Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fall on the Prairies: Friedland and Hart

The Friedland and Hart Prairies at the base of the San Francisco Peaks are almost always a good place to go for Fall color in northern Arizona. This year was no exception. Both were my destination on an overnight trip. The second and third week in October is usually the best time. Higher elevations show their color sooner as the Fall action makes its way down the mountain. I decided to pass on Lockett Meadow this year. It was the weekend and I knew it would be pretty crowded with all the other Fall color seekers.

On the Friedland Prairie road

A couple miles down the road on the Friedland Prairie, I set my sights on the first aspen showing off. I stopped right away and started making images. The colors were so stunning with the brilliant side-light of the sun. Some nice shadows of the adjacent aspen made for a nice composition. 

More from the road

A big mix of colors and textures stopped me again as the road snaked its way through the forest. 

More action along the road.

Sometimes it's hard to figure why a scene stops me in my tracks. Is it a sense of awe and wonder more than what I see with my eyes that makes the difference? I know this happens a lot. Sometimes I get home, look at my images and wonder what I was thinking. Why was this place worthy? Oftentimes, it's not really because of aesthetics, but more the way a place feels at the time. It's something more innate and instinctual feeling. That emotional reaction is what so many other photographers respond to as well. Some places just have more photo mojo than others. Then the biggest challenge is making sense of the ever-present chaos of nature and finding a pleasing composition. 

The funny thing is, none of this is going through my mind at the time. I just respond and do my thing. All the thinking happens later...

Aspen in Fall Splendor

Further up the road, I settled on a spot, parked and hiked up the foothills of the Peaks where the aspen were dense and colorful. I took a zillion photos. Again, mostly responding to the wonder of the color. When I got back to the truck, I broke out my bag-chair, kicked back and soaked it all in.

Going, going, gone.

The aspen were in all different stages of color. I found one spot with a green, yellow and a, well, spent aspen that sort of reminded me of the Irish flag... with a lot of imagination, I guess.

X marks the spot amongst the aspen on the Hart Prairie

The next morning I headed up the highway to the Hart Prairie. Its another popular spot in the Fall. One grove of aspen are particularly photogenic and I've photographed there before. 

Hart Prairie Aspen Grove

Next time you're in Flagstaff in the Fall, check out the Hart and Friedland Prairies. While most people drive up the road further to the Snow Bowl for their Fall color fix, make that turn off the road and hit Friedland. Hart Prairie is just further up the highway. The forest service road is a lovely drive around the north side of the Peaks and dumps out near Sunset Crater and the Lockett Meadow road. If it hadn't been the weekend, I might have gone for the trifecta of the Friedland and Hart Prairies along with Lockett Meadow. Maybe next year.

© 2014 Arizona Panorama / G. Reid Helms
All Reproduction Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A summer trip north...

I love Flagstaff. The entire area is chock-full of interesting places to visit. On this trip, I visited some of my favorite places: Wupatki National Monument, Lockett Meadow and Sunset Crater. Summer just wouldn't be the same without a look at these beautiful places. 

I spent the first night in Pumphouse wash north of Sedona. I looked for a waterfall I'd seen from Google Earth, but the creek wasn't running and I made camp after ending my search. I spent the night in my tent with the dogs. It was quiet, calm and cool. 

I woke before sunrise, broke camp and headed north. I went looking for a wetland in the Kachina Village area, but didn't find it. I've looked for this spot a couple times now to no avail. If I look for this place again, I will have exact directions and it located on a map.

So, on to Sunset Crater I went. I drove in the backside through the Cinder Hills Off-Road Recreation area. I ended up on trail 777. Big mistake! It was a never ending series of undulating whoops. Mile after mile I plowed through this difficult terrain. The cinders weren't a big problem as long as I kept up my speed so as not to get bogged down. I did bounce around pretty severely a couple times and would find out later that I'd damaged my catalytic converter. 

It took over an hour to get back on the main road to Sunset Crater. I stopped on the north side to take some shots.

Sunset Crater

The light was soft with good cloud cover. I've shot from this vantage point several times and am still not entirely happy with the image. This ancient volcano erupted over 500 years ago and must have been a sight to behold by the local population of ancient Pueblo people that lived in the area. 

