Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Beautiful Brown Bears of Alaska


Spending time with the brown bears of coastal Alaska is an experience every photographer who enjoys wildlife should have at least once in their lives. Two words best describe them - beautiful and compelling. These bears are very human-like, and even though they are completely wild, the coastal bears are not concerned by our presence. They are calm and go about their daily routines right before our eyes.

After a short time with these bears, you realize that each one has a different face, and you will begin to recognize each one. And they are more entertaining than a TV sit-com. The cubs romp and play, they chase each other and engage in mock fighting. But when mom utters a barely audible huffing sound, they snap to attention and immediately obey her command.

And there are tender moments as well. Watching cubs nurse is a special experience to observe and photograph. And the strong bond between mothers and cubs is obvious and endearing.

I return to this same location year after year because of the amazing images we can get, and how easy it is to photograph these special animals. We are transported in ATV's with all our gear very close to where the bears are. Our experienced guide gets us in good locations where the light is right and the action is best.

I also return year after year because our lodge is very close to the bear action, and is a very pampering place to return to after a day of shooting. It is a classic Alaska lodge, with great food and nicely decorated rooms. I reserve the entire lodge, so everything is done on our schedule and with only us in mind. 

This is an exclusive workshop open to only 8 photographers. Group size is kept small so that you can receive personalized attention and be in positions to get the best shots. These bears are so mellow that they are do not react to our presence. Often they will walk fairly close to us, allowing some superb close up shots. Huge lenses are NOT needed.

Learn the nuances of nature photography in a truly wild atmosphere. Join me in Alaska July 15 - 21 for a world-class experience.

TECH SPECS
Shutter speeds between 1/1000 and 1/2500 sec. at f/8. ISO 400 to 800. Canon 100-400mm lens with 1.4x extender on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Sometimes you get no second chance, and it's best to accept the gifts the world offers you."  -- Paolo Coelho

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Silk Purse From A Sow's Ear


 Sometimes you know what you want and you just have to keep trying until you get it. I photographed this dwarf dogwood on last month's Alaska trip during a short hike to a lovely pristine lake. The plant was a little past its prime, but the simple shape of the flower and the beautifully veined leaves really appealed to me.

It was along the edge of the trail, with not a great background. These grow very low to the ground so there was no hope of using shallow depth of field to blur the background. Here is the original RAW image.
BEFORE
The first step was to minimize the background by darkening it with the Gradient Filter tool in Lightroom.That helped some, but it was not the look I wanted. After trying a few other approaches that did not work, I decided to try converting it to black-and-white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I went through many of the pre-sets, and finally found the one that really made this plant "pop." The super dark leaves and the bright white flower were just what I was hoping for. The entire background disappeared, and the flower took center stage.


Taking an ordinary image and making it into something more artistic is a great creative exercise. It might take some patience and perseverance to find the look that works for you, but it is well worth the time to find the right approach. Unless you want to really go overboard, try to use a light touch with whatever filters or techniques you choose. While this is a very dramatic, not totally realistic rendition of this plant, it still preserves its beauty, the lines, and the shapes that caught my eye in the first place.

TECH SPECS
1/80 sec. at f/9, ISO 800. Panasonic G9 with Leica 12-60mm f/2.8-4 lens set at 60mm. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th."  --Julie Andrews

Saturday, August 11, 2018

To Stay Or Go?


Shortly after we arrived at Lake Clark National Park, the best place to photograph brown bears in Alaska, our guide drove us around to get the best vantage point. As we drove past the mud flats, we saw another group of photographers with this lone bear.

The bear was walking slowly toward the group, and apparently the three people at the back decided it was time to retreat. But the 4-some closer to the bear were content to keep on shooting. FYI, you do always want to keep your distance from any wild animal. But if one approaches you slowly and calmly, generally the animal is just interested in walking by, not attacking. Even so, you do want to back away slowly, giving the animal a wide berth. And of course you never want to run.

We had an incredible week with great bear images of moms and cubs, cubs nursing, cubs sparring, great weather, and a special boat trip to a puffin breeding colony.

If you want to get amazing photographs of brown bears in the wilds of Alaska, join me on next year's trip. It is scheduled for July 15 - 21, 2019. Read complete details at this link  http://awakethelight.com/brown-bears/

Please email me with questions. I hope you can join me!

TECH SPECS
1/2500 sec. at f/9, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm lens with 1.4x extender for a focal length of 560mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Alive, the grizzly bear is a symbol of freedom and understanding - a sign that man can learn to conserve what is left of the earth. Extinct, it will be another fading testimony to things man should have learned more about but was too preoccupied with himself to notice."  -- Frank Craighead

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Taking A Creative Break


Since getting back from Alaska, I have been taking some time to edit the over 20,000 images I took. It is a HUGE task, so I decided to take a creative break and experiment with some non-nature and non-wildlife images.

As you recall, I was testing out the Panasonic G9 mirrorless body and several Leica lenses. Panasonic had loaned me the body and several lenses, including the 45mm macro (equivalent to 90mm on a full frame sensor) to test. I find colorful glassware is a great subject for macro and abstracts, and that was the subject for this shot. It is a small glass bowl from a museum gift shop.

