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Charlie Borland Photographs an Opal Mine



I had a really fun photo assignment last month, photographing at the Royal Peacock Opal Mine in Nevada. This mine is a U-Dig operation where anybody can visit, buy a pass to dig in the mine, and hopefully uncover some amazing Opals.

These types of assignments are always fun, not only for what I get to photograph but also for the learning. The creation of Opals is absolutely fascinating, but rather than explain it myself, here is a quick explanation:

‘Opal is formed from a solution of silicon dioxide and water. As water runs down through the earth, it picks up silica from sandstone and carries this silica-rich solution into cracks and voids, caused by natural faults or decomposing fossils. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a silica deposit. This cycle repeats over very long periods of time, and eventually, opal is formed.’ – Opals Down Under 

What was explained to me, and I may not recall exactly, but this silica solution enters into the wood that is buried and estimated to be 12 – 15 million years old, and that wood eventually becomes petrified. Once the moisture leaves the solution, it becomes an Opal.

Opals are very colorful and seemingly made up of tiny prisms that reflects a different color depending on the angle of light. When I was lighting the specimens, I moved the lights around to many different positions and always got a new color to show up at each position.

I started shooting the first day there and focused on the guests digging. I captured people in close to show the action, like this lady showing what she dug up.

And further back to show the size of the operation.

It’s also a family affair and a great place for kids to dig, get dirty, and maybe even find Opals.

On Memorial Day weekend, they have a big BBQ for all guests and a campfire in the evening.

The Royal Peacock also has RV hookups and tent sites along with restroom and shower houses for guests.

The Rock Shop is where you buy your digging permit and look at many opal specimens. They even have a massive collection of arrowheads, all found on the surrounding property.

The mine also sits within the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge and some of this high desert scenery is stunning.

Before I show the Opal specimens I photographed, I’ll mention how I shot the assignments. I used my Canon 6D and 70D both, and the 70-200 mm zoom, 24 – 70mm zoom, and 16-35mm zoom. I switched amongst all these depending on the shot.

The 70-200 zoomed me in on the digging to compress the scene and it makes the scattered people look more like there is a lot of them.

I used the 24-70mm for medium perspectives like this image.

And the 16-35mm when I want to go wide or in this case, create an ‘in-your-face’ perspective where she is holding out her specimens to make them larger.

In all outdoor digging shots I used flash fill on almost every shot. The Flash Exposure Compensation is set between -1 and -1.3 depending on the scene.

For the Rock Shop scene, I used two flash units. One in an umbrella on the left and one handheld to the right of the camera and aimed at the people. It acted as a fill flash. I also let the indoor lighting contribute to the overall scene to prevent the ‘flashed’ look.

Then we went to another location to photograph the Opal specimens, some of which are quite valuable. This first piece is about the size of a football, maybe a bit smaller, and has interesting Opal patterns in it. I use one lightbox to one side and flash on the other. The thing about lighting these was that when you move the light around you got different colors coming out.

That was good and bad because I could not get all colors in one shot. So I would start with one photo of what I felt was the best lighting, then move the lights around to expose more colors and I did this for a few shots. Then I composited then in PS so I had all the colors show in one final image.

Like that specimen? Well, it will only set you back a cool $250k.

The goal of photographing these specimens was to make all the colors come out of each piece. As I mentioned, I needed to move the lights into a lot of different positions to make the colors pop. Some pieces looked better lit with the softbox, while others looked better with the RAW flash for lighting.

One specimen they have in their collection is this Camel’s tooth. While the wood in many cases is estimated to be 12-15 million years old, there is no telling how old Camel Tooth is but supposedly Camels were in the area about 10,000 years ago.

This fascinating Opal might have an insect in it as someone pointed out. Not sure if it has ever been verified but I am thinking Jurassic Park.

These final two images are of two sides of a tree branch, again, estimated to be 12-15 million years old. Each photo is a composite of 3-5 images because every time I move the light around different colors popped out so it was easier to sorta paint the branch with light and then selectively use different sections and create a composite for the final image.

If you want to visit the Royal Peacock Opal Mine it is in Northern Nevada along Hwy 140, between Denio, NV and Lakeview, Oregon. You can visit their website at http://www.royalpeacock.com/


Learn photography:

What’s your opinion of these two photos?

I have a question for you: Of the two photos in this photo collage, which do you think looks better?

If you said the right one I would agree with you and in fact, that is the photo I worked harder on so it would look better.

Now, can you tell how I did that? Well, it is not processing it is instead lighting. The photo on the left is all natural lighting and it is flat, so I lit the flowers with multiple wireless flashes and you see the effect on the right.

In fact, all photos in that photo collage are all using flash in multiple different ways to create more dramatic lighting and effects for the subject of the photo. And it is the techniques I used in these photos that is the idea behind my new course:

Wireless Flash Techniques for Outdoor and Nature Photographers.

If you are a landscape, nature, or adventure sports photographer then you will benefit from this new course.

In this course, I will show you some techniques that take your outdoor and nature photography from ‘ho-hum’ to WOW.

I have been photographing for over 30 years and have encountered bad natural light many times. I tried software like HDR and others but soon realized that HDR was limited and that software does not really create quality light. It was so disappointing!

Then one day I decided to incorporate a pretty simple technique of adding light to some of my scenes and what I learned was, while this wasn’t necessarily the trick that would work in every situation, it resulted in more dramatic outdoor and nature photography.

