Two Years and Still Going Strong

Mono Lake Rainstorm

Mono Lake Rainstorm – Rain teems down form the heavens over the mountains alongside Mono Lake, Mammouth Lakes, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Two years ago, I was extremely fortunate to find myself in California for what was to be the photographic trip of my lifetime.  Under the guidance of professional landscape photographer Paul Reiffer, we visited a number of locations, with Mono Lake being one of my favorites.

Mono Lake Rainstorm has consistently been one of my most successful images.  Now two years old, I was amazed to see in my email that Gurushots have once again picked up one of my images.  This time Mono Lake Rainstorm has made number one in the list of 36 landscape images that will “knock your socks off”.

See the full list of 36 images here.



A nice surprise on Gurushots

Mono Lake Rainstorm  – Rain teems down form the heavens over the mountains alongside Mono Lake, Mammouth Lakes, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

For a while now I have been submitting some of my images to online website that give people and photographers the opportunity to vote and comment on my images.  These sites primarily include 500px which is mostly other photographers, Flickr which is more mainstream with anyone viewing the files and GuruShots which the most photographer centric of the three in my opinion.

These submissions were initially to gain some feedback on whether my landscape images are worthy of anything, or whether I should just stick to event photography.  I am pleased to confirm that the response has been over whelming with great results across the three sites.

With regards to Gurushots.  This site is based on photographers uploading images to certain challenges.  These challenges are set by the Gurus and they cover a multitude of subjects.  Other photographers that are registered on then have the opportunity to vote blind on a selection of images in each challenge.  Your images (or images) begin in the Popular category and then as you get more votes your placement progresses through Skilled, into Premier and then into Elite.  It is Elite where I have been fortunate to find most of my images (or image sets) climbing the ranks and into.

However, I was really excited to learn that one of my image sets that have been entering into “The Vast Outdoors” challenge has made it passed the Elite category and into the All Star category, being the highest level possible.  At the time of writing there are still a number of days of voting to go, but I’m sitting 40th out of around 2500 people and 8674 images.

If that was not good enough, one of my images (Mono Lake Rainstorm) has been picked by the Guru himself, placing a star on the image and qualifying it for a bonus to the vote count.

It is great to finally make the All Star rating, but getting an acknowledgement by the Guru himself really puts the icing on the cake and it really made me smile today.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll keep taking photographs and see what other successes I have over the coming months.

A sad, sad day.

Prate ShipNo, as much as some of you might like to entertain the idea, I have not given up on photography just yet.  However, I am sad to say that the last of my chosen images from my trip to California in May has now been uploaded to Flickr and 500px and I guess this finally puts that amazing time with some great new friends behind me for the moment.

Back in May, I was immensely grateful to find myself packing for Las Vegas and a photography road trip being run by Paul Reiffer.  I’d be on the road with The Vig and Mark Hayden and it very quickly became obvious that the trip would consist of long days at some amazingly beautiful places.  The plan was to capture one or two good images each day and, under Paul’s expert guidance, I was pleased to secure at least one good image from every location that we visited.

Yes I made some mistakes and yes I would like to return to correct those mistakes, but for now I will have to settle for finding locations around my home and in the UK more widely.  Time is my enemy right now, but a two hour walk with the dog last night resulted in a few interesting sites that I hope to try to capture over the coming weeks.  I’ll be putting into practice what Paul taught me and hopefully I will have another series of images to accompany those online at the present time.

The feedback from friends and family was always going to be pretty good, well it always is for all of us.  However, the views and comments that I have received online and from complete strangers have been motivating to say the least.  I have tentatively entered a few of the images for some online competitions and made the top 10% in a few of them – with a little more work I hope to one day place a finalist image.

If you wish to review the complete showcase form my Californian road trip, it can now be seen on Flickr.

Finally a huge thank you to the person that enabled me to take this trip and just as big a thank you to Paul Reiffer for his brilliant pre-trip advice, his expert tuition and his motivation that has taken my landscape photography to new heights.

Back to Mono and then to Yosemite

Ansel's Valley - A view of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point in the style of (and inspired by) Ansel Adams - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Ansel’s Valley – A view of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point in the style of (and inspired by) Ansel Adams – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

DAY 6 – Monday 18th – Today began with another visit to what is becoming my favourite lake in North America. Today I would be shooting with the Phase One and the aim of the day was to experiment in obtaining a more abstract photograph. The Phase One lenses that we have are all prime lenses and this means choosing the correct lens for the job and then moving around to get the composition that is desired.

I do not have access to the files from the shoot at the time of writing, nor the Capture One software that is required to process the Phase One’s images. However, I hope to have that capability on my return home and I’ll drop an example into the blog here, or link to the Road Trip’s gallery on my Flicker page.

