Reno Skyline - Nikon D800e, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 lens - ISO 100 f/8 6 seconds
The Nikon D800e is my newest camera and it is a game changer. The resolution is absolutely incredible and is comparable to a much more expensive medium format body. Image quality and resolution was not available at this price point until now. For photographers looking to make extremely large prints and shoot high end commercial work this is the camera for you. That said, if you don’t plan on using the files for those purposes I would recommend saving some cash, getting a camera with less resolution and putting that money into lenses or some other purchase you have been holding back on. The files are much larger than most people have worked with in the past and you need a computer that can keep up as well.
Also, if you are considering this camera for purchase do your homework on the D800 vs the D800e. The D800e differs from the D800 in that it lacks the anti-aliasing filter found on all DSLRs. By removing the filter your images will be slightly sharper. The negative effect this has on images is the possibility of color moiré appearing. Moiré can be dealt with in a number of ways but it is worth researching the subject thoroughly before you commit to buying the D800e. For me the benefits outweigh the negatives, hence why I chose the D800e.
For my test of the D800e I took it up to photograph some stock of the Reno skyline near my home in Lake Tahoe. Arriving just before dusk I set up my shot and waited for the city lights to turn on. Once the light was right I knocked off a couple frames. When I reviewed them I was blown away. Hitting the zoom button I scrutinized the smallest areas of each image and the detail was astounding! Below is a 100% crop of the image above. Detail and sharpness of this quality has never been available in a DSLR, until now.
The detail in the files is pretty insane. Wow!
For me I will now shoot all of my landscape and commercial work (that doesn’t require a high shutter speed) with the D800e until Nikon raises the bar again on their next generation of cameras (yet to be released). I am also really excited to start playing around with the video features on the D800e. One of the video features I’m most excited about is the ability to monitor sound directly through the camera. That is going to make collecting and monitoring good sound a much easier task in the field.
As with any new gizmo, the camera is only as good and creative as its operator. Always remember to make sure you understand the technical aspects of photography but not rely on them solely. Creativity will always be king in the photo world no matter what fancy gadgets come out. However, if you can combine your creativity with a tool like the D800e the results will be astounding! Happy shooting!
Trase Bell - Paradise Valley, NV
I have always appreciated people that display a sense of brutal honesty in their lives both in their words and actions. It is a rare quality in this world that has my utmost respect. It takes a lot of courage for people to simply live their lives without filters or excuses especially while doing something they love. It turns out the perfect examples of this are the Nevada Ranchers.
Several months ago I decided I wanted to take on a human driven portrait project. I don’t photograph portraits very much and I was looking for a challenge. I wanted the project to focus on real people doing real things with a sense of grit. Luckily I live about ten miles from the Nevada border and if you are looking for grit you need look no further.
While driving through the fields of the Carson Valley one afternoon the idea for a portrait of the ranchers in Nevada dawned on me. Not soon after, I contacted my friends over at Nevada Magazine to see what they thought about the idea. Immediately, the editor turned me on to a program called the Nevada Centennial Ranch Program. The program is facilitated by the USDA and the Agricultural Council of Nevada. To be inducted a ranch must be in the same family for 100 years or more. You couldn’t ask for a better set of parameters to build a story around.
I knew the biggest challenge shooting this project would be getting access to photograph the families. A lot of the ranches are fairly off the grid, aren’t used to outsiders and asking a family to simply let you into their lives is anything but easy. Luckily the folks over at the USDA were thrilled about the project and offered to help make introductions. Within several weeks there were five ranches willing to participate and it appeared that the project would come to fruition.
The first ranch I traveled to was the Dalton Ranch in the Clover Valley just south of Wells, NV. As I pulled onto the property I was welcomed with beautiful snow capped peaks towering over endless miles of pasture on the valley floor. It truly defines the term, “wide open.”
Brad Dalton manages his herd of cattle at the Dalton Ranch in the Clover Valley, NV
I got out of my car and was greeted by Cameron Dalton and two of the ranch hands Trevor and Payton. With a quick hello they pointed me towards Brad and Dani Dalton the owners of the ranch (Cameron is their son). With a firm hand shake and a smile Brad introduced himself and his wife Dani. “I’m going to do my best to make you guys look good” I said. “Good luck!” Brad said with a boisterous laugh. I knew immediately I was in the right place.
Cameron Dalton rides his horse through his pasture at the Dalton Ranch in the Clover Valley, NV
The day’s activity was a spring branding. We went out into the fields to herd the cattle that were being branded that day. Walking out into the pasture I was overtaken with how vast the landscape was. I asked Brad how many acres encompassed his property. “About 15,000,” he said, “30,000 if you include the BLM land that we use.” “Oh, I said” trying not to let my jaw drop, “is that all?”
Cameron Dalton and Trevor Zimmerman brand cattle at the Dalton Ranch in Wells, NV
The day progressed as calf after calf was branded, earmarked, vaccinated and castrated. The tasks were carried out with an efficiency that could only come from the tradition and knowledge passed down generation after generation. After the branding I was invited into lunch and got to chat with the Dalton’s a bit about their lives and what ranching means to them. What became immediately clear, and remained clear with all of the families that I met over the next several weeks, was that ranching isn’t a job; it’s a way of life. The Dalton’s don’t ranch because they have to; they do it because they love it.
A cowgirl and her horse hold a calf while it is branded at the Dalton Ranch in the Clover Valley, NV.
After lunch it was time to shoot everyone’s portrait. The key with these portraits was that no one was allowed to clean up from the day’s activities before being photographed. Ranching is hard dirty work and the photos really needed to convey that sense of emotion. I also envisioned all of the portraits being in black in white from the get go. The idea was to strip away any distracting factors from the images so that it was all about the people.
Brad and Dani Dalton - Dalton Ranch - Wells, NV
Trevor Zimmerman - Ranch Hand - Dalton Ranch - Wells, NV
After the portrait session it was time to part ways and head for Paradise Valley to shoot the Stewart’s Ninety Six Ranch and the Ferraro Cattle Company. I arrived in Paradise Valley the next day and waited for Fred Stewart to meet me at the local bar. For this leg of my journey the Stewart’s were kind enough to offer up a cabin for me to stay in that they keep way up in the mountains north of Paradise Valley. After a quick beer and introductions Fred jumped in his truck and asked me to follow him up to the cabin. We wound up the mountain side on a fairly well-maintained dirt road and after about 30 minutes arrived at one of the coolest places I have ever had the pleasure of staying. The cabin was nestled in a beautiful aspen grove next to a small creek and looked down several thousand feet to the valley floor. It was incredible.
The next morning I awoke early and made my way down to the Stewart’s Ninety Six Ranch; where they too were conducting a late spring branding. What differed from the branding I had just photographed over at the Dalton Ranch and this one was the amount of kids involved. The Stewarts invited several other families to participate in the day’s events and all of the roping was being done by the kids.
Two cowboys brand cattle at the Ninety Six Ranch in Paradise Valley, NV
Branding irons sit in the fire during a branding at the Ninety Six Ranch in Paradise Valley, NV
It was wonderful to see how involved the youngsters were in the branding process. Several things were clear. Firstly, there was a lot of history and tradition being passed down to the next generation of ranchers. Secondly, all of the kids loved every minute of it. You just don’t see this kind of practice and pride very much anymore, especially in the United States.
Fred Stewart - Ninety Six Ranch - Paradise Valley, NV
Paul T. Herrington - Ninety Six Ranch - Paradise Valley, NV
The Bell Family - Friends of Ninety-Six Ranch - Paradise Valley, Nevada
After another amazing lunch I drove back up to my mountain retreat to gear up for the next shoot at the Ferraro Cattle Company.
Steve Ferraro feeds his cattle at the Ferraro Cattle Company in Paradise Valley, NV
I met Steve Ferraro early the next morning to start shooting. He greeted me in front of their house, invited me to jump in his truck for a tour of the property and off we went. Immediately I knew that this day would be much different from the last two shoots I had just completed. Steve was a lot older than the other ranchers I had dealt with and I could tell things moved a bit slower for him. It was actually a really nice change of pace.
Steve Ferraro stands in an old shed on his ranch, Ferraro Cattle Company, in Paradise Valley, NV
He showed me around the property where part of the land is dedicated to raising cattle and the other part to alfalfa production. Underneath one of the largest Cottonwood trees I have ever seen we chatted about the history of Steve’s ranch and his life in Paradise Valley. “If you could sum up your time in Paradise Valley what would you say?” I asked. “Paradise Valley is one of the best places in the whole state of Nevada in my books! If you need help in this valley, you’ve got it.” Steve replied.
Steve Ferraro - Ferraro Cattle Co - Paradise Valley
I finished talking with Steve and made the long drive to my home in Lake Tahoe to reset and shoot the last two ranches on my list, the Snyder Livestock Company in Yerington and Ranch #1 in Genoa.
I left before sunrise several days later for my shoot with the Snyder Livestock Company in Yerington. The Snyder Livestock Company is not your typical ranch. It is a feed lot.
I thought it was important to try and see all the different sides of the ranching industry for my portrait of the Nevada Ranchers. Feed lots are an integral part of the beef industry and I was curious to see what they were all about.
