Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Sunrise – With Amy Heiden!

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Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Sunrise  – #3 – Amy Heiden!

The May theme for our guest blog posts is sunrise, and here, Amy Heiden talks about her process for shooting sunrise and the time leading up to sunrise, otherwise known as “blue hour”


Tips On Photographing Sunrise And Blue Hour


While traveling, I spend many hours a day driving from location to location and am not often near a computer with an internet connection. I find it very important to have access to sun, moon and weather data from the car.

Before any sunrise or sunset shoot, I check Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app ( to calculate sun and moon data for a particular location. (If I’m going to be out of cell range, I will take a mobile screen shot of the location prior to arrival and save it on my mobile device for reference later.) Most often I utilize this app to ensure an on-time arrival at a sunrise location. Not only that, but I can also use TPE to ensure that the subject I’m photographing will be lit from a desired angle.

After checking the sunrise time and glancing at weather, I’m ready to drive to a location and shoot!
In the images below, I hiked up to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, with enough time to prepare my equipment and pick a composition, but in this case it was still dark, so I needed to take a test shot to check exposure and focus. To do this, I took a 10 second exposure at ISO to 3200. (Depending on the histogram I will add or subtract exposure time and continue testing until I achieve the desired exposure.) For this image, I liked the exposure at 10 seconds and ISO 3200, so I calculated out what exposure I needed to take the shot at ISO 200. To do this, I reduced my ISO by one stop at a time (divided it in half) from 3200 down to 200. I start at 3200, reduced to 1600, 800, 400 and 200. In this example, I adjusted my ISO 4 times (4 stops) and now I want to calculate the exposure time, so I will add 4 stops (double each time) to the exposure. I start at 10 seconds, double to 20 seconds, 40 seconds, 80 seconds, and 160 seconds. After adjusting my ISO and exposure by 4 stops each, I determined at ISO 200, my exposure will be 160 seconds. Once those settings are adjusted in the camera, I am ready to shoot.

Travel Photography Tip - Shooting Sunrise and Blue Hour with Amy Heiden | A Guest Post for The Giving Lens: Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!


I knew wanted to capture the scene on the left during twilight, or “blue hour”, which occurs approximately 30-45 minutes before sunrise and gives everything a very blue hue. During this time the colors of the subject will appear less saturated and the shadows much darker.  The image on the right was taken on another day from the same location. I anticipated that the abundance of clouds would lens to a nice color, so I had to wait 30 minutes from arrival to try getting the shot I wanted. Here, you see the sunlight bouncing off the clouds and the colors of the orange and yellow rock formations beginning to show. As you can see, both images evoke different a different feel based on the light and colors.

But what happens when I’m traveling and hit a snag on the way to shoot sunrise and don’t make it to a spot by blue hour, but I still really want a long exposure or a blue cast? I certainly could adjust the white balance of the image in post, but creating a long exposure effect after the fact wouldn’t be as easy. Instead, I would use a Neutral Density, or ND, filter. This filter allow me to slow down exposure time or aperture to gain a motion effect or to add a specific tint to an image.

Though the two images below were shot within 4 minutes of one another, for the exposure on the left I used a Lee Big Stopper, a 10-stop ND with an inherent blue tint, to capture the look of ‘blue hour’ and get a longer exposure to smooth the slight motion in the clouds. Similar to blue hour, while using the Big Stopper, the dunes lost their saturated orange and the shadows were dark. Alternatively, the image on the right was a short exposure taken without a filter a few seconds after the sun broke the ridge, creating a higher contrast and warmer tones.



If you have not yet shot ‘blue hour’, next time you plan a sunrise shoot, try arriving 30 minutes early and get a few twilight shots to compare against sunrise and see which results you like best. If you enjoy the blue hour images, the Lee Big Stopper can give you similar results.

Amy Heiden:

Amy Heiden is an explorer and photographer with a lust for adventure. For the last five years, her focus has been centered around the documentation of abandoned asylums, factories, houses of worship, military sites and ships before they are destroyed and their stories long forgotten.

In addition, Amy frequently travels in search of landscapes and cityscapes in places like the Eastern Sierras, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, New York and her hometown of San Francisco.




Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Water with Cameron Siguenza

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An example of Staying in the Moment Cameron Siguenza

Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Water with Cameron Siguenza

Continuing with our April theme of Photographing Water, we have landscape photographer Cameron Siguenza with us. He shares with us three simple habits he has that helped him get these four incredible shots.

“Siguenza’d”: Verb. To obtain an epic photograph. Ex: “I totally siguenza’d that shot.” [anytonym: “boncore’d”]


How I took these 3 Waterscape Photographs with 3 Simple Guidelines.


Stay in the moment:

I took this waterscape photo just up the coast from Santa Cruz while waiting for a sunset that never came. The light was very bright and harsh but there were clouds passing over the sun. I waited until the sun briefly went behind the clouds to help tame the brightness in the shot. I also composed the photograph so that the brightness fell on the right side of the photo, to show contrast with the darker left side. I then used my Lee filter kit holder, with a 3 stop singh Ray Reverse graduated filter, angled to the right to further tone down and soften the sky area. I used a circular polarizer to help with the reflection and the clouds. I was with some fun friends who were talking and not using their cameras, while they waited for the weather to improve.

I was watching things more closely, missing out a bit on their fun conversations while standing knee deep in cold water. Out of all of this, I saw a brief 90 seconds or so where I took several memorable shots that looked very different. The day ended with a fairly uninspiring sunset, but we enjoyed our outing just the same.

Travel Photography Tip - Shooting Sunrise  | A Guest Post for The Giving Lens: Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!

An example of Staying in the Moment – Cameron Siguenza

Keeping an Open Mind:

Occasionally I hear that a photographer should always go to completely unknown places, while I simply prefer to find something interesting no matter where I am. This is easier said than done of course, and this challenge continually inspires and motivates me.

In this infrared photograph of popular Multnomah falls near Portland, Oregon, USA, a very popular tourist destination, I used a classic composition of the falls to offset the look of infrared photo. To contrast between the tones of the upper and lower part of the falls, I left out the sky, which also helps to simplify the photo somewhat.

An example of Keeping an Open Mind Cameron Siguenza

An example of Keeping an Open Mind – Cameron Siguenza

Patience and warm clothing:

For my final photo, I ventured out into the chilly night air up the coast from Santa Cruz, CA to spend most of the night on a salt mist enshrouded beach, with a few bright flashlights, warm clothes, my trusty Induro tripod and a variety of Singh-Ray and Lee filters for long exposure experiments. I spent hours of my time, shivering occasionally, while light painting the water with my flashlight countless times to get the right effect, while trying to stick to a good 30-120 second exposure range. By sheer luck, a meteor appeared, but I took probably 1000 or so photos that night as I was experimenting a lot. I composited in the ocean section in Photoshop, as I liked the way the ocean looked the best from a different exposure. I processed the image 3 times in PS CS6 for foreground, mid ground and sky.

An example of good old Patience and Warm Clothing

An example of good old Patience and Warm Clothing – Cameron Siguenza

Cameron Siguenza:

Cameron enjoys photography, travel, and building software companies. Cameron grew up in remote areas of British Columbia, Canada, and happily lives with his family in Santa Cruz, California. Cameron uses two camera systems, a full frame modern DSLR, and an inexpensive DSLR that was converted to infrared in 2012.


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Travel Photography Tip: Shooting Water with Varina Patel!

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Travel Photography Tip for April: Shooting Sunset with Varina Patel!

When Jay Patel and I visited Olympic National Park in Washington in 2009, we spent hours shooting at Second Beach. We arrived when the sun was low in the sky – hoping to capture golden light as the sun sank towards the horizon… and maybe a nice sunset, too. We’ve been to this beach many times before and since. It’s a gorgeous location with large and small rocks, sea stacks, tide pools, and smooth sand. I took this shot a few minutes after sunset – as the tide was coming in and the color in the sky was at its best.

Travel Photography Tip - Shooting Sunset with Varina Patel | Part of The Giving Lens: Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!

