Selecting Camera Mode: Manual, Aperture Priority & Shutter Priority

Use the mode that helps you capture the image you want

Are the settings on your camera really so hard to understand? Of course not, but it can seem that way at the start, especially if they are not explained to you in simple terms you can understand.

Great white egret at Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some photography snobs, shooting in manual mode is a badge of honor, shunning any other mode as something akin to cheating. I do shoot in manual mode, but I use Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority as my preferred modes of choice.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Typically represented by a capital A (or sometimes Av, short for Aperture Value) on the camera mode dial, aperture priority allows the photographer to dial in this specific exposure setting—the ƒ-stop—and asks the camera to calculate the correct corresponding shutter speed in the instant before the shutter is released. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s back up just a moment for a better understanding of how aperture priority mode works.

Related: 10 Essential Photography Tips Every Photographer Needs to Remember

Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A camera has three primary exposure modifiers: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. The aperture (also called ƒ-stop) is the size of the opening in the lens which modifies the amount of light that’s let into the camera.

The shutter speed modifies the duration that light is let into the camera.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And the ISO (or film speed, back in the old days) represents how sensitive to light the sensor will be. A higher ISO is more sensitive to light (and produces more noise) while a lower ISO is less light sensitive but produces a cleaner signal and better image quality. These days, though, sensor technology is so good that even high ISOs still look great.

Related: Photography: The Geometry of Nature

One of many frog murals in Rayne, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s by adjusting these three settings in combination that proper exposure is established. If you allow in less light with a smaller aperture, you’ll need to balance it with more light from a longer shutter speed. Add to one, take away from the other. Simple, right?

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Well, sometimes it’s not so simple, particularly in situations in which the light is changing. This could be when I’m photographing in full sun then moments later in shade. These changing situations make automatic exposure modes more convenient than continuously recalculating the correct manual exposure.

Sandhill cranes in Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But rather than turning over all the control to the camera, modes such as Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority allow the photographer to retain manual control over one specific setting. In this case, it’s Aperture Priority, where the photographer sets the ƒ-stop and the camera calculates the correct shutter speed to accompany it.

Hoover Dam and Colorado River, Nevada/Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aperture Priority mode is particularly helpful in situations where the photographer wants to set a specific depth of field and have that setting take priority over the shutter speed.

Applegate River Valley, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aperture Priority is my mode of choice with landscape photography. To create a sharp image area through greater depth of field the photographer can dial in a tiny aperture such as ƒ/22, and in Aperture Priority the camera will determine which shutter speed will produce the correct exposure. Be warned, though, that in this case, a tripod may be necessary if low light requires a long shutter speed that’s too long to handhold.

Related: Travel Photography Tips You Don’t Usually Hear

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that we understand the way Aperture Priority mode works, we’ll look at its counterpart on the automatic exposure spectrum: Shutter Priority exposure mode.

Often represented by an S or Sv on the camera mode dial, Shutter Priority mode sees the photographer dialing in a manual shutter speed and leaving the selection of the appropriate aperture to the camera’s brain.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with any automatic exposure mode, Shutter Priority is particularly helpful in changing light situations, though it’s useful in any situation in which it’s the shutter speed you primarily want to control.

Ladybird Wildlife Center in Austin, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, when I’m shooting birds I want at least 1/500th, I can set the shutter speed in Shutter Priority and let the camera pick the correct aperture to accompany it.

Related: The Beginners Guide to Birding (and Bird Photography) on Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Moose Farms Maple Sugarworks, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware though if your shutter speed is too fast for the available light you may end up with underexposed images. This can be corrected by dialing in a higher ISO.

Worth Pondering…

Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.

—Peter Adams

10 Essential Photography Tips Every Photographer Needs to Remember

From just-starting-out to novice to experienced, there’s something we can all learn to improve our photos

Photography is a beautiful journey, filled with adventure, and an occasional killer photo. Regardless of where you are on that journey—just starting or embarking on a professional career—these 20 quick little tips will help you and your images stay in focus.

Highland Hammock State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. No matter how pro you get, it’s still a passion play

Don’t lose the spark that got you into photography. Your passion for creating beautiful images of things that interest you is the underlying motivating force behind every shot you take. When that spark goes out, it also leaves your images. So, treat your inspiration and creativity as the most vital skill you have. Honor it, cultivate it, and nurture it.

Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Lighting is everything

You can always get to know light better. Whether it’s landscape photography or birds, lighting is the most important part of photography. Try different ways of capturing light.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Establish your own composition rules

Whether it’s an adherence to the rule of thirds, a love of circles, filling the frame, dramatic lines, or repeating patterns, your choices in how you frame a shot defines your photography.

St. Mary’s, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Shoot like a pro, think like a student

As good as your photos get, there’s always room to learn and improve. When you keep a student mentality, it keeps you curious and focused.

Twin Falls, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Zen and the art of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

Here’s what you need to know about the big three: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Each is designed to give more light with a payoff. Understand what each element takes away as it increases light:

  • A larger aperture gives more light but takes away the length of your depth of field (blurrier backgrounds)
  • Slower shutter speeds give more light but make your images blurry with camera motion or subject movement
  • Higher ISO offer more light but adds noise to your image

When shooting in manual, know what the controls take away as well as what they give you.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Leading your viewer

As lines recede in space, they converge. We know it as perspective. Photographers use leading lines to engage the viewer by drawing their attention into and through an image and to create a dynamic feel. Experiment with the height of your camera, how you position it to look down a road or meandering stream, and where the lines all lead. Kneeling down can dramatically change the way a photo will feel. Likewise, looking down from a high point will alter the perspective. And don’t forget to turn around. A stellar shot may be behind you.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Move closer

As the legendary photographer, Robert Capa used to say, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” To get the composition you need, sometimes you need to get close—really close. Moving in close to foreground subjects adds incredible depth to a photo. In most cases, you’ll want to shoot at a small aperture to maximize the depth of field in the resulting image.

Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Always have your camera with you

Put your camera in an unassuming backpack or another option, and keep it near at hand—just in case. You can’t take a photo if you don’t have your camera handy.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. There won’t be a next time

I’m sure I’m not the only one who says “That’s a great scene, but I’m just too tired, or I’m in a hurry. I’ll return later when there’s improved quality of light or come back another day.” There’s rarely a next time—and if there is, conditions have changed.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Learn by adjusting

In the beginning, you go out and shoot, and some images look good and some don’t. Then you adjust and get a higher percentage of good images. As you move on from there, never stop those little adjustments. That one step closer to the subject, a slightly steadier hand, experimenting with leading lines—these little things will improve your photography one small adjustment at a time.

Want more on photography? Right this way!

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Once the amateur’s naive approach and humble willingness to learn fades away, the creative spirit of good photography dies with it. Every professional should remain always in his heart an amateur.

—Alfred Eisenstaedt

Essential Photography Tips for Your Summer Road Trip

Exploring a new destination from behind a lens or camera is one of the most rewarding aspects of travel

Welcome to the summer of 2020: the season of the road trip. After months in quarantine to slow the spread of coronavirus, you’re likely eager to get outdoors and find healing and rejuvenation in nature. Isolated roads, refreshing rivers, desert vistas, towering trees, and rugged coastlines wait as we safely venture out in RVs and cars. You may not be comfortable to board planes this summer but the open road is calling and, with that, the need to capture the beauty that surrounds us. 

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No more virtual escapes; you can now set out on a journey in real life (following social distancing protocols, of course) and chronicle your travels in photos. Your camera can document your location, record your experiences, and provide you with incredible creative interpretations. It can capture the expressions as you discover something new and record unforgettable moments and stunning panoramas on your adventures this summer.  

City Market in Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s always helpful and fun to research areas where you plan to travel. Look for iconic or off-the-beaten-path locations that will make your summer trip special. When planning a road trip, think about a specific location and being there at the time of day that will give you the best light. Google Earth, maps, tide charts, weather apps, and general location searches are helpful. Destination apps can also help identify great shooting locations.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Create a photo goal checklist of what you might see and do along the way. If you are in an area that is inhabited by animals and birds, download nature guide apps and review checklists for spotting wildlife and keeping everyone safe. Guidebooks for locations, wildlife, and local history will help you get the most out of an area.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great photos can happen any time of day especially when you engage friends or family to be part of the photo experience. Think of new or unique ways to include everyone in an interesting visual narrative. Put yourself into the composition at beautiful locations to tell more of the story and to create memories for life.

