Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lucky Ducky

I was the lucky duck with this shot. On a short stop at Bosque del Apache in January, the snow geese were very cooperative. Their expected spectacular early morning fly-out happened not the usual once, not twice, but three times. What sheer luck for a photographer!

As they flew off heading to nearby fields to feed for the day, the sky was full and it was difficult to predict exactly how the geese would line up and create a good composition. In this kind of situation it is best to shoot shoot, shoot, and hope for the best.

Even though you might be shooting indiscriminately, you still must maintain control of your camera and its settings. Set your shutter to rapid burst and your focus to AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon). Those settings will increase your chances of success.

Check your Histogram every few shots to make sure your exposures are accurate.

You also must pay careful attention to the action. Watch where the birds are in relation to the sun angle. Watch for wing position and separation between the birds. Sure, you will have many unsuccessful shots. But if you shoot a lot of images, and keep your wits about you, you will walk away with some real winners. Be patient. Take your time. And most of all, enjoy whatever show Mother Nature provides.

Shutter Speed 1/800.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS, set at 140mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Luck is where opportunity meets preparation."  --Denzel Washington

Tuesday, February 17, 2015




Decisions, decisions. Every time we click the shutter we have decisions to make. Composition, camera angle, and depth of field are some of the primary decisions you make every time you take a picture. But what about afterwards, when you sit down in front of your computer to optimize an image? How do you decide how to interpret that image? You can go for the literal, or you can choose the dramatic.

There is no right or wrong approach. However you choose to express your artistic vision is the right decision for you. For today's image, the dramatic interpretation is my preference.

Generally in nature and wildlife photography, the goal is to depict the subject as close as possible to how it really looked when you made the exposure. Sure, you might want to improve the color or sharpness a bit, but you do not want to go too far beyond the reality of the subject. In most cases both the highlights and the shadows should have detail.

But sometimes a little drama adds punch and visual interest. That is my feeling about today's picture. While the literal interpretation is technically correct, showing detail in the trees in the foreground and mid-ground, the artistic version has more impact and power. It has not changed the scene beyond recognition, but it has INTERPRETED the scene rather than just presenting a LITERAL representation.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 154mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Life is like art. It is all about interpretation."  --Robert Holden

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Leave Winter Behind!

Leave winter behind and head for spring! Photographing wild songbirds is great fun, but can be very challenging. They are fast, small, and hard to find in the trees. And where do you even start to look?

Well, look no further than right in front of you! That's right. In the Soar With Songbirds photo workshop coming up in April, we will be in position to photograph wild songbirds right in front of us, and they do not know we are there. Get great close-up shots from the comfort of a cushy seat in a large protected blind, just a few feet from a huge array of birds that will come to us.

Sound too good to be true? It's not. We have found the perfect location for easy songbird photography all day long. We will be in the middle of a prime natural feeding area. And the icing on the cake is that we will be just a few feet from our cars, so no hauling heavy camera gear over long distances to get to this incredible vantage point.

Previous participants have fallen in love with this location, and can't believe how easy it is to get great shots. We will be close enough to the birds so that you can get superb images even if you do not own a super-telephoto lens.

For more information, go to our website   There are just a few spaces left, so if you are interested please email or call soon to reserve your space.

Shutter Speed 1/100th sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberly Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best."  --Henry Van Dyke

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Get Creative



Get creative with your photography. Use all the tools in your arsenal to make your work better and more appealing. Look at the Before image  -  it is too dark and not terribly exciting. The colors are too muted and there is no detail in the shadows.

But Lightroom came to the rescue once again. Hands down, Lightroom is my favorite image optimization software. There are other options out there - Nik, Topaz, Photoshop, Elements, and more. For me, Lightroom is foolproof and lightning fast.

It took virtually no time to transform the blah Before image into the more exciting After image. Here are the steps I used. (Remember that each image is different and will need differing amounts of tweaking, so be sure to evaluate each image individually.)

First, I lightened the shadows using the Shadows slider. Then I used the Blacks slider to fine tune the blacks. I then increased Clarity to enhance the mid-tone contrast. The next to last step was to increase Vibrance so that the colors had more punch.

The final step was to use some creative license and flip the image. When photographing abstracts it is OK to experiment with different orientations to see if the image becomes stronger. After trying different directions, I liked this orientation best.

So consider reviewing some of your old images and see if a change in orientation helps make an image stronger. You might surprise yourself with what you create.

Interested in learning Lightroom, or improving your image optimization skills? Then consider taking the upcoming Lightroom Unleashed Workshop in Richmond, Virginia on March 16-20. This in-depth and hands-on class will give you all the skills and guidance you will need to become a Lightroom expert. Information here   Just a few spaces left. Small group setting, personalized attention.