Processing a photo with a wide range of light usually requires bracketing. In this case, I took two bracketed shots and opened them in Adobe Camera Raw. I selected my color balance for a natural-looking sky, and then adjusted the contrast. I ignored the foreground in the first image, and processed it for the sky alone. The second image would be used for the water. I made sure the highlight areas in the water were not overexposed, and opened the photo in Photoshop … then opened the RAW file again in Adobe Camera Raw. This time, I reduced the clarity of the photo… allowing the waves in the foreground to soften even more. (If you make different adjustments to a single RAW file, you can save a “Snapshot” of each version for easy reference.)

You can see my three adjustments in the triptych below. Notice that the sky in the photo on the left looks good. The highlights in the water are just right in the middle photo, and the foreground waves look nice and smooth in the third. In all, these adjustments took me three to five minutes to make.

Travel Photography Tip - Shooting Sunset with Varina Patel | Part of The Giving Lens: Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!

Photos by Varina Patel

Once I’ve prepared these three versions of the same composition, I use our iHDR manual blending technique to produce a final image that is as close to my memory of scene as I can bring it. I stack the image in three layers, and use selections and masks to blend the images very carefully. Sometimes the process takes a while – but if I know what I want in my final image, I can finish in just a few minutes… so an image like this one might take me about ten minutes to process from beginning to end.

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Varina Patel


There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

Travel Photography Tip – Shooting Water with Jay Patel

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Travel Photography Tip from  Jay Patel – Shooting Water!

This April we’re launching our Guest Post series with a new theme each month! This month is “Photographing Water.” Our first Guest Poster is the amazing Jay Patel!

As you may know, Varina and I generally travel and shoot together. Our trip to Oregon was no exception. The weather was just right for a trip to the Columbia River Gorge. Occasional rain kept the mosses and stones wet – and helped to bring out rich colors. Overcast skies gave us perfect, even lighting for waterfall shots like the ones you see here. And when the skies cleared up, we spent some time photographing nearby peaks and scouting for other locations.

Here are a few of the shots we took at Elowah Falls on McCord Creek. This is an easy-to-access spot, and it’s incredibly beautiful. Locations like this are great because the options for compositions are unlimited.

Up close, blowing mist is a constant problem – especially in Spring when more water is falling. Varina set up her camera on a slippery rock just beyond the falls. She chose her composition, selected the appropriate camera settings, and wiped her lens clean before replacing the lens cap. With everything ready to go, she needed to wait for clouds to cover the sun, and a moment of calm wind. She protected her camera from the water with her jacket, and when the moment was right, she removed the lens cap and released the shutter. A quick check of the histogram was enough to be sure the photo was just right. And then it was time to get the camera – and the chilly photographer – out of the wet mist.

Travel photography tip - a guest post. Part of The Giving Lens - Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!

image by Varina Patel

After drying everything thoroughly, Varina set up her camera for a second shot. This time, she wanted to show more of the gorge surrounding the falls. Since she was further back, the mist was no longer a real problem – but she still needed to wipe the lens before shooting. This was a quick and easy shot – camera settings were already just right, and the sun stayed hidden long enough for her to snap a quick image. Notice that both compositions avoid the sky. Without the sky, the waterfall is the brightest element – and it can claim the full attention of the viewer. The image is less complicated in terms of composition, and is much easier to process as well.

I decided to climb right into the creek to shoot the falls. Luckily, I’d remembered to bring along his neoprene water shoes! I wanted to hide the human element – the bridge – and I found that I could do that be placing it behind the large rocks in front of the falls. Notice that my image is a bit darker overall. Because I was lower in the gorge, the shadows are more obvious. I also waited until the sun went behind a cloud. That meant that the camera could capture the entire dynamic range of the image – from the dark shadows under the rocks, to the bright water of the falls. I needed to process the image twice – once for the water, and once for the rest of the scene – but I was able to get all the detail from a single exposure.

Travel Photography Tip - Shooting Water with Jay Patel | Part of The Giving Lens: Travel Photography Workshops with a Purpose!

Image by Jay Patel

The beautiful golden glow you see in all three images comes from the filtered sunlight as it touches the mosses and trees. We’ll definitely take students to Elowah Falls when we return to the Columbia River Gorge for a workshop.

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