I pulled into the dirt parking lot and was greeted by one of the owners Lucy Rechel. She introduced me to her brother Jim Snyder and explained that Jim would be showing me around their operations for the morning. I hopped in Jim’s truck and off we went.
The Snyder Livestock Company actually isn’t all about livestock. They also deal in onion, garlic and alfalfa production. Jim’s role in the company is to oversee all of the farming aspects of the business. We spent the morning taking a tour of the fields. He was a great insight into learning about the ins and outs of the modern farming industry; a separate subject that I hope to spend more time capturing one day.
A cow is weighed at Snyder Livestock Co. in Yerington, NV
After the morning with Jim I met back up with Lucy to get the tour of the feed lot. It was fascinating to see the process of modern cattle production. From weighing, branding, inserted magnets into the stomach, artificial insemination and tracking each cattle’s food consumption using ultra modern technology and techniques, I was fascinated. The folks over at the Snyder Livestock Company really have their business down to a science. The thing that rang true with the folks at the Snyder Livestock Company that was similar to my experiences at all the other ranches was the love for what they do.
Eddie Snyder - Snyder Livestock Co. - Yerington, NV
The last ranch on my list was Ranch #1 in Genoa. I was especially excited to shoot this ranch because I had been told that the owner, JB Lekumberry, was quite the character. From the brief phone conversations that I already had with him I knew it was going to be a fun day.
Getting out of the car and meeting JB it was clear that he was a lively guy, full of energy, ready to take on whatever challenges the day had to offer. In this particular morning’s case it was the slaughtering of about a dozen rabbits for his local restaurant clients. From there it was a quick change of clothes and off to herd some cattle. Throughout the day it was great to talk to JB about the ranching industry as a whole and the small intricacies of his business. He has carved out a really great niche for himself in the Carson Valley. All of his cattle are 100% grass fed organic and he handles all of them from birth to the dinner table. It is clear this is something he is very proud of.
Knowing this was the last ranch I would visit, I was really looking to get a sense from JB about the future of the ranching industry and where he believed things were headed. I asked him what he thought about the topic and I think his comment summed up the beliefs of all the ranchers I encountered in the great state of Nevada. He said:
J.B. Lekumberry - Ranch #1 - Genoa, NV
“I think the future of agriculture in the Carson Valley has a great chance of continuing. There is a younger generation of kids that are ready to take the reins. If you had asked me the same question in the 80’s I would have told you it was all going to hell. Now I am optimistic.”
This story appears as a feature in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Nevada Magazine
Usually at this time of year I am already extremely busy shooting all of my winter photography projects in Lake Tahoe. However, Mother Nature hasn’t delivered the goods yet. Lake Tahoe is about to have one of the driest Decembers on record and the forecast looks dismal. Everyone in town (including myself) is going stir crazy.
With everything on hold, I decided to get out of town and create some new work for my fine art and stock portfolio. I hadn’t shot any city scenes in awhile and decided that I would point my lens towards Reno, Sacramento and San Francisco.
My first shoot was in Reno. I didn’t have any images of Reno in my portfolio so I thought shooting an overview of the skyline was a good place to start. I drove down in the early afternoon to scout a good location to frame the city. Within a few hours I found a great vantage point on the top of a hill. The sun wasn’t going to set for another couple hours so I used the rest of the time to scout several locations in the city that I would photograph after I had captured the skyline shot. Everything was shaping up great.
The Reno skyline at dusk
After finding several other good shooting locations in the city I drove back out to the hillside location I scouted earlier. The sun was just setting and the buildings were starting to light up.
Dusk is one of my favorite times to photograph city scenes. There is still enough ambient light to give the sky a nice tone and maintain some detail throughout the scene. Additionally, the vantage point I picked was great but it was also a good distance away from the city itself. The longest lens I carry is a Nikon 70-200 2.8mm. The workaround I use a lot when I want to get a little closer to something is simply shoot with my Nikon D7000 instead of my Nikon D3s. The cropped sensor on the D7000 immediately turns my 70-200mm lens into a 105-300mm giving me the extra reach I need.
A detail of the Reno skyline
After about a half an hour of shooting I knew I had what I needed. I quickly packed up my gear and drove back to the downtown area to capture a few more scenes. My main goal was to get a good shot of the famous Reno Arch. I knew that a good shot of the arch would have a lot of salability, especially in stock. I worked the scene down at the arch for awhile and got what I was looking for. I drove back up to Lake Tahoe confident my time was well spent and that I had some great shots in the bag.
