Friday, January 24, 2020

Abstracts Are Awesome

Abstracts can be incredibly creative. Any subject will do - wildlife, scenics, buildings, flowers, you name it and then create it!

There are no rules or restrictions when creating abstract images. Just go with your gut and see what you can find that will work well as an abstract.

This is an early morning scene at the shore. The sun was not yet above the horizon, so the lighting was soft and even, and the colors were beautiful. A long exposure allowed the movement of the breaking waves to appear somewhat mushy and almost cloud-like.

Next time you are out shooting, look for things that might work as abstracts. Look at the entire scene or entire subject, and then "zoom" in with your eyes to find an abstract shape, or a series of lines, or colors that merge well.

The best approach is to shoot a lot of different subjects, each time allowing your eyes to view small details of the whole, and then put the camera to your eye to see how best to frame the shot. Not all your attempts will be winners. But you will end up with some amazing images if you allow yourself to just let go, and look deeper into the subject or scene for an image within the image.

1/2 sec. at f/11, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "To get into your Creative Zone, view your subject quietly, and slow down. If you do that, the image will almost create itself." -- Mollie Isaacs

Sunday, January 19, 2020

JUST ANNOUNCED - Creative Flowers Master Class

If you love flowers and want to catapult your creativity to the next level, this Master Class is for you. Don't let the name intimidate you. You do not have to be a "master' to take this workshop, but you will be well on your way to that level by the end of the week.

This is a full-immersion experience where you will discover how to tap into your creative core like never before. Soar past the mundane and the traditional, and begin to see things in a whole new light. You will see the world with fresh eyes, and will learn how to break the rules effectively.

And you will gain the experience and freedom of shooting without a tripod.

Each day will be filled with shooting, helpful critiques, personal attention, improving your Lightroom skills, and lots of information you need in order to create more beautiful and compelling flower images. And all of this will take place at one of the world's most beautiful gardens, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Throughout the week you will learn a wide variety of creative ideas and approaches. You will learn how to recognize "good" light, how to use line, shape, and color, how to control the background, and so much more.

Here is a sneak peek of one of the creative techniques you will learn.
This is the original RAW file of the image at the top of the Blog. Notice the messy background, and the extra stem showing. This was shot at Longwood Gardens in one of their nursery areas, and was the closest I could get to this flower with the lens I had handy. But the orchid was so perfect and beautiful that I had to shoot it in hopes that it could be turned into something creative and worthy of its beauty.

 It is quite a transformation, using simple techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop.

In the workshop you will learn easy ways to add new backgrounds or textures, as was done in this image. You will take control of your images in new and exciting ways. And you will begin to find the artist within you by the end of the week. All of this will take place in an easy-going and stress-free environment.

The best news is that this is like two workshops in one - improve your artistic vision AND learn new, easy, and creative ways of working with Lightroom and Photoshop.

WHERE: Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

WHEN: April 27 - 30

LIMIT: 12 photographers

FEE: Regularly $2495, but register before February 29 for the Special Discount rate of $1995. 

FEE INCLUDES: Personalized attention, daily instruction, image critiques, creative ideas and approaches, Lightroom tips and tricks, Photoshop techniques, and all garden entry fees.
NOT included are lodging, meals, transportation, and personal incidentals. Special lodging rates have been arranged.

Monday, April 27  -  Workshop begins at 7PM with a Welcome and Teaching Session
Tues., Wed., and Thurs.,  April 28, 29, and 30  -  each day is filled with creative shooting time at the Gardens, Lightroom and Photoshop instruction, image critiques, discussion of creative techniques, and fun! Workshop ends at 5PM on Thursday, April 30.

TO REGISTER:  Call or email Mollie with questions or to register. I hope you can join me!

1/640 sec at f/6.3, ISO 400. Sigma 15mm rectangular fisheye lens on Canon 7D Mark II body, handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Creativity doesn't wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones."  -- Bruce Garrabrandt

Friday, January 10, 2020

Approaching Antarctica

Actually seeing Antarctica for the first time is about as exciting as it gets. As we approached, we could see the leading edge of its islands. This scene was reminiscent of drawings of the mythical Atlantis. The mountains seemed to rise straight out of the water, almost floating on its surface.

Because our winter is the southern hemisphere's summer, we experienced 24 hours of daylight. The sun never dips below the horizon. This was shot at about 10PM, and you can see just hints of pale sunset color.

The water was incredibly calm, and the reflections added greatly to this image.