On to Wupatki. I stopped at Wukoki first. This is the first dwelling you reach as you drive in from Sunset Crater. This is my favorite of the dwellings. Built on top of the rocks, it's a cathedral of stone and ancient engineering. 

Wukoki at Wupatki National Monument

I've shot this location many times. This may have been the best day of all though. Clouds made the images much more interesting than previous trips. The light shifted from bright early morning light to a softer feel. 

I climbed inside the ruin though a series of impossibly small doorways. Getting my big body though with my gear and bag was fun. The inside room is probably 12'x12' and 15' tall. A series of holes and remnants of wooden poles indicated there must have been a second story floor. 

Inside Wukoki

Windows on 3 of the 4 walls at a variety of heights must have provided good views and cross ventilation. This place really stirs the imagination. What was life like 500 years ago? What was living in this dwelling like? Life must have been a day-to-day affair. On top of the obvious hardships of daily living, there was a volcano erupting just a few short miles away. Hard to imagine.

Wukoki Window to the World

After finishing up at Wukoki, I drove up a side road alongside Deadman Wash. I turned around, parked alongside the road and walked to the edge of the wash. The area is an interesting mix of red sandstone, sage and scrub with black cinder mixed in. 

I was doing my thing taking copious amounts of photos when a park ranger appeared over my head on the cliffs above. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I thought I'd heard something moving around above, but couldn't be sure. When you visit these types of places, it's easy to be on edge. I'm not sure if I sensed the spirits or the energies or it's just a bit spooky, but I"m always hyper-conscious of my surroundings. 

Deadman Wash

The ranger explained I was trespassing and did I not see the sign that said off road travel was prohibited. Most of the time this means don't drive around off the main road. This time it meant, keep in your car, no walking around off the road. I apologized my ass off and he was very nice. He was mostly concerned about whether I was collecting pottery shards. Apparently, I wasn't the first person he'd approached out there. We had a nice conversation before I left. He checked my I.D. and didn't issue me a ticket, thankfully.

After my brush with the law, I passed on the park headquarters. There were a ton of cars in the parking lot and knew it would tax my patience trying to shoot the main ruins. So, I drove to my next favorite stop, Lomaki.


This is another dwelling you can walk around in. I did a panorama of the interior of the main room along with a nice one of the exterior.

Inside Lomaki

After spending some time here, I went on down the road. The morning light was finished and it was getting hot. The road winds though the hills created by volcanic activity along with more red sandstone formations. I had to stop one more time along a stretch of the road in a grassland. Sometimes the most simple landscape is also very beautiful. It was very windy and the grasses were laying down in a very pleasing way.

Wupatki Grassland

I had lunch in a day use area before deciding to go see Lockett Meadow. It was around 1pm when I arrived. The cloud cover was still doing its thing. Mid-day is not the best time to shoot, but it was still working for me. 

The Tank at Lockett Meadow

Some reeds that have been growing there for a few years had gotten pretty tall. I have a series of photos now, showing their steady progression. The colors were a very nice mix of greens from the algae to the reeds, grasses and mountains. Soft light made the mid-day shot possible.

I walked the dogs around the circular road of the meadow and settled in a campsite to relax for a few hours. I was sore from bouncing around in the Cinder Hills earlier. I had a cocktail and kicked back under an enormous Ponderosa pine.

Under the tree in Lockett Meadow

It was a good day and it felt wonderful in the cool mountain air. I eventually had to put my fleece jacket on. I'm such whimp living in the desert like I do. Being cold in the middle of August is always a treat. I ended up driving home. The storm front moving in was very entertaining the entire way back into the valley. 

© G. Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama. All reproduction rights reserved.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tempe Town Lake Independence Day Fireworks

Tempe Town Lake was the location again this year for the 4th of July fireworks celebration. This was the 3rd straight year photographing there. It was a beautiful evening and not too hot. The evening air was still and made for great reflections. I even managed to get a decent parking place close to where I wanted to photograph. Getting out of the parking lot was a completely different thing though. It was 45 minutes before the line of cars in front of me started to move.

