Desert Ride

Landscape photography in Texas is an endurance sport, especially for your vehicle. The best locations are far from any major cities and in many cases, far from civilization itself. Having a dependable ride like the Subaru Forester is essential to your success and your survival.

My 2010 Forester has a little over 103,000 miles on it and still runs like a champ. I’ve taken it all across Texas from Houston to Amarillo, Dallas to El Paso and Harlingen to Nacogdoches with not a single breakdown to its credit. We’ve traveled the dirt roads of Big Bend National Park, the two track trails of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the back roads of twenty different Texas State Parks and the dirt roads of over 150 Texas counties.

Man, what a ride!

Desert Ride

Desert Ride – Salt Flat, Texas
Copyright © 2013 Jeff Lynch Photography
EOS 5D Mark III w/ GP-E
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with GP-E2 unit attached, set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens and tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 24mm, f/16 for 1/20th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop, soft, graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 4.

Click on the image above for a larger version.


One Enchanted (Rock) Evening

Many folks set off to photograph their favorite landscape spot wondering which lens or lenses to use in the field. Given how many fine lenses are available on the market today, answering this question is not quite as simple as it seems. While I can’t provide specific recommendations (since I have no idea your camera type or your budget), here’s a list of the lenses I’ve used for landscape photography over the past few years along with a few reasons why each makes a good nature or landscape lens.

One important thing to keep in mind, since most landscape shots are taken with the camera mounted on a tripod, image stabilized lenses become much less important. You can save yourself hundreds of dollars on landscape lenses by looking at non “IS” or “VR” lenses only.

Sunset Over Enchnted Rock

Sunset Over Enchanted Rock – Fredericksburg, Texas
Copyright © 2012 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 19mm, f/14 for 1.6 seconds at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 4.
Click on the image above for a larger version.


Ultra-Wide Angle Zooms
Many of the scenes you’ll encounter during a landscape shoot will require a wide angle lens and in Texas, the wider the better. If you shoot a camera with an APS-C size sensor like the new Canon EOS 7D, then the Canon EF-S 10mm f/3.5-4.5 USM is your best bet for a tack-sharp wide-angle zoom.

If you shoot with a full frame camera like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II or the new EOS 5D Mark III, then you have a few more choices such as the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM or the more expensive Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM lens.

Wide-Angle Primes
Many landscape photographers prefer to “zoom with their feet” and carry wide-angle prime (single focal length) lenses instead of zooms. Before the days of computer controlled lens grinding, prime lenses were substantially sharper than zoom lenses but today most high-end zooms compete very well with prime lenses in terms of sharpness.

I understand from my friends (on the dark side) that Nikon has released a very sharp wide-angle prime for their APS-C cameras but unfortunately for Canon shooters, there are no EF-S series prime lenses so finding a wide-angle lens for Canon’s most popular DSLRs is tough.

Wide-to-Medium Telephoto Zooms
This type of lens is probably the most widely used for amateur landscape photographers due to the broad focal range coverage and competitive pricing among manufacturers.

EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USMFor APS-C cameras, Canon offers many lenses that fit into this category such as the brand new Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, the older Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM as well as the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. All three are great choices for owners of a Digital Rebel or EOS 7D.

For those of us that shoot with full-frame cameras like the Canon 5D2 there are also many great choices like the tack-sharp Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM or my favorite, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM which is one of Canon’s best selling lenses of all time. If you have deep pockets and can wait another few months, then the new Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM is also a great choice.

Medium Telephoto Zooms
Although not strictly landscape lenses, a good medium telephoto zoom can be a real asset when shooting Texas landscapes from a distance. I highly recommend any of these Canon lenses and their Nikon equivalents. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM lens is without a doubt, the best “value” offered today by any lens manufacturer. Thirty years ago a lens like this would have cost thousands and today this little baby can be yours for less than $700. Yes, you can spend more on the image stabilized version or on the much larger and faster f/2.8 version but for landscape photography this is one sweet deal.

EF 100mm MacroMacro Lenses
Many landscape photographers prefer “going wide”, but never forget the beauty of getting real close. Both Canon & Nikon make excellent macro lenses such as the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM or the new Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM (the first macro with image stabilization). Don’t forget that today, many medium telephoto lenses allow close-focus macro photography and with Canon’s 500D Close-Up “filter” almost any lens can become a macro lens.