Reflections, light quality and light direction can make or break an image. Whenever possible, look for directional or dramatic lighting. When the sun is relatively low in the sky, it enhances the strength and the beauty of whatever you are photographing. Conversely, shooting in the mid-day sun provides flatter, less exciting lighting.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying to avoid shooting at mid-day. For wildlife photography in particular, we have to shoot when the animals are visible and exhibiting some sort of behavior, no matter the time of day. But when you can, look for beautiful directional light. It will make your images come alive.

1/320 sec at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 24mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet."  --Bobby Unser

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Drama Queen

While I was in Chile I saw some absolutely beautiful flowers. This columbine was blooming in the garden on one of ranches ("estancias", as they are called) where we stayed. The flower was perfect and beautiful, but the surroundings not so much.

So I used the LensBaby Sol 45 to add a creative blur which certainly helped. But as you can see in this Before version, even that was not enough to make the flower the star of the show.
So Lightroom came to the rescue. I wanted the flower to stand out, but I also wanted the tall stem behind it and the mottled background to add to the story.

The strong sunlight caused the leaves in the background to appear almost white, and they needed to be toned down in order to not take attention away from the flower.

And overall, the background competed with the flower and also needed to be toned down.

Here are the tools used in Lightroom to change this image into a more dramatic rendition of the scene. But first a word of caution - this degree of drama changes the look of the actual scene and might not be allowed in certain photo competitions. So if you plan to enter nature competitions, be sure to check the rules and make sure that these sorts of major changes are allowed. Note that nothing in this image was actually changed or eliminated, but even so, it does render the scene completely differently from the original. In this case I was going for a dramatic look, and not a standard shot of the scene itself.

Steps used in Lightroom:
- reduced Whites and Highlights to tone down the bright leaves in the background
- used the Green luminance slider in the HSL box to tone down the greens in the background
- used the Purple luminance slider in the HSL box to brighten the tone of the flower
- used the Graduated Filter tool to tone down the background even more
- used the Brush Tool to darken small areas in the background that the Graduated Filter tool missed
- reduced Noise to 30
- increased Clarity to 30

That's it. It doesn't sound like much, but those few steps in Lightroom helped to turn this image into a much more dramatic scene.

1/320 sec., f/3.5 (fixed aperture on LensBaby Sol 45), ISO 400. LensBaby Sol 45 lens on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."  --Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, December 31, 2019


A New Year. A fresh start. What better way to illustrate this than with a young animal. This baby guanaco and its mother walk in perfect step, protected in the safety of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia Chile.

The following beautiful and insightful New Year’s greeting was sent to me by a friend. She does not know where it originated, but found it long ago and kept it. I have modified it slightly, but essentially it is as written. It struck a chord with me, so I am passing it along to you. 

"May we break down boundaries, tear down walls, and build on the foundation of goodness inside each of us.
May we look past differences, gain understanding and embrace acceptance. May we reach out to each other, rather than find reasons for division.
May we be better stewards of the earth, protecting, nurturing, and replenishing the beauties of nature.
May we practice gratitude for all we have, rather than complain about our needs.
May we seek cures for the sick, and help the hungry, the needy, and the lonely.
May we share our talents, give our time, and teach our children about love and tolerance rather than hatred and division.
May we take action to seek justice for all who inhabit our planet.
May we hold hope for the future very tenderly in our hearts, and do all we can to build for bright tomorrows.
And may we love with our whole hearts, for that is the only way to love."  --origins unknown

Each new year gives us the chance to start fresh, to rethink and reset our goals, and to make it a better year than the one before. I thank each and every one of you for helping to make 2019 such a stellar year for me personally, as well as for Awake The Light Photo Workshops. 2020 will be even bigger and better!

I wish you a spectacular 2020, filled with joy, wonderful photographic opportunities, good health, great times, and a touch of whimsy.


1/400 sec, f/16, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 189mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holiday Greetings




I returned home today from my travels in Patagonia and Antarctica. What a trip. It was superb and beyond my wildest dreams! Because of limited internet service I was unable to post a Blog while I was away, but I did post some images on Facebook. You can check them out at this link

The image in this blog was taken in Antarctica on a beautiful day with calm seas and blue skies. Antarctica is the most amazing and breath-taking place I have ever been. Its pristine beauty, expansive wildness, its wildlife, soaring mountains and massive icebergs have made a deep and permanent mark on me. I am already dreaming of going back.

I wish each of you a joyous and peaceful holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, I hope it will be filled with warmth, and the love of family and friends.

At this special time of year it helps to think back and appreciate all the wonderful things in our lives. I am grateful for all the opportunities and spectacular travels that photography has provided me. And I am also grateful for your support and encouragement. I cherish my family and friends, my clients, and this amazing planet that sustains us. May we preserve and nurture Mother Earth since she is the only home we have.