Shutter Speed 1/10 sec.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set to 40mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort."  --Franklin D. Roosevelt

Friday, February 6, 2015

Powerfully Simple

Sometimes simple is super. Often as photographers we look for the unusual or the extreme. But in this case, a very simple composition and great weather conditions worked well together to create a strong image.

During winter in Monument Valley it is not unusual for the temperatures to drop below freezing overnight, and then warm up to the 40s or 50s during the day. Those extremes can cause ground fog and rising mist to swirl around the buttes. The rising mist created some striking views of the well-known Mittens (the buttes on the left and in the center).

The bright blue cloudless sky enhanced the strength of the fog and mist. Normally ground fog lifts early in the morning as the sun rises and quickly dissipates the moisture. But on this day the conditions persisted until nearly noon, which gave a lot of time to seek out a variety of conditions and light directions. Because of the strong sidelight, the mist looks especially white and slightly backlit on the right side of the image.

I chose a very balanced composition for this shot, placing the Right Mitten in the center of the image. That shows up the ground fog best, as well as the rising mist.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 19mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity."  --Thor Heyerdahl

Monday, February 2, 2015

Special Announcement - Unexpected ALASKA Openings

Ready to hit the road and head north to Alaska? Now's your chance. We have had a couple of unexpected cancellations (due to client emergencies) for both the Denali trip and the Glacier Bay trip. One space is available for the Denali trip (Sept. 5 - 11), and two spaces in the Glacier Bay trip (Aug. 22 - 27).

Details are on the Awake The Light website Click on the 2015 Calendar link.

Call or email right away if you are interested or need more information. These spaces will fill fast.

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/16.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, er, Car

While riding through one of my favorite places, Monument Valley National Tribal Park at the Arizona / Utah border, I happened to glance at the car's side mirror and was rewarded with this great view.  It is one of the park's famous Mitten formations perfectly framed by the mirror.

Normally I try to eliminate any sign of civilization when I am photographing a natural scene, and I had done so in earlier shots of the Mittens. But as I was heading back to the hotel, I was lucky enough to see this Mitten come into view in the mirror, and it seemed like a unique shot asking to be taken.

Because it was a very clear day with bright blue skies, the exposure was easy. The light on the large butte outside the window was the same as on the Mitten. The inside of the car is dark, and does not distract from the rest of the image.

Very little optimization was needed on this image. The sky needed a bit more saturation, but that was about it.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set to 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "...there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into the limitless,...or you can do the beauty of minutiae...."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Shaped By Water, Wind, and Time

My whirlwind trip in the desert southwest has been going well with stops at several iconic places including Antelope Canyon. The lovely slot canyon is world famous, and presents many opportunities to photograph swirling shapes and rich colors.

In this canyon, photographs can be made almost anywhere. You just have to slow down and look, really look, at the rock formations and how they relate to one another. Look for line and shape. Look for separation between the elements. Look for variations in lighting to add interest.

These tips can apply to many different subjects, not just slot canyons. Try to consider all possibilities when out shooting. Keep a careful eye on the histogram, shutter speeds and f-stops. Being alert and aware will help you get better pictures, regardless of the subject.

Shutter Speed 1.3 seconds.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm set at 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III, Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You Just Never Know

I am traveling in the desert southwest this month, and made a short visit to White Sands National Monument. It was a Sunday afternoon and the sky was a sunny brilliant blue. I was driving through the park and saw what I thought was (could it be?) a camel in a horse trailer! I quickly turned around, and sure enough it was indeed a camel. What are the odds? It appeared that the trailer was being driven out of the park, so I figured I had missed the chance of photographing a camel in its perfect environment and I continued with my journey through the park. As I finished riding through the main road and headed for the park exit, I was delighted to see the horse trailer parked in a side overlook and decided to wait about 10 minutes in hopes of seeing the camel walking across the dunes. After nearly 15 minutes I decided to move on, and just then I was treated to this sight. What a treat!

The camel, whose name I later learned was Mitchell, was being led across the dunes by the husband and wife who own him. Their dogs were also along for the walk. When they returned to their trailer, I got more information. Turns out they live about 30 minutes from White Sands, and take Mitchell out for a dune walk each Sunday afternoon.

What are the chances of traveling 3/4s of the way across the country, and being in the right place at the right time to see such an unusual sight? It was sheer serendipity. Had I not been there on a Sunday, I would never have seen this. Had I arrived a couple of hours earlier or later I would not have seen this. 

The lesson is that you should be prepared for the unusual, the unexpected, at all times. Be open to photographic opportunities any time you are out with your camera. You never know when an exciting, groundbreaking opportunity will present itself. Go out there, have fun, and be ready.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set at 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I love not knowing what might be around the corner. I love serendipity."  --Twiggy

Thursday, January 8, 2015

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TODAY'S QUOTE: "Education is the movement from darkness to light."  --Allen Bloom