Conclusions & A Fresh Thought
Your lens choices for landscape photography are almost limitless and every lens manufacturer has dozens of models to choose from in every price range imaginable. A new lens will not make you a better photographer and some of the most spectacular landscape images I’ve ever seen were taken with a 50mm plastic lens costing less than $100. The most important piece of equipment you can bring on a landscape shoot is your imagination and creativity.

Final Post of the Year: Photographic Safety

At the end of each year I try to leave my readers with a little something extra, to entice them to return in the new year to share my passion for nature photography. This year I want to discuss about a topic that has become more and more important to nature photographers that visit our southern border; Photographic Safety! To start off, I’d like to relate an incident from last year that reaffirmed my commitment to broach this sensitive but vital topic with my friends, readers and fellow photographers.

Rugged Landscape

Rugged Landscape – Big Bend National Park, Texas
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 25mm, f/14 for 1/80th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

As many of you know I love to travel the back-country roads of Texas looking for the best locations and light for landscape, nature and wildlife photography. Some of my favorite spots are several hundred of miles from Houston, scattered through the thousands of miles of Texas’ back-country roads and some, like Brazos Bend State Park are just a few miles from my home in Sugar Land. On a late afternoon hike last December I was approached by a group of wildlife enthusiasts, each carrying several thousand dollars worth of photographic gear, just as I was that afternoon. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes before each of us went our separate ways to capture a few last shots before the sun set in the southwest. Just a normal encounter between fellow photographers in one of the region’s finest state parks for photographing birds (cool) and alligators (yuck).

Threat Assessment
As we all began to walk off I noticed another group of four young men with P&S cameras standing alongside one of the trails and speaking with each other in muted tones. I honestly didn’t give it a second thought until they broke into two pairs and began to follow myself and the other photographers as we headed back to our vehicles. Two of the young men approached me and quietly asked how much a camera & lens like the one I was holding would cost. Since it was now fairly dark, I just kept on walking toward my vehicle and laid the camera & telephoto lens in the front seat while standing there with my rather large mono-pod looking very much like a club. I quietly reached up to the two-way radio attached to my pack and “chirped” the mic button a few times to gauge their reaction. As I had hoped, they heard the “chirp” and assumed I was a Park Ranger, TPWD officer or off-duty cop and quickly turned and walked off without waiting for me to answer.

I started my vehicle, put my lights and fog lamps on high-beam and drove over to the other photographers’ cars in time to see the four men now standing off to the side of the parking lot, light up like four deer in the headlights. They quickly turned and fled to their own car parked at the other end of the lake. I sat there with my lights illuminating the scene while the other photographers put their gear and long lenses away safely. Once the situation seemed secure I explained to them that it was my belief that the four young men were looking to steal my gear and theirs as well. The other photographers seemed a bit skeptical until I explained how the four men had split up and followed us separately back to our vehicles. I also explained that walking around with $20,000 – $30,000 of brand new cameras and shiny white lenses could attract the wrong kind of attention, even in a relatively safe place like a state park.

Concealment and Preparedness
I’ve blogged before about Packing for Landscape Photography but I want to emphasize that this post is about your personal safety and protection and I’ll be quite frank with everyone, the only person that can guaranty your safety is you!

As a husband and father of four daughters I sincerely wish this wasn’t the case, but we live in a world where some folks have decided (for whatever reason) that it’s acceptable behavior to steal someone else’s possessions and even assault them in the process. I’ve hiked, camped, snowshoed and canoed in North America all my adult life and have never run into an animal in the wild that wasn’t more afraid of me than I was of it, including bears, wolves, coyotes, elk, hogs and even a moose. The only animal that consistently preys on its own kind is “man”.

So, I have a few hard & fast “safety” rules when I’m out photographing nature into the evening hours.

  • I never (ever) open the back of my SUV and put together my shooting outfit (camera, lens, tripod, etc.) in the field. Nothing attracts the wrong kind of attention more than letting the whole world see all your shiny and expensive photo gear while you rummage through it for 20 minutes before beginning your hike. I generally put together my kit for the day before leaving my home and rarely put it away before returning home at night. Having your gear ready in advance offers you opportunities to shoot that you might miss otherwise and allows you to quickly and quietly exit your vehicle without attracting unwanted attention.