This year, I settled on the north side of the lake near the marina, east of the bridges where the fireworks were to go off. My friend, Tina and I, got there a couple hours before show time to insure I'd get a good spot. My plan was to position myself across the lake and get a nice base HDR (high dynamic range) panorama shot with the bridge and buildings at Hayden Landing I could then use to add fireworks to. 

I took a couple panos as the sun set and the twilight began.

Just after sunset at Tempe Town Lake

I love the twilight portion of the night. It's my favorite time of day. Something about the way the the light changes, the sky darkens as the lights of the buildings and streets come up and night settles in is just magical to me.

Nautical Twilight on the lake

The "blue hour" light at nautical twilight is a time I often use when I shoot real estate and architecture. It makes properties look amazing and dazzles my clients. I had photographed Tempe Town Lake several years ago in the morning blue-light. That image still remains one of my favorites of all time. At the time I first shot the lake, I had no idea about the blue-light portion of twilight. It was a blind luck.

Independence Day Fireworks on Tempe Town Lake

The show started and the fireworks were amazing, as usual. It really is the best fireworks display in town lasting around 30 minutes. The shot above was what I was aiming for, a composite with a base shot panorama combined with a variety of fireworks from individual shots. But the best was yet to come.

Crescent Moon and Fireworks over Tempe Town Lake

I spent the couple hours before the show talking to a young man also there to photograph the fireworks. It was his first time and I quizzed him about his setup. He seemed to have a good grasp on how to do it. Santiago and I traded stories and he showed me some recent star trails shots he'd done in Sedona on a full moon night. It was very nice work. At one point during the show, I could see he was taking a pano and it occurred to me I didn't have one at this time of night. So, I swung my camera around and snapped a pano, even with the show fully under way.

I didn't have much hope my shot would work out. I was bracketing my exposures so I could process the images in HDR. I couldn't imaging how the fireworks would be okay. Along with multiple bursts going off during the exposures, the bursts were cut off on the second frame of the three frame pano.

The next day, I processed the images and built the panorama. I was more than surprised to see my quick pano during the show was the best shot of evening. I had captured the moon, clouds, smoke and a series of the fireworks that my stitching software had handled perfectly. The HDR processing added lots of detail that my straight shots didn't have. Even the fireworks themselves had more depth of color and texture. And the best part was it wasn't a composite with a base shot and fireworks added in post processing, but all captured in one series of photos.

I did obsess over the image for the next couple days. I must have reprocessed it a dozen times, dodging and burning and making countless adjustments before finally tweaking the individual frames to get a stitched pano I was happy with. It also was a final image that didn't require a lot of extra manipulation in Photoshop. Mistakes like these are always a good way to learn something new. Even though I hadn't exposed the panorama correctly, I did finally figure out a way to make it work. It just took some time.

Social media went crazy with approval. I had over 400 likes on the Photography Adventures Club Facebook page, 100 likes on my own FB page and over 2,100 views on my SmugMug gallery. Some of the better comments claimed it was the best 4th of July fireworks photo they had ever seen. I was more than flattered and grateful to those who took the time to comment. It felt good to be recognized for my efforts, and I even managed to sell a couple prints.

It was a magical evening and one I was proud to have captured so well.

© 2014 G. Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama
All Reproduction Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kofa Revisited

I went back to the Kofa Mountains a couple weeks after my first visit. Again, I was hoping for a Milky Way shot over the mountains and this time, the weather cooperated. I parked in a new spot this time near Kofa Queen Canyon. A clear sky was a welcome sight.

The Milky Way over the Kofa Mountains.

It was probably about 4:30 when I hopped out of the truck to see the Milky Way shining brightly overhead. Light pollution from Yuma (right) and Quartzsite (left) added a bit more to this 8-frame panorama. It took a couple tries at the post-processing to get it right. The subtle colors of the stars as well as the tiny bit of green airglow were tough to bring up. Having shot in RAW mode on my camera was a big help. I was able to process each RAW file and color correct them before I stitched the pano.

The rugged peaks at the entrance to Kofa Queen Canon.

