tripod or a higher ISO setting will be required to get these shots. The balloons will be bright against the dark sky so expose for the balloons. As the sun rises the light bounces beautifully off of the balloons and lower ISO's and shutter speeds will work. Composition options abound. Get some wide shots of the balloon filled sky, then work on select compositions like the one above with the friendly cow in the foreground that moves beyond the grand shot. You'll have so much fun that you'll forget how early you got up to do all of this.

Scott Kemper is a landscape and travel photographer based in Arizona. His work has been published around the world in magazines, calendars, newspapers, and for business advertising. Scott recently began offering select images as wall art for home or business. If you have questions you can reach Scott through his website www.kemperimagery.com.

Trekking Nepal - Summiting Gokyo Ri

June 12th, 2017

Trekking Nepal - Summiting Gokyo Ri

On Day 6 of our 76-mile trek we reach the “outpost” named Gokyo at 15,720 feet. Gokyo is situated on one of a series of picturesque glacial lakes (Gokyo Tsho) and surrounded by high Himalayan peaks in all directions. Behind the village, a 200 foot ridge hides the Ngozumba Glacier that flows mainly from Cho Oyu, an 8,188 meter peak several miles to the north. The town consists of several lodges/inns, a bakery and bookstore, a small medical building, and a few residents to attend to visitors. It is not uncommon for the quiet to be interrupted by helicopter clatter as one circles the lake for a landing to rescue someone who has altitude sickness or a lung infection. Now in Gokyo our acclimatization for two climbs to 18,000 feet is complete.

In Gokyo, at lakes edge, lesser mountains hide views of Mt. Everest and Nuptse to the east. Cho Oyu is visible directly up the valley northeast, which contains several more glacial lakes. To our west rises Phari Lapche at 6,017 meters reflecting magically in Gokyo Tsho as the sun moves in an out of the clouds. Miles to the southwest are Kangtega and Thamserku that we passed several days earlier. The temperatures hover around 30 degrees (F) and the air is very dry.

We rise earlier on Day 7 than other days so that we can begin the arduous 2,300-foot climb to the summit of Gokyo Ri. From there we hope to see a relatively cloudless view of the entire spine of the highest of the Himalaya. The trail zigs and zags steeply through the dry landscape and we stop frequently to catch our breath. Although it is important to watch your step, it is equally as important to me to take in the views and recognize photo opportunities. After two and a half hours we reach our 18,000-foot summit and are greeted with spectacular views of Mt. Everest and its neighbors. We catch our breath, take in some snacks and absorb our surroundings. A light breeze blows the prayer flags strung across the summit, but it is otherwise quiet and somewhat surreal. After about 20 minutes it becomes apparent that late morning clouds are moving up the valley from where we had come and that our views will soon be impacted. I set up to take a panoramic (which I did take), however Everest goes behind the clouds and does not reappear.

Due to the limitations of the blog host I can only imbed one photo. Others can be viewed in the “Mountains” collection on my site. This southeast looking photo shows Everest, Nuptse and Lotse in the background (top middle) with the bottom of Gokyo Ri rising in the foreground up to the left. At the far end of Gokyo Tsho (lake), almost hidden, is the village of Gokyo (follow the trail to its far end). This photo was taken the next day as we hiked to 18,000 feet to cross Renjo La (pass).

Trekking in Nepal - Namche Bazaar

June 5th, 2017

Trekking in Nepal - Namche Bazaar

Day one on the trail from the drop off point at Lukla is deceiving as the challenges to come do not yet reveal themselves. Notwithstanding the fact that the altitude gain from Kathmandu is one mile to over 9,000 feet, the net elevation gain on the trail the first day is negligible. On day two the trail bounces from one side to the other of the Dudh Koshi Nadi (river) via a series of cable suspension bridges, the last of which is some 300-400 feet above the river. It is at the point of this last bridge that a severe uphill hike begins. After several hours of switchbacks through a forested mountainside you reach Namche Bazaar at just over 11,000 feet. By this time you are tired and breathing a little heavy.