Back on the road, we’d then head over to Yosemite but we’d hit a little bit of a problem. Paul and ‘The Vig’ had planned to take Highway 120 across to Yosemite National Park. This involved crossing Tioga Pass but this was closed owing to bad weather. The day before we had found a nice place to eat and we headed back there as it was then on our 250+ mile detour. Fortunately, Mark was watching the weather and road closures on his phone and towards the end of lunch he announced that the pass was open and we quickly backtracked to take advantage of the shorter route and the chance to capture another sunset in the park

The drive over the pass was pretty uneventful, save for a 20 minute wait at some road works. It seemed that we were waiting for the workmen to complete a section, but in truth the road became single file for some distance. So we decided to explore ‘The Vigs’ iPod and a broad range of music from current pop to Heavy Metal. I worry about the poor guy who was standing in front of the car with the stop sign .

Following a bag drop we headed into the National Park and Glacier Point. The toilets in the park were gross and the altitude provided for some interesting entertainment. Shooting from the point was interesting for someone who does not like heights, although I am getting better. Whilst perfectly safe and well back from the edge, I set up my tripod in an outcrop of rock that slopped towards the edge – well it looked that way as I could not see the drop into the valley below.

The aim was to capture the valley as the sun dropped and lit the scene from behind. I opted for a graduated filter just to take the sky down a little and a lower F-Stop to keep the lens at its best range. Star bursts were not on the cards but I did try a couple of shots with doubled up filters and a longer exposure.

The clouds were not favourable and my final preferred image was a little flat. Whilst in the valley, Paul had taken us to see some of Ansel Adams’ work with some eye watering prices for the prints and original prints. Feeding on this inspiration I chose to process the image as colour and also as black and white in the style of Ansel Adams. The black and white image is by far my favourite, but it will need some additional work when I get home and have more time.

Brown Bears and Car Parks

Done Delivering - Bodie, CA, USA.  Copright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

Done Delivering – Bodie, CA, USA. Copright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo.

DAY 5 – Sunday 17th – We grabbed a few short hours of sleep and met at the car just after midnight. On checking into the hotel, we were warned about leaving food in the car because of the bears. However, I did not expect to see a mother brown bear and her cub in the garage under the building opposite. On calling out about the bears, the guys in the car though that I was joking, but we got a great view of one of the bears just 20-30 feet away. Little did we know that a couple of minutes before returning later in the morning, those same bears were in our own car park and sniffing around where we would be parking the car overnight.

Anyway, Paul headed off to Convict Lake and we discussed camera settings and how to keep our night vision when we reached the location. Paul found a great location on a bridge over a small lake with mountains in the distance. This served to provide a great backdrop and we set about capturing the night sky in the dark. Mark captured some great shots, but mine were a little lacking.

With the night shots done and the rain starting to dampen the shoot, we packed up and headed back for some well needed sleep.

In the morning we headed over to checkout Mono Lake but the weather was not looking great. So, we headed over to Bodie. The tourist attraction is a deserted gold mining town but what makes it different is that the town’s population allegedly left with very little warning before a bad winter storm and the town remained untouched. Many of the wooden and tin sided buildings are as they were left and this includes their contents. I provides a really eerie window that looks back in time to the gold rush years. The town includes a wonderful church, gas station, bank vault, school, the mining buildings and much more. The walk from the town to the graveyard is littered with old mine working gear, the shells of old rushed vintage cars that are now devoid of their internal workings and other interesting items which provide interest.

What made this trip extra special was the weather. The trip has been extremely unseasonal, with Death Valley cooler than normal and some amazing cloud formations over the valley. However, as we turned off the main road and onto a washboard track over to Bodie it began to snow. Now, the Town is closed from visitors during the winter because the road is covered in snow and ice and it is too dangerous to navigate. When we arrived, the town was covered in a blanket of white snow and we quickly got to work. The snow would ‘not’ be around for long and we were on a time limit to beat the melting snow.

Deserted Spirits - Bodie Church in the Snow, Bodie, CA, USA - Copyroght Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Deserted Spirits – Bodie Church in the Snow, Bodie, CA, USA – Copyroght Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

I had noted the church on the way into the town. The bell tower was covered in snow on one side and this contrasted with the deep browns of the wooden structure. The sky was a blow out of white and I just might plan to try to drop in a realistic (but false) sky on my return and to tick off another Photoshop skills lesson. However, I really like the image as it is. Another image that I really like shows an old pickup truck in front of one of the buildings. I plan to work on that one when we get home as well.

We spent a couple of hours at Bodie and I captured a number of shots of the buildings. I experimented with different framing but I was again shooting a little too narrowly and without enough negative space. Paul picked this up and educated me and this will be something to keep in mind for the following days. I’m still heading home with some great images and my photography is definitely getting better through Paul’s expert guidance and by working with Mark as we talk through things together.

With the snow pretty much gone, we packed up and headed back to Mono Lake.

