Saturday, August 17, 2019

Cutest Critter In The Water

Sea otters are absolutely adorable, and a thrill to watch cavorting in the water. They twist and twirl, and are masters at diving.

This male was an unusual sight in the area of Alaska we were traveling in. He had actually been sighted nearly 100 miles away from this location just a few days prior to our being treated to his antics. While we don't know what brought him to the vicinity of our boat, we were excited to see him.

Typical of sea otters, he would look at us, then ignore us, then look at us again. He appeared as curious to see us as we were to see him. And he performed for us long enough for us to get some great images.

This is one of my favorites since he had his front paws placed perfectly near his face. Doesn't get any cuter than that!

One of the thrills of being in Alaska is seeing a huge variety of wildlife, AND being able to photograph them.  I'll be returning to Alaska in 2021 to photograph brown bears, also called grizzly bears. It will be at my favorite bears location, timed to coincide with the annual salmon run.

If you would like to join me in Alaska August 29 - September 4, 2021 for this exciting brown bears trip, please send me an email expressing interest. It will put you on the "Interested List" but does not obligate you at this time. Details are being finalized, but this trip has not been publicly announced yet. So if you would like to beat the rush and get on the list now, let me know. I will send you details as soon as they are set. Limited to only 8 photographers.

1/1250 sec. at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Do not delay. Do not delay. The golden moments fly!"  -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

And The Winner Is.............

Last week there were four versions of this image, and you voted for your favorite. (See all four options here )

The one above, the Pastel version, was the clear winner, with the Original version coming in a close second.

Most comments indicated a preference for the softer look of this one, compared to the others. I confess that this one is my favorite as well. I like the overall pastel nature of the colors, the feeling of softness, and the better blending of tones in the background.

This look was achieved with Topaz Studio 2. I am experimenting with this software, and frankly the jury is still out. It has some features that I like, and others that I do not especially care for. That is typical of most software, and you have to work your way through it to find what works best for you. In general my preference is to NOT use preset filters or textures. When I do find one that I like, I try to modify it to my taste by either reducing the filter's opacity, or softening the look in other ways. Some competitions do not allow the use of preset textures, so be sure to read the rules.

I like to create my own textures and I have a file of images taken just for that purpose. Subjects like clouds, tree bark, soft reflections on water, out of focus flowers or grasses, rough walls, rusty cars, etc. can make great textures. When taking the shot, I fill the frame with the subject. I often take a few shots with the subject in focus, and a few others with it thrown out of focus. That gives me a wide variety of options.

To add one of your own textures to an image, first open the image you want to add texture to in Photoshop or Elements. Then open the texture image you want to use. Copy the texture image and paste it over the original image. If it is not as large as your original image, use the Transform tool to expand it to fill the frame. Then reduce the opacity of the texture. If it is too sharp, use Gaussian Blue to soften it. Then try each of the Blending Modes to see the different ways Photoshop or Elements can blend the two layers together for a variety of looks. (Blending Modes are accessible just above the Layers  Palette. Find the word "Normal" in the rectangular box, and click on the small triangle next to it. A drop down box will appear with all the different options. Click on each one to see the effect and then choose the one you like best.)  You will need to experiment to come up with a look that works for you. But it is a lot of fun, and a very creative exercise.

I appreciate all your votes and comments, and was happy that so many of you were interested in making your preference known. Thanks to everyone who voted!

1/1000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 247mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."  -- Maya Angelou

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Exposure Compensation Made Simple

When humpback whales communicate to engage in bubble net feeding, it will absolutely blow you away! If you are not familiar with what bubble net feeding is, here's the short version - a group of whales come together because of an abundance of fish or other enticing food. When they cooperate as a group, each one can eat much more than attempting to catch food alone. They begin by doing a deep dive, and then begin to blow bubbles in a circle that form a "net" around a school of fish. The bubbles force the fish to come closer to the surface of the water, and to group together in the middle of the circle of bubbles. At that point the whales, who are now below the fish in the "net," thrust themselves upward through the group of fish and grab large amounts in their huge mouths. The upward thrust, which lasts only a few seconds, brings the whales up above the surface when we can grab some shots.

To see up to ten or more 60,000 pound animals blast upwards above the surface of the water is an amazing sight. We were exceptionally lucky during one of last month's Alaska trips to see this behavior for 5 days in a row. What incredible luck!

This shot, taken very late in the day, presented a technical problem. The whales are dark and it would have been easy to underexpose them since the surface of the water was much brighter than they were. The solution was to use Exposure Compensation to make sure the dark whales received enough exposure to not look pure black. It is important to remember that when dark tones are underexposed, it is difficult for Lightroom or other optimization software to bring out the details, and often the final result appears very noisy and grainy

I chose a "Plus 2-Stop" setting for Exposure Compensation in order to guarantee that the details in the dark tones would be visible in the final image. Taking this approach meant that the water was overexposed, but in a trade-off between showing detail in the water vs showing detail in the main subjects, the whales, the choice was obvious.

The final result is a bit more artsy than a traditional rendition of this scene. It conveys the power and movement of the animals, including the birds, offset by the pure white background.  Although no artwork or filters were used on this image, the look is reminiscent of a charcoal drawing.

1/1600 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Art is where you find it."  --Mollie Isaacs

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Please Vote For Your Favorite





Here are four different versions of the same image. It is a Fireweed plant, photographed in coastal Alaska last month.  Fireweed blooms from the bottom up, and when its blooms move up to the top of the plant (you can see just buds on the top level in this image) it is a sign that autumn is on the way.

Which one do you like best? Please vote for your favorite. I really appreciate your input.

