Kevin Merchant Photography News - 2017

Grays Harbor Shorebird & Nature Festival (Hoquiam, WA) - May 6-7
Wedgwood Art Festival (Seattle, WA) - July 8-9
Arts Festival (Anacortes, WA) - August 4-6
Arts & Crafts Festival (Coupeville, WA) - August 12 - 13
Fresh Paint (Everett, WA) - August 19-20
Cranberry Festival (Bandon, OR) - September 9-10
BirdFest & Bluegrass (Ridgefield, WA) - October 7 - 8
2017 Oregon Coast Photo Tours
December 8, 2017

Looking back at activities about this same time last year, I would say that I spend much of this time of year catching up. Summer festivals are done. Fall color has been shot. The rains have returned. Leaves have been raked. Thanksgiving turkey has been consumed. Holiday preparations are well underway.

Well, this year is no different really. In the image processing category however, I did reach into the way-back machine. With the aid of Lightroom, I combed through all of the images from my original Canon EOS 5D, which I no longer own. All the way back to the year 2006. For a number of reasons, many images were left unprocessed and thus out of public view. Some of these images required what I refer to as heavy lifting. And, at the time they were captured, digital darkroom tools weren't what they are now. I have been able to process many of them to a final result that I am happy with.

A capture process that has been around for a long time, in digital camera terms, is the concept of high dynamic range or HDR. In many scenes, the range of bright light to dark shadow is too much for the sensor on a digital camera to record in a single capture. With the ability to create composite images in the digital darkroom, HDR was born. The general idea is to capture a series of images in 1-stop increments so that detail is retained from the brightest portion to the darkest portion of the composed scene. Using digital editing software, the properly exposed portion of each image is used to combine them into a single final image, where detail is retained from the darkest to the lightest portions of the scene. This is done through software algorithms which allows limited input from the user. In other words, you get what you get, and you either like it or you don't. This is an oversimplification but gives you the idea that I was not generally happy with the results that I was getting, back at the time of capture.

If you are not familiar with the HDR technique, at the very least you have seen HDR images, and many times they are to the point of exaggeration. When we really notice this technique, our brain says that something in the image does not look right - there are no shadows where there should be. HDR has been employed to the point of overuse as far as my own visual asthetics are concerned.

Typically, my goal is to use the technique, but in such a way that you can't tell it has been used, or, at the very least, so as not to be intrusive in the final result. I have employed the technique of hand blending several images for the same result and this typically does not have the appearance of heavy-handed processing. But, sometimes hand blending simply does not work. When I encounterd those difficult images, they simply got left behind.

Now seemed a good time to give them another try. I am happy to say that I am pleased with the results of many of them. Please feel free to take a look at my recent way-back machine journey in GALLERY >> NEW. Thanks.

I have returned to the present day backlog of images and hope to be sharing them in the not too distant future. Until then, I hope you are able to enjoy the holiday season.

November 21, 2017

We have reached that time of year where it is time to say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who stops by. We are thankful for family, good friends and good health.

For about the last three weeks, I have spent my time in the way back machine. Specifically, looking through all of the images from my Canon 5D (that is, when I owned it) from 2006 to 2012. It was surprising how many images had not been processed for use. It speaks to how busy life gets after coming home from a shoot. Well, that, and there were quite a few images that required some heavy lifting in order to get them into a final state.

In paricular, there were quite a few HDR (high dynamic range) images that needed to be assembled. For those that don't know, these images consist of a series of images at (usually) 1-stop increments to record the full range of light in the scene, which the camera is incapable of capturing in a single exposure. At the time these images were taken, the tools at my disposal were very time consuming with questionable results. My tool of choice now, Lightroom 6, is able to produce a result that I am quite happy with.

A few other shots were possible using a focus stacking technique that I use in a hand-blending method. These also are quite labor intensive and it's easy to see why they have sat all this time.

In any case, I have completed the task I set for myself and now it is time to return to more present day images captured in the last 12 months or so. Yes, I am still quite behind and hope to be catching up as winter darkness approaches.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving and if you have time, take a look in GALLERY >> NEW for the latest images. Thanks.

August 30, 2017

It's been a while since my last update. To say the least, it has been a busy time since early May. A ten day trip to the Oregon coast for scouting and shooting. While there, I got distracted with nesting snowy plovers and harbor seal pups. Turns out to have been a great time to be there.

