Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

The leaves turn from green to red and gold, and we pause to give thanks for all that we have - family, friends, health, and the joys of photography. 

Wishing you a warm and happy Thanksgiving 

filled with laughter and love. 



"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come from getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."  --Frederick Koenig

"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."  --Seneca

"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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Great TV Series for Photographers

If you subscribe to the Netflix streaming service, there is a superb photography program that I highly recommend. It is "Tales By Light," and is a beautifully filmed and narrated series of episodes about nature, wildlife, and culture photography. Each episode highlights a different photographer who talks about their work and what motivates them. It combines superb video and stills, and is highly motivational. Each episode is unique and each covers a different aspect of photography.

Some of the photographers are famous, like Art Wolfe, and others are not household names, but in each case their work is world-class and eye-opening. Each episode is only about 20 minutes long so it is easy to watch when you have a few spare minutes.

And no, I am not one of the featured photographers!

FYI, I shot this image of an Atlantic Puffin in Iceland at the end of the breeding season in August. These speedy little bullets are beautiful to watch and hard to get in flight. They live at sea for most of the year, and come on land only for about 6 weeks each summer to breed and raise their young. Their breeding season is generally from mid June to early August, but that seems to be changing somewhat with the warming climate.

1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."  --Aristotle

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Votes Are In....

The votes are in, and the winner is........................

the color version.

If you recall, last week I asked you to vote on whether you liked the color or the black-and-white version of this flower best. An overwhelming majority voted for the color version.

While many of you liked the black-and-white version, most felt that it did not have enough contrast and was not as interesting as the color version. If you do not remember the black-and-white version, you can see it here  http://awakethelight.blogspot.com/2017/11/vote-for-your-favorite.html

Thanks to everyone for your vote and your input.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."  --attributed to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

Monday, November 13, 2017

Awake The Light, literally!

Now that we are off Daylight Savings Time it gets dark early and quickly. I ran a private workshop here at the Outer Banks of North Carolina last week, and we set out in the late afternoon in search of good sunset images. This lighthouse was a good subject.

The sun was setting to our right, but the best color in the sky was in the east to our left. That can often happen, so when out shooting sunset (or sunrise) always keep an eye on the opposite direction for good colors and drama. You just never know.

While I like the look of the near darkness and the bright warm tones near the horizon, something was lacking. Below is the image before any work was done.

So I checked the web for information on how to add light rays to this image. Normally I prefer to be more of a "purist" and do not add elements to landscapes or wildlife images. But in this case it needed a little punch. The lighthouse light was on, but at such close range, and not in full darkness, the light did not appear bright enough. So two things were needed - brighten the actual light, AND add light rays.

Brightening the light itself was easy. In Photoshop I copied and pasted the original light (just the light itself at the top of the lighthouse) so that it was on its own layer. Then using Image > Adjustments > Levels I made the light brighter by sliding the middle slider to the left (toward the small black triangle). This created a glow which was the look I was hoping for. 

Then it was time to add the actual light rays. After trying several different approaches found on different tutorials and YouTube videos, I came across the technique that worked best with this image. As with all things Photoshop (or Elements), there are several ways to create any look you want. The trick is to find the one that is, first and foremost, easiest and then that works well with your particular image. Some of the info I came across created an artificial look which I was not happy with, so take your time when deciding which approach to use. Even with the tutorial I chose (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2z6hvfISqU) I had to make some personal modifications to achieve a result I liked. So use what you find as a starting point, and adapt from there to fit your own personal vision. 

A final important note  -  always, always, ALWAYS let subtlety and good taste be your guides. Try not to overdo any added elements if you want your image to look as real as possible.

1/160 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul."  -- Henri Bergson

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Vote For Your Favorite

Same rose, two different interpretations. One is color, the other is black and white. One is cropped more tightly. One has the central swirl in the center, the other is off-center.

Vote for your favorite version on our Facebook page and give a brief reason or two for your choice. I will publish the results in a future post. Please take just a moment of your time to vote. And thanks!

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Iceland Church and Turf

Turf structures were developed in areas with cold climates and not enough trees to use for home construction. These old turf buildings are in Iceland, and have withstood centuries of cold and wind.

I had never seen this type of thing before and was utterly captivated with its design. That is one of the things I love about traveling. You see new and different things, meet wonderful people, and broaden your horizons.

This shot was made on a chilly and cloudy day. The dark sky caused the red steeple and roof on the modern church to stand out and be a nice counterpoint to the earth tones and rounded shapes of the turf houses. The overcast conditions made the exposure easy. Even in these conditions, however, it is important to check your histogram at the start of each new series of shots. Anytime you change your position or the direction in which you aim your camera, the direction of light can change and so will your exposure.

1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 800.  Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 33mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know."  --Native Alaskan saying

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Get Your "Artsy" On!

Sometimes you just have to get artsy. Things do not always need to be sharp and crisp. There are times when softness and a bit of a creative blur is a good thing. And sometimes it happens when you least expect it.

These sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge were flying in at sunset. The light level was dropping quickly and I did not keep a watchful eye on the shutter speed. It had dropped to 1/30th sec., much too slow to keep wing beats sharp. But I got lucky.

I was panning the birds as they flew past me, keeping the pan speed pretty much the same as the birds' speed, which created a nice blur on the background. When I downloaded the images later in the day, and realized that this was shot at a relatively slow shutter speed, I thought it would end up being deleted because very little of the image is sharp. But when I gave myself time to "live with" the shot, and looked at it with fresh eyes, I realized that it was an impression of birds in flight rather than a scientifically accurate version.

The lesson for me was that sometimes you have to let go of what you expect an image to be, or what is an "acceptable" image, and allow yourself to view it from a different perspective.

1/30 sec. at f/13, ISO 400. Canon 35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L lens (an oldie that I no longer own) on a Canon 40D body (also retired). Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence."  -- Robert Lynd

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cool Critters

Dragonflies are very cool. They flit and float through the air, and usually return to the same perch over and over again. That makes it fairly easy to get good shots. When you see a dragonfly, stop and watch where it lands. Once you see its favorite perch, be patient, stay put, and be ready to shoot.

Look for a good background, one that will be rendered nicely soft and non-distracting with shallow depth of field. Take some test shots to make sure your histogram looks good, and then you are ready to capture some beauty shots of these amazing creatures.

You can photograph dragonflies with either a telephoto zoom, or a macro lens. A telephoto zoom is a better choice, partly because it allows you to keep a greater distance from the insect. With any form of wildlife, you do not want to do anything that will frighten it or cause it to change its normal behavior.

When focusing, it is best to focus on the head and its huge eyes. If the rest of the dragonfly goes slightly out of focus, that is OK.

Even at this time of year, unless you live in an extremely northern area, there should still be some dragonflies around. If not, hang onto this blog entry so you can be prepared in the spring.

1/1250, f/5, ISO 200. Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on Canon 5D Mark III. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter."  --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, October 21, 2017

iPhone Old World Charm

Old European buildings hold a lot of charm for photographers. The textures, the shapes, and the sheer age are appealing. I was fortunate to have some time to photograph the restored Medieval village of Gruyeres in Switzerland. We arrived late in the day when the sun was low in the sky and the interior lights were just starting to come on.

I rarely use my iPhone for photography, but with the low light levels at this time of day it seemed the right choice. Smart phones are generally very good at capturing images even in near darkness. There was enough ambient light to provide good detail and color on the front of the building, and still hold detail on the lit interior. I used Lightroom to optimize the image, making sure all the detail in the dark wood doors was retained, and any over-brightness inside was toned down.

The setting sun provided nice warm light along the bottom of the steps, which repeats the warm light inside. The walls were quite smooth so in Photoshop I added a texture, using a low opacity layer of a tree bark image I had shot in Alaska. It added just the right touch to help the facade look a bit more weathered. There are many companies selling textures for use with Photoshop, and while they are very nice and can provide a variety of options to choose from, I prefer to use my own as much as possible for a more unique look.

1/17 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 320. iPhone 6 camera with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun."  --Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Speed Demon

Swallows are speedy and tiny, and are very hard to photograph. These little guys hang out at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. They zip in and out of their bird houses, swoop and dive at breakneck speed, and challenge even the most patient photographer. But they are adorable, graceful, and brilliantly colored.

The best way to get a shot is to hang out at their bird house. And wait. And wait some more. Then suddenly out of nowhere one might swoop in quickly, taunting you to get the camera up to your eye, focus and shoot. And then it's gone. So you wait for a return visit. And wait.

To photograph birds, whether large or small, a fast shutter speed is mandatory. A shutter speed of 1/1250 sec is the minimum necessary to get sharp shots. Even though this bird was standing on a post, notice that it was chirping. When birds chirp they often move their heads and flip their wings, and this guy did both of those things very quickly. So the fast shutter speed was necessary to freeze the action. And I was handholding the camera, as I usually do, making a fast shutter speed even more necessary.

I find that I can shoot faster and change positions much quickly when not tethered to a tripod for bird and wildlife photography. 

1/1600 sec at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4X extender for a focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."  --Chinese proverb