The next morning was a clear sky day. No spectacular sunrise, but I thought the light streaming around the peaks was very interesting.

Kofa Prominence

I used my 80-200 f/2.8 lens to concentrate on the atmospherics of the sunrise interacting with the mountains. I hardly ever use this lens, but haul it around with me wherever I go. It was nice to find a use for it on this trip.

I drove home knowing I had accomplished my goal of capturing the Milky Way. It was a satisfying trip and the reaction to my shot was a bit overwhelming. I was surprised at how many people responded to it. This is something I'll have to work at some more. Finding the right location is half the battle and having a vision of the shot before taking it is key in this type of photography.

© 2014 G. Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama
All content copyrighted and all reproduction rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Kofa Vertical Panorama

I spent a little over 24 hours at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Arizona and that was not nearly enough. This is a big area of over 660,000 acres and there are plenty of roads accessing many parts of the mountain range. Established in 1939 to protect desert bighorn sheep, The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is named after a large historic mine, The King of Arizona, or Kofa for short.

I started on the southern tip of the range in Palm Canyon, but wished I'd spent more time in Kofa Queen Canyon a little further north. I arrived mid-day and kicked back to enjoy the scenery.

Chillin' with the dogs.

My campsite at the base of the mountain was a perfect vantage point to take in the mountains. I had 360-degree views back into the valley from my slightly elevated base camp. It was a perfect cool and breezy, late-March, winter day, yet I could feel summer was just around the corner.

Orange glow looking west from the foothills of the Kofa Mountains.

My photographic vision at Kofa was to get a moonlit mountain shot with the Milky Way rising behind it. I had envisioned a sweeping panorama with the drama of the cliffs and the mystery of the universe behind. I calculated a shoot time around 3:30 a.m. would work, but the clouds that rolled in at the end of the day ruined that idea. As usual, I made the best of it and decided to try something new.

The road to Palm Canyon

A nice straight section of the road nearby beckoned. I used my headlamp to light paint behind my camera setup onto the road. It took several tries as my lamp was pretty bright. I had one version where the camera shadow went all the way to the mountain on the road and looked freakishly big. The moon was also very bright and diffused in the thin clouds. Seeing the clouds though, gave me hope for a nice sunrise.

Kofa Rain Ring
A big ring around the moon was an interesting element in this 180-degree pano. The glow from city lights of nearby Yuma can be seen to the right. 

Moonlit Kofa

Moonlit Cholla, Kofa NWR

Kofa Sunrise

The wispy clouds that gave me fits during the night were almost gone at sunrise. I had hopes this would turn out better than it did. I have seen another photographers shots in the meantime and was in the wrong place that day... (like you ever know) Further north in Kofa Queen Canyon was perfect. But I hadn't been there yet. 

Entering Kofa Queen Canyon

So, after my early start and shooting the sunrise, I headed up Kofa Queen Canyon. The road was just off the main road to Palm Canyon and a no brainer. It was a couple miles through the desert foothills to the mouth of Kofa Queen Canyon. The mountains grow increasingly rugged and jagged a silhouette. The dirt road led into a pretty long canyon surrounded by huge rock spires. These were very picturesque formations that took my breath away. 

Royalty in Kofa Queen Canyon

The road led back further and further following the same path as the winding wash. When I first entered the canyon, the clouds were very nice. But in less than an hour, they were all gone. I drove way back in towards the end of the canyon, but not all the way. The light had deteriorated and the road kept getting more and more sketchy. Next time I'll spend more time in this canyon.

Brittlebush in Kofa Queen Canyon

Spring was in full swing, but there were very few wildflowers to be seen. I did happen on this nice brittlebush at the entrance to the canyon. The peak behind was a perfect backdrop, but that was it for the wildflowers. Obviously, this area was experiencing the same drought the rest of the western U.S. was. I saw absolutely no critters. I did hear some coyotes at daybreak...

And I'll have to get back to Kofa soon. It was a bit of a long and boring drive though... 160 miles from Phoenix, but the payoff was well worth it. The mountain was spectacular and I totally lucked out with some clouds. And I learned a lot about where to go and what I'll do better next time. 