Here is the original RAW image uncropped. When I took this shot I was just getting the feel of the macro lens and was not concerned about composition.
BEFORE
I was just firing off shots. But in looking at it on my computer screen, the area I have outlined in black got my attention. I have found that with both my Canon gear and the Panasonic system, extensive cropping can still produce some exciting and usable images (as long as you do not want to make 6-foot wide prints for your living room wall!). So I cropped the image as shown, and optimized it in Lightroom. Nothing extreme was done, but because of the colors and the shapes, an interesting image began to appear.


The steps in Lightroom were simple. Here is what I did, after cropping:
1.  reduced Clarity to minus 60 to create a softer look;
2.  boosted Vibrance to +100 (I rarely go this far with either Vibrance or Saturation, but when creating an artistic image, going a bit overboard is OK);
3.  in the HSL box, increased the Saturation of blue, yellow, and orange;
4.  used the Graduated Filter tool to darken the lower right and entire left side;
5.  used the Luminance slider to reduce noise.

Because of the extreme crop, the reduced Clarity, and the boosted colors, the entire image took on a somewhat surreal look which is the artsy look I was hoping for. No filters or other software was used.

So now I can go back to the tedious task of editing!

TECH SPECS
1/100 sec. at f/2.8, ISO 1600. Panasonic G9 body with Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, August 6, 2018

Alaska's Crown Jewel - Glacier Bay National Park


World famous. Filled with glaciers and wildlife and pristine waters. Join me in the vast wilderness of Glacier Bay National Park next June 25 - 30.

WHALES   -   GLACIERS   -   PUFFINS   -   SEALS

PRIVATE BOAT TRIPS   -   AND MUCH MORE!

Spend a wonderful week in a beautiful lodge with superb chef-prepared meals, surrounded by some of Alaska's most pristine wilderness. This official World Heritage Site is not to be missed.

Our private boat trips will get us into prime whale territory, surrounded by Alaska's famous mountains. The photographic opportunities are endless.

Limited to only 10 photographers, this is the best Glacier Bay photo trip available.

Fee includes round-trip flight from Juneau to Glacier Bay, all lodging and meals in Glacier Bay, ground transportation, personal attention and in-the-field training, all boat trips, guide services, image reviews, and tips.

More details at  www.awakethelight.com

For more information or to register, 
please email me at awakethelight@charter.net 
or call me at 757-773-0194.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet (Almost)



I had the fabulous privilege of spending a morning on Duck Island, a tiny rocky outpost in the Cook Inlet, southeast of Anchorage, Alaska, during Mollie’s (Awake The Light) Brown Bear Bonanza Tour. We observed and photographed beautiful and entertaining puffins. We saw both horned puffins (Fratercula corniculata) and tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata), with the horned puffins being much more prevalent.

These interesting birds look like little clowns in tuxedos.  They have large colorful beaks, stocky bodies, short wings and colorful orange feet with dark black feathers above while their breast feathers are a pristine white.  They come to land only during the summer to breed and raise their young, spending most of their lives at sea.  We enjoyed watching them run across the surface of the water as they took to the air and careened around the hills and rocks of the island as they flew out to gather fish, and then returned to the nest. 

It is a formidable challenge to capture these speedy birds in flight as they are incredibly fast and change direction frequently and just as quickly.  They fly at speeds up to 55 mph with up to 400 wingbeats per minute!  Waiting for them to roost on a sunny rock makes photographing the little critters a much easier task!  At times the birds swooped just over our heads or passed between us on the sandy beach.  Hundreds of birds flying in every direction made it difficult to decide which way to point the camera. 

I found that observing the birds for awhile and determining their flight patterns made it easier to follow them.  I checked the best sun angle, then tracked them and waited for them to cross a patch of blue sky before pressing the shutter in high speed burst mode.  The results were some amazing sharply focused birds, with some puffins carrying twigs or fish back to the nest. To be honest, there were also a number of images with fuzzy puffins, puffin body parts or clear blue sky, but those are easily deleted in favor of the prize catches.  If you like a challenge, shooting puffins in flight is definitely a demanding test and tons of fun!

[Editor’s Note: Dee is one of the best bird photographers I have ever seen. She understands their habits, and pays attention to wind direction, and the direction of the light as well. And she can instantly lift the camera to her eye, focus, pan, and zero in on awesome shots in a heartbeat. Next year’s exciting Brown Bears and Puffins trip is already scheduled for July 15 – 21, 2019. Get all the details at this link  http://awakethelight.com/brown-bears/  ]

TECH SPECS
Shutter speeds ranging from 1/3200 to 1/8000 sec at f/8, ISO 2000. Canon 7D Mark II body with Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II lens, set from 135mm to 400mm. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."  --Eleanor Roosevelt 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

JUST ANNOUNCED - Bosque del Apache, New Mexico, November 2018


Just announced! Photo workshop at
Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, November 19 - 23, 2018

Join me at one of the best bird photography locations anywhere. We will be there at the height of the fall migration of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. Thousands and thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes come to Bosque del Apache each year.