Sunset at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona

Photograph in the amazing golden light of sunrise or sunset. Sunrise on the east coast is a beautiful experience only matched in magnificence by stunning west coast sunsets. Use a wide-angle lens to capture any developing cloud structures in the vast expanse of surf and sun. Arrive early to capture vibrant color before sunrise and stay after sunset to enjoy a brilliant sky. 

Lake Wawasee at Syracuse, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any road trip to the beach should include a picnic lunch, photography, exploration, hunting for shells, and time for a swim. A boulder-covered beach creates interesting foreground elements. As summer clouds build, your photos will look more dramatic. 

Green jay in Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas

Use a telephoto or telephoto zoom lens to photograph wildlife. A beautiful animal or a small bird can get lost in a composition otherwise.

Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeping your distance is respectful for wildlife and keeps you safe at the same time. A 72-year-old California woman was recently gored and injured multiple times by a wild bison at Yellowstone National Park after repeatedly approaching the animal to take its photo. If you are shooting from your car, a beanbag resting on your window will help you stabilize shots while using a long lens. Patience is a key in capturing a unique gesture that shows the beauty of wildlife.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Research the area and find out when and where wildlife is likely to be spotted. Guidebooks help on identifying the species you may encounter. 

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park in late afternoon light © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have fun with your camera but make enjoying the overall road trip experience and beauty of your location the biggest priority. The sights, sounds, photo ops, and family time will be great memories forever.

Now, go and have a fabulous summer!

Worth Pondering…

We don’t take pictures with our cameras. We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool.

—Arnold Newman

Have Camera—Will Travel

Don’t miss the moment for the photo

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Many people work their entire lives for that day when they can pack all of the time they have left in the world into an RV and leave everything behind.

Amador Flower Farm, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some travelers draw up a meticulous plan, map a route, schedule events for each day to keep super busy and fun-filled with the camera being just another record keeping tool. Some pack to the max and travel heavy bringing all the comforts of home on the road—the armchair traveler who shoots from the armchair. Those who travel lightly with only a small bag with room for camera give evidence that they have roamed beyond their comfort level.

Along the Colorado River in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV travel can be high art. The journey, like life, will always end and I must reassure myself that I was here and will be leaving some day. Was I here? Let me look at my photos. Time is running out—moments few and far between, only photographic memories to carry me through to the end.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What does it mean when we capture a moment or scene that we want to remember? Perhaps it’s a wish to stop time in that moment and repeat the most pleasant experience at a future time.

Rocky Mountain Goats in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is real—the landscape or bird we photographed or the facsimile of its moment created with our camera? Which is more enjoyable—the moment we snap the shutter or the moment we revisit that captured moment?

Roseate Spoonbills at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the pursuit of a timeless photo, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. That is, to miss the moment for the photo. While focusing on the image we miss the grandeur of the scene before our eyes. We can scrutinize over every detail while neglecting the people who are there with us sharing in nature’s spectacle.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet, over time, we begin to discover that the endearing value of nature photography lay not in the final image itself but in everything behind it and beyond it. In the effort—the effort we exert to be in the right spot to capture the image. In the memories forged along the way; the memories preserved decades later through the photo. The lasting value lies in the process itself.

In landscape and bird photography, the means do not merely justify the end. The means are a worthwhile end in and of themselves.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The classic adage states that it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s of greater importance. With that in mind, the next time you find yourself on a drive along a scenic byway or on a hiking trail…stop. Stop to appreciate the effort you’ve put into arriving at that moment. Stop to appreciate that you’re in the thick of life, capturing the scene in front of you through your camera. Stop and take a moment, to appreciate the moment.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What do we remember most about our RV travels? Creating little pieces of realities with our magic box, or breathing, seeing, and experiencing a moment-in-time so different from what we see in our daily experiences?

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is reality so tenuous that we have to question whether or not we have even experienced it? There is a rainbow—let me confirm it—click. Our experience of the rainbow and the captured moment are two separate and distinct events. Or possibly three or four and many more since recalling the experience and revisiting the image are all different points in time.

Hoover Dam, Arizona and Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the camera, we sketched, painted, or wrote about our travels. Before the written word, we sang and spoke of it in verse—like photographs, language stood in for reality and represented what we saw and experienced.