The famous Reno Arch
The next day my fiancée and I drove down to wine country where she had some business to take care of. Over the next several days I used my time to scout and shoot different versions of the San Francisco skyline and bridges.
So much of photography, especially landscape and travel photography, is all about scouting. I definitely spend a lot more time scouting locations than I do shooting them. I usually scout everything during the middle of the day when the scenes are less interesting and the light isn’t as dramatic. Then when all of the elements line up I know exactly where I need to be to make a great image. A lot of my creative process is all about pre-visualization and scouting is a huge part of that.
The first shot I was after was a panorama of the San Francisco skyline with the Bay Bridge. The easiest place to shoot that scene is from Treasure Island, which sits just across from the city and is easily accessible by car. The only downside to shooting from Treasure Island is that I have never felt like the scene is very dynamic. In my mind, the best place to shoot the scene was from the top of a hill on adjoining Yerba Buena Island.
The only problem with shooting from Yerba Buena is that all of the good locations are technically off limits to the public. Luckily things like that don’t usually stop me from doing what I need to do. I spent some time on the island prior to sunset finding a good place to set up my shot. After coming up with some good options I went back over to Treasure Island to wait for the light to get good. I didn’t want to hang out at the locations I scouted on Yerba Buena and draw attention to myself possibly getting me kicked out before I could get my shots.
The sun set and I quickly drove back over to Yerba Buena and began shooting. The scene was spectacular! I shot well into the darkness using a variety of lenses and shutter speeds to get different effects. I shot some of the scenes using a low ISO and slow shutter speed to get the cars streaking across the Bay Bridge. I also shot some of the scenes using a very high ISO (up to 4000) to freeze the cars on the bridge giving the shots a different feel. The capability of the Nikon D3s to produce unbelievable files at such high ISOs has never ceased to amaze me. In fact, I don’t even consider 4000 to be that high of an ISO any more. In the last year I have had several photos published that were shot at a whopping 12,800 ISO!
The San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge at night from Yerba Buena Island
With all of the shots in the bag from Yerba Buena I went back over to Treasure Island and captured a few more scenes. There is a new sculpture on the island that is lit up at night that makes for an excellent subject.
The San Francisco skyline at night from Treasure Island
An amazing sculpture on Treasure Island illuminated at night
The next day my efforts were concentrated on the Golden Gate Bridge. I had shot the Golden Gate once before from the Marin Headlands with great results. I wanted to mix things up a bit though. I really wanted to create an image of the Golden Gate that was colorful and moody. I also didn’t want to shoot the bridge from any of the “classic” locations over on the Marin Headlands. It is easy to get great shots of the bridge and the city from the Marin Headlands but all of the locations are overshot and you would be hard pressed to come away with anything original.
After driving around for awhile I found a great location with a different perspective at the Presidio Yacht Club. Not only did the location have a great view but I also noticed that the tide was starting to go out.
Low tide was going to coincide perfectly with dusk which gave me a great tool at my disposal for creating the kind of image I was looking for. I knew the exposed rocks at low tide would make great foreground subjects with excellent texture. The moving water around the rocks during a long exposure would add to the mystic feel that I was going for.
The Golden Gate Bridge
As it began to get dark and the bridge began to light up, I crept down on the slippery rocks and set up my shot. I took some quick tests and after a few adjustments I was happy with the composition. The only thing I didn’t like was how dark the foreground was compared to the bridge and the sky. To correct this problem I used a 2 stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. I adjusted my exposure accordingly and was extremely happy with the result. I stayed down on the rocks and took shot after shot to ensure I had what I was looking for. The motion of the waves hitting the rocks created a slightly different effect with each exposure and I wanted to make sure that I had the best possible version of the image. After about 30 or so shots I knew I had what I was looking for. Ironically, when I processed all of the images the first shot in the batch was my favorite.
The next day I joined back up with my fiancée and we began our drive back to Lake Tahoe. We didn’t leave until later in the afternoon so we could stop in Sacramento and photograph the famous Tower Bridge on our way home. It worked out perfectly. We hit the bridge at just the right time and I had the chance to take some general overview shots of the bridge as well as get a little more creative. It was a wonderful end to a great couple days of shooting.
Cars pass over the famous Tower Bridge in Sacramento at dusk
Now, back in my office in Lake Tahoe, everything is processed and submitted to the agency I shot for, Aurora Photos. Ultimately I was able to put about forty new images into the market. On top of that I have several new shots that will be sold as limited edition fine art prints. I would call that a productive week!
Unfortunately there still isn’t any snow in the forecast. I haven’t figured out what my next short term project will be to get me through this lull in the weather but trust me, the wheels are turning! Stay tuned.