Back to Mono Lake. This was an opportunity to build on the lessons learned from the previous visit and I came away with yet another of my favourite images of the trip thus far. My earlier image was quite blue and I really like the effect. This one was shot wider with better use of negative space and the image colouring is closer to the real scene. The Big Stopper filter from Lee Filters came into great use and I went home with a smile on my face. Mono Lake was proving to be another brilliant place to shoot.

Pirate Ship - An outcdrop of Tufa affectionately names the Pirate Ship by the locals - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Pirate Ship – An outcdrop of Tufa affectionately names the Pirate Ship by the locals – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Bouncing around Death Valley

The Artists Pallet, Death Valley, CA, USA - Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

The Artists Pallet, Death Valley, CA, USA – Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

DAY 4 – Saturday 16th – Today was one of our early starts and we would be heading up into the hills of Death Valley. Forming part of the Amargosa Range and located east of Death Valley Zabriskie Point has some wonderful rock formations around the viewpoint and a view right across Death Valley. We arrived a little before sunrise and setup just forward of the main viewing area. The sun would be rising behind us and following Paul’s guidance, we hoped for the sun to light both the mountains on the far side of the valley and also the valley floor.

Unfortunately, the morning was cloudy where we were hoping the sun to shine and we watched as the clouds blew through. The sun occasionally found a small pocket of clear sky but this only really gave us patchy lit areas on the far side of the valley and the valley floor never really lit up.

As the sun rose further into the morning sky, the shadow of the viewing area developed into a large shaded area in front of us and this never really moved out of the frame before we decided to call it a day. Lesson for today, is that you really can’t rely on the weather, even in a place a beautiful as Death Valley.

After packing up and walking back to the car, we headed back to Badwater Basin and back onto the hexagon hunt. This time we would be a little more fortunate. The heat of the day before had dried out the valley floor a little more than the day before. This is important because the hexagons are formed when the valley floor dries out and cracks. As Paul found out on one scouting mission, the mud beneath the surface is hot and this causes the salt to boil and it bubbles up through the cracks to form small hexagons with salt walls up to a centimetre or two.

Walking out over the salt flats carrying the Phase One in its case, we were skeptical at finding any hexagons but we were rewarded with a few small collections. Nothing to really wow, but we did get hexagons which was really cool – plus it means that I have an excuse to come back again at another time. That said it was really interesting to experience the difference in the camera settings for a medium format camera.

This is proving to be a busy and action packed photography road trip and we quickly back on the road again. The next scheduled location was Mammouth Lakes and shooting at Mono Lake. I’d loved Death Valley and the guys in the car told me that better was to come – expectations began to run high.

On the route over, we took a short detour via the Artists Pallet. This is an outcrop of rock that was thrown up during volcanic activity. During the pre-shoot briefing Paul described the phenomenon as ‘earth burp’ and it really is a great description.

We were arrived, I very nearly decided not to shoot the rocks because the colours looked pretty pastel. However Paul explained how to pull out the colours using post production and it was yet another example of an opportunity to capture and image and then use that image to practice what we were being taught. I was actually very pleased that I had taken the shots because the results produced in a couple of minutes in Lightroom are actually quite pleasing and I have one image that I will work on in Photoshop when I get home.

After picking up our bags from the overnight accommodation and checking out, we headed back onto the road and off to Mammoth Lakes. It was a shame to leave Death Valley behind but I had decided to catch up with my blog on the way over in the car. Famous last words, the scenery continued to be stunning and the computer stayed packed away.

We dropped the bags at our accommodation and headed out to Mono Lake. The lake is a ……… We checked out a couple of sites where the Tufas are close to the shoreline, but headed back to the first location. The weather began to close in with huge black clouds gathering above the mountains to the left of our location. We sat in the car watching the weather until Paul identified a fabulous opportunity. Grabbing our gear we hastily headed down to the shoreline and then the black clouds began to release a torrent of rain over the mountains. The result was a very interesting sky, wonderful streaks of the rain falling with the lake and rock formations in front.

Whilst Paul and Mark headed over to one side, I setup in a slightly different location in the hope to capture one of the Tufas that had caught my attention. Mark and Paul caught some great shots but I was focusing too narrowly on the scene and I missed the opportunity. Even switching from the wide angle to the 70-200mm lens was a mistake, but the great thing about this trip is that Paul keeps an eye on what you are doing but he lets you have the freedom to experiment.

Clearly sensing my frustration, Paul suggested a slightly different viewpoint and suggested shooting much wider. The scene was across, what I would describe as, a small bay with an outcrop of Tufas which jutted out into the lake. Taking more time and applying the tuition, I managed to capture my favourite photograph of the trip thus far. Felling very happy and with the light drawing in from the storm and the weather beginning to get worse, we headed back to the car.

Later we would return to the lake to try for a sunset but the weather was not favourable and the anticipated colours in the sky did not materialise and I was not lucky enough to get a decent image.

Mark was keen to capture a night sky and the Milky Way in particular. This would be something new to me and we checked the weather. It was looking to be clear, so it was off for something to eat and a few short hours sleep before heading out around half past midnight.