Stowe Community Church, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have spent less than 200 years perfecting the modern camera. It has come a long, long way. It is time now to turn our attention to what is ultimately responsible for the making of photographs—the photographers themselves.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picture it in the camera inside your head. Yes, your mind is a camera. Back up your images and check your reality—take your camera along on your next RV trip.

Worth Pondering…

Happy Trails

—Roy Rogers

Travel Photography Tips You Don’t Usually Hear

RV travel photography is no different than any other type of photography

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

A good RV travel photo isn’t necessarily about the place in the camera’s frame but instead it is about how the subject existed in that specific moment in time. It matters little whether you are in an RV park or in a location of exceptional scenic beauty it simply comes down to a moment in time and how you choose to capture it.

Old Town Temecula (California) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this post I’ll discuss travel photography tips that you don’t usually hear and they’re focused on RV travel. The tips come from years of my own experiences combining photography with the RV lifestyle.

Along a backroad somewhere near Salome, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photography is the study of light and a photograph is a moment in time—a moment that has passed and is unique. It’s a moment that will never and can never be duplicated. You can’t rewind time and make it happen again—all you can try to do is capture it. 

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That moment is where the beauty and magic of photography lives. It’s up to you, the RV travel photographer, to feel and find that moment and translate it into pixels.

I’d say that the knowledge I’ve accumulated from years of RV travel has helped. And, these tips may help you too.

When the weather is bad, run for the camera

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in late autumn fog © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we think RV travel photography we anticipate sunny blue skies and dread dark, cloudy skies and grey, wet scenes. Unanticipated thick fog that envelops the entire landscape can provide some great photo opportunities which aren’t your typical post card shots. The above photo in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after leaving Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina is an example.

Be prepared regardless of the weather.

Shoot a well-known place but shoot something that it’s not known for

Red Rock Country near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, this photo isn’t typical Sedona but that’s why I’m featuring it here. Often when taking photos in a well known location you can end up with the same pictures everyone else.

Red Rock Country near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a magical town known for its healing powers and beautiful red rocks that surround the city. Everyone on earth can agree that the red rocks are amazing and that’s why everyone that visits Sedona takes pictures of them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take photos of the tourist attractions and the beautiful landscapes in the area, but while you’re there also try to find something else that is unique—something that other people are simply missing.

Cathedral Rock near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On our last visit to Sedona, I did take photos featuring the red rocks from all the popular tourist vistas but it was this image that really stuck with me because I knew no one else would have this exact photo. While it captures the area’s famous red rocks it was much more that captured my interest. It is beautiful, different, and pure Sedona—and it quickly became one of my favorites.

Capture the details

Santiago del Pala Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget all the little details that made your RV trip memorable. Whether it’s the fabrics, the food, the architecture, the souvenirs or even the raindrops—be sure to shoot the small details that make that location unique. These things are important and easily overlooked when taking photos. During a recent visit to the Temecula (California) area we stayed at the new 5-star Pala Casino RV Resort. Visiting the nearby Santiago de Pala Mission I was intrigued by the features as shown in the above image.

Santiago del Pala Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re reviewing your photos you will be happy that you took those pictures because they will specific memories of your journey.

Be Flexible

Near Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“If you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong.”

On your RV road trip, focus on having a ton of fun. The more fun you have, the more you’ll enjoy your photo experience, which will result in a high percentage of “keepers.”

Lady Bird Johnson Park near Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In order to have fun, you need to be flexible, because as much as you plan, things can happen—with the weather, traffic, road construction, and so on.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When things don’t go just right, take a deep breath and don’t freak out. “Smile, be happy,” as the Bobby McFerrin song goes. Be happy that you are on the road doing what you like to do: Make photos.

Worth Pondering…

The beautiful scenery is there, but it cares not for pleasing composition or the quality of light at any moment in time. This is where the artist comes in, arranging in a frame the scattered elements into a story, anticipating and chasing the light, bringing it all together to create an evocative image capable of communicating the visual experience and impressing the grandeur of a fleeting moment on viewers for generations to come.

