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Maps Don’t Point To Dragons Anymore 

There are a few places I’ve been to several times that I will continue to go back to — over and over again. Morro Rock is one of those places. Outside of those who live in the area, it really isn’t that well known. Most photographers who travel to the west coast in search of hot spots on the “landscape photography circuit” will usually head straight to Big Sur and then up to the Bay Area. San Luis Obispo is a hidden gem of photographic opportunities, and I love it for that.I’ve photographed Morro Rock more times than I can count, yet it still holds my interest and I know there are still new and unique ways to photograph it. I created this image while taking my buddy +Brian Matiash around town before heading back up to Mountain View. I took several long exposures, wide angle shots and more but this one I think is my favorite from that evening. I had never cropped in tight before to just focus on the rocks edge. Pair that with the clouds, rough surf, awesome light and the thousands of birds that call the rock home and you’ve got a pretty interesting shot. At least I think so :-)

James BrandonMaps Don’t Point To Dragons Anymore 
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Santa Cruz Cliffs

My friend +Nicole S. Young showed me this place in Santa Cruz during my last visit to the bay area. She was standing just to my left when I took this frame. She’s having a minor surgery this morning so I thought I’d post this to send her some good vibes, hehe.I know Nicole is much more at home in Portland, but I do miss the California coast. It’s time to get back and make some more memories :-).

James BrandonSanta Cruz Cliffs
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The Sentinel Above The Clouds | Zion National Park

I keep saying it: Sometimes you just have to look at an image over and over and over again before you finally figure out what to do with it. I’ve kept this image from Zion in my editing cue for nearly a year and this morning I finally had the inspiration to process it. I cropped it in a bit tighter than it was and then made some slight adjustments in Photoshop. There was a bit of the cliff showing on the far left side so I used the clone stamp to create some cloud cover in order to complete the circle of clouds around this huge peak. When I did that, all the symmetry of the image fell into place; the Sentinel in the middle, the other two peaks to it’s left and right and the clouds enshrouding them all. Pretty happy with this one, I hope you’ll agree :-)

James BrandonThe Sentinel Above The Clouds | Zion National Park
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From Beneath Rattlesnake Canyon

Before heading out to Page to photograph the slot canyons, I did my due diligence by reading through several websites with tips on how to shoot the slot canyons (Upper Antelope is so hectic and fast paced that I didn’t want to leave anything to chance). One thing that almost all of the sites mentioned was to do everything you can to leave the sky out of your photos, since the dynamic range between the inside of the canyon and the sky is way too much for a camera to handle.Well, they were certainly right; a camera can’t even come close to capturing that range of light…but that’s what bracketing is for :-). Even with something as extreme as this, you only need around 2-3 images to capture the full range. This image in-particular is a 3 image blend that only took a few minutes to put together in Photoshop. I used luminosity masks to specifically target the areas I wanted to blend together. The canyon part of the image—like any other location in the canyons—needed very little processing. The colors and contrast are already there, it just needed a small boost in detail.

James BrandonFrom Beneath Rattlesnake Canyon
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Corona Arch – Moab

The main thing we were all wondering while driving to the trailhead for Corona Arch was, “How is this area not part of Arches National Park!?” Driving up Highway 279 with the beautiful Colorado River to your left and sheer cliffs shooting up into the sky on your right is quite breath taking.The hike to Corona Arch from the trail head is about 1.5 miles. It’s not as hard as Delicate Arch but it’s not easy either! Once we finally made it to the arch and the sun started to go down, we had the place to ourselves. Sunset was pretty much a bust and with thick clouds moving in we decided not to stay after dark since the milky way and stars would be in hiding. That said, I still managed to get at least one shot of this lesser-known arch that I’m happy with. This is a two minute exposure using a LEE Big Stopper to add some movement to the clouds that were moving in. The arch itself is around 120 ft tall and just as wide. This is where a lot of people come out to swing from the arch (you can look up the videos on YouTube).

James BrandonCorona Arch – Moab
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Balancing Act | Arches National Park

It’s really tough to come away with something unique at a place as accessible as Balanced Rock in Arches National Park. I think that’s always our goal as photographers though, to put some sort of unique twist on our images and make them our own.I had been to Balanced Rock a few times already when I got to it this evening with our workshop group. We were there to photograph sunset and then wait for the milky way to rise. I had typically photographed it from the obvious locations (ie: the front and around the parking lot area) when a couple of the students and myself decided to roam around to the back. We found a good elevated position at the base of one of the other rock formations and that’s where I set up.

Right around the time when the light got right and the pinks started showing up, the most annoying thing happened; tourists showed up and started climbing on the rock. Ugh…

I decided to make the most of it though and when this guy climbed onto the rock, I yelled to him to face toward the sun and raise spread his arms out. When I saw the shot on the back of my Sony a7, I knew I had a keeper :-)

James BrandonBalancing Act | Arches National Park
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Fall Colors In The Ozarks

Photographing the fall colors in a place like the Ozark Mountains is surreal to say the least. It’s so different and unique from any other type of shooting. It’s so fleeting. You can’t just plan a trip well in advance and then shoot in one spot. It’s kind of like a hunt; you target a general area and then go with the plan of driving a lot and following the colors.I’m doing a fall colors workshop in the Ozarks this coming October and although it’s already sold out, we are considering opening it up to two more spots. We just have to figure out the logistics and everything and see if it makes sense. If you’d be interested in coming, let me know!

This image is from Whitaker Point, a famous overlook in the Ozark Mountains featuring a rock/crag that juts out into the air. This area in-particular was just past peak but we still were able to get some great stuff.

James BrandonFall Colors In The Ozarks
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Abstract | Antelope Canyon, AZ

Fall Colors Workshop Sold Out!

Our fall colors workshop in the Ozarks sold out fast! We are debating opening it up to another couple of students but still need to figure out the logistics of doing so. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to be among the first to hear about new workshops. If you head over to the workshops page, you can also see upcoming workshops that will be opening for registration soon!

Abstract | Antelope Canyon, AZ

Although the pure chaos of taking a tour through Antelope Canyon makes it tough to ever want to go back, I am truly happy to have gotten to see it. I think in the future, if I go back, I’ll explore some of the lesser known slot canyons that are off the beaten path.This view in Upper Antelope Canyon is looking straight up toward the sky, hence the light gradation. They call this formation “Monument Valley” because the rock formation in the middle looks like one of the mittens. What is really crazy about this place is how vibrant all the colors are inside. I barely did any post processing on this at all. A little bit of a crop, some detail work and then one curves layer. That’s it!

James BrandonAbstract | Antelope Canyon, AZ
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What Do You See? | Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona

During our crazy and hectic photography tour through Antelope Canyon, we got several opportunities to photograph some of the light beams coming through the canyon. One of the guides kept telling us to wait for all the sand to settle to the ground before taking the picture for the looking light. I, however, wanted to capture something different. It was a total spray and pray approach; take as many pictures as possible right after the sand is thrown and hope to get at least one or two images that even vaguely portray some sort of figure.So…here’s my result. Now let’s channel our inner Rorschach: What do you see?

James BrandonWhat Do You See? | Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona
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Monument Valley Beneath The Milky Way

The story behind this image is a bit nostalgic for me. While I’ve never been a huge, die-hard sports fan, I did grow up a Cowboys fan being from Texas and all. When I was in elementary school, my parents got me a children’s book by Troy Aikman called “Things Change.” It was a picture book about his life and journey to becoming the quarter back for the Cowboys.While that seems totally random and unconnected to this image, it isn’t. You see, inside of that book there was an image from Monument Valley of the Mittens. For some reason I always came back to that page and really, it’s the only thing I even remember from the book. For whatever reason, it always stuck with me. And ever since reading that book, I’ve wanted to see the mittens in person.

These buttes are called the mittens for obvious reasons, they resemble left and right handed mittens. They stand right at around 6,200 ft and are made up of three different rock layers. The formation on the far right is called Merrick’s Butte.

Getting The Image

This one was a bit tricky. We knew going in that we weren’t going to have a moon in the sky to help light up the monuments. On top of that, we were shooting from the balcony at the visitors center and virtually every light in the building was on. This meant that once it got dark, the lights from the building would bleed into the foreground.

To fix this problem, I did a couple things. First, I waited until the last few minutes of blue hour to get a solid shot of the monuments and the foreground. I was able to shoot this at ISO 100 so the quality was excellent. As it got darker, I kept taking photos from the same position and began collecting shot after shot of the car trails. The car were moving very slowly because the road down there is the dirt road loop that goes through the park and is in very poor condition. Finally, when the Milky Way got into position, I grabbed a shot for it as well. The problem there was that the horizon line was full of light pollution and was quite dirty looking. To counteract that, I zoomed all the out on my 16-35 lens and got one big image of the night sky with very little foreground.

In post, I took the blue hour image, the 5-6 images of car trails and the big image of the Milky Way and went to work. So this is actually a meticulous composite of around 7 or 8 different exposures. Took around 2 hours to get right but it was worth it. A shot I’ve been waiting to get since I was in elementary school :-).

James BrandonMonument Valley Beneath The Milky Way