Moab Happenings Archive
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Photographing the Red Rocks Country
Some General Tips on Working With Today’s Digital Cameras
By David L. Brown

Last year I agreed to write a monthly column for the Happenings for one year. This is column number 12 so this completes the series. I have enjoyed the chance to share my experience and knowledge of photography with my readers, and hope that I have helped some of you to make better photos.

One of the key points I teach in my workshops is the need to take control of your camera. Today’s digital cameras are technological wonders, but at their hearts are tiny little micro-processors that will do all of your work for you if you let them. I call them “squirrel brains” and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to squirrels. In fact, all the cameras can do is to mindlessly process your images according to a collection of fixed templates.

If you want to be an actual photographer, instead of simply letting the squirrel brains do the work for you, you must learn to use the manual setting on your camera. That’s tantamount to telling the squirrel to take a hike. When you shoot in manual, you are in charge. It’s up to you to decide which combination of settings is the best for the image you want to create.

Now if you’re used to setting your camera by selecting a little icon of a flower, mountain or human face, that may seem daunting. Well, in a way it is – but when you learn the basics of photography and apply them, it’s not only fairly simple but gives you great confidence in what will result when you press the shutter release.

In the classic days of film, there were basically two means of obtaining a proper exposure. Those were the shutter speed, the time in which the image is exposed, and the F-stop, or how wide the lens opens during the exposure. If you wanted more depth of field, for example, you would choose a small F-stop, thus requiring a longer exposure time. If you wanted to stop action, you would go for a fast exposure time and open up the lens to obtain the proper exposure. Simple.

Well, today’s digital cameras are still equipped to do the same thing – but there is a third factor in play. In the old days, the ISO (an acronym for the International Organization for Standardization) of the film was the only variable other than shutter speed and F-stop. If your film was too “slow” you had to, well, load the camera with “faster” film. I generally worked with color film that had an ISO rating of 50, which is pretty slow, especially by today’s standards. For the kind of landscape photography I did with large view cameras, it absolutely required the use of a tripod.Fig.1

Today’s digital cameras have variable ISO, and how! In daylight conditions I typically shoot with ISO set at 800. The difference is amazing. For example, the picture of wild iris in the La Sal Mountains in Fig, 1 was taken without the aid of a tripod and yet has all the depth of field that I used to obtain with a view camera and heavy tripod. The exposure was made hand-held at about 1/250 second and F/ll. I focused just beyond the nearest blossoms and with a wide-angle Tokina 11-16mm lens there was plenty of depth of field to cover both the nearest flowers and the distant mountains. This picture was made with a Canon T3i camera.

Fig.2For night sky shots such as in Fig. 2, I shoot at ISO 6400 to capture the dim galactic star clouds. This is remarkably faster than my old 50 ISO film. In fact, it is seven times more sensitive. Even at that, to make a picture like this one of the Milky Way as seen over Birthing Rock, it required an exposure of 20 seconds at F/2.8. I lit the foreground with a flashlight, “light painting” the petroglyph site.

I hope you have enjoyed my columns on landscape photography. I will continue to write on the subject on my web site at, and am putting on workshops and photo tours here in Moab. You are welcome to visit me at the ACT Campground where I have a gallery display of some of my landscape images. I can be reached at 435-210-8158. Thanks for your interest in my musings on matters photographic.

Local Food Photo Competition
Let’s honor Moab’s heritage by showing what our fertile valley has and continues to produce with hard work in the way of juicy fruit orchards and delectable produce.

Let’s support our local farmers and our community by keeping the money in Moab!

Moonflower Community Cooperative wants, with the help of our community, to make a calendar representing all the fruits of our labor. Produce, fruit trees, farming, gardens, bees, soil and water are abundant in this town. We want a photo representing produce from each month of our growing season…all 12 months!

We need the community, families and restaurants to support these local farmers and what better way than the Farmer’s Market.

A percentage of the proceeds from the calendar will go to the Farmer’s Market!

Get ready, get set, grab your cameras! Or just look through your current photos and see if you have a winner!

The prize is recognition for your food finding photography skills, a local foods calendar and a chance to win a massage donated by Judith Lee, all for supporting local!

Please submit the photos, resolution 300 dpi, by November 1st to or drop them off at Moonflower in care of Cactus Moloney

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