Thursday, August 20, 2015

Touchdown Alaska

Ahhhhhhhhh.......  Alaska. We have arrived to begin an epic 3-week journey in Alaska. This view is from 20,000 feet as our jet was making its final approach into Anchorage, courtesy of fellow traveler Jane Clements, made with an iPhone 6.

Fresh snow was on the high peaks, and the view was serene and pristine. What a wonderful welcome to this incredible place.  The crisp white snow and clouds, offset against the brilliant blue of a clear sky made for a very striking image.

Part One of this journey begins Friday and takes us to Glacier Bay National Park, a waterworld which is home to humpback whales, puffins, sea otters, and many species of seabirds. Part Two, with a different group, takes us to the home of brown bears fishing for salmon and enjoying the last few days of summer. Part Three will bring us north of the Arctic Circle in hopes of chasing the Northern Lights. And Part Four, with yet another group, brings us deep inside Denali National Park, a section of the park where few have the privilege of going.

Throughout this journey internet access with be sporadic, but I will post blogs as often as the digital world and time allows.

Alaska is one of my favorite places. The light is different, the air is different, the feel is different from anyplace else in our country. And the variety of photographic opportunities is unsurpassed.

iPhone 6 auto settings  -  Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec.  Aperture f/2.2 (yes, 2 point 2).  ISO 32.  iPhone standard camera lens 4.15mm (yes, 4 point one five).

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them."  --Margaret Atwood

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Simpler The Better

Regardless of subject, sometimes the simplest approach is the best. It is often said that the difference between a painter and a photographer is that the painter starts with an empty palette and adds, while the photographer starts with a full palette and has to decide what to eliminate.

Deciding what to eliminate can be daunting. How much is too much? Is what you are eliminating a benefit to the image? How do you decide what to do?

The simple answer is trial and error. Try many different views, and look for a line or a shape or a color combination that pleases you. After surveying the subject from a variety of angles, take many images and then decide later what works best for you. Often it is easier to determine the best shots only after you have downloaded them onto your computer and can review them at your leisure.

In this image, notice how the elements are arranged. The red center of the hibiscus becomes the center of interest, and is placed far to the right and low in the frame for impact. The gentle curves lead the eye toward the center of interest, and add an overall flow.

Also notice that this is a minimalist image  -  only 2 colors, a few curves of the petals, and a semi-circular "starburst" of red. Less is more, and when composed effectively, a small handful of elements can make for nice images.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture: f/3.5.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Simplicity is the glory of expression."  - Walt Whitman

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Small Fish, Big Mouth

Egrets are beautiful birds, and skillful fishermen. They can easily spot fish, both big and small, in all kinds of water and in all sorts of lighting conditions. This one, and several of his buddies, found good fishing in shallow waters.

Look carefully to see the fish in his mouth. You can see the image larger by clicking on it.

While this is a very simple image, it has a few characteristics that help give it interest and punch. First, notice the contrast between the dark blue water and the bright white feathers. Then see how the  orange bill provides a pop of color, and is similar in tone to the remnants of breeding plumage near his tail feathers. Also, the reflection is subtle but adds some brightness to the water. And finally, the square-ish crop eliminates extraneous background and focuses attention on the action.

So when shooting any subject, always pay attention to the little things that can help make an average image more visually appealing.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2x extender for an effective focal length of 800mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The little things are infinitely the most important."  --Arthur Conan Doyle

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Go With Your Gut

As I have said so many times when speaking to groups and individual photographers, when deciding which images to enter into competition, use your best judgment based on the judges and the venue, but ultimately enter the images that move YOU the most.

I don't always follow my own advice, but thankfully I did in this case. Every year I enter images in the Professional Photographers of America worldwide annual competition. The competition is going on now, and I just received word today that this image did well.

This is one of my favorite places, Antelope Canyon in Arizona. It is a special and magical place, sacred to Native Americans, with beautiful light and an unending array of rock formations. I have visited there several times at different times of year, and each time the canyon provides compelling images with lovely colors and sweeping lines.

I was not going to enter this image because often in this type of competition, scenics of places that the judges have seen many times before do not stand out enough to get their attention. But because I love this place, and love this image, I decided to go ahead and enter it anyway. I fully expected it to be rejected, so I was thrilled when I heard that it had done well.

As many of us who have entered photo competitions have experienced, it can be a blow when a favorite image gets slammed by the judges. It can leave us feeling inadequate and makes us question our photographic worth. But regardless of what the judges say, we should not allow the results to make us doubt our skills. Just because a judge does not respond well to one of your images, YOUR love of the image is still important and should not be jeopardized by the judge's opinion.

To boost the chances of an image doing well in competition, here are some tips to enhance its impact:
1. Make sure there are leading lines or other strong compositional elements.
2. For color images, complementary colors or warm against cool can provide more impact.
3. For black-and-white images, good contrast with strong blacks and bright whites do best.
4. Do not over-sharpen or over-saturate.
5. Use images that have been properly exposed and well-focused.
6. Select images that create a mood, or have emotional impact.

When all is said and done and the competition is over, never let a judge's rejection of your image or thoughtless comment have a negative effect on you. Yes, it can be crushing, especially when you have not entered very many competitions. But ultimately it is your opinion that counts the most.

Shutter Speed 13 seconds.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 29mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Don't lose your perseverance and always trust your gut instinct."  --Paula Abdul 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Workshop Announced!!

OCTOBER 13, 14, 15

Brand new! By popular demand, another Lightroom Unleashed workshop has been added to the schedule. This workshop will be held in suburban Boston on October 13, 14, and 15.

This is an in-depth hands-on experience that will catapult your Lightroom skills higher than you ever thought possible. This is not a speed-through-and-leave-you-confused class. This workshop is a carefully organized approach to REALLY teach you how to use Lightroom to your best advantage. Created with you in mind, the entire workshop provides both group and individualized instruction.

At the beginning you will work along with me to learn and understand how Lightroom can turn unexciting images into works of art. As things progress, you will begin to work on your own images which will increase your understanding and skills.

By the end of the workshop you will have a new-found confidence in your use of Lightroom, and will be well on your way toward creating a polished portfolio of superb images.

The approaches are proven and methodical. And we will have fun along the way! Limited to only 12 participants, the class will fill quickly. For more information or to register, email or call 757-773-0194.

"Mollie is an outstanding instructor. She broke things into small pieces, demonstrating how it works, then having us try it on our own computers. She made sure we "got it," and she also made the class fun. I recommend this workshop without reservation!"    --D.E. 

"I've always admired the fine quality of Mollie's images. In this workshop she shared her techniques by guiding us through the wealth of Lightroom tools while making sure that each of us understood how to apply them. The workshop brought my images to a new level."    --H.E.

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 185mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young."  --Henry Ford

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Horizon Decisions

In landscape photography one of the first decisions to make is where to place the horizon line. You can choose to place it high in the frame, or low, or centered as it is here. So how do you decide?

In general, placing the horizon line in the middle creates a serene and balanced composition. Placing it high or low creates more visual tension and sends a different message. Placing it high in the frame makes the ground the central subject. Conversely, placing it low in the frame makes the sky the main character. On days with an unexciting sky, place the horizon high in the image to eliminate what is not interesting. But when you have incredible clouds or a dark stormy sky, place the horizon low.

A central placement for this image works well with the scene - a quiet, calm, misty sunrise. The composition is very symmetrical from top to bottom, but there is some visual interest when you let your eye move through the image from left to right. The dark area on the left is large and imposing, while the right side is softer because of the mist, the delicate colors, and the individual trees.

Cropping decisions were made very deliberately. The right side was cropped to not show the bright sun just rising since it would have overpowered the softly fading darkness in the rest of the scene. And the left side was cropped to show enough of the heavy bank of trees to balance the mist, clouds, trees, and reflections on the right.

Lightroom was used to make sure the colors were saturated. I intentionally did not increase Shadows since showing detail there would have detracted from the overall moody nature of the scene. When working with Lightroom, make your optimization decisions based not only on technical considerations but also on creating or enhancing a mood or feeling in the image.

Shutter Speed 1/30 sec.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Gtizo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Only from the heart can you touch the sky."  -Rumi

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pretty As A Peacock



Bad news. Bad light. Good peacock. Good Lightroom.

So how did I manage to create such a poorly exposed image? It was easy. What went wrong? Nothing. How was it fixed? I'm glad you asked.

This captive peacock was strutting his stuff in a very shaded area. There was sunlight on the foliage behind him, but very little light on his face or body. My tripod was in the car, and I was sure that if I returned to get it this moment would be gone, so I would have to handhold my 100-400mm zoom lens. To avoid the appearance of any hint of camera shake I knew I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec. And I wanted an ISO of no more than 400 in order to avoid too much noise showing in the image.

I quickly set my camera to those settings, which meant that the aperture would HAVE to be wide open at f/5.6. I took a shot and saw that the histogram showed an underexposre of almost 3 stops. And here is why it pays to understand your image optimization software. I knew that Lightroom would save an image underexposed to this extent.

Why did I have to underexpose it so much? Because the only way to get a more accurate exposure would have been to either increase the ISO which would have introduced too much noise, OR to set the shutter much slower which would have potentially shown either camera shake or subject movement, resulting in a less than sharp image. So I hedged my bets and took a chance on the 3-stop  underexposure.

You can see how dark the original exposure was in the Before image above. But here's the real benefit of knowing your software  -  I did NOT use the Exposure slider in Lightroom to lighten the image as shown in the After image. The Exposure slider is the LAST thing you should resort to when dealing with an underexposure. It can introduce more issues than you started with, and is not the best tool to use in most cases.

It is best to use other options in Lightroom, like Shadows, Highlights, Clarity, Saturation, and Luminance. It is important for you to learn your software, and I highly recommend that you take a Lightroom workshop from a knowledgable and competent instructor. Online tutorials are fine as far as they go, but they are generally not suited to providing a real learning experience.

