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

RV Travel Photography Tips & Tricks

A better way to capture stunning images on your next RV road trip

Comedian Steven Wright once said, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” Substitute the word “driving” for “walking” and you’ll see why RV road trips are a great way to see, experience, enjoy—and of course—photograph Roadside America.

World’s Largest Roadrunner near La Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road trips offer photographers the advantages of being self-contained and allowing them to travel on their own schedules. Simply put, road trips offer freedom—freedom to come and go as you please and the freedom to shoot what you like, when you like, and for as long as you like.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think for a moment about the jaw-dropping photos you’ve seen in magazines and online? The diversity in landscape and ecology that America offers is so magnificent and varied.

Audubon Swamp Garden near Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And how fortunate are we as RVers to have opportunities to travel and access these stunning locations and photograph them using an amazing variety of digital devices? An RV trip gives us the chance to explore all that nature has to offer. Travel up mountains, through forests, and across deserts, all while enjoying the beautiful scenery and fascinating wildlife. Of course, you’ll want to mind your COVID behavior which includes maintaining a distance from people and keeping a mask handy for any public areas.

Historic Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, there an unlimited variety of readily accessible natural areas for RV travelers to visit and to photograph if you’re prepared and have a little bit of luck on your side.

Planning is the key to success with any photo shoot and that’s especially true for road trips. In planning your trip, consider that you’re basically chasing the light. You want to be in scenic locations during optimum lighting conditions when shadows and highlights come together for awesome images.

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

If you’re prepared, you’re simply increasing your chances of capturing a great shot. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to maximize your chances of nailing that beautiful sunset…or desert scene…or deer-in-the-meadows photo.

Desert wildflowers near Yuma, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Louis Pasteur, inventor of pasteurization, has a very meaningful quote attributed to him: “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.” Now, while Dr. Pasteur may have been referring to the field of scientific observation, it can easily apply it to landscape photography.

Or the words of the great photographer, Ansel Adams: “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

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

Before setting out on a nature shoot—especially if it’s at an unfamiliar location—take time for some “online reconnaissance.” Access to some amazing technologies can make our jobs as landscape photographers easier. One such piece of technology is the mobile phone and its use of GPS.

Let’s say you’re planning to photograph the sunrise or sunset at a specific location. To help prepare you can research some of the more obvious things like weather forecasts and driving routes along with any potential hazard alerts for the area.

Lake Kaweah on the road to Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another favorite online tool is Google Maps. The sheer amount of geographic and topological information available on Google Maps is staggering. Spend some time exploring Google Maps and you’ll have a better understanding of the area and a more precise idea of where to go and what to expect when you get there.

Snake River at Twin Falls, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If there’s one variable that will change things up on you no matter how much due diligence you put in, it’s the weather. While weather forecasts are worth spending time researching they’re not an excuse for being caught off-guard. If the forecasts call for mild temps with scattered clouds you should still be prepared for the chance of showers.

Texas sunset near Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s say your intent is to photograph the sunset. You know where you’re going, you have the right gear with you, and the weather is all but guaranteed to be great for the setting sun. So how are you going to capture it?

Sunset near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sure, you could just fill the frame with the sun and call it a day but you’re here to convey the beauty of the landscape in front of you, right? You also want to give your viewer a sense of place and depth. One of the best ways to do so is with strong foreground elements. Pay attention to what you’ll use to accompany the actual sunrise or sunset. Saguaro cactus and palm trees can be used to your advantage when photographing a sunrise or sunset as shown in above photos.

After doing a 180-degree pivot I took this photo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget to turn around and shoot away from the sun for some amazing scenes in the glow of the late afternoon light as seen near Casa Grande, Arizona.

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In certain situations you’ll be able to use natural surroundings to frame the sun as I did at Landscape Arch in Arches National Park.

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

On your 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.”

And, be flexible because as much as you plan, things can happen—with the weather, traffic, detours and so on. When things don’t go just right, take a deep breath. “Smile, be happy,” as the Bobby McFerrin song goes. Be happy that you are on the road doing what you like to do: Make pictures.

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

Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

There are plenty of ways to enjoy nature

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.

In his essay Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson dives into the healing powers of the wilderness. “In the presence of nature,” he wrote, “a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

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

Spending time outdoors has been linked to increased brain function, amplified vitamin D intake, reduced stress, and more. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outside. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family? Check out this list of fun and healthy ways to enjoy nature.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the Trails

If you already take a walk or go for a run each day, getting back to nature can be as simple as changing your location. Rather than hitting the treadmill, take your walk or run to a local park. You can hit a paved path through the park or opt for a hiking trail for an even greater challenge.

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding

Birding is a great way to keep a healthy outlook—physically and mentally—and get outdoors with some level of exercise. Birding activity often includes walking, but it can easily include biking, canoeing or kayaking, hiking or backpacking—it’s up to you. Birding may be the secondary focus of such exercise outings or it may be your primary interest while you know you will get some exercise in the process. A little sunshine and fresh air and interesting avian action will make any day better.

Canoeing at Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exercise in Green Space

Trees produce phytoncides which help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost immunity. The microbes in forest soil have been found to reduce depression and may contribute to the health of our microbiome. A 15-minute walk is all it takes to reap the benefits but researchers have found that a weekend in the woods improves immunity for up to a month while an afternoon walk somewhere green means better sleep at night.

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

Go for a Hike

There are a lot of places where you can hike—national and state parks, trails and footpaths, nature preserves. Being out in nature, you’ll enjoy different types of flora and fauna. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

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

Take photos

Taking photos outside requires a focus on nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or animals to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit for photography since the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching shapes and patterns. You can also visit a nature preserve and looking for photo opportunities with animals or plant life. Simply look for scenes that you find interesting including colorful leaves on the ground, spring flowers, or a stunning sunrise or sunset.

Camping at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentuky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

Camping is not just a weekend escape or a less expensive holiday. Camping comes with many health benefits. In addition to physical exercise, it is also great for your mental health and social wellbeing. There are numerous options when it comes to camping such as a tent, camper, travel or fifth-wheel trailer, or a motorhome—all of which promote a healthy lifestyle.  

Photographing a green jay in South Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby

Hiking, trail running, camping, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting, consider mountain biking. Before you hit the trails on two-wheels, learn more about this exciting sport and the gear that you’ll need to stay safe.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest Bathing

Ok, so this one is a little esoteric, but bear with me here. Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It started in Japan in the 1980s and has become an important piece of their preventative health care measures.

Sequoia National Park, California

The idea is pretty straightforward… When you take time to visit a natural area and take a walk in a relaxed way, there are rejuvenating, restorative, and calming effects on your mind and body.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Outside and Enjoy Nature Today

Get outside today! Any of these outdoor activities can be a great way to spend quality time with friends and family while helping to inspire healthy, active habits.

Worth Pondering…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

—John Muir

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