Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name

Roses are beautiful both in color and shape. When you look carefully at a bed of rose bushes, you will find many different variations of shapes. This one had a lovely spiral at the center, and sweeping petals surrounding it.

The color was a lovely soft peach, and that was going to be the version for today's blog. But when I looked at it more carefully, I thought that perhaps it would look softer and more dimensional in black and white. So I began experimenting with it in Lightroom.

Sure enough, this black and white version really appealed to me. It was a quick and easy transition from color to black and white in Lightroom. I used the B&W controls in the "HSL / Color / B&W " section in the Develop module. When you click on B&W in the heading, the image is converted to black and white. But that is just the beginning. By moving the color sliders in that box, you can control the lightness or darkness of any colors in the original image. Lightroom still "sees" the image in color, even though we see it in black and white.

I wanted a very light, ethereal look and because the predominant color was peach, moving the red slider lightened the rose nicely. I also reduced Clarity to -30 to create a softer look. A few finishing touches with the Whites, Blacks, Highlights, and Shadows sliders, and the final image was created.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/2.8.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  --William Shakespeare

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mellow Yellow

The Creative and Impressionist Flowers photo workshop ended today, and what a workshop it was! We saw some exquisite flowers at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, including gorgeous roses. The participants created some beautiful images and quickly got the hang of new techniques like shallow depth of field and back button focus.

This yellow rose sported some water droplets left over from a morning rain, which added to the beauty of the undulating petals. Shooting straight down on the center of the flower created a circular main subject, while the curving outer petals provided support and added interest.

When doing macro photography of flowers, shallow depth of field enhances the feeling of softness and dimensionality. Not all parts of the image have to be razor sharp, but it helps to have something important sharp, like the small round center in this case.

I use autofocus, and set only one focus point visible in the center of the viewfinder. That enables me to quickly focus on the area I want sharp, knowing that the autofocus will lock onto that exact area. It is quick, easy, and almost foolproof.

Shutter Speed 1/1250.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change."  --Buddha

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Power at Your Fingertips



It's time once again to demonstrate the power of image optimization software. If you are not using some sort of software to extract the latent beauty in your images, you are missing out on a very important element of your photography.

My software of choice is Lightroom, probably the most popular and easiest to use of anything out there. I teach Lightroom workshops several times a year, and it is always so gratifying to help someone FINALLY see how nice their photography really is. Often people are frustrated because their images lack punch or rich colors. Well, you can improve most images in just a matter of minutes, and the software is VERY easy to learn and to use. You do not have to be a computer expert, and you do not even have to like using your computer very much.

This image was brought from being gray and dull to being colorful and detailed in just a matter of minutes. It took only 7 quick changes in Lightroom to get from the Before image to the After image. Click on each image to see it larger, and you will see all the detail brought out in the head, and the color in the wings and the water.

Lightroom uses sliders to increase or decrease different aspects of an image. For this image, I did the following:

1. Cropped the image.
2. Moved the Shadows slider to the right to lighten the shadows.
3. Moved the Whites slider to the right to brighten them.
4. Moved the Clarity slider to the right 30 points.
5. Used the Brush Tool to pinpoint areas on the head and lighten them.
6. Moved the Saturation Slider to the right to intensify colors.
7. Moved the Noise Reduction "Luminance" slider to the right to +30.

So in under 5 minutes a disappointing image, colorless and lacking in contrast, was made much more interesting and is a more realistic representation of what I actually saw.

If you or your camera club is interested in an In-Depth Lightroom workshop, contact me at  to discuss a small workshop for just your group. These workshops are hands-on, detailed, and filled with a great deal of personalized instruction. Lightroom workshops are generally scheduled from December through March.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4x extender. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

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

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Misty Mood

Adding emotion or mood to an image can be a powerful tool. And mist or fog seems to appeal to nearly everyone. It provides a sense of quiet calm and a bit of mystery. Knowing when to expect misty conditions will help you find good shooting spots.

In general, spring and fall provide the ideal weather conditions for misty mornings. When it is quite cool overnight, but warm during the day, mist or fog will often form in the early morning in low-lying areas and along waterways. But it can burn off quickly once the sun comes up, so you have to make your best guess as to where to be before sunrise.

This shot in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies was made at sunrise along a small lake. There was a slight breeze which moved the mist quickly along the lake surface and the scene was constantly changing. I shot many images as the scene morphed in front of my eyes, and this is my favorite. There is plenty of mist to provide that sense of mystery I mentioned, with a bit of an opening to allow the strong autumn colors to blaze through brilliantly.

To pick the mornings with the best chances of mist or fog, check the long-range weather forecast. Find the days that are predicted to have the coolest nights followed by warm days. Those conditions will set things up for you. The cool air overnight will drop below the warm air layer above, and will sit close to the ground. Then as the day begins, the air temperature will start to warm and the mist formed will rise. It will be a pleasant, quiet time to be out photographing, and with any luck Mother Nature will cooperate to provide a wonderful scene before your eyes.

Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 3200.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 100mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is a world made new. This moment - this day - is as good as any moment in all eternity. This is my day of opportunity."  --Dan Custer

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Summer is coming, and while we have started seeing ads for getting our beach bodies in shape for those itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikinis, things are a bit different from a photographer's perspective. For us, it means getting our gear ready so we can stroll the beaches or wander through gardens or roam the highways for some wonderful and unique images.

This is a great time of year to be outside in search of fun in the sun. This image was made while walking on the beach on a sunny afternoon. Don't let bright sunlight deter you from shooting. We hear about the magic light of early morning or late afternoon / evening, and it is indeed beautiful light. But there are great shots to be had when the sun is high in the sky as well.

The main thing to be aware of in mid-day sunshine is shadows. They can be very hard-edged, and also can be quite dark. Look for areas where the darkest shadows are not going to interfere with the main subject OR where they become part of the composition. In this shot, because of my position relative to the sun, there are no serious shadows. There is a slight shadow under the bird's wing but it is a tiny part of the image and does not grab your attention.

Two primary elements make this image work. First, it is an example of a decisive moment. It was taken a split second before the water reached the bird. You know that in the next instant the water will move forward and the bird will either walk or fly away. Second, the strong diagonal line created by the white foam creates a leading line and brings your eye directly to the main subject, the bird.

Supporting elements are the bird's reflection, and the combination of the warm-toned sand against the cool-toned water.

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 30D (an oldie but a goodie!).  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "And so with the sunshine ... I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer."  --F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Wild and Wooly

Wildlife is exciting to photograph. But capturing good images can be an elusive target. Often the animals are not where you expect them to be, or they are too far away even for a long lens, or they are hidden in the trees or brush.

So when a good opportunity presents itself, you and your camera HAVE to be ready. This pronghorn antelope in Yellowstone National Park was slowly walking through a large field, not far from the road. It was the perfect opportunity to get some lovely portrait shots of this handsome animal.

Here are some basic pointers to help you get good wildlife images.

--  Shutter Priority (Nikon) or Tv (Canon)
--  Auto Focus
--  ISO 400 for starters (increase as needed for recommended shutter speeds below)
--  Shutter Speed no slower than 1/800 sec. for wildlife, or 1/1250 sec. for birds in flight
--  Aperture will set itself
--  Rapid Burst (the fastest your camera will allow, but fire off only 3 or 4 shots in succession)
--  Continuous Focus (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon)
--  Back Button Focus (find info on how to set this for your camera body on YouTube or Google)
--  Viewfinder set for only ONE focus point (multiple focus points cause auto focus to be less accurate)

--  Eyes open (catchlights are nice but not mandatory)
--  good body position
--  good head position
--  predict direction of movement (for this image, it helped to be prepared to continue moving to my left since he was walking in that direction)
--  keep your distance (most national parks and other areas have stated minimum distances one must be from any wild animal, which varies based on the animal's running speed / size / aggressiveness;  remember, you cannot outrun a charging animal no matter how fit you are)
--  if you have a choice, focus your attention on the healthiest-looking individuals
--  if you have a choice, find a position that will provide the best background (not cluttered or too bright compared to the lighting on the animal)

--  Once you set your camera for Back Button Focus, use it all the time regardless of subject. It is how all cameras should be set out of the factory, and why they are not is a mystery to me.
--  When using Rapid Burst, do NOT shoot the entire burst before removing your finger from the shutter button. Shoot only 3 or 4 shots and then remove your finger from the shutter button. Wait a second or two, and then begin shooting again. This will prevent you from filling the Buffer (which can cause your camera to stop functioning until all the images have been processed by the camera and sensor).
-- Learn exactly what ISO is, and how to use it to your best advantage.
-- Learn and get comfortable with Continuous Focus (AI Servo), and understand how it works.

Using and understanding all this information will catapult your photography to a much higher level very quickly. None of it is hard to learn or to use. Try it, you'll like it!

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4x Canon extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE:  "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."  - Ghandi

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