Namche, as shown in the photo, is nestled in a bowl with an open side to the west that drops steeply into a river valley. Across the valley towers snow-covered Kongde at just under 15,000 feet. To the south, east and north of Namche rise the biggest of the Himalaya Mountains, and where on the trial a meal and a roof over your head is what you can expect. This makes this growing town the last chance to find the things you may need as you continue your journey. Complete with a vibrant market, restaurants, pubs and lodging, Namche is a place of anticipation and celebrations depending on which direction you are traveling.

Many trekkers will spend a few nights in Namche to acclimatize. It is common to day hike another 1000 feet plus higher to the Everest View Hotel with great views of Mt. Everest, Lohtse, and Ama Dablam. Completing a loop before returning to Namche is a hike to Khunde, a village with a school that was largely constructed with funds from the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation. The return to Namche makes one realize the severity of the hillsides that descend into the town. This short stay in Namche provides respite and a chance to prepare for higher altitudes beyond.

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Trekking in Nepal - Sharing the Trail

May 30th, 2017

Trekking in Nepal - Sharing the Trail

This image captures a common site on the trail in Sagarmatha National Park. Yaks move along the trail and Ama Dablam (6856 meters) provides a dramatic background as we trek higher in the direction of Mt. Everest. These small “yak trains” move supplies up and down the mountains as there are no roads in the area. Goods, food, and construction materials must move on somebody or something’s back or via helicopter. As a photographer, more so than the regular trekkers, a greater level of awareness is required for several reasons.

When you first start on a Himalayan trail in Nepal you quickly realize that you will be sharing the trail with humans and animals alike. Add to this that the trails are generally uneven rocks and narrow considerably in the steeper sections, so learning to safely navigate your way requires that a few principals be put into practice. A photographer staying alert for photo opportunities only adds another distraction. One would assume a higher level of predictability for people than for animals. While mostly true, the mixture of people from different parts of the world, different physical abilities, different ideas on how to share space (and which side to pass on), and different levels of awareness means you can’t completely assume how they will act. Aside from twisted ankles or knees trail accidents are fairly rare, but can be fatal in certain sections of the trail if one were to get bumped in the wrong direction. So, awareness even around our fellow humans is very important.

The trails running to Everest Base Camp and other parts of Sagarmatha National Park run from congested to wide open. But no matter where you are you will encounter mules, yaks and porters. In each case they normally carry wide loads and take up a lot of space. Without judgment I can tell you that the mules and yaks don’t care who you are or where you are standing. They are doing a job and it isn’t in their nature to care a lot about your well-being. So the moral of the story is that you stand to the side and on the inside of the trail when they approach. We learned quickly that standing on the outside of a mountain trail when sharing it with a 300 pound animal with a wide load raises the odds that you’ll be taking flight over the edge. Porters, some of who are carrying ridiculous loads (weight and girth) supported by straps over their head are normally looking down at where to place their next step. They also need a wide berth when you encounter them.

So while there are things to know and a few challenges on the trail it is manageable. As a photographer you’ll have more to deal with, but it is certainly worth it.

Trekking in Nepal - Landing in Lukla

May 23rd, 2017

Trekking in Nepal - Landing in Lukla

For those of you that consider trekking around the highest peaks in the world a goal or a dream you’ll want to read on. In April of 2017 a friend and I traveled 2 days from the U.S. to Kathmandu, Nepal where we met our guide to begin a 76 mile trek that took us from 9,000 feet to 18,000 feet and among four of the tallest peaks on the planet.

As I share some of the images from this trip I wanted to include some of the experience around the photographs so that you have some words to go with the visuals. As always, find your way to www.kemperimagery.com for more amazing photos from around the world or follow me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn as shown below.

After a short stay in Kathmandu we helicoptered to Lukla at 9334 feet where our trek would begin. On the way we flew over successively higher ridges where the landscape was populated with small farms and terraced fields clinging to step hillsides. Thirty-five minutes and 5,000 feet after we left hazy, dusty Kathmandu we landed at what has been called the most dangerous airport in the world. The runway at Tenzing - Hillary Airport is perched on a mountainside and is very short. There are many days when planes cannot fly into or leave Lukla due to weather. To help planes manage the shorter landing platform the runway is pitched 11.7% upward toward a mountain. There are no second chances or opportunities to abort and go around at this airport. In this photo a plane loaded with trekkers leaving Lukla for Kathmandu prepares for takeoff.

I’ll be sharing more photos from this trip and providing more color on the experience. If you have any questions, feel free to email me via the link on this site.