Filson Sportsman's Bag (Open)

  • I never store my camera, lenses, filters, etc. in an easily recognizable camera bag while I’m out in the field. Yes, I love the “Think Tank Rollers” for commercial work but nothing says ROB ME more than a large camera bag or backpack. In fact my current “camera bag” of choice is the Filson Sportsman’s Bag shown here. It is only slightly larger than my old Domke F2 canvas bag but it holds a whole lot more gear in its main compartment and two full-size, front & back pockets as you can see in this image.

Motorola MR350R Two-Way Radio

  • I never hike without a Motorola MR350R two-way radio strapped to my belt or backpack, especially when alone. I have one with me at all times and another on the dashboard of my vehicle on top of a note that says quite simply “If I’m not back by 10:00PM, call me on this channel because I’m hurt and need help”. In most state parks here in Texas, the Park Ranger or Superintendent will drive the park before shutting the gate to all but folks camping in the park for the night. Most parks close at 10:00PM so my note tells the park official two things when he comes across my vehicle during his nightly “sweep”; I’m not camping in the park and I may need assistance. The radio allows the park official to contact me to determine my condition and location should a rescue be needed. A set of two radios costs less than $50 (USD) and is the cheapest insurance you can find when trouble occurs.

Garmin GPSMAP 62S

  • Another piece of technology I never leave home without is my trusty GPS with a fully-charged, high-capacity, lithium battery. In fact, my good friend and trusty guide Jack, has come up with a way to use an overcharged and partially discharged (non-standard) battery in his Garmin GPS to get over 10 hrs of continuous use. Today I use the Garmin GPSMAP 62S model since it has almost 2 GB of memory to hold my custom TOPO maps and previous routes. I’ve used the less-expensive Garmin Dakota and Oregon units in the past but found their range, reliability and battery life to be a potentially life-threatening issue. When you’re hiking in the Texas outback the last thing you need is a GPS that can’t find enough satellites for a proper fix. The high-end Garmin units have served Jack and I without fail during our recent expeditions and in one case, probably saved us from a 750 foot climb in the dark.

Kimber 1911

  • The final piece of gear that I carry is a Kimber 1911 semi-automatic pistol, that I pray, never (ever) has to be used to defend my life. I’m quite sure some of you reading this will stop right here in shock, thinking something like “how on Earth could a good Christian like Jeff carry a gun?” and “could he really take another life to save his own?”.

Like all major choices in life, the decision to train with, carry and potentially use a firearm is a very personal and difficult decision to make. Only a small percentage of our country’s population owns a firearm (the percentage is much higher in states like Texas & Montana) and an even smaller percentage of firearm owners decide to apply for a “concealed handgun license” and carry a firearm when they feel it’s necessary.

I grew up shooting pistols, rifles and shotguns and have owned a handgun on and off for the past 25 years. Although I’m comfortable around handguns my decision to properly train with and carry a firearm in the field was the result of my age and circumstances as well as where I live and photograph. A friend and fellow nature photographer that pens the blog Montana Outdoors, once posted a picture of his S&W .357 magnum pistol next to a huge paw print from a wolf walking on the same trail. While he carries for a different reason, we both understand that in the field, you are “responsible” for your own safety and protection and I doubt he hikes without his firearm.

Texas is a big place and many of the best locations for nature photography are in areas bordering Mexico. Now I’ve traveled along the Mexican border and into Mexican border towns for twenty years without feeling the least bit uncomfortable but the drug violence of the past few years has turned much of the country’s southern border into a “no mans land” reminiscent of the 1870’s. I’m not making any statements here about cause & effect or about border security policy. I’m just saying it’s a fact that there’s just too much land for the “authorities” to cover and any nature photographer venturing into the border area had better be aware of the risks.

We’ve had less trouble here in Texas than our neighbors in New Mexico and Arizona but the days of pitching a tent along a deserted stretch of the Rio Grande and waiting for a beautiful sunrise to photograph are probably over for time being. Today the watchwords for nature photographers are “situational awareness”, “threat assessment” and “evasion” just as much as they are “camera”, “lens” and “tripod”. These days it’s a good idea to plan your hikes to return before dark, be mindful of exactly where you are in relation to the border and be prepared with an emergency egress (route) should the worst occur. If possible, never hike alone and always leave an itinerary with someone at your base camp or hotel.