In June, I made a four day trip to eastern Washington to photograph the bluebirds. While there were not as many ideal nest boxes to choose from, there were a sufficient number to shoot nesting pairs. At the elevation where I camped, in the mornings I had to de-ice my tent in order to unzip the door. Yeah, it was chilly, but roasting hot during the day.

A significant amount of my summer was taken up with preparations for the total solar eclipse. When I first learned about the eclipse back in January, my initial thought was I couldn't go due to show conflicts. Then a (now silly) thought occurred to me - I don't have to spend three or four days in the path in order to shoot it; I just needed to get in the path. And so, in April I purchased two different solar filters and thought - "I am set, for two different cameras!"

As I researched more on photographing eclipses, and doing some test shooting with the filters, I came to realize that at the focal lengths I was considering (400mm and 800mm), the sun was going to move pretty fast in the frame; meaning, I would be constantly adjusting the camera during the eclipse. So, I decided to acquire an inexpensive equatorial tracker in early July. At this point, the eclipse was a small blip on the TV news. No big deal!

With tracker in hand, I started to realize it was no small learning curve to be able to use it. Polar alignment is critical to have accurate tracking. I even came across a procedure to do a rough daytime alignment when Polaris, the North Star, is not visible to do an alignment. As it turned out, you'll see later in this story, this procedure became critical and made use of the tracker possible.

My plan was to use my Canon 7D Mark II body with a 100-400mm zoom lens and a 2x teleconverter for a focal length of 800mm. The tracker I purchased has an 11 lb. weight limit and I quickly learned that I was going to have to use the counter weight configuration (and, yes, the counterweight counts as part of the payload). Additionally, I was going to have to cut weight to stay within the weight limits of the tracker. Out went the battery grip which I planned to use to have enough battery power through the 2.5 hour event (switching out batteries was not too troublesome). Also, out went the ball head I planned to use to mount the camera on the tracker. I had to make a last minute purchase of a panning clamp to replace the heavier ball head. Thankfully, that didn't fall under the category of solar eclipse equipment and was available (by now, certain equipment was starting to become scarce). By this time, the eclipse was squarely in the sights of much of the public and approaching a fever pitch; but not impossible to still get equipment.

My initial thought had been to drive down from Seattle and get in the path somewhere along the Interstate 5 corridor. But, with the potential for cloud coverage and further research, my plans changed to be somewhere east of the Cascades where average weather patterns made seeing the eclipse a higher probability. My first thought was Madras, which was in the path. Again, this is long before the eclipse was getting media attention at all and Madras had become an epicenter of human activity. As July rolled along, reporting on the eclipse started making daily appearances on the evening news, usually during the weather forecast. Madras was getting lots of mentions both in print and TV coverage. Clearly, this was not going to be a good place, especially since I could not get there until sometime on the day of the eclipse.

As I had invited a fellow photographer to join me on the adventure, we decided a scouting trip was in order so that we could compile a list of possible locations that would be suitable for setting up for a few hours to shoot the eclipse. My friend had found a rancher northeast of Madras who was offering dry camping spaces on his land. We did go there to check out the space which would have been an ideal place, for sure - if you could get there. We talked to a law enforcement officer in Madras who gave us a sense of the influx of people they were expecting. This alone informed our decision to seek a place further east and away from all population centers. Our concern became one of traffic being so bad that we wouldn't even be able to get close to the center of totality - one of the critical components of our planning.

Before the scouting trip, I bought a phone app that provided location information relative to the path of the eclipse (and the center of totality) across the entire US. While the app had a critical bug that did not allow me to manually input GPS coordinates when there was no cell signal, I was able to use it sufficiently for the scouting trip to compile our list of desirable locations. With a bit more at-home research, I was able to map out our intended locations for the morning of the eclipse - there were a lot of really good online resources.

We scouted the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, also directly in the path. And while it would have provided excellent landscape shots, it became clear that the expectation was that this place too, was going to be overrun. We turned our sights further east and a location that could be approached from the north (where we would be coming from) without having to cross the center of totality (the place expected to be the most crowded and thus most likely to have traffic jams). There was an expectation that any and all campgrounds would be full and so those were scratched off our list. In the end, we wanted to find a wide spot on a dirt road with very little traffic. This is rural eastern Oregon we are talking about and so our criteria was easily met!

