Saturday, May 30, 2015

Family Trip - Arches/Canyonlands National Park - Spring 2015

This has been one of the snowiest (and rainiest) springs I can remember.  We were lucky to get in a couple trips over spring break in early April before the bad weather.  I can't remember the last time we've had so many days in a row without seeing the sun!

School is out now and we're ready to climb, but the Colorado high peaks are absolutely CAKED in snow from the last month of storms:

Grand Traverse Peak in the Gore Mountain Range near the town of Vail Colorado covered in snow
Grand Traverse Peak - Vail, Colorado 5/26/15

We decided not to fight the conditions and headed down to Moab for the week.   Cami and I had never been there before and we were long overdue for some family fun time.  These kinds of trips are always interesting with a 2 year old along for the ride.  It can be a challenge, but totally worth it.  Below I've added a couple of my favorite images from our trip.


"Who would believe that rocks can be so beautiful!" - Cami

Panorama of Arches National Park with Balanced Rock Turret Arch and the La Sal Mountains
Arches National Park Panorama

Double Arch:

A couple years ago, I painted a picture that my dad took from inside Double Arch on one of his trips.  The original painting is hanging in one of his rooms:

Acrylic Painting of the view inside Double Arch Arches National Park Utah by Artist Aaron Spong
Double Arch Acrylic Painting - Prints Available

It was cool to go find the exact spot inside the Double Arch that he took his photo from years ago and recreate the scene I had once painted. Yep…it looks about right:

Delicate Arch is the most well known landscape scene in Utah.  It's a fun little hike up to the top with a crowd of people even on a week day in early spring.  We carried KD to the top and waited a couple and a half hours for sunset.  There isn't much room for kids to roam with steep ledges all around the viewing area.  My wife is a very patient woman and was able to entertain our daughter for the entire time while I sat with my tripod waiting for the right shooting conditions.  We all huddled under the umbrella as it rained on us a couple times.  The sun came out briefly about an hour before sunset and never peaked out again that evening.  Just enough time to get a good shot.

Here's my Go-pro time lapse of Delicate Arch in the afternoon. Notice the rain drops on the rock:



Dead Horse Point State Park at sunrise viewing the Colorado River overlook
Dead Horse Point State Park

Mesa Arch:

The Mesa Arch is probably the second most popular place in the Moab area.  I knew I would have to be early to get a good spot Friday morning.  By the time the sun rose, there were about 20 photographers all huddled together in front of the arch.    People were bumping into each other and even arguing and pushing to get the right view.  I think these people need to go back and take a Kindergarden class and relearn the rules for being a person.   This ridiculous behavior would have been enough to ruin the experience for us if the view wasn't so awesome!  These cliche locations are famous for a reason.

Mesa Arch sunrise panorama in Canyonlands National Park Utah with sunburst
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands

To see more images or for fine art print information, visit my Arches/Canyonlands gallery

Monday, May 18, 2015

Design - Colorado 14ers List with Profile Outlines

Colorado 14ers poster with peak silhouette outlines peak profiles and levels of all 58 mountains
Prints Available

My recent design featuring the Colorado 14ers is quickly becoming one of the best selling prints on my website.  Each of the ranked 14,000 ft. peaks in Colorado is represented from left to right/top to bottom in order of elevation.  Mt. Elbert is at the top at 14,433 ft. above sea level.   Each peak has a unique silhouette/profile that distinguishes it from the others.  Many people who live near these mountains are able to identify these peaks simply by looking at their outline.

Close up detail of peak outlines

Years ago, I was describing the beauty of the mountains we saw on our recent trip to a friend.  I drew a line on a paper to show him what Mt. Princeton looked like.  This gave me the idea to create an entire picture that listed and illustrated all the unique lines representing the peaks.  I spent a long time drawing out each outline and arranging them on the rock textured Colorado state flag background in photoshop.  Once finished, I posted this image on social media and it quickly went viral.   After a couple months, it had been repined over 10,000 times on Pinterest! 

One thing I've found is that Coloradans are proud of their state…and rightfully so!  What's not to like?   Great scenery, skiing, 4wheeling, fishing, hiking, climbing, rafting, sunny weather, the list is endless.  I can't think of another location I'd rather live.  You don't often see people from other states wearing their state flag on their hats and T-shrts like they do here.

A different version of this poster without the flag: 

Prints Available

I also offer a large size of this design on value priced poster paper here:

And even on T-shirts, minus the labels:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Consumer vs. Pro Lens Comparison for Landscape Photography

Notice: This post might seem a bit boring to you if you're not in to photography.  It is more about my personal thoughts on what lenses I need to get more than anything, but might be useful to someone else who is at the same place in their studies as I am. 

After studying and looking at many different camera lenses, I was excited when a friend from school recently offered to let me borrow her husband's Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 professional grade lens.  I went to try it out for a quick sunrise shoot near Boulder.  I found a spot where you could get the Boulder Flatirons AND Longs Peak in the same frame from an angle south of town.  This location is quite a distance away from these two landmarks and would required a telephoto lens.  I scouted out the area the evening before and found that 200mm would be just about right for the shot.  I took the big 80-200 and compared it to my 55-200 kit lens.  The next morning I took some sunrise shots with it, then I picked a location to do my experiment once the golden hour was over.

Both images were taken with a d7100 body on a tripod at 200mm focal length and aperture of f8.  I did no post processing. Here are the results:

55-200 VR kit lens

80-200 pro lens
Obviously, the difference between the two can't be noticed until zoomed in a bit on the screen.  The one thing that jumps out at you is how much more contrast there is in the cheaper lens.  The colors are deeper on the kit lens too.

55-200 100% center crop
80-200 100% center crop
At the center, the two are very similar.  The 80-200 seems just a hair sharper, but not enough to make a difference for the prints I make.

55-200 100% edge crop
80-200 100% edge crop
At the edge at 100% there is a pretty big difference in sharpness.  The kit lens is pretty blurry, while the pro lens is about as sharp at the edge as it is in the center.  Keep in mind this might be partially due to the fact that we are using an FX lens on a DX cropped sensor camera and therefore not even using the edges of the lens, so we can't truly see how sharp this lens is at it's edge if it were used on a full frame body.  I suspect (and hope) it would still be pretty sharp though compared to the first image.

Sooooo….What does this mean for a landscape photographer?  I know that many of the pro lenses are built for specific shooting situations.  They perform better in low light when hand held (I usually use a tripod), they are better at shooting moving targets (I usually shoot mountains that don't move), and as seen in this quick comparison, generally have better optics (in this situation with blurry edges, there are techniques that can be done to compensate).  They are also built much bigger and  stronger (which could be a positive or a negative if you're like me and do most of your photography during hiking trips and don't want to carry more weight).  They are MUCH more expensive (I am a poor art teacher).

In my opinion, a 2.8 lens is a bit overkill for landscape photography.  I would almost never even use the f2.8 aperture because I want a huge depth of field to capture the entire scene in my shots.  The only difference between the two lenses that matters for me is the image sharpness and quality.  All the other advantages that come with pro grade lenses are not even really helpful for landscapes.  I simply cannot justify spending thousands on a lens for minimal improvement in sharpness.  There are newer higher end consumer telephoto zoom lenses that rival the 2.8 lenses in image quality when stopped down that I am looking at.  The 70-300 has pretty high praise from its reviews.

Anyway, hope this was helpful!  It was fun getting to play around with some new equipment.  Here's a parting panorama from the sunrise earlier that morning:

Boulder Flatirons and Longs Peak with Mt. Meeker in the Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado
Flatirons and Longs Peak - Prints Available