—Guy Tal

Unusual Travel Photography Tips

Slightly unusual tips for travel photography you don’t usually hear

You may have seen countless posts about travel photography tips online. Most of them touch on more or less the same stuff, which is fairly obvious or pretty commonplace.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this post I’ll discuss travel photography tips that I would consider fairly unusual. They aren’t something you commonly hear and they’re focused on RV travel. The tips come from years of my own experiences combining photography with the RV lifestyle.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I try to create photos that are unique to the place but different from the masses of images out there in cyberspace and elsewhere. I’d say that the knowledge I’ve accumulated from years of RV travel has helped. And, these tips may help you too.

The main “event” is often not the main thing photographically

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main event can be a festival, an RV rally, a bird sanctuary, a special event, even a market day. Sometimes these main events are amazing, but other times shooting “around” them and without the crowds makes for much more interesting and engaging photos. The above photo is just one example.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was taken at 6 a.m.—before the major events of the annual Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge started. Just the sunrise, the sandhill cranes as they prepare for flight and a few avid photographers that brave an early morning November chill.

There won’t be a next time

Rocky Mountain sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I’m sure I’m not the only one who says “That’s a great scene, but I’m just too tired, or I’m in a hurry. I’ll return later when there’s improved quality of light or come back another day.” There’s rarely a next time—and if there is, conditions have changed.

Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I photographed this Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park one afternoon while traveling on the Yellowhead Highway to points west. I saw the goats while driving our motorhome—a rare sighting as these sure-footed beasts are more commonly seen at precipitous heights in alpine regions. I took advantage of the opportunity right there and then. I’ve driven this route dozens of times over the years and have seen wapiti (elk) and Rocky Mountain sheep without another sighting of goats.

Try a new perspective

Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This tip involves putting yourself into interesting positions. Sometimes eye level is boring and switching things up can help dramatically—get high, get low, or get sideways. 

Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try actually lying on the ground and taking some photos. The world looks really different from down there and your photos will be completely different too. Really intrigued by an insect pollinating a wildflower? Get down on the ground and shoot from their level as I did in the above photo of Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway near Coolidge, Arizona.

Mexican poppies along the Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Going high and low is a fun way to photograph any scene. Yes, you may get some strange looks but who cares—you’re the one with the memorable photo.

Aim to have the action on your doorstep

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By action, I mean whatever you came to photograph. Desert flora and fauna? Early morning or late day light? National or state park? Whatever that is, you want to be close to it—and you can be by careful and insightful choice of campgrounds or RV resort.

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The photo I’ve included is of early morning light at Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona. Camping in the park enabled me to shoot early every morning when the place was buzzing with energy.

When the weather is bad, run for the camera

Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we think RV travel photography we anticipate sunny blue skies and dread dark, cloudy skies and grey, wet scenes. An unanticipated snowfall along the road or at your camping site can provide some great photo opportunities which aren’t your typical post card shots. The above photo at Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada is an example.

Rainbow over Irwins RV Park in Valemount, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be prepared regardless of the weather.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want.

—Ken Rockwell

Is That Beautiful Photo an Honest Image?

Is there such a thing as too much enhancement, and does it make a difference?

Viewing photos in tourism brochures, travel magazines (think, Arizona Highways), and Internet sites such as Instagram can be uplifting. Some images are downright stunning. As a photographer, I can tell you that quite a few of those stunners have undergone their fair share of editing. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, the starry night photos you may see of certified Dark Sky Places such as Canyonlands National Park (Utah), Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California), and Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona) are composites of two or more images blended together. Some photographers will state how many shots it took to create that composite, while others remain silent about it.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is it a beautiful image? Yes. Is it an honest image, true to the original scene? Well? The photo was taken at an honest location as opposed to a Hollywood backlot and the photo portrays what you will see in that specific location during a visit to the park. But the photo itself has been manipulated beyond the average contrast, brightness, saturation, and sharpening adjustments.

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the shot was captured at a beautiful location, there were numerous enhancements made to the image allowing the natural beauty of the scene to really pop out and catch the viewer’s eye, even in the dark of night. Does that matter to you? Is a beautiful image a beautiful image, manipulated or not?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I believe most of us like our landscape images to look natural. But, what is natural? If the image is dull, do we think that is what the natural landscape looked like? If the image is colorful, do we automatically assume it’s overdone, simply because there is so much saturation?

Lake Pleasant, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you visit Arches National Park with its already-colorful rock formations set afire by the glow of early morning or late afternoon sun, do you think that’s overdone? I’m not kidding when I tell you that the brilliant hues of gold and orange are indeed that deeply saturated on a clear, sunny morning or late afternoon.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I believe every photo needs some degree of editing. The camera captures all of the data it sees, but the resulting image doesn’t always deliver what you originally saw due to issues with lighting, color, or exposure settings. The quality of the camera and lens and skill set of the photographer are also key factors. The data is there, and it’s up to the photographer to bring out the beauty of the composition. In my opinion, though, there is such a thing as overprocessing an image.

Glen Canyon Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In “The Art, Science, and Craft of Great Landscape Photography,” Glenn Randall recognizes “there are significant differences between viewing the real world and viewing a photograph of it.”

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I, personally, dislike landscapes that are heavily edited to the point of being unnatural. Of course, photography is a subjective art, and what I think is overdone, others might think of as state-of-the-art. Also, my views on the appropriate amount of saturation in post editing have changed over the years. I no longer feel that more saturation is necessarily better.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Removing extraneous objects from an image is called “cloning out” and is accomplished via Adobe Photoshop’s clone tools. With a simple click of the mouse, cloning removes sensor spots as well as objects and people that got in the photographer’s way.

Amador Flower Farm, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When is it OK to clone something out aside from sensor spots (those round blobs you see on your photo when your camera’s sensor has dust particles)? I believe that unless it’s to be showcased as artistic fine arts the photo should be left as-is. It is my opinion that scenic vistas and other landscape images should remain true to the scene.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, so back to my original question: Is there such a thing as too much enhancement and does it make a difference? My personal opinion is that you can edit an image too much.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether it makes a difference is really up to you. If you think the image is beautiful and it entices you to visit, then no matter how much it’s edited, that photo has accomplished the goals of getting you to like the shot and to go see the beauty of that particular location firsthand. Any alteration is inconsequential. The caveat is that you might be disappointed upon your arrival at a specific view to discover it’s not what you had expected based upon others’ shots.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an aside, the “Share The Experience” photo contest hosted by the National Park Foundation, in partnership with six other federal agencies, stipulates in their guidelines that images entered must not be “altered or manipulated except for minimal cropping, red eye removal and/or adjustment of contrast, brightness or saturation.”

Worth Pondering…

…painting is something you do. You make a painting. You don’t make a photograph. You see a photograph. Photography is seeing only, you see it, you release the shutter, you use your aperture, your machine and once you’ve seen it, that’s it. It’s done.

—Jurgen Schadeberg

Photography: The Geometry of Nature

Nature truly is a wondrous place

In the December 2013 online edition of Discover Magazine, an article written by physicist and cosmologist Dr. Max Tegmark proposes that “everything in the universe is made of math.”

I’m not a mathematician. Finding math challenging I gravitated toward history and geography in college. So, while most of Dr. Tegmark’s article sailed over my head, I did get the gist that there is mathematics in nature, everywhere we look, even if we don’t necessarily recognize it as such at the time. Now, that, I understand.

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a photographer, I look through my camera’s viewfinder and use math to compose visually and see natural and man-made objects in the form of geometry. My eyes are grabbed by circles, angles, lines, arcs, ellipses, rays, and spirals created by beaches, bridges, rivers, rock formations, trees, canyons, waterfalls, and other things I see in the landscapes around me.

Monahan Sands State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rule of thirds and golden ratio both use mathematics to achieve appealing photo compositions.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rule of thirds states than an image is most pleasing when its subjects or regions are composed along imaginary lines which divide the image into thirds—both vertically and horizontally. The rule of thirds divides a photograph into vertical and horizontal thirds. Important compositional elements are placed at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines.

Bernstein Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The golden ratio is an ancient mathematical concept used to design everything from the pyramids in Egypt to photographs in popular fashion magazines. The ratio is 1:1.618.

McAllister Covered Bridge, Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, or Divine Proportion, this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that often appears throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye.

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the Renaissance, artists and architects have designed their work to approximate this ratio of 1:1.618. It’s found throughout the Parthenon, in famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and it’s still used today.

