The Best National Parks to Photograph in Spring

 Ocotillo. Big Bend National Park. Texas.

Ocotillo. Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Which national parks are at their very best in the spring? If I could go on a fabulous spring photography trip to the national parks of my choice, all expenses paid, which ones would I pick? Here are my choices, grouped by state from west to east. This list includes the favorites I have been to and want to go back to again, plus the ones I haven’t seen and most want to photograph.

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Portraits: Patterned Cloth As A Backdrop

Candy Poses

I was in a fabric store looking for lightweight (thin), white cloth with a pattern that I could use as a backdrop. My plan was to put a studio light behind the cloth and shoot through the cloth at my subject. The light would wrap around my subject. I had to experiment with the output of the studio light to get the look that I wanted. I was pleased with the final result.

Painting People with Light

Rachel painted with light.

Painting with light is an interesting technique that gives you a different kind of look from using a flash unit or ambient light. As with other kinds of light you can make your subject as light or dark as you want. For these images I went with a darker, low key look. Inanimate objects are the usual subjects for painting with light because they do not move during the long exposures, but I wanted to try it with a live human being so I asked a friend to be my subject.

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How to Photograph Jupiter, Saturn, and Their Moons

Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn with their moons. December 21, 2020. Click to see a larger version.

With a tripod mounted camera and a 300-400mm telephoto lens, it is possible to photograph Jupiter and its four Galilean moons (they are named for Galileo), and Saturn and its biggest moon, Titan. I captured them during their Great Conjunction a little over two years ago. Jupiter is on the left with three of its Galilean moons. Saturn is on the right and Titan is just to the right of Saturn.

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POTD: Sabrina


This Picture of the Day was created with a simple one light set up. The studio flash was directly in front of Sabrina’s face to camera right. I usually have my main light above the subject’s face and bounced out of an umbrella which creates a more appealing image, but there are times the rules need to be broken. For this image it worked best for the direct light of the flash (no umbrella) to be level with her face.

Keeping Track of Photo Locations with a Handheld GPS Unit

Sarah – “Outtake”, Colorado, October 5, 2007.

A chance look today at an old photo just sent me back in time, both photographically and technologically. It was bone chillingly cold and Sarah and I were doing figure studies high in the Colorado Rockies. (One of our images is at the end of this article.) Back in 2007 most cameras did not have built in GPS units and my primitive mobile phone did not have GPS capabilities either. But I still wanted to keep track of some important photo locations, and this spot was one of them.

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Does Topaz Gigapixel AI Work?

Early 1950s family photo.

I have acquired some small, old family prints that I would generally describe as “fuzzy”. They are not clean and sharp. Making small fuzzy photos bigger does not make them better, it makes them worse. As I was explaining to an inexperienced photographer, making a high resolution copy of a blurry photo does not make it better. It just means you can turn a small blurry photo into a much bigger and therefore much blurrier photo.

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The Super Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus

Jupiter with three Galilean moons (left) and Venus (right). Click the image for a somewhat larger version.

The super conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, March 1, 2023 at 7:24 pm. Venus and Jupiter pass each other on a regular basis so conjunctions aren’t rare. But this time they passed unusually close to each other, making it a Super Conjunction. They were 1/2 degree apart. They won’t be this close to each other again until February 2032. I had a telescope set up for my grandsons and they were thrilled to see three of Jupiter’s four “Galilean Moons” (named for Galileo who spotted them through his telescope). The Galilean Moons from top to bottom in this photo are Callisto, Ganymede, and Io. (Europa was not visible.)

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Sometimes You Get Lucky

Greater White-fronted Goose and Canada Goose.

I was at one of my favorite local lakes and hundred of geese had shown up. Some of them were in the process of leaving the lake. By the end of the afternoon all but a few geese had left the lake. Some left a few at a time and others left in larger groups.

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Elk in a Snowstorm

Elk in the Snow, Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk in the Snow, Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. February 24, 2008.

Today is an anniversary of sorts. February 24, 15 years ago, was a great day in Rocky Mountain National Park. The snow was falling when I found this small cluster of elk in Horseshoe Park. It is one of my favorite photos for the day.

Sami Lynn, A Valentine Portrait

Sami Lynn with rose petals.
Sami Lynn with rose petals.

It was a week and a half after Valentine’s Day and most of the dozen Valentine’s Day roses in a vase on the dining room table were done and had been thrown away, but a few were still looking good. I asked Sami to lay on the floor, handed her a long stemmed rose, and I carefully arranged her hair. Then I stood up and pulled the best looking petals off of more roses and randomly dropped them on her. Some didn’t land quite right so I re-positioned a couple of them.

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Happy Birthday, Ansel Adams!

Ansel Adams, Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, 1927. Photographed in his home Dec. 2, 1980.

Ansel Adams in front of “Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, 1927”. Photographed in his home Dec. 2, 1980.

Ansel Adams was born 121 years ago today, February 20, 1902. He is “the” icon of American landscape photography. Trained as a concert pianist, his love of photography and time spent in Yosemite National Park led him to a career change.

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Today’s “Screen Saver Surprise” is a Special Image

Egg, Pearls, Rings

After a morning office break, I walked back in to our office and this image greeted me on the computer monitor. This happens to be a really special image for me. As an anniversary gift back in September 1993, my wife signed me up for a black and white printing class at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. The gift was initially – let me say – “puzzling” to me. I was pretty much a 100% color slide film photographer. The only time I ever put color negative film in my cameras was to photograph weddings. But it was a gift, so I went.

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Violinist in the Snow

Beth playing her violin in the snow. February 12, 2020.

It was three years ago today, but it started two months earlier in December with a plan to do portraits of Beth with her violin. Back then she was the principal violinist and concertmaster of the Graceland University Orchestra. (Today she is doing graduate studies in violin performance.) When I asked her to send me examples of the kind of portraits she liked, some of the photos she sent me had a violinist outside in the snow. I asked her if she wanted to shoot in the snow and she said yes. So we waited for snow and on a cold, snowy day in January we did portraits in the snow.

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The Photographer’s Bookshelf

Photography Books. Click the photo to see a larger version.

Michael Freeman’s Capturing Light is new to this bookshelf. It is a Christmas gift from one of my children. If you aren’t acquainted with Freeman, and you love photography, it is time you meet. So I took a picture and decided to write about the books in this photograph. You are looking at one half of one shelf of two bookcases filled with photography books. I learned long ago that great photographers read a lot. Photo books, composition books, lighting books, art books, location guides, and a whole lot more. So I read books too.

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Shirley Cards: Why they are important and how they are used.

Shirley Card for use with Vericolor negative film.

In the early 1950s almost all color negative film sold in the U.S. was made by Kodak and Kodak had the monopoly on processing. When you bought the film the cost of processing was bundled in with the price of the film. When you finished the roll you sent it off to Kodak to be processed and Kodak sent you your prints. As long as you knew what you were doing (and didn’t do something dumb like shoot daylight film under tungsten lights) you got great looking prints back from Kodak. The exception was the rare person who processed their negatives at home and made their own prints. They did not like being forced to pay for processing they didn’t use.

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More Help Finding and Photographing Comet ZTF (C/2022 E3)

February 1: Northern night sky and Comet ZTF (C/2022 E3).

I have had such good lunch photographing prior comets I was eagerly looking forward to seeing and photographing Comet ZTF (C/2022 E3). This comet is such a big draw because it has not passed earth in 50,000 years and will not likely return again. When I finally had a relatively clear night February 1, I was outside and ready to go. I had a much harder time than I expected. I glassed the right area of the sky with binoculars and I could not find anything that looked like a comet. So I took pictures of the northern sky which you can see above. On the back of my camera I could not the comet. So I downloaded the memory can looked on my computer monitor.

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How To Photograph Comet ZTF (C/2022 E3)

Comet NEOWISE over Home Lake, Lamoni Iowa, July 13, 2020.

The key to photographing Comet ZTF is to know where to look. In the evening around 9 pm it is above the North Star and a little to the left. It moves higher in the sky every night and is almost straight overhead by February 5. For details and the best evening sky map I could find, read this article. Once you have found the comet with your naked eyes or with binoculars, you can photograph it.

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How to Find and Photograph Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl sightings, January 2023. Click image for a larger version.

Winter is your opportunity to photograph Snowy Owls. When it is cold enough and there is enough snow cover, snowy owls move down into the northern U.S. The colder it is the farther south they move. If conditions are right, don’t delay. If the winter turns warmer the snowy owls will head back north.

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Winter Photography Safety Essentials

Some of the winter travel items I carry in the trunk of my car.

Some of the winter travel items I carry in the trunk of my car. This is the “kitchen” and “furnace”.

I grew up in Colorado where strange weather can strand you in any month of the year. Even though it is rare, I’ve seen blizzards in the Colorado high country in July. So I learned to carry some safety essentials when doing winter photography in remote locations. You never know when you might be stranded for several hours, a whole day, or longer, until the blizzard abates and someone can come find you. This is what I carry in my car when I hit the road in the winter and pretty much any time I am going to be in the High Rockies. I include a few winter travel tips, too.

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How To Work With A Model (or Anybody Else) When The Windchill is 4°


Selina, Downtown Columbus Ohio. Windchill 4°.

You would think a windchill of 4° Fahrenheit (-16°C) would be too cold for a photo shoot, but not with some models. We booked this January shoot weeks in advance so we knew it would be cold, but we had no idea how cold until the day arrived. Here’s the story behind this image and how to work with a model (or anybody else) when it is so cold.

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