More than anything else, don’t take your personal safety in the field for granted. We still live in a world where the wolves will eat the unwary rabbit. Be aware, be careful and be safe and bring back some great photographs to share with us all.

Happy New Year!

One Enchanted Evening…

One Enchanted Evening

One Enchanted Evening – Llano, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 21mm, f/16 for 1/13th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2 stop, soft graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Please Send Rain…

We’re still 24″ behind in our rainfall this year and the landscape certainly shows it. If y’all have any influence up North, please tell them to send us some rainfall this winter. I love the desert but not across the entire state…

Sandy Creek

Sandy Creek – Llano, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 35mm, f/9 for 1/400th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

The Spring 2011 Texas Landscape Safari Recap

Texas Landscape Safari

What a great group of photographers to teach, travel and shoot with!

Here are a few statistics to recap this year’s outing. 17 people each traveled over 300 miles in 3 days to photograph four different and unique state parks working on average 12 hours each day to capture literally thousands of great landscape shots.

Enchanted Rock Classroom

Josh’s Enchanted Rock Classroom – Llano, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon Powershot G10 set on aperture priority (Av) using a circular polarizer. The exposure was taken at 32mm, f/4 for 1/250th of a second at ISO 80. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.
Click on the image above for a larger version.

Oh, we got scattered a few times but all ended up enjoying some great Texas weather during our three day safari with lots of sunshine, a few clouds but no rain in sight. Gorman creek was running over the falls near Bend, Tx. The mighty Colorado was low but still running as were both the Pedernales and Guadalupe rivers. The heights of Enchanted Rock haven’t gotten any easier to climb but the sunset and clear skies made the trek worth while. As always, the rocks and water in each park called to us like bees to honey. We climbed, explored, laughed and did it all again the next day. And as is usually the case, we made made new friends from as far away as Canada and California as well as those that live closer to home.

It was my honor and a great pleasure to host this year’s Texas Landscape Safari and to get to know each and every one of you a little better. You all have a gift for capturing light and turning it into art and I learned as much as I taught. Keep in touch and remember that TLS alumni are always welcome to join us again in the future for FREE, even those that brought their iPhones. 🙂


Workshop Preparation – Some Final Thoughts

The Spring 2011 Texas Landscape Safari is just two weeks away and it’s time to think about those final preparations that can make the difference between having a good workshop or enjoying a great experience.

Texas Landscape Safari

Shoot What You Love
The Texas Hill Country boasts some of the most beautiful landscape settings in this great state of ours and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of your surroundings. Take the time to shoot the things you love and want to remember from this workshop and safari. Sometimes it’s the smaller settings and tighter shots that contain the most meaning.

Hope for the Best but Plan for the Worst
The weather here in central Texas can change in the blink of an eye. It can go from hot and humid to rainy and cold in less time than most folks can imagine. Mornings may be cool and damp but the afternoons could be hot and dry. Folks that plan their wardrobe accordingly, dress in layers and wear comfortable hiking boots tend to get the best shots since they spend less time acclimating to the changing weather and more time behind the camera.

Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink
Water is vital to a successful safari, whether in the wilds of Kenya or the outback of central Texas. Dehydration is a very real danger and I’ve had more than one attendee drop out after a day of hiking without sufficient water. I usually carry three liters or more of water on each hike and ALWAYS have a backup gallon in my vehicle. You should too!

Ask Questions. Really.
This year’s outing is going to be a large group of amateur photographers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Josh, Glenn and I are there to answer any questions we can, so don’t be shy. This isn’t an episode of Survivor or Top Shot. We are all here to enjoy the beauty of central Texas and to come away with some great images to share and some wonderful memories to cherish. Make friends. Ask Questions. Enjoy yourself. Life is too short to do anything less.

Here are a few of the sights from the Texas Landscape Safari in years past. Enjoy!

Texas Hill Country Video
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Video created in Adobe Lightroom 3. Best shown in full-screen HD.
The Bioluminescence of the Night
Copyright © 2009 Atlantic Recording Corporation.

Storm’s Coming

Storm's Coming

Storm’s Coming – Enchanted Rock, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 20mm, f/16 for 1/6th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.
Click on the image above for a larger version.