1/2500 sec. at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 120mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on our blessings and seek out ways to make life better for those around us."  --Terri Marshall

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Off To The Ends Of The Earth

I leave today for the ends of the earth. I am headed to Patagonia and Antarctica, two places I have never been before. It is an exciting scouting trip for possible group trips in the future. 

These are two locations I have always wanted to see. Will spend about a week in Patagonia photographing the sweeping landscapes, glaciers, and wildlife like puma and guanaco. Then will spend about 5 days in Antarctica photographing icebergs and various penguin species, and possibly whales and other wildlife. Antarctica is one of the last pristine areas left on Earth. It is largely untouched and unpopulated.

Since I have never been in this part of the world before, today's image is a closeup of an iceberg in Alaska. 

I will be in some remote areas with minimal internet service so it might be awhile before I can post another Blog entry. Will try to update you when I can.

1/1000 sec. at f/8, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 300mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If Antarctica were music, it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it."  --Andrew Denton

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

At the start of the holiday season, 
I wish you joyous and peaceful times

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."  --Melody Beattie

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

May your Thanksgiving be filled with family and friends, 
love and laughter, and the joy of life. 
And as always, Seize The Day!


Friday, November 22, 2019

More Lightroom Magic

Here is another example of how much Lightroom can improve an image easily and quickly. I was walking along the rocky shoreline in Juneau, Alaska last summer and saw this still life scene. One of the things I love about walking on the beach or along the edge of any body of water is to see what I can find. I don't always find something photogenic, but when I do, it is exciting. I never move or add any elements. If it is there and it looks interesting just as it is, I will photograph it. So when I came across this feather and rock, I was excited.

But the original RAW image was not as punchy as this final version, nor did I get as close to the subject as I should have. Here is the original before anything was done in Lightroom.
It is flat, rather blah, and not cropped in tightly enough. While the scene excited me when I came across it, the RAW image was quite disappointing. Frankly I was ready to delete it, but decided to try some post-processing in Lightroom to see if anything could be done to make it more visually appealing.

The first step was to crop it to eliminate much of the unnecessary background. Then it was time to go to work on bringing out the whites and the blacks that were there, but hidden.

Here are the steps I used to turn this into the final version at the top of the Blog. [Note: While your first instinct might be to use the Contrast slider to create more punch, that is not the best approach. In fact, I almost never use the Contrast slider. I find it is much better to make changes in small, controllable, incremental steps, rather than to make global changes that affect the entire image all at once. By controlling the Blacks, Whites, Shadows, and Highlights individually you will achieve much better results. ]

1. Move the Blacks slider to -100 to create deeper blacks.

2. Move the Clarity slider to +30 to boost mid-tone contrast.

3. Use the Graduated Filter tool to darken all areas around the feather. I brought the tool in from each of the 4 corners so that the rocks and sand were darkened, but not the feather or the rock on top of it.

4. Even though the image was shot in color, all the tones were either gray, white, or black so I converted it to a Black and White image in Lightroom to give it a full monochromatic look.

That's it. Four easy steps that made a big difference to the final image.

1/1000 sec. at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 105mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Found objects, chance creations.... The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen."  -- Charles Simic

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Lightroom To The Rescue

As I have written many times before, Lightroom is my go-to software for post-processing. It is fast, powerful, easy to use, and if you make any mistakes or misjudgments, you can always go back and change whatever you want to.

This image is a great example of the power of Lightroom. It was shot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a very overcast and misty day. Here is the original RAW image, before any Lightroom adjustments.
As you can see, it is a very blah, unexciting image. The mist obliterates most of the color and detail in the image. While the original scene was misty, it did not appear this gray and murky to my eyes. This is the kind of image that, when you first see it on your computer screen after downloading it, you instantly want to delete it as a "loser." But it pays to not be too hasty in that decision. At least take a few minutes to attempt some post-processing to see if there are hidden details that Lightroom can bring out and make better.

Only 5 easy steps were needed in Lightroom to bring out the hidden qualities in this image. Here are the steps used (note that the order of these steps, and the amount of change needed, will vary image by image - there are no hard and fast rules since each image is different and will need various amounts of changes):

1. Moved the Whites slider to +58 to increase the light tones.
2. Moved the Blacks slider to -31 to decrease the dark tones.
3. Moved the Clarity slider to +30 to increase mid-tone contrast.
4. Increase Saturation to +86 to improve color.
5. Dehaze filter to cut through the mist. (note that not all the haze has been removed - since it was a misty day I wanted some of that quality to still show in the image)

So when you first look at your images after downloading and see some that look, well, pretty bad, don't be too hasty to delete them. Take a few minutes to try a few things in Lightroom to see if you can reveal the hidden beauty that is most likely there.

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."  --Confucius