Getting back to polar alignment, the daytime alignment procedure required having a smart phone app that was able to locate Polaris. With GPS capability, the smart phones these days have this ability. A smart phone app purchase was made, but the main challenge is having your phone attached to and properly aligned with the tracker. Not so easy, as it turns out. The app depends on using the compass as well as the GPS function. Think magnetic interference of the compass and you see why it is not so easy. Well, by the time I am getting around to doing this (I did have four shows this summer which took up time), time is getting short and a makeshift tool is needed. My wife came to the rescue fabricating just what I needed with foam core from the frame shop. A little hot gluing and we had our tool.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance with the rough daytime polar alignment, I happened across a device that, coupled with a software program, gives very accurate polar alignment. As it so happens, one of the US distributors of the Chinese company is located in Seattle. A call to the brick-and-mortar store revealed they still had several in stock. At this point, it is one week away from the eclipse and so I made the purchase. The manufacturer does not make an adapter for my specific equatorial tracker, but I had reassurance from the store owner that it would work without perfect alignment to the tracker - all I needed was a little Gorilla double sided tape. So, with this, I made the final gear acquisition needed for the eclipse.

I had about three nights suitable to practice performing a polar alignment at home before heading into the field. I downloaded and installed the software on my Dell tablet (Windows 10), which is all I take with me these days for shoots. The procedure is a bit tedious, but works really well (as long as Polaris is visible). The software, however, is less than stellar - it would hang when trying to close it and let's just say the user interface could use some work. This is not a program that will ever get wide distribution (a single purpose use in the very narrow field of astronomy) and therefore not exactly a lot of motivation to spend time fixing many of its imperfections. But, it did work for getting very accurate polar alignment and for that I am thankful to the developer(s).

The panning clamp arrived giving me just enough time to perform one solar shooting session with the polar aligned equatorial tracker. The camera, lens, teleconverter, filter and panning clamp balanced perfectly with one counterweight (I did order extras, just in case) and a few magnets to add just enough extra mass. The tracker did a very good job of keeping the sun in center frame, so I was ready to go.

I had a Saturday/Sunday art festival before the day of the eclipse. The plan that came together was to tear down and pack up as efficiently as possible after the show ended at 5 PM on Sunday. Then unload everything at home and reload the truck with eclipse gear. We departed the house at 8:22 PM Sunday evening and headed over Snoqualmie Pass to the Tri-City area for a meet up with our friend about midnight. From Richland, with a full tank of gas in Prosser, we were a caravan on the way to our selected site. We arrived just before 4 AM. With a small snafu, we had to relocate to another spot up the road about 6 AM. While I lost my polar alignment with the new-fangled device, I was able to get a rough polar alignment as I had practiced. As it turns out, it was rough but close enough that I only occasionally had to adjust the camera through the eclipse, but, otherwise the tracker freed me to man several other cameras that I had set up, including one that my wife was operating.

At 9:07:55 AM, we started recording First Contact. At 10:20:34 we had Second Contact and at 10:23:57 we had Third Contact. At 11:43:06, the eclipse ended in our location.

Traffic? Crowds? Well, we did not encounter any traffic in the wee hours of the morning on our trip down. Although, there were a number of places where we saw cars pulled off the road for the night, all long before we arrived at our destination. And, we did not encounter anyone else on our chosen road for the eclipse. In our location, we had the place completely to ourselves. We kept pinching ourselves as we just could not believe it. We were braced for and expecting Armageddon. Extra water. Extra gas. Several days of food. Camping gear for an overnight stay. None of that was really needed. We left about 2 PM for home, and, yes, there was traffic but nothing like we were expecting. In fact the worst traffic was on Interstate 90, east of Snoqualmie Pass where construction had the highway closed down to a single lane (Really?!? At least, the road was not closed for rock blasting; they saved that for Tuesday night). We arrived home at 12:19 AM, Tuesday morning.

Where did we end up going? The nearest town was Monument. Our exact coordinates - 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse, 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon
SK_082117_7D_II-1056 - 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon
2017 Total Solar Eclipse, 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon
SK_082117_7D_II-1095 - 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon

It did get dark. It did cool down. It was awesome! We did have trouble focusing on the photography, especially during totality. I for one, didn't get any sleep. I would totally do it again. The newly acquired equipment will be put to good use for some star photography which I have slowly been dipping my toes into in the last few years.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse, 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon
SK_082117_7D_II-537 - 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, 44° 43' 51.53" N 119° 25' 31.96" W, Oregon

See GALLERY >> NEW for more eclipse images. Thanks.

May 10, 2017

You may have noticed that a little icon recently appeared at the bottom of the home page. I have entered the world of social media, sort of. I now have an Instagram account - kevinmerchant2774.

