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Nature Boy


From the national parks to his own backyard, Cecil Holmes heads outdoors with his arsenal of Tamron lenses.



By Jenn Gidman
Images by Cecil Holmes

Cecil Holmes doesn't miss any opportunity he can to commune with Mother Nature, his camera and Tamron lenses in hand. And the lenses in his gear bag—the Tamron SP 15-30mm VC, the SP 24-70mm VC, the SP 150-600mm VC, and the 90mm VC Macro—ensures he's got the optical power, speed, and image quality to capture every breathtaking landscape or detail shot in the wild. 

Read on for a catalog of some of his favorite images, taken in some of his favorite places.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
One of the more challenging photos Cecil has taken in his quest for photogenic landscapes was of Mesa Arch in this national park—partly challenging because one has to get up in the dead of night to hope to catch the coveted sunrise shot there. Accompanied by fellow photographer David Akoubian, Cecil says they left their hotel around 3 a.m. so they could nab a prime spot and set up before all of the other photographers arrived.

"We had already been there the night before shooting the Milky Way, probably till midnight or so, so we didn't get much sleep," Cecil says. "But you have to get there early. There were probably 30 or 40 real serious photographers with their tripods filtering in as we did, and then after that a tour bus with about 100 people drove in."

Cecil was able to position himself in the ideal position for sunrise and capture that glow on the arch's wall, caused by the 1,400-foot drop-off right past the arch—when the sun rises, it lights up the canyon and reflects on the underside of the arch. "I took this photo several minutes after the sun had risen," Cecil says. "I just got down a little lower to the ground so the sun would defract around the top of the arch. I took this photo at F/11. Normally I'd shoot this at a little bit lower f-stop to try to get that sunstar, but I didn't have a lot of time. Typically if you want that effect, a lower f-stop like F/16 or F/22 will give you a much better version."

© Cecil Holmes

Zion National Park, Utah
Cecil headed to Zion National Park with fellow Tamron photographers Ken Hubbard and André Costantini for a night sky workshop, and during the day one afternoon they decided to hike the Narrows, the slimmest part of Zion Canyon, with walls surrounding the gorge that can reach a thousand feet into the air. "You take a bus up and they drop you off at the start of the hike," Cecil explains. "Then you have about a mile hike to the river, and then you can walk 4 or 5 miles up the river."

And that's what they did. "At some points you're literally walking through the water—and at the time of year we went, the water was in the 60-degree range, so we had to rent neoprene socks and a special set of shoes," Cecil explains. "In the winter, you need a full wetsuit."

The photographers also needed to rent dry bags for their cameras and gear. "Because of that, I decided to bring just one lens," Cecil says. "I figured the 24-70 would be the perfect choice in terms of versatility."

Once they got to a spot that looked like it would work for their photos, Cecil set his tripod up right at water level. "This is the vantage point I often try to get when I'm shooting water of any kind, especially waterfall photos," he says. "It offers a unique perspective."

© Cecil Holmes

He notes that it was pretty dark where he was, even though it was a bright sunny day at around 2 in the afternoon, because the walls were so tall. "I shot this at F/11, which gave me an ISO of 100 and an 8-second exposure," he says. "Some of that exposure was brought down because I was using a polarizer, which helped drag the shutter a little bit."

One of Cecil's favorite photographic subjects: the Milky Way, which he also had a chance to shoot in Zion. "We had gone out during the day to scout locations, and we knew we wanted to do something that would incorporate this rock and this tree," he says. "We just had to figure out where the Milky Way was going to be rising and where we wanted to stand to capture it."

Once they nailed the logistics and darkness came, it was just a waiting game. "The Milky Way was rising from left to right," Cecil says. "I probably took 100 shots or so, but I really liked this one because of the way the rock formation was lined up with it in the image."

© Cecil Holmes

Cecil notes that once it's time to actually take the picture, the hardest part is already over. "It's more difficult to plan a Milky Way photo than to capture it, once you know the formula," he says. "And my usual formula for the Milky Way is shooting as wide open as your lens can get—so for the 15-30 lens I was using here, that was at F/2.8—using a 30-second exposure and an ISO to a bright-enough level, usually between 3200 and 6400. All this has to be done in manual or your camera will freak out."

As for the light shining on the rock in this image, Cecil gives up his secret. "There was a car coming down the road," he laughs. "Even though it was midnight, it was fairly busy, with cars driving by every 10 minutes or so. If I timed it just right, I could get the car's headlights to just light up the rock. After three or four attempts at trying to figure out when to open up the shutter, I finally hit on the sweet spot. This was taken with a shutter speed of 30 seconds."

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
While Cecil has plenty of Eastern bluebirds in his own neck of the woods in Alabama, he was able to spy a mountain bluebird on a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park. "The bluebirds I see at home have blue backs and a brownish chest," he explains. "Mountain bluebirds, on the other hand, are completely blue. We were at the Moulton Barn on Mormon Row in the park when I spotted this guy perched on a post in one of the parking areas. I took this with the 150-600, shot wide open at F/6.3 to get that nice blurred background. I kept the composition as clean and simple as possible so the viewer can just concentrate on the bird."

© Cecil Holmes

Cecil's Backyard, Huntsville, Alabama
Cecil has his property set up in a way to attract birds, but in the summer it gets somewhat slow. So for the first time this year, he planted a bunch of plants that specifically bring in butterflies. "I've got like three or four plants back there," he says. "I have fennel, where they lay their eggs, so I get to take pictures of the caterpillars. Then there's milkweed, where they'll both feed and lay eggs. And I also have a butterfly bush, which is like a magnet for them."

He was able to capture a photo of a Gulf fritillary butterfly, aka the passion butterfly, with his 90mm VC Macro lens. "I was just sitting out there by this bush waiting, handholding the 90 with the VC turned on," he says. "The butterflies don't like quick movements, but if you sit there pretty still for a while, they eventually get used to your presence. Finally, this guy landed, and he stayed put for about 15 seconds. I was trying to get as close as I could to it to bring out a lot of the detail in the butterfly itself, instead of just taking a picture of a pretty butterfly on a bush."

© Cecil Holmes

To see more of Cecil Holmes; work, go to www.cecilsphotos.com.