White Sands, NM

By Vicki Uthe

In September I had the opportunity to trip lead a photo workshop with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops to White Sands National Monument outside of Alamogordo, NM. We flew into El Paso from Phoenix, stayed the night, collected our participants the next morning and drove the 90 minutes to Alamogordo. We had the opportunity to shoot three sunrises and three sunsets with class and critique time during the day. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip. It’s about a six hour drive from Phoenix ,or almost eight from where I live in Flagstaff, AZ.
Alamogordo hosts a two day hot air balloon festival each September and we try to coordinate this trip with that festival. It was a bust this year as they couldn’t take off in the sands due to high winds. It was beautiful and unique nonetheless.
This was our initial hike into the dunes. We passed this sign, much like you would see at Grand Canyon,  warning people to take enough water and emergency supplies should you get lost. White sand in all directions can become very disorienting.
What initially struck me the most was how much the sand looked like snow. They actually have sand plows that push the sand like a snow plow would to clear the roads.
At first glance the only life one sees are these yuccas. They are beautiful but what you don’t see is the ten foot trunk hidden in the sand dune. The top we see is the plant trying to stay above the sand for sun exposure to do its photosynthesis thing.
I was intrigued by the seed pods at the tops of these plants. I put my fingers in one and took out a few seeds but felt many more. I snapped one off and poured it out and was amazed at how many seeds came out of it.
Shooting at night is not my favorite thing but I was pleased at how this one turned out. We had arrived at the park early, before sunrise, and had some time to shoot in moonlight. Clearly a tripod is needed.  It’s best to shoot with a wide lens, wide open, high ISO and experiment with how long. It will depend of if you want star trails or not.
Shadows are always fun to shoot, especially early or late when they are long.
This is one of my favorites. I love the simplicity of it. I just happened to be walking in the area between the dunes and looked up. The lines and blue sky struck me so I SHOT it!
The white sands are a great place to play with black and white since color isn’t always the highlight. It can be more about shadows, textures and lines.
I say that and then shoot this one with just a splash of color. This is our esteemed photographer, Suzanne Mathia, trudging through the sands in search of students to check in on. I like putting people in such images to show a sense of scale.
Sunsets are best if you have clouds. We were blessed on this day.
A rainbow!! Can you see it?
I found this to be a random image. I think it is a Cottonwood leaf, but there were no trees to be seen.
Life in the desert is always hard to find as most animals come out at night when temps are more reasonable. These black beetles were everywhere. In the mornings I found them mostly on these white flowers.
Walking along one day I happened to look down and see this bright orange moth. The contrast was cool.
Here’s another colorful bug of some sort. So odd to see them just out there in the middle a sand dune, not even near plants.
I also found this guy, but he was deceased.
Our attempt to shoot the launching of hot air balloons in the white sands was a bust due to winds. But winds gave me other opportunities to shoot…like this kite.
These flags were flying at the balloon festival. At first I thought the one on the right was a fancy New Mexico flag…until I realized it was a bacon and eggs New Mexico flag. Ha!
Back lit flags are always cool. I love the bright colors.
So that, in a nutshell, was my four-day workshop at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. I hope it inspires you with ideas for places you visit on your travels.
Happy Shooting!
Vicki Uthe is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes


By Hal Tretbar

The other day I was having lunch at the Velvet Elvis in Patagonia when I had an Eye-catcher moment. There it was: a shaft of light hitting the table next to us. It grabbed my eye and before I could look away I had my cell phone out to record the interesting light and composition.

Random House Dictionary defines an eye-catcher as a thing or person that attracts attention. For me it has to be something unusual to get my attention.







This was a very difficult exposure because it was so high contrast. The brilliant back light was illuminating the silver colored utensils on a dark table. If I exposed for the bright light I would have no detail in the shadows, so I just under exposed one stop and played with the image in Photoshop.

Nokia  Lumina   ISO 100   f2.2   1/701 second








When I returned to my car in the parking lot, I saw the mid day sun bouncing off of this wheel’s shiny rim. The reflection hit the shadow between the cars and illuminated the parking stripes. Interesting lighting and composition, I thought, and out came the cell phone.

Nokia    ISO 100   f2.2   1/370 second

It was late in a winter afternoon in Flagstaff. I came out of the door and my eye caught the setting sun peeking through the trees to spotlight the melting ice pile. My Nikon was handy so I set a small aperture for depth of field and to make the sun’s rays radiate.

Nikon  600  ISO 160   f22   1/150 second

Most eye-catchers for me have to do with unusual lighting but not always. One day I was sitting in the patio with nothing on my mind.  Then I looked at the sky. The interesting clouds caught both my eye and my brain. Wow, I thought, that really is a mare’s tail. The cell phone was ready to get the best shot of the wispy patterns.

A mare’s tail is defined as a long narrow cirrus cloud whose flowing appearance somewhat resembles a horse’s tail.

Nokia    ISO 100   f.2.2   1/935 second

So be ready for that moment when your eye catches something really interesting and dramatic. Grab your camera or cell phone and have some fun.

Hal Tretbar is a trip leader with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

Before and After Image

By Amy Horn

During a recent visit at the Wildlife World Zoo in Litchfield Park, AZ, I captured this monkey photo in mid-afternoon light. I loved the moment when the monkey walked across the log, but didn’t feel the mid-afternoon light added to the photo. I couldn’t go back later, so I thought about what would make a stronger image. First, isolating the monkey from the background would help the animal to stand out. So, I used the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom and increased exposure while decreasing clarity, this evened out the exposure and softened the background. Next, I converted the image to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro. The “fine art, high key, framed” preset gave me the look I wanted. And like that, I transformed a mid-afternoon light into something better! Follow the process through the images below.





Amy Horn is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

How to Get Better Wildlife Photos

By Amy Horn

I have dreams capturing wildlife photos on an African Safari. It’s not in my travel plans yet, but if I get the chance, I want to be ready! If this is an experience you are planing, you may want to prepare too. How do you prepare for such a phenomenal experience? Practice. This sounds obvious, but do musicians perform without practicing? No, they don’t. So, if you have a trip planned to photograph wildlife, practice locally to master the technique and your equipment. Here is an example of practicing: in a Nature Photography class I teach at NAU, I took my students to a local pond to photograph waterfowl. The waterfowl are accustomed to people and are not easily startled so this gave the beginning wildlife students a little more time to get each shot. I challenged them to capture images in flight and static scenarios. After spending 90 minutes at the pond they had a much better handle on reading behaviors of the waterfowl, settings on their camera to use and being prepared for the fast movement. Keep practicing and focus on the following techniques for stronger wildlife images.

  1. Know your camera – Our cameras are amazing. Whether you own a DSLR, mirrorless or even a mobile phone camera, know your gear! The drive mode on your camera captures a burst of photos giving you several images to choose from. Set the focus for your subject. If the birds are in flight, use continuous focus and select several focus points. The camera will assist you in finding the subject. Some cameras offer focus tracking. Research your camera by reading the manual or watching videos on your manufacturer’s website to select the best settings for wildlife.
  2. Be ready – If you are chimping on your LCD panel viewing your last shot, then you will miss the shot right now. Keep your finger on the shutter and the camera up to your eye. There is nothing worse than missing the shot!
  3. AvocetComposition – We connect more with wildlife images when we are at their eye level. So get low and focus on the eyes. If your wildlife is moving, always leave more room in the frame in front of the animal so that they can “move into the frame.”

Whether you have an African Safari planned or want to capture other wildlife, have a little fun at your local pond to master your equipment and camera techniques.

Amy Horn is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes