Sunday, February 7, 2016

Smoky Mountains Super Bowl

Well, not really the Super Bowl, but at least it got your attention! Actually this is a Great Smoky Mountains National Park super stream. It is gorgeous, with lovely overhanging trees, fast-moving water tumbling over rocks and around deep pools, and it is positioned perfectly to capture the reflection of the setting sun.

This special spot is tucked away on a little-known road in the park. We will be here, and many other unique and beautiful places in the park, on the upcoming photo tour April 22-27.

I was honored that this image won high acclaim from a national professional photography association. While that sort of recognition is very gratifying, it is more important to me that it is one of my personal favorites. It is always nice to hear good things about any image, but it is even better when one of your images touches your own heart and brings you joy. After all, it is the personal love and passion for photography that drives most of us to create the best images we can.

When photographing moving water, I prefer the look achieved by using a slow shutter speed. The shutter speed that works best will vary widely, depending on how fast the water is moving, and whether it is moving toward / away from you, or is moving across your field of view.

Shoot a whole series from the same vantage point using different shutter speeds. Start with a shutter speed of about half a second, and then increase the length of time with each successive shot. So do the first shot at half a second, then next one at one second, then 2 seconds, and so on up to about 5 or 6 seconds. Then, after you download the images at the end of the day, you can see the differences and select the one(s) that you like best.

Set the ISO at 100 and shoot early or late in the day for the best light. At those times of day it is easy to use slow shutter speeds. If you shoot around mid-day and the light is too bright to allow you to use slow shutter speeds, use either a polarizer or a 9 or 10-stop neutral density filter to reduce the shutter speed.

To perfect your skills at this, and to see some of the best wildflower displays anywhere in the country, join me on the Smokies WILDFLOWERS AND WILDWATER photo tour. Only 2 spaces left. Details here

Shutter Speed 2 seconds.  Aperture f/32.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 93mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: [applies to both the Super Bowl AND photography]
"Some days are simply meant for playing."  --Mary Ann Radmacher

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wildflowers In The Great Smoky Mountains

Springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains is a blooming bonanza. Wildflowers are everywhere. Over 1000 species bloom in the park, with some of the most beautiful specimens I have seen. Some of my favorites are columbine (above), trillium, lady slippers,  dwarf wild iris, and showy orchis (that's not a typo, it is indeed "orchis").

If you want to photograph wildflowers in a pristine environment, and improve your creativity when shooting flowers, wild flowing streams, and great scenery, come join me in the Smokies April 22-27. It will be a feast for your eyes, and you will return home with some spectacular images.

This image was shot in the mid-afternoon on a sunny day, but the flowers were in the shadow of a rocky outcropping which created lovely soft light that really punched the colors. Learning how to see the light, and how to use it to your best advantage will elevate your images to a whole new level.

Composition is also important, and this image was carefully thought out. I positioned myself so that the main bloom was centered between the two buds in the background. I then tipped the camera slightly so the flower was angled, which created a stronger composition than having it in a straight vertical position.

Small details can make or break an image. All Awake The Light photo workshops and tours strive to provide you with an array of information and suggestions that will make your images much stronger. Only 2 spaces left, so now is the time to act. Details here

Call 757-773-0194 or email to register.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Flowers ... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, February 1, 2016

Glacier Bay National Park Alaska

Just another day in the paradise that is Alaska. Glacier Bay, the home of humpback whales, sea otters, puffins, glaciers, and some of the world's most dramatic mountain scenery is a photographer's dream come true.

This scene was shot from our private chartered boat on a bright sunny day when the Bay was calm. The clouds were clinging to the mountaintops, and a sense of peace was all around us.

In spite of the brightness of the day, the original RAW image looked flat and colorless. That is a common problem with digital images. As I have said so many times, Lightroom came to the rescue. Here is the RAW image before any work was done on it.
As you can see, the color was very muted and the whites looked dull and lacked detail.

After a couple of minutes using Lightroom, the image came to life. I have been asked many times if other software can do the same thing as Lightroom. So far I have not found anything that works as well, as easily, or as quickly as Lightroom.

If this looks like a place you would like to visit and photograph, come with me to Glacier Bay Alaska in August. You can find details on the Awake The Light website here  It is a spectacular trip with private boat charters, a superb lodge, and great photographic instruction. Only 5 spaces left.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/16.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 140mm. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Earth and sky,...  the mountains and the sea,... teach us more than we can ever learn from books."  --John Lubbock

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Wanna Be Here?

Then come to Alaska! This lovely lodge can be your home away from home on the Glacier Bay National Park photo tour coming up in August. We stay here for 5 glorious days on our trip to photograph whales, sea otters, puffins, glaciers, and gorgeous scenery. Details here

You don't want to miss this trip, or this lodge. Only 5 spaces left!

This shot was made with an iPhone 6. I rarely use my iPhone camera function, but it worked well for this shot. I was standing at the top of the stairs, and with the nice wide angle view the iPhone provides, it gave great coverage of the lodge's lobby. I propped my elbows on the banister to steady the shot, since when shooting with a smartphone you never know what your shutter speed will be.

Because of how bright it was outside, the lobby interior was a bit underexposed. But as usual, Lightroom came to the rescue. By using the Shadows slider to lighten up the interior, the shot looks much better. When dealing with dark images in Lightroom, do NOT use the Exposure slider except as a lost resort. The Exposure slider changes everything in the image, and had I used it for this shot everything would have gotten lighter, including the areas outside the windows and the lights in the antler chandelier. Instead, the Shadows slider just affected the areas that needed it, and left the light areas alone.

Shutter Speed 1/30 sec.  Aperture f/2.2.  ISO 160.  Apple iPhone 6.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do."  --B.F. Skinner

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

After The Storm

While most of the east coast was getting hammered with last weekend's huge snowstorm, here at the Outer Banks of North Carolina we were getting hit with torrential rains. This grassy field was transformed into a temporary lake. And that provided an unusual delicate reflection where there normally is none.

The horizon line is fairly centered, resulting in a balanced composition. A centered horizon usually conveys a sense of peace and calm.

The horizontal cloud formations tied in with the stripes on the lighthouse, and added a bit of interest to the background. 

The Graduated Filter in Lightroom was used to darken the sky at the top, and the water-covered grass at the bottom. Use of this technique added more punch than was there on the bright sunny morning.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec. Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Sigma 15mm f/2.8 diagonal fisheye. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse, while all the others were making ships."  --Charles Simic

Friday, January 22, 2016


Yes I took this selfie in a plane, but no I am not a pilot. What fun it is to fly in the small planes that are everywhere in Alaska! Small privately owned aircraft are as common in Alaska as cars are in most cities. That's partly because some areas are accessible only by air, and partly because it is the best way to cover vast distances in less time.

Often the planes fly at an altitude of about 1000 feet and you can get great views of the land below and the mountains in the distance. On the flight into the grizzly bear location I like best there are superb views of winding rivers below us and distant glaciers. And at the end of the flight we land on the beach right at the lodge's doorstep. What fun!

When flying to Glacier Bay we fly across these rich waters and sometimes get glimpses of whales cruising along beneath us. Flying in small planes is a great way to travel. The pilots treat their planes like their children and maintain them very carefully.

And why the headset? When in flight, the pilot explains where we are and what areas we are crossing. So we all look a bit like Mickey Mouse, but can easily communicate with the pilot and our fellow passengers.

Not that the excitement of flying in Alaska is the main reason to go there, but it is an added thrill to some Awake The Light photo trips.

There are a few openings left in two Alaska trips this year. The GLACIER BAY  trip August 28 - September 2, information here      And the BROWN BEARS BONANZA September 3 - September 9 

Reserve your spot now, and come fly with me!

Shutter Speed 1/60 sec.  Aperture f/2.2.  ISO 32.  Camera: Apple iPhone 6.  Handheld and NO selfie stick!

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Be one with the principle of flight, the magic of being aloft in the wind!"  -Richard Bach

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

10 Essential Tips For Traveling With Camera Gear

The January newsletter is out! It has a great article on the 10 Essential Tips For Traveling With Photo Gear. If you are not a subscriber to our FREE monthly e-newsletter, send us an email with YES in the subject line and we will start your subscription right away! You can view this month's newsletter here

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 138mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ballhead, Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited."  -Plutarch

Saturday, January 16, 2016

North To Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park Alaska provided a rare opportunity to see a spectacular Northern Lights display early in the season. This was shot during my most recent trip there in late August last summer. I'm excited to be bringing a photo group back there this coming August. There are still a few spaces available.

With the Northern Lights, you never know when they will be visible, or how long they will dance around the sky. We were lucky and hit it right, going outside our lodge around 1AM. As if on schedule, there they were, all around us. They flowed across the sky in all directions. We had options of shooting nearly anyplace we aimed our cameras.

I was thrilled that everyone in the group got superb images. And no one complained about being up in the middle of the night!

I hope to be treated to a similar display when I return there with a group August 28 - September 2. Of course we will also take chartered boat trips to photograph whales, sea otters, puffins, and the famous glaciers.

There are only 5 spaces left, so please make contact right away to reserve your spot. Details are on the Awake The Light website here

Shutter Speed 15 seconds.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "This was one of the places people told me to go. It was one of the big trips you should take: Alaska."  --Jeff Goldblum

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blondes Have More Fun

Early morning at one of the best grizzly bear locations in Alaska. This blonde beauty was out for a stroll, searching for some tasty salmon for breakfast. Grizzlies have such appealing faces, especially the coastal bears in Alaska. Since there is plenty of food in these rich waters, they are perfectly content for us to be there photographing them, and they barely pay any attention to us.

We go out each day in ATVs with all our gear and a superb driver / guide. He gets us in the best position for good backgrounds and good light on the bears.

We are able to get safely close enough to not need huge, heavy long lenses. I use a 100-400mm zoom with a 1.4x extender and that provides a great range for both full-body and close-up shots. The lens is light enough that I can hand hold it for long periods of time if necessary, although I always have a tripod with me as well.

For wildlife photography, this is the best of the best. We stay in a classic Alaska lodge with beautiful rooms and great meals. We are driven to the bears each day, and do not have to carry our gear. The light is beautiful at any time of day, and the bears are very cooperative.

If this appeals to you, join me in Alaska for the BROWN BEAR BONANZA photo tour, September 3 - 9.  The trip is already half-full, so don't delay if you want to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Details are on the website here

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f.8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II + Canon 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen."  --A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Springtime In The Great Smoky Mountains

Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a paradise. Many species of wildflowers are in bloom, and the beautiful streams that the park is known for are fast-flowing and lovely to photograph.

In addition to the incredible opportunities to photograph flowers and lush streams, the sunrises are the best around. Mist rises from the deep valleys as the sun kisses the land at break of day. As many times as I have photographed in the Smokies, I have never tired of it.

This image was shot at sunrise from the top of Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the park reachable by car. No two sunrises are ever the same, and each time there is the excited anticipation of what Mother Nature might provide.

I'm thrilled to be returning to the Smokies this coming April, and invite you to join me on this fantastic photo workshop. The WILDFLOWERS AND WILDWATER workshop runs from April 22 - 27. We will have many shooting days filled with visual treats and personal instruction. Each day will be unique and will provide opportunities for superb flower and scenic photography. We often also see black bear, wild turkeys, deer, and more.

So come along to have fun and learn a lot. All Awake The Light photo workshops and tours are known for their in-depth personal instruction, great shooting opportunities, and abundance of fun.


For more details see our website here

If you have questions or want to register, please call us at 757-773-0194 or email

Shutter Speed 3/10ths sec.  Aperture f/32.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 176mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick. 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it."  -Jules Renard