You can vote either on my Facebook page, or email me your vote at  If you would like to give reasons for your choice, I would love to hear that, too.

As you can see, each image has a caption so please mention that with your vote. Either Original, or Pastel, or Vintage Black and White, or Textured.

I have been experimenting with various filters and looks, and am interested to know how you like these first few I have tried. Photographic trends, methods, hardware, and software are constantly changing, and we all need to keep moving with the times.

Note that this shot was taken with a long telephoto zoom lens. That helped to blur the background nicely. The background is filled with more Fireweed plants.

1/1000 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we're curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."  --Walt Disney

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mid-air Confrontation

Eagle fights occur quickly and end just as quickly. Rarely is damage done. These eagles were vying for the best position to grab a fish in the waters below. The eagle on the left was zooming toward the other one. Clearly the eagle on the right saw the attack coming and assumed a very strong defensive posture. Its beak is open, issuing a warning to the attacker. They eventually locked talons but then released each other with no damage. The entire encounter lasted only an amazing 3 seconds. Incredible.

Eagles are some of the most skillful flyers in the air. They are a joy to watch, and assume a wide variety of positions with blazing speed.

1/1600 sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you."  -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Monday, July 29, 2019

Serene Alaska Scene

Serenity along Alaska's Inside Passage. Late in the evening this lone fishing vessel was plying the waters in search of a catch. The subtle colors against the dark outline of the boat caught my eye. You can see the distant mountains through the haze.

There were dozens of wildfires burning throughout the state during much of my time in Alaska, which caused the misty haze. While it added a mood to this image, it was a concern that so many fires were active. The extreme heat and drought helped to keep the fires alive for weeks. Many of the residents and visitors I came across expressed concern over the growing changes they see in the weather patterns and the climate.

One sobering sight we saw on this trip was a huge, exquisite iceberg that had shrunk to less than half its size in less than 24 hours. Of course no one knows what the future will bring, but the rapid changes being observed are generating many questions and concerns.

1/1000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to."  -- Terri Swearingen

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Puffins - Little Flying Bullets

Even though we went to Lake Clark National Park in Alaska to observe and photograph brown bears, there is always a side-benefit to this photo trip. We take a boat ride to a puffin breeding colony about 30 minutes away. It is such a treat to see these small, speedy birds. Two varieties occupy this colony - Horned Puffins and Tufted Puffins. This Horned Puffin happened to be flying past a blooming fireweed plant which created some additional color to this image.

Puffins are so much fun to watch. They are very fast flyers, zooming past at up to about 50mph, so getting flight shots is quite challenging. Fast shutter speeds and careful tracking are needed to get successful shots.

They are beautiful but also quite comical at times, with their feet splayed when coming in for a landing. But they are poetry in motion when flying.

The next trip is already being planned to this location. It will be in late August 2021. Yes, 2021. It is necessary to plan far ahead for this prime location for brown bears. If you are interested, please contact me for more details.

1/1250 sec at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set to 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times." --unknown

Monday, July 22, 2019

Beautiful Baby Bear

I am back in Anchorage after a wonderful week photographing brown bears in Lake Clark National Park. We stayed in a great lodge with comfortable rooms and great food, yet right in the middle of bear territory.

This beautiful juvenile put on an entertaining show cavorting on the beach and frolicking in the grassy meadows. When she stood up behind the grass, I was able to grab this fleeting moment for a bear portrait. Like people, each brown bear's face is different. This bear is especially beautiful with inquiring eyes and a sense of calm.

The bears are completely wild, yet are very tolerant of humans. They are curious, but at the same time non-threatening. We are careful to be very respectful of their space and feeding needs, and do not interfere with their normal activities.

Super long lenses are not needed at this location, and I have found that a 100-400mm zoom lens, often with a 1.4x extender, is all that is needed. I rarely need a tripod, and have found that I can move more quickly and get better images when I am free and not tethered to a tripod. Of course a tripod is needed for some types of photography like moving water, night shots, and more, but when possible I prefer to handhold the camera.

1/1000 sec at f/7.1, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport."  -- Steve McCurry

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Iceberg Extravaganza

Before I leave Anchorage for my next Alaska photo trip, and once again be out of internet range, I wanted to share this abstract image with you. It is a small portion of a huge iceberg in a side channel off the Inside Passage.

The color was stunning, and the various shapes were endless. We shot hundreds and hundreds of images as our boat captain expertly navigated us around this incredible iceberg.

This was a large berg that had broken off the LeConte Glacier located several miles upstream. It is one of an innumerable number of glaciers that are receding at a rapid rate. We returned to the same spot the next day, and half of this berg had already melted away overnight. Its greatly reduced size was both disturbing and alarming.

1/640 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender, for an effective focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II for a final focal length of about 780mm.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We have to wake up to the fierce urgency of the now." -- Jim Yong Kim, President of The World Bank

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Tender Terns

I returned today to the land of internet, after an incredible 8 days aboard a private chartered yacht in the Inside Passage of Alaska. While all my Alaska trips have spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife, this one was especially wonderful. As we cruised up Misty Fjords, these Arctic Terns put on an amazing show. The male, on the left, brought a gift of a fish to the female, and she accepted it gracefully.

These terns are tiny, and weigh only about 4 ounces each.

The tender scene lasted only a few moments, and how lucky were we to be there at the exact right time. As with all photo experiences, any action that takes place in front on your lens is a gift.  This was especially exciting to me since it was behavior I had never witnessed before, and the location and the light were perfect.

1/2000 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4X extender for an effective focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body (totaling a final focal length of about 780mm). Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is a wonderful feeling to arrive dead center of a target you didn't even know you were aiming for. -- Lois McMaster Bujold