So, I began to experiment by adding light to many of my outdoor subjects and during this time I developed some techniques that allow me to show my subjects the way that I envision.

If you feel the same way sometimes then what you need is someone to show you how to get creative with your lighting by not solely relying on mother nature to provide perfect outdoor light.

By giving me a chance, I will show you today how to take control of lighting and create the images you envision so by tomorrow your photographs will look better and more dramatic.

In this course, I will show you:

  • The tools of the trade from flashes to mounting devices
  • How light from a flash works with outdoor lighting
  • How to make your subject stand out against the background
  • How to photograph wildflowers in the field with added drama
  • How to add light to landscapes photographs
  • How to photograph outdoor portraits with multiple flashes
  • How to light a camping scene
  • How to create dramatic action sports photographs like mountain biking or rafting using multiple wireless flashes.
  • How to get creative with light like Light Painting and spotlighting techniques.

I will show you all this right now so by the next time you photograph you will be looking at better photography in both simple and complex photo setups

Warning: this course is not for you if you only watch one video and never apply what you learned with your photography. This course is for people who love to photograph and want to apply the techniques demonstrated in this course.

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Featured Article: The Journey Back to Creativity

If you would have told me 4 years ago when I was living in Park City, Utah, that I’d be creating HDR images, living in Scottsdale, Arizona, and loving my DSLR, I would have told you that you were crazy. For over 15 years, I was a bona fide film junkie of the Fuji kind and, when the world started going digital, I dug my heels in and fought it to the point where I eventually hung up my camera for good—or so I thought.

It all started with a beautiful old red truck that I photographed years ago on a road trip to S. Utah. Although I had all but given up photography as things went digital, I was out getting to know my new DSLR, that I reluctantly purchased,  when I saw this beauty on the side of the road. I actually passed it by on my way to shoot something else, but the truck stuck in my mind so I doubled back and shot some photos. I had really never been attracted to shooting old trucks, or any old vehicles, for that matter. As a professional since ‘89, I had mostly focused my attention and my lens on my stock photography specialties, which were adventure sports, outdoor recreation and health & fitness until I hung my camera up in 2003.rouse_Dodge Bootlegger 5x7

A few weeks before I took those photos of the red truck, a friend and photo enthusiast asked me if I had ever heard of HDR. My response to him was, “HD what?” I think he was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it. I didn’t realize that I was that out of the photo loop, but after being out of the business for several years, I guess I was. He said I’d have so much fun with what high dynamic range could do to my photos. He gave me the name of the program that he used, Photomatix, and the website. When I got home, I immediately jumped online and checked it out. I downloaded a free trial of Photomatix Pro, and off I went into HDR land. Of course, I hadn’t shot any photos as multiple exposures, which was suggested, so I really didn’t have any photos to play with yet. Then I passed the old, red truck on the side of the road. Instead of shooting single frames, I photographed the red truck in the prescribed multiple-exposure manner. I thought that it might make a great HDR, so I rushed back to my campsite, downloaded the images from my camera into my laptop, then quickly loaded the three bracketed images into Photomatix and pressed the “Generate HDR” button. That’s when the magic happened; I could hardly wait to see the result. When the image appeared on my monitor, I gasped. It was gorgeous and so alive with color, texture and depth. With a few tone-mapping tweaks, which I didn’t really know how to work yet, I hit the final “process” button, and what appeared was nothing short of incredible—it was as if the truck was about to drive right out of the monitor and into my campsite.

rouse_El Camino 5x7

I thought the truck was full of character and personality when I shot it, which is why it attracted me in the first place, but the individual digital frames that I shot didn’t do justice to this gem that nature had aged like a fine wine. They seemed too one-dimensional and lacked a feel for the texture and patina of this amazing red truck. With HDR, I knew that I had found a process and program that was not only user-friendly, but would transform these relics and render them the way that I saw each one when I was photographing them.

I’ve been fascinated with Western and Southwestern history for years and with my newfound love of the Digital Age, I could make the historic places and things that I’m fascinated by come to life again. The red truck, aka “Dodge Bootlegger,” changed everything for me. I knew that I was on to something when I posted the “Dodge Bootlegger” on my Facebook page. The response was amazing! I don’t think any of my photographs has ever received so many great comments. This opened up a whole new world for me. Not only did it give me a reason to pick up my camera again, but it gave me a reason to follow a new path back into a creative world that I thought I was done with. It was a path that I was very excited about.

rouse_Scipio Garage 5x7

Since then, I’ve been on a mission to photograph historic places and objects around the West and Southwest. My journey has taken me from Golden Spike National Historic Site in northern Utah to the Pony Express Trail to Route 66 on down to Tombstone in southern Arizona, with many stops in between. Out of this journey my Ghosts of the West: Celebrate the American West—the History, the Lore, the Culture photo series and book were born. So many of these historic places and things are disappearing, and I feel it’s my mission to document them and make them come alive again with my photographs before they’re gone and to document what’s so uniquely American about this part of the country. I love what I do and feel so fortunate to get to share my passion for the West and Southwest through my photographs, and I have HDR to thank for opening up a whole new world (again) to me.

If you would like to learn how to apply HDR to your photos, Cheyenne’s HDR class; “Turn your Photos into Fine Art 2.0” is here on Great Photography Courses and she is offering a huge discount at $19. That’s $30 off. Click here to enroll and be sure and use coupon code HDR19

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