Great White Egret at Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is actually quite amazing that a rule so seemingly mathematical can be applied to something as varied and subjective as photography. But it works, and surprisingly well. The rule of thirds is all about creating the right aesthetic trade-offs. It often creates a sense of balance—without making the image appear too static—and a sense of complexity—without making the image look too busy.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I use that geometry to create scenic images filled with natural frames, leading lines, and orderly or abstract patterns. When you compose a landscape photo, you probably don’t realize you may have chosen that scene based upon geometry. You just know there is something about that landscape catching your attention and worthy of a spot on your memory card.

Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park screams large-scale geometry with its arc-shaped scoops of land. As I stood at the view area at Sunrise Point, I noticed the triangle created by the tree trunk and the hanging branches and included them in the composition. In retrospect, I could have used a slightly wider angle to include more of the tree.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Featuring similar geometric shapes, Cedar Breaks National Monument sits at over 10,000 feet and looks down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations and inspire you with its sunsets.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument features three majestic natural bridges that invite the viewer to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape in these Utah parks may seem static but the powers of wind, water, and time constantly sculpt new worlds. Arches and bridges are both fragile, natural rock sculptures. Both are formed with water and time but with different processes. Seeping moisture and frost shape arches while running water carves natural bridges.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go back and look at landscape images you’ve captured. Do you see the natural geometry in your photo compositions? You’ve actually seen and photographed the mathematics of nature.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…
The more one looks, the more one sees. And the more one sees, the better one knows where to look.

—Tielhard Chardin

Travel Photography Guide

Travel photography is exciting and gives you a chance to explore new subject matter and photography styles

In today’s post I’ll offer a little guidance on what images to take and how to create a stunning travel portfolio. One aspect I love about travel photography is the diversity of techniques available to create a well-rounded image set.

The No. 1 rule: Engage the viewer! Your viewers may never visit your location. So, a travel photographer must convey a sense of place, mood, emotion, taste, and smell through captivating images. In other words, snapshots just don’t cut it.

Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below you’ll find an outline of subjects and techniques to help you photograph your next travel story—and engage the viewer! From simple family vacations to travel books, try these tips to creatively photograph your travel adventures.

Brooks County Courthouse and the old Chisholm Trail, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s a small world after all” and we know a lot about other places without having been there. For example, when I say “San Antonio” most people think of the Alamo and the River Walk. Or, if I mention “New Orleans,” the French Quarter comes to mind. 

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photographing iconic structures and characteristics of a location establishes where you are and gives the viewer a starting point. Often these subjects are clichés, at least in the sense that they have been photographed thousands of times.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the shot. But, cliché subjects require fresh perspectives, interesting light or different angles to show the viewer an iconic landmark in a new way. Make it your mission to photograph the Alamo unlike it ever has been photographed before or during a special event or reenactment (see photo below).

Reenactment during the anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go shopping. Yes. That’s what I said: Go shopping! But be sure to shoot photographs while shopping. Farmers markets, swap meets, and street fairs are great locations for photography.

Galt Farmers Market, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try some of the local flare and photograph the kiosk vendors. Think about what makes the market special. Local foods and crafts paint the picture of the area and you can almost taste the fresh peaches and apples in those orchard fruit stands.

Baskets of fruit and vegetables at a local market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiment with depth of field and photograph baskets of fruit and veggies up close. Shooting wide open will result in soft blurry backgrounds which helps reduce clutter. Also, look for interesting beams of light filtering through the scene.

Truth BBQ in Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food can make or break a trip for many people. Yet, despite how important food is during a trip, many photographers never take photos of food during their travels.

Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s a quick tip: Sit near a window with diffused light and let the chef do all the food styling. Plus, you can use the simple diffused light coming in through a window to compose compelling food images. Remember that although food photography is very detail-orientated, try to keep it simple. And, take several steps back for a compelling image through the window as the outdoors street scene unfolds often with amazing pastel shades.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many regions of the country are defined by their architecture whether it’s adobe construction in New Mexico or the opulent mansions of the Gilded Age.