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Keys to Better Photography - COMPOSITION

March 28th, 2017

Keys to Better Photography - COMPOSITION

[A reminder that this series is for those interested in more discussion around what contributes to better images. You could be newer to photography, trying to increase your success rate, or a veteran wanting a refresher. I will continue the series until I run out of topics. If you wish to offer any suggestions or just add to the discussion, feel free leave a comment.]

The first in this series dealt with the topic of light and its immense importance to your photographs. Without good or appropriate light our images fall flat and uninteresting, in the end having little commercial value.

Very high the list of important ingredients that make up a good image is composition. No matter how expensive your camera and lenses, as the pilot of the process you make choices about what goes in the frame and what stays out. A good composition has a focal point or something of interest that becomes the ultimate feature in your frame. Subjects are diverse and may be a pattern, a leading line, textures, a group or series of items, and more. Having multiple subjects (flowers, trees, people,) in your frame can and does work, but in these situations I believe your results will be better if one or a few of those subjects stand out in some way. Without a clear subject the viewers eye will wonder, trying to find a place to land.

I recently had the opportunity to return to the rim of the Grand Canyon, an amazing place no matter how many times you visit. Each visit brings different light and ways to capture its incredible beauty. As I stood at the rim I was again challenged to think about what my subject or focal point would be. The urge to pull out a wide-angle lens and randomly aim across the canyon, as grand as it is, had to be resisted. For the most part wide-angle shots would capture too much and wouldnt draw the viewer to a subject or a focal point. So, with great light as a starting point I began to focus on what, for me, I saw as the feature of the canyon layers. Most of my images were moderate zooms that filled the frame with layer upon layer of the canyons amazing rock formations and patterns, which gave the image amazing depth. On other trips to the canyon nature provided passing storms or interesting clouds that allowed me to shoot a little wider because the sky added interest to the shot.

When you have identified your subject you need to determine what else, if anything goes into your frame. What adds or detracts from your subject? Too many or simply distracting elements will detract from your subject and the success of the image. Control these unwanted elements and be rewarded. For me, shooting in urban environments is challenging given the multitude of things happening in any given frame. Ask yourself: Do I really want that branch crossing in front of or sticking out from behind the subject? Do I want those random people wondering through the frame? What is going on in the background or in the corners? Do those power lines or random objects enhance that sunset? To manage these distractions Ill move in or use zooms, try at another time if that will help, actively crop, or take the labor-intensive path of cloning out the distractions in post processing. Effective use of selective focus or working with depth of field can also reduce the impact of unwanted distractions.

We all should be aware of the rule of thirds. This rule supports the notion that your subject should be placed in one of the four corners of your frame to introduce visual tension or negative space. There are a few situations where centering your subject is visually interesting, but not that many. A good example where it does work is with reflections where the subject can be mirrored in some form of water or other reflective surface. Otherwise, centering your horizon or subject is not that visually interesting. Many cameras actually have a grid built in to the viewfinder that helps you offset your subject into one of four different corners of the frame.

Cropping is a useful tool. For years I was reluctant to crop to any degree as it decreased my native file sizes. That meant that I needed to get things right in the camera the first time, which was a good habit to build. With newer cameras and larger native files affords the opportunity to fine-tune your framing in post processing. While I still work to get things the way I want them in camera, I am gradually using my crop tool more often to better focus and flatter my subject. Dont be afraid to crop when you couldnt or didnt get the framing right in camera.

Happy shooting!

Keys to Better Photography - First in a Series

March 27th, 2017

As a member of several online venues where millions of photos and art are available for purchase or license I see a wide range of photography. As you would expect, there are some fantastic photographs coming from some good artists. On the flip side there are many photographs that reflect a photographer struggling to understand the components of a good photograph. Without an understanding those elements there comes an inability to self-edit or self critique.

To those who have advanced skills or are happy with their work you may want to stop reading. For those wanting to improve their results or want a refresher, today I am starting a new series that highlights what I believe to be the keys to advancing your photographic skills. The keys presented in this series will not only serve to help you better critique your own work, but also increase your percentage of successes when you sit down at your computer to edit. Todays topic is light. In the future Ill address composition, subjects, distractions, critiquing your own work, post processing, and more.

When I pick up my camera I am not only trying to capture moments for my own memories, but since I started licensing images and selling prints many years ago it became more important to excite and captivate those who view them. Over the years my success rate has improved considerably through practice and measuring my work against those that are better. I am still trying new things, sometimes failing and other times succeeding. I either case I continue to learn and push my understanding of what works.

I have never held my photography up as the standard for the world, but through practice and reflection I have come a long way to understanding the elements that combine to make an interesting and hopefully a captivating image. I am generally a tough critic of my work and am not afraid to pitch photos into the digital trash box when things dont work as planned. It is easy to fall in love with a photo that should have been great but that missed the mark. I refer to my work as imagery as I feel it better describes what I do. You can take a photo or your can create and image. So for those who want to up their game and show the world better results lets begin.

LIGHT
This is where it all starts. It flatters or diminishes your subject. Light often makes or breaks a photo and should be a primary consideration when you are visualizing a photograph. An average subject with great light is often better than a great subject in poor light. I have forced many shots when the light was poor because I was impatient or my timing was bad. More often or not those images end up in the trash can or linger deep in my files never to see the light of day. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/sun-rays-scott-kemper.html

Most outdoor and nature photographers do not introduce light into a scene and therefore rely on the sun as the primary light source. There are ways to control light (diffusers, reflectors, etc), but thats another topic. The angle of the light, the angle of your shot, and the quality of the light are critical to enhancing your subject. For landscape photography the best light is most often in the hours around sunrise and sunset. For macro photography a diffused or even light often works best (yes, cloudy days can be good for this). I observe far too many flower photographs taken in contrasty light, or landscape photographs taken at mid-day or on cloudy days when the light is very flat. If you are attempting to sell your images or do well in contests you need to edit these out of your portfolio. The point is that it is lazy to shoot in bad light if you have the opportunity choose the when and where to optimize the light for your subject. This will put you on your road to better photographs.

When youve found your subject you need to visualize how you want to use the available light relative to your subject. Some people will simply start shooting and ultimately work toward better shots. Thats okay, thats their process. You may also visualize exactly what you want and then put yourself in a position (physically and time of day) to accomplish your goal. So consider what angle of light will flatter your subject. Sometimes your initial thoughts will morph into other and sometimes better ideas. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/lily-sunset-scott-kemper.html

Ill admit that most of my favorite images came about with good planning, but some do not. When I am traveling on a schedule I am moving about and cant always be where I need to be at the right time. For those subjects I know I want to capture I plan ahead and make the time. For others my subjects often present themselves because the light is so fantastic. In other words, I hadnt planned on the shot, but Im glad the light gave me the opportunity! The key is I am putting myself in the right places at the right time given the light. The rest is serendipity. Remember, light can make an average subject look great or a great subject look bad.

Feel free to share your comments or add to this discussion. If there are specific subjects youd like me to address, feel free to let me know.

Maximizing photo opportunites when Traveling

March 14th, 2017

Maximizing photo opportunites when Traveling

If you travel and enjoy photography as a hobby or more seriously you've undoubtedly found yourself in the right place at the wrong time. It happens to me all the time. Many of my trips combine pleasure with work and include friends or family that are less attuned to the needs of a photographer! Don't get me wrong, my companions are usually great, but there is often a fair amount of compromise in our scheduling that doesn't always allow me to photograph my subject at the optimal time.

So, assuming you are attempting to maintain a high standard, how to you continue to capture that sense of place and memories if, say, the sun is high in the sky and the light is harsh. For the most part sweeping landscape shots are not going to look good. Even portraits and details are not going to look good under the open sky. It is in these situations where I'll put the camera away or search out the details that yield a sense of place. But just as important as the subject matter is where the subject is located. I'm looking for my subjects to be out of the sunlight - under covered areas or indoors. Bounce or diffused light is a great light source and can make for interesting images. I'll even move my subjects into this type of light to get the shot. So, you can continue to capture interesting, quality images throughout the day if you consider opportunities where the light works for you instead of against you. Try it next time you travel.

Scott Kemper is a published free-lance photographer with a focus on travel locations and landscapes. His imagery has been published around the world. A select group of prints are available at www.kemperimagery.com. Have questions? Contact Scott at scott@kemperimagery.com.

 

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