What Makes a Good Bird Photo?

Advice for capturing stunning bird photos

A good bird photo records a moment of time shared between photographer and bird. It can be pretty quick, pretty simple, but it may be complex depending on the photo opportunity.

Wood storks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider why we find certain bird photos attractive. In essence, it’s all “in the eye of the beholder,” and there’s no perfect photo, but many come close.

Any good bird photograph will have a combination of elements that make it good.

Interesting Subject

Ladder-backed woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any bird can be interesting, but an interesting subject can be improved by any number of additional elements especially if you can record action, behavior, or activity. Larger birds may be easier to fill a photo frame with, colorful birds can catch your attention, and smaller birds can provide a unique quality to any photo.

Action

Great Kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photos that show action are among the most impressive images. What action? Spreading wings, stretching, interacting with another bird, flying, landing, swimming, hunting, preening, feeding, nest building.

Sharpness

White ibis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sharpness of a photo is the result of using a fast shutter speed which can illustrate details of wing and tail feathers, eyes and bills, legs, and feet—even when a bird’s in flight, swimming, diving, displaying. A fast shutter speed requires ample lighting, and adds to the level of detail needed to emphasize any good bird photo.

Lighting

Anhingua © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lighting is everything in photography—where the light comes from, how it illuminates your subject, how it creates shadows. Good light should illuminate a bird’s head and intensify colors. When your shadow points at your subject, you’re in just the right position to utilize sunlight at its best.

Color

Great white egret © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Good light from the right direction creates and reveals beautiful, cryptic, and even iridescent colors in birds, along with contrast and clarity. The background and setting are also integral to a good photo.

Setting

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bird’s surroundings, whether it’s scenery, landscape, or environment, can improve a photo by including water, trees, mountains, and more. Often, it comes down to the branch, vegetation, water, sky, or perch where a bird is positioned. Sometimes a photo can be improved by taking a step or two to one side to reposition a distracting element in the background out of the photo frame, or to the side of the photo.

Depth of Field

Green Heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bird image can be composed using a wide depth of field to show its position in its habitat—or you can use a narrow depth of field to blur the background and emphasize the bird the bird itself. Both options are good, but you do need more light or a reduced shutter speed to get a wider depth of field.

Timing

Black-vented oriole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Timings may be relative to the moment you take a photo, or related to the time of day you choose to be in the field. It can also be a matter of crossing paths with a given bird—how often does luck enter into timing, even to the point of intercepting the flight path of a flying bird? Sometimes, timing is everything.

Positioning

Whistling duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider the position of the bird or birds within your photo frame. Give the bird space to look into, fly into, or swim into. Even if you center the bird in a photo, you can still alter the position of the bird when you crop a photo during the editing process.

Luck

Black skimmer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is always an element of luck when you take a given photo. Just finding a bird to photograph can be lucky on any given day. Timing and luck enter into a lot of good photos.

Be Prepared

Willet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Assess the scene in advance if possible; adjust your settings with consideration for the conditions you see in mind. Similarly, pre-focus your lens, even when using auto-focus, so there is no lag time in focusing when the action starts. Be Ready for Action!

Be Versatile

Roseate spoonbill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try something new and develop your own style in the process. Taking one good photo can inspire you into a lifetime of bird photography and encourage you to go birding with your camera more often.

Gambel’s quail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Photography is the beauty of life, captured.

—Tara Chisholm

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

Tips for Photographing National Parks

National parks, along with being natural treasures, are a gift to photographers of all levels

Home to inspiring sights, like the rugged hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, the big trees of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and the natural stone arches and other landforms of Arches National Park, national parks offer some of the most captivating locations around the world for photographers.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before heading to a national park, consider the following tips to ensure your photos are as striking as America’s breathtaking backdrops.

Few places across the U.S. and Canada can rival the picturesque combination of majestic wildlife and dramatic landscapes found in national parks.

Ask a Park Ranger for Ideal Vantage Points

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

When it comes to finding the perfect angles inside the national parks, a park ranger can be your greatest friend. Not only do rangers know where to find scenic spots, they know where and when the animals are most active and the location of the best vantage points for sunrise and sunset photos. This information is particularly beneficial when visiting the mountain parks of the West.

Park rangers can also offer insider tips on the park’s lesser known hidden treasures, which will provide you with unique perspectives.

Start Early: Get Out Before Sunrise

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is when most people are still sleeping, and the animals are up and out. The morning mist still lingers, and, if lucky, some ground fog may add to the atmosphere. In addition, the wind is usually calm at this time, making for easy great reflections macro shooting.

Plus, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful natural light and gorgeous colors.

Stay Out Late

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same applies for shooting at sunset. The best light for photography can be found as the sun is low along the horizon (golden hour) when the light is like butter and everything looks great.

At this time, abundant wildlife can often be found roaming and grazing.

Stay Until Dark for Low-Light Scenes

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the new digital cameras, we can just about shoot in the dark. Animals come out as darkness approaches, and we can get these shots of them by turning our ISO up, making the cameras more sensitive to light.

Enjoy Your Surroundings

Canyon de Chelly Nationa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved l Monument

Take time to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the park. During the middle part of the day, when the quality of light is poor, put your camera away, and get out and hike. Keep in mind future compositions, but mostly enjoy your majestic surroundings.

Stray off the Beaten Path

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of staying in your toad or tow vehicle or on a ranger guided tour, hit the trails on your own. The countries’ national parks offer thousands of miles of maintained hiking trails that take you into the mountains, forests, valleys, and canyons that make each one unique. You’ll not only get away from hordes of visitors, but will also have a better travel experience— and in turn, will take better photos.

Try a Polarizing Filter

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A polarizing filter increases contrast, takes haze out of the atmosphere, and takes reflections off water surfaces. The filter needs to be turned while you look through the camera to see the effects. It takes away almost two stops of light, but you can always turn up the ISO to compensate.

Be Creative

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks contain some of the most photographed landmarks in the U.S. and Canada which can be both a blessing and a curse. With a myriad of impressive photos capturing iconic landscapes, it’s easy to find inspiration. However, it also becomes difficult to find distinctive angles when shooting the same scenes as millions of other photographers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When photographing, turn around, your best picture might be behind you.

—David Huffines

A Photographer’s Guide to the American West

Tips to ensure your photos are as striking as the American West’s breathtaking backdrops

From west to east and north to south, we have toured and photographed numerous National Parks Service sites including national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national historic sites and battlefield.

These parks offer a cross section of the best of the best for scenic beauty and historic significance across America.

Canyon de Chelley National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most amazing iconic landscapes in national parks and beyond are found in the American West. Few landscapes are as awe-inspiring as those found in the western states. And who can resist taking lots of photos?

Here are some pointers to help you bring back images you’d be proud to share.

Take the Iconic Photos and Move Beyond

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone wants to capture those iconic images we’ve all seen in books and on postcards. Give it a try and you’ll likely realize it’s not as simple as it may seem. Many of those images were taken from high up on a mountain trail or from down below in a canyon.

Coronado National Memorial, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But even if you get that iconic image, push yourself to something beyond. Move around and go higher, lower, closer, farther away to find a different perspective—one that reflects your personal vision. Simple changes often redefine your image and give a more complete sense of the place.

Include an Interesting Foreground Element

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One problem with many landscape shots is that the subject is far away and there’s nothing of interest in the foreground. That gives landscape images a flat sameness that we want to avoid. As you look at some stunning vista, pay attention to nearby rocks, plants, or even puddles of water that can add interest to your image.

Work with All Kinds of Natural Light

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Light is the primary ingredient in photography. You’ll encounter various types of natural light throughout the day and from one day to the next. Learn how to make the most of whatever light you have available.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even dull overcast days can work wonders with landscape photos. Such days bring out natural colors and eliminate what can often be annoying shadows. Take advantage by getting a high perspective so your image is mostly land with very little sky.

Since early morning and late afternoon are the choice times to photograph, plan out at a key location prior to venturing out.

Pay Attention to the Sky

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

Composing a landscape includes making a decision about how to deal with the sky. Finding the right balance between land and sky is often what makes or breaks a landscape image. Consider the sky and general weather conditions. A blue sky or one with puffy white clouds or threatening dark ones can be an asset to your image and you may want to include more sky and less land.

But if the sky is a uniform dull gray, minimize the sky or eliminate it completely. Nothing spoils a landscape photo more than a swath of white where the sky would have been.

Optimum Sharpness is Paramount

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great advantages of landscapes is that they don’t move, so you can take your time to compose and get optimum sharpness. What is optimal depends on the image you have in mind, but certainly you want the foreground and middle ground as sharp as possible.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For maximum control over sharpness, use a tripod. That allows you to take several shots of the same location with different settings so you can decide later which works best for you. Also, you’ll get a sharper image with a higher f-stop. If you’re shooting just the landscape, a slow shutter speed should not pose a problem. But if you’ve got your eye on some wildlife in the landscape or want to capture grasses bending in the wind, vary your shutter speed to get either a sharp image or an interesting blur.

After-Capture Techniques

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

One of the great boons of digital photography is that the image-making process continues after you have taken your shot. Today’s digital photography offers an incredible number of options for improving or rethinking our images in the computer.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One simple tool lets you crop your image in case you were unable to keep an unwanted element out of the frame during shooting. Remember, you can always cut something out, but you can’t add something you didn’t include in the rush of shooting.

As you become more familiar and comfortable using after-capture techniques, they will become a natural part of your photographic repertoire, helping you achieve the aesthetic results you want within one or two minutes.

Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you work these pointers into your landscape photography, you’ll come up with landscapes that truly look out of this world.

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