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adobe structures are extremely durable in arid climates and account for some of the oldest existing buildings in the world. Located on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors (see photo below) served as the seat of Spanish colonial government for centuries. The building was named a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and an American Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1999.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, Rhode Island. This coastal town is set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century including The Breakers (see photo below) but that’s far from the only draw.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Research the area you’ll be visiting. Architecture isn’t all about big buildings or churches. You might try photographing a cobblestone alley or an old library interior or renowned book store (think, Powell’s in Portland, the world’s largest independent book store) with volumes of books.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, don’t forget about the countryside, landscape, and wildlife. They can be a major draw for travelers and photographers. Landscapes are often best photographed in early morning or late afternoon light. Stormy weather can result in very dramatic images and provide a fresh look to an iconic scene. Wildlife can also be an important part of a travel portfolio. Decide if wildlife defines your location and photograph the species that identify the area.

Early morning light at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you can see, there is an almost limitless array of subject matter at your disposal when it comes to RV travel photography. But remember what’s important as a RV travel photographer: Capture the essence of the destination through creative, stunning photographs of diverse subject matter.

Cerulean Warbler at Falcon State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Greater Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.

—Matt Hardy

24 Photos That Prove Fall Is the Best Season Ever

We are SO ready

We could be here all day talking about fall. When the air gets crisp and the leaves start to change colors, we’re filled with a special sort of joy that might even surpass our feelings about Christmas (okay, it’s a tie).

There are so many outings we can’t wait to do. Like going to the pumpkin farm and grabbing a gourd to carve. And don’t forget about apple picking—and apple pie! And pumpkin pie, for that matter. Or, sweet potato or pecan pie!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s not only the activities. The sheer beauty of autumn is a standout all on its own, which is why people travel far and wide for the best leaf peeping each year. And don’t forget your camera!

Seven Oaks Market near Grants Pass, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But if you can’t get away to a charming small town to see it for yourself, don’t worry. You can take a drive in the country or even just a stroll down a city street. But if you really need an autumn fix, then we suggest flipping through these photos. Trust us: They really do prove it’s the best season ever

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great Outdoors

Head east and take a hike in the Smoky Mountains. The stunning views will not let you down.

Pumpkin Perfection

Pumpkins, colorful leaves in the distance, and a beautiful blue sky in Oregon? Nope, a more perfect fall day doesn’t exist.

Warakusa, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One with Nature

Fall is the best time to take a break from life and immerse yourself in nature. Just look at this scene from Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah and try to argue otherwise.

Goshen, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Serenity in the Suburbs

Walk down a quiet suburban street lined with trees shedding their leaves. The beauty could inspire anyone to give up city living.

Amish Country Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumnal Countryside

The crops may already be harvested, but there’s still plenty to behold on this Amish Country farm.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving a Road through Beauty

Cherohala Skyway’s 36 miles of scenic mountain views rival any scenic byway in the eastern U. S.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Scenic Drive

Lush forests provide gorgeous views for long drives across the country.

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina Has It All

Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina

Okanagan Valley Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farewell My Summer Love

What better way to end an amazing summer than to dive into a wine country extravaganza?

Montpelier, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Small Town Charm

The rich foliage beautifully complements Montpelier, Vermont’s many red and white buildings.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorful Vineyard

Rows of yellow, orange, and red vines make British Columbia’s Okanagan Wine Country look even more stunning.

A walk in the park near Penticton, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vibrant Fall Foliage

There’s nothing quite like a walk in the park during autumn.

Stephen C. Walker State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pretty Reflection

Who wouldn’t want to take an autumn canoe ride on this gorgeous river?

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Early Fall Morning

The reflection in the water of this New Mexico landscape means double the fall foliage.

Oregon Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rolling Hills

These Oregon vineyards seem so serene in autumn.

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crimson Trees

We could spend all day daydreaming in this magical forest filled with fall hues.

Lancasster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall Fields

Vibrant colors abound during autumn in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf Peeping

Discover fall colors on Skyline Drive as the Blue Ridge Mountains erupt in color

Cranes at sunrise prepare for flight © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cranes at Sunrise

Autumn leaf color too at Bosque during the Crane Festival

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visual Marvels

At Okefenokee, the dark, coffee-colored tannic water is the base for a living jumble of pine, cypress, swamp, palmetto, peat bog, marsh, island, and sand ridge.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain Splendor

The Icefields Parkway winds through Rocky Mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

Pops of red © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pops of Red

The Blue Ridge Parkway is arguably the country’s most beautiful drive.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saturated Yellows of Quaking Aspens

Utah’s Fish Lake is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazed aspen forests.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Daydreaming of the European Alps

Take a Sound of Music history of Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant