Saturday, May 21, 2016

This Month's Newsletter Is Out!

The May newsletter is out. Each month the free newsletter is sent to thousands of subscribers. It is filled with educational information, tips, news on upcoming photo workshops and tours, and more.

If you are not already a subscriber, it is easy to become one. Just send an email to and put YES in the subject line. That's all there is to it.

To see this month's newsletter, click on this link

We hope you will enjoy it and will start your subscription today. Learn some things that you didn't know you did not know.

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know."  --Daniel J. Boorstin

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Lightroom, The Jaws of Life



As you have heard many times before, Lightroom is amazing software. It is quick and easy to use, and easy to learn. It can save a "loser" image and make it really pop.

These are the same image. The Before and After modifications were made in less than 3 minutes in Lightroom.

If you get an image similar to the Before version and are tempted to delete it, don't! So often, especially if you shoot in RAW, there is a great deal of detail in the image that initially you do not see. But Lightroom can enhance and improve the latent image in short order.

Only 5 quick steps were needed to bring this image back from the brink of the "Delete" button. First, the Shadows slider was moved to the right to lighten the buttes. Next, the Highlights slider was moved to the left to bring out the detail in the clouds.

Then the Clarity slider was moved to the right to enhance the mid-tone contrast. Next, Saturation was increased a bit to improve the color of the rocks and the sky. And finally a bit of Noise Reduction was the finishing touch. 

If you have been reluctant to try Lightroom, don't be. Because it is non-destructive software, you cannot do any harm to your images. Lightroom does not change or remove any pixels, so you can always go back and start over from the original if you are not happy with your results.

So try it, you'll like it!

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 200. Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set at 27mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld. 

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Go With The Flow

Moving water is compelling, and wonderful to photograph. The perpetual flow is almost mesmerizing. Watching the water dance and twirl around rocks can lead to philosophical thoughts about the thread of life, or the beauty of water, or how our lives depend so much on a constant supply of clean water.

But we also have to keep our wits about us, and figure out how the heck to make an appealing image of the scene.

Using a slow shutter speed is an effective way of showing the water's flow and its beauty. The slower the shutter speed, the more satiny and soft the water appears. Personal taste will determine whether you prefer a slightly satin look, or a softer very satiny look. Both are valid and there is no right or wrong approach.

One of my favorite tools for photographing moving water is a 10-stop neutral density filter. That allows me to use a very slow shutter speed even in strong daylight. But these filters are so dark that you must frame the shot and focus before you put the filter over your lens. Each time you want to recompose and focus, you must remove the filter to see what you are doing. And that can be very frustrating to say the least, AND it slows you down. If only you could pop the filter on and off easily and quickly, rather than having to screw it on, then unscrew it, then attach it again for each different image.

There is another way, and it makes all of this SO much easier. Xume adapters to the rescue.

These brilliantly simple and effective magnetic rings allow you to attach and remove neutral density filters (and polarizers and other filters as well) in an instant.

How does it work? Simple. One magnetic ring attaches to your neutral density filter, and another magnetic ring attaches to your lens. When you want to use a filter, simply hold the filter near the lens and the magnets instantly grab onto each other. The filter is instantly attached to the lens. When you want to remove the filter, simple pull gently and you can easily remove the filter from the lens.

No screwing, no cross-threading problems, no time wasted.

I have a Xume magnetic ring attached to each lens that my neutral density filter fits. And one stays permanently attached to the filter. So it is easy on, easy off each and every time I want to use the neutral density filter.

The rings are beautifully tooled and fit my lenses and filters perfectly. They are very thin and very light weight as well.

After running some tests with Xume adapters, I can strongly recommend them. So check out their website and see if the idea isn't one of the best you have seen in a long time.

For a limited time, Xume Adapters are available at a special 10% discount. Just go to the Xume website and use the discount code Awake when ordering. Simple, and save yourself 10% on these fantastic adapters!

Shutter Speed 4 minutes.  Aperture f/32.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 189mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "An absolutely new idea is one of the rarest things known to man."  --Thomas More

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Pretty Little Faker

This tiny yellow flower is seen in springtime in the Smoky Mountains. It looks like a wild strawberry bloom, and its leaves look strawberry-like, too. But they are fakers. Real strawberry plants, whether wild or cultivated, generally have white or pale pink flowers.

But all beautiful wildflowers in the mountains are fair game for our cameras. We don't care whether they are what they appear to be, or whether they mimic their cousins, or even if they are weeds as this one is. This little guy is named False Strawberry, or Mock Strawberry, but is technically classified as a weed. No matter. It was a perfectly beautiful little bloom begging to be photographed.

I chose a square composition for this flower because of its rounded symmetrical shape. I also darkened the background a little in order to help the flower pop off the screen.

When photographing any plant or flower, the more perfect the better. Most plants have a slight blemish or perhaps an area that a hungry insect has nibbled, but often small areas can be dealt with in Lightroom or Photoshop. But if the plant looks wilted or has brown edges or other issues, take your time to look for a better specimen. No matter how good your software and your skills, it is hard to breathe life into a fading flower.

I stood directly over this flower, shooting straight down on it. I did some cropping to create the square composition, and punched the color slightly in Lightroom. But essentially this is a very simple image with minimal work done to enhance the final version.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them."  --Mitch Hedberg

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In Memoriam

Today's blog is more serious than most. It is in memory of my mother, Hilda Rose Isaacs, who passed away on Friday at the age of 101. She was a loving, spirited and intelligent person who was loved and admired by many. She always looked forward. She was eager to embrace new things, and at the age of 80 asked for a computer so she could learn how to use it and do email. I taught her the basics in about a day-and-a-half, and from that point on she was off and running on her own.

She loved butterflies, so today's image is in honor of her.

While her loss is great and I will miss her very much, sadly it was her time and she is now at peace. She was lucid to the end, even though her body failed her.

The following poem, written by David Harkins, was read at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth's mother in 2002. It was read today at my mother's funeral, and sums up in a positive way what my mother would have wanted her family and friends to feel about her passing.

"You can shed tears because she is gone, or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back, or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see her, or you can be full of the love that you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she is gone. or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on."

I give thanks to my mother for giving me life, showing me how to live and how to love, how to follow my heart, how to be understanding and kind, and how to embrace life to the fullest.

Goodbye, mom. Godspeed.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/5.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I have found that if you love life, life will love you back."  --Arthur Rubenstein

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Look For The Light

I've just returned from a wonderful week in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a great group of photographers. We had great weather, great shooting, and great fun.

This fiddle head fern was in full sun, as was the background. So how did I get it into the shade? Easy - I shaded it with my body. I was careful to position myself so that the shadow I cast fell only on the fern and not on the background. 

That was step one. Step two was to set the camera height so that the fiddle head was positioned in front of the sunlit area. 

Creating this shot was not difficult but it required careful attention to detail. The soft focus fern leaves at the bottom and the upper right create a feeling of enclosure and add to the strength of the composition.   

Exposure was relatively easy since about half of the image was in sun and half in shade. So the basic meter reading worked well. As always, consult the histogram when taking images in mixed light to be sure that the exposure is good for both the highlights and the shadows.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/5.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "To love beauty is to see light."  --Victor Hugo

Monday, April 18, 2016

Zebra Stripes Landscape

I often speak about being an opportunist when out photographing. While you might seek out a location or a subject with something specific in mind, you always have to be open to whatever presents itself.

I have seen this famous scene in Denali National Park several times over the past few years, and it has never looked like this. It had snowed a day or two earlier, and the snow had melted in an almost zebra-like pattern. This was not the shot I had envisioned when we set out that day, but it is what Mother Nature provided and it is a unique and interesting image.

What helps hold this image together is the strong leading line of the road. It takes your eye from the bottom of the image and curves it around into the misty distance. You are led through the scene along the curves and through the white stripes.

So don't let you head or your heart hold you back. Always be ready to shoot whatever presents itself. You never know what wonderful images might result. 

TECHNICAL DATA  Shutter Speed 1/800th sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared."  --Whitney M. Young

Friday, April 15, 2016

Macro Mania

Macro can be addictive. Once you start shooting, a variety of different possibilities begin to reveal themselves. It can be a very creative process, and each image you make takes you to another and another and another. That is all part of the creative process - letting one idea or composition take you on an exciting road of invention and creativity.

This image was made with just 3 items - a narrow clear glass vase, and two pieces of colored paper. The green paper essentially becomes the base, and the magenta paper forms the background. In a shot this simple, composition and color are the key elements.

So let's examine the composition. Look at the placement of the colored papers and the vase. They are angled slightly to create a flow from upper left to lower right. The angle was achieved by simply tipping the camera slightly. Also notice the matching triangular shapes at the upper right and lower left. They are about the same size and because of their placement in the corners, they serve to keep the viewer's eye within the frame and not wander out. 

The center of interest is the white curved area, which is near the bottom of the vase. The white is created by the reflection of the light source, a small lightbox set up to the right of the subject, just out of view. This area was placed off-center to provide visual tension in the image. Visual tension is also created by the use of opposing colors, with the warm magenta being a counterpoint to the cool green.

What is visual tension? It is a technique, achieved in a variety of ways, to engage the viewer and to prevent the image from being too static or uninteresting. It is a dynamic approach used by artists and photographers to draw viewers into the image, and to keep their attention. It can employ movement, the use of space, balance or imbalance, opposing colors, and more.

So when composing any image, and especially macro and abstracts, think about all the compositional elements possible. Then experiment with camera position, camera angle, placement of the center of interest, and positioning of the other elements to create the strongest image you can.

To learn more about macro photography, come to the Macro Mania photo workshop at the Outer Banks of North Carolina on May 23 - 26.  Details here     You will learn a variety of creative techniques, AND have time to photograph on the beach as well. It's the best of both worlds. We will work indoors with different subjects, props, and lighting, and then outdoors to work with shells on the beach, wave action, etc. Don't miss this great macro workshop!

Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro 2.8. Camera: Canon 5D Mark II. Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for."  --Georgia O'Keeffe

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It's a Small World

Photography can be as exciting and varied as the world around us. It can also help us see new worlds that we never knew existed, right under our noses. That is the world of Macro Photography.

Macro is a continuing adventure to find the small, the insignificant, the unseen. And then to make it visually appealing. Study this image for a moment and come up with some ideas about what it is and how it was created. All will be revealed below.

Tick tock.  Tick tock. Any ideas yet? Write a few down before reading further. In all honesty, I never expected the subject I used to end up looking like this.

OK time's up. It is a macro shot of............... [wait for it]................... a rainbow-colored plastic wind twirler. You know, one of those things you hang from your deck that twist in the wind. It came from a dollar store and measures about 6 inches across.

Here is the set-up. It was very simple, created on my kitchen counter.  
Nothing fancy. But the lighting is key. It was shot at night in a dark room. The only light source was a small LED light made by Promaster and sold by Hunt's Photo and Video 

This little baby is a real powerhouse. It provided enough light for me to be able to handhold the camera. While I use a sturdy tripod when needed, when shooting macro I much prefer to handhold.  That allows me to get in exactly the position I want quickly, and not have to fiddle with moving the tripod, adjusting its leg height, and so on. It is so much easier to be free and be able to handhold the camera.

I also like that it is rechargeable AND has a dimmer switch so you can control the amount of light as needed. For more information on the Promaster LED 120SS light, contact Gary at Hunt's at 781-662-8822. (Mention you heard about it here, and get very special treatment.)

But back to the shot. Once I placed the wind twirler on the blue paper, and set the light off to the side as shown, I tried several different camera angles and positions to find something that looked good. The macro lens allowed me to get very close to one of the bars of the twirler, and by using a very shallow Depth of Field the rest of the subject became just a blur. The light reflecting off the shiny plastic created the soft dots of color.

The overall feeling is that you are looking into a distant tunnel, when in fact the entire twirler is only a few inches in size.

So go to a dollar store in your area, or find interesting objects you already own, and start creating your own unique macro images. If you want to participate in a full immersion macro workshop, come to the Outer Banks of North Carolina May 23 - 26 for the popular Macro Mania Workshop. We will shoot macro and beach scenes in the mornings and afternoons, and indoor macro set-ups indoors at mid-day. We'll have fun in the sun at the beach, and you will learn great new and creative macro techniques! There are still a few spaces left. Details at

Shutter Speed 1/100 sec.  Aperture f/3.2.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Look at [a] picture as a graphic representation of a mood and not as a representation of objects."  --Wassily Kandinsky

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Be More Creative

It's Spring and the time for renewal. As photographers, we all need a boost now and then. In the springtime there is nothing like flowers to get those creative juices flowing. Go find some flowers either in a botanical gardens or your own backyard and then photograph them in ways you have never tried before.

Try extreme close-ups, or try different angles. Try shooting in open shade and bright sunlight. Use shallow Depth of Field to zero in on an area you want to be sharp, and let everything else go out of focus.

This flower was shot in open shade using very shallow Depth of Field to highlight just the yellow-green center. Everything else has been rendered artfully soft. This is one of several techniques we will work on at the Creative and Impressionist Flowers Workshop at Longwood Gardens coming up June 13 - 16. More information at this link

When photographing flowers, or indeed any subject, think about the direction of the light, the quality of the light, and what moves you about the subject. Think about what is most important to you about the particular subject - is it the color, the shape, the texture, or something else? It could be a combination of factors. Once you determine what moves you the most, you can begin to approach the subject with that in mind, and create images that are truly a representation of you.

For this shot, I chose an angle that made the center of the flower appear protected by the surrounding petals. Shooting it from a different angle would have created a completely different feeling.  So get out there and play. Stimulate your creativity by either photographing on your own, or consider joining me at Longwood Gardens in June for a full immersion workshop to jump start your creativity and to learn new techniques.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 800. 
Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 135mm, with Savage Macro Art variable extension tube [for Canon    or for Nikon  ]  (For more information on this unique new tool, contact Gary at Hunt's Photo and Video at 781-662-8822.) 
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought."  --Albert Einstein