I will be teaching two Lightroom Unleashed workshops this fall. One is in Massachusetts  October 13 -  15, and the other is in Northern Virginia (outside Washington, DC)  November 7 - 9. These are both in-depth and hands-on workshops that will cover everything you need to know to use Lightroom like a pro. For information or to register, email, or call 757-773-0194.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  ISO 400.  Aperture f/5.6.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 349mm. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere."  -Chinese Proverb

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Guest Blogger - The Story Behind The Image

In October of 2014, I went to the Outer Banks with Mollie/Awake the Light and a group of very delightful and enthusiastic workshop photographers.  I know that we all expected to take wonderful images of sea, sand and sun.  I did not, however, expect to come back from the Outer Banks with my all-time favorite image.  That image is "The Milk Bottles," shown above.

It does not have the best impact, contrast, subject matter, etc.  In fact, when I entered this image in my photography club's monthly competition it did not fare that well, receiving average scores.  I was comfortable with that because this image was, and is, personal for me.  It became my favorite due to the journey it took me on. 

The image was taken on an impromptu stop at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, an historic site and museum in Rodanthe, NC.  It was a gray day, with spotty or little sun.  For some reason, this set of milk bottles on the back porch spoke to me.  I loved the old time feel and the look of the cracking paint.  I took the basic shot and moved on.  But I knew this image could be more and deserved a second look.  So, back I went.  I set up the tripod, refined the composition I envisioned, and waited for the sun!!  I decided that this was the image I wanted, and even if the sun never made an appearance, this is where I wanted to be.  I knew that this was going to be at the expense of capturing other images, but so be it.  When the sun peeked through a few minutes later and cast wonderful shadows and reflections, my normally non-existent patience was rewarded. 

This image has taught me a lot.  It taught me to slow down and really evaluate what is in front of you.  It taught me to remain open to all opportunities.  It also taught me that sometimes the image has to take time to come to you.  Most of all, it taught me to listen and appreciate what speaks to you.  I believe that this is what it takes to keep passion in your photography. These take-aways gave me inspiration and rejuvenated my love for photography.  And, hopefully, these lessons will make me a better photographer. 

Mollie knew what this image meant to me.  So I shared with her a personal victory.  At our club's annual awards banquet, this image was given the “Creative Print of the Year” award.  I believe it was because the passion I had for this image came through, and the journey this image took me on was experienced by others.  That’s the story behind “The Milk Bottles.”  

TECHNICAL DATA:    Aperture f/22.  ISO 400.  Camera: Nikon D800.  Lens: 70-300 Nikkor Lens set at 250mm.  5 Image HDR processed in Photomatix.  Antique brown/gold gradient texture added in post processing using “Multiply” blend mode. 

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Patience is the art of hoping.”  -Marquis de Vauvenargues

MOLLIE’S COMMENTS: From a distance, I saw Cindy watching and waiting. She was hopeful that the light would do what she wanted, and that she could get the shot she envisioned. Her patience and perseverance, plus her innate creativity and superb eye, enabled her to capture this magnificent image. Congratulations, Cindy!  

Cindy Gosselin Bio:  Recently retired after 26 years as an industrial / fire debris chemist in the insurance industry.   Chemistry did not allow for any creativity, so photography came along just in time.  I had dabbled a "little" in photography before joining Charter Oak Photographic Society in 1998.   This unleashed and freed up my creative side and I have loved photography ever since.  I started with slides.... loved the color and saturation of this media.  Digital followed, and unleashed even more creativity.  I am on the Board of Charter Oak.  I am also on the boards of NECCC and CAP (Connecticut Association of Photographers). I have a friend who once stated that the most significant improvement to his photography occurred when he retired.  I can't wait!!! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Find What's Hidden



There is a hidden gem inside nearly every image you capture. What you see when you first download your images is a dull representation of what is really there. Much information is hidden, not visible until you bring it out with image optimization software.

Look at the Before and After images of the osprey above. Notice how much more color is visible, and how much more detail. This is not smoke and mirrors. It is not artificially created. All those details were lying latent in the image but needed software to extract that information and make it visible.

One of the best things you can do to improve the look of your images is to master image optimization software. There are a variety of choices, but far and away the best one is Lightroom.

Lightroom is easy to learn. The best and fastest way to learn is to take a good class from a knowledgeable instructor. While online tutorials can be helpful once you understand the software, they are not the best way to get firm footing or to hone your skills. It is all too easy to take a quickie class and get confused, or come away feeling Lightroom is too complicated to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you are ready to take your photography to the next level, and want to learn Lightroom the easy way, there is good news. I'll be teaching a Lightroom class in November just outside Washington, DC.

DATES: November 7 and 8, plus an extra optional day November 9
WHERE: Hampton Inn, Manassas, Virginia
CLASS SIZE: Limited to 12 participants  -  only 4 spaces left
FEE: $950

Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 280mm.  Camera: Canon 7D MarkII.  Handheld.

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

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th!!

Happy 4th!! 

Make today a celebration of freedom, friends, and family. 

Enjoy a safe and fun-filled day.


Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/2.8.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: " be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  -Nelson Mandela