I have been mostly highlighting images of the Bandon area to promote the photo tours that I will be offering this coming fall. In case you missed it below, I am offering photo tours of the Bandon, Oregon area in September, October and November. Please contact me if this is something you might be interested in. Thanks.

May 4, 2017

Time flies. I've been to the California desert for a super bloom in Anza-Borrego State Park and been back since the middle of March. Lots of new images to catalog, prints to make for a client, a continued effort to spin up some new business with the Oregon coast photo tours this coming fall and getting ready for a show this coming weekend.

Which show? I'm glad you asked. It is the Grays Harbor Shorebird and Nature Festival. The festival technically starts tomorrow, but we will be setting up for the Marketplace for Saturday and Sunday. We are looking forward to returning since we did not go last year. I've been checking the bird counts and the migration is definitely underway.

February 9, 2017

I just finished processing images from a couple of different trips to Bandon, Oregon this past year. We participated in the Cranberry Festival in September and stayed a few extra days. We had some exceptional light at both the beach and the lighthouse. Then we went back in December just before Christmas for a week. And again, we had some exceptional light on several days.

In December, we went to Shore Acres State Park one afternoon when the tide was coming in. This location is known for some exceptional waves in the winter storm months. That day did not disappoint. It is truly something to be experienced in person. As spectacular as my still images are, the sound, the motion, the mist from the waves... Well, let's just say that you could not help but be affected by the majesty. Nature at its most sheer raw power. Amazing.

Take a look in the GALLERY in the NEW section - February_8_2017. Thanks.

January 31, 2017

For some time now, I have been considering dipping my toes in the water of photo tours. So, here goes.

I am announcing a series of photo tours on the south Oregon coast, in Bandon this coming fall. All of the info is right here at this link. The dates have been selected based on optimum low tides for being on the beach. Also, based on the tides, it worked out best to have some three day tours, some four day tours and a couple of five day tours. That should accommodate a variety of personal schedules.

Although, not all of the photo opportunities in the area are dictated by the tides, the main objective is to be out on the beach during low tides, at sunrise and sunset, for the sea stacks. Shooting sea stacks from a high bluff at high tide is not my idea of the best shooting opportunity or a good time. There is something more personal and intimate when you are right down there walking among or near the sea stacks. Of course, shooting the Coquille River lighthouse is not subject to the tides, but low tides do yield a different view from the south jetty.

The approach for the tours is to be one where participants spend more than a single day in the area and not race down the road to the next iconic location hoping for good light. Rather, we will slow down, explore various shooting angles and be on the beach for multiple sunrises and sunsets. Experience tells me that no two days will have the same lighting opportunities on the beach. Experience also tells me that there are too many different locations on the beach and you cannot adequately cover them all in one or two shooting sessions. This is intended to be an immersive experience.

The four and five day tours will most likely allow for exploring beyond Bandon. To the south is the Cape Blanco Lighthouse and Port Orford with its own unique sea stacks and cliffs. Just to the north of Bandon is Cape Arago and the Shore Acres State Park complex, both with stunning cliffs. Nearby is the town of Charleston and its marina. Further on up the coast is the Umpqua Lighthouse and the Winchester Bay Marina. This will be the extent of day trips from the Bandon area.

There will be a digital darkroom component to the tours as well, when we are not out shooting, eating or sleeping. I will be sharing my workflow methodology starting from the memory cards to final images in Photoshop. Time permitting, of course.

If this is something that you are interested in, send me an e-mail. I'm definitely interested in feedback and interest. Or, if you know someone who might be interested, please share this information with them. Thanks.

January 1, 2017

Happy New Year to all who stop by. Thanks for your continued interest in what I do. I am thankful to be able to get out and photograph in some amazing places. It is truly a blessing. I am looking forward to another year of visiting some great outdoor locations.

I would like to extend thanks to all of the customers who have supported me in the past ten years. Yes, it has been ten years since going full time in this business. It is my hope to continue sharing images from the journeys that I am able to go on.

As a small way of commemorating ten years in business, I have written a retrospective of the calendars I started producing in 2008. They have been 8.5" x 11" sized, single image calendars intended for cubicle walls, refrigerators and whatnot. Click here to see the retrospective.

Cedar Creek, Woodland, Washington
ST_093016_5D_III-24 - Cedar Creek, Woodland, Washington
All photographs appearing on this site are Copyrighted property of Kevin Merchant Photography and are protected under United States and international copyright laws and have been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Contact Kevin Merchant Photography for licensing terms of all photographs appearing on this site.