© 2014 G. Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama
All content copyrighted and reproduction rights reserved.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gilbert Water Ranch

The Ripirian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert is a great place for birding and photography. The Gilbert Water Ranch, for short, has seven ponds used to reclaim waste water, recharge the aquifer and is the perfect setting for all types of shore and water birds. It's also just a nice place to walk through and enjoy the desert. 

There was no shortage of species on my trip in early January: Canada geese, gadwall, Northern shoveler, Northern pintail, American avocet, snowy egret, great egret, pied-billed grebe, spotted sandpiper, black-necked stilt, Northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, etc... There also were some rare birds in the area like a white-throated sparrow that had birders excited to see it.

American Avocet

Black-necked Stilt

Great Egret

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Pintail

Ring-necked Duck (male)

Ring-necked Duck (female)

Ring-necked Duck

Snowy Egret

This was my first effort photographing birds. I used all the lens power I could muster and was surprisingly pleased with the results. A 2x converter on my 80-200mm lens was plenty of power for moderately close birds. Anything very far away was still pretty small in the viewfinder. Shooting came with a bit of a learning curve I discovered. My 2x converter had me focusing manually, but I found my groove after a while. There were plenty of other photographers there too. Some really nice glass had me drooling. 

I really enjoyed the morning light. It was very nice as it reflected off the water on the birds. This kind of photography is something I'll have to do more often. I already love birds and really enjoyed the new challenge and shooting something out of my comfort range. It's always good to try new things.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why use a Professional Real Estate Photographer?

Unfortunately, a lot of real estate agents take their own photos for use on the internet. With over 90% of buyers surfing the MLS listings before they decide which properties to visit, this is not the best way to market a property. 

Professional photography has the potential to make the biggest initial impact on a potential home buyer than anything else. Buyers linger on good photos, bad ones are quickly viewed or passed over altogether. A poorly photographed property sends a bad message when first impressions are everything.

While most professional real estate agents have terrific people skills helping guide their clients through the buying and selling process, they are not professional photographers. Even the best photos taken by the agent pale in comparison to ones that are taken professionally. They don't have the knowledge, experience, equipment, computer and software a pro shooter has. The right lens makes the biggest difference and you can't get one on a point-and-shoot style camera.

Poor photography can send the wrong message and immediately puts doubt in the viewers mind. "Is this one worth seeing?" Can you afford to have people pass over your listing because of inferior photos? High-quality photography shows the property in its best light. An experienced photographer knows the best angles and has the experience to make even smaller properties look amazing.

Traffic is a numbers game and high quality images will put you ahead of the pack. The more people visit a property, the faster it sells. The faster it sells, the less likely it will be necessary to drop the price to entice buyers. Beautiful, high-quality photography will increase traffic and the odds of getting the asking price or better. This is money in your pocket easily paying for the cost of a pro shoot. Considering the price of the property and the commission to be earned, professional photography is money well spent. 

Sending a pro to photograph your client's property says you really care and they appreciate that. When you show the world you are doing everything possible to market a property, people talk. Your seller will be impressed. Repeat and referral business is a huge part of many real estate agents business. Mediocre photos do nothing to further your professional image or marketing efforts. 

To be a top producer, there is no better way to look like one. Top Producers know the benefits of pro photos and use them on all their listings. They know they can't afford to look anything but their best. High-dollar properties demand the best photography and sellers expect this level of service. 

Professional photography has the potential to make the biggest impact on the property you are selling. High quality professional photography increases traffic to your listing and improves the odds of receiving the asking price or better. Pro photography enhances your image as a professional meaning more and better listings, referrals and repeat business in the future.

Stand out from the crowd and use professional photography!

Call me today to see how I can help you market your next property: 480-432-1181. Daytime photographic packages start at $125 and twilight/night photos start at $225. 

Thank you for spending a moment to look!

See my portfolio: Reid Helms / Arizona Panorama

© 2014 ARIZONA PANORAMA / G. REID HELMS. All content is copyright protected. All reproduction rights reserved. You may not use or reproduce any or all content without express written permission.