Each morning we will witness one of Mother Nature's most amazing shows - thousands of Snow Geese lifting off in unison to forage for the day. At about sunrise, the entire mass of Snow Geese lifts off from the ponds in an overwhelming display of sights and sounds. It is something you have to witness for yourself.

We will photograph these elegant birds in early morning and late evening light. Mid-day there will be Lightroom instruction and image critiques. It will be an incredible week with fantastic photo opportunities.

Fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is about an hour's drive from the airport to our workshop location.

WHERE: Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

WHEN: November 19 - 23, 2018

LIMIT: 10 photographers

FEE: $1895.00

FEE INCLUDES: Personalized attention, daily instruction, guide service, image critiques, creative ideas and approaches, Lightroom tips and tricks, and more. [NOT included - lodging, meals, transportation, Wildlife Refuge entry fees.]

FLEXIBLE ITINERARY (subject to change): Workshop begins on the afternoon of Monday, November 19, and ends after the morning shoot on Friday, November 23. 
Each additional day, November 20, 21, and 22, we will have both early morning and late afternoon shoots. This will provide the best light, and the best sunrise and sunset colors.  Mid-day times will include teaching sessions and critiques.

TO REGISTER: Call Mollie at 757-773-0194 with questions or to register. 


Friday, July 20, 2018

Puffins and Bear Cubs and Moms, oh my!


The always incredible Alaska Brown Bears and Puffins trip ended yesterday, and wow did everyone get superb images! I was blown away by the variety and great quality of what they captured.

We take over the entire lodge in Lake Clark National Park for some of the best bear viewing anywhere. Because it is just us at the lodge, the timing of exploring for bears and photographing them is entirely under our control. Our guide is there only for us, plus mealtimes are on our schedule. Perfect bear photography in all respects.

Finding the bears is easy. They are pretty much everywhere, and we are transported by our guide aboard our ATV to their locations. 

Add to that our special half-day boat trip to the nearby Puffin Island, and you have the best of both worlds.

Next year's trip is already scheduled - July 15 - 21, 2019. Complete details at this link  http://awakethelight.com/brown-bears/

Please email me with questions.

TECH SPECS
All images shot with Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens IS II on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Photography is a love affair with life."  -- Burk Uzzle

Friday, July 13, 2018

Experience Of A Lifetime


I just returned today from an 8-day chartered yacht trip in Alaska's Inside Passage. What a trip it was! This is the second year I have done this trip with a group of photographers, and it just keeps getting better and better.

We were lucky and found a group of humpback whales engaging in bubble net feeding behavior. This was something I had always wanted to witness, so this was a real thrill.

We watched and photographed this action for over 2 hours. The whales would locate a large school of herring, and then form a group underwater to corral the fish into a small circular "net" created by bubbles that the whales would blow. Once the fish were trapped in the net of bubbles, the whales would lunge upward out of the water as a group and devour large amounts of herring in each gulp.

We had hydrophones and could hear the whale calls underwater, and our guide identified the distinctive high pitched sound made right before the group would lunge upward to gulp the fish in large numbers.

Circling seagulls overhead helped us pinpoint the approximate location of each lunge.

Scientists believe that this behavior indicates a high level of intelligence, and sophisticated communication among groups of whales. It certainly was awe-inspiring and very exciting to witness and to photograph.

TECH SPECS
1/800 sec. at f/9, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is often said that play is the greatest expression of intelligence, and whales and dolphins are among the most playful in the animal kingdom."  -- U.S Whales.com

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Always Surprises


Many times when I am traveling, I come across subjects that I never expected to see. This trip to Alaska is no different. I am here with two different photo groups for whale-watching and brown bear photography. We are not in this incredible place for flowers. And yet, with long sunny days, the flowers burst forth in profusion, and are healthy and large.

This gorgeous patch of columbine was growing in a cultivated bed near Juneau. And these blooms were huge!

So while I was hoping to see eagles swooping overhead, they did not. But these flowers filled the bill for a wonderful photographic opportunity. I shot these with the long telephoto lens (100-400mm) that was on the camera in anticipation of eagles. But it is relatively easy to get great flower images with a long lens, if you back up a bit so the lens will be able to focus on closer subjects. One advantage of shooting flowers with a telephoto lens is that the background goes nicely soft as long as you use a relatively large aperture.

This image has been optimized in Lightroom to bring out the one bloom that is sharp. Below is the Before RAW image, before cropping or optimization. Compare the After image above to the Before image here.
BEFORE
 Lightroom made quite a difference. In the After image above, I toned down the background and the entire right side of the image, and lightened the sharp bloom to make it stand it out more.

So the point of today's Blog is that no matter where you go, no matter what you expect to be shooting, always be open to other opportunities. You never know what wonderful images might happen.

TECH SPECS
1/1000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 400. Panasonic 100-400mm Leica f/4-6.3 lens set at 400mm on Panasonic G9 body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "One thing is for sure: no matter how organized we are, or how well we plan, we can always expect the unexpected."  --Brandon Jenner